Saturday, November 01, 2008

Masses of Tyrants

A free society cannot exist on majority rule alone. There must be factors that counter the unbridled will of the majority — the majority must be held in check — or else tyranny will reign.

Whether tyranny is wielded by few or by many, those that live under its yoke are oppressed and held in bondage to some extent. In fact, there is an advantage to having a single great tyrant at the helm. For, if he can be deposed, the system of tyranny will fall with him. The situation is similar when tyranny is wielded by a small group. But when masses themselves exercise undue control over others, the oppressed have little recourse.

Consider the slaves in the antebellum South. Though their population in some states eventually exceeded the number of non-slaves, the power of the free masses in slave states sustained the system of human bondage. Even the Supreme Court went along. This system proved so difficult to overcome that a war was waged, followed by a century of official oppression.

Consider the Americans that were imprisoned in Japanese internment camps during WWII. The Supreme Court later ruled the exclusion process constitutional. Due to fear induced by Japan’s attack on the U.S., most Americans in 1942 were generally supportive of the policy. But none of this mitigates the immorality of the action.

In both of these cases, the number of people that supported the oppression did not change the fact that tyranny and injustice were being exercised. In both cases, Supreme Court rulings supporting the policies did not alter the fact that these policies were despotic and immoral. In both cases, the masses supported despotism.

The tyranny of the masses is so difficult to overcome because no single person considers himself or herself a tyrant. Many are merely supportive of a despotic system. Often they have very good reasons for such support, sometimes even couched in altruistic terms. Even when the individual questions such policies, they usually feel powerless to do much about it in the face of massive support.

The following scripture (D&C 121:39) applies just as much to groups and masses as it does to individuals:
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
For a free society to flourish, it is important that strict limits be placed on what those in power can impose upon other members of the society. In other words, the majority (or even just the majority of those that wield power) do not have a right to do anything they have a mind to do. They do not have a right to oppress others.

Democratic societies where the masses become de facto despots ultimately fail. They often begin with noble aims in mind. While they appeal to the individual senses of altruism, loyalty, and patriotism, they eventually come to find that coercion is required due to a lack of sufficient willingness or enthusiasm on the part of some. The noncompliant are labeled enemies of the state and are punished.

By and by, increasing levels of coercion are required to ensure compliance and to co-opt the masses. The result is that gradually, increasingly ruthless elements are drawn into leadership and enforcement positions. This trajectory eventually leads to a dictatorship, whether it takes a few years or many decades. Even if the masses willingly fawn over and worship the dictator and his court, it does not mean that they have a free society.

I have often expressed my gratitude for living in a free country. But what does freedom mean? How can the majority in a free and democratic society become tyrants? I’ll explore these topics in future posts.

4 comments:

Alienated Wannabe said...

Dear Scott,

I agree that the tyranny of the majority is a concern. However, I am convinced the tyranny of the minority is a much greater worry, and in modern life, a much more common occurrence.

I think this way, because I subscribe to the Book of Mormon doctrine that it is rare for the voice of the people (the majority) to choose that which is wrong, but when it does that civilization is ripe for destruction.

The companion piece to this idea is that it is common for a certain minority of the people to choose that which is wrong, and that citizens have a responsibility to do all within their power to prevent such individuals from coming to rule over them.

So, how does this apply to us? Well, in my lifetime the Court System of this country has repeatedly been used to reverse the will of the people in order to support abortion rights and gay marriage. And, in my view, such official government legitimization of these practices has had the effect of increasing the wickedness of the people to the point that we are now ripe for destruction ourselves.

Abortionists have rights. Gays have rights. Pornographers have rights.

But, unborn children do not have rights. (They do not matter.) Advocates of traditional sexual morality do not have rights. (It's hate speech.) Parents who wish to raise their children free from the undermining efforts of official societal brainwashing do not have rights. (Schools must teach tolerance.)

Do you see where I am coming from?

A.W.

Reach Upward said...

I think the tyranny of the minority has actually been a fact of most societies throughout history. It was based on tyranny of the minority that the American Revolution developed.

I wholly agree that the minority can be tyrants, even wrapping a robe of virtue around their arguments. The purpose of this series of posts is not to discredit this concept, but to bring to light a concept that I believe is quite pervasive but much less recognized.

Alienated Wannabe said...

Okay, my friend.

I trust that you know what you are doing. But, I tend to disagree with the premise of your final statement: "The purpose of this series of posts is . . . to bring to light a concept that I believe is quite pervasive but much less recognized."

I think most of us have studied Jefferson in school, and I believe that the great Supreme Court decisions reversing the will of the people have been largely celebrated within the educational establishment of this country. People today, especially the rising generation, have been fully indoctrinated into the cult of toleration.

What I think is less appreciated is the quality of life that all of us enjoy when the majority is allowed to govern. Studies have shown, using the standard distribution curve, that the voice of the people (when taken as a whole) usually chooses what is right.

The greatest threat to our country in my life time has not been the tyranny of the majority, but the abuse of judicial power in serving the counter-culture agenda.

Obviously, a balance must be struck, and we are currently out of balance.

In your favor, however, I fear that the day will soon come when the majority of our neighbors -- due to growing wickedness -- will once again seek our blood. And, when that days comes, I will probably be complaining: "Why didn't Scott do more to protect us from the tyranny of the majority?"

Ha ha!

Love,
A.W.

Reach Upward said...

Actually, I think this series will address both types of tyranny. Almost anything that is wrong for the masses to force on the few is also wrong for the few to force on the masses.