Democracy in Two Sentences

by Dominic Blackwell

I tried to get the original source for this but it proved elusive. Robert Pirsig in his book Lila attributes it to Robert’s Rules of Order. Anyway, here it is:

No minority has the right to block a majority from conducting the legal business of the organization. No majority has the right to prevent the minority from peacefully attempting to become a majority.

What is neat about this is the way that is clears up lots of confusion which occurs in discussions of democracy and human rights. The second sentence is the more familiar. It is straightforward to spot a totalitarian state by the way in which dissent is treated. The quality of a democracy is defined by its tolerance of those who propagate views opposed to those of the government and majority public opinion. These people have to be allowed to argue for their cause, allowing their proposals to be evaluated in the marketplace of ideas.

However the first is also very important. It is why, despite muddled thinking to the contrary there is no ‘right to direct action’ in a democratic state. The other side of getting to present your ideas, even when they are oppposed by the majority is that you have to respect the law passed by those currently in power. Even if you don’t like it — even you think it is fundamentally wrong, when you live in a democracy you have to live within the rules, and in exchange you get the right to try and rewrite them.

More Writing