Opinion

Why There Is No Mention Of “Democracy” In The U.S. Constitution

Alan Keyes Former Assistant Secretary of State

[I offer this piece in the hope that it might lead some readers to ponder the fact that the Democratic and Republican Parties are neither democratic nor republican.  The forces that presently control them both mean to overturn the U.S. Constitution, once and for all.]

I often wonder at the fact that many people who claim to support the U.S. Constitution have utterly abandoned its key terms and provisions.  One of the signs of that abandonment has been the use of the term “democracy” to describe the form of government established by the Constitution of the United States. Yet that term is nowhere used in our key founding documents—not in the Constitution, and not in the Declaration of Independence, which summarizes the Constitution’s premises.   The reason for this is simple.  Democracy does not achieve what America’s Founders understood to be the essential purpose of constitutional government.  James Madison epitomized their understanding in Federalist 51 when he wrote:

Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger; and as, in the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will be the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.

The last phrase of Madison’s observation accurately reflects the goal that preoccupied America’s founding generation.  It was to establish “a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.”  These days the goal of protecting the weak from abuse by the more powerful instantly makes sense to most Americans.  But many would wonder what sense it makes to assert that the more powerful require the help of government to protect from those who are weaker than they.

Doesn’t superior power assure that they can protect themselves?  Madison’s reference to “the uncertainty of their condition” suggests the answer.  Like Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play, even those who have attained superior power must say to themselves “To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus.”  Like the fastest gunmen of the Old West, they must be incessantly preoccupied with the prospect of confronting someone capable of defeating their prowess.

This constant anxiety interferes with the ability to enjoy the things they had imagined, in prospect, to be the fruits of their power.  It takes the heart out of all the good things they imagined to be the fruits of greatness.  Though the shrewd elitist of our day have studiously sought to distract people from it, this specter of uncertainty also haunts the people whenever, for a time, they succeed in gathering sufficient strength to defeat those who are otherwise capable of subduing them.  “Democracy” is the term that refers to the sovereignty the many achieves at such times.  At its Greek root, the word democracy literally refers to the strength people achieve by acting in solidarity with one another.

But archetypal situations familiar to us from stories of the “Old West” point to the difficulties and limits of such solidarity.  A mob may sometimes overwhelm the gunman who would vanquish each of it members individually.  But mob action depends on the strength of passion that inspires them to act as one.  That common strength depends on the fact that someone among them has shown the ability and will to understand and communicate some purposeful passion to all the rest.  That individual’s performance overcomes the fearful hesitation most individuals experience as they imagine themselves dying by the inerrant hand of the skillful gunman who commands them to desist or die.

With sufficient reflection, this imagined confrontation reveals the mutual vulnerability of the many and the few, however strong or weak they think themselves to be in relation to one another.  A large mob can be faced down by a few capable individuals who execute an effective plan that takes advantage of their reputations.  A few capable individuals can be defeated by a mob, imbued with passionate resolve by an apparently common purpose passionately communicated.  The key on both sides lies not in relative numbers, but in whatever perfects the common will and purpose on which the deployment of their power depends.

But on all sides the uncertainty of superior power mars the prospect of enjoying its fruits.  That enjoyment is thus a purpose understood and shared by all.  But it is always out of reach, because no one fells they have sufficient power to prevent some greater power from imposing itself. Yet there is the prospect of a power superior to all—the power of the whole they might form if all acted together.  If the many and the few, more or less powerful in any given circumstance, are inspired to unite in respect of a purpose that inspires them all, union represents the opportunity actually to enjoy the fruits the power of its component parts allows them to obtain.

At any given moment the possibility of this union of all reflects the distribution of power in that moment.  It reflects the degree to which each and every individual depends, in some measure, on other individuals for the deployment of his power.  And it depends on the variety of imagined fruits each individual hopes to enjoy as the result of that deployment.  No matter the relative scarcity or abundance of material things, people will always be in competition for such imagined fruits.  This is true because their relative importance depends less on what they are in fact than on what each individual imagines to be the satisfaction derived from possessing them.

But insofar as the uncertainty of power mars that prospective satisfaction, each and all of them will ascribe some degree of importance to reducing it.  Insofar as the union of all has the power to achieve to do so, they will accept the terms on which that union can be achieved. The union will be held to represent their common good because it secures them the opportunity to derived greater enjoyment from the various goods its delimited terms allow them to pursue.

This opportunity, and the belongings it allows all to enjoy, are therefore aptly called public things (in the Latin, res publica). The form of government established to preserve these things is a Republic. This is the form of government actually mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.  It is the form its Framers sought for the United States Government; which that government is, in turn, required to guarantee in each of the states.

Though in various ways it deploys the power of the majority, the Founders knew better than to mistake that term simply as a reference to superior numbers.  It refers as well to the adaptable efficacy of power, which requires qualities of mind, heart and skill that cannot be precisely quantified, except in consequence of destructive experiences that destroy the happiness (peaceful enjoyment of one’s belongings) it is the ultimate purpose of good government to secure.

This purpose is, on the whole, the meaning of justice.  To achieve it, both the will of the many and that of the powerful few must be subsumed under a constitution that preserves, limits and effectively represents them both.  America’s Founders well understood the need for an authority that, on the whole, corresponds to justice; an authority that properly limits the will and power of both the many and the few.  This they acknowledged to be the authority of their Creator, God, from which, as individuals, both derive their very being.

The unfolding tragedy of the American Republic is driven by the fact that the forces presently in control of America’s political life have abandoned respect for the authority of God, and the concept of justice predicated upon it. They have therefore abandoned the substantive aim of the republican form of government the Constitution requires. In the name of a “democracy” the Constitution never mentions, these forces are systematically corrupting the American people.  They elaborate an alluring prospect of unlimited personal power, self-willed and self-contained. But once that form of “democratic” power has, in practice, replaced the republican institutions the U.S. Constitution ordains and establishes, those enticed by it will discover that their sovereignty has disappeared.

Too late, they will see that it has been replaced by the age-old form of oligarchic tyranny the U.S. Constitution was supposed to overturn.  They will realize that there is no longer a republican party in the United States, or even a sincerely democratic party.  Instead, there is one oligarchic clique, which temporarily encouraged the excesses of licentious democracy in order, at its end, to reassert the supremacy of their own.