The Tyranny of the Majority - RR144G14
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Tonight we shall continue with our studies in De Tocqueville. We saw this morning something of the significance in American History of Eschatology, the doctrine of last things. And we saw that one of the very ugly influences on the church in the early centuries was the influence of Manichaeism. Now Manichaeism divided the world into two separate domains and as belonging to and created by two different Gods, a good god, who is the god of spirit, of light, and of mind; and then the other the bad god who is the creator of matter, of desire, and of darkness.
As a result, the only salvation in Manichaeism was to withdraw from the world that you didn’t belong to. Now, some forms of Manichaeism said the God of spirit was the bad god, but it was usually the god who created matter who was regarded as bad god. So salvation was to withdraw from the material world, to withdraw from desire, to withdraw from everything that was of this world and material. And we saw that this spirit has been very much with us through the centuries, the hippies represent it today in their contempt for outward things. Manichaean temperament emphasizes spirituality, and says we should be spiritual. [00:01:55]
Now when the Bible speaks of being spiritually minded...
Now when the Bible speaks of being spiritually minded it does not use it in the same sense, it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, for from the Biblical perspective we are not asked to be spiritual in the Manichaean sense, but Godly. After all Satan is a spiritual being and he is totally evil. Now the Manichaean retreated from the world. As a result, for him the essence of the saved man was the one who got as far away from the world and practical things as possible. And because Saint Augustine, one of the greatest men of the church, really the father of Roman Catholicism and as well as the father of Protestantism, a tremendous amount of good in the man, as well as this unfortunate tendency: because he stressed this aspect, it led him to see eschatology, the doctrine of the last things in terms of this influence. And so his idea of salvation ultimately was a retreat into a convent, into a monastery, and his eschatology was au-mill. It was an eschatology of retreat.
Of course then you know the other type of eschatology which has a similar influence, and it is pre-mill, and it calls for a rapture out of your problems. Whereas of course the other eschatology, post-millennialism, calls for conquest.
Now to continue our review very briefly, a little before the reformation this latter eschatology began to revive and led to the kind of exploration that Columbus represented. It led in part to the reformation. It came into its own among the Puritans, and especially in this country. It was as we saw this morning and we won’t review that, this kind of eschatology, the eschatology for conquest which for a while died out from 1650 to 1740 in the colonies, was revived by Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Hopkins and Joseph Bellamy, three Calvinists. And it was there followers that made possible the war of independence. Because they were geared now not to retreat, but to conquest. [00:04:51]
We are going to see, next week what happened, the peculiar...
We are going to see, next week what happened, the peculiar results of the surrender of this eschatology, in the last century as it began to hit America. And today it has triumphed, so that there is a withdrawal of the churches that should be out conquering the world, the Bible believing churches, from any action. They are ready to withdraw the snatched branch from the burning only, and to say: ‘Do nothing about the world, that’s the social gospel,” as one very prominent pastor in California, J. Vernon McGee of the Church of the open door has very often said: “You don’t polish brass on a sinking ship.” The world is a sinking ship. Let it sink, don’t occupy yourself at all with reform.
Now when we complete our analysis of De Tocqueville, we will return to this matter of eschatology and see how some of the fears of De Tocqueville came to be realized precisely because there was a movement from conquest to retreat or rapture. Now we shall continue our study of De Tocqueville, with chapters 15 following of the first volume. De Tocqueville says and I quote: “The very essence of democratic government consists in the absolute sovereignty of the majority; for there is nothing in democratic states that is capable of resisting it.” [00:06:43]
De Tocqueville then went on to point out that in the...
De Tocqueville then went on to point out that in the old days in France before the revolution, one of the political things of the day was because of the background of the belief in divine rights. The King can do no wrong. And he said the belief is growing up in many Americans because of the democratic sentiment that the majority can do no wrong. And of course the ancient creed of democracy had arrived, summed up in the Latin phrase “Vox populi Vox Dei” The voice of the people is the voice of God. This he said leads to tyranny.
Moreover De Tocqueville went on to say, the law is unstable where a majority rules. If you believe that majorities rule, the law is not important. And the time will come when you feel not only can you change the law at will, but it makes no difference what a constitution says, the will of the people must be done. And so when you have an emphasis on majority rule, ultimately you destroy the rule of law. Of course the whole purpose of the constitution was to frustrate precisely this. The Constitution does not provide for majority rule, nor for minority rule. It does provide for government by a majority, but for the rule of law. [00:08:39]
And you perhaps have noticed in France or in Britain...
And you perhaps have noticed in France or in Britain whenever the administration loses a vote, in the house, or in the French assembly, immediately the government collapses. There has to be a new election, because no longer does the administration have a vote of confidence from the country. It can only stay in office so long as it has a majority vote behind it. This is why sometimes in the past generation some of the governments in the countries of Europe have changed administrations, sometimes every few months, every year, with very great rapidity. Because they could not in a crisis command a majority. And it is especially in a crisis that an administration has the greatest difficulty commanding a majority. Because the more severe the crisis the more people are ready to change their mind, the more fearful they are as the crisis develops day by day, and the more unwilling they are to trust the administration.
The result is that the more a country moves into a democracy the more unstable it becomes. And the more the tyranny of the majority prevails, De Tocqueville said. He went on to say and I quote: “Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing. Human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion. God alone can be omnipotent, because his wisdom and his justice are always equal to his power. There is no power on earth so worthy of honor in itself or clothed with rights so sacred that I would admit its uncontrolled and all-predominant authority. When I see that the right and the means of absolute command are conferred on any power whatever, be it called a people or a king, an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or a republic, I recognize the germ of tyranny, and I journey onward to a land of more hopeful institutions. In my opinion, the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise, as is often asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their overpowering strength.”
Now mind you, he has said there’s not much of an administration in Washington, the Federal Governments and the State Governments are very small. So most Europeans said; “The United States is very weak.” But he said there is a danger, not because of that weakness but because of the overpowering strength of the majority. He continues:
“I am not so much alarmed at the excessive liberty which reigns in that country as at the inadequate securities which one finds there against tyranny. When an individual or a party is wronged in the United States, to whom can he apply for redress? If to public opinion, public opinion constitutes the majority; if to a legislature, it represents the majority and implicitly obeys it’s instructions; if to the executive power, it is appointed by the majority and is a passive tool in its hands. The public troops consists of the majority under arms; the jury is the majority invested with the right of hearing judicial cases; and in certain states even the judges are elected by the majority. However iniquitous or absurd the evil of which you complain may be, you must submit to it as well as you can.” [00:13:02]
And then he has a long footnote...
And then he has a long footnote. “A striking instance of the excesses that may be occasioned by the despotism of the majority occurred at Baltimore during the War of 1812. At that time the war was very popular in Baltimore. A newspaper that had taken the other side excited the indignation of the inhabitants by its opposition. The mob assembled, broke the printing-presses, and attacked the house of the editors. The militia was called out, but did not obey the call; and the only means of saving the wretches who were threatened by the frenzy of the mob was to throw them into prison as common malefactors. But even this precaution was ineffectual, the mob collected again during the night; the magistrates again made a vain attempt to call out the militia; the prison was forced, one of the newspaper editors was killed upon the spot, and the others were left for dead. The guilty parties, when they were brought to trial, were acquitted by the jury.”
Now is that an extreme example? I don’t think so. He put his finger on real problem when a country become ruled by a democratic spirit. I was too young to recall it, but my father often told me of the problems of this country during World War I. The Democrats were in the majority and they moved us into the War even though as later in World War 2 Wilson promised not to take us into the War. And the result was that anyone who after the declaration of war opposed it was in serious trouble. In my home town of Kingsburg California, downtown one farmer happened to express his disagreement with the war and he said: “I don’t think we have any business in Europe.” That Washington’s position was still he considered the best American position. They immediately were ready to lynch him, and they threw him into jail. As a matter of fact at the time my cousin started school, by the time I did about a year and a half, two years later, they had changed the school books. All the school books he had used were badly mutilated, why? Because the democrats had been so anti German during the war that they insisted that every good reference to Germany be taken out of all the textbooks. So they had gone through and cut out pictures of Beethoven, and of Bach, and of (Gatey?), and other great Germans, and all favorable references. So he said that his textbooks, his school books were a joke. There were so many things cut out of them. Now that’s where the will of the majority leads us. [00:16:13]
Now he goes on to say, ...
Now he goes on to say, “I said one day to an inhabitant of Pennsylvania: "Be so good as to explain to me how it happens that in a state founded by Quakers, and celebrated for its toleration, free blacks are not allowed to exercise civil rights. They pay taxes; is it not fair that they should vote?"
"You insult us," replied my informant, "if you imagine that our legislators could have committed so gross an act of injustice and intolerance."
"Then the blacks possess the right of voting in this
"Without the smallest doubt."
"How comes it, then, that at the polling-booth this morning I did not perceive a single Negro?"
"That is not the fault of the law. The Negroes have an undisputed right of voting, but they voluntarily abstain from making their appearance."
"A very pretty piece of modesty on their part!" rejoined I.
"Why, the truth is that they are not disinclined to vote, but they are afraid of being maltreated; in this country the law is sometimes unable to maintain its authority without the support of the majority. But in this case the majority entertains very strong prejudices against the blacks, and the magistrates are unable to protect them in the exercise of their legal privileges."
"What then? The majority claims the right not only of making the laws, but of breaking the laws it has made?"”
Well you see he put his finger on a real problem. The country was established to be a republic, to have the rule of law. It was still a godly country but there were evidences of the growth of Democracy, and of very serious problems attendant thereon. [00:18:10]
Now, De Tocqueville went on to say...
Now, De Tocqueville went on to say: ”We must make a distinction between tyranny and arbitrary power.” This is a very important point. Arbitrary power can sometimes be exercised for the good of the community at large, but tyranny can be exercised by law. Sometimes men have taken the law into their own hands as it were when they saw an emergency and a crisis, and have acted when the law did not give them any law to act. But it has been for the public good. But he says that when there is a tendency to feel that the majority and the law are identifiable, or the majority is the law, you may have no arbitrary power, but you still have tyranny.
Then he spoke of the power of the majority. And he said and again I am going to read because De Tocqueville is so eloquent: “At the present time the most absolute monarchs in Europe are unable to prevent certain notions which are opposed to their authority from circulating in secret through their dominions and even in their courts. Such is not the case in America; so long as the majority is still undecided, discussion is carried on; but as soon as its decision is irrevocably pronounced, the submissive silence is observed, and the friends as well as the opponents of the measure unite in assenting to its propriety. The reason of this is perfectly clear: no monarch is so absolute as to combine all the powers of society in his own hands and to conquer all opposition, with the energy of a majority, which is invested with the right both of making and of executing the laws.
The authority of a king is purely physical and it controls the actions of the subject without subduing his private will. But the majority possesses a power which is physical and moral at the same time, it acts upon the will as well as upon the actions of men and represses not only all contest, but all controversy.
I know of no country in which there is so little true independence of mind and freedom of discussion as in America. In America the majority raises very formidable barriers to the liberty of opinion.” [00:21:01]
Now of course De Tocqueville because he was concerned...
Now of course De Tocqueville because he was concerned with the future of history was trying to understand the United States. Trying to see the direction of history. The 20th century has indeed demonstrated that the democratic movement has led to totalitarianism all over the world, to a growing suppression of liberty, that in the name of law all kinds of arbitrary powers or rather all kinds of tyrannies have been exercised, and people have submitted to it as though it were justice. Consider what happened after Word War 2 in Britain, something as revolutionary as anything that Soviet Russia did. Attacks which ran well over a hundred percent of the man’s income. Wherever anyone had any kind of substantial income and means. Well now supposing you had an income of some substance, and some assets, and you were taxed 120 or a 145% of your income, several years in a row. What would you have to do? You would have to put your assets, your art treasures, and your estate up for sale, or else as in some cases make a deal with the British government and say: “I’ll turn over my family castle with all its art treasures, to the British government, in return for which I have the right to remain here.” And so they do remain and they become sometimes guides of the tourists who are escorted through their own house, so many hours every day. When it was over I think there were a half a dozen people in all of England with incomes of something more than 40 or 45 thousand in a year. They’d wiped them out. That was the revolution. It was a part of the democratic movement. Now it is interesting that the United States has resisted the end result of that democratic movement more than most countries, but it’s not resisting it sufficiently. It is gaining ground here. The power of an unlimited majority is a tremendous threat. [00:23:40]
Now the 16th chapter, De Tocqueville has some very interesting things to say about some of the virtues of the United States. We have touched on some of these previously, but to summarize them very, very briefly, De Tocqueville says the United States has a centralized government in Washington, that it has no centralized administration or bureaucracy. It has in fact a very small, a very weak central government. And so there is a great deal of freedom possible because the central government as well as the state governments are relatively weak. Moreover he commented on the strength of the jury system in the United States. And he said the Jury system requires that the people learn to rule, and to rule well. It requires them to develop the habit of good judgement.
He pointed out also a fact that to him was very strange because, coming from Europe where many of the countries as far as their legal structure were concerned had departed from Christianity far more than here, and especially in France his home where this was especially true, he commented on the fact that in the courts of this country if you were an atheist you could not offer testimony as a witness for anyone. You could only testify on your own behalf, and your testimony was discounted because you were an atheist and you could not therefore on taking the oath do it in the fear of God. That was the fact for a long time, and as a matter of fact it was only in the last few years that this requirement was dropped in the supreme court, overruled in the last state or two where it still remained. [00:25:55]
Now in the seventeenth chapter, De Tocqueville writes...
Now in the seventeenth chapter, De Tocqueville writes on the accidental or providential causes which contribute to the maintenance of the democratic republic in the United States. And he lists a number of them, the fact that the United States had no powerful neighbor to be a threat to its security and development, no great cities comparable to the European, that the United States is more or less an empty country, as a result it has the possibility of growth and development. This gives it also a freedom such as people elsewhere do not have. Now in the course of these comments he interjects a footnote. He has commented at great length on how well off the people of the United States are, how little government they need in the way of police and the like because by and large their behavior is so exemplary. He gives a very beautiful picture of the United States by and large, but at one point he expresses great fears and he makes a prediction which did not come true.
This footnote is a very important one and it is in the edition of De Tocqueville that you are using. You will find it in Chapter 17, the first footnote in the second section, immediately after “Principle causes which tend to maintain the democratic republic in the United States.” [00:28:06]
Has anyone found it? It begins the United States have...
Has anyone found it? It begins the United States have no metropolis? If you have the page number give it to someone else. 209? 299. 299. Well that’s an interesting point, that first sentence that I read, because it indicates a great change in the United States. You notice he says “The United States have.” It was a plural noun, up until about 1861, after that it began to change into a singular noun, so that today we would say “The United States has.” Which indicates what has happened to our legal structure. From being a federal union it means we have become a national state. A very, very important change. But this is routine in this era. This book was written in the 1830’s, and published around 1840, in this country in 1841. And this usage was commonplace. Yes.
[Audience] “You said constitution…(?)”
[Rushdoony] Yes, yes. It indicates what happened in this country. Now to continue with this important footnote: “The United States have no metropolis; but they already contain several very large cities. Philadelphia reckoned 161,000 inhabitants, and New York 202,000, in the year 1830. The lower orders which inhabit these cities constitute a rabble even more formidable than the populace of European towns. They consist of freed blacks, in the first place, who are condemned by the laws and by public opinion to an hereditary state of misery and degradation. They also contain a multitude of Europeans, who have been driven to the shores of the New World by their misfortunes or their misconduct; and these men inoculate the United States with all our vices, without bringing with them any of those interests which counteract their baneful influence. As inhabitants of a country where they have no civil rights, they are ready to turn all the passions which agitate the community to their own advantage; thus, within the last few months, serious riots have broken out in Philadelphia and in New York. Disturbances of this kind are unknown in the rest of the country, which is nowise alarmed by them, because the population of the cities has hitherto exercised neither power nor influence over the rural districts.
Nevertheless, I look upon the size of certain American cities, and especially on the nature of their population, as a real danger which threatens the future security of the democratic republics of the New World; and I venture to predict that they will perish from this circumstance, unless the government succeeds in creating an armed force, which, while it remains under the control of the majority of the nation, will be independent of the town-population, and able to repress its excesses.” [00:31:52]
Now De Tocqueville says, the worst scum of Europe are...
Now De Tocqueville says, the worst scum of Europe are being sent over and are filling the big cities of the Atlantic seaboard. They are creating slums that are worse than anything the old world has ever seen. This rabble is dangerous, there are already serious riots which have broken out in recent months. And he was afraid that this would overthrow the republic, perhaps create a revolution, unless a standing army were recruited to keep order in these cities. Of course he said the rest of the countryside is entirely free of problems like this.
Now how did this problem arise? Well for a long time, almost in this century, well really in this century we had no immigration laws. Anyone could come here. Well this meant that immediately after we became a free country, after the war of independence, with no longer the British you see to prevent foreigners from coming here and to control the immigration here, the various European countries including the British felt that a good way to clean their prisons out was to take the prisoners, put them on a boat for the United States, pay their fare and say goodbye to them. It was cheaper than keeping them in prison indefinitely and feeding them. And they were doing this.
And this was not all; another very serious problem was, well, if a well to do family in England or elsewhere had a no-account son, a black sheep, who was a thorough disgrace to the family, they gave him so much money and put him on a boat, and said: “Go to America.” I know a family where there was one such black sheep who had been shipped out by a very well to do English family. He came over here and the family said: “He made and lost two fortunes,” he was a very brilliant and able man and a terror to everyone because his bad character was very definitely there. The family since has become quite distinguished. [00:34:48]
But this was not all...
But this was not all. Supposing some good family, prominent family in England had a daughter who got into trouble and got pregnant. This was the ultimate in disgrace, so their method was just to take her down to the docks, put her on shipboard and send her to America. Very brutal, but very commonly done. And since these girls had, and this was irrespective of the fact that she might have been very much the innocent party in the situation, and had been taken advantage of, but it was their way of getting rid of a problem or an embarrassment. And when she landed in New York or Boston or Charleston, or whatever the case might be, the boat was regularly met by pimps, black and white, who knew that such girls were regularly being shipped over and were very helpless and had a small amount of money to help them get started, and so they would meet them with sweet talk and promises, and very quickly make prostitutes out of them.
So De Tocqueville was right, the situation in the slums of the big cities was a frightening one. And sometimes the things that occurred there are really staggering. I have a number of books at home that describe the conditions of the slums of New York and other of the eastern cities, that are really staggering and hardly fit to read in public, the description of the horrors that were routine and commonplace is so frightening. In some parts of New York the police did not dare to go except in numbers. And yet there was never a need for a standing army. There was never a revolution, although there were a number of very serious riots at different times. What made the difference? The worst slums of the western world with the scum of Europe being poured into those slums, and boatload after boatload being shipped over, what happened? You remember we were discussing the tithe agencies, the voluntary associations? De Tocqueville writes about them although he wasn’t fully aware of all that they did. These tithe agencies were formed to meet every kind of problem, and every kind of situation. And little by little with great difficulty but with great faith and patience, they dealt with these slum dwellers. They Christianized countless numbers of them. They prevented any fulfillment of De Tocqueville’s prediction. [00:38:04]
This is one of the most remarkable facts...
This is one of the most remarkable facts. And we are going to see next week something of how this happened on the frontier, because the frontier was the place to which the lawlessness of the United States fled to escape from the law and to live off of the law abiding by robbery and extortion, and every kind of crime imaginable. So we have a very remarkable fact in the power of these voluntary associations to provide a government. Let me say parenthetically that we have the same problem today. The Kind of problem De Tocqueville is talking about we do have today in Washington D.C., we have it in Harlem New York, we have it in other parts of New York, in fact a good deal of New York today. We have it in San Francisco and in one great city after another, and it is a problem we need to think about as Christians.
I was very interested to continue this little parenthetical observation, when I was in Birmingham this last October, to meet this very intelligent and very fine young Negro pastor. He had gone to college, I believe he studied law, he worked for the government, and he said he kept trying to reform himself; he was very earnestly trying to be a good man and provide leadership for his people. But he said trying to reform himself was like trying to erase a little mark on a piece of white paper with muddy hands. He wasn’t getting anywhere with his self-reformation. And so he was finally led to Christ, became Christian. And now he was engaged on a very important mission. He had met this negro from south Africa who had visited this country, a negro minister. And the Negro minister was appalled by what he saw among his fellow Negro’s in the United States. Fewer Christians among them than in South Africa where many of them are still living in very primitive conditions and un-evangelized, but a higher ratio of Christians among the blacks in South Africa. When this Negro pastor went back to South Africa he was so upset and distressed by what was happening here, because he said the Negro’s of the United States should be leaders among the Negro’s of the world, and they are going back into barbarism because of their lack of faith. He asked the Negro churches in South Africa to send him here as a missionary, and he wrote this young man who has also become a minister, and they are planning to develop a mission to their own people in the slums of this country. [00:41:44]
Now in a sense this is the kind of thing you see that...
Now in a sense this is the kind of thing you see that De Tocqueville was talking about. The voluntary associations that create changes in this country. In this case we are getting an assist from South Africa. But it is a very remarkable and important fact. Then De Tocqueville continues, and he declares there are three factors giving strength to the United States. He says the first is the Federal form of Government, which enables the United States to combine the power of a great empire with the security of a small state. Under federalism, you have all the security that a small country gives you in each of the states, and you have also the power of a great empire. The second is the municipal governments which limit the power of the majority of the country, and therefore develop on the local level a freedom and an independence of the greater tendency of the country. And the third he said is the judicial power. The courts he says do serve to a great degree to suppress the excesses of democracy.
We will stop at this point for a break before we continue with De Tocqueville. [00:43:47]