The Musings of

Something full of magic, religion, bullsh*t.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Whither democracy?*

Hang around the fringe on the Right long enough and you will be told that"America is a Republic, not a Democracy." While this is an oversimplification of political philosophy, the discourse itself is helpful in understanding the "undemocratic" aspects of our institutions. A "pure" democracy would be a goverment that perfectly channels majority will into political reality. Therefore, if a majority of Americans believe that squash should be illegal (something I could get behind) then it is -- no discussion. It doesn't take a Subway Sandwich Artist to see that pure democracy is unworkable in ways that are too numerous to count.

Suffice to say, the Founding Fathers recognized that democracy itself was unworkable outside the framework of a Republican form of government that constitutionally protects the rights of individual citizens against the oppressive nature of the mob. Publius stated it best in Federalist No. 10:

From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy . . . , can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such 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. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking.
Despite the established weaknesses of the system, however, there is always a "cult of democracy" whose members believe that any dilution of democracy is evil by its very nature. They see any attempt to check the impulse of the majority as somehow un-American (ironically, many of these same individuals are also the quickest to defend the rights of minorities against the majority). Witness the continuing complaints with the Electoral College. Every one of these arguments assumes that "direct" democracy is superior to our vetted 200-year old system. The Electoral College does inhibit democracy, but so does the separation of powers, federalism, international treaties, congressional districting, campaign finance reform, congressional seniority, independent government agencies, and multinational governmental organizations, and I have yet to hear too much whining about these facets of our government.

Calling something "undemocratic" is not an argument as much as an insult founded on an ill-formed belief that majority will is the most perfect attainment of policy. As Mark Twain stated, "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect." While I'm sure we can count on legislative attempts to end the Electoral College due to it's "anti-democratic nature," we should follow Twain's advice and question the real motives for change.

*Title inspired by P.J. O'Rourke.
Centinel 7:34 AM #


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