By Doug Newman

Published in the Rocky Mountain News, on July 21, 1998.


In his column of July 4, Joseph Perkins exalts the virtues of Swiss democracy. To be sure, we in America must be thankful that we, like the Swiss, can overturn bad laws. However, we in America must be mindful that we live in a republic, not a democracy. On this July 4, let us pause to reflect on the difference.

222 years ago, on July 4, our Founding Fathers risked all they had to give us a nation based on inalienable rights, granted by God. Eleven years later, they gave us a Constitution that did not give us rights, but established a government whose purpose was to guarantee these rights. Neither document says anything about democracy. Indeed, neither document even mentions the word.

The Constitutional powers of the federal government are few and defined (they are spelled out in Article 1, Section 8). The ability to exercise these powers is divided among three branches of government, each with the authority to overrule the others should they overstep their bounds. Under this system, the central government may do very little, the potential for bad laws is minimal, and those who enact bad laws may be thrown out of office every two years.

The Founders equated democracy with mob rule. If government is based on the desires of fifty percent of the people plus one, your rights cannot be secure. Your right to vote does not give you the right to violate someone else’s rights. A society in which we have to seek the blessing of the majority every time we wish to exercise our God-given rights is not a free society. (A wit once described a democracy as three wolves and a sheep taking a majority vote on what’s for supper.)

Upon leaving the Constitutional Convention, Ben Franklin was asked what the convention had created. He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” It is not difficult to distinguish between a democracy and a republic. It is the duty of “we the people” to understand this, so that we may reverse our bobsled ride into socialist tyranny and begin our return to a free republic.

Douglas F. Newman

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