By Doug Newman
May 22, 2007
Posted at Liberty
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I got an e-mail the other day from someone forming a grassroots lobbying organization. I told him that, while I agreed with the aims of his organization, he was wrong in asserting that “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” was a characteristic of a democracy.
The differences between a democracy – a very bad thing – and a constitutional republic – a very good thing – are not just something to be discussed in college political philosophy classes. Political philosophy is about real things and the differences between democracies and republics have profound real world implications.
In the Mel Gibson movie “The Patriot” there is a great line about there being no difference between one tyrant 3000 miles away and 3000 tyrants one mile away. The Founders hated the concept of democracy and knew from history that democracy always degenerated into despotism. Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution even mentions the word “democracy”.
Democracy has been defined as the right of 51 percent to pee in the cornflakes of the other 49 percent. You have NO RIGHTS in a democracy as they may be overridden by the whims of the majority. If the majority votes that half your income be confiscated before you can so much as buy groceries, oh well, this is a democracy! If the majority votes that you cannot alleviate your back pain in a socially unacceptable manner, oh well, this is a democracy! If the majority votes that Jews be rounded up and sent to forced labor camps on the North Slope of Alaska, oh well, this is a democracy!
It has often been said that, in a democracy two wolves and a sheep take a majority vote on what’s for supper, while in a constitutional republic the wolves are forbidden on voting on what’s for supper and the sheep are well armed. A constitutional republic is founded on the premise that rights are antecedent to government, and that government exists to protect those rights. These rights may not be violated either by the whims of 51 percent of voters, by a legislative or judicial majority or by a unitary executive.
For evidence that our Founders hated democracy, you need look no further than the Constitution. They went to great lengths to thwart democracy. They gave us three coequal branches of government with strictly limited powers. They set up an intricate system of checks and balances so that, when one branch stepped out of line, another branch could step in and say “we don’t think so!” The powers delegated to the federal government – Article 1, Section 8 – were “few and defined”.
The Electoral College is not just some quaint relic from a more agrarian age. It serves as a brake on the rule by the runaway passions of the people, i.e. democracy. Likewise, we have two houses of Congress. The House of Representatives is elected directly by the people. Until the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment -- a bad one -- in 1916, the Senate was elected by the various state legislatures. Why? Again, the Founders feared the runaway passions of the people, i.e. democracy.
Not only was democracy an anathema to the Founders, it should be abhorrent to every follower of Jesus Christ. In Luke 23, Pilate declares that he found Jesus not deserving of death. However, he caved into the roar of the angry mob and sent a totally innocent man to die an excruciating death.
One of the key delegates to the Constitutional Convention was George Mason. Mason refused to sign the Constitution because it did not contain a bill of rights. Mason is widely acknowledged as the “father of the Bill of Rights”. (1)
This Bill of Rights is more accurately a bill of prohibitions on federal power. These rights cannot be voted away either by the people or by their elected representatives.
The language of the First and Second Amendments indicates that the rights they protect already existed, and that government cannot infringe these rights, regardless of what the majority says.
The Fourth through Eighth Amendments protect the rights of the accused. These rights are not to be surrendered under any circumstances, e.g. War Between the States, Drug War, War on Terror or any other real or perceived emergency. Again, they cannot be voted away.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial. To the Founders, this meant a trial by a fully informed jury. Such a jury was the ultimate check on any bad law. If so much as one juror felt that the defendant was being tried under a law that was unbiblical, unconstitutional or just plain stupid, he could vote to acquit and the defendant would walk.
The Ninth Amendment protects your right to do things even if other people disapprove. Homeschooling your children and smoking that hooch come to mind. It is a very important check on the tyranny of the majority.
The Tenth Amendment forbids Uncle Sam from engaging in any activity that is not expressly authorized elsewhere in the Constitution, regardless of how people may vote.
So there you have it. A constitutional republic is a charter of liberty while a democracy is a recipe for slavery. And the next time you hear an old-school patriot wax indignant about how America is not a democracy, but a constitutional republic, I hope you will understand what he is talking about.
So why do I hear time and again that America is a democracy? The short and easy answer to that question can be found on a bumper sticker I saw recently. It read, simply and beautifully:
The person whose e-mail prompted this column definitely has a clue as to the rampant and reckless lying that is so endemic in contemporary politics. The lying is endless. One of the biggest and most frequently repeated lies is that America is a democracy.
I have one last question: Why is GW Bush so obsessed with bringing “democracy” to the Middle East? If America was a democracy, Al Gore would have won the election of 2000.
(1) Yes, the hoop team from the university that bears his name had that wonderful run in the 2006 NCAA tournament.
One suggestion - you used an illustration about voting to send Jews to slave camps, an obvious allusion to the Nazi regime in Germany. That is a powerful point in your article. What might have been more powerful - over 80 million Christians died in Communist camps. Far more European Christians have died under horrible persecution than any other religious or ethnic group I am aware of, but with FAR LESS attention drawn to it. With the goings on in America today, Christians are more likely to be persecuted than any other religious group. You might have said, "If the majority vote to send Christians to a labor camp in Alaska ..." That would certainly ring true with recent history AND with the turn going on against Christianity today. -- WB
Were I to have the energy and a committed webmaster, I would get around to
posting my own tome dedicated to the way we routinely sell our collective -- and
mostly collectivist -- souls every four years for the unconscionable price of
Great take on the Goebblesesque horror behind the de facto usage of the foul word, Doug.
You can't spell "democracy" without the S L A V E R & Y. -- PM
If you wish to post this on your site, please let me know and include this link. Thanks! -- dfn
Freely Speaking: Essays by Doug Newman