Why America is a republic, not a democracy
Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1759, "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote."
In the 2016 presidential election, the Democrats never used the word "republic" to describe our political system and Republicans rarely used it, both preferring to use the word "democracy."
Most people ignorantly refer to our political system as a democracy and have to be reminded that this word is not in the Declaration of Independence, U.S.
A republic has seven major components:
1. The importance of majority-rules is recognized but limited. Is the majority always right? No! Mother made this point when her teenager asked to smoke marijuana on the basis that everyone was doing it. “If everyone jumped off a bridge would you?”
2. Minority rights (less than 50 percent) are protected from the majority. In Franklin's analogy the lamb had the right to exist even if the majority (the wolves) said differently. A lynch mob is a democracy: Everyone votes but the one being hanged. In our republic, even someone caught in the act of a crime is entitled to the protection of law, a judge, jury, witnesses and a lawyer to argue his or her innocence - all necessary but expensive.
3. A republic is based upon natural, inalienable rights first acknowledged in the Declaration of Independence. This document asserted to the world that we acknowledge that humans have rights from a source higher than mere man. A reference to deity is mentioned five times. If there is no God, there can be no inalienable rights coming from him and we are left with man as God. What man is good enough?
4. A republic emphasizes individual differences rather than absolute equality (as does democracy). We are not equal, even from the womb, and never will be if equality means sameness. Genetics makes one fat, another bald and gives yet another terminal cancer in his youth. Free men are not equal and equal men are not free.
Even economically it is not possible to be equal. Assume that I give each of my students a million dollars in exchange for everything they now own, shave their heads and give them identical uniforms, to approximate sameness as much as possible, with the only requirement that they return in five years with some ledger of net worth. Would each come back with the same part of a million? No! Why does government try so hard to do that which is impossible? A republic looks upon our differences as assets - decidedly not the base of democracy.
5. Limited government is a major aspect of a republic. Centralized government is good so long as it remembers that when it oversteps its bounds it becomes the greatest obstacle to liberty as it pulls decision-making power away from the individual.
The Constitution as created handcuffed the government from dominating our lives - thus, the powers of the federal government were listed (Article I, Section 8). The Founders understood that the more government at the top the less at the bottom, and that was the essence of freedom.
6. A republic has frequent elections with options. Frequent elections happen in some socialist countries, so this alone does not ensure liberty. In fact, it may be somewhat deceiving as it fosters the notion that we choose, thus deserve, our elected officers. It also assumes that the people are correctly informed, which assumes a free press and equal access to all information. The part of the phrase “with options” is the part that ensures liberty. Elections under socialism provide choices, but often no options as all participants are from the same party.
7. A republic has a healthy fear of the emotion of the masses and of its potential to destabilize natural law upon which real freedom is based. An example is the notion that someone else's wealth belongs to them. Such destroys freedom, as it did in Athens and Rome. We need a caring, sensitive and compassionate government, but emotion must not be allowed to overwhelm reason and time-tested natural-law constants.
Aristotle taught that the poor will always envy the rich and that the rich will always have contempt for the poor. A republic will not allow the poor to destroy the rich in their quest for the wealth of the rich, but does incentivize the poor to increase their wealth, thus becoming the middle class, which in time becomes the largest body.
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As explained, democracy does not protect liberty. In Ben Franklin's analogy, the wolves could have eaten the lamb simply because the lamb had been outvoted. No wonder our Founders rejected democracy in favor of a republic.
Dr. Pease is a specialist on the United States Constitution and its application to current events. He has taught history and political science for more than 25 years at Taft College. To read more of his articles, go to libertyunderfire.org.
(Posted 3/23/17; Opinion: General)
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