What is a Democracy?
The United States is a Democracy, right? It is often said that as Americans we live in a Democracy. We vote for the candidate of our choice, our public officials make and enforce laws, and we define that as the democratic process. Why is the United States of America considered a democracy today?
The word democracy comes from the Greek words “demos” (common people) and “kratos” (rule). In other words, in a democracy the people rule. Democracy is commonly defined as majority or mob rule. While that may seem somewhat like what we have in our great nation, there is a big difference between our form of government and pure democracy.
Several years ago I took a Business Law class, while attending Community College in Northern California. I remember one day during class, the professor was discussing our nation’s form of government. He plainly told the class that our nation is a democracy. I respectfully disagreed and politely argued that we have a republic. The professor paused briefly and then said that we technically have a democratic-republic. At that time I decided that I would not continue to press the conversation, but I have often wondered what would have happened if I had pressed further. Would this professor have eventually agreed that our nation is a republic?
What is a Republic?
The word republic comes from the Latin word “res publica” or the public thing. The public thing refers to the law, which in the case of our nation the law is the U.S. Constitution. Our nation was founded as a republic. Does this phrase sound familiar, “and to the Republic for which it stands…”? At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what form of government the new nation was to become. To that he replied, “A Republic, madam, if you can keep it“. The Constitution, in article 4, section 4 assures each state a republican form of government, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…”
A republic offers the following benefits to a free society that a democracy does not…
- A rule of law that is designed to ensure inherent liberties are protected
- Separation of powers – executive, legislative, and judicial
- Limited federal government and bureaucracy
There have been no amendments to the Constitution that changed our form of government. Article 4, Section 4 still remains in tact. We need to remember that the founding fathers put checks and balances in the way governing officials are elected, i.e. the electoral college and the delegate process.
Learn a Lesson from History
Have you noticed that the more our nation becomes like a democracy, the further our nation drifts from liberty? The founding fathers warned us about the turmoils of a pure democracy…
“Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” ~ John Adams
“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.” ~ James Madison
While it is evident that our nation is still technically a republic, we are losing it. In many ways our government is beginning to behave like a democracy, but is that really a good thing? It has been said that democracy is similar to two lions telling a zebra what the dinner menu is. Are you beginning to feel like the zebra in this scenario? What are you going to do about it?
It has been said that religion and politics don’t mix, and that both topics should be avoided in discussions if at all possible.
There are those that would say that there is no easier way to clear out a room then by talking about one or both of these supposed controversial topics. Lord Hailsham said it this way, “The introduction of religious passion into politics is the end of honest politics, and the introduction of politics into religion is the prostitution of true religion.”
The Brutal Truth
Here’s a brutal truth about life… uncontrolled emotion leads to disagreements, arguments, and fights. It doesn’t matter what the topic of discussion is. Husbands and wives argue about money and intimacy more than they do anything else. Sometimes couples fight about things as silly as why the towel was left on the floor. Friends feud over sports, jobs, cars, and even other friends. Congress debates just about anything, unless they are on recess.
What made this nation great was that a dedicated group of individuals believed that politics and religion do mix. In fact, politics and religion were two of the most important discussions at the time of our nation’s founding. What about the First Amendment? Doesn’t it note the importance of the separation of church and state? Isn’t it true that the church should be separate from the state?
What is Separation of Church and State?
The phrase “separation of church and state” is not even mentioned in the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment was written for five clearly defined reasons…
- To ensure that the state would not force one particular religion on its people
- To protect our religious liberty, not infringe upon it
- To protect freedom of speech for the press
- To protect our right to gather peacefully
- To petition the government in order to resolve an unconstitutional act
The Actual Intent
Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase “separation of church and state” in his letter to the Danbury Baptists on January 1st, 1802. The paragraph that contains the popular phrase reads, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” It is clear that Jefferson actually endorsed the relationship between humans and God.
It is also clear that the First Amendment was never intended to restrict churches or religious freedom. Instead it was supposed to restrict the state and federal government from intruding on the church. However, there is still a societal illusion that dictates the removal of religion from state entities. Perhaps this illusion is connected to the societal belief that politics and religion should not be discussed.
We have created a mental wall that has kept us from speaking the truth about two extremely important life topics. We will not experience more freedom by avoiding discussion over religion and politics, which are the two things that allowed for so much freedom in the first place. It can be argued that the less we talk about them, the closer we are to oppression. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about these things. We should control our emotions. It’s time to tear down that mental wall that has led to fear of speaking the truth.
What’s holding us back now? What’s holding you back?