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Friday, March 06, 2009

The Tyranny of a Short-Term Majority

A majority taken collectively is only an individual, whose opinions, and frequently whose interests, are opposed to those of another individual, who is styled a minority. If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach? Men do not change their characters by uniting with one another; nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase with their strength. For my own part, I cannot believe it; the power to do everything, which I should refuse to one of my equals, I will never grant to any number of them.
-Alexis de Tocqueville, "Democracy in America."


That reasoned argument against what de Tocqueville called "the tyranny of the majority" is a total crock. A bunch of hooey. Liberal claptrap from a French intellectual with no real understanding of democracy. Never mind that James Madison agreed in the Federalist Papers, warning of "the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority" -- Madison was just some loonie leftist. The majority is all-powerful. If you can get enough people to agree with you, you can do anything you want to anybody. There are no such thing as rights, only privileges that can be voted away at any time. Get enough people together and you can even take someone's First Amendment rights away -- if people don't like what you're saying, they can use the power of democracy to shut you the hell up.

Ken StarrSo sayeth that great American patriot Kenneth Starr. Best known for an unsuccessful witch hunt against then-President Bill Clinton, Starr is the dean of Pepperdine law school -- which makes you wonder what kind of education Pepperdine law students get for their money.

At issue was California's Prop. 8 -- a ban of same sex marriage. The state Supreme Court had previously ruled that gays and lesbians had the right to marriage. Prop. 8, which passed as a referendum, would remove that right and retroactively undo the marriages that have occurred since the court's ruling.

But, since the court ruled that marriage was a right, not a privilege, Prop. 8 became a classic example of the "tyranny of the majority" -- with a simple majority vote, Californians took a right away from a minority group. The ballot measure is now in California's Supreme Court, where Ken Starr -- representing Prop. 8 supporters -- argued yesterday that there's really no such thing as "rights." At least, not if you're in the minority.

"Swallow the bitter pill and act with diligence if one is weak, enjoy all one's rights if powerful: that's my doctrine," wrote the Marquis de Sade. Starr apparently agrees.





Raw Story:

The people "have the raw power to define rights," he told the court while arguing in favor of invalidating over 18,000 marriages.

"The right of the people is inalienable to change their constitution through the amendment process," said Starr. "The people are sovereign and they can do very unwise things, and things that tug at the equality principle."

Chief Justice Ronald George posed a hypothetical: what if the majority demanded the right to free speech be revoked?

"After much banter back and forth, Starr says they do," reported Advocate.com. The Los Angeles Times reported similarly on Starr's alarming response.


So, if the majority votes that you should shut up, by God you'd better shut the hell up. In Starr's world, rights are a legal fiction. The founders basically argued that the person and the person's rights were one thing, inseparable -- "unalienable" as the Declaration of Independence put it. But Ken argues that your rights are granted to you by majority rule and can be taken from you at any time, presumably for any -- or no -- reason. As I've already pointed out, those aren't rights, those are privileges. Starr argues that people in California -- and Americans in general -- don't actually have rights.

What the right is really worried about here is the "normalization of homosexuality." When you get right down to it, same sex marriage is harmless -- it can't possibly have any effect on your life if your not in that marriage. If you're outside that family, what that family consists of can't possible harm you. There is no rational reason to oppose marriage equality.

However, "rational" is a bad description of the religious right. They're so panicked at the idea that same sex couples would be considered just people and not monsters that they're willing to give away all the guarantees they have to any rights at all. By Starr's argument, people could literally vote to bar Christians from holding office. But hey, that's better than having to look at two male or two female dolls on top of a wedding cake.

But the "normalization of homosexuality" is pretty much a done deal. Regardless of how people feel about marriage equality, the idea that homosexuality is some sort of national problem is losing ground rapidly. The religious right isn't just losing that fight, they've lost it. Same sex marriage isn't a question of "if," but "when."

A Harris Interactive poll taken after the 2008 elections found that "Three-quarters of U.S. adults (75%) favor either marriage or domestic partnerships/civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Only about two in 10 (22%) say gay and lesbian couples should have no legal recognition." The numbers for legal marriage alone, as opposed to civil unions, was evenly split between pro and con.

This "normalization" train has left the station.

But the most desperate battles are often fought at the end of the war. That's when the craziest tactics will be tried. The religious right would burn the village in order to save it, by giving away any guarantee they have to any rights in exchange for a victory in a losing battle against marriage equality.

If Ken Starr really wants to argue on behalf of the tyranny of the majority, he might keep in mind that public opinion is moving away from him. It won't be long before he's in the minority, subject to the whims of the mob rule he advocated.

Unfortunately, when that happens, I don't expect him or any of his allies to shut up and "swallow the bitter pill and act with diligence," as the weak and rightless should.

Maybe we can all take a vote and make them shut up.

-Wisco

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

The world would be a better place, without people like Ken Starr. I'll never understand why these people are so full of hate. Here's hoping for Ken to get his epitaph soon so we can all get on with the business of living a little more civilly.

Anonymous said...

Ken Starr is right.

While the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights appears to agree that rights are unalienable; it is in practice by those same founding fathers that we see that you're rights are what governments says they are AT THAT TIME. In other words the Declaration, Constitution, etc. are the smokescreen. The propaganda to obtain legitimacy.

The ink had barely dried on the Constitution before the Alien and Sedition Acts came to limit freedom of speech. Thomas Jefferson admitted that the Louisiana Purchase was outside the scope of the constitution. And yet, he did it. And don't get me started on the numerous one-sided unilaterally changed on demand Indian Treaties which were nothing more than propaganda to keep the natives somewhat placid before that got raped again.

Japanese WWII interment, US Patriot Act, FDR's gold confiscation... RIGHTS ARE DEFINED BY GOVERNMENT. That is reality.

Anything else... simply feel good propaganda.

And what do the majority do when these things happen? Nothing. Its what the majority wants.

Even the US Supreme Court loses its backbone before popular, majority support. FDR's threatening to pack the Supreme Court got them in line real fast. Look at the flip flops over slavery and black public education.

Keep living in your dream world of inalienable rights. Government is power. Power defines your rights. Government defines your rights. The question is only, "Who/Whom?"

-DESPAIR

Anonymous said...

"Keep living in your dream world of inalienable rights. Government is power. Power defines your rights. Government defines your rights. The question is only, "Who/Whom?"

-DESPAIR"


OK...I'll lay down my arms and stop fighting. After all, as you have pointed out it's a waste of time. I'll be a good sheeple now...I promise!

Anonymous said...

OK...I'll lay down my arms and stop fighting. After all, as you have pointed out it's a waste of time. I'll be a good sheeple now...I promise!
-------------------------

Resistance is futile.

The question you have to ask yourself now is: Do you become part of the sheeple or do you join the powers that be. For those are the only choices.

You can't beat them. But... you can join them. Will you rule? or be ruled?

Do you become the wolf or the sheep?

Do you baaaa endlessly on your blog hoping the other sheep in line to be slaughtered may glimpse at you? You know the answer already. The sheep in line think YOU are the one who is crazy. You're not with the crowd. The owner who provides them food, clothing, security, the one who is guiding them to the slaughter house; he's the one who must care about them. What do you offer? Endless baaas.

The pigs in Animal Farm realized what the truth is. There is only POWER. Raw POWER. Read Lenin to understand TRUE power. And then join. The New World Order needs more open-eyed wolves. They have enough useful idiots.

Wisco said...

The pigs in Animal Farm realized what the truth is. There is only POWER. Raw POWER. Read Lenin to understand TRUE power. And then join. The New World Order needs more open-eyed wolves. They have enough useful idiots.

Wow, you really missed the point of that book. It's like reading MacBeth and coming away with the lesson that a hunger for power is just a wonderful thing, you've just got to watch out for witches.

Anonymous said...

Wisco: The point of Animal Farm and 1984 is that governments will achieve more power over their citizens until they become as described in those books.

There is no stopping it. It will happen. A boot stomping on the face of man forever.

Why persist in thinking it can be stopped? Are you the boot or the face?

Wisco said...

The point of Animal Farm and 1984 is that governments will achieve more power over their citizens until they become as described in those books.

No it's not. It's that populist economic movements run the danger of becoming totalitarian. The idea that totalitarianism is inevitable is paranoid and requires a broad ignorance of history.

I don't know what Maoist revisionism you've been reading, but I promise you it's 100% horseshit.

vet said...

Anonymous, if governments "will achieve" all this power, inevitably, then one of two things must be true. Either it's already happened, or it hasn't.

If it has already happened, then is it really so bad? When did someone last stamp on your face? Sure we all complain about the stupid rules and things that happen to us, but in all honesty, are our lives today so much worse than our grandparents' lives? (What do your grandparents say?)

If it hasn't already happened, then what makes you so sure it "must" happen? Are you reading Orwell as some kind of divinely inspired, infallible prophet, rather than a very angry Marxist journalist?

Anonymous said...

It is unstoppable.

Look at whats happening in the UK RIGHT NOW. It is already a police state with cameras every where. Freedom of Speech has been destroyed under the guise of Freedom from Hatred. Orwell smiles. His prophecies are coming true.

The U.S. is destroying children books made before the early 1980s under "child protection" from trace lead in the illustrations. It won't be long and all print books will be destroyed to protect your health from whatever boogeyman they have created. But, don't worry you're favorite books will be online where your selections can be edited and watched.

Be careful of your facial expressions in line at the airport. They're watching for facial signs indicating stress. You may be a terrorist.

Eventually will come the so-called "mark of the beast", but what is actually a chip that will be inside you allowing you to buy/spend and to be seamlessly watched/tracked/evaluated.

This is the Holy Grail.

Yes, it is steadily coming. Even Marx realized you can't implement all these things at once. Thesis+antithesis = synthesis. Using the false dichotomies of the Republicans/Democrats the one party behind them both calls the shots and creates the synthesis desired.

But, like the proverbial frog in a slow boiling pot; it will happen and the sheeple will not be able to stop it.

US martial law will be imposed. This WILL happen within 2 years. Are you seriously going to try and stop it?? LOL! This blog is already on the list. Being watched. You are already known.

I will tell you what you will do. You will join, obey, be imprisoned or die.

Those are the only options ever given by the state.

They have already won. Orwell knew it could not be stopped. Its not quite boiling yet, but its too hot to move. Its getting hotter but it happened so gradually, you are only now beginning to realize how hot you now feel.

Wisco said...

Look at whats happening in the UK RIGHT NOW. It is already a police state with cameras every where. Freedom of Speech has been destroyed under the guise of Freedom from Hatred. Orwell smiles. His prophecies are coming true.

Not only are you a lunatic, you're a stupid lunatic. There is no guarantee of freedom of speech in the UK. There never was. They don't have a constitution.

Here's a fun idea, why don't you bother to learn what the hell you're talking about before you start leaving ignorant comments on blogs? I'm guessing that'd be a nice change of pace for you.

As it is, you're just making a complete ass of yourself.

vet said...

There's a tremendous amount of crap talked about the UK "police state".

"Police state" isn't a binary condition. At one end of the scale you have places like Thailand and Venezuela, where most people can live their lives in decent obscurity with a few minimal precautions; at the other end, Burma and North Korea, where to attract the attention of the police is basically to flush yourself down the crapper. To compare what's happening in the UK, or the US for that matter, with even the milder end of this scale is simply ridiculous.

(Don't take my word for it - check out Reporters Without Borders rankings of press freedom, for an approximate indicator.)

Are both the UK and US moving towards "police state" conditions? Hell yes. Have they got there yet? Nope. Is it somehow magically inevitable that they will, because Orwell wrote a book about it? If you think that, then your logic is not like our earth logic.