Tyranny of the Majority?

Both Alexis de Tocqueville who greatly admired the U.S. and John Stuart Mill warned that democratic majorities were as dangerous as — perhaps more so than — repressive authoritarian regimes. At least the latter are subject to rebellions whereas oppressive democratic majorities can do horrendous injustices to minorities or others subject to their powers without checks.

We Americans are incredibly ill informed about the harms we have inflicted on others by our depredations upon their lands — and particularly grabs of their resources. Latin American nations almost without exception have been targeted by U.S. corporations backed up by the U.S. government. Google United Fruit for a good example of damage done when nations had the temerity to challenge their domination. 60 Minutes did an update on Chiquita Banana last evening. Tactics are pretty standard. When the U.S. wanted to take over a Latin American country, it would at first try to destabilize its government, e.g. Chile under Allende. If that did not work it would assassinate or otherwise remove leaders. And as a last resort, it send in the troops. See our various raids on Cuba in these departments which produced the Castro reaction eventually.

Currently both the U.S. and Israel are denominated democracies. Yet they are both nations that are occupying the lands of others and killing fairly freely those who would resist their occupations. These occupations look to be self-interested in both instances. The U.S. wants to dominate Middle Eastern oil and Israel is expanding its turf while expelling as many Palestinians as possible. Real peace is unlikely in either case and it is majority governments in each instance that have been driving the injustices inflicted. It is always possible that majorities be eventually redirected to doing the right things. But that is scarcely a guaranteed outcome when vital interests are involved. The U.S. wants oil and Israel wants land.

Needless to say one cannot condemn all the people of a nation that is oppressing others. There are always opposing voices calling for justice. And sometimes they do prevail or at least curb the majority from the most extreme actions — genocide or collective punishment of an oppressed people.

Let us hope for better!

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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