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Thursday, April 7, 2011

America is not a Democracy

The United States is believed by many to be the world's greatest example of democracy. Yet, it was not founded as a democracy. It was founded as a Constitutional Republic on principles of liberty and fairness for the individual which is very different from a democracy where the will of the majority rules.

Politicians may be elected freely, but the implementation of legislation and policies is not undertaken by election.  A Constitutional Republic is constitutional because the government's powers are limited by the laws in the Constitution and it is a republic because the Head of State is appointed by election rather than inheritance (as in a monarchy) or by force (as in a dictatorship).

John Adams, second President of the United States, described the constitutional republic as being a "government of laws, not of men" and enshrined this in the Constitution of Massachussets in 1780.

Unlike democracy, a Constitutional Republic is designed to control the excesses of mobocracy or the "tryanny of majority".  The founding fathers of the United States warned against the "excesses of democracy" in the Framing Convention.  The debate surrounding the Constitution was detailed in the Federalist Papers.  In Federalist No. 10, James Madison noted:

"Democracy, as a form of government, is utterly repugnant to--is the very antithesis of--the traditional American system: that of a Republic, and its underlying philosophy, as expressed in essence in the Declaration of Independence with primary emphasis upon the people’s forming their government so as to permit them to possess only "just powers" (limited powers) in order to make and keep secure the God-given, unalienable rights of each and every Individual and therefore of all groups of Individuals."

Democracy literally translates from the Greek as "rule of the people". It generally means that the majority rule. The will of the majority of people in a society is appeased and has its way.  The problem with democracy is that it is great for the majority, but means that minority groups and individuals can be marginalised, forgotten, down trodden, victimised or persecuted. 

The founding fathers of the United States realised this when they wrote in the Declaration of Independence "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". 

America certainly has an appearance of democracy in that people vote in free and fair elections, but that is as far as democracy goes for the USA.  In his book entitled "The American Legal System", John Scheb states that "the United States relies on representative democracy, but its system of government is much more complex than that. It is not simply a representative democracy but a constitutional republic in which majority rule is tempered".

The Constitution puts the power of legislation and regulation firmly in the hands of Congress. Whilst representatives are elected by the people, the bicameral system of government ensures that legislation and policies are not driven by opinion polls, public emotion or the will of the majority. 

The problem with democracies is that people will always want what is in their own best interests, such as lower taxes and they will vote for politicians who give them what they want, not what is in the best interests of the economy or of society. Government needs to ensure that the best interests of everyone in society are looked after, not just those of the majority. The United State Constitution enshrined liberty, not democracy as the corner stone of government.

Liberty means that people have the freedom to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution, it does not mean that they are given everything on a silver platter.  If a person aspires to buy a house, then they have the liberty to do so and can work towards ensuring they can afford one.  If they can't afford it, then it is not in their best interest to load them up with a mortgage that will ultimately cripple them.  If a person aspires to be a doctor, then they have the liberty to do so and can study and work towards that, they are not just given a medical degree because they want one.  Liberty ensure that everyone, from every walk of life, has the opportunity to study medicine, to buy a house, to achieve their desires without being unfairly restrained.

There are many legitimate forms of government.  Democracy is but one.  Certainly democracy has its benefits, but as we have seen with the United States, so does a Constitutional Republic. 

Republican Congressman, Ron Paul succinctly stated "Our country's fathers cherished liberty, not democracy". 

HL Menckin bluntly stated "Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance".  

Democracy has been labelled as "mobocracy" as it responds to the wishes of the mob sometimes to the detriment of the good of the country and the neglect of the individual. The US Constitution counters this by truly valuing all individuals.

If we are to encourage nations to embrace any US value, it is liberty which is enshrined in the United States Constitution.  Over the years, this value has been forgotten and trampled on by various governments using fear to justify wars, to justify invading other nations, to justify locking up their own citizens.  One only has to review the "reds under the bed" fiasco or the so called "War on Terror" which gave rise to the secretive and fascist "Patriot Act" which limits liberty in the name of combatting an ill-defined terrorism. 

Liberty is the greatest virtue of the United States Constitution.  It should not be forgotten or misunderstood.  Liberty should be valued and appreciated.  Regardless of the system of government, liberty is what matters most to all people and makes life worthwhile and fulfilling. It is liberty that has made America more appealing than the USSR, China, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Afghanistan under the Taliban.  Those countries had no liberty. Had their citizens had liberty: liberty to leave or return, liberty to criticise and question, liberty to worship (or not worship), liberty to pursue their dreams; then those countries may have been more appealing and achieved the levels of greatness and respect that the United States has.

Liberty is more precious than democracy.

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