Tamás Nyirkos provides a timely and essential reassessment of the concept of the "tyranny of the majority" for the study of democracy today. The analysis is divided into three parts: the first discusses the "prehistory" of majority tyranny; the second reviews the elements of the "standard theory" in the modern era; while the third deals with the current "postmodern" challenges to the prevailing order of liberal democracy.
Combining different elements of theories dating from the Middle Ages to the present, Nyirkos theorizes that while the term "the tyranny of the majority" may be misleading, the threat that tyrannical governments justify themselves by reference to the majority will remain with us for the foreseeable future. He shows how some of the greatest political philosophers of the past – democrats and antidemocrats alike – shared the same fears about the majoritarian principle.
The Tyranny of the Majority will offer all those who read it a better understanding of what is meant not only by this term, but also by related terms like democratic despotism, populism, or illiberal democracy. It will be of interest to scholars of politics and international relations, political philosophy, political theology, and intellectual history.
Table of Contents
Introduction 1. The Greek Origins 2. The Medieval Laboratory 3. A Majoritarian Liberal 4. General Will and True Democracy 5. Revolution in the Crossfire 6. America Before Tocqueville 7. Tocqueville’s Synthesis 8. Individuals and Elites 9. The Contested Triumph of Liberal Democracy 10. A Brief Ontological Detour 11. Populism, Illiberal Democracy, Post-democracy 12. The Postmodern Challenge Conclusion
Tamás Nyirkos is a Senior Lecturer in the Institute of International Studies and Political Science of Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary. His research interests include democratic theory, politics and religion, and the origins of modern political philosophies. In 2014 and 2015 he taught classes on Tocqueville at the Catholic University of Portugal and the University of Lapland. He is a member of the Public Board of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
'A fascinating study of the way leaders use and abuse the idea of majoritarianism to cement their rule. Unlike conventional accounts of majoritarianism, Nyirkos makes the intriguing argument that the theme of the "tyranny of the majority" can be found in the classic works of Plato, Aquinas, and other political theorists. In addition, Nyirkos provides us with a message that is suited to our times, cautioning us about the dangers of the majoritarian temptation in such putatively democratic movements as Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous. This is a commendably learned book.' - A. James McAdams, William Scholl Professor of International Affairs, University of Notre Dame
'This book offers an engaging journey of intellectual exploration into the history of political thought. Through this journey, Tamás Nyirkos reminds us of the threats that monist interpretations of majority rule may generate against liberty and pluralism. This is an excellent guide to scholars and students of Political Theory, as well as to all readers who appreciate the idea of limited government — regardless of whether government comes from one, or the few, or the many.' - João Carlos Espada, Director, Institute for Political Studies, The Catholic University of Portugal, President, International Churchill Society of Portugal
‘Starting with Plato and working his way to the present, Nyirkos presents a thorough and nuanced history of an idea that both lives up to high scholarly standards and is extraordinarily relevant to everyday political life in postmodern societies. Nyirkos unveils the elusiveness of the majority will, showing the impossibility of determining the good numerically and the use of the "will of the people" as a rhetorical device by elites. The result is a brilliant and sobering look at what passes for democracy in both the past and the present.’ - William T. Cavanaugh, DePaul Univer