On Liberty Questions and Answers
by John Stuart Mill

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Present John Sturt Mill's opinion on the Majority in On Liberty. Provide textual evidence with page references.

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There are many different editions of On Liberty, but Mill discusses his views on the majority in his first chapter, the introduction to the book. Mill described what he called the "tyranny of the majority" that could emerge in representative governments. In a government like this, majorities could oppress minorities as much as individual despots could. He wrote that even though government by the majority of people had more legitimacy than other forms of government, "precautions are as much needed against this, as against any other abuse of power."

This was an especially urgent concern as nation-states, including Great Britain, were beginning to expand the electorate. Alexis de Tocqueville, in fact, had written about similar issues in his book Democracy in America. His point was that previously, liberals had imagined that controls and limits over state power were important when that government was a despotic monarch. But he argued that controls and limits on government were no less important simply because "the holders of power are regularly accountable to the community." In fact, he went on to argue that the "tyranny of the majority" was even more insidious, because the people who tended to be subject to it (i.e. the minority) lacked the political power to confront it.

It was also dangerous because it stemmed from a broader societal belief or interest. Mill thought the key to restraining the "tyranny of the majority" was to place strict limits on the powers of government, legal and constitutional barriers that would keep majorities from exercising their powers without limits. On Liberty is essentially a long form essay on the relationship between the individual and the state, and this issue was as important to democratic polities as others.

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