Less democracy, not more

By Lewis J. Goldberg
web posted November 22, 1999

Democracy is the rope we will hang ourselves with.

Before you brand me a fascist, hear me out. Despite what liberals will say about democracy, this nation was not founded to be one, and the states are not 'laboratories of democracy.' This nation was founded as a republic, with a democratic process for choosing representation. In a republic, the best and brightest individuals are selected to represent the masses. The thought was that calm, deliberative minds would make the best decisions for their countrymen at home. Indeed, the Founding Fathers had little concept of the populace getting involved in the process, apart from an occasional election.

The Founders understood the danger of letting the public, with all its passions, dictate the course of legislation. This is why we do not vote on issues, only representation. At the state level, we do have issue voting, but that is a state prerogative. To the states that do vote public referendums, it is a comment as to the effectiveness of their legislatures to best represent the will of the people, and nothing short of a recall on the legislators who precipitated the situation being voted on.

The Founders also had a particular dislike for political parties and for clubs and associations being involved in politics. They viewed the popular "Democratic-Republican" clubs as being a danger to civil order. In fact, preservation of civil order was a high priority for the Founders. Laws against seditious libel were enacted not to protect the victim, but to preserve order.

As cheap, mass produce newspapers proliferated, more and more groups formed to express opinions on how business should be conducted in the Capitol. Our 'cool, deliberative' government slumped into a populist quagmire in the 1820's, and elections became circuses of activism, complete with parades, lots of graft, and lots of booze. In fact, they were something of a grand debauch. They were exactly what Washington and Jefferson didn't want.

In the late nineteenth century, civil service reforms killed the political activism that surrounded elections (no more jobs for the party faithful.) One might say that from 1890 to the depression, politics were more to the design of the Founders than during the previous half-century. However, in 1913, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, putting the election of Senators in the hands of the people. Previously, Senators were elected by the state legislatures to be the representative of each state government. This was the original design of the Founders, and was intended to provide balance to the federal power structure.

The depression helped create the concept of DC-as-feeding-trough, and gave Senators more power. Hot-headed legislation coming from the House was no longer cooled by the august and deliberative Senate, but rather heated to higher temperatures, reflective of passions in the populace.

One may wonder why it seems that the more people get involved in the process, the more we lose our freedom. With the proliferation of computers on the Internet (and sagely columns such as this) it seems that freedom should be at full-bloom. The problem is that we have a government that is perfectly willing to toss out the Founders wisdom on 'cool deliberation,' substituting the proverbial wet finger in the air.

'Mob rule' is a term that has a bad connotation because it usually reflects irrational desires. These desires are comprised primarily of fear, and it is fear that usually causes us to divert from a course of prudence. Politicians' increasing dependence on polls and surveys is not 'good for democracy,' it is a turn for the worst. Why bother with a congress at all if polls are of such importance?

The way information is becoming more rather than less available does not bode well for our representative system of government. Could there be a day when voters decide on daily referendums? I advocate Internet voting in general, but fear for the consequences of letting the camel's nose under the tent.

I long for the days of living in freedom to pursue that elusive goal of happiness, not worrying about how my elected representatives were voting that day. It was a day when common sense was widely available and the goings-on in Washington were truly boring. We seem to like excitement in our lives, but we must be careful what we wish for.

This is Lewis J. Goldberg's first piece for Enter Stage Right.




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