Thoughts on Law and the Rule of Majority

Posted on February 20, 2014

I've spent quite a bit of time discussing direct democracy with people. One of the most common criticisms of direct democracy is the fear of "majority rule" and a sense that a majority imposing its will on minorities is immoral and undesirable. People are touchy about this and with good reason. This is a very valid point. The problem is that this truism erodes more of our civic framework than people realize. Let's tear it apart.

What is a law, fundamentally? The Oxford Dictionary says the law is "the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and may enforce by the imposition of penalties."

A law has power because the community deems it to have authority over its members. The community is, by very definition, the majority. So every single law is, in fact, an imposition of majority will on minorities. Why can't a homeless person sleep on the streets of San Francisco? A homeless person cannot sleep on the streets of San Francisco because the law says he cannot and because the community agrees that the law has authority to impose penalties.

There is an interesting distinction between the perceived freedom of "consensus" decision making and that of genuine freedom (the freedom you have when you're in the woods with nobody around for hundreds of miles). Even though consensus decision making may be an improvement over, say, oligarchy, plutocracy, or a dictatorship, consensus decision making still maintains the idea that the concerns of the majority matter more than those of the minority. The concerns of the community will be inherently different than the concerns of the minority, but this does not mean they should take precedent.

We need to redine our approach to civic decision making by re-evaluating what constitute the basic rights of an individual. Law, in the Oxford Dictionary sense, cannot be legal because groups cannot preside over individual rights. There is no justification for that. Freedom is not the interior of the prison defined by the law. No, freedom is everything but the law. The only law that has any authority is law that protects the rights of the individual. Everything else is simply the majority imposing its will on the minority. A surprising number of people intuitively know that to be wrong.

Welcome to anarchism, my friend.

comments powered by Disqus