Example of Democracy’s Failure
[the following excerpt addresses the fallout over recent ‘democratic’ events including the Covington Catholic High School MAGA hats DC incident and the Justice Kavanaugh Senate hearings. Mr. Stepman highlights the foibles of a democratic society and why America is not a democracy but a republic. For the full article, click here.]
By Jarrett Stepman January 24, 2019
The Dangerous Whims of Democracy
If anything, we need to learn a valuable lesson from this incident.
We should today heed the wisdom of John Adams, who wrote to his friend John Taylor about the excesses of democracy.
This lesson is especially important now as it’s clear that many—especially on the left—have deep and unrelenting contempt for their fellow citizens who disagree with them. He explained that while democracy is no worse than “monarchy or aristocracy,” it is often bloodier than either and “wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.”
Pure democracies devour themselves, Adams wrote, as citizens turn against citizens. “It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy.”
Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.
The failures of democracy are the result of the fallen nature of man—a condition that cannot be cured and cannot be changed.
This is why the framers of the Constitution formed our federal republic with a complex web of checks on power.
Democracy had its place—most specifically in the frequent elections of the House of Representatives—but it was removed from decisions dealing with fundamental rights, such as free speech and the right to bear arms enshrined in the First and Second Amendments.
This is the balance the Founders sought to preserve our freedom, and in many cases, save us from ourselves.
The framers designed our system to slow down decision-making—especially at the highest, federal level—to frustrate the ambition of the leaders who represent us, to throw water on the temporary, to excite passions of the people, which may lead the country to folly or tyranny.
These concepts may be lost on progressives and those on the left who believe in the evolution or perfectibility of man (which seems untenable given that they see a potential fascist in everyone who disagrees with them).
But the Founders likely wouldn’t have been surprised by the noxious media frenzy that set out to destroy a few high school students in the name of social justice.
The Founders well understood the threat of fake news. They wisely assessed that despite the threat, the government could not be a trusted arbiter of what is real and fake—so they created the First Amendment.
Then, knowing that this judgment of truth and falsehood could be left only to the people in a free society, they put guardrails on the people themselves so that they could not use this power to tyrannize their fellow citizens on a whim.
This is the genius of America. This is why we have the world’s oldest republic.
The Founders may not have known us, but they knew history, and they themselves. They knew that unrestrained democracy would lead to a destruction of all freedom, the annihilation of God-given individual rights that governments of all types had trampled throughout human history.
In an age in which contempt for fellow citizens is reaching pathological levels, we can be thankful that these institutions exist to protect us.
Yet given the retreat of constitutional government over the past century, we have less cause for certainty that they will continue to save us from ourselves.
Jarrett Stepman is an editor for The Daily Signal