In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville identified â€śthe tyranny of the majorityâ€ť as the main shortcoming of democratic societies. His fear was that the principle of majority rule could easily cross over from the political arena to the realm of ideas. After all, if being able to command the most votes is the main source of political authority, whatâ€™s to stop it becoming the main source of intellectual authority as well? Tocqueville wasnâ€™t worried about people being oppressed [itals] physically [itals] in democratic societies. Rather, it was their independence of mind that was at risk Â¬â€“ and this â€śmild despotismâ€ť was, in some ways, even more pernicious than the overt despotism of European monarchies.
Was Tocqueville being unduly alarmist? Today, diversity of opinions and ideas is one of the great distinguishing characteristics of democratic societies. Even where one viewpoint clearly predominates â€“ such as a belief in socialised medicine â€“ thereâ€™s usually an active minority that isnâ€™t scared to voice its dissent.
But if Tocqueville was wrong about the tendency of individuals to be tyrannised by the majority across whole societies, he was right about it happening within the various groups and tribes that make up democratic societies. People will disagree about whether those on the Left are more susceptible to herd opinion than those on the Right, but what is beyond dispute is that Left-wing activists are more effective at disseminating a party line and enforcing it. (To read more, click here.)