Welcome to Part 4 of our lecture series on
the Constitution. This lecture deals with the kind of government the Constitution creates.
Once again, we will be talking about the difference between the popular view of the Constitution
and the reality behind it. More specifically, weíll talk about the idea
that the United States is a Democracy, why thatís an inaccurate and even dangerous claim,
and what a Republic is all about. Weíll of course cover these two types of
government, their similarities, their differences, and why itís important. But in order to fully
understand the issue, we also need to consider two other types of government: Monarchy and oligarchy. These four basic types
will give you a full perspective and context for understanding how our government is set
up, and why it was set up that way. Now, there are other forms of government,
but with a few exceptions most of them can be placed into one of these four categories.
For example, a plutocracy is rule by the rich. This is a form of oligarchy. In any event,
we will focus on these four for purposes of this lecture. Weíll start with Monarchy. Youíre most likely
familiar with this. This is when power is concentrated in a single individual: a king,
a dictator, a despot, or whatever. It comes from the Greek word Monos, meaning
One, and Archus, meaning Leader. So a monarchy is when there is one and only one leader.
Obviously, this is the kind of government the founders rebelled against, specifically
targeting most of their complaints against the monarch, King George. Oligarchy is when power is vested in an elite
few. This is usually a class, a higher class, a ruling class, or whatever. So it isnít
much better than a monarchy. Like the word Monarchy, Oligarchy has its
roots in Greek, this time from the Greek word Oligos, meaning ìfew.î With the power concentrated
in an elite few, the masses are easily subjugated. Democracy is what seems to be the popular
preference for the form of government, and thereís little wonder why: itís popular
rule. Democracy is the rule of the majority, the will of the masses, and this would trump
the will of any select few. The first part of its root, the Greek Demos,
is generally translated as ìpeople,î but itís important to understand in what context
it is meant. This isnít rule by some people, itís rule by most peopleóthe majority, the
masses. The telling part is the second root word,
kratos: rule by strength. If that makes it sound more like mob rule, well, youíre getting
the idea. Majority rule is minority ruled. In essence,
itís the exact opposite of an oligarchy. Whereas an oligarchy allows a select few to
subjugate the many, a democracy allows the many to impose their will on minorities. So, what is a republic, and how is it different
from a democracy? The root of the word is Latin, but the meaning has its origins much
earlier in Greek with Platoís dialogue. Here, Plato argues for his ideal form of government
in opposition to other bad types, which include oligarchy and democracy. He also describes
how oligarchy leads to democracy as the oppressed masses overthrow the ruling class. The Latin root here is the same as it is for
the word ìpublicî: poblicus, meaning the population. Thatís different from ìthe peopleî
in Democracy. This isnít just a few people, or some people, or even most people; itís
ALL the peopleóthe public, the entire population. Which means that no group, however large or
however small, can impose its will on others. To illustrate the difference between these
four types of government, we can talk about the fundamental differences in their answer
to one very important question: Where do our rights actually come from? In a monarchy, rights come from the ruler.
Historically, this was known as the Divine Right of Kings. Kings were granted power by
God Himself, and the King gave some of these rights to the people as he saw fit. He may
knight someone, or grant them a claim of Lordship, or whatever. He could grant them, and he could
take them away just as easily. In an oligarchy, itís the leadersówhomever
the ruling class isówho are granted the rights, again usually by God. Generally, the idea
is that the ruling class rules by Godís divine will, and so everything they do is Godís
will and cannot be countermanded. The evidence for this is the fact that God would not have
placed them in power if he did not want them to have it, therefore shut up and do as we
say. In a democracy, the rights come from the people,
and so you have whatever rights society says that you do. If society says that you have
the right to keep and bear arms, then you have that rightóuntil the masses change their
mind and decide you donít have that right after all. This marks the fundamental difference between
a democracy and a republic. A republic, at least in the form our founders created when
they ratified the Constitution, recognizes that rights are inherent. Basically, youíre
born with them, and theyíre as much a part of you as your own inherent abilities.
Many people, including many of our founders, said that God gave us these rights specifically.
Itís kind of like cutting out the middleman: instead of God giving rights to a king or
to a ruling class, theyíre given directly to us, each as individuals.
Others, including other founders, say that the rights just come from nature. But whether
they come from nature, God, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster is irrelevant. The Constitution
makes no claim as to where these rights come from, merely that you have them.
This is why the Constitution says that a particular right ìshall not be infringedî or ìshall
not be violated,î instead of ìthis right is hereby granted.î The Constitution does
not grant rights; it merely protects them. The fact of the United States being a Republic
is mentioned in Article IV Section 4, where it requires the United States to guarantee
to every single state a Republican form of government.
Relax, this doesnít mean you have to vote Republican. It means that the United States
will not allow any group, not even a majority, to infringe on the rights of the people. But while the Constitution has nothing to
say about Democracy, the founders certainly did. For example, in Federalist #10, James
Madison says, ìDemocracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have
ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property. A Republic
promises the cure for which we are seeking.î For another example, Alexander Hamilton said,
ìIt has been observed that a pure democracy…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.î There are many other such examples. Our founders
simply did not want a democracy. So, how did they envision this republic? The
original first amendment in the Bill of Rightsówhich was proposed by Congress but never ratifiedóspecifies
how to figure out how many representatives to have per population size. You couldnít
have too few, or too many. Now, why would this be in the Bill of Rights? Madisonóalong
with the rest of Congressóis trying to avoid both democracy and oligarchy. Basically, if
you have too few representatives, you have an oligarchy, and the country is run by the
elite, the special interests. Too many, and you get Democracyómob rule, people voting
themselves largesse from the Treasury. A republic was seen as being the ìsweet spotî in the
middleówhere there were enough representatives to make the elite ineffective, but not so
many that the mob took over. If we were to follow his formula today, we’d
have over 1500 members of Congress. Instead, we have 435. By Madison’s mathematics, that
makes this an oligarchy, a system beholden to powerful lobbies and special interest groups.
Looking around, it’s hard to disagree. So letís go over the fundamental differences
between a Democracy and a Republic. In a democracy, rights come from the people,
or from society. Really, what that means is that you can do whatever everyone else allows
you to do. Your rights can change with their whim.
So if, after a terrorist attack, everyone agrees that being safe is more important than
your right to be secure from warrantless searches, then your right, according to this philosophy,
goes away, and you have no recourse for asserting it.
Whereas in our Constitutional republic, rights are considered to be inherent, and regardless
of how everyone else feels about your right to be secure in your home, you can still assert
it and seek redress if it is violated. In a democracy, since rights come from the
people, it falls to the government to say what rights people do and do not have. The
duly elected representatives of the people can act with their authority, and essentially
claim whatever they want. But under the Constitution, rights are protected.
Since they are considered to be an inherent part of your existence, no authority whatsoever
can claim legitimacy in any act infringing on your rights. In a democracy, rights are privileges, and
your rights are limited to whatever your fellow countrymen agree should be your rights. They
can be taken away at any time. But in our republic, rights are inalienable.
They cannot be separated from you, and so they cannot be taken away, only violated.
As such, it is the government that is limited, not your rights. In a democracy, power is centralized, being
in whatever majority who chose the current government. The majority chooses the government,
and the government serves at their whim. But in our republic, we have a decentralized
system of checks and balances. The method of choosing Congressmen, Senators, and the
President isnít mob rule; itís spread out all over the country. This is why the President
is elected by electors chosen by the states, instead of directly by a majority of all Americans.
Also, the branches of government are supposed to put checks against each other to prevent
a usurpation of unconstitutional power. Now, the big criticism to all of this, is
that all of the aspects of a republic I have just described are incorporated in the modern
idea of democracy, not the old idea of majority rule. So that brings up the question: what
if we have a republic, and just call it a democracy? Both democracy and republic have
been misused by many countries claiming these titles where neither applied. Why not just
have everyone understand that democracy means republic, not majority rule?
Quite simply, because people DONíT understand it. As we speak, there are those trying to
eliminate the electoral college because they think weíre a democracy where the people
determine the government. There are people seeking to eliminate the rights protected
by the Second and Fourth Amendments, and others, for exactly the same reason. All justified
by the fact that weíre a democracy. As my grandma used to say, you can call a
dog a cat all you want, but it still wonít purr. So now you understand why we use the word
ìrepublicî to refer to our country, and why using ìdemocracyî is not only invalid,
it is downright dangerous to our liberties. From this point on, I think youíll find that
if you pay attention, youíll see a lot of politicians and pundits appealing to ìdemocracyî
to get whatever they want passed. And usually, itíll be something that shouldnít be passed
at all. Until next time, stay strong and be free.