Today, we celebrate the 224th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution (September 17 falls out over the weekend this year). On this day, it is imperative that we reflect on the importance of our constitution and celebrate the roots of our founding. As our nation comes under attack from the forces of tyranny within, we must reaffirm our commitment to the ideals of our founders and founding documents.
Most people often mistakenly refer to our nation as the greatest democracy on earth. They are mistaken because we are not an absolute democracy; we are a constitutional republic. That is what makes our nation great, for if we were merely a democracy, we would be anything but great. And to the extent that we no longer function as a constitutional republic, that greatness is rapidly ebbing away.
Why did we need a constitution? Why are popular elections not a sufficient means of preserving liberty?
A pure unbridled democracy is a political system in which the majority enjoys absolute power by means of democratic elections. In an unvarnished democracy, unrestrained by a constitution, the majority can vote to impose tyranny on themselves and the minority opposition. They can vote to elect those who will infringe upon our inalienable God-given rights. Thomas Jefferson referred to this as elected despotism in Notes on the State of Virginia (also cited in Federalist 48 by Madison):
An ELECTIVE DESPOTISM was not the government we fought for; but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.
Thus, a constitution that limited and divided the power of government was necessary to preclude elected officials from imposing tyranny on the people. This is why they adopted a constitution with limited enumerated power, divided and checked across several branches and levels.
Sadly, we are currently living through the paramount form of elected despotism that our founders so presciently sought to forestall. At some point during the progressive era of the early 1900’s, elected officials began to deviate from the constitution in a dramatic fashion. At present, we find all of our founding principles under assault. Many prominent political leaders in both parties seek to destroy our free markets, infringe upon our personal liberties, and abrogate our social values. Unfortunately, they have accrued a high level of success. Moreover, they have prosecuted this revolution without firing a shot. Instead, they have used the soft edge of the sword of elected despotism.
How have the elected officials been so successful in radically voiding our constitutional republic? The answer is simple. They have cynically manipulated their electoral mandate to create enough dependency for them to enjoy perennial power through democratically held elections.
We have reached the point at which almost every American is involuntarily subservient to the federal government for his or her retirement security and healthcare. Over 45 million people, and one in four children, rely upon government for food stamps. By 2014, under the new Obamacare mandates, an estimated 79 million Americans will be enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. This circuitous cycle of dependency, perennial electoral power, and breach of constitutional restraints has transformed our nation from a constitutional republic to a majority-rule democracy.
This is the same majority-rule democracy that is being foisted upon the Middle East in the Arab Spring. Democratic elections were held in Gaza and Lebanon, and they elected tyranny. They will be held in Egypt, and they will undoubtedly do the same. In the Middle East, elected despotism will manifest itself in Islamic tyranny, while in America, it has fostered redistributive socialism. The fact that Arab nations are deposing of their dictators is meaningless. As Jefferson observed in Notes on the State of Virginia, “it will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. 173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one.”
This form of tyranny can only succeed beyond the confines of a constitution that is preserved with vigilance – a constitution that limits the power of government and preserves our rights as granted by God. As founder John Witherspoon noted, “pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state – it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.”
Unfortunately, even many political leaders who purport to abide by the constitution are misinterpreting the Tenth Amendment to promote tyranny on a state-level, if not on a national level. In many respects, the hard core blue states exercise even more officious nanny-state power than the federal government. Dependency is so rampant among a broad section of some of these states that nobody but those who purvey socialism can assume power. These states exemplify the worst fears of elected despotism that Jefferson decried in his writings. In fact, he was specifically addressing unbridled power at a state-level in his book.
Happy Constitution Day!