Feb 16 2016

How Democracy Fails

Despite popular opinion and language, the form of government in the United States is a republic, not a democracy. While it is correct to label it a democratic republic, because democratic representation is an important component, it certainly is not a pure democracy.

A pure democracy is rule by majority will. The majority of ordinary people are often swayed by waves in public opinion that can be easily manipulated by unethical political rhetoric. Public opinion often swings too rapidly from one extreme to another without the buffer of caution and reasoning developed through experience.

Rule by majority implies the suppression of, or at least the act of ignoring the will of the minority. In this sense, it fails at the basic purpose of government, which is to protect the rights of the people. Democracy only protects the rights of the majority.

Once a democratic majority has enjoyed some period of dominance, it becomes tempting to make that position permanent. Unchecked, the majority can vote itself into power that exceeds the democratic process and the slow decline into oligarchy or monarchy begins. History shows this decline to be nearly inevitable.

Conceive the captain of a ship, taller by a head and shoulders than any of the crew, yet a little deaf, a little blind, and rather ignorant of the seaman’s art. The sailors want to steer, although they know nothing of the art; and they have a theory that it cannot be learned. If the helm is refused them, they drug the captain’s posset, bind him hand and foot, and take possession of the ship. He who joins in the mutiny is termed a good pilot and what not; they have no conception that the true pilot must observe the winds and the stars, and must be their master, whether they like it or not; — such an one would be called by them fool, prater, star-gazer.
– Plato “The Republic”