The Role of Majority in the Government
Popular sovereignty refers to the notion that the authority of a state as well as that of the government is created and maintained by the consent of the people, through their elected representatives, who are the source of all political power in the state. The concept is based on the Rule by the People. An example of popular sovereignty is the constitution, a document that gives the people the power to protect themselves from an oppressive regime by allowing the institution of a democratically elected government. Political scholars and analysts have come up with solid justifications for why popular sovereignty should be upheld regardless.
Jacques Rousseau justifies popular sovereignty by positing that man can make his own rules and live by them more naturally than if another man created the rules by force and expected the former to obey them XXX. Core to Rousseauas argument is that a man becomes a subject and master at the same time which means that he primarily obeys himself. He also holds that the government is always an agent of the society albeit it holds the monopoly of force, it does not create the rights; the people do. Rousseau’s argument justifies the need for upholding popular sovereignty. Consequently, the philosopher attributes the fall of Athens to the “rude constitution” that the populace could hardly associate with XXX. According to Rousseau, he would rather live in a republic in which the citizens have a chance to approve the law, to make decisions as a body, and with the help of the leaders, they have elected, make decisions on the most important public affairs. He further maintains that the citizens in such a state would have the mandate to carefully distinguish the various departments that rule them and to annually elect the most appropriate citizens to rule and govern them. The magistrate, guided by the wisdom of the people would honor the citizens. With such a system, where popular sovereignty is upheld, even if serious misunderstandings occurred and the people were to become blinded by bad governance, there still would be indications of moderation, reciprocal systems and a general respect for the laws and there would be a guarantee for a sincere and a perpetual reconciliation (Rousseau 28).
Mills also supports the essence of popular sovereignty in a state by arguing that the essentiality of a state is magnified by the people who compose the society. He says that a society that dwarfs its people through administrative skills such that they become docile objects for use instead of being given a chance to chip in when laws of a state are being made, will accomplish very little XXX. By not allowing the popular sovereignty to have a say in the state’s rulings (through modifying the individuals into replicas of machines that only follow rules and not make them), the sacrifice of making the people follow the rules they never made would avail to nothing less than a failing community. He further argues that the “machines” will have no authentic respect for the law and they might be prompted to get their vital power so that they can work smoothly by banishing the force of government that is forcefully pushing them (Mill 207). To avoid the chances of dealing with the citizens as machines through the creation of laws and rules without involving them, it is justifiable that the citizens should be allowed to exercise popular sovereignty XXX.
Similarly, Burke in his text Reflections on the French Revolution also justifies the notion of popular sovereignty with France as the place of study by alluding to the death of the king and queen. He stresses the virtual killing of the king and the queen to show that the citizens were stripping the royal family their humanity and political existence since the leaders made decisions and laws on how the empire could be run without involving the popular sovereignty (Burke 166). He mentions that the constituent power does not belong to the monarchy, but the French people. According to him the power of the popular sovereignty had to be felt, otherwise, the people would be prompted to act for their views to be considered over those of the royal family. He predicted that the French Revolution would end in a disaster since it ignored the popular sovereignty’s human nature and society. His allusion to the death of the entire royal family depicts the importance of popular sovereignty notion in society.
Burkeindicates that popular sovereignty should be combined with a representative political system. For instance, he says that for popular sovereignty to be concrete, it needs a monarch, which in this case is the political system (Burke 171). Analyzing Burke’s argument further, one can conclude that besides the people’s inclination for popular sovereignty there has to be a responsible political and judicial system in a society. The political body comes in handy to reinforce the laws, identify the needs of the society and seeing to it that they are met and giving people a sense of belonging and attachment. If everyone becomes a law enforcer, the vigor of a society would be lost in search of perfection. Similarly, since the society has to deal with international and regional matters, it would be nigh impossible for the whole community, without representatives in form of a political body, to keep in terms with such matters. The community deserves a political body which will ensure that it is represented in all its entities and to serve as a reinforcement of the rules and laws that the popular sovereignty wants followed.
Since the power of the majority regardless of how beneficial it is, might bring more harm than good to the society, various restrictions should be put in place to keep it under control. According to Mill, the decisions made by power of majority should be exercised as long as the individuals do not harm the others by ensuring that the society has a jurisdiction over people’s misconduct (Mill 103). Other restrictions that should be put in place include enacting a societal justice system that will maintain the laws and orders of the society regardless of what the people think is right or wrong. The system’s aim should be to ensure that everyone in the society remains at peace and does not get involved in illegal and terrorism activities that might harm the other people. To reinforce the system, the society should come up with a police body and a court house system in which the people will be tried, their decisions and perspectives evaluated and if they are found guilty of intentionally planning to harm or harming the community already, they should be put behind bars. On a similar note, to maintain a better state of law and order and ensuring that the popular sovereignty does not take advantage of their unfair advantage over the minority groups, all the laws and policies that should be enacted should be documented in a single document that will provide reference for all people in the state. Consequently, it will be easy to determine what is right and wrong on measures of the laws documented. To reinforce the restrictions on popular majority’s politics further, all people should be involved in the establishment of the laws to ensure that they all understand the repercussions of all vices.
There are objections that the will of the majority should be left to make political decisions due to the chances of occurrence of the tyranny of the majority. According to Mill, even though the people have a chance to rule themselves through popular sovereignty, which implies that the people would be immune to tyranny since “there was no fear of tyrannizing over self,” there is the risk of “tyranny of the majority”. This kind of tyranny involves the majority oppressing the few, who according to the dictates of democracy are also supposed to pursue their legitimate rights but are denied the chance due to the tyranny. Mill also argues that the tyranny of the majority is more dangerous than the tyranny of the government since it is not in the boundaries of any political function. He says that in a political function, one can be protected from a tyrant but it would be harder to be protected from the tyranny of prevailing opinion and feeling within the society (Mill 7).
He objects the popular sovereignty since the prevailing opinions and feelings within the society are considered as the basis of the rules and laws that govern the society. As a result of the sovereignty, the majority opinion may be upheld as the correct opinion regardless of the fact that the popular opinion is not necessarily the right opinion. Unlike in a political function, there can be no protection in law against the tyranny of the majority since most of the formed rules and laws will be based on personal preference instead of the common good of the people. He says that people would be prompted to align themselves with regard to whether they are in support of or against the law; the side with the majority will prevail regardless of whether they are correct or wrong (Mill 9, 10).
The rights and duties of individuals vis-à-vis the state and the society even in a democratic one are defined by Mill’s basic liberties that allow individuals to have a say in the society. Firstly, is the right and freedom of speech which gives individuals the freedom to express their thoughts and emotions for the best of the society. Secondly, is the freedom to pursue their tastes as long as they do not harm anybody, the freedom gives the citizens the duty to ensure that they do not engage in activities that may bring harm to the other citizens or to the state in general. Third, is the freedom to form unions, or to unite as long as the individuals are of age, as required by the state, they are not forced to join the union and as long as no harm is done to other citizens. Mill states that the rights are paramount in societies since they give the citizens a sense of being and freedom to express themselves and to connect with others, therefore, there is no justification that they should be removed whatsoever (Mill 19).
The government is not only the political power that individuals require protection from; the individuals also require protection from other individuals who, obsessed by the tyranny of the majority, oppress others. The tyranny of the majority, even without a political function, only prefers their preferences, rules and decisions and chooses them as the rule regardless of whether they are wrong and the minority in the society feel different about the rules. Thusly, the minority individuals whose preferences and decisions are looked down upon suffer. Such people require protection from the tyranny of the majority (Mill 7). For instance, a certain group of people, through the wrong interpretation of religious beliefs and practices, may believe that killing sinners is the best way of ending cruelty and obeying their god. Engineered by their beliefs, the people, may decide to put enact a law to kill the so said sinners, regardless of how simple the crime may be. It is definite that there are people among them who may be against the decision to kill, since, by the metrics of humanity, committing murder is a crime by itself. However, since the majority believe that their section of the beliefs transcripts literally means that killing is the best punishment, the minority will have no mandate to enact their own rules as well. On a similar note, the majority may even decide to harm the minority since they believe that their gods are being disobeyed. Consequently, besides the fact that individuals should be protected from an oppressive government, they should also be protected from other individuals who may want to harm them since they are against their decisions, views and preferences.
Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. Macmillan, 1890.
Mill, John Stuart. On liberty and other essays. Oxford University Press, USA, 1998.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Rousseau: The Basic Political Writings: Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Discourse on Political Economy, On the Social Contract, The State of War. Hackett Publishing, 2012..
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