Does the principle of majority rule represent a threat to liberty?

Robert Nef

    LI-PAPER. For a defence of the principle of majority rule we need look no further than the oath sworn at Rütli by the founding fathers of the Swiss Confederation.

    If politics is dethroned, the path becomes clear for the strictly liberal view that the state is nothing more than an alliance of the many to protect the freedom of the individual. Nothing more and nothing less. If only it had stayed that way! Humanity could have been spared most of the devastating wars of the 19th and particularly the 20th century, orgies of annihilation that destroyed people and values, if it had tolerated the use of force solely for collective defence, for the protection of personal property in the narrow sense of the phrase. The nationalistic wars among nation states and alliances provoked by unfettered homines politici in the name of a "higher justice" sprang from a different understanding of the state: the myth of the state as an economic and social partnership in the spirit of conquest, lust for power and craving for national glory.

    Does the principle of majority rule really pass muster as the refuge of liberty? Should the principle of majority rule itself be judged using the principle of majority rule, or should each person decide for himself? My own personal decision is that every day, by scrutinising, communicating and empathising, I try to discover what is good for me, my family, those close to me, my neighbours, friends and colleagues. I don't know what's good or what's best for everyone. But I seriously doubt that majorities know any better.

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    June 2008

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