restricted access Chapter 7. Of the Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and Its Effectsa
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402 s4s4s4s4s4 c h a p t e r 7 Of the Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and Its Effectsa a. Hervé de Tocqueville: Before beginning the notes on this chapter, I want to make two general reflections: 1. Isn’t there a kind of contradiction between this chapter and the last paragraph of page 3 of the second volume, where the author expresses himself this way: “In the United States, as in all countries where the people rule, the majority governs in the name of the people. This majority is composed principally of a mass of men who, either by taste or by interest,sincerely desirethegoodof thecountry;agitatingaround this quite peaceful mass, parties work to draw it toward them and gain its support”? 2. I do not know if this chapter is well placed in the book. In one of the preceding chapters, entitled Of the Right of Association, the author says, p. 67: “In our time, the right of association has become a guarantee against the tyranny of the majority.” The logical order of ideas demands that the disadvantages be cited before the remedy . I observe, moreover, that the author must revise the sentence I have just transcribed and make it less absolute, if he does not want it to harm singularly the effect of the chapter on omnipotence (YTC, CIIIb, 1, pp. 81–83). It seems that the idea of the tyranny of the majority is mentioned for the first time on the occasion of a conversation with Sparks, 29 September 1831 (non-alphabeticnotebooks 1 and 2, YTC, BIIa, and Voyage, OC, V, 1, p. 96). John Stuart Mill, following Tocqueville, will take up this expression again and use it in his famous essay On Liberty. Nonetheless, as Joseph Hamburger points out (“Mill and Tocqueville on Liberty,” in John M. Robson and M. Laine, eds., James and John Stuart Mill. Papers of the Centenary Conference, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976, pp. 111–25), if Mill uses the term, the consequences he derives from it are quite far removed from those of Tocqueville . H. O. Pappe as well is skeptical about the possible influence of Tocqueville onMill (“Mill and Tocqueville,” Journal of the History of Ideas 25, no. 2 (1964): 217–44). Ludovic, the protagonist in Marie, also insists on the sway of opinion in America (I, pp. 165, 172–74, and 203). the omnipotence of the majority 403 Natural strength of the majority in democracies.—Most of the American constitutions have artificially increased this natural strength.—How.—Binding mandates.—Moral dominion of the majority.—Opinion about its infallibility.—Respect for its rights.—What augments it in the United States. The very essence of democratic governments is that the dominion of the majority be absolute; for, in democracies, nothing outside of the majority can offer resistance. Most of the American constitutions have also sought to augment this natural strength of the majority artificially.1 Of all politicalpowers, the legislatureistheonethatmostwillinglyobeys the majority. The Americans have wanted the members of the legislature to be named directly by the people, and for a very short term, in order to force them to submit not only to the general views, but also to the daily passions of their constituents. They have taken the members of the two houses from the same classes and named them in the same way; in this way, the movements of the legislative body are almost as rapid and no less irresistible than those of asingle assembly.c 1. We have seen, at the time of the examination of the federal Constitution, that the lawmakers of the Union made contrary efforts.b The result of these efforts was to make thefederal government more independent in its sphere than the government of the states. But the federal government is scarcely in charge of anything except foreign affairs; the stategovernmentsreally run American society. b. ⫽So in democratic republics the majority forms a true power. And after it, the body that represents it. The political body that best represents the majority is the legislature. To augment the prerogatives of this body is to augment the power of the majority. Nonetheless, this power of the majority can be moderated in its exercise by the efforts of the law-maker. The authors of the federal Constitution worked in this direction. They sought to hinder the march of the majority. In the individual states, one tried hard, in contrast, to make the march of the majority more rapid and more...


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