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About Nancy Salvato
Nancy Salvato is the Director of Education and the Constitutional Literacy Program for Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan research and educational project whose mission is to re-introduce the American public to the basic elements of our constitutional heritage while providing non-partisan, fact-based information on relevant socio-political issues important to our country. She is a graduate of the National Endowment for the Humanities’ National Academy for Civics & Government. She is the author of “Keeping a Republic: An Argument for Sovereignty.” She also serves as a Senior Editor for and a contributing writer to and
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Notes on Democracy:
And to the Republic, for Which It Stands

Nancy Salvato
May 20, 2011
I’m fairly certain that everyone from my generation knows the words to The Pledge of Allegiance by heart.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic, for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”

When reciting the pledge, we should focus on the meaning attached to these words, most of which were written by Francis Bellamy, commemorating our history in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus Day at Chicago’s World’s Fair. I say “most” because the original pledge, as written by Bellamy, was altered. Nevertheless, each word in this final version provides our citizenry an appropriate lens through which we may view our world.

▪ When we the people declare our commitment to the flag, which symbolizes our country, we acknowledge that we are bound by a social contract (compact) to each other in which we agree to abide by the U.S. Constitution which protects the rights of the members of our society.

▪ We live in a Constitutional Republic, not a Democracy, and not a Democratic Republic

▪ We are united as one Nation, we are not a loose confederation of states.

▪ Our rights come from God, not legislators

▪ The US Constitution defines us as one people, indivisible

▪ Each of us is recognized as possessing certain liberties and we are all treated equally under the justice system.

Though I imagine a great many people recite the pledge without giving much thought to the words, there is one word that begs for our attention – republic. The fact that we are a republic needs to be reiterated over and over. We are not a democracy. It is important that we understand the difference between a republic and a democracy. This cannot be emphasized enough.

Dr. Jonathon Mott, who authors writes,

“Accurately defined, a democracy is a form of government in which the people decide policy matters directly--through town hall meetings or by voting on ballot initiatives and referendums. A republic, on the other hand, is a system in which the people choose representatives who, in turn, make policy decisions on their behalf. The Framers of the Constitution were altogether fearful of pure democracy. Everything they read and studied taught them that pure 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’ (Federalist No. 10). ...the Constitution itself...declares that ‘The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government’ (Article IV, Section 4). Moreover, the scheme of representation and the various mechanisms for selecting representatives established by the Constitution were clearly intended to produce a republic, not a democracy.”

The Framers never intended for the citizenry of this country to be ruled by majority, via direct democracy, because it was well known that majority rule “mobocracy” can lead to tyranny and anarchy and the ultimate loss of our sovereignty. Yet who hasn’t heard our government referred to, not as a republic, but a democratic republic or democracy?

Takis Fotopoulos explains, in Beyond Statism and the Market Economy: A new conception of Democracy,

“The meaning of democracy has been distorted; the dominant today conception of democracy has hardly any relation to the classical Greek conception. Furthermore, the current practice of adding several qualifying adjectives to the term democracy has further confused the meaning of it and created the impression that several forms of democracy exist. But, in fact, there is only one form of democracy at the political level, i.e. the direct exercise of sovereignty by the people themselves, a form of societal institution which rejects any form of ‘ruling.’ Therefore, all other forms of so-called democracy are not but various forms of ‘oligarchy’ i.e. of ruling by the few."

A Republic
In The Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution Gordon Wood explains,

“Republicanism really meant creating a political system concerned with the res publica, public things, the welfare of the people. Liberal critics of eighteenth-century monarchism believed that kings had become too wrapped up in their own selfish dynastic purposes and were ignoring the good of their people. By eliminating hereditary kings and instituting governments in which the people themselves would elect their political leaders, liberal reformers hoped that governments at last would promote only the public’s welfare.”

The Framers observed a tradition of “civic humanism,” which stresses that “moral character” is “prerequisite to good politics and disinterested service to the country.” They believed, “Republics required a particular sort of egalitarian and virtuous people: independent, property-holding citizens without artificial hereditary distinctions who were willing to sacrifice many of their private, selfish interests for the good of the whole community.”

However, we are more than a republic. We are a constitutional republic. This is an important distinction.

As John Adams so aptly put it, “We are a nation of laws, not of men.”

Andrew Morriss explains in Why Classical Liberals Care about the Rule of Law (And Hardly Anyone Else Does),

“ In a society governed by the rule of law, we should expect to observe two key features.

“First, the principles by which disputes will be resolved are known in advance. John knows before he borrows the money from Mary that promises to repay loans are enforceable.

“Second, the result of the application of those principles to a dispute does not depend on who the parties are. Powerful people are governed by the same rules as the weak, the rich by the same rules as the poor.”

Though rule of law doesn’t solve the problem of the content of laws, these features ensure that we are treated equally by the justice system and provide clear delineation in matters of complying with or breaking the law.

Why do so many people refer to this country as being a democracy? Why do we encourage democracy throughout the world?

To answer the first question, there are two possible reasons. First, some believe there is no agreed on definition. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), “Definitions of democracy are contested and there is an ongoing lively debate on the subject.”

Here is what the EIU has to say about democracy.

“Democracy can be seen as a set of practices and principles that institutionalize and thus ultimately protect freedom. Even if a consensus on precise definitions has proved elusive, most observers today would agree that, at a minimum, the fundamental features of a democracy include government based on majority rule and the consent of the governed, the existence of free and fair elections, the protection of minority rights and respect for basic human rights. Democracy presupposes equality before the law, due process and political pluralism.

“Some insist that democracy is necessarily a dichotomous concept—a state is either democratic or not. But most measures now appear to adhere to a continuous concept, with the possibility of varying degrees of democracy. At present, the best-known measure is produced by the US-based Freedom House organisation. [sic] They produce a number of measures, of which the narrowest is that of "electoral democracy". Democracies in this minimal sense share at least one common, essential characteristic. Positions of political power are filled through regular, free, and fair elections between competing parties, and it is possible for an incumbent government to be turned out of office through elections. Freedom House criteria for an electoral democracy include: 1) A competitive, multiparty political system; 2) Universal adult suffrage; 3) Regularly contested elections conducted on the basis of secret ballots, reasonable ballot security and the absence of massive voter fraud; 4) Significant public access of major political parties to the electorate through the media and through generally open political campaigning.”

As one can tell from the above, there is a serious revising of the definition of democracy. First, there is the hyphenation of democracy: electoral-democracy. Second, there is an inherent contradiction in majority rule and protection of minority rights. Third, democracy doesn’t equate to equality before the law. This depends on a constitution that ensures that we are treated equally under the justice system. With regard to political parties, which Madison considered factions, James Madison thought them inevitable but hoped that their effects could be tempered by the large size of this country. In Federalist 10, he writes:

“Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.”

In Politics, Artistotle writes,

“The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one or of the few, or of the many, are perversions. Of forms of government in which one rules, we call that which regards the common interests, kingship or royalty; that in which more than one, but not many, rule, aristocracy; and it is so called, either because the rulers are the best men, or because they have at heart the best interests of the state and of the citizens. But when the citizens at large administer the state for the common interest, the government is called by the generic name- a constitution. The perversions are as follows: of royalty, tyranny; of aristocracy, oligarchy; of constitutional government, democracy. For tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all.”

The ancient definition of democracy is absolutely at odds with the modern revision of this term.

The revision appears to be based on the idea of electing representatives through a democratic process. This is very misleading because if people believe we are a democracy, they will assume that we should have as many democratic processes as are feasible, which is not only antithetical to the idea of a republic, but it eliminates the many checks and balances built into our unique form of government. Because of this preoccupation with our country being a democracy, there is a misguided movement to democratize more processes in the election of public officials, for example there are some who want to eliminate the Electoral College. We’ve already moved to direct election of senators (for more, see ‘A Government of Laws, and Not of Men’: The Electoral College).

Does the new definition of democracy accurately describe our government? Not really. We are a republic because we elect representatives to make policy decisions. We have rule of law to protect our common interests in our constitution. A democratic process does not define us as a democracy. The new definitions of democracy appear to take on elements that are not normally associated with democracy. To associate our government with democracy is dangerous because when democracy is promoted among the people of other nations, unless they have all the components in place to survive as one people with common interests, and unless they can check majority rule, they will end up with a perversion of power.

To clarify, in the briefing paper on The Nation, State Sovereignty and the European Union - Nine Democratic Principles it is explained,

“Nations exist as communities before nationalisms and Nation States. Nations evolve historically as stable, long-lasting communities of people, sharing a common language and territory, and the common culture and history that arise from that. On this basis develop the solidarities, mutual interests and mutual identification that distinguish a people from its neighbours. Some nations are ancient, some young, some in process of being formed. Like all human groups - for example the family, clan, tribe - they are fuzzy at the edges. No neat definition will encompass all cases. The empirical test is to ask people themselves. If they have passed beyond the stage of kinship society where the political unit is the clan or tribe, people will invariably know what nation they belong to. That is the political and democratic test too. If enough people in a nation wish to establish their own independent State, they should have it. For democracy can exist normally only at the level of the national community and the Nation State. The reason is that it is within the national community alone that there exists sufficient solidarity, mutual identification and mutuality of interest among people as to induce minorities freely to consent to majority rule and obey a common government based upon that. Such solidarity is the basis of shared citizenship. It underpins a people’s allegiance to a government as "their" government, and their willingness to finance that government’s tax and income-transfer system, thereby tying the richer and poorer regions and social classes of the Nation State together. The solidarities that exist within nations do not exist between nations, although other solidarities may exist, international solidarity, which becomes more important with time, as modern communications, trade, capital movements and common environmental problems link all nations together in global inter-dependence.”

So why do we encourage democracy around the world? Clearly, nation building is much more complicated than free elections.

Two Princeton professors provide one answer as to why we encourage democracy throughout the world.

According to G. John Ikenberry, “Why Export Democracy?: The ‘Hidden Grand Strategy’ of American Foreign Policy’” The Wilson Quarterly (Vol. 23, no.2 (Spring 1999),

“The American preoccupation with promoting democracy abroad fits into a larger liberal view about the sources of a stable, legitimate, secure, and prosperous international order...

“This distinctively American liberal grand strategy is built around a set of claims and assumptions about how democratic politics, economic interdependence, international institutions, and political identity encourage a stable political order.

“Scholars have identified a number of reasons for the general amity of democracies. They point out that elected legislatures and other democratic structures often limit the ability of leaders to mobilize societies for war, that the norms of peaceful conflict resolution that democracies develop at home carry over into foreign dealings, and that democratic institutions generate more honest and reliable information about government intentions than nondemocracies do. And because democracies are built on shared social purposes and a congruence of interests, these scholars add, such societies generally limit the rise of conflicts strong enough to lead to war.

“Their success is not just a product of some ineffable trust. It occurs because they are accustomed to relations based on the rule of law rather than on political expediency, and because their openness provides their potential international partners with a set of something like verification tools.

“American policymakers in the 20th century have generally assumed that international institutions limit the scope and severity of conflicts. States that agree to participate in such institutions are, in effect, joining a political process that shapes, constrains, and channels their actions.”

To the notion of an international order, Richard Rorty stated his opinion in “Can the 'American dream' Belong Also to the World?” posted at Open Democracy,

“The hidden agenda of the internationalists (one that they still cannot put forward explicitly, for fear of a chauvinist reaction from the voters) is to bring into existence what Tennyson called “The Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World”. They want to do for the almost two hundred sovereign nation-states what the American Founding Fathers did for the thirteen original American colonies.

“The internationalists dream of a world government that will bind Iranians, Chinese, Germans, Brazilians and Americans together in a single political community. For they think that only such a government, able to deploy an international police force, can ensure world peace. They share the hopes of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Harry Truman (who always carried those lines from Tennyson in his wallet). These American presidents all took for granted, as had Emerson and Whitman, that it is America’s destiny to bring peace and justice to the world.”

Is an international order a good idea? There are many who disagree with this agenda.

Professor Minogue states, in The Coming Assassination of National Sovereignty,

“Back in 1945, when the United Nations was being established, the inviolability of national sovereignty had been accepted as a necessary condition of international cooperation. Without that guarantee, sovereign states would not even have begun to cooperate in adumbrating a world order. Even then, however, the institution of sovereignty, which is the abstract concept signifying the fact that nation states are independent of any superior legislative authority, had long been under attack. Critics regarded independence as the condition that made possible aggressive war and the violation of rights.”

In The "S" Word, John Yoo, in reviewing Jeremy Rabkin’s book The Case for Sovereignty: Why the World Should Welcome American Independence, explains the need to maintain sovereignty,

“People can find security only in sovereign states—which draw their political legitimacy from the protection they provide—not in international organizations like the United Nations, which lacks an army and whose actions are subject to the vetoes of France, Russia, and China. If the U.S. were to place its security in the U.N.’s hands, not only would it lose its national character, Rabkin suggests, but the world would suffer, too.”

Nation building is clearly more complicated than simply putting together a constitution, establishing free elections and electing people to office. What are some of the dangers in promoting democracies?

Some may abuse the democratic process to attain power and influence. David Meir-Levi writes in his article Hamas Uber-Alles,

“Hamas’ goal is not just the conquest of ‘Palestine.’ This is now the only democratically elected political power in the world whose foundational agenda includes the genocide, and whose sole defining paradigm is terrorism. So, as it describes itself, Hamas is a Moslem religious community committed to not just the destruction of Israel but of all Jews throughout the world.

“Seventy years ago, when the German people elected the Nazi party to power, the world looked the other way and ignored all that Hitler had written in Mein Kampf. Five years later 70,000,000 people had died. Today the world is witness to the second time that a free election has resulted in the rise to power of a terrorist party with a genocidal agenda fully outlined in its own shortened version of Mein Kampf.”

Democracy results in majority rule, which is something that must be tempered or the minority will be tyrannized. In A Broken Mirror: How the Similarities Between India and Nigeria Led to Their Differences, Catherine Lem, compares the experiences of India and Nigeria, writing about what can happen when people are not compelled to follow a rule of law to protect their common interests because they are divided by their differences,

“Nigeria is a product of imposed political borders created during the Berlin West Africa Conference by colonialist nations. In this way, various peoples found themselves within the arbitrary borders of a new national label. But, this national label alone was unable to unite the various groups, who were extremely diverse and had no common history before colonialism.

“The result is a nation strife with religious and ethnic violence, where the population identifies more with their differences than with their national commonality.

“India has been able to maintain its democratic status while Nigeria has undergone numerous regime changes and coups. Currently, Nigeria is an electoral Democracy, in that it elects its leaders through free and fair elections, although the elections are frequently debated. Yet, India has become a liberal democracy, one that is based on elections, as well as a strong rule of law and citizen’s rights. While India’s diversity and poverty make its government vulnerable, it may continue to draw on its colonialist foundation in the future. In contrast, it is debatable whether Nigeria will be able to develop into a liberal democracy, or if will succumb to another set of coups and system.”

Even in our own country, it is difficult to ascertain whether we have free or fair elections. Certainly, with motor voter laws, there are people voting that aren’t even citizens. There have been movements to reform the ways in which candidates receive money for their campaigns, yet contributions that come from people who aren’t citizens of this country cannot be tracked, which allows for foreign influence.

In The Threat of Non-Citizen Voting, Hans von Spakovsky writes,

“Eight of the 19 September 11 hijackers were registered to vote in either Virginia or Florida-registrations that were probably obtained when they applied for driver’s licenses. The largest source of voter registrations are state programs created under Section 5 of the NVRA, known as "Motor Voter," which requires all states to allow individuals who apply for a driver’s license to register to vote at the same time. States such as Maryland, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington allow illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses, and other states, such as Tennessee, provide licenses to resident aliens.”

Eugene Volokh discusses the influence of corporations in How Corporate Money Will Reshape Politics,

“The most influential actors in most political campaigns are corporations. I speak here of media corporations, such as the one that owns the New York Times. These corporations overtly editorialize for and against candidates, and also influence elections by choosing what to cover and how to cover it. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision simply means that other corporations, and unions, will enjoy much the same First Amendment rights that media corporations have. My guess is that most business corporations will not exercise those rights to nearly the same extent that media corporations have. Among other things, if (say) Exxon were to speak in favor of some candidate, that fact might well alienate so many voters that Exxon’s speech would prove counterproductive. In any event, the court decision means that voters will have more messages from more sources — including wealthy unions and wealthy corporations -– to supplement the messages they already get from wealthy media corporations, wealthy political parties, wealthy advocacy groups, and wealthy individuals, as well as from not-so-wealthy neighbors, bloggers, and others.”

In order for any democratic processes to work, people must be engaged in political debate and understand their civic responsibility in elections as well as understand and believe in the founding principles that unify us as a country. It is hard to make informed choices and decisions unless the media is willing to report the facts, all the facts, and make a separate distinction for when they are writing an opinion.

Michael Malone explains the problem with our media in Media’s Presidential Bias and Decline,

“Personal opinions and comments that, had they appeared in my stories in 1979, would have gotten my butt kicked by the nearest copy editor, were now standard operating procedure at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and soon after in almost every small town paper in the US.

“But what really shattered my faith -- and I know the day and place where it happened -- was the war in Lebanon three summers ago. The hotel I was staying at in Windhoek, Namibia, only carried CNN, a network I’d already learned to approach with skepticism. But this was CNN International, which is even worse.

“I sat there, first with my jaw hanging down, then actually shouting at the TV, as one field reporter after another reported the carnage of the Israeli attacks on Beirut, with almost no corresponding coverage of the Hezbollah missiles raining down on northern Israel. The reporting was so utterly and shamelessly biased that I sat there for hours watching, assuming that eventually CNN would get around to telling the rest of the story...but it never happened.”

If in a democracy, the government is accountable to the people, how is it we have to pass a bill to find out what is in it? Former Speaker of the House and current Minority leader Nancy Pelosi is quoted on the behemoth health care bill passed by the 111th Congress, as saying, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it." Those elected to office are supposed to swear an oath to the US Constitution which is protecting our rights. How are rights being protected when legislation is passed quickly and without knowing what it means? The majority in the 111th Congress believed that the majority of people in this country wanted universal health care and this was their justification for passing this bill. This is a perversion of the power entrusted to our government. If such perversions can take place in this country, imagine what can take place in a country that doesn’t rest on a foundation such as ours.

We are the shining beacon on the hill, yet we experienced voter intimidation this last election. Attorney General Eric Holder is quoted as saying,

“When you compare what people endured in the South in the 60s to try to get the right to vote for African Americans, to compare what people subjected to that with what happened in Philadelphia, which was inappropriate. describe it in those terms I think does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line for my people.”

According to Eric Holder, we are not one people, we are black or white people. And this division justifies not being treated equally by the division of justice.

Is our country qualified to nation build? Should we be promoting democracy? What happens when democracy fails? We are seeing in our own country what can happen when we follow majority rule. We lose transparency in legislation, we allow for voter intimidation. But failure of democracy can be much worse. A quick look at history confirms the dangers inherent in democracy. Just look at Hitler’s rise to power.

Micah Halpern writes in Hamas - for Democracy?,

“There are many democratic states that forbid certain movements and/or parties from running for election because they are blatantly racist or because the nature of those parties has been deemed destructive to the very nature of that society.

“Germany after World War II is a prime example. Hitler was democratically elected to office. Following the War, however, when West Germany was being shaped into a democratically run government, the Nazi party was outlawed. They are outlawed even today and the logic behind this ruling is that when certain political ideologies come in contact with certain social proclivities the result can threaten the very democratic nature of society.

“There are Northern European countries that do not allow parties to run in their elections if the parties have a racist plank in their platform. Spain and Turkey have recently forbidden political parties from standing for election. Both countries were challenged in the Court of the European Union for their decisions. In both cases the Court ruled in favor of preventing extremist parties from running and they ruled that way in order to preserve democracy.

“Not coincidently, Israel has the very same rule. The United States, does not.”

When democracy prevails, can we assume it is in our best interest?

Patrick Buchanan asks, in Another God That Failed,

“If racial and religious bonds and ancient animosities against the West trump any democratic solidarity with the West, of what benefit to America is democracy in the Third World? And if one-person, one-vote democracy in multiethnic countries leads to dispossession and persecution of the market-dominant minority, why would we promote democracy there?”

We the people, in continuing to form a more perfect union, are struggling. And we’ve been at it for over 200 years. Before attempting to nation build, or encouraging any nation, including our own, to implement democratic processes with the end goal of achieving a democracy, we need to reflect on ourselves as a nation. We can start by identifying that our country is a constitutional republic, not a democracy, and not a hyphenated democracy. We can acknowledge that we are imperfect, but imperfections aside, we are stable and we have done a fairly good job of protecting our freedoms. We must recognize and understand the foundation on which we’ve built this country. There was a fairly unique set of circumstances which contributed to our states coming together and our people ratifying the US Constitution. Probably, the confluence of events will never be repeated the same way ever again, for any other nation. At the most, we should be promoting processes that allow more liberty for people around the world. And at home, we should be questioning and identifying the forces that have allowed for lack of transparency, political standing, and divisions among our people so that we can not only repair the damage but reinforce the structure so that we can remain the land of the free and home of the brave. And a good place to start is to correct people when they call our country a democracy. We are a constitutional republic, not a democracy.

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