What are the Rights of the Minority Anyway?
Cyrus Kamada 2/6/2012
Cyrus Kamada 2/6/2012
In reading some of the responses to criticism of the recent appointment of Mark Muir by the city council majority, you may have noticed that an essential theme was, “hey, we live in a democracy – the majority rules – stop whining and get over it”. This got me to thinking – what are the rights of the minority anyway? Certainly, no one would argue that the minority will should prevail. On the other hand, our democracy has gone to great lengths to ensure that majority rule is tempered. Examples abound, such as the allocation of two senators per state, regardless of population, the electoral college, the filibuster, the presidential veto, and the judicial confirmation process. Why did our founding fathers go to such lengths to ensure that majority rule was limited? To get some perspective on the issue, here are the opinions of a few influential contributors to American political thought.
"Unlimited majority rule is an instance of the principle of tyranny." Ayn Rand
"We are so concerned to flatter the majority that we lose sight of how very often it is necessary, in order to preserve freedom for the minority, let alone for the individual, to face that majority down." William F. Buckley Jr.
"There is nothing sacrosanct about the majority; the lynch mob, too, is the majority in its own domain." Murray Rothbard
"When I see that the right and the means of absolute command are conferred on a people or upon a king, upon an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or a republic, I recognize the germ of tyranny." Alexis De Tocqueville
"The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime; abuses its strength, and, by acting on the law of the strongest, breaks up the foundations of society." Thomas Jefferson
The one principle that resonates with me is that the majority must not be allowed to subvert the minority aspiration to one day become the majority. To do so, as Jefferson observed, is to act on the “law of the strongest”, which ultimately undermines the foundations of society. In practical terms, what does this mean for Encinitas?
Essentially, the only reason there is now a 4-1 majority on the city council is because previously, there was a 3-2 majority. The question of course arises, “what did you expect them to do, appoint an adversary?” No, but I did expect them to consider the existing makeup of the council, as determined previously by a democratic vote of the people. Suppose that, God forbid, for whatever reason, Teresa Barth was no longer able to serve on the council. Would it be legitimate for the city council to appoint yet another crony, and thereby have a unanimous 5-0 majority? What would prevent that?
The appointment of Muir and the ensuing lockout of protestors from the council meeting room, the monopolization of the mayoral rotation process by the council majority, the decision to ban Maggie Houlihan’s image from publicly displayed art, and the stacking of the ERAC committee to review the General Plan with real estate interests, are all part of a systematic exercise of the “law of the strongest”. In particular, the appointment of Muir and the monopolization of the mayoral rotation process create a non-level playing field, making it more difficult for the minority to be seen and heard, and therefore to realize their aspiration of one day becoming the majority. Those who feel that this is an appropriate outcome should consider that one reason the “law of the strongest” undermines the foundations of society is that it encourages a dog-eat-dog mentality, and thereby degrades the public character. End of whine.
LB Note: The genius is affording rights to all and ensuring the minority doesn't get tossed under the bus just because the majority thinks its funny.