A Democracy is a system of government in which power is held by all citizens. Because pure democracies are extremely inefficient, democratic power is often delegated to elected representatives, a structure know as a republic. Governments in which the citizens have no power are considered authoritarian or totalitarian.
Democratic – a form of government that allows everyone to be treated equally and to be involved in making decisions. A Democracy is a government, in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected representatives and appointees.
Authoritarian – forms of government characterized by a strong central power unrestrained by laws. Political scientists described many variations of authoritarian governments most ruled by a single dictator or group of rulers. One example is Iran, a theocracy ruled by a council of religious leaders.
History of Democratic Forms of Government
The first democracy in known history is attributed to ancient Athens; and the term itself is derived from the Greek “demos” (common people) and “kratos” (strength). To the Greeks, the term democracy meant “rule by the people”. This concept first appeared in 508 B.C. In the latter part of the fifth century, the Athenian statesman Pericles (495-429 bce) was largely responsible for the full development of Athenian democracy and the Athenian empire, making Athens the political and cultural center of Greece. His reign has been dubbed the Age of Pericles.
In 1775, the people of the American colonies rose up against Britain. This led to the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the War of Independence. In 1776 the colonists sent the King of England their Declaration of Independence. Between the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, our founders had constructive debates, as presented in the Federalist Papers, about the options for an effective government. This great experiment included government of, for and by the people in a republic with checks and balances to ensure minority rights. The U.S. Constitution was based on the individualist principles of personal freedom and autonomy, balanced by a strong justice system that prescribes equal treatment under the law. It provided Americans with the foundation for a democratic form of government.
The Spectrum of Government
The diagram below illustrates the spectrum of types of government from Collectivism on the left to Individualism on the right. Collectivist forms of government place higher priority on the community over the individual and in the extreme become authoritarian. Individualist forms place higher priority on individuals over the community and in the extreme result in anarchy.
With rare exceptions throughout history, authoritarian forms of government have been the norm. Some have had benevolent monarchs, but most showed little concern for the will, or welfare of the people.
There are major advantages to democratic societies. Democracies naturally evolve into capitalistic free market economies, which are innovative and efficient. They invent and produce more products and services, generate more wealth than authoritarian forms of government, and increase the average standard of living for all citizens.
There are significant challenges to forming and maintaining democratic governments. The first is understanding and accommodating the will of the people. This is extremely difficult in larger societies such as America. The second is preventing a slow but steady drift toward an authoritarian form of government. This often occurs when dissatisfied members feel they would be better off under a more controlling government. It also occurs when leaders weaken checks on their power.
A Major Shift in Direction – Illusional Democracy
In the late 1940s, after the conclusion of World War II, the United Nations was formed and there was a major movement to solve the inequality gap between the richest and poorest countries. This was a monumental task that required an unbelievable amount of authority and a new world order. It also resulted in a new political ideology which placed more emphasis on equality than freedom. As emphasis shifted from liberty to equality, the original principles of the constitution were compromised.
While the U.S. Constitution provided American colonists with the foundation for a democratic form of government, our laws, consciousness, and culture needed two centuries to reflect our founding ideal: “All men are created equal”. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Legislation in the 1960s that America truly began living up to the full letter and intent of the U.S. Constitution. At the same time America began living up to the “Equality” principle of the U.S. Constitution, we also began overreaching and drifting in the opposite direction, away from the letter and intent of the Constitution. The Civil Rights Legislation resulted in a significant growth in government focus, institutions, and programs including affirmative action and diversity programs. As America grew in size and complexity however, power and control shifted from the people to an enormous bureaucratic government. In actuality, America is now a hybrid between a democracy and a bureaucracy.
If we accept the definition of democracy as a system of government where power resides with the people, we would have to conclude that America is drifting away from democracy. In a true democracy, the people have the ultimate authority and government derives its legitimacy from the people. Abraham Lincoln said “Government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” But Lincoln could not foresee an American government obsessed with equality, while setting aside liberty, unconcerned with the will of the people. In addition to its size, many factors that have diminished the authority of the people.
The first of these factors is the opposition between democracy and populism. Populism is an egalitarian political philosophy or movement that promotes the interests of the common people. Unfortunately, Americans believe that whatever the perceived consensus opinion is, it can and should be done. This is a dangerous and flawed interpretation. The U.S. Constitution documents America’s core values and principles, which if we stay true to them, ensures we will remain a democracy.
Today, the only means the American people have to exercise their authority is the ballot box. Over time however, America’s leaders have found ways to steer popular will away from policies that ensure the health of the country and toward policies that increase their authority.
Below are areas where the interests of the people are being weakened or threatened, and all Americans should be concerned.
Voting Integrity – The only direct way the citizens can exert their influence is through their votes. Free and fair elections must be protected at all costs. There are many ways current elections are being corrupted including: fraudulent ballots, money in politics, manipulated machines, intimidation, and non-citizens voting. Each manipulated or fraudulent vote offsets a valid vote. Voting is a privilege reserved for citizens.
Debt and Deficit – American politicians are squandering America’s wealth for their own benefit in ways that harm the health and prosperity of America. Much of this spending goes to special interest groups and causes that help politicians remain in control. Much of it encourages fraudulent voting that thwarts the will of the people.
Illegal Immigration – While legal immigration is compassionate and welcome, open borders bring crime, drugs, diseases, and dependence. The main motivation for mass illegal immigration is that it provides a source of easily influenced voters.
Freedom of Speech – One of the greatest threats to the liberty of the people is the suppression of free speech. Free and open debate was the cornerstone of the first democracy in Greece and is critical for America’s democracy. An informed citizenry is one of the biggest threats to authoritarian government. Communist countries control the media and prosecute people who speak out against the party line. In America today, the media is affiliated with the progressive faction, is biased, and is intimidating people with conservative opinions.
Unjust Justice System – Fair and equal justice is the cornerstone of America’s democracy and is ingrained in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. In authoritarian governments, the justice system becomes a tool of corrupt leaders. America’s system has evolved into a two-tier justice system, one for politicians and those who are well-connected, and one for the common people. This must be corrected.
Limited Government – The U.S. Constitution limits the federal government and places certain powers with the states and the people. Progressive ideology strives for greater equality and promotes uniformity of thought and political correctness. Today, our American government is trying to regulate the most intimate aspects of American culture. We must demand our freedom and autonomy and resist big government.
The Regulatory State
The Constitution (Article I, Section 1) vested “all legislative Powers” in the Congress. In Article II, Section 3, it directed that the President, as head of the Executive branch, “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” This separation of powers ensured that laws were made by democratically and directly elected representatives of the People, rather than by executive fiat.
Over the course of the twentieth century, the expansion of the Federal government, i.e., the Executive branch, and the increasing complexity of its activities resulted in a corruption of the Constitution’s intent in that the “faithful execution of the Laws” was not based on what Congress enacted, but rather on how such Laws were interpreted and administered by unelected bureaucrats appointed by the President. This violation of the separation of powers has accelerated over time, which has severely compromised the democratic process. Rather than rule by the People through their elected representatives, we have unintended extensions of the legislative process, with the power of the law in the hands of bureaucrats not accountable to the People, except very indirectly by way of Congressional oversight. In many cases, the intent of the laws passed by Congress has been subverted.
The diagram below illustrates the shift America has undergone since its founding. It presents a spectrum, with Collectivism on the left and Individualism on the right. America was founded on individualist principles, based on the moral worth of the individual, balanced by a justice system that provides collective safety and security. Individualism prioritizes liberty over equality while Collectivism does the opposite. Communism and Socialism emphasize collectivism and are more authoritarian.
The red, white and blue anchor in the lower right represents the U.S. Constitution at the time of America’s founding, rooted in individualistic principles. America is represented by the USS America and is positioned as a center left country. As such, in many ways, America has broken away from being anchored by the Constitution. Forces of Marxism and Progressivism are blowing America toward the Left, while the forces of Classic Liberalism and Conservativism are fighting to resist this slow but steady transition.
Great countries come and go; America is no exception. Consider the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. After becoming the greatest country in the world, the citizens and politicians of Rome became complacent and took their wealth and prosperity for granted.
The checks and balances built into the U.S. Constitution, if maintained, safeguard American democracy. But these safeguards have been weakened. Americans must not become complacent nor accept the tactics of corrupt politicians and America’s enemies. Politicians promote what seems like compassionate policies with admirable intentions, but for the most part pernicious results. The American people remain loyal to America’s core values and principles contained in the U.S. Constitution. To do otherwise risks losing the fruits of our democracy.
Learning Circle Discussion
Problem Statement – As America grows in size and complexity, an enormous bureaucratic government is increasing its power and control. America is now a hybrid between a democracy and an authoritarian bureaucracy. When freedom and autonomy are lost, history shows they are difficult to regain without a revolution. Is this a positive trend or should we act to reverse it?
Questions to Consider
- Is America’s democracy beneficial and worth saving?
- What are the main characteristics that make a government a democracy?
- Is America’s democratic form of government under threat?
- What are biggest threats to our democracy?
- Should we consider other options, such as Democratic Socialism or Social Democracy?
- What are the benefits of democratic socialism?
- In what ways do America’s politicians fail to follow the will of the people?
- To what extent should government be involved is the intimate aspects of our lives?
Checks and Balances refers to elements of our Constitutional government that are intended to distribute and inhibit or restrain political power. The concerns which these mechanisms were intended to address are embodied in an aphorism contained in the Federalist Papers (51, attributed to James Madison):