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To the Democracy (?) for Which it Stands

by Jeff Syrios, Esq.

 

Judge, Jeff Syrios      Everyone learns it in kindergarten and, by the first grade it has been burned into our memory.  After high school we begin to search for its significance but not until mid-life do we start to understand its call to commitment. With a hand covering our heart, we pledge allegiance to the flag.

      Our pledge is to "the republic for which it stands." This choice of words is not casual, yet it seems, in practice, that we have substituted a topsy-turvy version of democracy for republic.  The implications of our misunderstanding are profound.

THE DIFFERENCE

      The Founding Fathers understood the difference between a democracy and a republic.  They knew the history of the rise and fall of preceding civilizations and concluded that a democracy was a self-destructive and relatively short-lived system of government.

      John Adams summarized the prevailing view when he warned, "Remember, democracy never lasts long.  It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
     
      The primary distinction between a republic and a democracy is found in the assignment and function of authority.  In a democracy, the power belongs directly to the populace and authority is derived from mass assemblies.  Important issues of law and policy are decided by the direct vote of the population.  Political and legislative control belongs to those citizens who make up the plurality on any given issue and, quite literally, the majority rules.  

      In a republic, the population elects representatives to pass laws and do the business of the government. Authority derived indirectly through representation. Most importantly, justice is administered and legislation is constructed according fixed principles and the rule of law. Simply put, laws govern, not men. 

THE NEED FOR LAW

      So what is it about these two systems that generates such a strong admonishment against one and an impassioned fidelity to the other?  The Founding Fathers knew that any government able to withstand man’s corrupt nature must be based upon the rule of principled law. To that end, the Framers constructed checks and balances that provided the security of the law. 

      The powers of our government are separated into three branches: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial.  This separation of powers was intended to avoid the danger of all three functions falling into one set of hands.  The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were created in such a way as to prevent whimsical alteration.  The Framers provided a  "layer" of representative legislators to provide a legislative buffer between Constitutional law and the will of the majority.

STILL A REPUBLIC?

      So why is our government so commonly described as a democracy?  Is it ignorance or does it reflect today’s reality?  The problem may be merely a labeling error.  Some misuse the term democracy when describing the freedom and liberty we experience in our country.

      Unfortunately, the description may be accurate, although not in a way that the Founding Fathers would have understood or expected.  Our country is currently experiencing a form of democracy that, unlike the "mobocracy' the Framers feared is, instead - a minocracy? - rule by select minorities.

      Judicial activism, particularly by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a telling example of select-minority rule.  In the last 30 years, the nine-member Court has shown a growing tendency to legislate, rather than  interpret law.  In Roe v. Wade, for example, the Court literally fabricated a personal right to privacy that had not previously existed.  These judicial governors have greatly exceeded their mandate to guard and interpret the Constitution.  The result is that, at times, the will of the people as expressed through state law is overruled. This undermines the separation of powers, a cornerstone of republican government.

      Another example of select-minority rule is the ability of organizations such as the ACLU to champion the selfish causes of individuals and, through the courts, bring entire communities to heel or undermine the expressed will of the people as determined by public referendum.

THE PRINCIPLE OF LAW

      Our Founding Fathers understood that a society operating at the whim of the masses would eventually self-destruct.  Thus, they established a form of government that would protect us from ourselves. Believing in "natural law' as written on the heart of every man by the Creator, they sought a delicate balance between the secular and the religious.  "Morality' or "conscience" originates not from government or from the religion of man, but from the holiness of God.  The "unalienable rights" spoken about in the Declaration of
Independence are foundational to our constitutional government.

      Americans must rediscover the truth about our political heritage.  Our country is a republic, governed by a Constitution intended to counteract the sinful and destructive nature of man as well as the inclination of government to expand its powers.  As a nation, we must come back to the origin of our law - the unchanging moral law of God. 

Note: At the time this article was obtained from the Family Research Council, Jeff Syrios was an attorney and freelance writer from Wichita, Kansas. He is now a Municipal Judge for the City of Douglass, Kansas.

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