Quotations about   majority

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Thinking is difficult, therefore let the herd pronounce judgment!

Carl Jung (1875-1961) Swiss psychologist
Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, ch. 2 (1959) [tr. Hull]
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The motto of the "relatively unconscious man" who "clings to the commonplace, the obvious, the probable, the collectively valid." Reprinted in the The Collected Works of C.G. Jung - Civilization in Transition, vol. 10, ¶ 653.

Probable source of the frequently-attributed (but unfound) "Thinking is difficult. That's why most people judge."
Added on 26-Apr-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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Count heads. That is what matters in all things. When you must, follow the common taste, and make your way toward eminence. The wise should adapt themselves to the present, even when the past seems more attractive, both in the clothes of the soul and of the body. This rule for living holds for everything but goodness, for one must always practice virtue.

[l gusto de las cabeças haze voto en cada orden de cosas. Ésse se ha de seguir por entonces, y adelantar a eminencia. Acomódese el cuerdo a lo presente, aunque le parezca mejor lo pasado, así en los arreos del alma como del cuerpo. Sólo en la bondad no vale esta regla de vivir, que siempre se ha de practicar la virtud.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 120 (1647) [tr. Maurer (1992)]
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(Source (Spanish)). Alternate translation:

In everything the taste of the many carries the votes; for the time being one must follow it in the hope of leading it to higher things. In the adornment of the body as of the mind adapt yourself to the present, even though the past appear better. But this rule does not apply to kindness, for goodness is for all time.
[tr. Jacobs (1892)]

Added on 11-Feb-22 | Last updated 4-Apr-22
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Do nine tenants in a residential building have the right to place the dumpsters in front of the tenth tenant’s door? Seemingly, they enjoy a clear majority. But the role of democracy is not only to assure the governance of the majority, but to protect the rights of the minority.

Yoel Esteron
Yoel Esteron (b. 1956) Israeli journalist, publisher
“Who’s for destroying democracy?” Ynetnews (14 Feb 2016)
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And yet a majority vote is worthless as a proof of truths that are at all difficult to discover; for a single man is much more likely to hit upon them than a group of people. I was, then, unable to choose anyone whose opinions struck me as preferable to those of all others, and I found myself as it were forced to become my own guide.

[Et que néanmoins la pluralité des voix n’est pas une preuve qui vaille rien, pour les vérités un peu malaisées à découvrir, à cause qu’il est bien plus vraisemblable qu’un homme seul les ait rencontrées que tout un peuple; je ne pouvois choisir personne dont les opinions me semblassent devoir être préférées à celles des autres, et je me trouvai comme contraint d’entreprendre moi-même de me conduire.]

René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician
Discourse on Method [Discours de la méthode], Part 2 (1637) [tr. Cottingham, Stoothoff (1985)]
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(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

Notwithstanding that plurality of voices is a proof of no validity, in those truths which are hard to be discovered; for that it’s much more likely for one man alone to have met with them, then a whole Nation; I could choose no Man whose opinion was to be preferr’d before anothers: And I found my self even constrain’d to undertake the conduct of my self.
[tr. Newcombe ed. (1649)]

Although such be the ground of our opinions, I remarked that a plurality of suffrages is no guarantee of truth where it is at all of difficult discovery, as in such cases it is much more likely that it will be found by one than by many. I could, however, select from the crowd no one whose opinions seemed worthy of preference, and thus I found myself constrained, as it were, to use my own reason in the conduct of my life.
[tr. Veitch (1901)]

Yet in spite of this the voice of the majority does not afford a proof of any value in truths a little difficult to discover, because such truths are much more likely to have been discovered by one man than by a nation. I could not, however, put my finger on a single person whose opinions seemed preferable to those of others, and I found that I was, so to speak, constrained myself to undertake the direction of my procedure.
[tr. Haldane & Ross (1911)]

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Even in their appeal to “custom” they accomplish nothing. To constrain us to yield to custom would be to treat us most unjustly. Indeed, if men’s judgments were right, custom should have been sought of good men. But it often happens far otherwise: what is seen being done by the many soon obtains the force of custom; while the affairs of men have scarcely ever been so well regulated that the better things pleased the majority. Therefore, the private vices of the many have often caused public error, or rather a general agreement on vices, which these good men now want to make law.

John Calvin
John Calvin (1509-1564) French theologian and reformer
The Institutes of the Christian Religion [Christianae Religionis Institutio], Preface, sec. 5 (1536) [tr. Battles (1960]
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Alternate translation:

Then, again, it is to no purpose they call us to the bar of custom. To make every thing yield to custom would be to do the greatest injustice. Were the judgments of mankind correct, custom would be regulated by the good. But it is often far otherwise in point of fact; for, whatever the many are seen to do, forthwith obtains the force of custom. But human affairs have scarcely ever been so happily constituted as that the better course pleased the greater number. Hence the private vices of the multitude have generally resulted in public error, or rawther that common consent in vice which these worthy men would have to be law.
[tr. Beveridge (1845)]
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In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statues and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Debate #1, Ottawa, Illinois (21 Aug 1858)
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Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
(Spurious)

Frequently attributed to Franklin, but not found in his writing (and the word "lunch" dates only back to the 1820s). The phrase is only found in sources dating back to the early 1990s, e.g.,

  • "Democracy is like two wolves and a lamb deciding on what they want for dinner." [Shelby Foote in Ken Burns, Civil War (1990)]
  • "Democracy has been described as four wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch." [Los Angeles Times (25 Nov 1990)]
  • "Democracy is not freedom. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. Freedom comes from the recognition of certain rights which may not be taken, not even by a 99% vote." [Marvin Simkin, Los Angeles Times (1992)]
  • "Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner." [James Bovard, Lost Rights, "Conclusion" (1994)]
Added on 14-Sep-21 | Last updated 14-Sep-21
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The surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even — if you will — eccentricity. That is, something that can’t be feigned, faked, imitated; something even a seasoned imposter couldn’t be happy with. Something, in other words, that can’t be shared, like your own skin: not even by a minority. Evil is a sucker for solidity. It always goes for big numbers, for confident granite, for ideological purity, for drilled armies and balanced sheets. Its proclivity for such things has to do with its innate insecurity, but this realization, again, is of small comfort when Evil triumphs.

Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) Russian-American poet, essayist, Nobel laureate, US Poet Laureate [Iosif Aleksandrovič Brodskij]
Commencement Address, Williams College (24 May 1984)
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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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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.
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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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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)
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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).
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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)
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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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“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.

harris-violence-of-the-weak-strong-wist_info-quote

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
“Nations Should Submit to the Rule of Law,” Clearing the Ground (1986)
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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. When comparing the beliefs held by psychotics with the religious beliefs held by normal people, it is impossible to say that one set of beliefs is delusional while the other is sane.

Anthony Storr (1920-2001) English psychiatrist and author
Feet of Clay: Saints, Sinners and Madmen, ch. 10 (1996)
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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)
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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)
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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 dated 1901. More discussion about this quotation: If Fifty Million People Say a Foolish Thing, It Is Still a Foolish Thing – Quote Investigator
Added on 27-Mar-15 | Last updated 14-Apr-21
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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)
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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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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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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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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)
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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)
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Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.

E.B. White (1899-1985) American author, critic, humorist [Elwyn Brooks White]
“Notes and Comments,” New Yorker (3 Jul 1943)
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Truth is not determined by majority vote.

Doug Gwyn
Doug Gwyn (b. 1959) American minister, theologian, author
(Attributed)
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All politics is based on the indifference of the majority.

Reston - All politics is based on the indifference of the majority - wist.info quote

James Reston
James "Scotty" Reston (1909-1995) Scottish-American journalist and editor
“New York: Rockefeller Comes Out of His Trance,” New York Times (12 Jun 1968)
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This is cited in multiple places to this 1968 op-ed, to which I don't have access. Reston also used the phrase in this 1972 op-ed.
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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)]
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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)
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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]
(Spurious)

Sometimes also misattributed to Bertrand Russell. The closest to this specific quotation comes from W. Somerset Maugham. More information about this quotation, including the source of this misattribution and an analogous phrase France did use: If Fifty Million People Say a Foolish Thing, It Is Still a Foolish Thing – Quote Investigator.
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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 (AD 121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
(Spurious)
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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.
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