Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Are we a democracy or a republic?

Sadly, I need to write this only because the government school system does a (probably deliberate) horrid job of teaching civics.

First, some basic definitions:
• state (small s) - A body politic of a particular sovereign power such as a nation.
• State (capital s) - One of the United States. A State is a sovereign political entity and is not comparable to a province.
• democracy (small "d") - A state where the vote of the majority rules. Everyone has a vote in every government act. Thanks to the progressive movement, many modern dictionaries include or substitute the definition of a republic in their definition of a democracy -- ignoring the classical definition of a democracy.
• Democrat (capital "D") - One of the two primary political parties of the United States. A member of the Democrat Party.
• republic (small "r") - A state in which the power exercised by elected representatives. Every citizen has a vote on who the representatives are, but the representatives make the decisions regarding government.
• Republican (capital "R") - One of the two primary political parties of the United States. A member of the Republican Party.
Many voters tend to selfishly vote to protect their personal interests, whatever they may be. Consequently, the interests of minorities can be overwhelmed by the majority. If a majority of voters were enlightened altruistic people, a democracy could be fair to minorities. Such is rarely the case. When it comes right down to it, a majority of Americans are deluded, irresponsible, complacent, blind, and, most importantly, miseducated and misinformed followers. They believe what they’re told, without taking a moment to question the judgement, morality, and intentions of those in charge and especially of the mainstream news media.
A primary object...should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing...than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country? — George Washington

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. — Thomas Jefferson

A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins. — Benjamin Franklin

Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom. — John Adams (Defense of the Constitutions, 1787)

Do we really think that a government-dominated education is going to produce citizens capable of dominating their government, as the education of a truly vigilant self-governing people requires? — Alan Keyes

Few subjects are as important to the future of America as a thorough understanding and appreciation of the U.S. Constitution by every school student. It is not enough to simply praise the document as one of the foundations of our nation. It is essential that students learn why and how the Constitution governs the structure and function of government. It is crucial that students learn that government is empowered by the consent of the governed, not the other way around. They must learn that this power is transmitted to the government through the election process and that they, individually, bear the responsibility to choose candidates who reflect their views. They must learn that freedom in America is the reason why the nation has prospered. Freedom is neither granted nor guaranteed by the government. Government can only limit freedom. Freedom is granted by the Creator and guaranteed by responsible individuals who hold their government accountable. A thorough knowledge and appreciation of the US Constitution is the first step toward becoming a responsible citizen. The next step is to act continually on that knowledge, to keep government within the limits of power to which the people consent. — Henry Lamb

If you don't like living in a divided country, all you have to do is get yourself appointed to the university faculty somewhere and you will be able to experience the joys of living in a one-party state. — James Taranto

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be. — Thomas Jefferson

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all. — John F. Kennedy, 1963

Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge. — James Wilson (Of the Study of the Law in the United States, Circa 1790)

No people will tamely surrender their liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffusd and virtue is preservd. On the contrary, when people are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their manners, they will sink under their own weight without the aid of foreign Invaders. — Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, 1775

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power. — Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Charles Jarvis, 1820
Voters often are selfish, uninformed, ill-informed. or misinformed (watch any of Jay Leno's "jay-walking" episodes for proof). Consequently, the likelihood of wise governmental choices is sharply reduced. A mob defies the rule of law, yet it is a democracy. Two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner is a democracy. This is why the nation's founders chose forming a republic over a democracy.

Fisher Ames, known as one of America's "forgotten" Founding Fathers wrote:
A democracy is a volcano which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction. These will produce an eruption and carry desolation in their way.
Again from Fisher Ames:
The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness which the ambitious call, and ignorant believe to be liberty. (Speech in the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, 15 Jan 1788)
A quote attributed to Alexander Tytler also is appropriate here:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until a majority of voters discover that they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been two hundred years.
In the US, we have reached that dangerous tipping point: 51% of American households now pay no income taxes. So, how is that 51% going to vote on taxes for the other 49%? How are they going to vote on so-called "re-distribution of wealth"?

In a representative government (a republic), the body of voters democratically elect people to represent them. Theoretically, the voters elect wise, selfless representatives. The representatives are tasked with making informed choices on behalf of the people. A good representative has the integrity and courage to make decisions which are unpopular to the majority when necessary such as to free the sheep. Sadly, a republic fails when representatives are corrupt or vote on self-interest (reelection) or bow to the factions with the most money or to what they perceive to be a majority (ie the 51% that pays no income tax). That is why the Bible instructs us to from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. (Exodus 18:21, New King James Version)
What does the US Constitution say of our form of government? It clearly describes a representative, or republican form of government. When asked by a passerby what sort of government the 1787 constitutional convention had formulated for the new nation, Benjamin Franklin memorably replied, "A republic, if you can keep it." George Washington wrote that
Republicanism is not the phantom of a deluded imagination. On the contrary,...under no form of government will laws be better supported, liberty and property better secured, or happiness be more effectually dispensed to mankind. (Letter to Edmund Pendleton, 1795)
James Madison wrote:
If we resort for a criterion to the different principles on which different forms of government are established, we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior. (Federalist No. 39)
It is appalling to see what many voters consider to be "good behavior" in their elected representatives. Surely, "good behavior" should include making wise decisions on our behalf.

Originally. only the House of Representatives was elected directly by the people. The Senate was elected by the State legislatures (unfortunately, this was changed to a direct election by the 17th Amendment in 1913). The President is elected by Electors -- not by direct vote of the people. (see Article II and the 12th Amendment of the US Constitution.)

No variation of the word "democracy" is found anywhere in the US Constitution -- republicanism is. Article IV, Section 4 of the US Constitution states:
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government
The only true act of democracy in the United States is when we vote on referendums (when judges don't interfere). Referendums do not exist at the federal level.

In the United States, all Democrats are participants in a republican form of government and all Republicans are participants in a democracy when they vote in a referendum. But the bottom line is that in both a democracy and a republic, the source of government authority is the people. In both cases, the government serves the will of the people.

So, are we a democracy or a republic? I have concluded that we are neither. We are an oligarchy -- we are ruled by a relatively small group of incumbent politicians and a relatively small unelected group of people who make the decisions. We usually call the unelected rulers bureaucrats. Even if we were to impose term limits or otherwise "throw [all] the bums out," the bureaucrats would remain in power. Nothing would change. That is not democracy. It is not republicanism. Until "we the people" follow God's counsel in Exodus 18:21 and we insist that our representatives comply with the word and original intent of the Constitution, "we the people" have little true democratic control over our republic.

Here is a 33-question quiz on civics to see how prepared you are to vote.

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