May 25, 2005
America is not a democracy. It never has been. Nor was it ever intended to be. And frankly, that’s the way I like it. Why do I bring this up? Because not enough people in our country realize that, and it’s getting worse.
Democracy is a good step along the route to a truly just government. After all, compared to an aristocracy, monarchy, oligarchy, or a dictatorship, democracy is usually better. It is better, because as more people vote to control their destiny, it gets harder to discriminate against large groups of people. Where 10 people can oppress 10 million, there is often little reason for them not to do it. When 55% percent can oppress the remaining 45%, it is much less likely to happen, because that 55/45 split can change very easily. But it is still an option. Democracy on its own cannot be controlled, because when 50%+1 votes to do something, it does not, by any stretch, mean that the action is just.
Democracy does a great job protecting the nation from bad and unpopular ideas. But it doesn’t do a very good job at protecting the nation from bad, popular ideas. Remember Jim Crow laws and segregation? Those were very popular bad ideas. The current prohibition against gay marriage? Bad popular idea. The idea that the rich are a faucet, put there to continually water government with tax dollars? Bad popular idea.
In addition, democracy stifles good, but unpopular ideas. In fact, in unbridled democracy, you don’t want to be in the minority, because that 50%+1 can vote to persecute and oppress you. The only checks on that power are people’s own consciences. A state where that is possible is not a just society. As Adlai Stevenson said, “My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” In an unbridled democracy, it is never safe to be unpopular.
It is not democracy that has created the greatness of our nation at all. It is values that founded this nation, and have allowed us to reach the heights we have reached today. Democracy is not the underpinning of those values, it is a threat to them. The closer that we, as a nation, get to direct democracy, the worse off we will be. We will be more and more ruled by the majority, and less by the values of individual liberty.
Much has been made of the rise of ‘democracy’ in Iraq. Again, while even unbridled democracy is a better idea than letting Saddam rule, democracy without a strong constitution that enshrines the freedoms and liberties we have in the USA doesn’t get them where they need to be. Unbridled democracy won’t get them any closer to tolerance of Christianity, much less Judaism, only constitutional protections for freedom of religion can move them that direction.
Thankfully, some of you say, we are not a democracy, we are a republic. To that I say “Bah!” A republic is simply a collection of somewhat independent states that have banded together based upon mutual interests. A republic of democracies is as dangerous as one big democracy. A republic of communist states is just as intolerable to its citizens as a centrally-controlled communist state. Being a republic purports to offer greater insulation from the dangers of an overbearing federal government, but that does not make those individual states any more just.
No, democracy is not inherently just, and a republic is no more just than its member states. A truly moral government comes from the rule of law, and only then when it is the rule of just laws. I think our founding fathers came about as close with the Constitution to hitting the bullseye 200 years ago as anyone in the history of Western civilization. But anyone who saw the three-fifths compromise knows that it wasn’t perfect (political necessity of that compromise notwithstanding). An understanding of the founding of this country, with its good points and its bad, is necessary if we want to continually improve it. And the growing trend of referring to America as a ‘democracy’ is a bad sign, not a good one.
The Unrepentant Individual linked with Democracy is NOT enough!
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