Majoritarianism is a political philosophy or agenda which asserts that a majority (sometimes categorized by religion, language or some other identifying factor) of the population is entitled to a certain degree of primacy in society, and has the right to make decisions that affect the society. Under a majoritarian political structure the majority has a single restriction: it is not allowed to exclude any minority from future participation in the democratic process.
Majority rule (a concept closely aligned with majoritarianism) is defined as the rule that requires more than half of a polity's members who cast a vote to agree in order for the whole polity to make a decision on that measure.
Majoritarianism is sometimes pejoratively called ochlocracy, which is most commonly stated as mob rule or tyranny of the majority.
Concept in depth
In majoritarianism lie the arguments that majority decision making is intrinsically democratic and that any restriction on majority decision making is intrinsically undemocratic. If democracy is restricted by a constitution which cannot be changed by a simple majority decision then yesterday's majority is being given more weight than today's; if it is restricted by some small group, such as aristocrats, judges, priests, soldiers or philosophers, then society becomes an oligarchy. The only restriction acceptable in a majoritarianism system is that a current majority has no right to prevent a different majority emerging in the future (this could happen, for example, if a minority persuades enough of the majority to change its position). In particular, a majority cannot exclude a minority from future participation in the democratic process. It should be noted, as it's often a subject of misuderstanding, that majoritarianism does not prohibit a decision being made by representatives as long as this decision is made via majority rule, as it can be altered at any time by any different majority emerging in the future.
History and legacy
Accurate majority rule (by using polls in order to define accurately what the majority really wants today and make every decision based on that majority will) has never been tried as a political system in human history, with the exception of the majoritarianism system which had been used in Athenian democracy and some other ancient Greek city-states. However, some argue that none of those Greek city-states were perfect with respect to accurate majority rule, and most of the time due to technical reasons: an aggressive minority (mob) with the help of aristocrats overcame the accurate majority will.
Although strict majority rule has never been tried in human history, majoritarianism (as a theory), similar to democracy, has often been used as a pretext by sizable or aggressive minorities to politically oppress other smaller (or civically inactive) minorities, or even sometimes a civically inactive majority (see Richard Nixon's reference to "Silent Majority").
This agenda is most frequently encountered in the realm of religion: In essentially all Western nations, for instance, Christmas Day—and in some countries, other important dates in the Christian calendar as well—are recognized as legal holidays; plus a particular denomination may be designated as the state religion and receive financial backing from the government (examples include the Church of England in the United Kingdom and the Lutheran Church in the Scandinavian countries). Virtually all countries also have one or more official languages, often to the exclusion of some minority group or groups within that country who do not speak the language or languages so designated. In most cases, those decisions have not been made using a majoritarian referendum, and even in the rare case when a referendum has been used, a new majority is not allowed to emerge at any time and repeal it.
Reform and backlash
In recent times—especially beginning in the 1960s—majoritarianism has come under intense attack from liberal (as in slightly leftist) reformers in many countries: in 1963, the United States Supreme Court declared that prayer in the nation's public schools was unconstitutional, and since then many localities have sought to limit, or even prohibit, religious displays on public property. Speakers of languages other than English have also won broader rights in the United States, as legal documents, including those pertaining to voting, have been made available in other languages, particularly Spanish. The movement toward greater consideration for the rights of minorities within a society is often referred to as multiculturalism.
This has provoked a backlash from some advocates of majoritarianism, who lament the Balkanization of society they claim has resulted from the gains made by the multicultural agenda; these concerns were articulated in a 1972 book, The Dispossessed Majority, written by Wilmot Robertson . Multiculturalists, in turn, have accused majoritarians of racism and/or xenophobia, a charge which most of them deny.
Majoritarianism in the United States
In contemporary America, the leading mainstream majoritarian political forces include the Christian Coalition and the English-only movement, which seeks to make English the official language in all 50 U.S. states, something that has never been formally codified; many organizations opposed to immigration have also sprung up, but not all of the latter are necessarily motivated by a majoritarian philosophy as some opponents of immigration base their opposition to it on economic or even environmental grounds. Some militant adherents of majoritarianism can be found in the Ku Klux Klan, or in some neo-Nazi groups, which, ironically, are actually small minorities themselves—and thus it is unlikely their agenda could ever be implemented in a majoritarian system.
Last updated: 08-14-2005 21:39:25