“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:
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.