Friday, March 18, 2005

Democracy is Dangerous

In the geopolitical climate in which we find ourselves, democracy is often upon the lips of the “leaders” in our midst. President Bush famously asserted, in his recent Innaugural Address, his plan to spread democracy throughout the world. The average person likely understands this to mean the "antithesis of tyranny". The problem, though, is that words have meaning. From ancient Athens to give or take a century ago, democracy was known as majority rule, as opposed to the rule of law.

When our brave and brilliant forefathers sought emancipation from the British Crown, the ills of democracy were well understood. Alexander Tyler said (note: the authorship of the following quote has been disputed):
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasure. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship…”

We all now benefit from the Founders' wisdom. These giants of history realized that the rule of law was the best way to preserve and protect the natural rights of the individual. Edmund Burke (18th century British statesman) once said:
"I cannot help concurring [e.g., with Aristotle, inter alios] that an absolute democracy, no more than an absolute monarchy, is not to be reckoned among the legitimate forms of government. They think it rather the corruption and degeneracy than the sound constitution of a republic."

In this vein, John Adams penned:
In the government of this commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers or either of them: the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them: the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them: to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.
[Massachusetts Constitution, Part The First, art. XXX (1780)]

It can conceivably be argued that, in current usage, the word “democracy” is synonymous with “liberal democratic constitutional republic”. While this may be true in many cases, I submit that the use of the “d word” has caused the uninformed rank-and-file to believe that the “majority” does in fact rule. No, the word “democracy” DOES NOT appear in our constitution at all. This ignorance has led to a paradigm in which the US Constitution is viewed as "quaint" and "living", rather than a social contract that prevents the state from consuming the individual...from Joe Sixpack to the Supreme Court. The state exists on a conditional basis…as Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declartation of Independence: …that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…. The more commonplace “democracy” becomes, the more likely the rule of law will diminish.