The Myth of Majoritarian Righteousness

OR, The “Will of the Majority” Is Seldom Right

By: Allan Wallace

One of several ways to make decisions within government is to use a democratic process, that is, voting, to decide who our leaders will be and the direction to go in decision-making. Using democratic processes is quite different than being a democracy.

Democracy as a form of government is usually defined as one person, one vote on every decision/issue. A person who’s sanity was in question, but was wealthy, ran in 1996 for President as an independent (later forming his own party), Ross Perot. He opined that with current technology, we could do away with Congress and put all those decisions to a vote of the people thereby creating a truly democratic government. He proposed mandating participation and punishing non-participation. He believed that the majority was always right. The problem with democracy is that the majority tend to exercise tyranny over minorities.

Many people hold an irrational belief about voting, one that politicians like to encourage, that all majority decisions are automatically moral and right. It does not matter if the voting margin is one percent or even one vote. Nor, does it matter if those participating in the vote constitute a majority or less than 5% of eligible voters, Politicians are still quick to claim a “mandate of the people” or that their votes in Congress are right, just, and even endorsed by God (except for the bills they voted against, of course).

This belief became a part of American consciousness and attitude about “democracy” when various colonial churches put important decisions (like calling a Pastor) to a vote of the congregation. They were asked to pray about their vote and seek God’s Will in the issue before them before voting, thereby making their vote (in their own eyes) moral and right. This desire to claim that God bestows morality on their majority voting, more than any other reason, is why they pray before every session of Congress.

As time has progressed, voters in general have increasingly omitted the praying and seeking, but have steadfastly held to the belief that the majority results of voting are always moral and right, that the good is always found in the majority will of the people. This also explains why entrenched politicians tout the blessings of the “two-party system” because if they limit your choices to two, they assure that one of the choices will always receive an actual majority of the vote. Pluralities do not carry the same righteousness, apparently.

The problem with this belief in majority righteousness is demonstrated by this metaphor popularized by The Advocates for Self-Government:  Democracy is three wolves and one lamb voting on what to have for supper.

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