Quotations about   majority

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By the theory of our Government majorities rule, but this right is not an arbitrary or unlimited one. It is a right to be exercised in subordination to the Constitution and in conformity to it. One great object of the Constitution was to restrain majorities from oppressing minorities or encroaching upon their just rights. Minorities have a right to appeal to the Constitution as a shield against such oppression.

James K. Polk (1795-1849) American lawyer, politician, US President (1845-1849)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1845)
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Added on 21-Oct-20 | Last updated 28-Oct-20
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The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
“Review of Sir Erskine May’s Democracy in Europe,” The Quarterly Review (Jan 1878)
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Added on 14-May-20 | Last updated 14-May-20
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No honest, clear-headed man, however great a lover of popular government, can deny that the unbridled expression of the majority of a community converted hastily into law or action would sometimes make a government tyrannical and cruel. Constitutions are checks upon the hasty action of the majority. They are the self-imposed restraints of a whole people upon a majority of them to secure sober action and a respect for the rights of the minority.

William Howard Taft (1857-1930) US President (1909-13) and Chief Justice (1921-1930)
Veto Statement for the Arizona Enabling Act (15 Aug 1911)
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Taft vetoed the admission of Arizona to the US with a state constitution that allowed popular recall of judges.
Added on 30-Mar-20 | Last updated 30-Mar-20
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The rule which should guide us in such cases is simple and obvious enough: that the aggregate testimony of our neighbours is subject to the same conditions as the testimony of any one of them. Namely, we have no right to believe a thing true because everybody says so unless there are good grounds for believing that some one person at least has the means of knowing what is true, and is speaking the truth so far as he knows it. However many nations and generations of men are brought into the witness-box, they cannot testify to anything which they do not know. Every man who has accepted the statement from somebody else, without himself testing and verifying it, is out of court; his word is worth nothing at all. And when we get back at last to the true birth and beginning of the statement, two serious questions must be disposed of in regard to him who first made it: was he mistaken in thinking that he knew about this matter, or was he lying?

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Ethics of Belief,” Part 2 “The Weight of Authority,” Contemporary Review (Jan 1877)
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Added on 24-Jan-20 | Last updated 24-Jan-20
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The validity of an idea or action is determined not by whether it is widely believed or widely reviled but by whether it obeys the rules of logic. It is not because an argument is denounced by a majority that it is wrong nor, for those drawn to heroic defiance, that it is right.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 1 “Consolation for Unpopularity” (2000)
Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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Conscience and the press ought to be unrestrained, not because men have a right to deviate from the exact line that duty prescribes, but because society, the aggregate of individuals, has no right to assume the prerogative of an infallible judge, and to undertake authoritatively to prescribe to its members in matters of pure speculation.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Book 2, ch. 5 (1793)
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Added on 20-Nov-17 | Last updated 20-Nov-17
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One can be certain that every generally held idea, every received notion, will be an idiocy, because it has been able to appeal to a majority.

Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794) French writer, epigrammist (b. Nicolas-Sébastien Roch)
(Attributed)
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Quoted in Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety (2004).
Added on 21-Aug-17 | Last updated 21-Aug-17
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Democ’acy gives every man
The right to be his own oppressor.

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) American diplomat, essayist, poet
The Bigalow Papers, Second Series, “Ef I a song or two could make,” l. 97 (1867)
Added on 13-Mar-17 | Last updated 13-Mar-17
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The truth is always in the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because as a rule the minority is made up of those who actually have an opinion, while the strength of the majority is illusory, formed of that crowd which has no opinion — and which therefore the next moment (when it becomes clear that the minority is the stronger) adopts the latter’s opinion, which now is in the majority, i.e., becomes rubbish by having the whole retinue and numerousness on its side, while the truth is again in a new minority.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
Journal (1850)
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Added on 8-Feb-17 | Last updated 8-Feb-17
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“Terrorism” is what we call the violence of the weak, and we condemn it; “war” is what we call the violence of the strong, and we glorify it.

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Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
“Nations Should Submit to the Rule of Law,” Clearing the Ground (1986)
Added on 19-Dec-16 | Last updated 19-Dec-16
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Idiosyncratic belief systems which are shared by only a few adherents are likely to be regarded as delusional. Belief systems which may be just as irrational but which are shared by millions are called world religions.

Anthony Storr (1920-2001) English psychiatrist and author
Feet of Clay, ch. 10 (1996)
Added on 28-Nov-16 | Last updated 28-Nov-16
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I know your race. It is made up of sheep. It is governed by minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feelings and its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise. Sometimes the noisy handful is right, sometimes wrong; but no matter, the crowd follows it. The vast majority of the race, whether savage or civilized, are secretly kind-hearted and shrink from inflicting pain, but in the presence of the aggressive and pitiless minority they don’t dare to assert themselves. Think of it! One kind-hearted creature spies upon another, and sees to it that he loyally helps in iniquities which revolt both of them. Speaking as an expert, I know that ninety-nine out of a hundred of your race were strongly against the killing of witches when that foolishness was first agitated by a handful of pious lunatics in the long ago. And I know that even to-day, after ages of transmitted prejudice and silly teaching, only one person in twenty puts any real heart into the harrying of a witch. And yet apparently everybody hates witches and wants them killed. Some day a handful will rise up on the other side and make the most noise — perhaps even a single daring man with a big voice and a determined front will do it — and in a week all the sheep will wheel and follow him, and witch-hunting will come to a sudden end.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Mysterious Stranger, ch. 9 (1916)
Added on 5-May-16 | Last updated 5-May-16
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There is something wonderful in seeing a wrong-headed majority assailed by truth.

John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-American economist, diplomat, author
The Guardian (28 Jul 1989)
Added on 24-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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If forty million people say a foolish thing it does not become a wise one, but the wise man is foolish to give them the lie.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
A Writer’s Notebook (1949)

An entry in 1901. See Anatole France.
Added on 27-Mar-15 | Last updated 27-Mar-15
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It is difficult for a majority to see, let alone sympathize with, a practice that discriminates against a minority. It’s not unlike trying to get a fish to understand the concept of water! It is simply the medium in which the fish resides, requiring no cognition of the water that supports it. Discrimination — not just individual, but systemic — is the “water” in which the majority swims, and unless something happens to bring that discrimination into the view and consciousness of the majority, nothing will change, because the majority hardly, if ever, notices it.

Gene Robinson (b. 1947) American Episcopal bishop
God Believes in Love (2012)
Added on 11-Dec-14 | Last updated 11-Dec-14
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All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Inaugural Address (4 Mar 1801)
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Added on 4-Apr-13 | Last updated 13-Apr-15
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The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Strength to Love, ch. 2, sec. 3 (1963)
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Added on 24-Jan-12 | Last updated 20-Jan-20
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True Christianity never shields itself behind majorities. Nero, and the other persecuting Roman emperors, were amply supported by majorities; and yet the pure and peaceable religion of Christ in the end triumphed over them all; and it was only when it attempted itself to enforce religion by the arm of authority, that it began to wane. A form of religion that can not live under equal and impartial laws ought to die, and sooner or later must die.

John Welch (1805-1891) American politician, jurist
Board of Education of Cincinnati v. Minor, Ohio Supreme Court (1872)
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Added on 21-Jun-11 | Last updated 4-Sep-18
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In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French writer, diplomat, politician
Democracy in America, Vol. 1, ch. 15 (1835)
Added on 31-Mar-11 | Last updated 3-Nov-20
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Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ch. 26 (1884)
Added on 10-Jun-10 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

Marcus Aurelius (121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
(Attributed)
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The earliest identifiable citation appears as an epigraph to Leo Tolstoy, Bethink Yourselves!, ch. 8 (1904), in Recollections & Essays [tr. Aylmer Maud (1937)]. A cleaner copy can be found at the Nonresistance.org site. The classic (and presumably abridged) version of Bethink Yourselves!, as translated by Chertkov (1904), does not include any of the copious epigraphs, including this one.

Regardless, this phrase is not clearly found in Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, though other parts of the lengthy epigraph appear to be. If ordered by position, this would presumably fall somewhere from 10.6 to 10.8 (i.e., the preceding and following sentences are more clearly identifiable), but the language of this sentence does not seem to line up.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 29-May-20
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The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
“The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” Speech, Bridgenorth Institute (28 Feb 1877)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Feb-20
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If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

[Si 50 millions de personnes disent une bêtise, c’est quand même une bêtise.]

Anatole France (1844-1924) French poet, journalist, novelist, Nobel Laureate [pseud. of Jaques-Anatole-François Thibault]
(Attributed)

Sometimes misattributed to Bertrand Russell.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Mar-15
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The majority is always in the wrong. Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it’s time to reform — (or pause and reflect).

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook (13 Oct 1904) [ed. Paine (1935)]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 14-Sep-20
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