The Divine Right of the Majority

From “Fun For Clio,” an essay in Hilaire Belloc’s The Silence of the Sea (1941):

An older generation marvelled that men should unquestioningly obey a King, who claimed absolute Divine authority for his mandates. To-day you find men falling into exactly that state of mind in the presence of what they call a majority. All sorts of evidence is shouting at them to show them that this word “majority” has no meaning because it may be of any kind whatsoever — a majority of men or a majority of women or a majority of men and women combined, or a majority of those who care, or a majority of those who want to express an opinion, or a majority of those who are bored stiff with having to express an opinion, or a majority of those who don’t express an opinion but simly make a mark on a bit of paper. It may mean a majority of a thousand and one to a thousand, or a majority of nine out of ten, a majority of citizens or a majority of professional politicians, a majority of murderers, a majority of savages, a majority of lunatics, a majority which changes in a few hours or a majority which is fixed — it is all one, majority is worshipped as of Divine Right. (p. 88, Glendalough Press edition)

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Related posts:
Democracy and Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
Enough of “Social Welfare”
The Case of the Purblind Economist

The Birth of “Urban Legend”

The term “urban legend,” according to Wikipedia (citing the OED),

has appeared in print since at least 1968. Jan Harold Brunvand, professor of English at the University of Utah, introduced the term to the general public in a series of popular books published beginning in 1981.

I have news for the editors of the OED and the contributors to Wikipedia: Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) got there first. In “Fun for Clio,” one of the essays collected in The Silence of the Sea (1941), Belloc writes:

Our great urban masses swallow the most fantastic legends and become furious if they hear the absurdity denied. (p. 87  in the Glendalough Press reprint)

In my book, that is close enough to count as the proximate source of “urban legend.”