Guest post by Robert Augustine.
“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” inquired a bystander near Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
“A Republic, if you can keep it,” replies Benjamin Franklin.
Not only are we failing to keep the republic, many casually substitute the word democracy–a very close relative to totalitarian dictatorship–for our republican style of government.
Though many believe that our Founders created a democracy, it’s not true. The Constitution never even makes use of the word democracy. Instead, the Founders were feverish critics of democracy and emphatically stated that they had founded a republic.
Article IV Section 4, of the Constitution “guarantees to every state in this union a Republican form of government.”
James Madison, Father of the Constitution, warned of the shortcomings and dangers of democracy:
“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.”
While a republic recognizes and protects the inalienable rights of individuals by the rule of law, democracies have no such protections nor place limitations upon the government. Democracy is simply “mob rule,” concerned only with collective needs or what we now know as “the public good.”
Democratic majority rule is simply a system of tyrannical means through the masses, being only slightly different from a totalitarian monarchy in the fact that one extra step (the vote) is involved in the policy making process. Democracy itself is often but a brief stepping stone between a government founded upon law and a full-throttle dictatorship.
The democratic attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether governed by passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences.
Democracies always self-destruct once a non-productive majority realizes that it can confiscate property and liberty from a productive minority by electing the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury. As the cycle continues these officials must adopt an ever-increasing tax and spend policy to satisfy the ever-increasing desires of the majority, lending itself to collectivism and less to individualism. Inevitably the socialistic government runs out of other people’s money and the democracy collapses into dictatorship.
In contrast, it is the republic that protects civil liberties and individual property. Although we may elect representatives with powers to enact legislation, those representatives are bound by an obligation and oath to the very laws that protects us from the shifting impulses and prejudices of a simple majority.
In the republican form of government, an individual’s inalienable rights are granted by a Creator—not government institutions. No majority, regardless its size, may revoke those rights. While a democracy is government of unlimited growth, a republic places strict limitations on government.
Understanding the portion of Benjamin’s Franklin’s response “if you can keep it” is extremely key in understanding another glaring difference between a democracy and a republic. A republican form of government places responsibility on each individual to be be accountable for his or her own personal actions, the actions of the elected official, and requires an active informed electorate.
Emphasizing the collective, democracy removes those personal responsibilities, encourages apathy, and creates a system of pitting group verses group, deeply controlled by the special interests.
Democracy allows government to circumvent law, placing it on hold or outright ignoring it if that is the agenda that fulfills the needs and wants of the mob during an election cycle.
In a democracy, elected representatives review public matters with the question, “how can supporting this get me re-elected?” In a constitutional republic, the question becomes, “is this legal, and does this fall under my authority?”