The phrase tyranny of the majority, used in discussing systems of democracy and majority rule, is a criticism of the scenario in which decisions made by a majority under that system would place that majority's interests so far above a dissenting individual's interest that that individual would be actively oppressed. The phrase also refers to Tyrant and Despotism whose behavior causes similar oppression.
Limits on the decisions that can be made by such majorities, such as constitutional limits on the powers of parliament and use of a bill of rights in a parliamentary system commonly meant to reduce the problem.
Public choice theoryEdit
The notion that, in a democracy, the greatest concern is that the majority will tyrannize and exploit diverse smaller interests, has been criticized by Mancur Olson in The Logic of Collective Action, who argues instead that narrow and well organized minorities are more likely to assert their interests over those of the majority. Olson argues that when the benefit of political action (e.g. lobbying) are spread over fewer agents, there is a stronger individual incentive to contribute to that political activity. Narrow groups, especially those who can reward active participation to their group goals, might therefore be able to dominate or distort political process, a process studied in public choice theory.
Critics of public choice theory point out that vote trading, also known as logrolling, can protect minority interests from majorities in representative democratic bodies such as legislatures. Direct democracy, such as statewide propositions on ballots, does not offer such protections.