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The Tyrant Gets a Vote, Too

April 19, 2009

Professor Williams has written a simple yet very important column that reminds us about what makes America so special: she is grounded on values that hold individual liberty dearer than does any other nation the French Cowboy could tell of. This is what makes America exceptional and it is also what is in danger of vanishing through the erosion that has taken place for years and that is continuing today.

The French Cowboy can testify that, from childhood on, Europeans learn that if there is a vote on something and the majority wants it then it has to be enacted. This feels unfair when the vote is decided by a thin margin or when the minority will suffer enormous consequences from the vote. The US constitution wants to protect from the tyranny of the majority. Yet, as Monsieur Williams points out, today’s political actors – including the voters – seem oblivious to this fact, and at their own peril:

The Founders of our nation held a deep abhorrence for democracy and majority rule. In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison wrote, “Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” John Adams predicted, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Our Founders intended for us to have a republican form of limited government in which the protection of individual God-given rights was the primary job of government.


In addition to an abhorrence of democracy, and the recognition that government posed the gravest threat to liberty, our Founders harbored a deep distrust and suspicion of Congress. That suspicion and distrust is exemplified by the phraseology used throughout the Constitution, particularly our Bill of Rights, such as that Congress shall not: abridge, infringe, deny, disparage or violate. Today’s Americans think Congress has the constitutional authority to do anything upon which it can get a majority vote.

We think whether a particular measure is a good idea or bad idea should determine passage, as opposed to whether that measure lies within the enumerated powers granted to Congress by the Constitution. Unfortunately for the future of our nation, Congress has successfully exploited American constitutional ignorance or contempt.

And while too few Americans are conscious of the ongoing loss of their great nation’s exceptional standing and are concerned about it, others are welcoming the change as a good thing and open the door to ill-meaning foreigners who begrudge US domination. As John Bolton has correctly commented on that Spanish Judge’s wish to indict officials of the Bush administration for having advised the former president differently than he would have:

Something more fundamental is at stake, especially in the targeting of U.S. officials, rather than, say, North Korean leaders who have starved their fellow citizens for generations. What is really at risk of prosecution here is American exceptionalism, and everyone knows it, from Judge Garzon himself to the high-minded here and in Europe who long to use international law to constrain U.S. power.

It is in this light that President Obama’s ‘humble’ message on his international trips are so worrisome. When he explicitly points out real and perceived misdeeds of past US policies on the international stage and asks the rest of the world for forgiveness, he implicitly bows before the ‘international community’ saying that America has no right to see itself as an exceptional country and must not act without the permission of a case-by-case combination of other nations.

As proponents of the tyranny of the majority refuse to acknowledge that in some cases the burden a minority has to carry exceeds the benefit the majority receives, Monsieur Obama refuses to acknowledge that the ‘international community’ is not a made up of national leaders equally worthy of yielding power and that, here too, the principle of the ‘majority vote’ may turn out favouring tyranny.

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