10/9/10

"Tyranny of the majority"

That's an interesting phrase, isn’t it? It comes from Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America." That work, taken with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers, forms the essentials of understanding what we're about as a nation.

The concept is found in the Federalist Papers, too, particularly in number 10, written by James Madison. Madison refers to it as "the violence of majority faction."

Madison means that the majority view is placed so far above the views of dissenting individuals that oppression occurs, implicitly or tacitly. This oppression can take place in a societal and cultural sense. And, since we have a government installed in place by majority vote, that oppression can also occur though government action. This is exactly why we have a Bill of Rights. We have the Constitution to limit the powers of the government through the manner in which it is organized; we have the Bill of Rights to prevent the oppression of the minority by the power of the majority as expressed through the government. Few people seem to think of it in that way. They say "the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, all protect us from the government" but they never stop to think that even in the confused mess that is our government today, that government is still representative of the people.

This "tyranny of the majority" is often manifested most clearly in civil rights actions involving freedom of speech.

Down in Mississippi Judge Talmadge Littlejohn has jailed attorney Danny Lampley for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Yes, he did. The judge ordered everyone in the courtroom to stand and recite the pledge. Lampley refused, saying "I don't have to say it because I'm an American." Yep. That's all the reason he needs, to say it, or not to say it. I agree with him completely. I don't like the pledge myself, precisely because of that "tyranny of the majority" attitude that accompanies it: "I thought he was a disgrace to the United States. If he can't say that in front of a judge, he don't deserve to be here in this country." That's from Bobby Martin, a 43-year-old self-employed maintenance worker. Perhaps Martin should get a few red-blooded all-American patriots together and beat the crap out of Lampley and deposit him across the border. That'll teach Lampley all about American values, won't it?

I'd say that Lampley has a far better understanding of American values, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights than either Judge Littlejohn or Bobby Martin. The Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendment, is of no consequence when one is of the majority viewpoint; it is everything when one holds a minority or dissenting viewpoint.

Judge Littlejohn is no different from, and no better than, King George III, or any other projector of tyranny, be that an individual or simply the majority of good ol’ red-blooded American "patriots."