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Majority and Minority Rights

AlterNet: The Religious Right’s Crusade for ‘Decency’:

Do you think Americans now, after the Moral Majority uprising, are ready for a more socially inclusive concept of decency?… I think so. I definitely think that’s a possibility. I think that Americans do have this vision of themselves as inclusive still. But I do worry that the Republicans have been doing so much to try to deaden that impulse in them

It seems to me that everyone is always claiming that they’re in the majority, and that we should therefore listen to whatever it is they’re saying. The AlterNet article above makes this point about the Religious Right, who go so far as to label what type of majority they are: the moral majority. Another blog I read is written by a conservative whose claims to speak for the silent majority. The Bolsheviks went so far as to name their movement ‘majority,’ even when they were in the minority.

Polls are often used as a way to back up this claim of majority: the numbers are trotted out and used as yardsticks: well, 58% of Americans are concerned about the nation’s cheese usage, so listen to me about it!

Most often the claim to majority is used as a weapon: we’re the majority, so what we say goes. The majority rules, as anyone who ever played any game with kids will tell you. But the problem is, that’s not how it’s supposed to work. Down that path is mob rule, which is anathema to liberty.

There was an article in the Chicago Tribune a few days ago asking what it means to be a liberal. Pont five on that list is safeguarding the liberties of minorities, which is great, but I don’t think it goes far enough. It’s not just that we need to safeguard those liberties (we do, especially in the current climate), it’s that we need to recognize that every liberty in every sense is a liberty of a minority. It’s a minority of people who will need to defend their write to print a news story. It’s a minority of people who want to own a firearm.

For a right is only a right when tested, and only tested when needed. I cannot be sure of my right to habeus corpus until I find myself in some jail cell, and I find it hard to imagine a world where the majority of the nation is in the cell with me. Nevertheless, it is a right we must have, even if the vast majority of us will never excercise it. Indeed, it is a right that we must have because the vast majority will never excercise it, for not having it would lead only to more people needing it. The same goes for the freedoms of expression; the less expression is allowed, the more it is necessary.

This is another way of stating the obvious truth that restrictions are the opposite of freedom, but it goes deeper than that: it says that every freedom is its own protection. Kieth Olbermann did a great piece recently on how the loss of one right makes other rights moot. The greater irony is that a little loss of a right only leads to more losses of that same right.