History Bite

Are you sure you want Democracy?

Are you sure you want Democracy?

The Iranian people are rising up in protest against the current authoritarian regime which they view to be transforming their nation into an ideological, un-Iranian crusade.  The people are calling for a national referendum to establish a secular democracy which they believe will protect liberty, justice and opportunity.  This essay will avoid addressing the qualifier of “secular” but will rather focus on democracy as a form of government. 

The term “democracy” is of Greek origin and literally means “government by the people.”  Just to be clear, America’s original form of government is of a democratic nature in that it requires engagement by the people in order to properly function but the structure itself is a republic.  The word republic finds its origins in Latin and means “the public affairs.”  Our republic channels input from the people to a representative who joins other representatives in a governing structure of checks and balances found in (what was initially) three branches of government and all of this structure is (supposed to be) rigidly bound by law to a constitution.  A democracy puts the desires of people directly at the forefront of government so as to constantly shift both the law and the governing body with the popular sentiment of the moment.  It does not bind the people to fixed, constant law.  Furthermore, it never protects the minority as its very nature is majority rule.  Upon rudimentary reflection, the ferocity of pure democracy is understood.  An incident occurs, the people become aware, outraged and without deliberation, without consideration for legal precedent, without educated, informed analysis, they may simply demand of their government to do a thing, to implement a change, whatever it is, whatever the consequence as long as the solution is supported by 51% of the population.  This is a rather important distinction between a republic and a democracy;  as per British statesman James Harrington who defined “a republic to be- a government of laws not of men.”  A republic actually seeks to make laws as permanent and unchanging as possible by requiring change through laborious and deliberate processes.   This is to avoid spontaneous, ill-understood, emotional alterations to the manner in which we govern ourselves. 

Furthermore, democracy does not protect the minority.  The procedure of the Electoral College is a perfect example.  Without a system which provides an equal voice to both small and large states, the large states would always elect the American president simply because they carry the majority of votes.   Consider the whimsical yet sober quip of Benjamin Franklin:

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch”

To conclude, it is noteworthy to remember the word democracy is found nowhere in our Declaration of Independence.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands…..”

Our Founders did not intend to establish a democracy. 

James Madison wrote:

“….democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property and have in general been as short in the lives as they have been violent in their deaths”

Samuel Adams warned:

“Remember, Democracy never lasts long.  It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself!  There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

Alexander Hamilton declares:

“Real liberty is never found in despotism or the extremes of democracy.”

As humanity continues its eternal search for the best form of governance, the people should be educated, thoughtful, informed and vigilant.  The Iranian people deserve only the best, but, they should be thoughtful regarding the type of government they seek.