Democracy has long been the cover for all manner of despotic totalitarian regimes creating hellholes for their own people and nightmares for the rest of us. One needs only to recall that even though the popular myth of Hitler being elected is demonstrably false, he lost the only election he ever ran in, he was however appointed Chancellor in 1933 after his Nazi Party became the largest single party through democratic elections. His ghoulish regime achieved total power when 90% of the German people voted to make Hitler the Führer or undisputed dictator of their nation. And who can forget the many Democratic People’s Republics that have graced the world with their despotic presence, East Germany, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea. The cover of democracy and the votes of the people have been used to legitimize the most insidious forms of human depravity.
It is popular among conservatives to decry the nation-wide and world-wide demand for democracy as if it were something new under the sun. It is also popular to point out that the United States of America was founded as a representative Republic not as a Democracy. The representative nature of the Republic was enshrined in both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. The difference is proudly pointed out that we are a representative republic which operates on democratic principles NOT a democracy.
It is not quite as popular to point out that though our representative Republic has always operated on democratic principles in the beginning that democracy did not spread out very far. The franchise was restricted only to males of the Caucasian persuasion who owned a certain amount of property. The dirty little secret teachers of American History Survey classes fought for years to keep from their impressionable students was that even though Wilson led America into fighting World War I to make the world safe for democracy and FDR led us into World War II as the Arsenal of Democracy the Founders of our country went to great lengths to protect our Republic from the perils of democracy.
Examples of the Founders distaste for democracy are easy to find:
James Madison said, “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.”
John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide” and, “The experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived.”
Alexander Hamilton said, “It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”
The circle of American democracy was at first drawn closely around the ruling circle of intellectuals, lawyers and men of property because they feared the tyranny of those unable or unwilling to learn the rudiments of History, Economics or Governance. However, as time passed spurred on by a combination of their desire to participate and the cajoling of those who wanted to rule them people began to agitate for an extension of the franchise and for one reason or another the circle began to expand until by the 1830s throughout the United States most Caucasian males could vote. By comparison in Britain at the same time less than 10% could vote.
The watchword in America became democracy, not in the speeches of the first Progressives in the 1890s but in the voices of their great grandfathers in the second generation after our Revolution. Within a generation leadership passed from Washington, Jefferson, Madison and other statesmen with grand visions of liberty and freedom to partisan leaders of political factions. The stirring and deeply reflective tone of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers was replaced by clever slogans designed to move the masses and win votes.
Alexis de Tocqueville is often quoted to show the high state of American involvement and participation in the democratic process. He is less often quoted in his assessment of that process, “The most able men in the United States are very rarely place at the head of affairs.” He pointed to the character of a democracy where people ignored important issues, disdained intellectuals who were informed of these issues and instead were moved by “the clamor of a mountebank [a demagogue] who knows the secret of stimulating their tastes.”
In the recent past President Bush in 2005 during his second inaugural speech declared the doctrine that bears his name by saying, ‘‘it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.’’ Since that time democratic elections have brought us Hamas as the elected representatives of the Palestinian People, Islamists have won the first post-Arab Spring election in Tunisia and who can forget that Hugo Chavez has won multiple elections in Venezuela and then there is our new partner in our latest military adventure Yoweri Museveni Uganda’s President-for-Life who was democratically elected as was his more famous predecessor Idi Amin Dada.
The democratic revolution which began in America a generation after the establishment of our representative Republic has grown through the roughshod years of Jackson, the tax, tax, tax, spend, spend, spend, elect, elect, elect days of FDR and has morphed into the Occupy Everywhere movement currently polluting our cities and clamoring for the predictable goal of pure democracy, “From each according to their ability to each according to their need.”
We are witnessing the tyranny not of the majority but instead of the majority of voters coming to fruition. In America in a typical election only 50% or less of eligible voters bothers to cast their ballot. Many congressional districts are gerrymandered into personal possessions, local counties, cities and states belong to good-old-boy networks and the Senate is the province of millionaire media stars. The uninformed elect the unqualified to give them what is unearned.
Or as our old friend Alexis de Tocqueville also said, “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”
The democratic revolution begun in America 200 years ago has circled the globe. The leaders of the Egyptian revolutionaries have come to New York to join the protesters at Zuccotti Park to chant, the mantra, “Democracy Now!” Looking at the paradise on earth replicated from New York to Oakland in these demonstrations supported by the unions, Democrats and the President I only have one question, “Who will vote for that?”
Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College. He is the author of the History of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2011 Robert R. Owens [email protected] Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens