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Majoritarianism is a political philosophy or ideology with an agenda asserting that a majority, whether based on a religion, language, social class, or other category of the population, is entitled to a certain degree of primacy in society, and has the right to make decisions that affect the society. This traditional view has come under growing criticism, and liberal democracies have increasingly included constraints on what the parliamentary majority can do, in order to protect citizens' fundamental rights.[1] Majoritarianism should not be confused with electoral systems that give seats to candidates with only a plurality of votes. Although such systems are sometimes called majoritarian systems, they use plurality, not majority, to set winners. Some electoral systems, such as instant-runoff voting, are most often majoritarian – winners are most often determined by having majority of the votes that are being counted – but not always. A parliament that gives lawmaking power to any group that holds a majority of seats may be called a majoritarian parliament. Such is the case in the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the Parliament of Saudi Arabia and many other chambers of power.

Under a democratic majoritarian political structure, the majority would not exclude any minority from future participation in the democratic process. Majoritarianism is sometimes pejoratively referred to by its opponents as "ochlocracy" or "tyranny of the majority". Majoritarianism is often referred to as majority rule, which may refer to a majority class ruling over a minority class, while not referring to the decision process called majority rule. Majority rule is a belief that the majority community should be able to rule a country in whichever way it wants. However, due to active dis-empowerment of the minority or minorities, in many cases what is claimed as the majority with the right to rule is only a minority of the voters.

Advocates of majoritarianism argue that majority decision making is intrinsically democratic and that any restriction on majority decision making is intrinsically undemocratic. If democracy is restricted by a constitution that cannot be changed by a simple majority decision, then yesterday's majority is being given more weight than today's. If it is restricted by some small group, such as aristocrats, judges, priests, soldiers, or philosophers, then society becomes an oligarchy. The only restriction acceptable in a majoritarian system is that a current majority has no right to prevent a different majority emerging in the future; this could happen, for example, if a minority persuades enough of the majority to change its position. In particular, a majority cannot exclude a minority from future participation in the democratic process. Majoritarianism does not prohibit a decision being made by representatives as long as this decision is made via majority rule, as it can be altered at any time by any different majority emerging in the future.

One critique of majoritarianism is that systems without supermajority requirements for changing the rules for voting can be shown to likely be unstable.[2] Among other critiques of majoritarianism is that most decisions in fact take place not by majority rule, but by plurality, unless the voting system artificially restricts candidates or options to two only, such as is done under Contingent voting, two-round voting and Instant-runoff voting.[3] In turn, due to Gibbard’s theorem and Arrow's paradox, it is not possible to have a voting system with more than two options that retains adherence to both certain "fairness" criteria and rational decision-making criteria.[3][4] Additionally, if majoritarianism is left unchecked, the rights of minority groups can be threatened.[5] Some democracies have tried to resolve this by requiring supermajority support to enact changes to basic rights. For example, in the United States, the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion are written into the Constitution, meaning it would take more than a simple majority of the members of Congress to repeal the rights.[6] Other democracies have sought to address threats to minority rights by adopting proportional voting systems that guarantee at least some seats in their national legislatures to minority political factions. Examples include New Zealand, where mixed-member proportional voting is used, and Australia, where a single transferable vote system is used.[7][8] Whether these methods have succeeded in protecting minority interests, or have gone too far, remains a matter for debate.[9]


Majoritarianism, as a concept of government, branches out into several forms. The classic form includes unicameralism and a unitary state. Qualified majoritarianism is a more inclusionary form, with degrees of decentralization and federalism. Integrative majoritarianism incorporates several institutions to preserve minority groups and foster moderate political parties.[10]

History and legacy[edit]

There are relatively few instances of large-scale majority rule in recorded history, most notably the majoritarian system of Athenian democracy and other ancient Greek city-states. However, some argue that none of those Greek city-states were truly majority rule, particularly due to their exclusion of women, non-landowners, and slaves from decision-making processes. Most of the famous ancient philosophers staunchly opposed majoritarianism, because decisions based on the will of the uneducated and uninformed 'masses' are not necessarily wise or just. Plato is a prime example with his Republic, which describes a societal model based on a tripartite class structure. Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber offers a reason as to why majority democratic government is so scarce in the historical record. "Majority democracy, we might say, can only emerge when two factors coincide: 1. a feeling that people should have equal say in making group decisions, and 2. a coercive apparatus capable of enforcing those decisions." Graeber argues that those two factors almost never meet: "Where egalitarian societies exist, it is also usually considered wrong to impose systematic coercion. Where a machinery of coercion did exist, it did not even occur to those wielding it that they were enforcing any sort of popular will."[11]

Majoritarianism (as a theory), similar to democracy, has often been used as a pretext by sizable or aggressive minorities to politically oppress other smaller (or civically inactive) minorities, or even sometimes a civically inactive majority (see Richard Nixon's reference to the "Silent Majority" that he asserted supported his policies). This agenda is most frequently encountered in the realm of religion: In essentially all Western nations, for instance, Christmas Day—and in some countries, other important dates in the Christian year as well—are recognized as legal holidays; plus a particular denomination may be designated as the state religion and receive financial backing from the government (examples include the Church of England in England and the Lutheran Church in the Scandinavian countries). Virtually all countries also have one or more official languages, often to the exclusion of some minority group or groups within that country who do not speak the language or languages so designated. In most cases, those decisions have not been made using a majoritarian referendum, and even in the rare case when a referendum has been used, a new majority is not allowed to emerge at any time and repeal it.

Reform and backlash[edit]

TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY.[12]... In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.

— Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume I, Chapter XV (1835)

In recent times—especially beginning in the 1960s—some forms of majoritarianism have been countered by liberal reformers in many countries.[clarification needed] In the 1963 case Abington School District v. Schempp, the United States Supreme Court declared that school-led prayer in the nation's public schools was unconstitutional, and since then many localities have sought to limit, or even prohibit, religious displays on public property.[clarification needed] The movement toward greater consideration for the rights of minorities within a society is often referred to as pluralism.[clarification needed]

This has provoked a backlash from some advocates of majoritarianism, who lament the Balkanization of society they claim has resulted from the gains made by the multicultural agenda; these concerns were articulated in a 1972 book, The Dispossessed Majority, written by Wilmot Robertson. Multiculturalists, in turn, have accused majoritarians of racism and xenophobia.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A Przeworski, JM Maravall, I NetLibrary Democracy and the Rule of Law (2003) p. 223
  2. ^ Salvador, Barbera; Jackson, Matthew O. (2004). "Choosing How to Choose: Self-Stable Majority Rules and Constitutions". Quarterly Journal of Economics. 119 (3): 1011–48. CiteSeerX doi:10.1162/0033553041502207.
  3. ^ a b Riker, William (1988) [First published in 1982]. Liberalism Against Populism. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press. ISBN 978-0-88133-367-1.
  4. ^ Reny, Philip J. (2001-01-01). "Arrow's theorem and the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem: a unified approach". Economics Letters. 70 (1): 99–105. doi:10.1016/S0165-1765(00)00332-3. ISSN 0165-1765.
  5. ^ ULRICH, SIEBERER; DUTKOWSKI, JULIA; MEIßNER, PETER; MÜLLER, WOLFGANG (October 18, 2019). "'Going institutional' to overcome obstruction: Explaining the suppression ofminority rights in Western European parliaments, 1945–2010". European Journal of Political Research. 59 (4): 731–975. doi:10.1111/1475-6765.12376. S2CID 214451776.
  6. ^ "Full Text of the U.S. Constitution | Constitution Center". National Constitution Center – constitutioncenter.org. Retrieved 2023-03-20.
  7. ^ "What is MMP?". Elections. Retrieved 2023-03-20.
  8. ^ Bowler, Shaun; Grofman, Bernard, eds. (2000). Elections in Australia, Ireland, and Malta under the Single Transferable Vote: Reflections on an Embedded Institution. University of Michigan Press. doi:10.3998/mpub.16507. ISBN 978-0-472-11159-6. JSTOR 10.3998/mpub.16507.
  9. ^ McGann, Anthony J. (2002-10-01). "The Tyranny of the Super-Majority: How Majority Rule Protects Minorities". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ Reynolds, Andrew (December 9–11, 1999). "Majoritarian or Power-Sharing Government" (PDF). www.nd.edu. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 8, 2001. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
  11. ^ Graeber, David. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology Archived 2008-11-18 at the Wayback Machine (2004) p. 89
  12. ^ Title of a section in Chapter XV of de Tocqueville's book Democracy in America (1835)