Random Thoughts

Some of the domestic troubles facing the United States today can be attributed to the failure, or at least the weakening, of the republic, and its replacement with democracy.

In a republic, which is a kind of filtered, buffered democracy, individuals elect various representatives to pursue their interests, while coming up with solutions to the issues of the day that try to accomodate whatever is compatible with as wide a range of opinion as possible. This means forging high quality compromises between competing interests and philosophies.

In a democracy, at its bluntest, the majority rules with an iron fist over the minority, directly and immediately.

Direct democracy works well in in a small group, where everyone can not only vote but voice their concerns and press their cause in front of every other person who will vote. As long as it is practical for all or most of the individuals concerned to attend discussions and voting sessions, it is a wonderful way for people to resolve issues that arise due to their social, political, and business affairs.

When the group that must resolve these issues is larger, this becomes impossible, and the goal is to, via the representatives, forge a consensus from what we hope will be a high quality presentation of all these differing perspectives.

A republic's structure and rules, or what we usually call its constitution, are what can make it superior to a simple democracy. Certain processes are delineated that slow down the effects of the furor of the day, the mob's sentiment, on the government and laws. There will be some fundamental rules that are very hard to change, that no law can violate. There will be descriptions of how to "fix" the process when it gets broken, for example, when people abuse their offices, or if there is an insurmountable impasse on some issue. It will also usually define what sorts of majorities are required to accomplish various categories of legislation.

This injects, at the simplest, respect and protection for minorities, whose rights or concerns could simply be trampled by a temporary majority if the process were not mediated by a series of rules and requirements.

In America we have such a consitutional, republican form of democracy, that has held up fairly well over the centuries. However, these days it seems like there is a greater tendency to resort to plebiscite (voter initiatives, etc.) to ram through ideas that might not survive the slower, more deliberative process. This is upheld by those behind the individual issues as "letting the voters decide," which may sound fine and dandy as rhetoric, but is noisily and messily at odds with the advantages of a well formed republic.

I think this is a troubling trend.


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© Huw Powell

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