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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Democracy or Republic?

I’ve been listening to the protestors down on Wall Street recently who are complaining about the greed and avarice of the “fat cats.”

What I find troubling in all of this is the misunderstanding the protestors and too many other American’s have about our form of government. I hear a nagging theme from the protestors that simply reveals ignorance about the form of government that was originally established in the United States. The cry from these malcontents is that as a nation we need to reestablish our form of democracy. The question is: “Are we a democracy?” The answer: Yes. But not in the exact way it’s typically defined. A democracy is a “government by the people; especially: rule of the majority” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law). There is an inherent problem with a strict democracy: the majority rules. This may, on the surface, sound just fine. But if you are in the minority, your voice is not likely to be heard.

Point of fact: We are also a republic. The difference between these two forms of governance is crucial to understanding the freedoms we have and need to hold on to. A republic is “a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law” (ibid.). In a modern day republic the two-party system, or bipartisan system, allows for an election to be held in which all qualified voters may cast a vote in favor of their party/candidate which, in the United States, we call a presidency.

The United States is commonly referred to as either a “representative democracy,” or a “presidential republic.” Where we err in understanding such governmental policies is in the manner in which such bodies operate.

Let’s take the case of our protestors on Wall Street for instance. They insist on a democracy. One young lady was adamant that we get back to being a democracy. What is chilling in this is that a pure democracy is an unnerving drift toward a totalitarian government of statism. That is, economic and political power rests with a central government, reducing regional government, and the individual, with relatively little say in political matters. Taken to an extreme, such democracy invites socialism, and eventually, communism.

On the other hand, a republic can be equally dangerous. When the electorate votes their candidates into office, the power, technically, resides in the people who elected the candidates. But this power can be abused by those elected, believing they then can make decisions which are in their own best interests, ignoring the will of those who placed them in office.

It is important to understand why the United States is one of those unique governments that has successfully combined a democracy and a republic for the past 224 years since the Constitution was written. Such a government is always in danger of shifting in another direction should the power of the people to elect be marginalized, or removed. You often hear the argument from the two major parties, Republican and Democrat, dicker over the role of government. The Republicans, at least in principle, are for smaller government, allowing regional control to rule within the individual states. The Democrats, also in principle, focus on the importance of the centralized government being the defender of the individual who is typically portrayed as downtrodden and neglected by the fat cats.

As we are entering in earnest this new election cycle, we are being introduced to these variances in governmental form all over again. “Class Warfare” is one such “red herring” used to cause disparity between “the haves and the have not’s.” Thus, capitalism becomes the evil to be done away with. Another pitch to separate people is the idea that our elected representatives somehow know what’s better for us than we ourselves do. This is the bogeyman we call “Big Government.” And a third problem that is in the morass of politics is “Racial Tension,” suggesting that certain ethnic groups are being marginalized or ignored. Such refrains are heard ad nauseam during every election cycle, with diatribes of bitterness and dissent being hurled back and forth across the political landscape. The truth is frequently sacrificed on the altar of a political party needing to be (re)elected.

In the final analysis, any such form of governance will always tend to swerve out of control because the base nature of the human race is flawed. Our founding fathers understood this flaw. They valiantly attempted to establish a government that would be as equitable as humanly possible, short of a theocracy in which a fair and just God would be preeminent.


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