We must know who we are to decide what we will be
By Dr. Robert Owens
Forget about the debate the government parties and the geriatric media want us to have, "Are you a Republican or a Democrat?" The debate we need to have concerns what we were meant to be, not who they tell us we should be. Instead we should discuss issues of substance such as, "Are we a Republic or a Democracy?" for this will lead us to the truth. In today's polarized political atmosphere conservatives shout "Republic!" while progressives scream, "Democracy!" In truth, neither term fully describes the boldest experiment to provide individual freedom and release human potential in the history of mankind. There is a third term needed if we are to grasp the qualities which makes us who we are.
The United States was birthed in the fire of revolution against the denial of personal freedom and the expropriation of resources by an authoritarian government. The first attempt to balance the rights of the people, the prerogatives of their local states and the need for a centralized structure to face other nations on the world stage, the Articles of Confederation proved inadequate. Then the Framers crafted a constitution establishing a democratic federal republic. All three terms democratic, federal, and republic are needed to express the unique nature of the American Experiment. Not one of them conveys the strength of the three and therefore cannot stand alone. Together they outline the form of government and the manner in which it shall be chosen, yet even these loaded terms leave unstated the inner essence of the last best hope of humanity. For it is the separation of powers, private property rights and the checks and balances built into the system that has safe guarded liberty and unleashed the potential of the American people.
The fact that instead of a reasoned debate about who we are, where we came from, and how we got here we stand on opposite sides of barricades shouting slogans at each other highlights the need for all of us to educate ourselves in the history of the principles and values upon which our country was founded. The current public educational process is a government mandated system which forces teaching to a test that's forgotten as soon as it's passed. The teaching of American History has been presented as a boring jumble of names and dates for a few semesters in 12 years since before any of us were born. It's time for anyone who wants to understand what's going on in our rapidly evolving political landscape to dig in and educate ourselves. We cannot allow those who want to subvert the home of the brave and the land of the free either to the right or the left to sway us with slogans and catch phrases. We have to know enough to know when we're being conned by ideologues with a hidden agenda.
Ideologues reduce all things to the dimensions of their own thoughts. They oversimplify and overload words with meaning effectively blocking the channels of communication. They turn complex political, social and economic principles into cat-calls, catch-phrases and campaign slogans designed to move masses to emotional responses not individuals to reasoned reactions. It was the ideologue Karl Marx who reduced history to a conflict between capital and labor, charged all problems to the inequalities of capitalism, projected a continually deteriorating situation and then pointed to communism as the only answer.
We must resist the temptation to reduce our American experiment to an ideology. We cannot allow this bait-and-switch tactic to lead us to the mirage of a collectivist utopia. We need to understand this would deny and distort the constitutionally limited government we inherited. Ideologies start with a conception of mankind as made-up of interchangeable parts projects universally comprehensive answers and ends with enforced uniformity in society. In contrast America has facilitated diversity, individualism and a variety of life paths.
So, "Are we a Republic or a Democracy?" First of all, we need to understand these are not equivalent or interchangeable terms. Today both republic and democracy have become loaded with ideological baggage as in the Democratic Peoples Republic, or Social Democracy. To be specific: republic describes a form of government wherein representatives stand in place of others to deliberate, decide and lead. Democracy means from the people. But there is the third term that must be reckoned with if we're to understand America: federal. Federal means a form of government in which a union of states recognizes a central authority while retaining certain residual powers of government. Putting this all together, the United States of America was designed to be a federation of states with a republican form of government chosen through a democratic process.
Those who declare we're a democracy want majority rule while striving to build a majority of people dependent on the government tax, tax, tax, spend, spend, spend, elect, elect, elect. Those who say we're a republic have problems with the direction taken by the representatives whose very existence proclaims this to be a republic. This is where the third word fully impacts the other two. The federal nature of the American experiment declares to all that this is an elected representative government of limited power and separated authority. We are not a centrally-planned unitary government based on mob-rule. If we will learn who we are perhaps then we will see clearly who we will be.
Dr. Robert Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion for Southside Virginia Community College and History for the American Public University System. © 2010 Robert R. Owens email@example.com