When Alexis de Tocqueville wrote his classic tome about the United States, “Democracy in America” in the 19th century, it became (and still is) a go-to book about the U.S.political system. While he praised the American political system, he had one major warning…the tyranny of the majority.
Unique to a democratic system of government (including a democratic republic), the tyranny of the majority happens when a part of the citizenry is ignored or mistreated because the largest segment of the government would not allow their smaller pieces to voice their opinions or discuss their programs.
De Tocqueville wasn’t saying that tyranny already existed in America. His point was that eventually, the majority will weaken and isolate individuals, creating a fertile ground for this new kind of oppression. Even before de Tocqueville wrote his warning, the writers of the constitution were worried about that kind of tyranny.
“Madison discusses the way republican government can serve as a check on the power of factions and the tyranny of the majority. “[I]n the federal republic of the United States… all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.” All of the Constitution’s checks and balances, Madison concludes, serve to preserve liberty by ensuring justice. Madison explained, “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society.”
The reason the writers of the constitution created a republic rather than a democracy, and established separation of powers was to eliminate the possibility of a large majority from ruling the country without consideration and compromise with people who have other ideas.
The ancient Roman senator Cato is credited with inventing the filibuster;
.The concept of the filibuster has been around since ancient Rome. The Roman senate didn’t limit how long its members could speak—a fact that historians believe was first exploited in 60 B.C. by Cato the Younger in a debate over contracts with private tax collectors. Cato also used the filibuster to thwart the agenda of his political enemy, Julius Caesar. His tactics would prove enduring, emerging more than two millennia later in the governing of a new republic.
The Senate was created as the deliberative body of the legislative branch. In fact, it’s original purpose wasn’t to represent the people but to represent the state governments. In 1817 the Senate added a filibuster rule to prevent the majority from forcing their positions on the people without first deliberating or compromising with those who disagreed.
It was used sparingly through the 19th and 20th centuries, but it became an often-used tool in recent years. In 2020, the last year of the Trump administration, the Democratic Party minority used the filibuster 327 times, almost once per day.
Two centuries after Alexis de Tocqueville, James Madison, and others warned against the tyranny of the majority, Senate Democrats are trying to establish it in the United States. They are trying to push through a bill that would take election responsibility from the states to the federal government and includes provisions that will guarantee a Democratic Party majority for decades, thus establishing a tyranny. The bill will reduce the influence of the voting public and transfer it to a party establishment too big to overturn.
Right now, the Senate is divided, 50 Republicans/50 Democrats. The Vice President can break a tie, and as she is a Democrat, they have the majority. However, the Democrats do not have the sixty votes to break a filibuster unless at least 10 Republicans vote their way. To get their way in what they call a voting rights bill, the Democrats are looking to change the rules and eliminate the filibuster, maybe only for this one bill. That will enable them to remove the Senate protection against the tyranny of the majority.
Why would the Democrats do that? Generally, their liberal goals are to expand the role of government and shrink the people’s freedom. By establishing a long-term, perhaps a permanent majority, they can reach their goals a lot quicker than if they had to deal with the opposite party or listen to the citizens. In other words, it establishes the tyranny that de Tocqueville and Madison warned about.