Constitution Lectures 4: Democracy or Republic? (HD version)

Uploaded by shanedk on 24.02.2010

Welcome to Part 4 of our lecture series on the Constitution. This lecture deals with
the kind of government the Constitution creates. Once again, we will be talking about the difference
between the popular view of the Constitution and the reality behind it.
More specifically, weíll talk about the idea that the United States is a Democracy, why
thatís an inaccurate and even dangerous claim, and what a Republic is all about.
Weíll of course cover these two types of government, their similarities, their differences,
and why itís important. But in order to fully understand the issue, we also need to consider
two other types of government:
Monarchy and oligarchy. These four basic types will give you a full perspective and context
for understanding how our government is set up, and why it was set up that way.
Now, there are other forms of government, but with a few exceptions most of them can
be placed into one of these four categories. For example, a plutocracy is rule by the rich.
This is a form of oligarchy. In any event, we will focus on these four for purposes of
this lecture.
Weíll start with Monarchy. Youíre most likely familiar with this. This is when power is
concentrated in a single individual: a king, a dictator, a despot, or whatever.
It comes from the Greek word Monos, meaning One, and Archus, meaning Leader. So a monarchy
is when there is one and only one leader. Obviously, this is the kind of government
the founders rebelled against, specifically targeting most of their complaints against
the monarch, King George.
Oligarchy is when power is vested in an elite few. This is usually a class, a higher class,
a ruling class, or whatever. So it isnít much better than a monarchy.
Like the word Monarchy, Oligarchy has its roots in Greek, this time from the Greek word
Oligos, meaning ìfew.î With the power concentrated in an elite few, the masses are easily subjugated.
Democracy is what seems to be the popular preference for the form of government, and
thereís little wonder why: itís popular rule. Democracy is the rule of the majority,
the will of the masses, and this would trump the will of any select few.
The first part of its root, the Greek Demos, is generally translated as ìpeople,î but
itís important to understand in what context it is meant. This isnít rule by some people,
itís rule by most peopleóthe majority, the masses.
The telling part is the second root word, kratos: rule by strength. If that makes it
sound more like mob rule, well, youíre getting the idea.
Majority rule is minority ruled. In essence, itís the exact opposite of an oligarchy.
Whereas an oligarchy allows a select few to subjugate the many, a democracy allows the
many to impose their will on minorities.
So, what is a republic, and how is it different from a democracy? The root of the word is
Latin, but the meaning has its origins much earlier in Greek with Platoís dialogue. Here,
Plato argues for his ideal form of government in opposition to other bad types, which include
oligarchy and democracy. He also describes how oligarchy leads to democracy as the oppressed
masses overthrow the ruling class.
The Latin root here is the same as it is for the word ìpublicî: poblicus, meaning the
population. Thatís different from ìthe peopleî in Democracy. This isnít just a few people,
or some people, or even most people; itís ALL the peopleóthe public, the entire population.
Which means that no group, however large or however small, can impose its will on others.
To illustrate the difference between these four types of government, we can talk about
the fundamental differences in their answer to one very important question: Where do our
rights actually come from?
In a monarchy, rights come from the ruler. Historically, this was known as the Divine
Right of Kings. Kings were granted power by God Himself, and the King gave some of these
rights to the people as he saw fit. He may knight someone, or grant them a claim of Lordship,
or whatever. He could grant them, and he could take them away just as easily.
In an oligarchy, itís the leadersówhomever the ruling class isówho are granted the rights,
again usually by God. Generally, the idea is that the ruling class rules by Godís divine
will, and so everything they do is Godís will and cannot be countermanded. The evidence
for this is the fact that God would not have placed them in power if he did not want them
to have it, therefore shut up and do as we say.
In a democracy, the rights come from the people, and so you have whatever rights society says
that you do. If society says that you have the right to keep and bear arms, then you
have that rightóuntil the masses change their mind and decide you donít have that right
after all.
This marks the fundamental difference between a democracy and a republic. A republic, at
least in the form our founders created when they ratified the Constitution, recognizes
that rights are inherent. Basically, youíre born with them, and theyíre as much a part
of you as your own inherent abilities. Many people, including many of our founders,
said that God gave us these rights specifically. Itís kind of like cutting out the middleman:
instead of God giving rights to a king or to a ruling class, theyíre given directly
to us, each as individuals. Others, including other founders, say that
the rights just come from nature. But whether they come from nature, God, or the Flying
Spaghetti Monster is irrelevant. The Constitution makes no claim as to where these rights come
from, merely that you have them. This is why the Constitution says that a particular
right ìshall not be infringedî or ìshall not be violated,î instead of ìthis right
is hereby granted.î The Constitution does not grant rights; it merely protects them.
The fact of the United States being a Republic is mentioned in Article IV Section 4, where
it requires the United States to guarantee to every single state a Republican form of
government. Relax, this doesnít mean you have to vote
Republican. It means that the United States will not allow any group, not even a majority,
to infringe on the rights of the people.
But while the Constitution has nothing to say about Democracy, the founders certainly
did. For example, in Federalist #10, James Madison says, ìDemocracies have ever been
spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal
security or the rights of property. A Republic promises the cure for which we are seeking.î
For another example, Alexander Hamilton said, ìIt has been observed that a pure democracy...would
be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false
than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed
one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.î
There are many other such examples. Our founders simply did not want a democracy.
So, how did they envision this republic? The original first amendment in the Bill of Rightsówhich
was proposed by Congress but never ratifiedóspecifies how to figure out how many representatives
to have per population size. You couldnít have too few, or too many. Now, why would
this be in the Bill of Rights? Madisonóalong with the rest of Congressóis trying to avoid
both democracy and oligarchy. Basically, if you have too few representatives, you have
an oligarchy, and the country is run by the elite, the special interests. Too many, and
you get Democracyómob rule, people voting themselves largesse from the Treasury. A republic
was seen as being the ìsweet spotî in the middleówhere there were enough representatives
to make the elite ineffective, but not so many that the mob took over.
If we were to follow his formula today, we'd have over 1500 members of Congress. Instead,
we have 435. By Madison's mathematics, that makes this an oligarchy, a system beholden
to powerful lobbies and special interest groups. Looking around, it's hard to disagree.
So letís go over the fundamental differences between a Democracy and a Republic.
In a democracy, rights come from the people, or from society. Really, what that means is
that you can do whatever everyone else allows you to do. Your rights can change with their
whim. So if, after a terrorist attack, everyone
agrees that being safe is more important than your right to be secure from warrantless searches,
then your right, according to this philosophy, goes away, and you have no recourse for asserting
it. Whereas in our Constitutional republic, rights
are considered to be inherent, and regardless of how everyone else feels about your right
to be secure in your home, you can still assert it and seek redress if it is violated.
In a democracy, since rights come from the people, it falls to the government to say
what rights people do and do not have. The duly elected representatives of the people
can act with their authority, and essentially claim whatever they want.
But under the Constitution, rights are protected. Since they are considered to be an inherent
part of your existence, no authority whatsoever can claim legitimacy in any act infringing
on your rights.
In a democracy, rights are privileges, and your rights are limited to whatever your fellow
countrymen agree should be your rights. They can be taken away at any time.
But in our republic, rights are inalienable. They cannot be separated from you, and so
they cannot be taken away, only violated. As such, it is the government that is limited,
not your rights.
In a democracy, power is centralized, being in whatever majority who chose the current
government. The majority chooses the government, and the government serves at their whim.
But in our republic, we have a decentralized system of checks and balances. The method
of choosing Congressmen, Senators, and the President isnít mob rule; itís spread out
all over the country. This is why the President is elected by electors chosen by the states,
instead of directly by a majority of all Americans. Also, the branches of government are supposed
to put checks against each other to prevent a usurpation of unconstitutional power.
Now, the big criticism to all of this, is that all of the aspects of a republic I have
just described are incorporated in the modern idea of democracy, not the old idea of majority
rule. So that brings up the question: what if we have a republic, and just call it a
democracy? Both democracy and republic have been misused by many countries claiming these
titles where neither applied. Why not just have everyone understand that democracy means
republic, not majority rule? Quite simply, because people DONíT understand
it. As we speak, there are those trying to eliminate the electoral college because they
think weíre a democracy where the people determine the government. There are people
seeking to eliminate the rights protected by the Second and Fourth Amendments, and others,
for exactly the same reason. All justified by the fact that weíre a democracy.
As my grandma used to say, you can call a dog a cat all you want, but it still wonít
So now you understand why we use the word ìrepublicî to refer to our country, and
why using ìdemocracyî is not only invalid, it is downright dangerous to our liberties.
From this point on, I think youíll find that if you pay attention, youíll see a lot of
politicians and pundits appealing to ìdemocracyî to get whatever they want passed. And usually,
itíll be something that shouldnít be passed at all.
Until next time, stay strong and be free.