Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

A Problem with Democracy

In Anarchism, Philosophy, Thought Experiments on February 23, 2013 at 7:03 PM

I have previously commented on my interest in thought experiments. Michael Huemer has posed a compelling one in his recent book, The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p.59. The term “tyranny of the majority” was popularized by Alexis de Tocqueville as he used it in his important 1835 book, Democracy in America. Michael Huemer provides a neat example:

Imagine the following scenario, which I shall call the Bar Tab example. You have gone out for drinks with a few of your colleagues and graduate students. You are all busy talking about philosophy, when someone raises the question of who is going to pay the bill. A number of options are discussed. A colleague suggests dividing the bill evenly among everyone at the table. You suggest that everyone pay for his own drinks. A graduate student then suggests that you pay for everybody’s drinks. Reluctant to spend so much money you decline. But the student persists: ‘Let’s take a vote.’ To your consternation they proceed to take the vote, which reveals that everyone at the table except you wants you to pay for everybody’s drinks. ‘Well, that settles it’, declares the student. ‘Pay up.’

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