Quotations about   tyranny of the majority

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It is true that many Americans find the Commandments in accord with their personal beliefs. But we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment.

Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor (b. 1930) American attorney, politician, Supreme Court justice (1981-2006)
McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union, 545 U.S. 844 (2005) [concurring]
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Declaring Ten Commandments displays in two Kentucky county courthouses to be unconstitutional.
Added on 10-May-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and more courage it contained. That so few dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 3 (1859)
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Added on 23-Feb-22 | Last updated 23-Feb-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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Added on 1-Feb-22 | Last updated 11-Feb-22
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There can be no free speech in a mob: free speech is one thing a mob can’t stand.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
The Educated Imagination, Talk 6 “The Vocation of Eloquence” (1963)
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Added on 18-Jan-22 | Last updated 18-Jan-22
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Many of our moral and political policies are designed to preempt what we know to be the worst features of human nature. The checks and balances in a democracy, for instance, were invented in explicit recognition of the fact that human leaders will always be tempted to arrogate power to themselves. Likewise, our sensitivity to racism comes from an awareness that groups of humans, left to their own devices, are apt to discriminate and oppress other groups, often in ugly ways. History also tells us that a desire to enforce dogma and suppress heretics is a recurring human weakness, one that has led to recurring waves of gruesome oppression and violence. A recognition that there is a bit of Torquemada in everyone should make us wary of any attempt to enforce a consensus or demonize those who challenge it.

Steven Pinker (b. 1954) Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, linguist, author
Introduction to John Brockman (ed.), What is Your Dangerous Idea? (2007)
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Added on 11-Nov-21 | Last updated 11-Nov-21
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The true democratic principle, that none shall have power over the people, is taken to mean that none shall be able to restrain or to elude its power. The true democratic principle, that the people shall not be made to do what it does not like, is taken to mean that it shall never be required to tolerate what it does not like. The true democratic principle, that every man’s free will shall be as unfettered as possible, is taken to mean that the free will of the collective people shall be fettered in nothing.

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 28-Sep-21 | Last updated 28-Sep-21
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When states are absent, rights — by any definition — are impossible to sustain. States are not structures to be taken for granted, exploited, or discarded, but are fruits of long and quiet effort.

Timothy Snyder (b. 1969) American historian, author
Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, “Conclusion: Our World” (2015)
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Added on 28-Jul-21 | Last updated 28-Jul-21
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Democracy without respect for individual rights sucks. It’s just ganging up against the weird kid, and I’m always the weird kid.

Penn Jillette (b. 1955) American stage magician, actor, musician, author
“I don’t know, so I’m an atheist libertarian,” Interview, CNN (16 Aug 2011)
Added on 13-May-21 | Last updated 13-May-21
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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 28-Sep-21
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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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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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No one can govern who cannot afford to be unpopular, and no democratic official can afford to be unpopular. Sometimes he has to wink at flagrant injustice and oppression; at other times a fanatical agitation compels him to pass laws which forbid the citizen to indulge perfectly harmless tastes, or tax him to contribute to the pleasures of the majority.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Our Present Discontents,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
Added on 23-Nov-15 | Last updated 4-Jan-16
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By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion. The State is competent to assign duties and draw the line between good and evil only in its immediate sphere. Beyond the limits of things necessary for its well-being, it can only give indirect help to fight the battle of life by promoting the influences which prevail against temptation, — religion, education, and the distribution of wealth.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
“The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” Speech, Bridgenorth Institute (28 Feb 1877)
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Added on 11-Mar-14 | Last updated 12-Feb-20
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It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority. For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
“The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” Speech, Bridgenorth Institute (28 Feb 1877)
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Added on 18-Feb-14 | Last updated 12-Feb-20
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I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance, or admit a right of enquiry into the religious opinions of others. on the contrary we are bound, you, I, & every one, to make common cause, even with error itself, to maintain the common right of freedom of conscience. we ought with one heart and one hand to hew down the daring and dangerous efforts of those who would seduce the public opinion to substitute itself into that tyranny over religious faith which the laws have so justly abdicated.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Edward Dowse (19 Apr 1803)
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Added on 11-Oct-12 | Last updated 25-Apr-22
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What is blasphemy? I will give you a definition; I will give you my thought upon this subject. What is real blasphemy?
To live on the unpaid labor of other men — that is blasphemy.
To enslave your fellow-man, to put chains upon his body — that is blasphemy.
To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles upon the brain, padlocks upon the lips — that is blasphemy.
To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie — that is blasphemy.
To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob — that is blasphemy.
To persecute the intelligent few, at the command of the ignorant many — that is blasphemy.
To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men — that is blasphemy.
To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain — that is blasphemy.
To violate your conscience — that is blasphemy.
The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers.
The man who bows to public opinion against his better judgment and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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Added on 15-Feb-12 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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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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It is the besetting vice of democracies to substitute public opinion for law. This is the usual form in which masses of men exhibit their tyranny.

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) American novelist
“On the Disadvantages of Democracy,” The American Democrat (1838)
Added on 8-Sep-09 | Last updated 3-Nov-20
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The difference between a Democracy and a Dictatorship is that in a Democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a Dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and Tales of Ordinary Madness (1972)
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Added on 16-May-07 | Last updated 17-Jan-20
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The first measure of a free society is NOT that its government performs the will of the majority. That’s what we had in 1930s Germany, 1950s Georgia, and 1980s Iran. The FIRST measure of a free society is that its government protects the just freedoms of its minorities AGAINST the preferences, will and caprice of the majority.

Jim Warren (b. 1936) American mathematician, computer scientist, journalist, activist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-May-19
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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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