Conservative Tenet # 6

      4 Comments on Conservative Tenet # 6

Hey, Gentle Readers, what time is it? It's Rossiter Time!

6. The fallibility and potential tyranny of majority rule.

OK, I'll begin the note by saying that majority rule is certainly fallible (what isn't?) and is potentially tyrannical. I am all in favor of restricting the power of the majority to beat the crap out of the minority. I do place both the fundamental liberties and equality before the law higher than I do democracy. So I agree with the Conservative Tradition on this, as far as it goes.


I do believe in majority rule, or at least in democracy, which isn't quite the same thing. And I think that the whole idea of democracy is losing ground, so here's Your Humble Blogger's cranky little defense of it, and of what it entails.

Liking democracy means liking democracy even when you lose elections. Liking democracy means being willing to accept compromise; liking democracy actually means embracing compromise, but I am willing to compromise on that. Liking democracy means rarely getting your way, and liking it. Liking democracy means fighting hard for what you believe in, and working with and for the people who fight against you. Liking democracy means having dirty hands, and liking that, too.

We're at war, now, a war I don't think was a good idea, started by a president that I not only didn't (and won't) vote for, but a president I think won the election dishonestly (OK, not dishonestly, but I do think that the will of the electorate was thwarted). The Senate has acted particularly badly, in my opinion. In addition to the war, there are about a zillion (maybe 1.5 zillion) policy matters on which I disagree with the Senate majority, the House majority, and the President.

That's OK. All right, that's not OK, but the reason it's not OK is that I have failed in the marketplace of ideas. I have—everybody has—the responsibility to fight for public opinion. I don't have the right to win that fight. I do have the right to fight it again, and again and again if I have to. I also have the responsibility to cooperate when I lose.

Unless, of course, it's a moral matter, and I'm willing to go to jail over it. Or I emigrate. But either way, understand that the majority is within its rights to act like the majority. I don't get to appoint the president, I don't get to decide what people should believe, and I don't get to win all the time. What I get to do is fight in the battleground of ideas, and that's enough.

Thank you,

4 thoughts on “Conservative Tenet # 6

  1. Josh

    I don’t think Conservatives would argue against any of the things you’ve said here. In their concern for the tyranny of the majority, I don’t think they necessarily mean to suggest that political decisions should be made in some other way. Rather, as the seventh tenet will get to, they worry that there are many scary things for sale in the marketplace of ideas, and seek to limit the scope of what the majority is able to buy. Any allowable political action should be done by the will of the majority; but some political actions must not be allowed, even if the majority wills. The result of the game must be determined by the players, but they still have to play by the rules.

  2. Vardibidian


    I expect you’re right that Conservatives would more or less agree with my rant; it was, as it happened, sparked more by readings and conversations from the left. Still, when you say “Any allowable political action should be done by the will of the majority; but some political actions must not be allowed, even if the majority wills,” the trick (as you imply) is defining allowable actions. In practice, lots of Conservatives, Liberals, Progressives, and random madmen wind up calling a lot of bad policy unallowable. I would restrict that unallowable range to infringements of the stuff on the top of the hierarchy, that is, fundamental freedoms and legal equality.

    Thank you,

  3. david

    both of you: using “the marketplace of ideas” so freely, without irony, conflating purchasing power with free thought? things are being traded. but bought and sold… i wonder how good an analytical foundation that is for this “tradition.”

    (also in regard to this whole thing, i’d much rather that the powerful believe they have responsibilities, that lines be drawn so that people can be made aware that they are powerful and they have crossed the line from eaters to feeders, than that everyone be constantly in search of more regardless of consequences.

    but my preference would not be an aristocratic tradition – which seems to me just one more way to anoint the already-well-decorated powerful – but one of service, regardless of proprieties, combined with a rejection of personal power.

    this raises a question of context and audience for the original book. it was written out of some kind of necessity i’m sure but i wonder which.)

    josh: you cite #7 (diffusing and balancing power) to prove that #6 (tyranny of the majority) is not a dismissal of electoral politics. however #5, “the need for a ruling and serving aristocracy,” seems to put some english on #7: is it a worry about centralized power, or is it a trick shot to avoid arousing the suspicions of those outside the aristocracy?

    vardibidian: if the major battleground of ideas is the televised media space, and the televised media are acting as gatekeepers, does that then screw with the calculation? if you had a case where televised media had become an instrument for preserving a permanent tyranny of an image of a majority, would you then reject the outcome of an election?

  4. Vardibidian

    The short answer, David, is that I would only reject the outcome of an election if it were clear to me that it was rigged. That is, I don’t get to decide what the major battleground of ideas is or should be, and I don’t get to decide whether the electorate are dupes or not, except to the extent that I claim my own intellectual battleground (there’s a metaphor) and de-dupe the electorate myself.
    As for the rest, I’ll think about it. You are always aware of the line between eaters and feeders, which is of tremendous importance. On first glance it seems like democracy should affect that line, but in fact it does not, or does not in any predictable way.
    Also, I really should write in more detail about Mr. Rossiter and his book, as another of my correspondents has pointed out.
    Thank you,


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