By Doug Newman
August 10, 2005
Posted at Liberty
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"My son and I have a running argument going and I'm hoping you will help me clear this up. He says we are not a democracy but a constitutional republic, and I say we are indeed a democracy. Today the nominee for Supreme Court justice, John Roberts, said he was appreciative for the court's role in this constitutional democracy. Seems like he should know what we are, right? Can you help me explain all of this? And settle the argument?"
Thanks for writing. In the beginning America was a constitutional republic. Then we degenerated into a democracy. Let me explain.
It would be an understatement to say that the Founding Fathers hated democracy. They warned against it vehemently and relentlessly. They equated it – properly – with mob rule.
Someone far wittier than I once remarked 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.
Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution even contains the word “democracy.” In a democracy, the majority rules and individual rights are irrelevant. If the majority votes that half of your income be confiscated before you can even by groceries, oh well. If the majority votes that you must educate your children in a certain location because you live on a certain side of an arbitrary line, oh well. If the majority votes that you must be disarmed and defenseless against violent criminals, oh well. If the majority votes that your religion be designated an “outlaw religion” and that you and all other practitioners be committed to mental institutions, oh flipping well.
(And this is what our political, economic and media elites want to export across the globe?)
The Founders knew democracy would inevitably degenerate into despotism. There is a great line in Mel Gibson’s move The Patriot about there being no difference between one tyrant 3000 miles away and 3000 tyrants one mile away. Tyranny is tyranny, whether it is imposed by one person or by millions. Voting does not guarantee freedom. Voting for evil does not legitimize evil.
The United States Constitution goes to great lengths to thwart the process of democracy.
(If you think that federal courts have no accountability, you are wrong. Article 3, Section 2 authorizes congress to limit the scope of this jurisdiction. Instead of whining and weeping and wailing about a rogue judiciary, congress needs to start exercising this power.)
(The FEDGOV started chipping away at this one in 1861. During the 1930s it became a dead letter. Our current “conservative” president and congress show absolutely no interest in reviving it.)
(In the first presidential election, only ten of the 13 states participated. Only five held any kind of popular election for president. It just wasn't a big deal. The president could do next to nothing anyway.)
The Constitution contains other defenses against runaway majority rule.
The Second Amendment states:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
The ultimate purpose of the Second Amendment is to guarantee that the people retain the ability resist their government.
The right to a trial by a fully informed jury -- which is what a jury trial was at the time of the Founding -- is the ultimate check on any bad law. Under this principle, juries could try not only the facts of a case, but also the law pertaining to that case. If so much as one juror felt that the law under which the defendant was being tried was unconstitutional, unbiblical or JUST PLAIN STUPID, that juror could vote to acquit and the defendant would walk. The rights of jurors are perhaps the most forgotten rights of all.
The best example of fully informed juries in action is found in regard to the Fugitive Slave Laws of the 1850s. These laws made it a crime to harbor a runaway slave. Northerners of good conscience repeatedly violated these laws and juries repeatedly acquitted them based on the injustice of these laws.
The Ninth Amendment protects your right to do things -- home school your children, smoke marijuana -- that the majority might not approve of. Indeed, if you understand constitutional government, almost all of your life must be off limits to Uncle Sam.
As a Christian, I cringe when I hear other Christians, especially pastors, glorify democracy. Pilate initially did not want to crucify Jesus. However, he caved in to the will of the mob and sent Jesus to His death. (Matthew 27:23-26)
I hope this puts your disagreement with your son to rest. As far as John Roberts' assertion that America is a “constitutional democracy”, he is playing on the ignorance of millions of Americans. It is this same ignorance that makes it so easy for those who would take away our freedoms to do so. Party labels are irrelevant. Adolph Hitler – who, by the way, was democratically elected – once remarked that it was lucky for rulers that people do not think.
The Founders, who hated democracy, gave us a free country. Our ignorance of history, which has lead to a love of democracy, is causing us to surrender our freedoms at an alarming rate.
If you have a web page and would like to post this or link to it, please include this URL, and please e-mail me. Thanks!
Freely Speaking: Essays by Doug Newman