Who Wins When the Majority Rules?


Program Description:

Majority rule stands among the top three concepts people in the United States associate with the word “democracy.” When the framers of the U.S. Constitution were debating the pros and cons of utilizing majority rule, they envisioned a constantly shifting constellation of interests shaping coalitions which would comprise a “majority” together on any given issue. “Democracy,” rather than rule by a select group with entrenched power, was to be served because the “winner” in a vote on any issue would be comprised of a coalition of different partners. On the next issue, it was assumed the parties comprising a winning coalition would shift, thus ensuring a sharing of power instead of rule by a specific governing elite. A central challenge to the way democracy developed in the U.S. system, however, is that certain groups have ended up being and/or functioning as entrenched majorities (identified by race, sexuality, religion, gender, for example). We thus have a system in which the concept of majority rule may not always best serve our democratic aspirations as a nation. Basically, this technique designed to serve democratic goals has ensured that certain minorities will always “lose.” What has emerged is often outcomes that can hardly be considered democratic. What happens if we recall that majority rule is actually a technique of democracy in practice and not a stand-in for democracy itself? What alternative techniques are available? Can our system and political culture utilize non-majoritarian techniques to better serve democracy?


Marla Brettschneider

Marla Brettschneider is professor of political philosophy with a joint appointment in political science and women's studies at the University of New Hampshire. She is a democratic theorist, focusing on diversity issues broadly, and particularly areas of : feminist, queer, critical –race, class-based, and Jewish political theory and activism. Marla is a co-founder and coordinator of the UNH queer studies program and is the coordinator of the UNH women's studies program.

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