Faith-based subsidies: Will they save or damn our Republic?

By Steve Farrell
web posted February 5, 2001

During the debate over the electoral college - a system which validated as victor a man who had lost the popular vote, President George W. Bush - for the first time in years the vast majority of Republicans were finally saying what they should been saying all along, "we are a republic, not a democracy, let's keep it that way!"

Conservative Republicans were ecstatic! Republics, they knew, took in a wider sweep of interests than the simple majority will of democracies. And it was high time, they felt, that we as a nation rediscovered what those interests were.

Yet, now that President Bush is secure in his victory - our Founder's republic has, one month later, been forgotten - democracy has been re-instated - and the man most guilty for leading this retreat is the victor himself, President George W. Bush.

Three times, in his inaugural address, Mr. Bush called this country a democracy and it appears he meant it. The proof comes through his planned abandonment of one key element which sets a republic apart from a democracy - the protection of private property - and worse yet, the confession that this abandonment comes without regret, but with the hallelujah fervor of religious mission!

How so? The Bush administration has proposed to pass a federally-filled-24-billion-dollar-money-plate around, emptying it into the deep pockets of any faith-based charity foolish enough to risk its independence to a federal government which "promises" to "aid" their causes indefinitely without eventually interfering in their ministries.

It almost sounds too good to be true. Maybe, because it is. Maybe because "compassionate conservatism" is an oxymoron. Maybe because charity can't be taken by force. Maybe because a-keep-his-word, hands-off, George W. Bush won't always be President. Maybe because we've passed this way before. And maybe because compassionate conservatives are confused about the difference between republics and democracies. A brief refresher course might help them.

If we are a democracy, as their leader claims, and the majority desire compassionate conservatism, then we can go ahead, tax the people, redistribute the money back to their churches, and nothing is lost, because the majority rules, and that's all there is to it. Legitimacy is established. But now wait a minute! Let's step back. If majority rules, then Bush shouldn't be President! Opps! OK then, we're a republic again! Aren't we?

So we had better figure out the difference, hadn't we?

A democracy is strict majority rule, period. What the majority says is law. If you don't like it, tough! A republic is more complicated than that. A republic mixes modes of representation, it mixes a variety of interests, it throws in a multi-tiered legal system which requires local juries of our peers and fidelity to common law, it places definite limits on governmental powers, it separates those powers, it shares those powers, it believes in the rule of law, it makes it extremely difficult to change constitutional laws, and it bows before fixed or higher laws, including, the laws of God, the laws of nature, and the settled lessons of history. These last three laws, in republics, take precedence, even over majority votes, and certainly over opinion polls. These laws protect, for instance, our inalienable rights - rights like life, liberty, and property.

Of this preeminence of higher law, a concept of law which republics reverence, Blackstone wrote:

"Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these. There are, it is true a great number of indifferent points, in which both the divine law and the natural leave a man at his own liberty; but which are found necessary for the benefit of society to be restrained within certain limits. And herein it is that human laws have their greatest force and efficacy; for, with regard to such points as are not indifferent, human laws are only declaratory of, and act in subordination to, the former."

These fixed laws are the stuff of republics.

Compassionate conservatism says we must look to religion for help in meeting our national needs. All right then - religion, if it is to be true to its calling has a set of higher laws it calls divine, and in fact, one of those higher laws which every faith, every reasonable individual, and every government official should agree with, is this:

"Thou shalt not steal."

What's so significant about this commandment? It is that this particular higher law, according to Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, and others, is the one which gives government its legitimacy. That is to say, the whole reason for government, in the first place, is to create a common force to protect our basic rights - property being chief among those rights.

Government, then, relieves individuals of the tedious task of guarding their property, night and day, so that, all of us might be left free to pursue a greater variety of interests.

Does it stand to reason, therefore, that a government formed for the particular purpose of protecting property, in order to set us free, can legitimately defy the order of its creation and plunder the people who gave it life, even if it dares to classify this plunder as compassion?

In a republic, absolutely not! A republic must bow to fixed laws, especially to those that guard private property. It is to the defense of private property, Jefferson wrote, "every provision of our Constitution [should be tried]"

Jefferson, certainly one of the greatest spokesmen this nation ever had in regards to lex majoris partis, preferred to check this democratic principle within the confines of republican government, for this very reason. Thus, he wrote:

"The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property, and in their management."

He therefore, rejected direct democracy because property was paramount and it is this lack of regard for private property that causes democracies to miserably fail. Two centuries ago, noted historian, Alexander Tyler, explained:

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship."

This is precisely what democracies are about! They are, by nature, socialistic. Not too long ago, everyone knew this. The 1928 US Army Training Manual, which every American soldier once read, defined democracy as follows:

"A government of the masses. Authority derived through mass meeting or any form of "direct" expression. Result in mobocracy. Attitude toward property is communistic - negating property rights. Attitude toward the law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether it be based upon deliberation or governed by passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences. Results in demagogism, license, agitation, discontent, anarchy." (Emphasis added)

By contrast, the same 1928 US Army manual declared, as the Founders did, that Republics were far safer, and far superior, and so defined a Republic as follows:

"Authority is derived through the election by the people of public officials best fitted to represent them. Attitude toward property is respect for laws and individual rights, and a sensible economic procedure. Attitude toward law is the administration of justice in accord with fixed principles and established evidence, with a strict regard for consequences. A greater number of citizens and extent of territory may be brought within its compass. Avoids the dangerous extreme of either tyranny or mobocracy. Results in statesmanship, liberty, reason, justice, contentment, and progress." (Emphasis added)

The difference is striking, not slight. Such a difference needs to be emphasized - not passingly to justify electoral college victories - but perpetually to keep our nation on the track of defending private property, and off the slippery slope of socialism.

Compassionate conservatives, therefore, need to decide if we are a democracy or a republic, and then make it stick. If it is that we are a democracy, then compassionate conservatism can lay claim to their holy legitimacy by citing opinion polls. Yet, if they truly believe we are a democracy, then their election victory was illegitimate, wasn't it?

On the other hand, if we are a republic, which is precisely what we are, then compassionate conservatives and all the rest of us, like Jefferson, need to hold up the defense of private property as the standard by which "every provision" of law, past and present, shall be judged.

And if that is the case, then compassionate conservatism should fall by the wayside and give way to true private and compassionate alternatives, alternatives which would phase out federal funding of welfare schemes, refund the people who are forced to pay for these, and then trust these same people to take care of their own needs as they see fit, voluntarily.

Taking "charity" by force does not reverence private property, nor do gifts given after this fashion constitute acts of Christian compassion. How could they? The forced redistribution of the wealth is the very definition of communism, and anti-property, anti-morality communism is the most brutal enemy religion has ever known, and everyone knows it. Add to that, this simple question: Doles tend to enslave individuals, how is it then that doles will not enslave churches, also?

Jefferson and the Founders understood that the defense of private property was the fixed standard by which every provision of our constitution should be tried, that is why he and they chose to reject democracy for another form of government. It's high time the advocates of compassionate conservatism learn what that other form was. This they can discover, if they will, by returning to the word they defended so eagerly during their electoral college victory in December. The word is REPUBLIC!

Freelance columnist Steve Farrell resides in Las Vegas's beautiful neighbor - Henderson, Nevada. Read his latest at

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