In representative democracy, often people can use the monopoly of violence for a good cause by enforcing protection of minorities that are enshrined in constitutions that can be violently imposed. Results include Eisenhower using the national guard to desegregate schools and Justin Trudeau accepting record high numbers of refugees even though polls showed little support for increasing immigrations.

However, in a direct democracy where there are no hierarchies and there is bottom up organisation, like what we see in Rojava, where everyone makes laws themselves and appoint representatives to enforce them, how can minorities be protected ? There is no coercion to force people to act in an egalitarian fashion, and without coercion or sympathies of educated populations, majorities have little incentive to protect minorities (at least that is what they perceive, even if better protection of minorities is an economic advantage via more utilization of talents)

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    A constitution is not unique to representative democracy in any way. It's merely a set of rules the population has agreed to obey.
    – Davor
    Apr 28 at 15:23
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    FYI, Rojava is a rebel regime in parts of Syria. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 28 at 17:16
  • I guess you are only interested in cases where the minority's interests clearly clash with those of the majority? "Showing little support" is very different from actually opposing. Otherwise, in most cases, minority rules...
    – Zeus
    Apr 29 at 6:27
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    What's to stop a non-Direct Democracy from also using majority force on the minority if they really wanted to? Who does the coercion? The majority? Seems Catch-22. Apr 29 at 14:02

3 Answers 3


Certainly belongs in Se.Po, it's a core concern of politics, IMO.

In a mature democracy, not necessarily including, but not excluding either, one like Rojava, evolving under the stress of a warzone, the answer is that you can't, unless the democratic majority devolves power to a system that is, at least somewhat, or short-term, independent of their own desires.

This system, be it a Constitution, Charter of Rights, or Supreme Court, or a combination thereof, becomes a deciding point for each citizen if the proposed law or action is acceptable when invoked.

The US Constitution with the tension between either 2nd Amendment, or the notion of Supreme Court enlargement (aka packing). Neither party is happy but the general idea, that a different, orthogonal, decision framework gets to be the arbiter is firmly rooted.

Gay Marriage in Canada for example. Legalizing gay marriage may or may not have been popular when it was first announced but very quickly people got to examine their beliefs in opposing it. Was it worth opposing the core belief of what a country was established on?

Similarly you have the Swiss Federal court ruling, that Appenzell did not, despite a majority of the eligible (male) voters wanting to keep women's vote out, constitute an ethically and legally viable way for a Canton to proceed. And that despite Switzerland being the poster child for, very mature, very stable, very ongoing, direct democracy.

But make no mistake, Supreme Courts and assorted sundry do not, and maybe should not, typically range far forward of what a democracy's electors approve of. When it comes to treating minorities, a Supreme Court is not a guarantor of rights.

This type of mechanism can also prod a politician into "doing the right thing" which would apply to the Eisenhower example. Re. Canada's Trudeau and perhaps the Syrian refugees, Canada's rather low admittance number, 35k IIRC, was not all that unpopular - it wasn't going on a huge political limb.

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    It's Appenzell not AppenZell, there is no capital Z, it's not aligned with Putin. ;)
    – Nobody
    Apr 28 at 19:08
  • Seems an OK answer, but the 2nd Amendment being thrown into it seems very out of left field. Why that one in particular, rather than say the 4th or 5th? I get the feeling I'm missing the point you were trying to make.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 29 at 15:54
  • The 2nd is the right to arm bears. I.e. it is very contentious but the system is set up to let a court decide what to do, rather than having the voters directly decide by majority vote. People do not disagree on 4th (unreasonable searches) or 5th (due process). Apr 29 at 16:07

In a sufficiently diverse nation, every group of people, by itself, is a minority, and therefore fears a majority trampling all over them. But this means the minorities have a shared goal that trampling should not occur, and will establish and defend institutions to prevent trampling, such as a legal framework that treats every citizen equally, or treats every (official) language equally, and so on.

As for how a nation becomes sufficiently diverse, all that is needed are different divisions for different political issues. For instance, a person may have a region of origin, a gender, a faith, a language, and so on, and vote according to whichever division applies to the matter at hand. Then, most persons will experience being in a minority every once in a while.

From the comments:

Historically, various groups looking for civil rights have often been at odds with each other, like black and female groups in the US

Of course they can be at odds which each other. But when it comes to minority protections, they have a shared interest. In a direct democracy, where individual laws are put to the vote, a law that benefits several minorities can enjoy the support of all of them, allowing an informal coalition of minorities to prevail against a single group even if that group is individually stronger than any minority.

And that's why I contend that in a direct democracy with many minorities, there is a strong incentive for the creation of institutions that protect minorities.

I realize such subject-specific informal coalitions have greater inertia in a representative democracy, in particular if that representative democracy has effectively devolved to a two party system. But in a direct democracy, where people vote on individual laws, such informal coalitions can form very easily.

What country holds together when there is no some form of majority? The rest of the minorities are always set aside

Switzerland, for instance. We have 4 different official languages, numerous cultural divisions, the strongest party has a mere 25% of the vote. And still we hold together - and have held together for centuries.

calling women a minority is wrong in every possible way,

You're assuming that women are equally franchised, which may not necessarily be the case. In many regions of the world, formal or informal mechanisms can make it harder for some groups to vote than others, so a group may be a minority (in the sense of voting power) even it its members are numerous.

Gender may also be relevant as an additional factor. For instance, mothers may have different interests than fathers, so gender can play a role in identifying minorities even if both genders are represented equally.

  • Which doesn't seem to be backed up by evidence. Historically, various groups looking for civil rights have often been at odds with each other, like black and female groups in the US. I recently read a Newsweek article by a Black author who said the Republicans should focus on Black rights to lure away Black voters from the Democrats, who push for intersectionality and civil rights in multiple directions.
    – prosfilaes
    Apr 28 at 16:53
  • @prosfilaes while this is correct, the answer did mention minority groups (groups that do not have a majority by population) which most definitely does not include women in almost every country in the world (men death rates and life expectancies are lower). The US was a unique case where two groups lacking suffrage had some intersections but one was not a minority.
    – uberhaxed
    Apr 28 at 18:04
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    @meriton you are very, very delusional. What country holds together when there is no some form of majority? The rest of the minorities are always set aside Apr 28 at 20:19
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    @meriton we have provinces more diverse than the European continent, and all are equally opressed in the backwater regions Apr 28 at 20:24
  • @uberhaxed The OP mentioned gender as a group; males and females are equal enough in population that calling either group a minority by population is not really accurate. The US was not a unique case if you follow the history of suffrage. There are plenty of other examples; religious minorities in the US are not on average appreciative of LGBT rights, for example.
    – prosfilaes
    Apr 28 at 21:04

Minorities, and any organizations that aim to protect them, need to invest heavily in media and political technology to prevent anti-minority laws from being passed to vote. This should be possible while having high political culture and making sure to never make the majority feel threatened at the same time (by not allowing any implicit inequality in minorities' favor).

Having a constitution (grants universal rights which can't be taken away, needs 2/3 votes to change), ratifying international agreements (prevent discrimination) and having working courts (enforces two previous mechanisms) also helps.

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