Democracy – Good or Bad

ResponsibilityYesterday I suggested that the United States is becoming a democracy and put forward some ideas to support that assertion. Today I’ll take on the proposition that this is a bad thing and the methods needed to stop the trend.

Many people with whom I speak think that the United States becoming a democracy is a good thing. They argue that the country was created as a democracy. I think this largely comes from the preamble of the Constitution of the United States.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

It’s that We the People line. It does all come back to we the people but the reality is that we are a Representative Republic which I discussed yesterday.

The other main argument that I hear to support democracy is that the politicians are in place to enforce the will of the  people. I’ll quote some of the founding fathers to refute this idea.

Alexander Hamilton: “Democracy was the surest path to tyranny” and “That a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure, deformity.”

James Madison: “A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies 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.”

John Witherspoon: “Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state – it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.”

I’m a particular fan of that last one and I can’t do better than these great men. I’ll try to sum up: In a democracy the majority will always tyrannize the minority and a government’s duty is protect all its citizens, not just the majority and the flavor of the moment.

So, if what I suggested yesterday is true, that we are becoming a democracy, it seems to follow that we are headed towards a violent death as suggested by Mr. Madison.

As always, I don’t want to spend all my time complaining, pointing fingers, and otherwise acting like a modern citizen of this country. I will try to offer remedies instead of five second sound bits to enflame popular sentiment.

If this trend towards democracy threatens the United States then what solution do I offer? Certainly polling is not going away, the internet and popular sentiment directly expressed to our representatives it not going to end, so how can we arm our politicians with the courage to make the decisions that are unpopular but good for the nation?

First, on a state and local level I would start to remove all direct vote propositions. The politicians need to make the laws, not the people. If the politicians pass a law that I disagree with then I will have to harbor that for a period of time and use my outrage in the next election. By then, their wisdom might shine through my momentary passion of opposition, or not.

I would repeal the 17th Amendment which allowed for the direct election of Senators. This is a complex issue because many states were already heading toward direct election anyway. It is a topic that probably deserves an entire blog.

Finally and most importantly, we must educate people to understand the principals of our government. The ideas of a Representative Republic, the dangers of democracy, the ideals of the Founding Fathers. If the majority of people think we live in, or should live in, a democracy then the politicians we elect will think the same thing.

Do you want the laws of this nation being made in the same way your local newspapers has a popular vote for Best of (my town)? When you peruse that yearly “Best of” article do you find the winner is actually the “best of” anything? Or is it simply the lowest common denominator?

Like, Tweet, Stumble, and otherwise comment if you think other people might be interested in these ideas.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

The United States is becoming a Democracy

Focus GroupOne of the areas I find people have a great deal of confusion about is the idea that the United States is a democracy. The U.S. is a representative republic which I spoke about in a previous post. The issue I want to take on today is the idea that we are slowly becoming a democracy.

When the Founding Fathers established the political system of the United States they broke authority into three branches of government. The Federal Convention is where the Founding Fathers gathered to draft the wording for the new constitution. There was much consternation about how the people in these branches would get their jobs. There was also a great deal of concern about how much power should rest in the hands of the federal government but I’ll save that conversation for a future blog. For now I want to talk about how our representatives get their jobs and their duty therein.

The Federal Convention ended with a system, after much debate, where the lower house, The House of Representatives was elected directly by a vote of the people, an upper house, the Senate, appointed by state officials, the executive, the President, who was elected through a mechanism called the Electoral College, and a Judicial, Judges, who were appointed by the executive.

The Senate and House of Representatives make laws, the Executive signs them, and the Judicial determines their meaning in individual cases. The important factor here is that it is Congress (the collective term for the Senate and House of Representatives) makes the laws. The laws are not voted on by the people. The founding fathers did this for a specific reason that I will talk about tomorrow.

Most state governments operate the same way.

Things have changed to a large degree. The main culprit in this change, I think, is the proliferation and immediacy of polling and voter outrage. By this I mean that the people can almost instantly respond to any proposed legislation before it becomes law and organize opposition. Also, with sophisticated polling, the politicians are aware of the will of the people before they cast their vote. This has the effect of pushing politicians in the direction of the majority of the population. Not just in their legislative duties but in their campaign promises and party platforms.

Focus Group

We’ve seen massive vote swings based on popular opinion quite recently with the SOPA act but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Politicians regularly hold focus groups in order to weigh the popularity of a particular plan. They fear getting removed from office if they make decisions that are unpopular with their constituency.

This is not the system envisioned by the Founding Fathers. The original plan was that the representatives made the laws and the people redressed that situation once every two, four, or six years with elections. Even then only the House of Representatives faced direct election by the people. The Senators were appointed and the President elected via the Electoral College. So, the drift towards democracy is something that was not originally planned.

Now, there are quite a few people out there who consider this movement towards democracy a good thing and they have some interesting points. I’ll talk about what this change means for the future of the United States tomorrow.

Stay tuned!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist