Yesterday’s election in Hungary is once again a classic example of how elastic the concept of majority is. If you read headlines only, the ruling party won an overwhelming victory, a two-third supermajority, and the like. Looking at the number of voters, however, it is half of the 70 percent who cared to vote. Meaning 35 percent of the (adult) population, with 35 percent who voted against it, and 30 percent being indifferent or having no one to vote for. Yet let there be no doubt that it will be presented as the “will of the people.” As it always is.
The situation is even more complicated if we descend to details. The majority of those living in the capital voted against the government. The majority of young people presumably voted against the government. And vice versa, of course. No one will say that old people shouldn’t have the same right to choose their leaders as young people do. But the cleavage is there. Remember Brexit. The biggest problem with all sorts of majoritarianism is precisely this: that it turns the many groups of society into two, then names one of those ‘the people.’
Whose tyranny, what majority?
This is one of the messages I put forward in my recent book. In a way, its title is somewhat misleading. In fact, The Tyranny of the Majority is not about the tyranny of the majority. More precisely, it is about the real tyranny of imaginary (or, at best, artificial) majorities. As this case shows, even this 35 percent non-majority was fairly difficult to create. It needed eight years of efforts by a political elite. Which is, to be sure, what political elites always do. Build homogeneous camps of supporters out of otherwise excitingly different human beings. This is one of the lessons still to be learned from the great theorists of majority rule:
“When we say that the voters ‘choose’ their representative, we are using a language that is very inexact. The truth is that the representative has himself elected by the voters, and, if that phrase should seem too inflexible and too harsh to fit some cases, we might qualify it by saying that his friends have him elected.”
(Gaetano Mosca: The Ruling Class. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1939, p. 154.)