America a Republic, Not a Democracy by Edward Nelson Dingley 1922
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IN AN admirable and patriotic address in the United States Senate on "Peace by Compromise," Henry Cabot Lodge said: "We intend to make the world safe for democracy. But what exactly do we mean by democracy?"
This is a question saturating the minds of serious and thoughtful people who care less for politics and more for country. What is meant by the phrase "making the world safe for democracy?"
There is no word in the English language more misused and misunderstood than this much-abused word "democracy." Born in ancient Greece, it has come down through the ages as a shibboleth of the self-seeking and a talisman of the unscrupulous. A synonym of the age-long struggle of humanity toward what we call civilization, it has well-nigh degenerated into a hackneyed word where familiarity breeds contempt, almost.
Solon's democracy in Greece was a failure, ending after thirty years of strife, in a tyranny more pronounced than ever. Solon's theory was admirable but his machinery would not work. However, out of the ruins came one good thing, namely an inspiration to a national spirit embodied in military glory. Thermopylae and Salamis will stand forth always as glorious achievements of democracy.
Pericles, a child of democracy, was a wise autocrat and shrewd statesmen. He carefully concealed the weakness of democracy under the cloak of his own unselfishness. Deposed, he was a victim of his own democracy. The age of Pericles was renowned not because of democracy, but because of the character of Pericles. At his death, political and social disease wrought havoc. Democracy was condemned; Solon and Pericles denounced. Socrates was the product of democracy, yet he was the victim of his own philosophy of government. In short, all the experiments in various degrees of democracy were tried at some time in ancient Greece; and the Hellenic Empire fell a victim to Rome.
At the height of its glory, when the legions of the Caesars stretched from Jerusalem to Britain, the Roman people never enjoyed the "blessings of democracy." Viewing the ruins of Hellas, the Romans did not believe in democracy. Unbridled democracy derives no comfort either from Athens or from Rome. Nor did the Reformation, a Parliamentary government or a Republic in the western hemisphere, have their origin in democracy. Personal liberty from tyranny in all forms was the moving cause.
When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia, three facts loomed high and clear: First, a democracy was never thought of or suggested; Second, a representative Republic was essential; Third, a strong and powerful central government was necessary. Throughout the debates, there was no suggestion of a democracy. The thread of a Republic ran through the warp and woof of the entire instrument. The word "democracy" does not appear in the Federal Constitution. The first article and fourth section of that document recites: "The United States shall guarantee to every state a republican form of government."
Therefore from the days of Athens in all her glory to the hour when the Federal Constitution was framed, more than twenty centuries, democracy never prevailed successfully. Political and civil liberty advanced tremendously, but always through the instrumentality of representative government, and the extension of the right of suffrage. The English Reform Bill of Rights gave universal suffrage, but it did not make England a democracy. Popular sovereignty and universal suffrage in America does not make America a democracy. The checks and balances, the entire electoral system, run counter to a democracy. The steadily widening functions of the Federal government indicate a purpose to check the evils of too much democracy. The United States is, and always was, a Republic, not a democracy.
The French Revolution and immigration to the United States marked the beginning of the modern idea of democracy in America. Jefferson's party was called the "democratic party" in derision, for alleged sympathy with the French revolutionists. From that day to the present, America has been the scene of political and social controversies between factions, the one clinging to the form of representative government, the other seeking political power under the cloak of democracy. The great issue evolved into a struggle between national rights and state rights. This clash continued until the close of the Civil War, which should have settled the question finally whether America is a Republic or a democracy; but it did not.
In recent years the word democracy has taken on an entirely new and manifestly exaggerated meaning. In popular parlance, it has suddenly become the key to humanity's progress and the only hope of the world. The magic word "democracy" is brought forth on the lips of master magicians, and employed to fire the imagination of the unthinking. The cap-stone of this gorgeous structure is the phrase, "To make the world safe for democracy." It set in motion political, social and economic forces that, if unchecked, may lead to serious difficulties, if not disaster.
What is meant by "democracy" in the popular interpretation and in the public mind? Why is the word "democracy" so frequently and so loudly proclaimed to the populace? There is only one explanation — politics.
All the forces of disruption, all the isms and experiments long since tried and exploded, all the nostrums suggested by political quacks, have been trotted out under the shelter of "new democracy" and "new freedom." Is it not time for the Nation to stop, look and listen? Has not the hour for sober reflection arrived? Powerful forces are at work to bring about wbat is called "political, social and industrial democracy." If by political democracy is meant universal suffrage and participation in public affairs, we have it already, but in the form of a Republic, with representative machinery. If by social democracy is meant social equality, we should dismiss the thought, for such a thing is impossible in any nation or organized society. No frame-work of government, no law or fiat, can force equality of brains, culture, manners or blood. If by industrial democracy is meant the ownership in common of all the industries of society, and equality in the rewards of toil, it has been tried and failed.
Powerful forces backed by numbers have been set in motion by the careless and too-frequent use of the word "democracy." They may overwhelm the Republic if sober instruction and education are not undertaken at once. These forces are all linked together in a wild endeavor to bring about the millenium. We had a "social democracy" when the Federal government operated the railroads, the telegraphs, the telephones, the express companies, shipbuilding and many other private undertakings. All proved expensive failures, and the people are staggering under a mountain of debt and taxation due to these experiments in "social democracy."
A part of the program of "modern democracy" is a proposal to enter some sort of a society or association of nations "to maintain peace." It is said that the United States has outgrown its nationality, and that its destiny is in a new democracy of the world. Is this the democracy we desire? Must we surrender our national spirit and lay it on the altar of "new freedom" or "modern democracy?" Have the struggles and sacrifices of our forefathers been in vain? Is the destiny of the United States to be determined by a society of nations?
This Republic of ours is passing through a critical period, but it is still a Republic, not a democracy. It must remain a Republic if it is to survive. Yet a Republic can and will do justice to its citizens, reward all for services rendered, and correct evils as rapidly as possible. No society of men and women, no human government, is or can be perfect; but it is folly to burn the whole structure in order to mend a leak in the roof.
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