Our Democracy Is Not at Risk, but Our Republic Is
Confusing the two types of government is more than just lazy semantics.
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” —Hosea 4:6
After toiling amid sweltering heat and vigorous debate for months, the Constitutional Convention finally concluded. Elder statesman Benjamin Franklin emerged from Independence Hall into the autumn sunlight and was asked by a local woman, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”
Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
One can be forgiven these days for believing America is a democracy. Politicians and media talkingheads endlessly refer to America as a democracy, yet it is not now, nor has it ever been, a democracy.
In fact, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, sternly warned in Federalist No. 10, “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
And in 1814, John Adams wrote, “Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
Our Founding Fathers rightly saw democracy as little more than mob rule. And despite the months of Black Lives Matter and antifa-led riots last year, and mob violence at the Capitol two weeks ago, many still advocate for more democracy in our political system.
To safeguard against the excesses of democratic mob rule, the Founders crafted a federal constitutional republic, implementing a series of separations of power, checks and balances, and vetoes, which allow for majoritarian rule while also protecting the rights of the minority and the individual.
The Founders understood that in a pure or direct democracy, there exists a danger that demagogues of “factious tempers” and “sinister designs” would encourage public faction for their own selfish ends. But as Madison explained, delegating government power “to a small number of citizens elected by the rest” would “refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”
Or, as National Review’s Thomas Koenig notes, “The role of the elected representative is to harmonize the interests and passions of his constituents with the dictates of reason and the common good. This requires a certain independence of mind and spirit, as well as a hefty dose of prudence.”
Unfortunately, such patriotism, independence of mind, and prudence is all too often lacking in our elected representatives of late.
Though our Constitution, and the republican form of government it established, has functioned remarkably well at tempering the impulses of the mob for nearly a quarter-millennium, many on the Left are eager to destroy our republic and replace it with a pure democracy (and socialism).
A few months ago, Utah Senator Mike Lee triggered outrage on the Left with two simple tweets: “We’re not a democracy,” followed by “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”
Responses ranged from denial that America is a republic to assertions that we are a republic, but a deeply flawed one.
Writing in The Atlantic just before the election, Claremont McKenna College professor George Thomas said, “Dependent on a minority of the population to hold national power, Republicans … have taken to reminding the public that ‘we’re not a democracy,’ [and] have suddenly found their voice in pointing out that, formally, the country is a republic.”
Suddenly? Republicans have been making that point for decades.
Thomas continued, making a cogent argument as to how and why the Founders constructed a republican form of government that would “foster a complex form of majority rule, not enable minority rule.” However, Thomas then began to list what he sees as the failures of the republican form of government, arguing, “The greatest shortcoming of the American experiment was its limited vision of the people, which excluded Black people, women, and others from meaningful citizenship, diminishing popular government’s cause.”
He has a point, but thanks to near unanimous Republican support for the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments (but near unanimous Democrat opposition, save the 19th, which received but 41% of Democrat votes), these shortcomings were rectified.
Today, Democrats, now controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, are threatening to eradicate two of the powerful mechanisms employed for more than two centuries to protect the rights of the minority — the Electoral College and the Senate filibuster.
They argue that these things deny the will of the majority, as when President Donald Trump won a resounding Electoral College victory while losing the popular vote.
But if the Electoral College is abolished, then how will the rights of the minority be protected? After all, Los Angeles County, with a population of 10.4 million, has more people than all but the eight largest states.
At a time when Big Tech and the social media giants are censoring the half of the country that supports President Trump, and Democrats are assembling lists of Trump administration officials and prominent supporters in order to publicly ostracize them and deny them employment, the rising dangers of democracy are quite evident.
John Adams rightly noted, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” It was made for a people of temperance and moderation, not to contain a vengeful mob.
Let’s keep our republic, if we can.
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