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writing for godot

The Tyranny of the Concurrent Majority

Written by Walter J Smith   
Tuesday, 16 April 2013 12:14
The phrase 'tyranny of the majority' was used by John Adams in 1788. The phrase
gained prominence after its appearance in 1835 in Democracy in America, by
Alexis de Tocqueville, where it is the title of a section. It was further popularized
by John Stuart Mill, who cites Tocqueville, in On Liberty (1859). The Federalist Papers
refer to the broad concept, as in Federalist 10, first published in 1787, which speaks
of 'the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.'

Ochlocracy (Greek: ὀχλοκρατία, okhlokratía; Latin: ochlocratia) or mob rule is government by mob or a mass of people, or the intimidation of legitimate authorities. As a pejorative for majoritarianism, it is akin to the Latin phrase mobile vulgus meaning "the fickle crowd", from which the English term "mob" was originally derived in the 1680s.

There is in effect an unruly mob, closely akin to an ochlocracy, ruling us today.
Calhoun's Concurrent Majority theory fits it better than does 'numerical majority'.

In 1847, having begun to sense the already strongly emerging conflict between the anti-slavery radical Republicans and the status quo Democrats, South Carolinian John C. Calhoun wrote A Disquisition on Government. In this book, Calhoun puts forth both a confirmation of the US Constitutional government, and a sustained rejection of the theory of equality created by the Declaration of Independence. Historians have since dubbed his thinking the theory of the Concurrent Majority, the name Calhoun gave the beneficiaries of the thought.

Both notions, the Tyranny of the Majority, and the Concurrent Majority, now explain, in part, the state of the United States politics and government. In brief, the numerical majority does decide who will hold office. But, what the officeholders do once they are in office is better explained by Calhoun's theory. To see this most easily, one benefits greatly with a little visit inside John C. Calhoun's writing. But this simple comparison hardly does justice to the stark contrasts of their political impacts.

Calhoun argued that, "liberty, when forced on a people unfit for it, would, instead of a blessing, be a curse; as it would, in its reaction, lead directly to anarchy." He was, of course, thinking of the slaves as those then likely to be 'forced' into liberty. He then proceeded to justify the status quo 'Concurrent Majority', the small number of wisdom-knowing plantation owners in the South running their plantations. If we grasp his theory of the Concurrent Majority, which was unusually precise in portraying the views of the plantation owners, we can see how the theory, in spite of its original aim, has not only proven to have historical and political merit; we can also see how those who embraced the theory then have their spiritual progeny today who are the most obvious living embodiments of the curse that was, from their perspective, 'forced' upon the slaves in their apparently unprepared, even if, legal, conditions.

The Concurrent Majority theory calls initially for a distinction between equality and the liberty of suffrage. Equality through the vote, Calhoun insisted, was an essential element of constitutional government; liberty and equality "are united to a certain extent, -- and that equality of citizens, in the eyes of the law, is essential to liberty in a popular government." However, that liberty must, for Calhoun, be strictly limited to the specific legal equality of voting: "But to go further, and make equality of condition essential to liberty, would be to destroy both liberty and progress." This separation of legal from material equality may seem on first glance to be incomprehensible. However, if we take some time and see how it works in plantation reality, it makes sense in a very real way -- for the plantation's owners. First, it explains why Jim Crow laws were seemingly necessary in the South's eyes after the Civil War. Second, it explains how that plantation-owner-victim-vindication consciousness rose after the Civil War to take over Corporate America, lock, stock, and the concurrent majority of the elites of both political parties. And third, it explains how the US is now governed, no matter which candidate we non-concucurrent masses put into any office we care to put them into.

The separation of material equality from legal (i. e., voting) equality assumes that our native and material inequalities prepare some of us well for roles in legislating (including resolving conflicting interests in the outcome of every piece of legislation), administering government according to that legislation, and judiciously resolving legal conflicts within the bounds established by the Constitution. For Calhoun, society includes individuals with qualities that "differ greatly from each other in intelligence, sagacity, energy, perseverance, skill, habits of industry and economy, physical power, position and opportunity -- the necessary effect of leaving all free to exert themselves to better their condition, must be a corresponding inequality between those who may be deficient in them." These differences prepare the Concurrent Majority for all roles in governance, while these same inequalities leave the vast majority of us ill-prepared to govern at all.

Rejecting this strictly legal sense of equality theory was what many of us thought the US Supreme Court rejected in its Brown v Board of Education (1954) ruling. That belief has proven to have been seriously inflated. All that was rejected was the segregation of publicly-funded and publicly owned schools. Material life includes a bit more than the formal, official educational processes and practices. We still have hardly begun to address what the court did not address in that case, especially what that court didn't address regarding the inequalities in material and cultural life that make legal (voting) equality almost as meaningless as it is toothless.

We can wish qualitative differences away, or we can concoct schemes to mitigate or overcome them in part, but they are, for Calhounism, inherent in the way our lives emerge and more or less thrive. "The only means by which this result can be prevented are, either to impose such restrictions on the exertions of those who may possess (certain superior qualities) in a high degree, as will place them on a level with those who do not; or to deprive them of the fruits of their exertions." In brief, we can attempt to legislate equality of conditions, but if we try, we will inevitably be forced to deprive some citizens of the products of their gifts, and give those gifts to other, less deserving souls. Ever wonder who inspired Ayn Rand? But Calhoun isn't only for the right wing elites.

For Calhoun, a democratic society will therefore recognize the inequalities we are all born with and born into as natural inequalities. This democratic society will also allow the virtuous and the gifted to accept responsibility for and care for the less gifted as best they see fit, -- in the broader interests of society's overall needs, of course(!). This calls for an ever-evolving and increasingly refined integration of power with liberty. The famous Revolving Door is an essential institutional element. Both power and liberty unavoidably grow together or they dissipate. Creating this kind of governance is best done by the Concurrent Majority, in all societies and for all time. Ever wonder why the US has a long post civil-war history of destroying nascent democracies anywhere they are to be found around the globe, and installing 'friendly' stooges? Military adventurism abroad on behalf of corporate elites has long enjoyed a precise science of popular justifications. Remember GHWB's 90% plus popularity for the first invasion of Iraq, the one that inexplicably left Hussein in power? That was precisely what the Concurrent Majority wanted.

The Concurrent Majority is comprised of those who, alone in their eyes, fully see and skillfully effect the legislation, administrative organization, and judicious resolution of conflicts - all of these in terms of the society's overall priorities and interests. Calhoun's Concurrent Majority is most visibly distinct from the numerical majority's leaders who are, beholden to the interests of those who see primarily their own petty personal interests; both that numerical majority and its leaders, for Calhoun, see and pursue their personal interests and only their personal interests; and they do so completely at the expense of the society's overall interests. Only the Concurrent Majority sustains and cultivates awareness of the society's overall interests and can prioritize its needs appropriately, thereby making sustainable progress possible.

Only the Concurrent Majority saw in the late 1990s that we needed to rid ourselves of such restrictive legislation as the Glass-Steagall Act, and let the economically powerful have more liberties with their management of our national money supply and economy. Only the Concurrent Majority could have seen the urgency for again invading Iraq in 2003. Only the Concurrent Majority could see the urgency for all of the extreme secrecy cults, such as the one hiding the massive drone warfare programs from the whole nation still today, and the entire Black Budget cult. Only the Concurrent Majority could see the necessity in 2008-9 of giving the least well-disciplined financial corporations more public funding and even more license with manipulating our economy and national government and money than did repeal of Glass-Steagall had done. Only the Concurrent Majority could see the urgency to give Monsanto the license to destroy our entire food supply with all undisciplined and ungoverned corporate haste. Only the Concurrent Majority can see the emergency need to go forward with the KXL pipeline project. We stupid masses believe such things are putting one colossal mistake on top of another, and see that pile of mistakes as the primary reason our whole political-economy continues stagnating while ecological destruction of the world escalates rapidly today.

For Calhoun, the Concurrent Majority rules successfully "by dividing and distributing the powers of government, give to each division or interest, through its appropriate organ, either a concurrent voice in making and executing the laws, or a veto on their execution." The numerical majority considers only numerical majorities in decision-making; what the numerical majority wants equals the society's interests. Calhoun sees that as a radical mistake. Those who take the whole society's differing and various interests into consideration for their voting, legislative, administrative, and judicial activities comprise the Concurrent Majority. The numerical majority, leaders included, is inherently incapable of such considerations. For Calhoun, the Concurrent Majority is the Constitutional Majority. They are themselves the most responsible for ensuring the society's preservation, defense, and prosperity. The numerical majority ignores all minority interests. The numerical majority is not a people self-governed; it is "but the government of a part, over a part, -- the major over the minor portion." In Calhounism it is your fault you are poor. Or homeless. Or black. Or infirm. Or wounded in a war. Or a woman. Or gay.

Governing merely in accordance with the numerical majority is generally indistinguishable from the common sense meaning of 'tyranny of the majority.' But then he rants. "As the major and dominant party, they will have no need of [Constitutional] restrictions intended to limit them." What most of us find ourselves alarmed about today is the absence of Constitutional restrictions applied to the Concurrent Majority. "The party in favor of the restrictions would be overpowered." Those who lose any political or governance contests lose because of the tyranny of the majority:

Meanwhile, where the tyranny of the majority runs the show, "as population increases,
wealth accumulates, and, above all, the revenues and expenditures become large, -- governments of this form must become less and less suited to the condition of society;
until, if not in the mean time changed into governments of the concurrent majority, they
must end in an appeal to force, to be followed by a radical change in its structure and
character; and most probably, into monarchy in its absolute form...."

It is our fault our chosen leaders abandon us predictably, routinely, and callously.

How do we explain our last half century's history if not the path legislated, ruled, and judged by those convinced they are the Concurrent Majority, while fulfilling the worst predictions Calhoun held for the numerical majority? Of course they don't say it aloud. Neither did a single plantation's proprietors (except Calhoun) claim he was in the Concurrent Majority. For we have certainly drifted into a condition with nominal numerical majority determined elections, yet with effective concurrent majority-type governance. There are all sorts of interests satisfied with our governance, except the public interest.

The voting majority still counts, but for what? What better way to deceive the populace into non-civic pursuits than indoctrinating them into believing their votes select actual rulers and legislators? Imagine the thoughts we don't read or hear: "They actually expect to get their social security?!" "What inconsiderate, arrogant, selfish, idiots!" "Why do they cling to that obviously out-dated notion they should have sustainable retirements?!" We can elect anyone we want; yet the Concurrent Majority rules with an increasingly iron hand. The drift toward absolute monarchy is sufficiently evident in the ever-growing 'defense', 'homeland', 'security' and 'secrecy' cults, while social safety nets steadily fall to the 'budget' axe as the economy implodes for all those interests not enamored by, but profiting from the official propaganda.

What Calhoun was proposing was a total obstruction/dismantling of the then nascent middle class, particularly the uppity middle class radical Republicans in the northern part of the nation calling loudly for liberation of the slaves. Given his agenda, his study of how to demolish and extinguish that class as a whole was in some ways prescient. Consider his thoughts on the role of the media:

"If what is called public opinion were always the opinion of the whole community,
the press would, as its organ, be an effective guard against the abuse of power, and
supercede the necessity of the concurrent majority; just as the right of suffrage would
do, where the community, in reference to the action of government, had but one
interest. But that is not the case. On the contrary, what is called public opinion,
instead of being the united opinion of the whole community, is usually, nothing more
than the opinion of the voice of the strongest interest, or combination of interests;
and, not unfrequently, of a small, but energetic and active portion of the whole.
Public opinion, in relation to government and its policy, is as much divided and
diversified, as are the interests of the community; and the press, instead of being
the organ of the whole, is usually but the organ of these various and diversified
interests respectively; or, rather, of the parties growing out of them. It is used by
them as the means of controlling public opinion, and of so moulding it, as to promote
their peculiar interests, and to aid in carrying on the warfare of party."

Today, for anyone who cares to see it, he has proven both almost totally vindicated, and surprisingly insightful. If the plantations could not be saved, then every organized interest in the nation might prove transformable into a new type of plantation. The interests are doing this by, first, creating an aristocracy of superstar/celebrity CEOs, Presidents, Governors, Chancellors, Talking Heads, screen stars, and other senior level executives and their principle subordinates, and convincing them they are truly superior to their former peers. Once this concurrent majority and its self-replenishing mechanisms are solidly in place, 'nature' will take its course. We can already see where it is leading.

The ancient Greeks would have called what we now have our peculiar path into ochlocracy: rule by an unruly mass or mob. Calhoun's book helps one understand our contemporary USA as much as do the Federalists or those particularly haunting chapters 6 & 7 in the Fourth Part of the Second Volume of Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Rereading these two short chapters may stimulate the reader's awareness of just how far into subjection to today's Concurrent Majority we have drifted.

Walter J Smith your social media marketing partner
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