Wisdom From America's Founders-IV

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch."--Benjamin Franklin

The curse of democracy is just this, that the wicked can outvote the righteous and implement what ever godless plan they can concoct.  Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, was a great believer in education (which is why he founded the college).  He believed strongly that a self-governing, democratic society could only exist with an education populace.  It was a noble dream, but one that hasn't panned out as he wished.  If we accept democracy, and among three people, two decide to take the property of the one, there is no recourse for the one except war--which would be antithetical to democracy.  It is in the government's interest, of course, that the people remain ignorant of its true purposes, or better yet, convince the masses that they are "entitled" to the property of others.  And, democratically, if that happens, there is nothing the minority can do but yield up its wealth.  But to the Founders, this wasn't "democracy," it was the "tyranny of the majority."  And it certainly wasn't freedom, for if the majority forces me to give my money in support of causes I would not willingly support, that is not the definition of freedom.

This concern about the wiles of government is ages old.  Frederick Bastiat, the great French economist of the 19th century, wrote, "government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."  George Bernard Shaw noted that "a government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."  The French philosopher Voltaire commented that, "in general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other."  This is a perfect description, of course, of the current American government.  These men would argue that such is the result of democracy and that is why they opposed it.

Our Founders were equally skeptical of democracy as a form of government.  John Adams:  "Democracy, simply democracy, never had a patron among men of letter."  Adams again:  "We may appeal to every page of history...for proofs irrefragable [irrefutable] that the people, when they have been unchecked, have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous, and cruel as any king or senate possessed by an uncontrollable power.  The majority has eternally and without any one exception usurped over the rights of the minority."  And our second President again:  "The proposition that the people are the best keepers of their own liberties is not true.  They are the worst conceivable, they are no keepers at all:  they can neither judge, act, think, or will, as a political body."  And then this absolutely brilliant observation:  "Individuals have conquered themselves; nations and large bodies, never."  And one last quote from Adams:  "Remember, democracy never lasts long.  It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.  There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."
And how would democracy "commit suicide"?  Benjamin Franklin answers that question:  "When the people discover they can vote themselves money from the treasury [i.e., democracy], that will herald the doom of the Republic."  James Madison, the "Father" of our Constitution, said, "Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."  He concluded that laws must be "capable of protecting the rights of property against the spirit of democracy."  People will eventually get tired of being skinned for the sake of those who refuse to labor for themselves.  "The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not," Jefferson said.  Such a system of government soon collapses over loose fiscal policy, for there is only so much wealth to be extracted from the owners of property, and too much of mankind is of a mind to fleece others if it means they can be lazy and not have to support themselves.  As that number grows, they (democratically) vote "for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury" (Alexander Tyler, historian, 200 years ago).  America has followed this path classically over the past 100 years.  And if the country continues on this course, the predictions of doom, made by every intelligent political theorist in history, are sure to come to pass.

So, if our Founders did not establish a democracy, what did they establish?  Well, they called it a "republic," but it's a little more complicated than that, and at some point in this series, when I feel up to it, I will explain the complications.