Friday, March 06, 2009

minority oligarchy

What's great about America is that the minority has a voice. Minorities can't be silenced just because they are not the majority. Minority rights are protected in American in a way that is different than most of the rest of the world. And this is why people flock to "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

But we have to be careful not to go too far in this direction and create a society that we never intended. The creation of democracy was in part a reaction against a society run by an oligarchy.

An oligarchy is when the power to rule a society is in the hands of a small, usually elite, number of people. The word oligarchy is from the Greek words for "few" (ὀλίγος olígos) and "rule" (ἀρχή arkhē).

To prevent just a few people from ruling an entire society, we allow the whole populous to vote. When we vote for representatives, the one who wins the "majority" of the votes is normally elected. This gives a voice to what the majority want.

So this balance between the desires of the majority and the rights of the minority needs to be maintained. If we give too much power to the minority voice, we end up with an upside-down sort of oligarchical rule. We don't want that. If we end up ignoring the voice of the minority, we end up with mob rule. We don't want that either.

So how do we maintain minority rights without falling into a minority oligarchical rule?

This question is particularly relevant to what is happening in California right now. The majority voted to keep the Californian definition of marriage as between "one woman and one man." The minority, the gay community in this case, wants that majority vote not to count. They believe it impedes on their right to equality.

If a minority is able to reject the votes of the majority, are we falling into a new form of oligarchy? If the majority is able to vote in a way that takes away rights of the minority, is that mob rule?

We'll see what the California Supreme Court has to say.


At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Kristina said...

I would be careful with this line of arguing, Mark. Just because the majority makes a decision does not make it ok.
For example, many people only a couple of decades ago were ok with jim crow laws and hated the concept of integration or at least quietly accepted it. When the majority makes decisions that negatively impact minorities for very few solid reasons, that is discrimination.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Mark said...

If you read again the whole post, you will see that I mention the point you just made.

If we only go with "majority rule" it becomes "mob rule" and we are in danger of discrimination against minorities.

But most people stop there and don't think of the other side of the coin.

If we always favor the "minority view point" then we have what amounts to an oligarchy.

There needs to be balance. It is not okay for the voice of the minority to be silenced by the majority. But neither is it okay for the voice of the majority to be silenced by the minority.


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