Why The Founders Didn’t Give Us a Democracy

As the famous story goes, when Ben Franklin left Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia had a question she wanted answered.

“Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.

No one today (well, seemingly other than the current president) wants a monarchy. However, too many call our once-Republic a “democracy”. They love the idea of the will of the people, directly determined by vote and imposed by force of law.

The primary argument against this form of government is that it’s tyranny. A majority has no right to take away the rights of any individual, no matter how unpopular he may be. However, that is precisely the consequence of giving the people the power to vote for anything, with no constitutional limits to the power of government.

Let’s explore another argument against democracy. I just published an article critical of a gold initiative in Switzerland. Of course, I favor the re-monetization of gold. That is not why I think the initiative will do more harm than good. I looked at the economics of the banking system, and concluded that the law could cause bank insolvencies. If the banks fail, there goes the people’s money.

No layman would see the problem, unless an expert explains it. Indeed, a hundred thousand laymen signed the petition to put this initiative on the ballot. They simply want to move towards the gold standard and stop their central bank’s endless currency debasement, and robbery of the saver.

Too often, scoundrels hide behind their proclaimed good intentions, which is typically an appeal to collectivism. Then they claim the bad outcome was unintended. It’s disingenuous. If you hike the minimum wage, for example, you will cause higher unemployment. Workers who produce less than the cutoff are always laid off.

In the case of the Swiss gold initiative, the promoters are appealing to honesty and justice. I do not doubt the good intentions of the people behind this initiative. I am sure they mean well. Whether their intentions are good or not, the law has bad consequences. It’s based on an economic mistake.

This exemplifies another fundamental and irreparable flaw in democracy. Even well intentioned people have limited knowledge. No one can be an expert in everything. Yet, that is precisely what democracy requires. It assumes that because the people have an interest in the outcome, they know what will lead to good outcomes.

If your car breaks down, do you sample the opinions of nearby motorists, in order to know how to fix it? If you are sick, do you ask for medical advice from other patients in the hospital ward? No, you call a mechanic or a doctor. What if your monetary system is broken down and sick? Everyone suffers from the monetary disease, but that doesn’t make them experts in monetary economics. In the same way, motorists or patients are not experts in engines or healthcare. In order to work, Democracy depends on everyone being an expert in everything.

This is one more reason why your life should not be ruled by the decisions of others. Even when those decisions truly are well intentioned, they can still hurt you. Democracy is not the right form of government.

This is why the Founding Fathers gave us a republic.

5 thoughts on “Why The Founders Didn’t Give Us a Democracy

  1. Mike Parziale

    Democracy is not the right way to govern people because the monetary system governs people better. The constitution created a majority rule all-or-nothing, winner-take-all democracy, if Ben Franklin ever said otherwise then he was mistaken.

    Reply
  2. Bill Frampton

    If the US founders thought that a republic was somehow not also a democracy, then they didn’t understand the objective meaning of those words. Any system in which “we the people” are sovereign is most certainly a democracy, because democracy is the English form of the Greek word δημοκρατία (dēmokratia), which combines the roots δήμος (dēmos), ‘the people” and κρατία (kratia), “power, rule”. Consequently any system in which the people are sovereign is most certainly a democracy.

    A republic is a state governed by representatives elected by the people, thus it is a democracy. A republic is different from other forms of democracy only in having an elected head of state. As far as I can tell there is no separate word for republic in Greek, the Greek translation of Roman Republic is Ρωμαϊκή Δημοκρατία (Romaïkí Dimokratía) or “Roman Democracy”), which accurately describes the fact that the people of Rome were sovereign.

    For a republic to be something other than a form of democracy, one would have to invent an un-objective meaning of the word out of thin air.

    Reply
  3. Brian Johnson

    The point of the article, regardless of semantics and ancient Greek languages, is that America was not designed as a direct democracy, and that those clamoring for one are unaware of the dangers it represents. We do not have a direct democracy, thank goodness: All decisions pass through multiple tiers of voting processes: The voters elect representatives, the representatives form committees, both Houses cast votes, and even the president has, in a sense, a vote on every bill. (Not counting our current president, who has taken the elementary school route of pouting and declaring that his vote counts more than everyone else’s.)

    So you can argue all you want that a “Republic” is not much different from a Democracy, but it IS different enough that it is something worth preserving, instead of decaying into a direct democracy.

    Reply
  4. Gleambright

    You’ve summarised a few simple truths about democracy Keith, all of which are self evident to those who wish to see it. Yet what then is the solution? If a democracy by definition allows the tyranny of the many over the few, the only acceptable solution involves zero voting. By implication then, the only acceptable solution is for the current powers vested in government to be completely relinquished and for power to be dispersed to the individual level with decision making carried out entirely voluntarily. Anarcho capitalism is one potentially viable system for achieving this, yet that raises the second question…. how is the transition to be made away from democracy? It seems it has a fatal parasitic death grip on any nation it takes a hold of, it wont let go until the host itself dies. See *Australia* for a present and living example.

    Reply
    1. Keith Weiner Post author

      Gleambright,

      Thanks for the comment. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with voting. The problem is when your rights and your life are up for vote. The solution is a constitutional republic. In this system, people vote for representatives, but the government is not given the power to attack your life, liberty, or property. It will last so long as the culture is rational, people do not envy those who are more successful, do not condemn the rich and productivity, do not lust for the unearned, and do not wish to live off others. If people adopt a philosophy consisting of those things then that society is doomed and no piece of paper, no rules, no structure can stop them from getting to the hell they seek.

      Reply

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