Democracy or Republic

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by David A. Woodbury
The Constitution, Article IV, Section 4, declares “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”  Nothing in the Constitution suggests that this country was ever intended to be a democracy.  The critical difference is in the matter of rights.

John Adams captured the essence of the difference when he wrote, “You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.”  An individual has a right to his life, a right to defend himself against an aggressor, a right to protect his family, a right to use and to dispose of the fruits of his labor as he sees fit, a right to speak, a right to associate and assemble with others of his choosing, a right to turn his back and walk away, a right to manifest faith in a God, and a right to attempt to persuade — but not to coerce — others.

A republic is the one form of government that is designed to protect the rights of an individual against the whims, fashions, emotions, fervor, and ignorance of the many.  A democracy confers on the majority the temptation to interfere with these rights, to introduce new, arbitrary privileges, and to do either according to popular zeal.  A monarch or dictator may also presume to interfere with the fundamental rights that John Adams described.  Even under a dictatorship, those fundamental rights exist; it’s just a question whether an individual or group of individuals will assert them.

The United States is confused, nowadays, about its form of government.  It is not a democracy, although the original republican form of government has been corrupted into a semblance of democracy.  And the people are deluded into thinking that a republic and a democracy are one and the same, even that a democracy is somehow superior to the antiquated and presumably unworkable concept that we are a republic.

In a democracy, you see, the majority rules (supposedly, and that is debatable, because those hungry for power, whom the majority has elected, effectively rule), while in a republic, the individual is protected from the majority.  In a democracy, the people’s representatives identify groups, often called “communities,” who need special privileges in order to remain more loyal as voters, and the people’s representatives create new “rights” to soothe those groups.  Generally these are “rights” to be free from discomfort and almost by definition infringe on the real rights of every individual.

With this distinction clear, consider now a passage from Nock’s The Theory of Education in the U.S.:

So the popular idea of democracy postulates that there shall be nothing worth enjoying for anybody to enjoy that everybody may not enjoy; and a contrary view is at once exposed to all the evils of a dogged, unintelligent, invincibly suspicious resentment.

The whole institutional life organised under the popular idea of democracy, then, must reflect this resentment.  It must aim at no ideals above those of the average man; that is to say, it must regulate itself by the lowest common denominator of intelligence, taste, and character in the society which it represents.

In a republic, where all the population are free to create, invest, and exercise patience or engage in self-indulgence, an individual may prosper and enjoy comfort that many others do not.  This prosperity may have come his way by birth and inheritance, by effort and good judgment, by sheer luck, or by a convergence of these advantages.  In a republic, a person who enjoys some prosperity may share his good fortune with others, or may choose not to do so.  In a republic, an individual chooses how to dispose of his income and assets, and takes responsibility for the consequences of his actions.  In a democracy, where all the population are free to create, invest, and exercise patience or engage in self-indulgence, an individual may prosper and enjoy comfort that others do not only until those others, many of whom do not want to take responsibility for their own choices, are goaded by people who ache on their behalf and are whipped into mass action that denies a moderate person the fruit of his labor.

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