A Republic, Not a Democracy
As Herr Schroeder was babbling on in Mainz, during his joint press conference with President Bush, about a need for carrots to coax Tehran off its nuclear program,
Bush interrupted the chancellor to issue yet another demand—that “the Iranian government listen to the hopes and aspirations of the Iranian people.”
“We believe,” said Bush, “that the voice of the people ought to be determining policy, because we believe in democracy…”
Who, one wonders, is feeding the president his talking points? Is he unaware that the Iranian people, even opponents of the regime, believe Iran has a right to nuclear power and should retain the capacity to build nuclear weapons?
While 70 percent of Iranians may have voted to dump the mullahs, just as Pakistanis were delirious with joy when they exploded their first nuclear device, we should expect Iranians to react the same way. What people have not celebrated their nation joining the exclusive nuclear club?
“We believe … that the voice of the people ought to be determining policy,” said Bush, “because we believe in democracy.” Does Bush really believe this? How does he think the Arab peoples would vote on the following questions: (1) Should the United States get out of Iraq? (2) Is it fair to compare Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to Nazi treatment of the Jews? (3) Do Arab nations have the same right to an atom bomb as Ariel Sharon? (4) Is Osama bin Laden a terrorist or hero?
If Bush believes he and we are popular in the Islamic world, why has he not scheduled a grand tour of Rabat, Cairo, Beirut, Amman, Riyadh, and Islamabad to rally the masses to America’s side, rather than preaching democracy at them from the White House? If one-man, one-vote democracy came suddenly to the Arab world, every pro-American ruler in the region would be at risk of being swept away.
Yet there is a larger issue here than misreading the Arab mind. Whence comes this democracy-worship, this belief by President Bush that “the voice of the people ought to be determining policy”?
Would Bush himself let a poll of Americans decide how long we keep troops in Iraq? Would he submit his immigration policy to popular vote?
“We often hear the claim that our nation is a democracy,” writes columnist Dr. Walter Williams. But, “That wasn’t the vision of the founders. They saw democracy as another form of tyranny. … The founders intended, and laid out the ground rules for, our nation to be a republic. … The word democracy appears nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.”
Indeed, the Constitution guarantees “to every State in this Union a republican form of government.” Asks Williams: “Does our pledge of allegiance to the flag say to ‘the democracy for which it stands,’ or does it say to ‘the republic for which it stands’? Or do we sing ‘The Battle Hymn of the Democracy’ or ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’?”
There is a critical difference between a republic and a democracy, Williams notes, citing our second president: “John Adams captured the essence of that difference when he said: ‘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.’ Nothing in our Constitution suggests that government is a grantor of rights. Instead, government is a protector of rights.”
The Founders deeply distrusted democracy. Williams cites Adams again: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Chief Justice John Marshall seconded Adams’s motion: “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”
“When the Constitution was framed,” wrote historian Charles Beard, “no respectable person called himself or herself a democrat.”
Democracy-worship suggests a childlike belief in the wisdom and goodness of “the people.” But the people supported the guillotine in the French Revolution and Napoleon. The people were wild with joy as the British, French, and German boys marched off in August 1914 to the Great War. The people supported Hitler and the Nuremburg Laws.
Our Founding Fathers no more trusted in the people always to do the right thing than they trusted in kings. In the republic they created, the House of Representatives, the people’s house, was severely restricted in its powers by a Bill of Rights and checked by a Senate whose members were to be chosen by the states, by a president with veto power, and by a Supreme Court.
“What kind of government do we have?” the lady asked Benjamin Franklin, as he emerged from the Constitutional Convention. Said Franklin, “A republic—if you can keep it.”
Let us restore that republic. As Jefferson said, “Hear no more of trust in men, but rather bind them down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.”