Take Heart, Americans, You Live in a Republic
By Paul Dowling
“Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that Democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than Aristocracy or Monarchy. It is not true in Fact and nowhere appears in history. Those Passions are the same in all Men under all forms of Simple Government, and when unchecked, produce the same Effects of Fraud, Violence, and Cruelty.”
– John Adams, in a letter to John Taylor, dated December 17, 1814, shedding light on the reason America’s Founders established a republic, rather than a democracy
Why Life in a Republic Is Preferable to Life in a Democracy
America’s Founders did not want a democracy. They knew how bad life could become, if a temporary or prejudicial voting majority were ever to find itself in sympathy with a thoughtless or uneducated worldview. So, the Founders looked to history for classically liberal models of republican government, the most interesting of which belonged to the Romans and the Jews.
A republic (Latin: res publica) is the “people’s thing” – a matter for the public to direct via a representative body, similar to the Roman Senate, which for centuries governed “a state which had achieved imperial conquest and expansion without a monarch, yet – unlike Athens, the other exemplary state from classical antiquity – restricted the role of the citizen body by means of powerful annually elected magistrates and a permanent and exclusive deliberative body.”
The Jews divided power: 1) by creating a system (per Exodus 18:13-23) in which leaders from among the people were set up “as officers of groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens” to “sit as judges for the people at all times,” with the people appealing to Moses in “every major dispute” but deciding “all of the minor cases themselves”; this was a source of inspiration for America’s divided system of governance at the municipal, county, state, and federal levels, that has kept problem-solving closer to home, thus making the people “much happier”; and 2) by instituting the triparted separation of powers – based upon the Biblical notion (per Isaiah 33:22) that “the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king” – which established the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government.
An American Republic
In America’s republic, the legislature makes laws that are Constitutionally permitted; the executive executes the laws and eschews authoritarian decrees; and the judiciary makes judgments based upon existing law without abridging the rights of the people. All state officials must be elected or appointed by elected officeholders.
In contrast to a democracy, whose power to make law is majority-unlimited, the American republic prohibits any and all majorities from violating the rights of the individual (the smallest minority of all). The republic recognizes natural rights that are inseparable (or “unalienable”) from the individual. No temporary majority holds the moral or legal authority to abolish these natural rights. America is not a mercurial democracy, but a stable republic, based upon the predictability that only a written constitution can offer. By design, in America’s free republic, the people may plan for the future without worrying that important rules may suddenly be overturned or that the people’s natural rights may easily be infringed.
Democracy Is Nowhere Mentioned in America’s Founding Documents
The word “democracy” is nowhere to be found in America’s founding documents, and for good reason. While a democracy may grant man-made privileges, America’s republic actually recognizes God-given rights that are natural to the human being from womb to tomb. Whereas a direct democracy may subject the minority to the ill-advised whims of a pernicious mob, a representative republic shields the minority from such emotional caprices. By filtering impatient sentiments through a process of deliberative reasoning, cooler heads are given the chance to prevail against the bullying mentality of the mob.
Some important anti-democratic principles are written into America’s republican Constitution. One is the veto, by which the chief executive may reject a law passed by a simple majority in each legislative chamber, although the legislature may override the veto by a supermajority vote of 2/3 in both the Senate and the House. Another republican principle is that each state enjoys equal representation in the Senate, while the House of Representatives allows larger states to have more voting members than smaller ones, in proportion to the sizes of their populations.
The election of a president reflects this Senate/House compromise by having the representation of states in the Electoral College be constituted of a membership whose numbers are determined for each state by adding its number of senators to its number of representatives, thus awarding smaller states an outsized proportion of electoral votes to prevent the bullying of smaller states by larger states in the choice of a chief executive; this forces presidential candidates to campaign across a wide distribution of states to win election.
The role of the judiciary is anti-democratic as well, since judges are to interpret the law as written without twisting its meaning to match popular sentiment; for a law to be changed, the people’s representatives must get involved; legislating from the bench, so to speak, is forbidden. The legislative branch may not create laws that violate the Constitutional rights of the people, nor may the judiciary allow any federal rules to operate that are not within the scope of the Enumerated Powers Clause.
Per the US Constitution, no simple majority may alter, abridge, or infringe any of the rights or rules contained therein by means of a vote. In America, the people retain property rights that are guaranteed to every citizen. These natural rights may not be modified, except by ratification of a Constitutional amendment requiring the vote of 3/4 of the states. In the American republic, liberty and justice are more important values than democracy and privilege.
Letting Everyone Have a Say Is a Republican Principle
What most Americans have been taught to understand, since the time of the nation’s founding, is that there is no objective standard by which to judge whose speech is good or bad, right or wrong. It is always the other fellow whose speech is hateful or untrustworthy. The government should never be allowed to judge what information is valid or true. Thus empowered, an elected official might shape the public narrative by choosing only to allow discourse that is in his or her best interest. There are many abuses that may devolve from bestowing power upon government officials to control speech and press.
In America’s free republic, no legislative majority may legally pass any law abridging the rights of the people. Nor may any right of the people be suspended by executive fiat. (This means that executive orders, memos, and notices may only clarify and direct how existing laws are to be enforced.) In Canada’s democracy, on the other hand, the majority has actually voted to remove the people’s right to free speech, if the words spoken might hurt someone’s feelings. Whereas Americans have gone so far as to tolerate Nazi hate speech – even as those Nazis uttered anti-Semitic slogans while marching through a Jewish neighborhood – Canadians have denied free speech to a stand-up comic who insulted a heckler, fining him $22,500 for his comments.
Americans realize that, once anyone’s rights have been banned, no one’s rights remain safe. American patriots know that, if neo-Nazis were to find themselves in power, they could censor the words of those who speak against Nazism for being anti-Nazi “hate speech.” One can see how politicians might claim their feelings to have been hurt by the “hate speech” of political opponents. One person’s hate speech is another’s justifiable outrage.
The banning of hate speech can only lead to the banning of all speech that anyone might choose to take exception to; in fact, the censors of Cancel Culture have already succeeded in banning six books by Dr. Seuss on the basis that they promote white-supremacist hate speech. Even if it were true that Dr. Seuss were a white supremacist (an absurd proposition in the minds of those who knew him), no free American can be forced to purchase his books, just as no one can be required to buy the writings of Karl Marx or Adolf Hitler – two men whose socialist ideas have brought about the deaths of over 100 million human beings.
Publius [nom de plume of James Madison or Alexander Hamilton] stated, in The Federalist No. 51, that the majority and the minority must both be protected: “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be pursued, until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign, as in a state of nature where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger: And as in the latter state even the stronger individuals are prompted by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves: So in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.”
The Founding Generation that ratified the Constitution would have agreed with Publius about the end of government being Justice, for the people would have appreciated the following Biblical prescriptions (per Exodus 23:3 and 23:6): “And do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit. . .. [And y]ou shall not deny justice to the poor in their lawsuits.” In other words, Justice is blind as to whether the winner at court be rich or poor. Another situation to avoid would be sympathizing with the mob (per Exodus 23:2): “You shall not follow the crowd in wrongdoing. When you testify in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.”
California’s Betrayal of Republicanism
The US Constitution reads as follows: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,” so only states with republican constitutions have been admitted to the Union. However, the republican principle of giving the minority a chance to be represented in the general election has been violated by the State of California. This principle has been little appreciated in recent years in California, a state which has instituted a primarily democratic system, with almost no republican safeguards, ever since the passage of Proposition 14 in 2010. Prop 14 has banned the nomination of candidates by political parties to run in state primary elections, although parties are allowed to promote and oppose candidates. The top two vote-getters run against each other in the general election, even if they are of the same party. (The rule does not affect the federal presidential primary or the election of state party leaders.)
The result of Proposition 14 is that the minority voice has, for the most part, been locked out of statewide electoral contests. Formerly, the state allowed the top vote-getters from the majority and minority parties to compete in the general election, a republican principle that gave minority opinions a fair hearing. This allows people to be exposed to divergent viewpoints, thus giving everyone a fair chance to influence the hearts and minds of voters. In such a contest, candidates with widely diverse views are possible. Thus, the majority – always in danger of losing in a competitive environment – must maintain an attitude more broadly responsive to the public, lest the majority lose to superior ideas put forth by the minority.
The legitimization of minority views by the majority was once the practice in California; however, since Proposition 14 became law, the practice of tolerance and equal protection has all but disappeared throughout the state. The sad result has been that any person out of step with the majority is at high risk of being bullied into silence by an intolerant majority. This abandonment of fairness has brought about a descent into democratic despotism, unchecked by the republican value of liberty and justice for all.
Property Rights: The Basis of a Free Republic
Property belongs to any person who has the right to control and defend said property. Property rights are individual rights. Every individual possesses a human body; this is property in its most intimate form. The activities of an individual’s human body – be they physical or mental – extend the individual’s creativity outward into the world.
When a person stakes a legitimate claim to a plot of land – or purchases the land by trading for it – then plants a tree and nurtures it, the result is a tree belonging to that individual, as do the fruits that grow from that tree. The land settled and tilled by that human being bestows upon that individual property rights over the crops produced and the livestock raised on that plot of earth.
By the same token, when a person – by his or her own intellectual effort – creates a written work for an audience or innovates a commercial invention for the marketplace, the fruit of such labor belongs to that author, as do any spin-offs that devolve from the author’s original idea. Any resultant works that are published or produced bestow upon their original author the right to any sales or reproductions stemming from the original creation.
All Rights Are Property Rights
It is important to understand that all rights are property rights, and property is something that naturally belongs to the individual – such as his or her own human body – or is an extension of the individual created by the action of his or her own mind or body. The Constitution protects intellectual property by means of the First Amendment and via the Intellectual Property Clause in Article I, Section 8, Clause Eight, of the Constitution. A person’s life and liberty – which depend upon the well-being of his or her own human body – are likewise forms of property; and as such they are protected by the Second Amendment “right of the people to keep and bear arms” to permit self-defense against all who may seek to take one’s life or to enslave one’s body. All the other rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights are property rights as well, intended to limit state power in a righteous effort to prevent the tyrannical enslavement that results from state actions that cause the people to lose their ownership and control of private property.
There is a quote of popular origin, often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, that illustrates the problem that a democracy presents when it comes to the protection and preservation of property rights; it goes like this: “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” In a free republic, the minority has the right to defend its life and its liberty by force of arms and by letter of law – in material fact as well as in legal principle.
A Republic . . . If You Can Keep It
On September 18, 1787, Dr. Benjamin Franklin was coming out of Independence Hall, at the close of the Constitutional Convention. A curious woman approached with an important question to ask: “Well, Doctor,” inquired the woman, “what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” to which Dr. Franklin replied, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
The 81-year-old Franklin knew it would require constant vigilance for the American people to elect wise stewards of America’s constitutional republic on an ongoing basis. Leaders of good character and strong moral fiber would be needed – persons who would keep their oaths to protect the Constitution. Good public servants would provide the guidance for freedom to survive and to thrive down through the ages. The Constitution is a social contract between the government and the people that provides for a land of individual rights and personal freedoms, where the power of the government is constrained. The first duty of a government that serves the people is to preserve freedom and justice for all. But who will watch the watchmen? In the Latin, the question is posed thus: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Or, literally, “Who will guard the guards themselves?”
George Washington – in a letter to Bushrod Washington, dated November 9, 1787 – pointed out that, under the American Constitution, the people are free to govern themselves: “The power under the Constitution will always be with the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes and for a certain limited period to representatives of their own chusing [sic]; and whenever it is exercised contrary to their interests, or not according to their wishes, their Servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled.” Washington’s sincere hope is that Americans will maintain a healthy scrutiny of their public servants to maintain their liberty into the future.
Liberty Is Valued Above Democracy, Justice Over Privilege
The Democratic Principle is this: Majority Rule is more important than Individual Freedom. Contrary to this, the Republican Principle is this: Individual Freedom is more important than Majority Rule. Ayn Rand has said that “the smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.”
It must never be forgotten that Germany’s Weimar Republic was a democratic republic, not a free republic in the American sense. The rights of the individual were left unprotected when the Nazi Party succeeded in passing the Enabling Act giving Adolf Hitler emergency dictatorial authority that he would never relinquish. In America, even if passed by a supermajority of government representatives, such a law would be illegitimate, since it would violate the US Constitution, which cannot be changed without the agreement of 3/4 of the states. The US Constitution is philosophically tasked with limiting state power in favor of the people.
In 1933 Germany, the vote of 2/3 of the people’s panicking representatives sufficed to give Hitler absolute power. The process was emotional and fast-paced – nowhere near as cool and deliberative as the process outlined by the US Constitution. Hitler’s assumption of power did occur democratically, but it resulted in the canceling of all political opinions at odds with Hitler’s National Socialists.
Upon Hitler’s ascent to absolute power, democratic socialism would end, and only command-and-control socialism would remain. Although instituted by democratic means, National Socialism would rule with an iron fist. The lesson is this: If freedom is not prized above democracy, and there are no safeguards in place to prevent the cancelation of liberty by emotionally excited politicians, then totalitarianism is all-too-easily achieved.
In a Free Country, the People Possess Natural Rights
In contrast to the Founders of Socialism – such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong – the Founders of Americanism (which is based wholly upon notions of constitutional republicanism) believed that human beings were born with natural rights from which they cannot be separated – or alienated – by the state. These unalienable rights are, among others: the right to worship and live according to one’s own conscience; the right to speak one’s mind openly; the right to defend life, liberty, and property from danger; the right to petition the government to right any wrongs it may have committed against the people; the right to free association; the right to publish opinions without any regulation by legal authorities; the right to unrestricted travel; the right to live privately and pursue happiness without gratuitous interference by the state; the right to be judged by one’s peers, rather than by state officials. None of these rights are recognized by socialists of any stripe, whether they fancy themselves fascists, corporatists, communists, globalists, or otherwise.
America’s Founding Generation wanted a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The state has no right to do that which the people themselves may not do. Government exists to do those things the people have the right to do, but which are not easily accomplished by individuals acting alone. And since it is the people who create the government, the people may also restrain the government. In other words, the people are rightfully their own masters, and state officials are servants whose sole purpose is to do the people’s bidding.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.” This is why freedom of information is so important. Once the government is allowed the power to modify and censor informational content, the people are thereby rendered unable to monitor what their public servants are doing. Without the First Amendment, how indeed could the public empower itself to watch the watchmen? How would it be possible, even for an energetically vigilant populace, to ensure that its public servants were not conspiring to become its public masters?
When the People Govern, the People Come First
In a free country, the people may only delegate powers to the government they already possess as individuals. This means the entire raison d’être of government is the protection of natural rights that predate government altogether. The nineteenth-century French republican and political theorist Frédéric Bastiat has written the following: 1) “Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” 2) “[T]he principle of collective right – its reason for existing, its lawfulness – is based on individual right.”
John Adams has written, “There is no good government but what is republican. That the only valuable part of the British constitution is so; for the true idea of a republic is ‘an empire of laws, and not of men.’ That, as a republic is the best of governments, so that particular arrangement of the powers of society, or in other words, that form of government which is best contrived to secure an impartial and exact execution of the law, is the best of republics.” It is only by means of republican government that the rule of law may be maintained across time, resistant to the whims of temporary majorities that might threaten to destabilize the predictability needed for a free people to flourish and a free economy to grow.
Individual Rights Must Be Respected by the Majority
Only a system in which each person has equal protection under the law can ensure liberty and justice for all. In a popular example, a horse thief is caught by a posse of 30 people. A member of the posse cries, “Let’s hang him!” (Horse thievery was once a hanging offense, since one’s survival often depended upon access to that animal.) A vote is held, and 16 members of the posse vote to hang the thief. In a democracy, the horse thief is hanged – end of discussion.
In a republic, however, the sheriff pushes back, “You can’t hang him! He has his rights.” The principle of equal protection is invoked: “This man gets a chance to explain, before any penalty is decided,” asserts the sheriff. “He gets his day in court.” The horse thief’s right to due process means judgment is going to be withheld until after a hearing of the evidence has taken place. In this way, an emotional rush to judgment by a wrathful mob is avoided. Without a legal process, there is no way of knowing just what the circumstances were surrounding the taking of the horse.
The sheriff of the story was hired to protect the lives and property of the people, because the people already possessed the right to protect their own lives and property. Thus, the delegation of this power to an agent to act on the people’s behalf was legitimate. It was also fitting that the sheriff enforce justice in accordance with the Judeo-Christian Golden Rule, making sure that the people did not treat the accused in any way that they themselves would hate to be treated. This is in line with Leviticus 19:18, which states, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” as well as Matthew 7:12, which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Living in a Free Republic Makes It More Difficult for Tyrants to Prevail
There are many governments in the world that style themselves as being republican in nature; however, these “people’s republics” – although they exist in the name of the people – have no protections in place to shield individuals against unlimited state power. The comparatively low-regulation state that exists in America’s free republic provides the people with the liberty they need to make investments and take risks, to sow and reap that which promises the highest rewards for both producers and consumers alike, and to realize the highest-quality results and the most-equitable wealth-distribution of any economy the world over. It is freedom to choose, in a decentralized marketplace of goods and ideas, that produces the highest standard of living and the greatest degree of happiness known to humankind.
Freedoms and Rights Go Hand in Hand
To ensure that the power of government remain restricted, a system of checks and balances has been instituted, along with a federalist model that gives most of the power to the states and to the people themselves; this makes government more decentralized and, therefore, less efficient in its exercise of power. Per the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution [in the Enumerated Powers Clause], nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Restraining the state exercise of power works to curb the enthusiasm of officials, forcing them to contemplate matters carefully before taking any action; it also gives the people the ability to offer input before decisions are made.
The authentic power of the individual rests in the right to act freely. Without the freedom to behave according to one’s conscience or to express one’s true feelings and ideas – be they offensive or inoffensive – the natural right to think or act out of one’s own interests or preferences is violated. When the majority can veto freedom of expression, it is groupthink collectivism and government force that holds sway over all who might dare to be different.
The more rules the government enacts, the fewer rights the people enjoy. In a free republic that prizes personal liberty and individual initiative, the citizenry must jealously guard its rights and vigilantly defend its freedoms. Thoreau’s motto from Civil Disobedience teaches that “[t]hat government is best which governs least.” But, since government by its very nature exercises its power at gunpoint, it takes a vigilant and well-armed populace to keep it in check.
Alexander Hamilton has said, “Here, sir, the people govern.” This statement is an affirmation of the Constitutional principle that empowers the people to thwart corruption, negate chicanery, and seize control, if need be, from the bottom up. So – whenever and wherever corruption becomes prevalent among public servants – take heart, Americans, you live in a republic!