Minorities versus Majorities
An essay from Emma Goldman's Anarchism and Other Essays (1917). Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
Emma Goldman (1869-1940), famed anarchist activist, organizer and writer. She published hundreds of titles and there is extensive scholarly and popular literature on Goldman’s life. Her autobiography Living My Life (New York: Knopf, 1931, 2 vols.) is available in contemporary reprint editions.
In this essay, published in Anarchism and Other Essays (1917), Goldman elaborates on the relationship between political majorities and minorities seeking social justice. Goldman draws heavily on American Transcendentalist thought concerning the value of individualism in order to argue that it is the minority, not the majoritarian mass which “relishes anything that needs no mental mastication” (76), that produces truly original art and thought. She quotes abolitionist Wendell Phillips’ opinion that rather than being a mass of free-thinking individuals, the United States is a society based on cowardly conformity to mass opinion. Goldman asserts that “Today, as then, public opinion is the omniscient tyrant; today, as then, the majority represents a mass of cowards, willing to accept him who mirrors its own soul and mind poverty.” (78) It was a small minority of abolitionists – “that handful of fighters in Boston, Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Theodore Parker, whose great courage and sturdiness culminated in that somber giant John Brown” (82) – who shaped a revolutionary “meteorlike idea” of freedom. Taking their example, Goldman concludes that social progress “will become a reality only through the zeal, courage, the non-compromising determination of intelligent minorities, and not through the mass.” (84)
- Joe Lockard