Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Our National Identity & the Tyranny of the Majority

Majority rule -- it seems to make sense, right? We use it all the time in our daily lives, deciding what movie to see or what to have for dinner. Yet, just because an idea is popular or widespread, that doesn't mean it's correct or appropriate or ethical or righteous. In essence, sometimes a bunch of people might just be a bunch of jerks. Or worse, the bunch might be a few jerks and a whole lot of mindless or weak followers. Yet, the nature of our government can complicate issues when the will of the majority takes precedence. That point is part of my earliest recollections of beginning to part ways with political parties and to disagree with people whose ideology and value system I thought I shared. 

Supporting the rights of the individual against the tyranny of the majority is also the essence of American conservatism as explored and explained in George Will's brilliant and erudite work The Conservative Sensibility.

American conservatism is about conserving the vision and spirit and commitment of the founding of America. In explaining this idea, Will introduces two moments and court cases about the will of the majority and the violation of the individual rights. One is the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which sought to overturn the Missouri Compromise and extend slavery into the territories under the idea of "popular sovereignty." Basically, the will of the majority to extend the scourge of slavery was declared by Stephen Douglas to be the foundation of American politics. To quote Will, "Lincoln disagreed." 

The second issue was the case of Minersville vs Gobitis, which was the second court case regarding "forced flag salutes." This one is definitely worth learning about it if you haven't before, for it centers on the suspension and expulsion of two elementary school children who were Jehovah's Witnesses and who refuse to "salute the flag," (which was actually a thing in the 1930s) because it violated their faith -- basically it was idolatry, or worship of an object or symbol. Now, you would think Republicans and religious conservatives would be on the side of the children, but they weren't. And I think a lot about that these days as I view rather shaky and inconsistent application of that religious liberty argument from too many Republicans. 

Basically, the conservatism linked to the founders would side with the kids. But when "patriotism" comes into play people seem to lose their minds and their values. And that's when the tyranny of the majority conflicts with the rights of the individual.

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