Democracy or Republic?

The title of this blog is also the title of an essay by Walter E. Williams that was published in the June 2007 edition of magazine The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty.

I am about a third of the way through a book by Walter Williams entitled American Contempt for Liberty. It is a compilation of many of his essays. Each essay is only about a couple of pages long. The book is hard to put down. I find myself underlining something on almost every page.

Separately, while organizing my office today I found about 10 photocopies of the essay referred to in the first paragraph. I just reread the essay and understand why I made copies to give out to people who I thought might be interested. It is a concise essay that explains the difference between a democracy and a republic and how clearly our founding fathers wanted to establish a republic and not a democracy. So, below is a link to the relatively short essay. I expect that you will enjoy reading it.

https://fee.org/articles/democracy-or-republic/

Can’t our federal government spend money on anything that promotes the general welfare of citizens?

Here is what one of our founding fathers, James Madison, said about our Constitution and the ‘general welfare’ clause:

“With respect to the two words ‘general welfare’, I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected to them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”

We have gone far outside the Constitution with respect to both corporate/business welfare and social welfare.

As Walter Williams might say, most Americans and politicians have contempt for our Constitution. They very much have violated its clearly written provisions and think that is best. They think we should have a pure democracy where the majority gets whatever they want. (We have a republic with a constitution that protects the rights of minorities.)

If they really think the Constitution is wrong, the proper way to amend it is by getting three-fourths of the State Legislatures to agree. That may be hard. It is intended to limit the power of the federal government and leave other powers to the states or the people. As it should be.

We don’t “follow the science”, science informs politics.

Science does not tell us what we should do. Science can tell us what the consequences will be if we do or do not do some particular thing. Science informs us and our elected representatives, but science does not dictate what the political policy should be.

Almost every decision involves some kind of trade-off. Often, the trade-off is between safety and liberty. For example, most driving and traffic regulations involve giving up some amount of liberty in return for greater safety.

In the case of Covid-19, the use of vaccines, masks, business closings, etc. is a trade-off between safety and liberty. If you say that a Covid-19 related policy is justified if it saves even one life, then you would have a problem. The vaccine has clearly saved many lives, but some people have died from the vaccine as well. It is not as simple as choosing the one that saves the most lives. Almost everyone who wants to take the vaccine can take it. The majority of adults have already chosen to get the vaccine. The relatively few who are compromised in some way and, therefore, are advised against getting the vaccine can do a lot to protect themselves against those who might be contagious.

As a libertarian, I believe that private business owners, just like homeowners and individuals, should be free to choose whether or not to associate with those who are not vaccinated. Government, on the other hand, should really not be able to discriminate based on vaccine status in most situations because we citizens don’t really have the option to “opt-out” of dealing with the government. There may be some situations or circumstances where a vaccine mandate by the government might be appropriate, but the default position should be liberty, with the burden on the government to show why the mandate outweighs the loss of freedom. Ultimately, the decisions will be made by our elected representatives. And as we all know, there is a wide difference of opinion about vaccine mandates among our elected representatives as well as among we citizens.

1/6/21 Insurrection was not a real attempt to take over the government.

By the definition of the word,  the event that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was an insurrection.  The participants are properly being treated as criminals under federal law.  At the same time, it’s hard to imagine that any participant really thought they would actually overthrow our government.  It appeared to be more like a political demonstration that turned into a riot and ended with a lot of people following a herd mentality and things got out of control.  Nevertheless, it is appropriate to take steps to see that it never happens again and to punish those who were involved.

Our republic is not a pure democracy!

I disagree with the letter to the editor in The Des Moines Register written by Ivan T. Webber that, “The United States Senate is an outdated relic that can no longer be justified in the modern world.”  He noted that none of the upper houses of the other G-7  nations can block ordinary legislation.   (“The US Senate is unacceptably undemocratic” published 11/11/2021)


We elect our representatives democratically, but our founding fathers and our Constitution created a Republic that protects certain fundamental rights of minorities against the will of majorities.  The Senate was specifically designed to protect smaller states from being abused by larger states.  If a minority in the Senate blocks the majority from achieving their goals, it is a feature, not a bug.

  
Important decisions made by our government that affect the lives of everyone should require more than a simple majority vote.  As we’ve seen, when the party in power has passed laws by a slim majority, whether Democrat or Republican, it has created a very divided populace.  We have an increasingly diverse population in the U.S., so our laws should, as much as possible, allow people to pursue happiness in their own way, not forced by government policy, if we want to maintain a civil society.