The Distinction Between The Majority And All

(Or what gives “the majority” legitimacy)

In a democracy we often here the phrase “majority rule” spoken of; but in many cases, these words are misspoken to the point where they become the exact opposite of just what they are meant to mean. When misspoken, they become that very same meaning, which caused Aristotle to brand democracy as the worst of governments, instead of the best.

The distinction lies in how this phrase “majority rule” is premised; and what are the foundations upon which this rule is made. It lies in the distinction between when this ‘majority’ rules, and when the ‘all’, which really is democracy, rules. This is a subtle, yet very important distinction, which is often used by the unscrupulous to actually change a democracy into its opposite, a tyranny.

Why is this ‘all’ truly the basis of a democracy; yet at the same time, the majority, the deciding basis, seems to rule, since all decisions seem to lie only within its power?

The subtle yet crucial difference lies in the premises upon which the majority has the right to rule for that ‘all’, which is democracy. These premises are the freedom, rights and responsibilities that all assume in allowing the majority to rule. Even the majority cannot change these inalienable principals upon which their rule is premised. That is exactly what Plato called justice. It is exactly these same premises, which represent all equally and freely, that even the majority cannot change with their rule.

If the majority violates these premises, then there is no longer the rule of all, but merely the rule of ‘some’, and a democracy no longer exists, because the ‘all’ it is premised on, no longer exists; and the majority merely becomes a ruling faction instead of the mouthpiece for that same ‘all’ that democracy meant it to be. What has been lost here is the rule of what Plato called justice.

In a true democracy “liberty and justice” are guaranteed to all, not just to the majority. In today’s political atmosphere where dogma has taken the upper hand, this subtle distinction is often lost, or even purposefully befuddled, in order to confuse people into believing that a certain faction is right because it represents the majority. For example, the majority once believed in slavery, the buying and selling of human beings as property, yet because this violated the very premises of the equality of all human beings, this practice was done away with; in other words, even what the majority sanctions cannot overrule the basic human rights given to ‘all’.

The point is that there exist certain fundamental human premises which pertain to ‘all’ people alike; and it is these same premises, which cannot be violated even by the majority in the state, since these premises always belong to all alike. When the majority violates one of these premises, it has violated a basic right belonging to all equally, and it therefore no longer represents the ‘all’ it was meant to represent, but has now merely become a faction, which has unlawfully wrestled control from all – its rule has now become a tyrannical rule violating the justice of all human beings.

The ‘all’ of a true democracy always underlies the rule of the majority; and it precedes it, by being the basis and legitimacy upon which it rests. The democracy, which Aristotle termed the worst of governments, was really a tyranny of a faction, which happened to be the ‘majority’. In a true democracy, as we of this day call it, justice always rules; and the basic premises which represents all human beings equally cannot even be violated by a faction which represents the so-called ‘majority’.

One of the greatest hazards in misrepresenting this aspect of democracy is the hazard of the rule of dogma or ideology. In emphasizing a dogma, or a certain belief set, there is the chance that a certain basic human premise, such as free thought, can be violated; and that justice for all will be lost. That is why the freedom of worship, resulted in the separation between church and state; freedom of worship is a type of freedom of thought, and freedom of thought is a basic human freedom which pertains to ‘all’, not just to the rule of the majority. Even the majority in the state cannot deny this basic human right within a state, which rightly calls itself a democracy. This is why a motto such as “In God We Trust” 1 is a violation of the basic human right of free thought by all in the state; because it says that ‘all’ believe in a supreme being, when in reality ‘all’ do not; and further, it is their right to believe, or not, as they please – a basic inalienable right under our idea of human justice. We cannot even hint at denying this inalienable right to any citizen, even if the majority would have it that way. If we say that only those that believe in a supreme being can be an American, as this motto hints, then we are denying freedom of thought to our citizens – a basic inalienable right of every human being. In doing this we have gone from democracy to tyranny; and have become the same worst of governments that Aristotle warned us of so long ago. Another example would be the idea that the poor should support the rich through the poor paying more taxes than the rich, to support a society that belongs to all; this is based on the premise that one kind of person is ‘better’ than another because of material possession – a violation of the equality of all human beings. Society belongs to all, and the responsibility of supporting society belongs to all according to their means. Those that are benefiting the most from society, should also be doing the most to support society; while those that benefit the least from society, should be carrying the least burden in supporting it. The reverse of this, as stated above, harkens back to the slavery we fought a war to abolish, to recapture the equality of all human beings.

When we lose the ‘all’, we have lost the spirit of democracy; and when we say “majority rule”, we always premise it with the understanding that that majority always rests on this same ‘all’, and the freedom, rights and responsibilities this ‘all’ shares.


To return to note's origin click the footnote number at left

1 See my essay: “’In God We Trust’; Which God?”



Originally Published:

November 13, 2011


July 3, 2014