The Right Opinion

Democracy Versus Liberty

By Walter E. Williams · Feb. 23, 2011

It is truly disgusting for me to hear politicians, national and international talking heads and pseudo-academics praising the Middle East stirrings as democracy movements. We also hear democracy as the description of our own political system. Like the founders of our nation, I find democracy and majority rule a contemptible form of government.

You say, “Whoa, Williams, you really have to explain yourself this time!”

I’ll begin by quoting our founders on democracy. James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said that in a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.” At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Virginia Gov. Edmund Randolph said, “… that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.” John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Alexander Hamilton said, “We are now forming a Republican form of government. Real Liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of dictatorship.”

The word “democracy” appears nowhere in the two most fundamental documents of our nation – the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Our Constitution’s Article IV, Section 4, guarantees “to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” If you don’t want to bother reading our founding documents, just ask yourself: Does our pledge of allegiance to the flag say to “the democracy for which it stands,” or to “the Republic for which it stands”? Or, did Julia Ward Howe make a mistake in titling her Civil War song “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”? Should she have titled it “The Battle Hymn of the Democracy”?

What’s the difference between republican and democratic forms of government? John Adams captured the essence when he said, “You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.” That means Congress does not grant us rights; their job is to protect our natural or God-given rights.

For example, the Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t say Congress shall grant us freedom of speech, the press and religion. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

Contrast the framers' vision of a republic with that of a democracy. Webster defines a democracy as “government by the people; especially: rule of the majority.” In a democracy, the majority rules either directly or through its elected representatives. As in a monarchy, the law is whatever the government determines it to be. Laws do not represent reason. They represent force. The restraint is upon the individual instead of government. Unlike that envisioned under a republican form of government, rights are seen as privileges and permissions that are granted by government and can be rescinded by government.

To highlight the offensiveness to liberty that democracy and majority rule is, just ask yourself how many decisions in your life would you like to be made democratically. How about what car you drive, where you live, whom you marry, whether you have turkey or ham for Thanksgiving dinner? If those decisions were made through a democratic process, the average person would see it as tyranny and not personal liberty. Is it no less tyranny for the democratic process to determine whether you purchase health insurance or set aside money for retirement? Both for ourselves, and our fellow man around the globe, we should be advocating liberty, not the democracy that we’ve become where a roguish Congress does anything upon which they can muster a majority vote.

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29 Comments

Howard Last in Wyoming said:

I see, I am not the only one that wants to puke when some idiot (I should not insult idiots) says we are a democracy. BTW, Adolph was democratically elected. Gives you a warm feeling.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 12:56 AM

TruthInAction in TX said:

Dr. Williams, damn, you sure can write! Another goes out of the park.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 2:51 AM

GregInOregon said:

Dr Williams, you really swing for the fences!People still wonder why the First Amendment is written as it is: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion . . . "The Founders argued whether to even include it, because it was understood that our God-given rights already existed before the Constitution was written, so that Congress would not be allowed to tamper with them. The Bill of Rights merely codified our pre-existing rights.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 3:08 AM

Jeff said:

Well said! Democracy is tyrannical by design. As a republic we enjoy the fruits of the efforts of our founders.Well presented.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 7:58 AM

RedBaker in Florida said:

Another great column by Dr. Williams. Fabulous. Democracy is to be loathed or pitied, not idolized. We the people allow certain limited, enumerated powers to government. Government then tries to grab all the power and money it can, regardless of the constitutional restrictions. Government has now grown to gigantic proportions, in the name of democracy. The Founding Fathers were exactly correct. Now it is time to severely prune government back to its original small size.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 10:01 AM

Ronald R. Cherry, MD said:

Karl Marx believed and taught that a Democracy can be conquered at the ballot box. Marx believed that Communism can "win the battle of democracy" through Marxist class struggle where the tax-eating, labor-challenged (lazy) proletariat class, with the aid of an elite tax-eating Marxist ruling class of intellectuals, can expropriate the property of the laboring tax-paying middle class. The end of Marxist class struggle is a homogenized and economically equalized class of serfs - the proletariat class plus the newly impoverished former middle class. The two non-laboring classes (Proletariat and Marxist leadership) can legally vote themselves the property of the laboring class in a pure democracy. Marx didn't mention a Constitutional Republic in the Manifesto - I believe he knew that a middle class majority could not be defeated if they were empowered to make tax law through an amendment process. The constitutional amendment I proposed above would be the death of American Marxism. I believe the amendment will have to come from State Legislatures - too many Federal Senators and Congressmen from both political parties would prefer to leave things as they are - they have in effect become our Marxist Ruling Class. “The proletariat [lazy, tax-eating, non-disabled under-achievers] will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital [property] from the bourgeoisie [laboring, tax-paying middle class], to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state [Marxist Government]… Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property... In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time… We have seen above that the first step in the revolution by the [non] working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.” Karl Marx http://www.anu.edu.au/polsci/marx/classics/manifesto.htmlBack to the Democracy vs. Constitutional Republic conflict - Karl Marx understood that a Democracy can be perverted into totalitarian government. This occurs when enough of a population goes over to the Proletariat Class – with outstretched hands – voting for the Party which will rob the laboring Middle class on their behalf. Eventually under Marxism the Middle class is worn down – exhausted and demoralized by what amounts to slave labor. When the Middle class finally succumbs there will be a dramatic fall off in production of food and other goods and services – anarchy ensues – and who “comes to the rescue” but the Marxist Pigs of Animal Farm who robbed the workers to buy the votes of the lazy in the first place. Envision a cruise ship where more and more passengers run over to the left side looking for "free stuff" from government - of course the "free stuff" is the fruit of other men's labor - the laboring men still slogging it out on the right side. Eventually there will not be enough laborers and entrepreneurs on the right side of the ship to prevent it from capsizing. Voila: Social Justice ends in Dictatorship.“We have seen above that the first step in the revolution by the [non] working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy… they labor everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries.” Karl Marx http://www.anu.edu.au/polsci/marx/classics/manifesto.html

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 10:48 AM

Ronald R. Cherry, MD said:

I should have refered to the Constitutional Amendment here proposed below:Amendment XXVIII Section 1. The Declaration of Independence is the supreme un-amendable moral law of the United States of AmericaSection 2. Term limits for Congress (shorter) and the Supreme Court (longer) Section 3. Federal taxation under Amendment XVI shall not exceed 10% for any individual, nor shall Federal taxation under Amendment XVI exceed 10% of the nation's GDP Section 4. Federal income shall only consist of 10% domestic taxation as per Section 3 regarding Amendment XVI, plus foreign tariffs, plus the sale of domestically purchased bonds by U.S. CitizensSection 5. Federal spending shall not exceed federal income. Federal income shall not occur through borrowing or self-creation of money. Section 6. Amendment XVII is hereby revokedSection 7. Supreme Court decisions shall be revoked by Congress with 2/3 or greater vote in both houses. Section 8. Article I, Section 8 shall be changed to: "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States, and provisions for general welfare shall be uniform throughout the United States and innumerated herein this Constitution; To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and to regulate disputes of commerce among the several states..."When Federal government is placed back into its smaller non-God-like box - when Federal government gets only 10% - the States (empowered and limited by their own 10% taxation) would find themselves positioned to take over (or share with private charities) all social programs now un-Constitutionally administered by Federal government: Social Security, Healthcare, Education, etc., etc. Limiting Federal taxation to 10% would have the effect of resurrecting the 10th amendment - resurrecting State government - resurrecting the Bill of Rights - resurrecting the Constitution. With such an amendment "We the People" will finally become "masters of both Congress and the Courts" - masters of our own destiny. “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 11:05 AM

Anton D Rehling in Olympia, WA said:

Democracy is where two wolves and a sheep vote on whats for dinner.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 11:31 AM

Michael Larkin said:

Very astute and true, Dr. W..just love ya!!Democracy is two wolves and one lamb deciding on what's for dinner!LOLCap'n Mikey

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 11:43 AM

MARINE said:

Very few people actually understand the meaning of Democracy. They were not taught that by the schools. They were taught Liberalism. The following quote from a grave stone in Attica Kansas should show what democracy is: Through this inscription I wish to enter my dying protest against what is called the Democatic party I have watched it closely since the days of Jackson and know all the misfortunes of our nation have come to it through this so called party therefore beware of this party of treason This inscription was put on in fulfillment of promise to deceased. The deceased was N Grigsby died April 14 1890, aged 78yr. 6mo. 5da. 2nd Lieut. Co. G. 10th Ind. Cavy. That was 120 years ago folks, and we are now seeing it live in Wisconsin, and other states. This country is a Republic, not a Democratic country.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 12:12 PM

MoeLarryCurley said:

The distinguished differences between a Republic and Democracy cannot be parroted enough. Republic, being Rule of Law, and Democracy, being Mob Rule. We need to get the term 'Democracy' out of our definitions of how our country is to govern. This is not a democracry,(democracy is never mentioned in the Consitution), this is a Republic.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 12:27 PM

p3orion in Midland, Georgia said:

Dr. Williams-Certainly our system of government is a republic rather than a democracy by the wise design of our founders, but I'm not sure I can fully agree with the distinctions you make between the two forms, particularly when you describe a democracy as follws:"The restraint is upon the individual instead of government. Unlike that envisioned under a republican form of government, rights are seen as privileges and permissions that are granted by government and can be rescinded by government."I see little difference between that democracy and our current government, even though it is still nominally a republic.Perhaps this is because our representatives are elected democratically, and the founders never envisioned a day when people would so often elect fools, or be so content to be represented by them.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 12:51 PM

Bill Houssian said:

This is truly not about democratic people's representation. I received this from a very Church friend who forewared this email from a Christian who returned to Egypt just before the protests:Hi Brother (not disclosed here), Egypt and the middle east are all in unrest and turmoil. Everyday they attack a church and kill. Yesterday they attacked two churches and killed the pastors of the churches. Today they attacked a christian monastery and destroyed the fence; and broke through the fence into the monastery killed many people with tanks and heavy weapons... and put hand on the cultivated lands of the monastery. In another monastery they broke through and killed nine pastors.In many churches they light fires in car wheels and terrorise the people. The situation here is horrible. It is not easy to go to the churches or contact anybody. Together with the unrest in Lybia which led to the fledding of many egyptians from there back to Egypt horrified and terrorised. About one and half million Egyptians are in Lybia. Many of them are killed there and many are coming back. Maybe the media doesn't say what is happenning here because many things are happenning and they don't say everything. These are some of the worst days in the middle east and in Egypt. Please pray for us. FadyGOD Help the good people of Egypt that they will survive the lunatics behind these protests..

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 1:06 PM

Selena said:

Awesome piece!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 1:17 PM

Steve said:

Please understand how this all works... The federal government has become a socialist democracy, which is allowed under Article 4, section 3 and Article 1 section 8, para.17. It has unrestricted powers to legislate for 1.) all the territories owned by the feds, and 2.) all the people who are federal US citizens, such as those people of Puerto Rico, and those who live in the 50 union states who have applied for , and received, social security numbers, no matter where they live. The states of the republic still exist in name, but like the people, they have sold their sovereignty for "funny money". So...everyone has joined the socialist democracy, opting for "freebies" over freedom. It is all perfectly constitutional...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 3:09 PM