Initiatives v Oligarchy

Our Founders' Warning: “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories.” (Thomas Jefferson)

Does the Amendment Risk Tyranny by Majority or Minority?

Assessing the Risk of Tyranny by the Majority or a Minority

Risk of tyranny by the majority or tyranny by a minority caused by ratifying this Amendment is compared with the current risk. It focuses only on the relative degrees of tyranny and avoids digression into the voluminous and contentious philosophical issues of tyranny in general. The practical objective is to determine if this Amendment will make tyranny more or less likely.

Risk of tyranny caused by ratifying this Amendment is compared with the current risk. The practical objective is to determine if this Amendment will make tyranny more or less likely.

Definition and Character of Tyranny

The fundamental importance of liberty is evident by from the words “secure the Blessings of Liberty” in the first paragraph of the Constitution. Though tyranny is discussed widely in writings connected to the Constitution—e.g., Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers—the word “tyranny” is not mentioned in the Constitution. However, tyranny is the antithesis of liberty. Consequently, the avoidance of tyranny is a general constitutional requirement.

Tyranny is most often defined as dictatorial power of tyranny by a minority—e.g., when a nation comes under the rule of a dictator, plutocracy, surrogate plutocracy or oligarchy and a minority forces its will upon the majority. There have been many examples of kings, emperors, dictators, plutocracies and oligarchies throughout history.

However, it can also be created in republics or democracies when tyranny by the majority subordinates a minority—e.g., in recent years ethnic subjugation leading to ethic cleansing has occurred in a number of nations such as the Bosnian-Serb Republic 1991-1992, Republic of Rwanda 1994, and Republic of Sudan 2003-ongoing. In these cases the tyranny appears to have been a desire of a large portion of the people. And tyranny by the majority was the pervasive norm during earlier times, including in the United States where we did not abolish: slavery until 1865, disenfranchisement of women until 1920, and discrimination until 1964.

Avoidance of risk of tyranny by the majority or a minority is therefore a key constitutional issue and resurgence of tyranny is an ever-present danger.

In addition to analysis of numerous examples of tyranny throughout history, controlled experiments on the causes and mechanisms of tyranny have been conducted—e.g., at Stanford and Exeter Universities. In plain words and simplifying the issues, the conclusions of various studies by Haslam and Reicher, Roland, Fox and Kloppenberg, Zimbardo, et al. show that tyranny generally has the following characteristics.

  1. Tyranny can be implemented and exercised by normal people.
  2. Tyranny is more likely when people are competing for insufficient resources.
  3. Tyranny is more likely when the tyrants have little empathy for the tyrannized.
  4. Tyranny is more likely by stealth by those in power than by coup.
  5. Tyrants usually need an early stoke of good luck to establish great public credibility.
  6. Tyrants tend to overestimate their power to control events and the public tends to overestimate the tyrants abilities.
  7. Tyrants often fear those they oppress.
  8. Tyrants are afterwards often found to be rather ordinary people.
  9. A group is more likely to tyrannize when it is vigorously led.
  10. Early success of a tyranny causes average people to join and to justify their subsequent actions as a norm of the membership.
  11. The existence of a powerful majority does not necessarily lead to tyranny.
  12. Weak leadership of democracy can lead to chaos and subsequent tyranny.
  13. The key to avoiding tyranny is to detect it early and defeat it before it can enforce permanence.

Safeguards Against a Tyrannous Initiative

Proposed initiatives will undoubtedly include some attempts (intended and unintended) to advance both types of tyranny. There are three sequential safeguards protecting against an initiative permitting some form of tyranny:

  1. IQA Members must vote their own independent un-coerced opinion after open-minded deliberation. Moreover, they cannot participate in voting by any group affiliation, vote trading, sale or favor. Hence, it is very unlikely that a tyrannous Initiative might be selected and qualified by the IQA—this is discussed in more detail below.
  2. Next, Initiatives must be approved by double majority vote of the nationwide Electorate. It is in the run-up to the election that the fight to protect against tyranny will be aired totally in the open and everyone can weigh in on the debate without constraint.
  3. Finally, the U.S. Courts are the guardians of constitutional rights and protection against tyranny. Laws passed by Initiatives are subject to the same judicial review as laws passed by Congress. Laws that contravene the Constitution can be overturned by the courts. This will be and has always been the U.S. Citizens’ basic protection against tyranny, and is unaffected by this Citizens’ Initiatives Amendment.

The second and third procedures are known to most voters. The major question is will a IQA (i.e., U.S. Citizens’ Initiatives Assembly) select and qualify proposed initiative involving potential tyranny?

Composition of the IQA

The People are fairly represented in the IQA as compared with Congress. It is composed of a great many minorities and a few inevitable majorities.

Female 51 15.6 Less than a third of their fair share
Male 49 87.5 Arguably 1.8 times their fair share
White 69.1 84.4
Hispanic or Latino of any race 12.5 5.3 Less than half of their fair share
Black or African American 12.3 8.2 Two-thirds of their fair share
Asian 3.6 0.9
American Indian or Alaska Native 0.9 0.2
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander 0.1 0
Lawyers 0.4 43 Arguably 100 times their fair share

There are a few principal majorities in the IQA, but each majority breaks down into many minorities of race, religion, sex, socio-economic group, age, origin, etc. that are unlikely to hold the same views as others in the majority group:

  1. Women by a two-percent margin.
  2. White Americans by about a 69 percent majority.
  3. Home property owners by about a 67.4 percent majority.
  4. Members who are religious by about an 85 percent majority.
  5. American born citizens by about a 93 percent majority.

The low proportion of lawyers in the IQA may at first sight be seen as a legislative disadvantage. However, the Initiative process will only create about one percent of the number of laws passed by Congress, and Initiatives cannot be excessively long or involved because they must be readily comprehensible to the voters. Consequently, the IQA can rely on outside legal assistance and does not have to have a disproportionate number of lawyers.

Finally, Candidate Initiatives have to be passed by the IQA on two separate occasions with somewhat different Membership composition, giving a second chance to redress any initial unfair decision.

The IQA’s Effect on Risk of Tyranny by the Majority

It is far harder for the majority to attempt to tyrannize a minority that is vocally and empathetically present for an extended period as equals (as in the IQA) than those who are not present (as in Congress). This personal presence is of great importance in plenary session and when the IQA breaks into small randomly selected groups of about 15 Members to debate issues before returning to plenary session. Any attempt to advance an initiative that tyrannizes a minority will cause resistance by that minority and gain support from majority Members from an innate sense of fairness. Every Member is part of several minority groups and will tend to the position that fairness must be encouraged as a win-win strategy, or they will all loose.

By comparison, voting on important congressional legislation is often controlled by the political parties. This can be seen clearly by the partisan voting on key issues. Thus, it can be argued that the majority party is behaving as a tyranny by the majority in these cases. Even when the parties permit their members to vote freely, the representational inequalities shown in the table above indicate a higher risk of tyranny by the majority in Congress than the IQA.

It is reasonable to conclude that tyranny by the majority is less a problem in the IQA than in Congress and that this Amendment will result in a reduction in the risk of tyranny by the majority.

The IQA’s Effect on Risk of Tyranny by a Minority

Tyranny by a minority is made virtually impossible in the IQA by a combination of unassailable operational techniques. For example: the strict limit that a Member can be chairperson of the IQA for only one month or hold other positions of authority for long, prohibitions against group voting, the limit of one-year terms, secret voting, etc. Consequently, a brief minority tyranny of the IQA is conceivable, but even then it should not last more than a month. The requirement that all Candidate Initiatives must be approved in two readings separated by several months (i.e., assuring a somewhat different membership) is an additional guarantee that a minority tyranny of the IQA will not be able to force an initiative onto the ballot. An initiative that proposes a minority control would not be to the benefit of the majority of the Members. Consequently, without minority tyranny of the IQA, an Initiative proposing a minority tyranny of the People would not be advanced to the ballot.

Tyranny by a minority is where Congress has developed its greatest risks and is an important reason why this Amendment is urgently needed as a constitutional check-and-balance. Excessive special interest contributions to congressional campaigns results in excessive influence on legislation. These special interests are a minority, and their excessive influence creates clear and present risk of tyranny by a minority. It is feared that as their influence inexorably grows, Congress will soon become a surrogate plutocracy of permanently re-elected representatives controlled by special interest groups. Return from surrogate plutocracy to a republican form of government is unsure once the surrogate plutocracy become firmly entrenched.

It is reasonable to conclude that tyranny by a minority is less a problem in the IQA than in Congress and that this Amendment will result in a reduction in the risk of tyranny by a minority.

The Nationwide Electorate’s Effect on Risk of Tyranny

Because the IQA will qualify Initiatives that do not increase the risk of tyranny by minority or majority as compared to Congress, the nationwide Electorate cannot increase that risk whether they pass or reject the Initiatives. Thus, the risks of creating any tyrannical results by this Citizens’ Initiatives Amendment are less than the risks without this Amendment.

2 responses to “Does the Amendment Risk Tyranny by Majority or Minority?

  1. As a south African I  have noted surge of tyranny by majority since Mandela stepped down,from 2009 until now it has become worse.Legislative attempts have failed though but insidiuos attempts like supporting JZ Nkandla private home improvement of R240 million rand and other underhand corrupt activities support by ANC continue unabated.Can you please refer me to any material that has this kind of  tyranny that is unlegislated but overtly chaotic with the consequent loss of R700 billion fruitless expenditure?

    1. When government is corrupt, the People can lobby, protest, petition, etc. But the only peaceful power for the People to force reduction in corruption is the Direct Initiative. Only Ancient Greece (creating the Golden Age and founding Western Civilization), Switzerland (helping make it the top ranking nation in the world today), and 16 U.S. States have them. Gaining the People’s right of Direct Initiative requires a long, hard, effort. (See Wikipedia History of Direct Democracy in the U.S.)

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