The Far Right is now claiming that because the people who wrote the constitution were elitists and were afraid of "direct democracy" that it was never intended to be democratic. For example many of them say "This is a Constitutional Republic. No democrat in there" -- and seem to want to disenfranchise the citizens from voting. This all turns on the word "democratic" and years of propaganda seeking to undermine the democratic features of our Democracy.
But first folks need to understand a little etymology: The word "Republic" is from Latin; the word "democracy" is from Greek. The original Democracies were still oligarchic by our standards. So Democracy has two senses, similar to the word "collective", one meaning when people gather together to rule themselves "demos-the people" + "cracy -- rule." So when we talk about a "republican form of government" we are talking about "indirect democracy" not direct democracy at the Federal Level because the people are choosing representatives. But we are still talking democracy.
To prepare this post I searched the Federalist Papers to ensure that I wasn't missing any references to "democracy". I did a search on the keyword "demo" to pull up all references to democracy or related words.
FEDERALIST No. 10
- The Same Subject Continued (The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection)
- From the New York Packet.
- Friday, November 23, 1787.
- MADISON [http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_10.html]
"a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction." [fed_10]
He also was advocating for a written constitution, divided government and...
"A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. 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."[fed_10]
"A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union."
"The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended."[fed_10]
"The other point of difference is, the greater number of citizens and extent of territory which may be brought within the compass of republican than of democratic government; and it is this circumstance principally which renders factious combinations less to be dreaded in the former than in the latter. "[fed_10]
"Hence, it clearly appears, that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic,--is enjoyed by the Union over the States composing it."[fed_10]
- Objections to the Proposed Constitution From Extent of Territory Answered
- From the New York Packet.
- Friday, November 30, 1787.
- MADISON [http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_14.html]
Our system was also an innovation in that most previous republics had been small, even city states;
"The error which limits republican government to a narrow district has been unfolded and refuted in preceding papers. I remark here only that it seems to owe its rise and prevalence chiefly to the confounding of a republic with a democracy, applying to the former reasonings drawn from the nature of the latter. The true distinction between these forms was also adverted to on a former occasion."
The "former occasion he refers to is Federalist 10 we just discussed
- "It is, that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region." [fed_14]
The forms of representation that make a republic useful in governing also make it easier to scale up into a larger land area. He then goes on to refer to the kinds of polemics and demagoguery used by anti-Federalists who feared democracy enough to lie about the distinction between republics and pure democracies.
"To this accidental source of the error may be added the artifice of some celebrated authors, whose writings have had a great share in forming the modern standard of political opinions. Being subjects either of an absolute or limited monarchy, they have endeavored to heighten the advantages, or palliate the evils of those forms, by placing in comparison the vices and defects of the republican, and by citing as specimens of the latter the turbulent democracies of ancient Greece and modern Italy. Under the confusion of names, it has been an easy task to transfer to a republic observations applicable to a democracy only; and among others, the observation that it can never be established but among a small number of people, living within a small compass of territory." [fed_14]
Some of this was due to ancient rewrites too. Athens lasted as a democracy for hundreds of years and was stable for a good portion of that time. Republics have endured for hundreds of years as well, as exemplified by Florence.
"Such a fallacy may have been the less perceived, as most of the popular governments of antiquity were of the democratic species; and even in modern Europe, to which we owe the great principle of representation, no example is seen of a government wholly popular, and founded, at the same time, wholly on that principle." [fed_14]
At the time the constitution was written there was a massive movement to make the States more democratic in form and representative. This movement was opposed by many of the folks who already had the franchise. But none of these states were arguing for direct democracy, though many of the towns in New England came pretty close.
"As the natural limit of a democracy is that distance from the central point which will just permit the most remote citizens to assemble as often as their public functions demand, and will include no greater number than can join in those functions; so the natural limit of a republic is that distance from the centre which will barely allow the representatives to meet as often as may be necessary for the administration of public affairs. " [fed_14]
And of course with a thriving postal system, quality roads (railroads, airplanes, etc...) even those limits are transcended.
- The Same Subject Continued(The Powers Conferred by the Constitution Further Considered)
- For the Independent Journal.
- MADISON [fed_43]
"It has been remarked, that even among the Swiss cantons, which, properly speaking, are not under one government, provision is made for this object; and the history of that league informs us that mutual aid is frequently claimed and afforded; and as well by the most democratic, as the other cantons."[fed_43]
FEDERALIST No. 48
- These Departments Should Not Be So Far Separated as to Have No Constitutional Control Over Each Other
- From the New York Packet. Friday, February 1, 1788.
- MADISON [fed_48]
"In a democracy, where a multitude of people exercise in person the legislative functions, and are continually exposed, by their incapacity for regular deliberation and concerted measures, to the ambitious intrigues of their executive magistrates, tyranny may well be apprehended, on some favorable emergency, to start up in the same quarter."
"But in a representative republic, where the executive magistracy is carefully limited; both in the extent and the duration of its power; and where the legislative power is exercised by an assembly, which is inspired, by a supposed influence over the people, with an intrepid confidence in its own strength; which is sufficiently numerous to feel all the passions which actuate a multitude, yet not so numerous as to be incapable of pursuing the objects of its passions, by means which reason prescribes; it is against the enterprising ambition of this department that the people ought to indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions." [fed_48]
- Objection That The Number of Members Will Not Be Augmented as the Progress of Population Demands Considered
- MADISON [fed_58]
"On the same principle, the more multitudinous a representative assembly may be rendered, the more it will partake of the infirmities incident to collective meetings of the people. Ignorance will be the dupe of cunning, and passion the slave of sophistry and declamation. The people can never err more than in supposing that by multiplying their representatives beyond a certain limit, they strengthen the barrier against the government of a few. Experience will forever admonish them that, on the contrary, AFTER SECURING A SUFFICIENT NUMBER FOR THE PURPOSES OF SAFETY, OF LOCAL INFORMATION, AND OF DIFFUSIVE SYMPATHY WITH THE WHOLE SOCIETY, they will counteract their own views by every addition to their representatives.
The countenance of the government may become more democratic, but the soul that animates it will be more oligarchic. The machine will be enlarged, but the fewer, and often the more secret, will be the springs by which its motions are directed." [fed_58]
- The Senate Continued
- For the Independent Journal.
- HAMILTON OR MADISON [fed_63]
"In the most pure democracies of Greece, many of the executive functions were performed, not by the people themselves, but by officers elected by the people, and REPRESENTING the people in their EXECUTIVE capacity." [fed_63]
"From these facts, to which many others might be added, it is clear that the principle of representation was neither unknown to the ancients nor wholly overlooked in their political constitutions."
"The true distinction between these and the American governments, lies IN THE TOTAL EXCLUSION OF THE PEOPLE, IN THEIR COLLECTIVE CAPACITY, from any share in the LATTER, and not in the TOTAL EXCLUSION OF THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE from the administration of the FORMER."
"The distinction, however, thus qualified, must be admitted to leave a most advantageous superiority in favor of the United States. But to insure to this advantage its full effect, we must be careful not to separate it from the other advantage, of an extensive territory. For it cannot be believed, that any form of representative government could have succeeded within the narrow limits occupied by the democracies of Greece." [fed_63]
- The Collective in the Federalist Papers:
- Related Articles:
- Defending Democracy and the Second Amendment
- Starve the Beast Destroy Democracy
- Years ago I did a lot of work on the subject at my "Fraught with Peril Blog" Some of these are as good as my more recent work:
- Networked Democracy [http://fraughtwithperil.com/cholte/2011/05/21/networked-democracy/]
- When Do We Become a Democracy?/dd>
- We don't have too much democracy
- The Trouble with Democracy
- And this was darn good!
- Democracy is not an option
- This one refuted Ayn Rand:
- Objectivism as an Anti-Democratic ideology
Madison like Hamilton came from the "barrister"/lawyer class of people who pretty much ran our country in the 1700's. Both of them were brilliant men and they created the constitution partly to resist and control centrifugal forces from the varied states and also to create an ordered government that would neither be subject to mob violence [direct democracy] nor become an oligarchic or unitary hierarchal tyranny.
When Madison talked of democracy he was thinking of the Athenian Oligarchy, not the modern concept. Madison feared "faction". Hamilton feared actual violent conflict.
Madison is attacking "direct democracy", "pure democracy" and his comments on pure democracy are as true today as then:
"Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions."[fed_10]
He then explains how republican values are superior to pure democracy
When you translate "Republic" into greek you get the word "δημοκρατία" which means "republic or democracy" The Romans also thought their Republic was superior to a Democracy, and it was until it lost it's representative quality and de-evolved into an Imperial monarchy. The vast masses of the people always need "officers" to lead and guide them. And so "direct people-rule (Democracy)" always de-evolves into some kind of tyranny as the officers abuse their power, sometimes with the support of majorities.
And he notes that a Republic has to be indirect due to:
"Factious combinations" occur in oligarchies and tyrannies too. But Madison was talking about how the attributes of representation would reduce the risk of faction.
Madison is also noting how a Federation composed of smaller units has less risk of factional conflict.
In Federalist 43 Madison makes one reference to the word "democracy". He notes that most Federations provide for defense against both external attack and armed conflict between states:
Even the "most democratic" of states will contribute to the defense of it's neighbors from both internal conflict, interstate conflict and external attack.
Madison is not attacking the concept of "democracy" so much as the inability of mass government, "direct democracy" or collective groups, to work in concert, collaborate, or avoid the intrigues of tyrants and socially dominant bullies:
On the other hand "indirect democracy through representation:
And you have to admit our form of "mixed" national and Federated Government has been resistant to tyrants and factionalists compared to direct democrats or to the intrigues of oligarchs who prefer to dispense with representation and simply drive out their enemies.
I'm not sure I agree with Madison, but his point is important to understand:
Mere Representation is not the same as democracy. Nor is it always an effective means of representation. The risk of republics and representation is that the representatives can become aristocrats and lose touch with the people who elect them. When that happens, numbers don't really help:
Like we've been seeing with Congress where deals are made in back rooms, and lobbyists pay representatives to do the opossite of what their representatives want. What is wanted with a Republic or a Democracy is participation by the people and sufficient equality and checks and balances so that no one will set themselves up to live high off the hog at the expense of others, for "private, separate advantage" [Locke's definition of Tyranny].
In Federalist 63 either (or both) Hamilton and Madison warn of the dangers of representation and they also note that even in direct democracies the officers of those democracies were usually representatives.
The key here is to enforce the principles. In the case of Republics the underlying principle is representation. While "democracy is dependent on folks "stepping up" (boulomenos) to participate in Governing.
I found the following passage disturbing and really had to think about it. The "Former" here refers to the LEGISLATIVE capacity and the "latter" to their ""PLENIPOTENTIARY" or executive capacity
After looking at it I think he's referring to separation of powers. The legislature has no executive role except in policing themselves (which turns out to be probably a mistake we need to rectify). But he also seems to have seen it important to have an appointed President. Something his successors changed with direct elections as it was unworkable. But he thought it was a great thing:
Greek Democracies could not succeed largely because the Greeks never transcended tribal and city identification. Athens rather than creating a representative common government tried to conquer territories. And the Greeks preferred fighting each other and competing over resources to collaboration and Union.