Majority Rule and Minority Rights

A while back, I was listening to the Michael Medved show—a great forum for discussion, or, as the host likes to put it, your daily dose of debate. A gentleman called in advocating increased taxation on the wealthy. This seems to be the progressive panacea, and the idea has popular appeal right now due to the perception that “the rich” are gliding by unaffected while millions of Americans are struggling to pay their daily expenses. But taxation of the rich is a feel-good measure without any real problem-solving teeth to it. And in any case, the rich are already paying an awful lot. The host rattled off some figures to this effect, but the caller was not dissuaded. He said that it didn’t matter how much the rich were paying now. Why? Because most Americans want them to pay more.

What I want to address is this idea that as long as the most Americans want something, it should be put into practice. The caller’s philosophy seemed to be that the majority defines right and wrong. What if it isn’t right to confiscate more from a certain class of people? This question did not seem to enter into his mind. But it has entered into mine. Thomas Jefferson recognized the the potential of a straight democracy to trample the rights of the minority when he said, “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” This is why rather than a pure democracy, we in the U.S. have a constitutional democratic republic, in which we elect representatives and in which minority rights are protected. Majority opinion can never justify the violation of the rights of men, no matter how few. Numbers do not determine right and wrong. To me, it doesn’t matter if most Americans want to hike up tax rates on people making a certain amount of money. Creating, as someone else has put it, a tyranny of the middle class is not okay whether it it is popular or not.  Most Americans could want anything. My point here, though, is not about tax rates. My point is that the mere fact that most Americans want something does not justify it. That way of thinking suppresses nonconformists—and while par for the course among radical leftists, such suppression is a chilling thought to those who wish to conserve free thought and free action and self-ownership. Human rights are not subject to change.

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