The Fatalism of the Multitude

I recently read James Bryce’s The American Commonwealth for the first time. Bryce was British and, in the style of Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote a book in the late 19th century about his visits to America. One of Bryce’s fascinating ideas was “The Fatalism of the Multitude,” by which he meant that a danger in a democracy was that the minority would submit quietly to the will of the majority. In essence, the minority may conclude at some point that it will never be a majority and could not influence the majority. This acquiescence, Bryce thought, was a problem partly because it would allow the majority’s errors to go on uncorrected. This phrase strikes me as an excellent description of excessive political polarization. The risk posed by polarized public opinion is that one side (or maybe both) will conclude that their efforts at persuasion are futile because the other side will not listen to what they have to say. I’m not saying that we…

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