Our nation did not become great because our form of government was created as a socialist, communist, or any form of democracy; it was specifically created as a constitutional republic.
I’ve been trying for some time now to figure out the origin of this huge confusion.
Yesterday, during an exchange on this subject, a FB friend of mine used this link to prove her argument:
And there it was, laying in plain sight, THE explanation I was too blind to find it by myself.
Since when democracy has become a “form” of government?
If you want to discuss about forms of government you have basically two: republican and monarchic. In a republic the head of state is changed from time to time, sometimes in a more or less democratic manner, while in a monarchy it is customary for that head of state to be replaced only after his death and by a person which has already been known for quite a while.
That was not what you had in mind? You meant what kind of interaction exists between the governed and the government?
‘Cause only in this realm we may speak about the difference between democracy – where the population has a say about its fate – and dictatorship – where the rulers don’t give a damn about the wishes of those who allow themselves to be ruled from above.
Don’t believe me?
Then please consider the British Empire. It is headed – nominally – by a monarch who has had no power for the last two hundred years or so and has NO – absolutely NO – constitution. Yet its democratic traditions can be traced down to the Magna Carta – a ‘compact’ signed in 1215 between the King (John of England) and his ‘free subjects’.
I used ‘ ‘ around ‘free subjects’ to highlight the fact that this is an oxymoron AND that the basic function of Magna Carta was to solve that oxymoron.
It actually doesn’t matter much what was written in that compact. The very fact that the King – erstwhile considered an almost divine person who until then had absolute power over his subjects and the land under his control – sat down at the same table with some of his erstwhile subjects and by his own signature conceded that they were “free” (‘all free men have a right to justice and a fair trial‘) signifies the dawn of a new kind of interaction between those at the no longer opposed ends of the society.
OK, things didn’t evolve smoothly. The Magna Carta wasn’t enforced in earnest until a lot later but still, the bird was out of the cage.
My point being that until we understand that the difference between ‘republic’ and ‘democracy’ is the same as the one between apples and oranges – and that we should stop comparing them – we are stuck.
So, am I somewhat implying that John Adams was wrong?
Not at all. All I’m saying is that he used a poetic license and that the quote is not only incomplete but also used in a misleading way.
“I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. … 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. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.”
OK, he made the same confusion between ‘forms’ of government and social relationships between the people and those in power, only this is an understandable mistake. But, to his merit, he made it amply clear that it is the very “passions” of the people that “when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty”!
This is precisely the job that every constitution – not only the republican ones – is called to fulfill. Or a powerful enough tradition – please remember that the British ‘Empire’ has no constitution to this day.
Coming back to the notion of democracy I must add that it might not work properly, no matter how well written the constitution that presides over the process, unless the people who uses this form of collective decision making entertains the proper mental and moral attitude.
If the entire society isn’t permeated by enough mutual respect among its members then what Adams had warned us against is about to happen – regardless of any constitution. Or even under the cloak of the existing one.
You see, proper democracy works because it creates a frame where all those interested in the matter – all stake-holders – have the opportunity to express their grievances. This way the society is able to find out what doesn’t work properly and to take the appropriate measures.
But if there is not enough mutual respect going on around, things may become ugly, eventually. Just as Adams told us. When mutual respect weans out we stop caring about anything else but our own personae and ‘passions’ are no longer ‘checked’.
Society no longer acts like an organism and people become divided into smaller ‘mobs’ whose leaders fight each-other – sometimes under a democratic disguise – for followers.
That’s when democracy ceases to be a venue for a civilized debate about ideas and become an arena for the bloodiest sport of them all. Politician-ism.
Or even like this:
Let me tell you something.
I’ve been living under a republican regime for all my life. Only for the first 30 years that republic was a communist one. It even had a constitution – and at the first glance it wasn’t such a bad one. But believe me, you don’t want to experience that kind of republic.
What you really want is true democracy, the one where people respect each-other. It doesn’t matter if that happens in a republic or in a kingdom. It is enough that it works, and for that to happen it is enough for the people to ‘check their passions’.
And mind you! Whenever 51% of the voters band together to confiscate the bikes that the others have acquired through honest means, that’s no longer democracy but mob rule. Something that could very easily degenerate into communism. That’s what you want to avoid, not bona fide democracy.