Essay on Democracy in America

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A blupete Essay Index Button

By Peter Landry. 1

  • Introduction:
  • 1 – Grecian Democracy:
  • 2 – The Enlightenment:
  • 3 – Representative Government:
  • 4 – The Dilemma:
  • 5 – Democracy In Action.
  • 6 – Democracy, Gov’t., & Freedom:
  • 7 – The Press and Democracy:
  • 8 – The People:
  • 9 – Virtual Representation:
  • Conclusions:
  • Notes:

  • [TOC]
    Democracy is a tender topic for a
    writer: like motherhood and apple pie it is not to be criticized. One will
    risk being roundly condemned if he, or she, points out the serious bottleneck
    that is presented when a community attempts, through the democratic process,
    to set plans for positive social action. A man is not permitted to hesitate
    about its merits, without the suspicion of being a friend to tyranny, that
    is, of being a foe to mankind? 2

    The notions of government
    and of democracy are independent notions and do not, from what I can see,
    depend on one another. What is likely required for the masses of people,
    as we see in “modern” world societies, is an established system of government.
    Where there is a need for an established system of government, it will likely
    naturally come about; and do so, whether, or not, it has the consent of the
    people, — real or imagined. Putting aside, for the moment, the arguments
    of Hobbes and Locke ,
    I believe, on the basis of plain historical fact, that governments come about
    naturally and maintain themselves naturally without the general will of the
    people; indeed, I believe, with many others I suspect, that our long established
    democratic governments in the world (the United States and Canada being among
    them) did not come about by the general will of the people, at all; nor is
    it necessary that it should it be maintained by the will of the people. 3
    One should not conclude, therefore, that democracy is necessary for good
    government: It may not be. What is necessary for optimum prosperity is a
    state of acquiescence, which, as it happens, is the hallmark of western democracies.
    It may be, that the only thing needed is but the trappings of democracy.

    An individual or group of individuals may take and maintain power by the use of coercive force. From history
    we can see that this is the usual way by which power is gained, and maintained.
    However, it has long been understood that people might come together and
    explicitly agree to put someone in power. The best of the thinkers saw a
    process, — call it democracy — by which groups might bloodlessly choose
    a leader. That each of the governed should have a say, or least an opportunity
    to have a say, is a high flying ideal; but any system by which the peace
    is kept is an admirable system and democracy, such as it has evolved, has
    proven, in many cases, to be just such a system.

    A precise definition of democracy might be had by consulting
    the OED. Democracy is government by the people; a form of government in
    which the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised
    either directly by them (as in the small republics of antiquity) or by officers
    elected by them. In modern use it vaguely denotes a social state in which
    all have equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank
    or privilege. Walter Bagehot
    gave it a more uncelestial definition: “Each man is to have one twelve-millionth
    share in electing a Parliament; the rich and the wise are not to have, by
    explicit law, more votes than the poor and stupid; nor are any latent contrivances
    to give them an influence equivalent to more votes.” 4

    It is from the suffix, “-ocracy” by which we might determine the operative
    meaning of the larger word, “democracy”; it is the indicator of the dominant,
    superior, or aspiring class who would rule; it is derived from the Greek
    word kratos, meaning strength or power. Any word might be added to
    this suffix, which will then indicate the type of rule, such as: plutocracy
    (rule by the wealthy), ochlocracy (mob-rule), angelocracy (government by
    angels), etc. Democracy is the rule by, or the dominion of, the people;
    it comes from the Greek word, demos. It is often referred to as popular
    government. Democracy, historically speaking, is to be compared with monarchy,
    rule of one; or with aristocracy, rule of the “best-born,” or rule of the

    Whatever its origins (and we will consider its origins) democracy has
    come to mean a principle or system to which most all political parties of
    the western world, no matter their political beliefs, would subscribe. It
    is politics. It goes beyond the periodic act of voting; it is characterized
    by participation in government, viz., involving members of the community
    in governmental decisions, allowing them to take part in anything at all
    which amounts to a public demonstration of popular opinion.

    1 – Grecian Democracy:-
    The first democracy, of
    which we have record, is that which was practiced in ancient Athens. In his
    capacity as a history writer, Aristotle , in his work, The Athenian Constitution
    (350 BC), writes that the Athenians practiced democracy only to the extent
    of putting and keeping in power members of a very exclusive group, a group
    which formed but a minority in the universal group we stylize as society.
    The Athenian constitution was oligarchical, in every respect. The poorer
    classes were the serfs of the rich. They cultivated the lands of the rich
    and paid rent. The whole country was in the hands of nine magistrates, called
    archons, who were elected according to qualifications of birth and
    wealth. These ruling magistrates held their positions for life, except for
    that latter period when they served for a term of ten years. In time, this
    Greek notion of democracy was set aside in favour of the draw.

    “… the method of election in the choice of archons is replaced
    by lot; some way must be found to keep the rich from buying, or the knaves
    from smiling, their way into office. To render the selection less than wholly
    accidental, all those upon whom the lot falls are subjected, before taking
    up their duties, to a rigorous dokimasia, or character examination,
    conducted by the Council or the courts. The candidate must show Athenian
    parentage on both sides, freedom from physical defect and scandal, the pious
    honoring of his ancestors, the performance of his military assignments, and
    the full payment of his taxes; his whole life is on this occasion exposed
    to challenge by any citizen, and the prospect of such a scrutiny presumably
    frightens the most worthless from the sortition. If he passes this test
    the archon swears an oath that he will properly perform the obligations of
    his office, and will dedicate to the gods a golden statue of life-size if
    he should accept presents or bribes.”

    Durant in Our Oriental Heritage continued to write that the head man, the archon basileus,
    must “nine times yearly … obtain a vote of confidence from the Assembly”
    and any citizen may bring him to task for an inappropriate act of his. “At
    the end of his term all his official acts, accounts, and documents” are reviewed
    by a special board, logistai, which is responsible to the Council. “Severe penalties, even death, may avenge serious misconduct.”

    Grecian democracy, however, such as it was, was soon covered
    over with the murk of the middle ages. Democracy’s re-flowering in the world,
    in respect to the rights of the people, first appeared in England with the
    Glorious Revolution of 1688. A study of an era known as The Enlightenment, is the study of the beginnings of of modern democracy 5 .

    2 – The Enlightenment:-
    Out of the Dark Ages, in
    gradual awaking stirs, came the Age of Reason. The enlightenment was fully
    established and growing vigorously by the eighteenth century. As the shackles
    of oppression, so firmly clamped on during the middle ages, became loose,
    men sought to apply reason to religion, politics, morality, and social life.
    With the coming of the enlightenment men began to express their minds; no
    longer were most all men cowed by the great mystery of the universe, and,
    their minds, through ignorance, ruled by fears: The Enlightenment was a time
    when human beings pulled themselves out of the medieval pits of mysticism.
    It was a spontaneous and defused movement which fed on itself and led to
    the great scientific discoveries from which we all benefit today. Beliefs
    in natural law
    and universal order sprung up, which not only promoted scientific findings
    and advancements of a material nature; but, which, also drove the great political
    thinkers of the time, such as: Francis Bacon (1561-1626),
    Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733),
    Charles Louis de Secondat Montesquieu (1689-1755),
    Voltaire (1694-1766),
    Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-88),
    David Hume (1711-76) and, of course the brightest political light of all,
    John Locke (1632-1704).

    3 – Representative Government:-
    In England, Edward
    the First, in 1295, with a view to dealing with his impecuniosity, issued
    a writ to the sheriff of Northhampton. The people, of all things, were refusing
    to pay taxes and they were becoming belligerent. Edward was getting advise
    to the effect that it might be better to sit down with the people, or rather
    their representatives, than to let loose the royal troops. Letting the troops
    loose would be an act which would destroy the country’s riches, a share of
    which the king wanted for himself. Thus, we would have seen the royal messenger
    riding out from the king’s castle to deliver this royal writ to the sheriff
    of Northhampton. This royal writ of Edward’s had the Latin words, elegi facis,
    meaning that the persons who were to sit on the people’s Council (the beginnings
    of parliament) were to be elected headmen such as the burgesses and knights,
    and they were to have “full and sufficient power for themselves and the communities”
    which they represent; they were to come to Council — ready, to conduct and
    to conclude the important business of the land.

    Now, one of the most fundamental questions of politics
    – whether of 1295, or of modern day – is this: Should the representative,
    sent to the legislature — assuming, in the first place, that he or she has
    canvassed the subject to be voted upon and all the far flung consequences
    of it — vote the way the majority of his constituents would have him vote;
    or, should he vote on the basis of what he thinks is right, no matter that
    it may run against the majority of what his constituents would like. Edmund Burke , a most brilliant political thinker, thought that the representative should vote his conscience. 6

    “Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile
    interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate,
    against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly
    of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes,
    not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from
    the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you
    have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.

    Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment;
    and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

    The state includes the dead, the living, and the coming generations.”

    4 – The Dilemma of Representative Government:-
    human nature and the political process, full democracy, beyond the smallest
    group size, may simply not be workable, at all. Each of us has a right to
    cast a vote for an individual to represent us in the legislative assembly.
    The elected person then goes off to represent all of his constituents, whether
    they voted for him or not, indeed, whether they have even voted. How is
    he to look at issues and how is he to vote (assuming, for the moment, that
    he has a free vote in parliament). Should he vote on the basis of what he
    perceives the majority of his constituents want, right or wrong; or, as Burke
    suggests, does he vote his own conscience, vote as a “better and more informed
    person” than his average constituent; or does he, as it seems our system
    obliges, just vote the party line.

    “Representative institutions are of little value, and may
    be a mere instrument of tyranny or intrigue, when the generality of electors
    are not sufficiently interested in their own government to give their vote,
    or, if they vote at all, do not bestow their suffrages on public grounds,
    but sell them for money, or vote at the beck of someone who has control over
    them or whom for private reasons they desire to propitiate. Popular election,
    as thus practised, instead of a security against misgovernment, is but an
    additional wheel in its machinery.” ( John Stuart Mill , Consideration on Representative Government.)

    The problem, as is so clearly set forth by Mill, is quite aside from the
    further and separate problem “that issues at stake in political life are
    too many and too complicated and that very many of them [issues] are actually
    unknown both to the representatives and to the people represented.” 7

    It should be remembered, too, that any decision made and
    action taken in an assembly of “our” representatives can be done on the barest
    majority of a group; which might have been elected on the barest majority
    of a popular vote; which majority of a popular vote, might well, and usually
    does, represent a minority of the population. How can it ever be stated
    that any particular government measure will accord with the wishes of the
    majority? 8

    5 – Democracy In Action:-
    In a monarchy, or, for
    that matter, any state where rule is carried out by a privileged class without
    consulting with the masses in any direct way, it was recognized, at least
    in the 18th and 19th centuries, that what was needed was a submissive, a
    confident and a stupid people. Such people in these earlier centuries existed
    in predominate numbers. Sadly, yet today, even as the 21st century dawns,
    it is rare, even in the western democracies, to find many people who are
    independently working through for themselves and taking fixed positions on
    important political concepts such as democracy, freedom and government. For
    democracy to work there must, as a prerequisite, be a people educated and
    be a people ready to inform themselves of the great issues which face them.
    Unfortunately, a politically educated public, this important ingredient to
    the proper working of democracy, is missing.

    First off, it must be recognized, that the country is not run, at least
    not in between elections, with the executive checking with the people by
    way of referenda (as the Swiss do). However, the people who possess government
    power and who would like to keep it, are bound to proceed on the basis of
    popular opinion; the difficulty is that public opinion arises as a result
    of an agenda which is set by minority groups to which vote chasing politicians
    cow, a process which is generally aided and abetted by an ignorant press.

    “[Proper political conclusions] cannot be had by glancing at newspapers,
    listening to snatches of radio comment, watching politicians perform on television,
    hearing occasional lectures, and reading a few books. It would not be enough
    to make a man competent to decide whether to amputate a leg, and it is not
    enough to qualify him to choose war or peace, to arm or not to arm, to intervene
    or to withdraw, to fight on or to negotiate. …
    When distant and unfamiliar
    and complex things are communicated to great masses of people, the truth
    suffers a considerable and often a radical distortion. The complex is made
    over into the simple, the hypothetical into the dogmatic, and the relative
    into an absolute. … the public opinion of masses cannot be counted upon
    to apprehend regularly and promptly the reality of things. There is an inherent
    tendency in opinion to feed upon rumors excited by our own wishes and fears.”
    ( Lippmann , The Public Philosophy, p. 25.)

    We should never hope or aim to choose a bully, but the elective process
    will give no guarantee that the people will not end up with one. Democracy,
    no matter its imperfections, is a way by which the people can bloodlessly
    turn out leaders; but, the democratic process will only work with the consent
    of the leaders. The best that can be expected of a constitutional democracy,
    the best that can be expected by any political system, is a process by which
    the people turn up a leader or leaders which are prepared to deal with both
    the bullies amongst us and those at our borders. Hopefully, the leader or
    leaders, so turned up by the “democratic process,” do not turn out to be
    a worst set of bullies then that which might exist in an ungoverned state.
    If, in the “democratic process,” an elected leader turns into a bully; well,
    then, one should not rely on democracy, except as a rallying cry, to turn
    him out. To turn out a powerful bully, great quantities of spilt blood are

    6 Democracy, Government, and Freedom:-
    in my view, is only compatible with a free economy; it can only exist, in
    substance, in an economy of ideas. Like a fish to water, democracy can only
    exists in a total atmosphere of freedom of action; it is completely incompatible
    with a system that provides for a governing authority with coercive power.
    If one accepts (anarchists, for example, do not) that a government, to some
    extent or other, is necessary for a civilized society, then it is to be recognized
    that the business of governing (as apart from the business of electing representatives)
    cannot be conducted in democratic matter. Lippmann deals with this problem:

    “… there has developed in this century a functional derangement of the
    relationship between the mass of the people and the government. The people
    have acquired power which they are incapable of exercising, and the governments
    they elect have lost powers which they must recover if they are to govern.
    What then are the true boundaries of the people’s power?… They can elect
    the government. They can remove it. They can approve or disapprove its
    performance. But they cannot administer the government. They cannot themselves
    perform. They cannot normally initiate and propose the necessary legislation.
    A mass cannot govern.
    Where mass opinion dominates the government, there
    is a morbid derangement of the true functions of power. The derangement
    brings about the enfeeblement, verging on paralysis, of the capacity to govern.
    This breakdown in the constitutional order is the cause of the precipitate
    and catastrophic decline of Western society. It may, if it cannot be arrested
    and reversed, bring about the fall of the West.” (Op. cit., pp. 14-5.)

    The notions of freedom and of democracy, we might reasonably conclude,
    rest on the same foundations. This is not the case for the concepts of government
    and freedom: they will have nothing to do with one another: they work against
    one another. The principal business of government is the taking of freedom
    away from people; it is how government achieves its ends.

    7 – The Press and Democracy:-
    To begin with: those
    charged with informing the public, such as our journalists, should very carefully
    examine the “expert evidence” that is thrown their way. Our government experts
    must be cross-examined and asked if they have any interest in the outcome?
    The answer is that most of them do — if, for no other reason, than they
    are in the pay of the government, as either; bureaucrats, lodged in the upper
    end of the government echelon; or those resting in publicly funded universities;
    or those who are in the social welfare business.

    The result of the syndrome is predictable, for, as the public conflict
    grows, people come to doubt expert pronouncements. Normally people primarily
    judge the propositions before them in a most obvious way, by their source.
    For example, “Of course she claims oil spills are harmless – she works for
    Exxon.” “Of course he says Exxon lies – he works for Nader.” When established
    experts lose credibility, the demagogues take over and we are left in our
    mass democracy with groups trying to outshout one another.

    “When their views have corporate appeal, they take them to the public
    through advertising campaigns. When their views have pork-barrel appeal,
    they take them to legislatures through lobbying. When their views have dramatic
    appeal, they take them to the public through media campaigns. Groups promote
    their pet experts, the battle goes public, and quiet scientists and engineers
    are drowned in the clamor.”

    Do the important issues get debated in the mass media? Some things seem
    to work well enough without any notice being taken by the public: and, often,
    these are the most simple and important workings of society such as family
    cooperation. In the media, as in human consciousness, one concern tends to
    drive out another. This is what makes conscious attention so scarce and
    precious. Our society needs to identify the facts of its situation more swiftly
    and reliably, with fewer distracting feuds in the media. This will free public
    debate for its proper task – judging procedures for finding facts, deciding
    what we want, and helping us choose a path toward a world worth living in.

    8 – The People:-
    I now deal with the concept, “the
    people”: and, in particular Burke’s notion that it consists of not just the
    aggregate of living persons, but; “those that are dead and those who are
    to be born.”

    “That is why young men die in battle for their country’s sake and why old men plant trees they will never sit under.
    “This invisible, inaudible, and so largely nonexistent community gives rational
    meaning to the necessary objectives of government. If we deny it, identifying
    the people with the prevailing pluralities who vote in order to serve, as
    has it, “their pleasures and their security,” where and what is the nation,
    and whose duty and business is it to defend the public interest? Bentham
    leaves us with the state as an arena in which factions contend for their
    immediate advantage in the struggle for survival and domination. Without
    the invisible and transcendent community to bind them, why should they care
    for posterity? And why should posterity care about them, and about their
    treaties and their contracts, their commitments and their promises. Yet
    without these engagements to the future, they could not live and work; without
    these engagements the fabric of society is unraveled and shredded.” (Lippmann,
    Op. cit., p. 36.)

    9 – Virtual Representation:-
    Edmund Burke was an exponent of “virtual representation.” 9
    The idea is that – those who do not have the franchise or those who cannot
    have it by custom or law (i.e., for reasons such as they are infants; or,
    indeed, are unborn) — are, nonetheless, represented by those exercising
    government power. When one thinks it through, one is bound to come to the
    conclusion that it is pretty presumptuous to strike on a legislative course,
    not knowing the degree or type of impact which such a course will have on
    those generations which stretch out (we hope) much beyond that time which
    will mark the current generation’s departure from this life.

    In the days prior to 1832, great large populated areas,
    for example, Manchester in England, were not represented by a seat in parliament;
    while little villages, particularly in the south of England, had a seat,
    sometimes more than one. While some of the larger county seats were somewhat
    democratic, the little southern village seats were totally in the pockets
    of the local lords. 10 The Great Reform Bill of 1832 fundamentally redefined the electoral districts, thus came the end of the pocket boroughs. 11 Since 1832, Britain (and, thus, in modern day Canada) there exists a permanent commission on electoral boundaries.

    All that I can see of democracy’s role is to put into place those people;
    who, in a very general way, represent the views of the majority, or rather
    the views of the party to whom they owe their advancement. This of course
    is a recipe for the oppression of the minorities (no matter from which strata
    of society they come; and, no matter whether any particular individual from
    within society likes the party policies, or not).

    “The most difficult of all political problems is to be
    solved – the people are to be at once thoroughly restrained and thoroughly
    pleased. The executive must be like a steel shirt of the Middle Ages – extremely
    hard and extremely flexible. It must give way to attractive novelties which
    do not hurt; …” 12 (Bagehot.)

    — Is democracy workable? — Can it
    work at all? For a free and democratic nation to work, a politician must,
    in the first place and right off the bat, in an honest fashion, convince
    the electorate that democracy is what they need, if they are to get what
    they want — optimal human conditions for the medium term. The reality of
    things, with no exceptions that I can think of, is that what people desire
    is the soft and the easy; what is needed is the hard and the difficult (if
    only to achieve the soft and the easy).

    “Faced with these choices between the hard and the soft, the normal propensity
    of democratic governments is to please the largest number of voters. The
    pressure of the electorate is normally for the soft side of the equations.
    That is why governments are unable to cope with reality when elected assemblies
    and mass opinions become decisive in the state, when there are no statesmen
    to resist the inclination of the voters and there are only politicians to
    excite and exploit them.
    There is then a general tendency to be drawn
    downward, as by the force of gravity, towards insolvency, towards the insecurity
    of factionalism, towards the erosion of liberty, and towards hyperbolic wars.”
    ( Walter Lippmann , pp. 45-6.)

    Much is asked of democracy: for while by definition no one within a democracy
    is to have special privileges; it, as a system, is to accommodate all groups
    of people, no matter how unalike they may be, one to the other. It may be
    that democracy can only work where the great mass of people are alike, or
    at least striving to be alike. This may be the reason why, through the years,
    democracy has worked so well in countries such as Canada and the United States.
    Historically, the United States (and Canada as well) was the great melting
    pot where newcomers came: — their wish was to be American (Canadian) and
    to raise their children as Americans (Canadians). However, there are now
    signs that democracy in our countries, as a system, is breaking down. More
    and more, it seems, there are groups, particularly in Canada, which arise
    and are no longer content to strive to stay in the common middle and share
    common ideals, but rather they diverge; and, this divergence, unfortunately,
    has been supported by government action in a combined effort to hold and
    promote distinctiveness of these existing and emerging groups.

    Thus, democracy, as past experience will demonstrate,
    works only where the population shares, fundamentally, the same goals and
    aspirations. Historically, God and country have been the two banners under
    which the great masses could proudly stand; but, in a modern society, God
    and country mean less and less, while, at the same time, the goals and aspirations
    of various groups increase and diverge. It maybe that democracy is, and,
    indeed, has always been, unworkable; but we must continue to hold the ideal
    high and see to it that its trappings are securely fixed in place as, well
    — as a bulwark, such as it is, against tyrannical rule. 13

    The reality is that we are forever fixed with a oligarchy (government
    of the few) masquerading as a democracy. The purpose of the ruling few is
    to execute its constitutional functions, which, because democracy is unworkable,
    should be tightly circumscribed. The ideal of democracy is to be promoted,
    as it has been, to the rulers and the ruled, as a sacred icon; never mind
    that it cannot be used to put a society into action, to pass laws, and never
    mind that it rarely will cast up honest and wise leaders; it is, in the final
    analysis, a system that will routinely and expensively rotate those in charge;
    a manner of bloodlessly changing the guard.


    Charming Form of Government:-
  • “Democracy, which is a charming form of government,
    full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals
    and unequals alike.” ( Plato .)

  • Democracy & Socialism:-
  • “Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but
    one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality
    in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” ( Alexis de Tocqueville , in a speech to the French Assembly, September 12, 1848.)

  • Conflict: Democracy & Liberty:-
  • “Perhaps, before going further, I should say that I
    am a liberal democrat and have no wish to disenfranchise my fellow citizens.
    My hope is that both liberty and democracy can be preserved before the one
    destroys the other. Whether this can be done is the question …” ( Walter Lippmann , 1889-1974.)

  • Conflict: Democracy & Effective Administration.
  • “The scheme of parochial and club governments takes up the state at the wrong end.” (1791, Burke , as quoted by OED.)
  • “Democracy is the worst form of government. It
    is the most inefficient, the most clumsy, the most unpractical. … It reduces
    wisdom to impotence and secures the triumph of folly, ignorance, clap-trap
    and demagogy. … Yet democracy is the only form of social order admissible,
    because it is the only one consistent with justice.” (Robert Briffault, Rational Evolution, 1930.)

  • Herd Confused: The People.
  • “And what are the people but a herd confused,
  • A miscellaneous rabble who extol
    Things vulgar, and well weighed, scarce worth the praise?
    They praise, and they admire they know not what,
    And know not whom, but as one leads the other.” ( Milton .)

    Democracy: The High Ideal.
  • “… we must remember that no code or social legislation,
    no written law, can of itself guarantee true democracy and preserve liberty.
    The spring can rise no higher than it source. Democracy must continue to
    be fed from the altitude of the high ideals that founded it. … Democracy
    is a spirit.” [ Stephen Leacock , Our Heritage of Liberty (London: Bodley Head, 1942) pp. 60,74.]

  • Not All the People are Equal.
  • “The free inhabitants of each of these states, paupers,
    vagabonds and fugitives from justice excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges
    and immunities of free citizens in the several states.” (U.S. Articles of
    Confederation, 1777.)
  • Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience:
  • Click for separate document .

  • Federalist Papers :
  • Click for separate document .

  • Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War:
  • Click for separate document .

  • Plato’s Laws:
  • Click for separate document .

  • Walt Whitman:
  • Click for separate document .

  • Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan:
  • Click for separate document .

  • Edgar Allan Poe’s Marginalia:
  • Click for separate document .

  • Anatole France’s Penguin Island:
  • Click for separate document .

  • Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France:
  • Click for separate document .

  • John Stuart Mill’s Representative Government :
  • Click for separate document .

  • Jose Ortega y Gasset’s Revolt of the Masses:
  • Click for separate document .

  • Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man:
  • Click for separate document .

  •  _______________________________ 



    1 Peter Landry is a lawyer and has been, for 20 years,
    in private practice in the City of Dartmouth. He invites correspondence
    on the topic and may be contacted at P.O. Box 1200, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia,
    B2Y 4B8, or at [email protected]

    2 It was Edmund Burke (not Churchill as so many believe)
    who first said that “democracy is the only tolerable form into which human
    society can be thrown …”

    3 The British settlers, on coming to colonize the
    eastern seaboard of the North American continent, arrived with but a few
    physical possessions; what they did have, in full measure, was their love
    of freedom ,
    a condition which very much defined them. The roots of democracy and freedom
    for all “western” democracies are planted in the rich history of Britain
    beginning with the Magna Carta .
    Enough to point out that when Captain Christopher Jones and his officers,
    together with their crew and their passengers disembarked from the Mayflower,
    in December of 1620, the pilgrims drew up a compact that provided for the
    government of the colony by the will of the majority.

    4 The English Constitution (Oxford University Press, 1928) at p. 130.

    5 In fact there is no specific date to which we can point. Human rights ,
    a subject I deal with elsewhere, came about only through deep and long struggles
    culminating in historical declarations such as the Magna Carta (1215) and the Petition of Right (1628, “A man cannot be compelled to give evidence against himself”); but it is only with English Bill of Rights
    in 1689 that we see any real progress in the evolution of law designed to
    protect the “rights” of the normal citizen. With the defeat of James at the
    Battle of the Boyne, the claim of divine right or hereditary right
    independent of law was formally brought to an end. Ever since, an English
    monarch is “as much the creature of an act of parliament as the pettiest
    tax-gatherer in his realm.” ( Green , vol. IX, p. 58.)

    6 We do not want our medical doctor doing what we
    want; but, rather, in the final analysis, what the doctor thinks is best
    for our health and our life.

    7 Freedom and the Law (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 3rd Ed., 1991.) at p. 122.

    8 There is nothing new about this line of thinking, see John Stuart Mill. John Buchanan (The Nobel Laureate in Economic Science in 1986) and Gordon Tullock in their work, The Calculus of Consent,
    have shown in an “irrefutable way that whenever a minority is well organized
    and determined to bribe as many voters as necessary in order to have a majority
    ready to pass a desired decision, the majority rule works much more in favour
    of such minorities than is commonly supposed.” ( Leoni , Op. cit., p. 242.)

    9 See Burke’s speech, On the Reform of the Representation of the Commons in Parliament (1784).

    10 “Devonshire was a great maritime county when
    the foundations of our representation were fixed; Somersetshire and Wiltshire
    great manufacturing counties. The harsher climate of the northern counties
    was associated with a ruder, a sterner, and a sparser people.” [Bagehot,
    Op. cit., at p. 146.]

    11 In 1830 the British Commons represented an electorate
    of about 220,000 out of a total population of approximately 14 million, or
    about 3 percent of the adult population. (See Leoni, Op. cit., p. 115.)

    12 Bagehot, Op. cit., at p. 181.

    13 It was Sir William Temple (1628-99), one of the architects of the Glorious Revolution ,
    who was of the view that states often fell “under Tyrannies, which spring
    naturally out of Popular Governments.” Since, this observation has proved
    to be true, time and time again.


    [Essays, First Series]
    [Essays, Second Series]
    [Essays, Third Series]
    [Essays, Fourth Series]
    [Subject Index]

    May, 1997.
    Re-edit:April, 1999.

    Peter Landry
    [email protected]
    P.O. Box 1200,
    Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
    B2Y 4B8

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