Democracy is a form of government, and in its most general terms, it is a system where the people rule by electing their leader(s). The people, or rather citizens, through this system, decide on leader(s) and political issues by majority rule. Citizens vote and the majority determines the position of the entire population. During the making of the American democratic system, the founders of the Constitution feared that the majority rule concept would or could lead to tyranny if the power was not balanced. The founders of the United States, therefore, incorporated the principle of majority rule into the Constitution. This principle was countered with the establishment of a checks and balance system, such that no one group at any one time could control completely any one branch of government.
Among the minority population, however, there was and is always a fear that the majority will disregard the former’s particular needs in order to fulfill the latter’s own wants and needs. Minorities are often defined in terms of religion, race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and/or political difference. To protect the minority population, certain rights and freedoms are necessary to prevent a potential oppression by the majority.
A successful democracy is one that incorporates both concepts so that an effective and fair government is formed. The founders wished for a country where the will of the majority ruled. These founding fathers had originally come to this new land to escape tyrants ruling in Europe, particularly in England. They knew, however, that the majority rule could transform into a “tyranny of the majority”, therefore, it was necessary to have rights and freedoms for all individuals, including minorities, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. (Mitsopoulos, 2007, p. 5)The two work hand in hand to ensure that the democracy still persists.
As mentioned, these concepts have been incorporated into the U.S. Constitution. One will find an example of majority rule in Secton 2, “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every Year by the People…” It was intended by the constitutional authors that the House of Representatives would be the people’s house, such that its members would and are elected directly by voters in each state. On the other hand, the first ten Amendments, or the Bill of Rights, inherently protects the rights of individuals and in effect minorities, as do Amendments added later. These rights and freedoms include but are not limited to the following: (1) Equal Protection (14th Amendment), such that laws must be applied to each person equally regardless of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, (2) Freedom of Religion (1st Amendment), such that each person has a right to practice his/her own belief without the fear of government interference, (3) Freedom of Speech and Expression (1st Amendment), such that each member of society has a right to free speech with limited regulation (e.g. child pornography illegal). (Killian) The intent of the constitutional authors with regard to rights and freedoms of the Constitution was that it would indeed balance the power of the majority rule and prevent tyranny. (Ibid.)
The concept of majority rule with respect for minority rights is a significant factor in American government and policy today. For example, in the U.S. there are essentially Democrats and Republicans in the political race, though others exist. When it comes time for voting, the country is broken into two halves, and only one side can win. Minority rights matter for the losing half with regard to the issues that they were voting for in effect when they were voting for their candidate. At the same time, however, the minority (whether a minority due to religion, ethnicity, etc.) can still write, call, voice his/her opinion with the elected official. Just because a candidate is elected does not automatically mean their political views become law; there is a process and both the Senate and House must pass pieces of legislature, not the one individual or the one party, but both or all parties that make up the government of the United States.
Further and as another example, rights that were unheard of many years ago are now coming into play, such as homosexuality rights. The majority rule in many states has banned this right, while in some states, notably California, gay rights have been upheld, including marriage. Majority rule is a significant factor with respect to minority rights, especially because the margin of the majority rule is not a super majority and that there are new minority rights to be voted on.
Killian, Johnny H. Secretary of the Senate. Constitution of the Unted States. United States Senate. Last accessed on August 29, 2008. <http://www.senate.gov/civics/constitution_item/constitution.htm#a1_sec9>.
Mitsopoulos, Michael. (October 2007) Majority Rule, Minority Rights and Corruption. Social Science Research Network Working Papers. Greece: University of Piraeus. <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1018827>