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America Is Not A Democracy, Stop Pretending It Is

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For all those condemning Citizens United vs. FEC as an end to democracy in America, let's go over a few things. Firstly, America is not a democracy. It is not, never was, nor ever was intended to be a democracy. And for very good reason. Democracy--dēmocratía ("power/rule by the people")--is a horrible system of government. It is maintained by violence, mob rule, and a pernicious envy--an envy that arises when one of its citizens rises too far above the others, an envy that drives that democracy to rip them down. The rights of the individual are always supplanted by "the will of the people". Consider the go-to historical example: Athens. It was not a mythical utopia of philosophers and scientists based on the rule of reason; rather, Athenian democracy was governed by terror, violence, and corruption. It made tyranny its modus operandi. The lives and happiness of its citizens were held hostage to the collected will of their neighbours. It forced the allied cities of the Delian League into political and economic submission and then massacred those cities that wished to withdraw. And in a wild frenzy, abandoned reason and law and summarily executed its ten leading generals--its only hope of victory against Sparta. Finally, in 404 BC, after a mere century, Athenian democracy imploded and eked out a meagre existence for the remainder of the millennium. Its legacy? Consider Socrates' pupil and intellectual heir. In Plato's Republic, his ideal state is ruled not by popular assembly or elected council, but by a king--democracy's antithesis. So ended the "great" experiment in democracy.

I write this not as a defence of dictatorship, oligarchy, or any other such form of government, but merely to illustrate that democracy is as capable of tyranny as they, perhaps capable of greater tyranny as dictatorship is the tyranny of one over many and democracy the tyranny of many over all.

Washington, Hamilton et al. knew this and feared it, and they lived to see those fears once again fulfilled in the blood, violence, and terror of the French Revolution. They were familiar with the excesses of democracy, and though they sought democracy's virtues, they created a political system specifically designed to shackle its vices. They held Rome as a model, not Athens. They created a republic. A republic, if I may borrow Cicero's definition, is a synthesis of three forms of government--dictatorship/monarchy, oligarchy/aristocracy, and democracy. They combined the virtues of each of these separate political systems, while mitigating their weaknesses (i.e. "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts"). Democracy, in particular, emerged most strongly in the legislative branch, in Congress. Knowing this, the founding fathers created that intricate system of checks and balances to control it. Democratic forces were to be balanced with those dictatorial and oligarchical, and Congress was to be checked by both the Presidency and Supreme Court. Democracy was everywhere hedged in and controlled. And rightly so. Washington, Hamilton et al. feared lest they create another Athens or presage the bloodbath of the French Revolution.

Enter 2010. Democracy will not repair our teetering political system. In addition to being extremely dangerous, more democracy will only exacerbate its problems. The misconception that America is a democracy has blinded us to the imbalance in our republic, has led us to believe that Congress has and ought to have the greater authority. And so, we have just stood by and watched and sometimes even praised Congress' steady accumulation of power. To what end? Special interests, run-away spending, pork, bribery, double-dealing... The list goes on. Yet these do not dominate the offices of the White House or the Supreme Court, but rather the halls of the Capitol. And tyranny? That is precisely what Citizens United vs. FEC addressed. Where does Congress get the notion that it can tell publishing houses what books they can publish, television studios what films they can produce, and American citizens what books they can read? It is one of those frightening "will of the people" justifications. And Athens and France have revealed the frightening road down which those have led.

It is time we put an end to this misconception about democracy. America is a republic. There is one office that can roll back Congressional overreach and curb democratic excess. And that office is the President's. It is time that he stepped up and embraced the authority of that office. He ought not to emulate the example of Athenian Democracy, but rather that of European enlightened absolutists, of Maria Theresa, Leopold II, and Frederick the Great. It is time to reform the process of government. Democracy will not achieve that, but some executive authority just might.

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