This page is an excerpt from the book The 5,000 Year Leap. It is published without permission from the copyright holders till I can understand who the copyright holder is as it is in dispute. I have tried to contact one of them but have not had a response, and the other was pondering the situation. I am hopeful they will allow for this brief segment of the book to be published here for a good cause, and I encourage you to pick up a full copy of the book as soon as possible. Coloration below is mine.
Twelfth Principle: The United States of America shall be a republic.
This principle is highlighted in the pledge of allegiance when it says:
I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the United States of America
And to the Republic
For which it [the flag] stands….
There are many reasons why the Founders wanted a republican form of government rather than a democracy. Theoretically, a democracy requires the full participation of the masses of the people in the legislative or decision making processes of government. This has never worked because the people become so occupied with their daily tasks that they will not properly study the issues, nor will they take the time to participate in extensive hearings before the vote is taken. The Greeks tried to use democratic mass participation in the government of their city-states, and each time it ended in tyranny.
A Democracy and a Republic Compared
A democracy becomes increasingly unwieldy and inefficient as the population grows. A republic, on the other hand, governs through elected representatives and can be expanded indefinitely. James Madison contrasted these two systems when he wrote:
“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….
“A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.” 1
Madison later went on to point out how an expanding country like the United States could not possibly confine itself to the limitations of a democracy, but must rely upon a representative or republican form of government to protect the ever-expanding interests of its people. He said:
“In a democracy the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, must be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.” 2
A Republic Defined
To make his position completely clear, Madison offered a concise definition of a republic as follows:
“We may define a republic to be … a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior. It is essential to such a government that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans and claim for their government the honorable title of republic.” 3
Modern Emphasis on “Democracy”
During the early 1900s an ideological war erupted, and the word “democracy” became one of the casualties. Today, the average American uses the term “democracy” to describe America’s traditional Constitutional republic. But technically speaking, it is not. The Founders had hoped that their descendants would maintain a clear distinction between a democracy and a republic.
The creation of the current confusion developed as a result of a new movement in the United States. Approximately 100 people met in New York in 1905 and organized what they called the Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS). Chapters were established on more than sixty college and university campuses coast-to-coast. In time the co-directors of the movement became Harry W. Laidler and Norman Thomas. Laidler explained that the ISS was set up to “throw light on the world-wide movement of industrial democracy known as socialism.” 4
What was this new movement attempting to accomplish? Socialism is defined as “government ownership or control of all the means of production (farms, factories, mines, and natural resources) and all the means of distribution (transportation, communications, and the instruments of commerce).” Obviously, this is not a “democracy” in the classical sense. And it is the very antithesis of a free-market economy in a republic.
The ISS adopted a snappy slogan for the times: “Production for use, not for profit.” This seemed to catch on. Hundreds of men and women who later became big names in government, press, radio, television, and motion pictures were among the early recruits.
The League for Industrial Democracy
However, by 1921 the violence associated with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had given the term “socialism” a strongly repugnant meaning to many people. The ISS therefore decided to change its name to “The League for Industrial Democracy.” The word “democracy” was supposed to carry the message that through the nationalization (government expropriation) of all the means of production and distribution, the nation’s fabulous resources would become the property of “all the people” — hence a democracy. Then America could enjoy “production for use, not for profit.” This meant that the word “democracy” was deceptive. Various devices were used to alert the public to the true meaning of the word. For example, the U.S. Army’s Training Manual No. 2000-25, published in 1928, contained a whole section explaining the difference between a democracy and a republic in their original, historical sense.
Government Manual Defines a “Democracy”
The manual had the following to say concerning the characteristics of a democracy:
A government of the masses.
Authority derived through mass meetings or any other form of “direct” expression. Results in mobocracy.
Attitude toward property is communistic — negating property rights.
Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether it be based upon deliberation or government by passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences.
Results in demagogism, license, agitation, discontent, anarchy.
It will be recalled that James Madison was almost as strong in his own historical evaluation of past democracies. His words, as indicated above, were:
“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.” 5
Government Manual Defines a Republic
The government manual then proceeded to outline the characteristics of a republic, which all of the Founders had vigorously recommended over a pure democracy or any other form of government.
Authority is derived through the election by the people of public officials best fitted to represent them.
Attitude toward property is respect for laws and individual rights, and a sensible economic procedure.
Attitude toward law is the administration of justice in accord with fixed principles and established evidence, with a strict regard for consequences.
A greater number of citizens and extent of territory may be brought within its compass.
Avoids the dangerous extreme of either tyranny or mobocracy.
Results in statesmanship, liberty, reason, justice, contentment, and progress.
James Madison, as we mentioned earlier, had defined a republic along the same lines:
“We may define a republic to be … a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during [the people's] pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior.” 6
Identifying the United States as a “Democracy”
In spite of these efforts to clarify the difference between a democracy and a republic, the United States began to be consistently identified in both the press and the school books as a “democracy.” President Wilson helped contribute to the confusion when he identified World War I as the effort of the allied forces to “make the world safe for democracy.” President Wilson had surrounded himself with many of the early recruits to the ISS movement, and these may have encouraged the adoption of this slogan just as they later changed the name of their ISS organization to the League for Industrial Democracy.
A review of the roster of early ISS members will also reveal that by the 1930s the more brilliant young leaders of the movement from World War I days had risen to some of the most prestigious positions in politics, press, publishing houses, radio, academic circles, teacher-training colleges, the National Council of Churches, and just about every other major center of opinion-molding influence.
However, the intellectual development of the ISS members had not followed the same line of maturation. Some wanted the new “United States democracy” to become a socialist state with the people’s consent (democratic socialism). Others wanted a “mixed system” of part socialism, part free-enterprise. Some were becoming disillusioned and had started swinging back to the Founders’ traditional formula. A few had become enamored with the seizure of power by force and violence and had become leaders in the Communist party movement. Nevertheless, all of them continued to refer to the United States as a democracy.
“Democracy” Loses Its Identification with Socialism
Following World War II, an interesting semantic transition began to take place in the American mind with reference to the use of the word “democracy.”
To begin with, the Communists, the National Socialists of Germany, and the Democratic Socialists throughout the rest of Europe had all misused the word “democracy” to the point where it had become virtually meaningless as a descriptive term. As a euphemism for socialism, the word had become totally innocuous.
Furthermore, socialism, whether spelled with a capital or small “s,” had lost its luster. All over the world, socialist nations — both democratic and communistic — were drifting into deep trouble. All of them were verging on economic collapse in spite of tens of billions of dollars provided by the United States to prop them up. Some had acquired a notorious and abhorrent reputation because of the violence, torture, starvation, and concentration-camp tactics they had used against their own civilian population. All over the world, socialism had begun to emerge as an abject failure formula. To the extent it was tried in America (without ever being called “socialism”), it had created colossal problems which the Founding Fathers’ formula would have avoided.
All of this created a subtle change in the American mind set. People continued referring to the United States as a “democracy,” but mentally they had begun to equate “democracy” with the traditional Constitutional republic. It became popular to refer to American democracy as though it were quite different from everybody else’s kind of democracy. That is the status of the word “democracy” in the United States today. The majority of the people are instinctively leaning more and more toward the fundamental thinking of the Founders. They will probably end up calling the United States a “democratic republic,” which is the term used by the followers of Thomas Jefferson!
The Attack on the Constitution
With the preceding historical picture in mind, it will be readily appreciated that the introduction of the word “democracy” (to describe the United States) was actually designed as an attack on the Constitutional structure of government and the basic rights it was designed to protect. As Samual Adams pointed out, the Founders had tried to make socialism “unconstitutional.” Therefore, to adopt socialism, respect and support for traditional constitutionalism had to be eroded and then emasculated. In view of this fact, it should not surprise the student of history to discover that those who wanted to have “democracy” identified with the American system were also anxious to have Americans believe their traditional Constitution was outdated, perhaps totally obsolete.
In this author’s college days, it was popular in political science and economics classes to point out that the Constitution was written some two centuries ago by a people who were about 95 percent farmers. Now, they would say, we live in an industrial society, and the needs of the people can no longer be accommodated under the archaic system provided under the U.S. Constitution. Not only certain teachers expressed this opinion, but U.S. Senators proclaimed it. Occasionally, even a President would say it! In this writer’s file there is an interesting collection of such statements.
But this does raise an important question. No doubt our economic and social circumstances have changed tremendously since the days of the Founders. Has this made the Constitution obsolete? In the next chapter we will address this question.
[Please consider purchasing a copy of the 5,000 Year Leap and reading it in its entirety. It will give you a correct perspective of the founding of America and the wisdom of our Founders. To finish the educational pages on this site, please visit the quote page for additional references from the Founding Fathers and others concerning a Democracies and Republics.]