Tyranny of the Majority? More like Tyranny of the Minority

I want to first start this off by saying that this post isn’t about minority races or ethnic groups, this about the very small portion of Americans who control vast amounts of wealth and political power. This blog post is based on Chapter XV in Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.

America, since it’s creation, has been a safe haven for equal rights and liberties among it’s people. Citizens of America have been guaranteed the unalienable rights such as Rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness in the Declaration of Independence and these Rights were eventually guaranteed in the Constitution for every citizen in our country. Obviously there is still concern in the nation over social oppression of minority groups and women however every citizen of the United States at this moment has the right to vote and impact the direction of the government. Even with the equal voting rights provided to all Citizens, there has been a concern over Tyranny of the Majority since the inception of the U.S. Constitution. In Tocqueville’s writings, Tyranny of the Majority is described as, “that the interests of the many are to be preferred to those of the few.” In a pure democracy, I could see this being the case since the majority always wins out just by sheer numbers alone but with the American democracy, our representatives are supposed to look out for the well being of all Americans. I’d argue that American democracy in practice should be an ultimate defense against tyranny of any kind, yet there is clear evidence that there is tyranny in America…

What do today’s American’s and historians view as majority within America? The correct answer demographically would be white Americans (very evenly split on gender). Anyone with some knowledge of the U.S. population could have guessed this so what’s the point? Well let’s look deeper, what would be the political majority within America? The answer would be white men but once again this isn’t surprising (but it is unfortunate from a social standpoint). The 115th Congress of the U.S. consists of approximately 20% minorities and women while the rest fall into the aforementioned category of white men. From an outsider looking in, there is clear evidence that America is run by white American’s, mostly men and one could argue that this is tyrannical in nature. While all signs point towards a racial majority ruling America, I’d argue money and those who have it are the biggest culprits of tyrannical oppression within America.

Here is a long passage from Tocqueville that does not hold up in today’s America, “When an individual or a party is wronged in the United States, to whom can he apply for redress? If to public opinion, public opinion constitutes the majority; if to the legislature, it represents the majority and implicitly obeys it; if to the executive power, it is appointed by the majority and serves as a passive tool in its hands. The public force consists of the majority under arms; the jury is the majority invested with the right of hearing judicial cases; and in certain states even the judges are elected by the majority. However iniquitous or absurd the measure of which you complain, you must submit to it as well as you can.” The bold text from the quote assumes that the majority always wins out when they all vote a certain way. Majority of Americans voted for Hillary Clinton and yet she lost, majority of Americans are political moderates yet majority of the legislative branch have politically extreme ideology, and majority of Americans do not support the current president, however he still is declaring executive orders that are going seemingly unchecked through the courts and legislative branch. A minority of Americans essentially controls the political agenda of the whole country, with career politicians at the tops of both major parties dictating how OUR representatives should vote. Whenever other politicians (whistle blowers or moderate congressmen and women) call out this behavior, those with money fund campaigns to oust potential threats to party ideology and replace these spots with more obedient politicians. It’s a vicious cycle of those with money funding those with power to make sure the rich minority is represented over the general population of the U.S. Until the day where groups like the NRA have less impact on gun control then 60% of Americans who support more gun legislation, or large corporations no longer have authority over climate change legislation which 70% of Americans believe is a problem, then America will continue to be oppressed by a small, but vastly powerful minority.

Quotes from book

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

Congress Demographics source


Climate Change info


Gun Control infor




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12 Responses to Tyranny of the Majority? More like Tyranny of the Minority

  1. jacobdsaaevdra says:

    Yeah I found Tocqueville’s argument that a tyranny of the majority being a major problem in America a little problematic. First evidence to the contrary existed in his time, the South had a considerable about of power in the country even thought they were the minority. This power arguably existed until the end of the Civil War. Now the idea of a tyranny of the majority is ridiculous considering how much corporate interest controls the policy of this nation, as you pointed out. I also didn’t like Tocqueville comparing the tyranny of the majority to the tyranny of a king. A

  2. wardog88 says:

    Hi dasboots01, well your post clearly touches on race and inequality so I’m not going to want to be redundant here. I will approach this from less racial and inequality standpoint, it is true companies and industries and congress have a majority of white ownership, congress is still a little more diverse to be a little more fair. I understand that verses in Tocqueville’s argument seem like they can be applied to our political mindsets today’s,however, let take a step back and understand that he is looking at the historical monarchs that have ruled for centuries and there an old quotes I forgot the source that its from but it states “An elected legislator can trample a man rights just as easily as a king can” also, let’s not also forgot that American is now a melting pot of diversity to go back to the race issue, do I think there is corruption? Yes, do I think that means American is not diverse in opportunities because of it? No. The tyranny of the Majority as Tocqueville puts it, I thinking more like how long a person is in the position of power whether it be Republican or Democrat, and both parties have accused each other of tyranny of the majority foul for years so which ever party is in power at times will abuse their time spent in the majority, daddy Bush did it, Clinton did it, W. Bush did it, Obama also did it, and so far Trump is kind of doing it somewhat. Now, do I like the tyranny of the majority, no, however, I’m not about state something without looking at the historical data, and putting it into context for better clarification.

    • LukaKolomejac says:

      To add to your comment, Tocqueville states that “all parties are willing to recognize the rights of the majority, because they all hope to turn those rights to their own advantage at some future time” (298). This may be one reason there is not as much uproar over the fact that President Trump lost the popular vote by almost three million. Tocqueville also stresses freedom to associate to counter tyranny of majority. There’s plenty of freedom of association in the United States and I do not think there is or will be abuses by a majority group.

  3. courtneymonus says:

    I agree with your statement as it relates to our government. It is run more on the fact of who has money versus what the people actually want. Instead of the majority picking who they want elected and what laws get passed, those who have money give out end up having the final say. I think this will continue to be problematic until the majority finally stands up for their rights. The main reason why it is currently like this is that as a whole people are not willing to question what is wrong, I think as people become more aware that this is happening we might see people trying to change that but until that happens the minority is going to keep ruling over the majority because the majority is not doing anything. Also on the topic of climate change, even though we are currently have an administration that dismisses the fact that it is real, the fact that most Americans think that it’s a problem is all we need. People could start changing what they do to help slow down these effects, but majority will not and the minority is going to continue to rule if people don’t start acting on behalf of their own beliefs.

    • samiomais says:

      I agree with dasboot01 that the idea that America today has a “tyranny of a majority” or is at risk of developing one is absurd and distracts from the very real, what he calls, “tyranny of the minority” of oligarchs.

      However, America remains a functioning representative democracy. This raises a question: why don’t the majority assert their rights then? It’s remarkable how when Americans are polled about Congress for instance, if given the option, most say they should all be fired and replaced by their neighbors who’d do a better job. Most Americans support basic gun control measure, raising the minimum wage, campaign finance reform, etc. Yet they don’t actively fight for them as a majority. Many call this apathy, but I disagree. The opinion polls make it clear Americans are anything but apathetic; they have strong opinions on a wide range of issues. It think what afflicts people is hopelessness, a sense that the powers that be are too big, and so they don’t fight for their rights.

  4. garrettcecich says:

    I totally see what you mean by the minority being in control of our political and governmental systems. In many of my Greek history courses, it is said that if the the Athenians could see what we now call democracy, they would call it an Oligarchy. The tricky thing about republics is that even though we as a people elect our officials, those officials don’t always act in their constituents’ best interest. Typically, they do what they can to please the people who elect them, but take for example the Republican senators from southern states who voted against health care reform recently. Citizens in those constituencies were furious at their senators seemingly disregarding what they wanted. It seems to me that there is a kind of non-patrilineal aristocracy in our country that really decides the direction our country goes in, regardless of who is put in office (excluding presidential achievements). Americans who have a political position often hold political sway for a long time, and are much more involved in the shaping of policy than any regular American could ever hope to be. That doesn’t necessarily mean that this happens to our country’s detriment, but it does mean that at multiple points, the common people’s voice is not always heard to the extend that it ought to be.

  5. bealpeyton says:

    Hello there,

    Instead of dissecting the concept of the “tyranny of the majority,” as well as attempting to answer whether or not that label applies to the American political system, I simply just want to go over some of America’s most pressing political issues and their polling data. Granted, this is not the most accurate of polling sites, but its results are statistically similar to that of other, more reputable sites and organizations. Abortion: 62% pro-choice; 38% pro-life. Planned Parenthood funding: 61% favor; 39% oppose. Mandated equal pay for women and men: 79% favor; 21% oppose. Partisan gerrymandering: 15% favor; 85% oppose. Also, I know that the former GOP Healthcare Bill had an approval rating of roughly only 20 percent while, at the same time, over eighty percent of Americans support universal background checks for all gun purchases. If we truly lived in a majoritarian state, then many, many issues that appear divisive would be easily solved. Obviously, the question is much more complicated than a few opinion polls, but its a good place to start before delving into a more thorough discussion.


  6. rustlingwinds says:

    I appreciate your bringing up this discussion as Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is not only insightful, but somewhat frightening if we admit its accuracy. You had concluded that America is ran by a minority of powerful white men and I feel Tocqueville may respond to your argument by suggesting that this is due to a tyranny of the majority persisting across our nation. Tocqueville feared that a tyranny of the majority would result in citizens which simply followed in everyone else’s footsteps–so frightened of the consequences of expressing a minority opinion that they never did so. Arthur Milikh (2015) argued that, “Over time, he [Tocqueville] feared, the state would take away citizens’ free will, their capacity to think and act, reducing them to ‘a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.'” Milikh (2015) through analysis of Tocqueville’s work found some potential solutions to this problem, deliberating creating systems which empower a minority voice. We see these discussions pop up today here and there when it comes to whistle-blowing. Whistle-blowing should be supported and encouraged so as to persist against what Tocqueville found to be a natural fate of American democracy–we will head towards tyranny if we don’t actively fight it any way we can. I believe we can even play a small role in this overall fight in our organizations. In my workplace, when I hear a coworker discussing something they fear is morally wrong, I encourage them to speak up and I support them. In addition, we all need to remember to speak up, even when we may be the only ones saying something.

    Arthur Milikh’s (2015) article: http://dailysignal.com/2015/07/29/born-225-years-ago-tocqueville-predicted-the-tyranny-of-the-majority-in-our-modern-world/

  7. Ronald Amann says:

    Thank you for your thoughts.  I must admit however, that I have found the nature of the post a bit disingenuous and offensive. At the same time, I find the ideas presented here to be rooted in racism and bias and certainly without any real substantiated evidence. Let’s start with some facts.  According to Wikipedia, The United States is comprised with between 65-70 percent whites.  Your claim that Congress is made up of only of 20 percent minorities is very much representative of the population in America. What tyranny specifically is that you are talking about? Keeping in mind that a black man held the office of the Presidency for 8 years, how can you say the country is run by only wealthy whites? Now as a clarification to your claim, a majority of Americans did not vote for Hillary Clinton in the last election. According to Wikipedia, only 55.5 percent of Americans even turned out to cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election. While I would agree with you that there may be a need for serious reforms made in the areas of campaign finance and ethics (the case unraveling daily about the unfair clinching of the Democratic nomination by Hillary Clinton is proof of that), American citizens are represented by their elected official far better than most, if not all other countries in the world. Our Constitution dictates it. You seem to insinuate that we do not have a “pure” democracy. I am curious though, what does that look like? Are there countries that are more democratic by definition than that of the United States? What does that look like and who are they? How would we as a country implement a system where 50 percent of the population was always happy with whichever President is in office at the time? Should we hold an election every time that his or her approval ratings drop below half? Obviously that would be preposterous. For the record, there are lots of good people of all races in American politics. To discount a large part of them as tyrannical is unfounded and has no place in intelligent conversation unless it can be backed up with evidence.

  8. chicanochomsky says:


    Your post did an excellent job in making the case that a major internal cause of tyranny in America is “money and those who have it”. Americans on one hand say that the concentration of wealth we currently face is problematic, and yet the gap between rich and poor continues to grow each year. If this tyranny is so horrifying, why does it seem to continuously be getting worse? I’d argue that this form of the “tyranny of the minority” is allowed to perpetuate in large part by the majority through the reproduction of culture, as suggested by the likes of Antonio Gramsci with his theory of “cultural hegemony”. From a young age we’re introduced to a number of cultural myths such as “the American Dream”, the “rags to riches” story and that we are all just “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”. On top of that we’re taught to believe in meritocracy – that hard work equals success, and that therefore the wealthy “earned” their wealth and considerable political power while simultaneously demonizing the poor as “lazy” and “irresponsible”. The main point I attempt to make here is that ending this tyranny of the minority from the wealthy is going to require an effort from the majority to reconsider how our society shapes views on wealth, poverty, and power through the various institutions that generate culture such as the media (which are largely owned by the wealthy), schools (becoming increasingly privatized/monetized), and our democratic political process (with it’s increase in money in politics).

  9. bijanm1995 says:

    Hi, I really enjoyed reading your post. I believe that the fact that the 1% has “vast amounts of wealth and political power” to be unfair, but a “necessary evil” in a capitalistic economy and government. Although there any many interest groups in which the middle and lower class to contribute to, It is not alarming to realize the elected Congressman we pick to represent us (as constituents) are pushing agendas of lobby groups that are funded by wealthy individuals and corporations. This is due to people in the 1% having much larger amounts of disposable funds. I believe that we can shift this fundamentally flawed system and ease our way into transparency by urging politicians to at least limit the amount of donations they are allowed to receive and spend. This can greatly limit the corruption we face today and create an equal political playing field whilst not limiting the capacity for economic gain of wealthier individuals.

    Furthermore, if we limit the “money oriented” political system per se, we can allow minorities to have seats in Congress which would further push the constituents’ needs and wants. Currently, we live in a society where elected officials are likely to have life-time appointments due to the difficulties of winning a seat over an incumbent.

  10. MeganLynde says:

    “America, since it’s creation, has been a safe haven for equal rights and liberties among it’s people. Citizens of America have been guaranteed the unalienable rights such as Rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness in the Declaration of Independence and these Rights were eventually guaranteed in the Constitution for every citizen in our country.”
    “From an outsider looking in, there is clear evidence that America is run by white American’s, mostly men and one could argue that this is tyrannical in nature. While all signs point towards a racial majority ruling America, I’d argue money and those who have it are the biggest culprits of tyrannical oppression within America.”

    I think that these two points of your writing are contradictory. If America were truly a safe haven for equal rights, that would inherently mean that there should be equal representation of minority groups in the top 1% with respect to their population in the country, which is almost 40%. You argue that the majority is actually comprised of the fiscally elite, regardless of race. However, the two are interconnected. One could argue that because America isn’t actually a safe haven for equal rights for minorities, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to achieving status as the fiscally elite/ majority. Obviously, it’s possible for people of minority groups to comprise a portion of the 1% who obtain the majority of the wealth in America. But it’s evident that there are social, political and legal boundaries that make it more difficult to earn the same amount as white men. I agree with your reasoning that the majority who influence politics in America are the top 1%, but to say that the 1% is mutually exclusive from the demographic majority (white men) in the U.S. isn’t something I agree with. There’s an image in the link below that shows what races make up the top 1%. As mentioned earlier, minority groups in the US make up almost 40% of the U.S. population. However, the top 1% is comprised of only 4% minority groups, the remaining 96% being white households.


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