Mob rule

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Mob rule is the control of a political situation by those outside the conventional or lawful realm, typically involving violence and intimidation.[1]

Bills of rights

In a constitutional republic with a bill of rights, there are theoretically protections against mob rule. Anthony de Jasay opined that the possibility of such a limited government lies beyond the scope of rational choice theory:[2]

A lady accepts to wear a chastity belt to reassure her lord during his prolonged absence from home. (A government may likewise adopt constitutional limits to gain the confidence of its subjects). However, the key to the belt's padlock is within reach, and thus the belt can occasion delay, but cannot stop Nature from ultimately having its way. A padlock whose key has been thrown away is a metaphor for a constitution that cannot legally be amended . . . Meanwhile, we must not forget that if there is no key, there is always the locksmith.

Peter Suber notes that supermajority votes are sometimes required to change laws.[3] Some constitutions provide that constitutional amendments must be approved by both the legislature and by the people, or by both the federal legislature and the state legislatures, or in two consecutive elections or legislative sessions.[4] There is nothing in the structure of a democratic government that prevents the majority from having its way in the long run. The majority of voters, especially if it is a large majority, can elect the President and, depending on gerrymandering, proportional representation, and other features of the system (some of which arguably diminish its democratic character), can usually elect a majority of legislators; these legislators can then appoint judges who will interpret the constitution in such a way as to allow the actions that the voters and their politicians wish to take. To the extent that the constitution does create a sufficiently independent judiciary to resist the majority's invasions on the rights of individuals, the system is undemocratic.[5]

At any rate, both democracy and individual liberty become a sham to the extent that individuals' property rights have given way to government control over property. As society moves toward socialism, democracy and individual liberty give way to rule by an oligarchy that cannot be removed through democratic channels because private persons working independently of the government and its supporters can muster the resources to mount an effective opposition.[6][7]


  1. "mob rule",, referenced 2013-01-02.
  2. "Government, Bound or Unbound". 11 February 2008. 
  3. Suber, Peter. "Nomic: A Game of Self-Amendment". "One purpose of making some rules more difficult to change than others is to prevent a brief wave of fanaticism from undoing decades or centuries of refined structure. It is self-paternalism, our chosen insurance against our anticipated weak moments. But that purpose is not met unless the two-tier (or multi-tier) system also creates a logical hierarchy in which the less mutable rules take logical priority over the more mutable rules. Otherwise the more mutable rules could by themselves undo basic patterns. If supermajorities and the concurrence of many bodies are necessary to protect the foundations of the system from hasty change, then that protective purpose is frustrated if those foundations are reachable by rules that require only a simple majority of a single legislature." 
  4. For example, Article 12, Section 1 of the Constitution of Virginia provides, "Any amendment or amendments to this Constitution may be proposed in the Senate or House of Delegates, and if the same shall be agreed to by a majority of the members elected to each of the two houses, such proposed amendment or amendments shall be entered on their journals, the name of each member and how he voted to be recorded, and referred to the General Assembly at its first regular session held after the next general election of members of the House of Delegates. If at such regular session or any subsequent special session of that General Assembly the proposed amendment or amendments shall be agreed to by a majority of all the members elected to each house, then it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to submit such proposed amendment or amendments to the voters qualified to vote in elections by the people, in such manner as it shall prescribe and not sooner than ninety days after final passage by the General Assembly. If a majority of those voting vote in favor of any amendment, it shall become part of the Constitution on the date prescribed by the General Assembly in submitting the amendment to the voters."
  5. Rothbard, Murray. "Power and Market". "If the judiciary is really independent of the popular will, then it functions, at least within its own sphere, as an oligarchic dictatorship, and we can no longer call the government a 'democracy.' On the other hand, if the judiciary is elected directly by the voters, or appointed by the voters’ representatives (both systems are used in the United States), then the judiciary is hardly independent." 
  6. Rothbard, Murray. "Property Rights and "Human Rights"". For a New Liberty. "The human right of free speech is simply the property right to hire an assembly hall from the owners, or to own one oneself; the human right of a free press is the property right to buy materials and then print leaflets or books and to sell them to those who are willing to buy." 
  7. von Mises, Ludwig. "Freedom". Human Action. "As soon as the economic freedom which the market economy grants to its members is removed, all political liberties and bills of rights become humbug. Habeas corpus and trial by jury are a sham if, under the pretext of economic expediency, the authority has full power to relegate every citizen it dislikes to the arctic or to a desert and to assign him "hard labor" for life. Freedom of the press is a mere blind if the authority controls all printing offices and paper plants."