The Difference between Democracy and Liberty
Many polls are showing that the future of our democracy is of great concern to Americans in the upcoming mid-term elections. Many of those concerned citizens are Democrats worried about Donald Trump and the MAGA-Republicans making a comeback to take over America and create a fascist state (or a semi-fascist state according to President Biden). Many Republicans are worried about the insidious but unrelenting under-the-radar capture of America’s democratic institutions by leftist progressives intent on instituting their “woke” agenda. And both of these efforts should be of great concern to all citizens.
But I think that part of the problem is that many Americans do not properly understand exactly what democracy is. The aspiration of the Founders was not to create a democracy. The words “democracy” and “democratic” do not appear in the Declaration of Independence or in the Constitution of the United States of America. The Declaration of Independence lays out the goals that government should provide for citizens. Those are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Most of the rest of the Declaration lays out the acts committed by the British government that were destructive of those ends, justifying the breaking of the bond of that government and instituting a new government dedicated toward achieving those goals. The aspirations of the Founders are more clearly delineated in the preamble to the US Constitution. The goals of this new government are to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and (most importantly) secure the blessings of liberty to us and our posterity.
The goal was not to create a democracy, the goals are those stated in the preamble. Democracy was the mechanism chosen to try and achieve those goals. Democracy is a tool. And this tool has been modified and amended over the last 230 years – not to improve democracy – but to improve our ability to achieve the goals laid out in the preamble.
But a tool can be used for good or ill. Hitler and Mussolini used democracy as a mechanism to gain authority and power. A free and fair election in Russia would likely reelect Vladimir Putin despite the disastrous war on Ukraine. Xi Jinping would also likely be elected if the Chinese people had the opportunity, even if the entire Uighur community voted against him.
Even now, democracy is being used to undermine freedom around the globe. The recently elected leftist president of Chile, Gabriel Boric, immediately convened a constitutional convention packed with leftist supporters and communists to rewrite the Chilean constitution, which had served the country pretty well over the last 40 years. To his credit he submitted the bulky document with 388 articles (the US Constitution has 6) to the Chilean people, who soundly rejected the monstrosity. To his further credit, Boric accepted the people’s decision, but then immediately set about to create a new document. One would hope that president Boric would also then submit the second constitution to a referendum of the people. But that’s not guaranteed.
The will of the people in Colombia was not se well respected by former president Jose Santos. His peace deal with leftist FARC rebels which was widely criticized as being too lenient to drug smuggling socialist killers was rejected by the Colombian people in a referendum. But Santos quickly renegotiated the deal with FARC and had it ratified by the legislature (which he controlled) without submitting it to a vote. Colombia recently elected a former leftist guerrilla as President with a very thin 50.44% majority who immediately reinstated diplomatic relations with the socialist government of Venezuela and announced the end of cooperation with the US in the fight against cocaine smuggling. We will see how long it takes him to make his move to change the Colombian constitution.
The mainstream media is beside itself about the recent victory of right-wing parties in Italy that will raise Gorgia Meloni, of the Brothers of Italy party, to prime minister accusing her of having fascist roots going back to Mussolini. They are also upset about the rise of the right-wing Sweden Democrats to become the second largest party in the country and the leader of the right-wing bloc in Sweden’s parliament. The media points to these right-wing leaders as threats to democracy in Europe. The make little mention of the rise of the left’s threats to democracy in Latin America.
Both right-wing populists and left-wing socialists love to use democracy to get into power. Once in power, however, they change democracy in order to stay in power. It happens over and over again. Russia, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia. Right now, my friends in El Salvador are sending me texts and emails asking for help. Their elected president, Nayib Bukele, has announced he is running for reelection despite a constitutional prohibition. He is likely to win. He is very popular – now. Many constitutions in Latin America prohibit the reelection of a president because Latin Americans have figured it out that it is easier to get a man elected than it is to get him to retire. My friends in El Salvador want to get out before things get really bad.
None of the attempts by both the left and the right to alter the mechanism of our democracy are designed to make our country function better or move us closer to that more perfect union toward which the Constitution directs us. Their intent is to entrench themselves in power for the foreseeable future. All the accusations of fraudulent election. All the outrage at so-called voter suppression. All the black money funding campaigns for secretaries of state. All the money from George Soros funding the campaigns of state and city attorneys general. All of that is intended to achieve their partisan outcomes and not for helping America achieve its aspirational goals for a better society.
The left does not believe in an America that promotes equality of opportunity. Their goal is equality of outcome. Equality of outcome that subordinates your liberty to their powerful state. The right wants to reinstate their dear leader no matter the consequences of his erratic policies and divisive language. The left wants to put all the power into government in order to fulfill their social justice goals. The right wants to put the power of government into the hands of their deal leader.
It seems un-American, if not downright evil, to say that we should put limits on democracy. But that is precisely what the Founders of this country set out to do. Some of the limits they placed on full democracy were wrong-headed, but some were pure genius. And it is because of that genius that American democracy, with all its limitations on the power of government, with all its check and balances, with all its states’ rights and federalism, has lasted over 230 years.
We must resist calls for greater democracy or more democracy. Greater democracy has led extremists to control our traditional political parties. Greater democracy has led to ever greater spending to lure voters into a morass of government debt. The march toward greater democracy has placed greater and greater power into the hands of government and kindled the lust to control all that power. Greater democracy is the pathway to totalitarianism and oppression.
Because democracy is a tool, not a goal. And tools must be used with care and precision. Liberty was the goal of the Founders, and it must remain our goal. Always!