NOTE FROM THE EDITOR
Most people pretty often hear here and there accusations among political contenders of being anti-democratic, while demanding ‘more democracy.’ Most consider the United a States a Democracy regardless that only two traditional political parties – which many believe are partners – are allowed in the debates – while other less known parties are blocked from participating. The majority talk about Democracy as the safeguard of liberty, but, is it? How about a Republican form of government – we never hear public debates about it. Was the US created as a Democracy or a Republic? The following article – which doesn’t identifies its author – brings light about the difference of the two. You, the reader have the last word. THIS IS PART 1 OF A SERIES.
An important distinction: Democracy versus Republic, which one is best for individual liberty?
by anonymous author
It is important to keep in mind the difference between a Democracy and a Republic, as dissimilar forms of government. Understanding the difference is essential to comprehension of the fundamentals involved. It should be noted, in passing, that use of the word Democracy as meaning merely the popular type of government–that is, featuring genuinely free elections by the people periodically–is not helpful in discussing, as here, the difference between alternative and dissimilar forms of a popular government: a Democracy versus a Republic. This double meaning of Democracy–a popular-type government in general, as well as a specific form of popular government–needs to be made clear in any discussion, or writing, regarding this subject, for the sake of sound understanding.
These two forms of government: Democracy and Republic, are not only dissimilar but antithetical, reflecting the sharp contrast between (a) The Majority Unlimited, in a Democracy, lacking any legal safeguard of the rights of The Individual and The Minority, and (b) The Majority Limited, in a Republic under a written Constitution safeguarding the rights of The Individual and The Minority; as we shall now see.
The chief characteristic and distinguishing feature of a Democracy is: Rule by Omnipotent Majority. In a Democracy, The Individual, and any group of Individuals composing any Minority, have no protection against the unlimited power of The Majority. It is a case of Majority-over-Man.
This is true whether it be a Direct Democracy, or a Representative Democracy. In the direct type, applicable only to a small number of people as in the little city-states of ancient Greece, or in a New England town-meeting, all of the electorate assemble to debate and decide all government questions, and all decisions are reached by a majority vote (of at least half-plus-one). Decisions of The Majority in a New England town-meeting are, of course, subject to the Constitutions of the State and of the United States which protect The Individual’s rights; so, in this case, The Majority is not omnipotent and such a town-meeting is, therefore, not an example of a true Direct Democracy. Under a Representative Democracy like Britain’s parliamentary form of government, the people elect representatives to the national legislature–the elective body there being the House of Commons–and it functions by a similar vote of at least half-plus-one in making all legislative decisions.
In both the Direct type and the Representative type of Democracy, The Majority’s power is absolute and unlimited; its decisions are unappealable under the legal system established to give effect to this form of government. This opens the door to unlimited Tyranny-by-Majority. This was what The Framers of the United States Constitution meant in 1787, in debates in the Federal (framing) Convention, when they condemned the “excesses of democracy” and abuses under any Democracy of the unalienable rights of The Individual by The Majority. Examples were provided in the immediate post-1776 years by the legislatures of some of the States. In reaction against earlier royal tyranny, which had been exercised through oppression by royal governors and judges of the new State governments, while the legislatures acted as if they were virtually omnipotent. There were no effective State Constitutions to limit the legislatures because most State governments were operating under mere Acts of their respective legislatures, which were, mislabeled “Constitutions.” Neither the governors not the courts of the offending States were able to exercise any substantial and effective restraining influence upon the legislatures in defense of The Individual’s unalienable rights, when violated by legislative infringements. (Connecticut and Rhode Island continued under their old Charters for many years.) It was not until 1780 that the first genuine Republic through constitutionally limited government, was adopted by Massachusetts–next New Hampshire in 1784, other States later.
It was in this connection that Jefferson, in his “Notes On The State of Virginia” written in 1781-1782, protected against such excesses by the Virginia Legislature in the years following the Declaration of Independence, saying: “An elective despotism was not the government we fought for . . .” (Emphasis Jefferson’s.) He also denounced the despotic concentration of power in the Virginia Legislature, under the so-called “Constitution”–in reality a mere Act of that body:
“All the powers of government, legislative, executive, judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. 173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one. Let those who doubt it turn their eyes on the republic of Venice.”
IT WILL CONTINUE ON NEXT WEEK EDITION.