It seems appropriate, in light of this 4th of July and our celebration of our Nation's independence, to discuss the question of whether our government is a Republic as stated in our Pledge of Allegiance, or a democracy, as we hear pundits and politicians declare so often. The Constitution does not mention anywhere within it the word, or any phrases implying, democracy. The answer to the question then, is that our Nation was, and arguably still is, a Republic, though a good case for democracy today might be argued. At any rate, it is important to know what the differences are and why it matters.
A democracy, as most kids learn in school, is from the Greek for demos, meaning people, and kratos, meaning government. The literal translation is government by the people, and this certainly has great appeal. Under a democracy, the majority rules without restraint of a given body of law. Indeed the law is whatever the majority say it is. It is rule by whim and emotion rather than by law and reason. Characteristics of a democracy include having voting blocs and group and class interest groups. There are no individual rights, there are only rights for what the majority at a given moment deem exist.
"Laws" are man-made, and do not reflect truth or justice, but power alone. Examples of this, even today, include laws such as gun-control, food bans, or certain environmental regulations (this would not include what I believe are required Biblical stewardship responsibilities); such laws are based on pure emotional reaction to a given perceived societal problem instead of law and reason. Often the result of these laws is to impose a punishment on otherwise honest and law abiding citizenry without regard for justice in the slightest.
Political factions constantly battle for control of the government, often marked by deep seated polarization and constant skepticism, not unlike the battles we see today between Republicans and Democrats. Power is the ultimate goal, and every more is either calculated with power in mind, or questioned as being a play for more power. A modern example is the recent decision by the President to delay implementation of a certain provision of Obamacare on employers. This act is being questioned as an act to gain more power by removing the harmful effects of Obamacare until after the mid-term elections. While this may be true, such skepticism is unhealthy for a Republic and public confidence in the law.
Once power is obtained, the laws begin to reflect what the dominant power wants instead of what is right or just. As pointed out above, individuals rights do not exist, but the dominant faction in power can and will bestow privileges to some. Think of this as punishing those out of power for making mistakes on their tax returns, but promoting others in power even though they were caught cheating on their taxes. Another example would be deciding that the needs of society as a whole outweigh the rights of the individual, so taking a persons DNA, whether they are charged with a crime or not is deemed to be permissible.These are but a few examples that one could use to argue that our Republic has degenerated into a democracy.
What is a Republic then? Republic comes from the Latin res, meaning this, or interest, and publica, which means everyone. The literal translation is everyone's thing or interest. The primary characteristic of a Republic is the rule of law. Just as the Declaration of independence spells out, all men are created equal, with unalienable rights granted by our Creator, and that governments are formed by men to secure these unalienable rights. Government power is derived from the consent of the governed, meaning all people under it, not just the majority in power. So long as the government protects these unalienable rights, consent of the governed will continue. The majority is kept in check by the rule of law from injuring the rights of the individual.
Under a republic, the law is more than just politics, and is not dependent upon which group has the most power. The law is consistent, predictable, reasonable, and seeks truth and justice. Government is intended to punish those who would abuse another person's rights. For example, hurting someone with a gun should result in the government punishing the perpetrator for abusing the victim's right to be free from injury or right to life. It would be unjust to punish everyone else by taking away their property rights to own a gun because of the wrong done by another. This is reasoned and truth seeking, not emotionally reacting to a social ill. Government should have just enough power to carry out its proper functions of protecting individual rights and freedoms. To allow the government more power is to invite tyranny.
Why does it matter if we are a Republic or a democracy? A simple comparison between the two demonstrates why. Democracies are inherently unjust and unstable and have always ended in tyranny. Democracy was described by Thomas Paine to be the most vile form of government ever known, and at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Edmund Randolph made the observation, paraphrased here, that the purpose for the Convention was to provide a cure for the evils under which the United States labored, those evils being the turbulence and follies of democracy. John Adams even warned: "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide." Even Chief Justice John Marshall noted that the difference between a democracy and a republic was like chaos and order. There are clearly identifiable and understandable differences between the two forms of government, and our Nation's founders definitely had a preference.
With the increasing polarization and viciousness in politics, and the overt campaigns for more power illustrated by the constant concern over which party will gain or keep control over the House and Senate, it would appear that though our Founders and our Constitution established a Republic, we may have already degenerated into exactly what the pols and pundits already say - a democracy. If this is so, it certainly explains the polarization and incivility between ever increasing interest groups. If we have fallen to democracy, or are at least heading in that direction, how did we get here? By failing to adhere to the fundamental truth that there is a right and wrong. Failing to study history and learn from earlier mistakes. Failing to do the right thing in exchange for being liked. Choosing security over liberty. Failing to stand up for, and to seek to do, justice. Failing to abide by the Biblical principles upon which our Nation was founded. Allowing God to be purged from our legal jurisprudence and replacing Him with the concept of evolutionary operations and moral relativism (as I pointed out in the previous post).
The result, as noted in God, Man, and Law: The Biblical Principles, by Herbert W. Titus, from where this Blog borrows its name, the result is a "massive loss of confidence in the law - not only on the part of law consumers, but also on the part of law makers and law distributors." Without confidence in the law, power becomes the only reliable source for stability, and democracy soon follows that. However, we know from history that unless confidence in the law is restored, democracy will continue to overtake the republic and soon collapse it into tyranny. Tyranny is already showing signs as individual rights are beginning to be infringed upon, starting with religious liberties. Confidence can be restored, however, but it must start with a return to values and principles that created confidence and stability in the law in the first place. This means a return to reason and truth. This means reversing the purge of God from our legal system.
Enjoy the fireworks and celebrations, family, friends and good food, and remember that confidence and the Republic can be restored. As echoed by Abraham Lincoln, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). Healing restores confidence.