It's NOT a Democracy

The public education system teaches that we live in a democracy, in which the government is ruled by the majority. The founders of the country were students of government and knew that democracy was essentially mob rule with a thin veneer of legality and that the democracies of history had failed. No self-respecting person of that era would call himself a democrat.

A pre-Revolutionary statement by an anonymous Bostonian reflected a common belief that it was better to be ruled by one tyrant 3,000 miles away than by 3,000 tyrants a mile away. Historian Alexander Fraser Tytler wrote then that 'A democracy . . . can only exist until a majority of voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.'

If not by democracy, then how do former subjects of a monarchy ensure freedom? Alexander Hamilton wrote, 'We are now forming a republican form of government. Real liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy . . . . If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of dictatorship.'

The Constitution therefore states, 'The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government . . . .'

The Constitution is a framework for government that is purposefully difficult to amend. The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government were designed to provide checks and balances on each other. An additional check on power was that the three parties to legislation were to serve different constituencies.

- The House of Representatives was intended to be the only representative body for the people, with members elected democratically from specific districts.

- Members of the Senate were appointed by their respective state legislatures.

- The office of president was decided by electors, of which each state had at least three. The vice-president was the presidential candidate who received the second largest number of votes, ensuring a balance of opinion in the executive branch.

This provided the foundation for a government of limited power whose principal obligation was to protect the rights and liberties of the people. This charter of power from the people was not intended to be changed easily or to be a 'living document,' subject to the whim of the moment. After the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin, when asked what had been wrought, responded, 'A republic, if you can keep it.'

But today we are continually subjected to chants of 'our democracy,' 'this is a democracy,' and 'to restore our democracy' by politicians who should know better, having sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution.

As early as the 1830's, Alexis de Tocqueville noted how little Americans valued freedom as opposed to equality. He wrote, 'Democratic institutions awaken and foster a passion for equality which they can never entirely satisfy.' Equality of condition, of position, of peace and comfort became more important than freedom for people to achieve what they could. The weeds of democracy had started springing up in the fields of freedom.

Democracy gained more in 1913 when the balance of legislative power was changed by the Seventeenth Amendment, which provided for direct election of senators by the people. The Senate then represented the same constituencies as the House. Each presidential election now resounds with calls for the abandonment of the electoral system in favor of a popularly elected chief executive.

Democracy advanced further in 1913 (it was a very bad year) when the income tax amendment gave Congress the power to tax one class of citizen in order to enrich others. This also gave Congress the excuse to snoop into our personal business, the revenue to create new and ever-larger welfare-state programs, and the ability to become power-brokers and the chief grantors of favors.

The 1930's saw President Franklin D. Roosevelt redefine freedom with his 'Four Freedoms' speech. Since then, people expect to have not only freedom of speech and religion, but also freedom from fear and from want, all provided by the government, of course, and paid for with other peoples' money.

Roosevelt threatened to 'pack' the Supreme Court, which then quickly approved programs previously considered unconstitutional. The Court now routinely finds hidden meaning within the plain language of the Constitution, often in the welfare clause. Constitutional architect James Madison had written, 'With respect to the words general welfare' To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.' But the Court routinely uses the welfare clause without regard to original intent.

Power-lusting politicians prostitute themselves by offering taxpayer-provided goodies to any group that delivers votes. The largest special interest group has become the fifty percent of income earners who pay virtually no tax but receive benefits paid for by the other fifty percent. As H. L. Mencken once observed, '. . . government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.'

The limited government envisioned by the founders guaranteed a maximum of individual freedom. But freedom can be messy, a little chaotic. The benefits of freedom often go to dissidents whose speech and acts may disrupt the tranquility of daily life. Consequently, people have lost the realization that freedom helps everyone in the long run, not to achieve some artificial level of equality, but to improve their conditions.

Democracy promises equality at the cost of freedom and everyone quickly reaps the benefits of equality. A law is passed and benefits flow as from a mountain spring. But the long-term cost will be loss of self-reliance and an increasing dependence on government.

The inherent vice of freedom is the unequal sharing of the blessings; the inherent blessing of equality will be the equal sharing of misery.

As long as people value equality over freedom and enrichment over enterprise, the shackles of dependence will grow ever tighter and we will return to a type of medieval serfdom with bureaucrats and politicians in place of nobles and kings.

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Joseph S. Bommarito's picture
Columns on STR: 17

Joseph Bommarito was a freelance writer who lived in Georgia.  He passed away on January 3, 2005.  Comments can be sent to his wife Sally.