Thursday, January 20, 2005


In honor of today's coronation - er, oops, I mean inauguration - here's something well worth reading:

"Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant — society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it — its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism." — John Stuart Mills, Introduction to On Liberty, The Library of Liberal Arts edition, p.7.

thanks to (google search, "tyranny of the majority", and there it was - I used the site, I owe them the mention) for saving me the work & time of actually going to the library & finding & retyping during a busy work day toda. I woke up this morning, turned on NPR, and although I was only half-listening as I got ready for work, my attention was grabbed by hearing Karl Rove saying "the American people approve" and with that absolute whatever - language fails me - simmering in the back of my mind all day, I eventually realized that no matter how eloquent I may wax - Mills said it better a long time ago.

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