Thursday, May 22, 2008

We're not a Democracy

I was listening to one of my favorite shows this morning (The Armstrong and Getty show, podcast here), and one of the hosts talked a bit about who will probably follow Ted Kennedy into the senate seat that will eventually be vacant. It will likely be filled by another Kennedy. Jack, the host in question, said we shouldn't have dynasties or royalty in a democracy. I had to write in, because the U.S. isn't a democracy. For those who care, here's the e-mail that gives the difference between a republic and a democracy and a very brief history of how we came to use the term democracy for our system.

Hi, guys. This morning Jack mentioned we shouldn't have dynasties or royalty in a democracy. Actually, democracies did have those. I know "democracy" is the common word these days for our political system, but it still bugs me and if you have some time to spare in the dour hour (yes, for me those two words rhyme), can we talk just a bit of political science? Jack, grab a copy of the Federalist Papers, since you're a fan of great literature.

Democracies, like the ancient Greek city states, had all qualified citizens voting on every issue. They were great for political states with a small land area, and there was royalty among the Greeks. The founders realized that wouldn't work for us, and they designed a constitutional republic. Since we were busy doing regular people work, we decided to elect citizen representatives to take care of the day to day politics for us. They weren't supposed to be professional politicians as we have today. When we vote for representatives rather than on every matter that arises, that's a republic, not a democracy. The closest any founder came to calling this a democracy was Thomas Jefferson, who called it a "democratic republic."

No, I'm not a Republican, that's not my motivation here. Democracy came to be used in the early 1900s when "Socialist" fell out of style because socialists were slaughtering their peasants in bloody revolutions and societal "cleansings." Former socialists began rallying for what they called "Industrial Democracy" and the term democracy took hold as the term for our political system. People forgot that early proponents of that term meant the government would own and operate all industry in the nation, and the word as defined by that group lost its negative connotations.

So, I know I might as well be spitting at an incoming tide, but I refuse to call our system a democracy. It just isn't.

No comments: