America is a Republic, Not a Democracy

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” —Winston Churchill

“Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” —Present Day Mob

Before we further shred the Constitution, let’s take a step back and examine why the United States is a republic and not a democracy. This is by no means an exhaustive analysis, but rather a simple philosophical examination using Plato and Socrates who, among others, greatly influenced our founding fathers.

So let’s get this out of the way now—democracy sucks. Sorry to break it to you.

The whole, “one person = one vote” battle cry we are hearing across the United States lately? Yeah, no thanks. Pure democracy is a mobocracy, and as someone who values protecting the smallest minority on earth, the individual, I will continue to fight this trend.

But enough about me, what did Plato think of “one person = one vote”?

He wasn’t a fan for a number of reasons, one of which was that a majority of his fellow Athenians voted to execute his mentor, Socrates, because he asked too many political and philosophic questions. (This seemingly happened a lot back in Greece.)

During the trial of Socrates, out of the 500 Athenian jurors summoned, 280 jurors voted to find Socrates guilty and 220 jurors voted for acquittal. In our legal system, criminal cases like this would require a unanimous jury, but in Athens, a simple majority was able to find Socrates guilty.

During the penalty phase, 360 jurors voted for death and 140 voted for a fine. So Socrates was democratically sentenced to die. Under Athenian law, execution was accomplished by drinking a cup of poisoned hemlock. He subsequently died of gradual paralysis of the central nervous system.

Plato believed in five regimes, starting with the one he advocated for in Republic, which was an aristocracy (rule by philosopher kings) and ending with tyranny. The last step before tyranny? You guessed it: democracy. In Plato’s mind, the idea that anyone has the capacity to rule would mean you’d have unqualified corruptible people who seek power as opposed to qualified virtuous leaders who are essentially groomed for the position, a ruling class rather than a democracy.

While there is great wisdom in this view on the drawbacks of democracy, I of course disagree with his conclusion that there needs to be a ruling class.

Now let’s fast forward to the founding of our republic and the Electoral College.

The Electoral College was intended to create harmony between smaller and larger states. Is it perfect? No, but neither is pure democracy, as the founders (who studied Plato among other philosophers) knew.

James Madison spoke of the fear of factions in Federalist 10. “The inference to which we are brought is, that the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.”

And how did they try to reduce the effects of growing factionalism within such a large landmass that is the United States?

The framers believed in republicanism (little r, not big R political party) as a way to keep a large country together, as opposed to disintegrating into factions which always causes balkanization and eventually factionalism. They also knew that population centers, such as cities, could grow to the degree that would marginalize anyone living outside cities in more rural areas.

The Electoral College was essentially a protection against the tyranny of cities.

The framers envisioned a country that was much more state-focused in terms of sovereignty, as opposed to the centralized Leviathan that is the Federal government today. They addressed population representation concerns in the House, and state representation concerns in the Senate, making sure not to marginalize smaller states and less populated areas.

All of this was to guard against the tyranny that ultimately would arise out of a pure democracy.

Some founding fathers, such as Patrick Henry, had grave concerns about “one great consolidated national government.” In his opening speech during the Virginia ratifying convention for the proposed United States Constitution he said the following:

“Who authorized them to speak the language of, We, the People, instead of We, the States? States are the characteristics, and the soul of a confederation. If the States be not the agents of this compact, it must be one great consolidated National Government of the people of all the States. If this new Government will not come up to the expectation of the people, and they should be disappointed—their liberty will be lost, and tyranny must and will arise. I repeat it again, and I beg Gentlemen to consider, that a wrong step made now will plunge us into misery, and our Republic will be lost.”

We should heed the words of Patrick Henry and work towards shifting power away from the Federal Government and back to the individual states.

The future of our republic depends on it.

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Adam Johnston

Adam Johnston is an aspiring writer from New Jersey. He is a history enthusiast with interests covering a wide range of topics ranging from philosophy to economics and politics. Follow Adam on Twitter @AmplifyLiberty or Facebook @AmplifyLiberty.

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6 comments

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  • I whole heartedly agree with your statement: “We should heed the words of Patrick Henry and work towards shifting power away from the Federal Government and back to the individual states.”

    A good start, I believe, is to first repeal the 17th Amendment. That would start the roll back of pure democracy that the Left so badly wants, back toward a Republic. It would, as a byproduct, thrust the State governments back into controlling the Federal government’s overreach into State affairs.

    The second thing would be to amend the 16th Amendment so that it could only apply to INTERSTATE businesses. This would allow INTRASTATE businesses to thrive without the federal bureaucracy interference. It would also get the Federal government out of individual citizen’s business, where it never belonged in the first place.

    • I agree whole heartedly. We were warned by the Founders not to let the central government become to powerful. If you look at powers granted to the Federal government, War, Treaties, Interstate commerce, Armed forces, there is a short list.

    • You are absolutely correct, the 17th amendment is directly responsible for the bloated federal government and it’s unchecked usurpation of power. Its effect has been the loss of the state’s voice and their crucial check n balance against tyrannical central government.

      The “Bicameralism” of Congress — as intended by the founders — only exists in the pre-amended constitution.

      https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/404337-is-it-time-to-repeal-the-17th-amendment

      This is the principle behind “Bicameralism” – two branches of the legislative body answering to two separate constituencies, the Senate to the elected state governments and the House directly to the people

      Todd Zywicki in his outstanding review of the 17th Amendment for the Cleveland State Law Review…
      https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1539&context=clevstlrev

      …summarized the majority of evidence concluding: “…there is no indication that the shift to direct elections did anything to eliminate or even reduce corruption in Senate elections.”  “…Deadlocks were exceptional…the great majority of Senate elections were conducted without incident.” and “…the truth was that most legislatures took one vote at the beginning of each day and continued with their normal affairs.”

      The Anti-Federalist Papers informs us that James Wilson stated “…one branch of the General Government, the Senate or second branch, was to be appointed by the State Legislatures. The State Legislatures, therefore, by this participation in the General Government would have an opportunity of defending their rights.”  James Madison, in The Federalist Papers, confirms this view …
      http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed39.asp

      The Senate on the other hand will derive:
      “By making the House and Senate accountable to different constituencies, the Framers [of the constitution] sought to thwart special interest…or ‘fractions,’ to pervert the legislative process…”

      Zywicki continues with “One important consequence of the shift to direct elections was to increase the need for money and organization to run expensive state-wide races … this has required Senators to supplicate themselves to special interests in the quest for money and power…Changing the method by which the Senate was elected undermined the check that bicameralism provided against special interest legislation.”

  • Thank you for this clear description of our American quandary. The well-intentioned but all-to-human Founding Fathers did what they could with what was there to work with. In our era, we have learned that the more diversity found in any decision-making body, the more likely it will take into account the rights of all the stakeholders and will be equitable for the most people, and correctable as disparities are revealed.

    I live in California, a state comprising a tenth of our nation’s population. But we only have two senators while the 17 states whose populations add up to the equivalent of our state’s population have 34 senators. Is it fair that low-population states can block all sorts of legislation that’s unwelcome by the corporations so easily dominate smaller states, and who can confirm all sorts of anti-big-state Supreme Court justices, to name just two consequences of this disparity?

    Another example is Single Payer medical care. What’s so terrible about the Canadian system? Sure, huge piles of profits don’t go to stockholders of Pharma companies there, is that a bad thing? Canadians roll their eyes at our determination to keep a system which allows children from low income families to suffer and burdens middle class families with medical bills that often bankrupt them.

    Something to keep in mind: the Senate and the Electoral College were established to balance the power between slave-holding states in the South and non-enslavement states in the North (not that all the unfounded prejudices which kept slavery intact weren’t to be found in the North, but slavery was made illegal much sooner in northern states).

    In England, they got rid of the House of Lords (except as a tourist attraction) because it kept foiling the majority. I hope some day we close down the Senate and the Electoral College.

    In the meantime, what do you think of the proposals of Represent.Us? This nonpartisan group includes both Democrats and Republicans, as well as independent voters fed up with party politics.

    The Represent.Us website explains that Congress won’t ever curtail their own overreach, so their plan is to bring change at local and state levels so that Congress must face their hypocrisy and will finally adopt these reforms:

    1. Make it illegal for politicians to take money from lobbyists.

    2. Ban lobbyists bundling (lobbyists magnify their influence by bringing campaign donations in one lump).

    3. Close the revolving door (you know, when a Congressperson or Senator leaves office they finally get the big paychecks on K Street).

    4. Prevent politicians from fundraising during working hours.

    5. Immediately disclose political money online.

    6. Stop donors from hiding behind secret-money groups.

    7. End gerrymandering.

    8. Let all voters participate in open primaries.

    9. Automatic voter registration.

    10. Make mail-in voting a universal option.

    11. Reasonable term limits.

    12. Change how elections are funded.

    13. Crack down on super PACs.

    14. Eliminate lobbyist loopholes.

    15. Strengthen anti-corruption enforcement.

    To these I suggest adding:
    16. Move to Ranked Choice Voting.

    17. Make the airwaves (TV, radio) free to candidates, which cancels one of the largest expenses of electioneering. These frequencies belong to us all, and the FCC “rents” them to various corporations. There should be a clause in all future sales, that’s added to all renewals, that has a fair system for candidates to have access.

    18. Make voter suppression a crime.

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