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Is the majority opinion always right?

Posted August. 06, 2018 08:00,   

Updated August. 06, 2018 08:00

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“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind,” John Stuart Mill stated.

In his work “On Liberty” published in 1859, Mill presented a theory of liberty, further developed than the established idea. The earlier theory focused on the relationship between an individual and a nation, demanding that the authority be overthrown based on the principle of natural rights and people’s sovereignty. Political thinkers behind the theory were interested in designing a democratic power structure where there is no distinction between the ruler and the ruled.

The United States Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution triggered the expansion of classical liberalism. Around five decades after the historic events, Mill realized that individuals’ freedom was still not being protected despite the progress made in a democratic political system. He believed that “individuality” that allows individuals to pursue what they want in life as they wish is a key component of a decent life and a prerequisite to happiness. Mill said that unless it harms other people, individuality should be respected without any restrictions.

To explain how individuals’ liberty is compromised, the English philosopher paid attention to the relationship of the individual to society. “If it (society) issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression.” Mill expressed concern over a “tyranny of the majority” in which the many oppress the few under the name of the “will of the people” through whatever means available.

We should guarantee the freedom of individuals by harmonizing sociality and individuality, Mill stressed. His theory still resonates today in a democratic society where, especially in politics, the will of the majority is accepted as “right” or a view is accepted as right because it is supported by the “majority.” Mill urges us to ask ourselves whether we are inadvertently oppressing the freedom of thoughts, expression, and learning under the name of “justice” of the “will of people” while blindly pushing for uniformity, not leaving any room for tolerance and compromise.