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Not a Democracy, but a Republic

December 13, 2007 3 comments

The Constitution of the United States is not democratic, and anyone with the inclination to study Madison’s and Hamilton’s writings in The Federalist can see that the Constitution was intended as a safeguard against that tyranny of the majority, that unchecked democracy, which must inevitably present a threat to personal freedom and individual talent. The Constitution was framed, as Madison says in Federalist 10, to protect inequality. The letters of John Adams to Thomas Jefferson assert that the recognition of an inequality of talents is necessary to a rational theory of government. Jefferson conceded that there was an aristocracy of “the wise, the good, and the just” and that government must be in the hands of this natural aristocracy, in order to preserve “life, liberty, property, and peace.” The following sentences from Federalist 10, among the most insightful ever written by Madison, are neither egalitarian nor democratic:

“The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.”

At least half the American population lack the “faculties” necessary to acquire impressive amounts of unencumbered property. The present sub-prime mortgage crisis raises a suspicion that substantial numbers have little idea of how to amortize debt, or why it might be in their interests to do so. There are also many people of normal, or even higher intelligence, who find it difficult or impossible, to keep roofs over their heads.

Are all people truly created equal? We might wish to examine that question carefully if we seek to work towards a kinder, gentler republic, and a more secure world.

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