According to "Civil Disobedience," what does Thoreau feel about majority rule?

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Thoreau feels that majority rule is incompatible with the rule of indvidual conscience. He writes:

the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule is not because they are most likely to...

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Thoreau feels that majority rule is incompatible with the rule of indvidual conscience. He writes:

the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it.

Thoreau's thinking is similar to what John Stuart Mill would a few years later call the tyranny of democracy. Just because most people think an idea or path of action is right does not make it right.

Thoreau, who was an abolitionist, had no faith in democracy—majority rule—as a means to rid the country of slavery because he didn't think the majority of people would vote to abolish slavery until slavery had more or less died out anyway. He urged abolitionists in his home state of Massachusetts to withdraw their support of the state rather than wait until they had a majority of people on their side voting against slavery. He said that having God on their side was enough to legitimize their cause.

Thoreau put the rights of the individual over the rights of the majority, writing:

Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.

Thoreau doesn't offer a practical vision for how allowing every individual to do what he pleases will allow for a coherent state to operate, but he does take a strong stand against majority rule.

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Thoreau's writing shows that he is clearly of the "small government" mentality. The first line in Civil Disobedience is:

I heartily accept the motto, “That government is best which governs least.”

Thoreau generally believes that politicians should not interfere in our lives or be too involved in our day-to-day decisions. He argues that we are far better equipped to make decisions about such things than are faceless bureaucrats. In other words, if a government interferes or becomes too omnipresent, we begin to lose ourselves and our critical thinking skills. This is when majority rule may be used to a negative effect.
Thoreau believes that majority rule sometimes convinces individuals to take a stand on issues they might not take if left to their own consciences. He posits that it is crucial that we be given the freedom to make our own decisions, aside from political and government influences.
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Thoreau heartily disapproves of the premise that the majority ought to rule because it does not necessarily follow that the majority is always right. The only reason the majority rules is because it is the strongest—not because it is the more discerning. For example, the majority will follow an unjust law simply because it is the law, and they will continue to obey the law until there is a majority willing to change it. In fact, Thoreau argues, it is the minority whose conscience dictates that some law or other is unjust. This necessitates reform. This means that an unjust law will remain in effect until a majority of people raise their voices to change it. However, the law was unjust prior to being changed, and before the change, a majority existed who observed its injustice; a minority is necessary to recognize it, and the minority should be heard and heeded. Although the majority is the most powerful, this does not mean it is right. Thus, "majority rule" is a faulty system.

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In "Civil Disobedience," Thoreau clearly states his disdain for the "majority rule" system.  Thoreau argues that the majority rule does not accurately represent the voice of the people because in such a system there can be significant numbers of people whose voices are not represented by elected officials.  For example, if 51% of a people vote for an official or for a law, what happens to the other 49%?  Thoreau likens this system to "a sort of gaming" because true issues are not addressed, and the numbers and chance are what matter.  He says that majority rule is a system of "expediency," one that is done for convenience, not one that is done for virtue or justice.  Thoreau says that any time a mass of people can band together to push their own agenda through majority rule is detrimental to any true system of democracy.

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