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don: Longmans, 1911.
And other works.
No. 430.-JANUARY, 1912.
Art. 1.—THE HISTORY OF MAJORITY RULE.
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Printed by order
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9. The Procedure of the House of Commons. By Josef Redlich. Translated by A. E. Steinthal, with an Introduction by Sir Courtenay Ilbert. Three vols. London: Constable, 1908.
THE completeness,' says Redlich (ii, 261), with which the majority principle has been for centuries accepted is no greater than the obscurity of the origin of this basis of modern representative government, adopted, along with constitutionalism itself, in Europe, America, and Australia, as the foundation of all parliamentary systems.' The question of the origin of the principle of majority Vol. 216.-No. 430.
rule has indeed been little considered. So voluminous and detailed a writer as Bentham dismisses it with the remark that, if the opinion of the majority is unlike that of the whole body, the opinion of the minority is still more so; which is like saying that the average income of Brown and Smith is over 5000l. a year, when Brown has 10,000l. and Smith 501.
And yet it is a very obvious question. It is easy enough to admit that, when lack of time compels a tourist party, all of whom would like to visit both Athens and Naples, to make a choice between those cities, the choice might fairly be determined by the fact that, while nineteen are for the one town, only eighteen are for the other. But that, when nineteen people want to commit the whole party to a course to which eighteen are violently opposed, they should have it all their own way, is so clearly farcical that the majority principle is seen to have its limitations. Except within narrow limits, it corresponds with nothing in nature. Nature-physical nature-gives to opposing forces the accurate effect of their resultant. It is the depth of political imbecility to ascribe an omnipotence to the odd man which does not belong to the odd ounce. Yet the maxim of deferring to majorities, true and useful within narrow limits, is carelessly accepted as the last word of obvious political wisdom. This has a purely historical explanation. Let it be premised that it is the origin of majority rule that we are investigating. The origin of majority decisions is another matter, and must be concealed in the mists of dawning history. It is the acceptance of majority decisions as universally valid in matters of government that we propose now to consider.
We shall see that in early England there existed no notion that a mere majority could control a considerable minority. The equation of the will of the majority to the will of the whole was simply unknown. The voice which could speak in the name of an assembly was that voice which could fairly be taken as representative of the whole. If the individual units of the assembly were equal in consideration, this was the concurrent voice of the great bulk of them. If they were not equal, it might be the voice of one or more selected persons. Thus the abbot spoke in the name of the abbey; the dean spoke