America Is NOT a Democracy: Four Reasons Why

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Has anyone noticed that individuals in the government and the media love to call America a democracy? Not only do they love to call her a democracy, their favorite insult is to say that someone is trying to destroy or threaten “democracy”.

Calling America a democracy is such a damaging misnomer. A democracy implies many things, including the assumption that majority will equals “good” will and there couldn’t be anything more false. America is anything but a democracy. In fact, democracy is usually the perfect precursor to socialism and eventually communism. Meaning, the next time someone wants to insult you and your views because they “threaten democracy”, maybe you should gladly own the accusation.

America is Constitutional Republic. The founders wanted to avoid any sort of democracy in America.

In this post, I explain to you four theoretical reasons for why America is not a Democratic Republic, but rather, a Constitutional Republic. This repost of a previously published article, one I believe Americans need to read again.

One: A True Democracy Is Impossible in a Large Country

man people woman sign

This should be rather straight forward, but just take a moment to consider the meaning of democracy. Democracy comes from dēmos, meaning “common people,” originally “district” and kratos which means “rule, strength”. So, at its core, democracy means “rule by the common people

The 1828 Webster dictionary defines it this way: Government by the people; a form of government, in which the supreme power is lodged in the hands of the people collectively, or in which the people exercise the powers of legislation. Such was the government of Athens.

So, it should be rather obvious to you why a country with three-hundred and fifty million people cannot functionally be a democracy. It is feasibly impossible for all three-hundred and fifty million Americans to meet together and make their own laws. It simply wouldn’t work.

Two: Majority Agreement/Opinion Doesn’t Equal “Right” or “Good”

Today Americans have bought into the notion that when the majority of people want something, the fact that a “majority” agree must make the desired “something” automatically “right” or “good”. This is far from reality. In fact, history has shown, that the masses usually end up wanting the very worst somethings. Past majorities have elected the worst leaders, established tyrannical and corrupt governments, and/or demanded oppressive and violent government action. Just take a look at the French Revolution and/or the election of Adolf Hitler.

There is nothing inherently virtuous or good about a majority opinion. This means, there’s nothing inherently virtuous about a democracy and yet many treat it as such. Is the will of the people guaranteed to be “right” or “good” simply because more people than not want it that way?

Should I go through history exposing all the ways the majority will has resulted in the abuse, oppression and sometimes annihilation of the minority?

Most democracies end violently and quickly. James Madison says, “Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

anonymous people standing on street among smoke during protests at night

Why? Because humans, whether we like to admit it or not, are usually irrational, emotional, and uninformed. Thus, logically, when all of these irrational, emotional and uninformed people are combined into a uniform mass, clamoring for something they feel a desperate need for in the moment, democracies end up suffering under mob rule. Some of the greatest atrocities, genocides and mass killings have come at the demand of the irrational mob.

Fear is usually key. Those in power use fear to manipulate and maneuver the emotional, irrational and uninformed mob to support and demand for the government to engage in some of humanity’s greatest injustices. Just think about how willing our own government was to put law-abiding and Constitutionally protected Japanese Americans into interment camps during WWII? Did Americans have a problem with this? No. They demanded it in the heat of the moment.

Three: People Are Inherently Selfish, Uniformed, Irrational and Emotional

I know this statement is a rather insulting and bleak commentary on humanity, but how many of you would disagree? History is my witness.

The American founders were keenly aware of humanity’s propensity for villiany as they struggled to create a government that could account for this unpleasant reality.

James Madison explained it this way in Federalist 10:

“A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. “

crowd of activists fighting on street during manifestation

Here, he bluntly states what everyone already knows to be true. Even the most insignificant and “fanciful” disagreements can inflame humanity to violence and oppression. This unfortunate truth leads Madison to believe that a democracy is not the kind of government America should be; instead, he argues that American government needs to be something else, something that will account for these irrational fancies and prevent such violence and oppression.

Four: Majority Opinion Cannot Be the Final Court of Review for Government Action

Given the unfortunate state of human nature, we must understand why the founders did not want the final judgement—on what is right and wrong for government to do—to stop at the people…at majority will. Should such a thing happen, the laws of government would become painfully arbitrary and subject to the irrational and emotional whims of the public, something that would likely result in a the government’s swift and painful end, only to start the vicious cycle all over again.

No, the founders made sure to account for flawed humanity when they created the American government. They understood that because humanity is selfish and self-serving, there must be a government to protect humanity against itself. In other words, if there is no government—and subsequently no law—then there is no stable or safe society. What is to stop someone from coming in your house and taking it as their own if there is no law to say the house is yours? So, government was created to protect you and your property (house) from the rest of humanity.

However, the founders were also aware that the government would be made up of the same flawed humans as the very society that needed government in the first place. And this meant that there must be a law outside of government to rule and confine government. This outside law could not be the people, it had to be something set in stone and not subject to the whims of opinion and emotion. This is law is the Constitution.

policeman holding shield

So, while the government exists to protect you and your property from the rest of humanity, the Constitution exists to protect you and your property from government.

This is why, in America, we live in a Constitutional Republic not a Democratic Republic. This means that the buck stops at the Constitution not the people. In other words, if the people, in a rage of emotional, irrational passion, demanded that the U.S. government eliminate or incarcerate a subset of society, or eliminate free speech entirely, the U.S. government would not and could not do so—even if it meant going against the majority will of the people.

And why couldn’t the government do so? Because the U.S. government is subject first to the supreme power and authority of the Constitution and then to the influences and desires of the people. Get that?

If the people demand that government act in a way that is contrary to the Constitution, it’s the government’s job to protect those people from themselves by refusing to violate the Constitution.

The Constitution can be changed, it can be amended, but never on an emotional whim… the process was intentionally made rigorous and difficult for the very reasons I have listed above.

Conclusion

If you fundamentally disagree with the founders’ understanding of and beliefs about human nature, you likely disagree with their aversion to democracy; however, if you agree with their view of human nature, the four points I have just made should resonate with you and cause you to re-evaluate any misconceptions you may have had that America was and should be a democracy. Democracies are violent and dangerous. Why? Because people are violent and dangerous.

We need government to temper our inherent, uninformed and irrational rage. We need a Constitution to keep government in check, even against our own fanciful and frantic demands. We need a law outside of ourselves.

It’s humbling to face reality, but this is a reality we, as Americans, must face if we want to see any real change. The American public does NOT know more than the Constitution and we should stop acting like we do. We have a finite, time-limited view of the world, one that could change in a moment. Perhaps we should have a bit more confidence in a system that has somehow managed to give us 250 years of peaceful transition of power, no dictators, vibrant and lasting liberty, freedom to innovate and thrive, and political stability like no nation has ever known before.

The Liberty Belle

3 thoughts on “America Is NOT a Democracy: Four Reasons Why”

  1. Frank Leslie

    The only line I take exception to is the one that states it is the government’s job to protect us from ourselves. I would say that it is also the job,purpose, of the Constitution, to protect our enumerated Rights, from those who would try to usurp those byDemocratic mob rule.

  2. alanbrahmrowe

    I find you myopic fear of the rule of the majority odd when history tells us that rule by the minority is just as much to be feared.

    Your first example the French Revolution which like the American Revolution was a revolution of the majority against the rule of the minority. Revolutions are violent and bloody events and if they are to be feared the only conclusion is that support the current government is more important no matter what form it takes.

    Although the reasons for both revolutions are similar the results are quite different. France ended up with Napoleon and America ended it revolution with a constitutional republic.

    Your second example as to why we need to fear the majority was the election of Adolf Hitler. The Weimar republic was the government and voting were according to the principle of proportional representation. It was not some attempt at direct majority democracy.
    One of the pieces of German history you are missing is the Reichstag fire. The fire occurred just after Hitler was sworn in as chancellor. Hitler blamed the fire on communists in the government, declared martial law and eliminated all opposition to his absolute rule.
    You are right that America was conceived as a Constitutional Republic not a democracy. The government as conceived by the founders was a government by the minority. Since only white men over the age of (I believe 25) could vote. Native Americans black people and women were all excluded from the founders Constitutional Republic.

    I prefer what I believe America is today a representative democracy. Government that tries to balance and protect the rights of both the majority and the minority.

    1. C. McMasters Ph.D.

      Valid and excellent comments! Thank you for commenting.

      So, this post focused exclusively on the threat of the majority tyranny but that does not mean I’m not keenly aware of the threat of the minority tyranny either. The founders were afraid of both and created the government we have in an attempt to meliorate the consequences and threats of both.

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