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Republicanism vs. Democracy: The Crucial Battle of Constitutionalism in the U.S.

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The first expressions of a feeling of national belonging in the United States appeared in the second half of the 17th century. It was in the Puritans’ patriotic imagination who settled in American lands. This explains why in the speeches of many of the first governors, John Endicott, Thomas Hooker, John Davenport, and even Quaker William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, practiced their patriotic vision from an exercise of citizen dualism with the British empire, and always aimed at defending the status quo. If for them the colony was the homeland, the nation was still Britain.

The American Revolution did not need terror or tyranny to perpetuate itself. The ideas of the Fatherland and the state gradually germinated in the imagination of post-colonial elites. During this period, a whole new moral and civic discourse was articulated about the future of republican ideas.

Therefore, the correlation of constitutionalism was the discourse of citizens’ natural evolution willing to exercise their constitutional rights through representative mechanisms relating them to the national state.

In this way, the passage from a shared identity to national consciousness was not to be consolidated until the end of the 18th century with the appearance of the Declaration of Mecklenburg, considered the first independence text as well as a conceptual support on which the state and corporate order of the new nation would later progressively developed, based on the elective character of political power and division of powers.

The debate on establishing a Federal State, whose sphere of authority conflicted with the individual state’s powers, was the central judicial-political issue for the new nation from 1787 onwards.

The political tradition has been very dissenting from federal centralism since then. The national structural design was to conceive a government representation that was strong enough to protect the individual’s fundamental rights, but without becoming too arbitrary or monopolistic as to become oppressive.

Only with Abraham Lincoln and the Unionists was it possible to impose the thesis that to constitute a modern and democratic nation it was not enough to establish that all citizens were created free and equal before the law. Beforehand, and to ensure these rights, that nation needed to institute a sovereign state of unity in diversity, under the republican form of government whose legitimate powers derived from the consent of the governed.

Why does the U.S. Constitution not refer to the word democracy in its articles?

The explanation is to be found in the Founding Fathers’ logical distrust of what later became known as Robespierre’s totalitarian experiment with his “democratic republic. Anticipating the terrible French experience, the Constitution’s writers agreed to the establishment of a “Federation of States” instead of a democratic nation. The model of a republic guaranteed defense against the presumed threat of the populace to freedom.

Democracy, republicanism, usa
“These premises, which would be part of the primary civil law of a genuine system of public freedoms, are not compatible with the model of democracy, where the majority supposedly governs through its elected representatives.” (EFE)
Unchecked democracy

A phrase by James Madison in The Federalist 63 persuades us of this: representation “may be sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions.” Those who were guided by this principle sought to protect, in the constitutional framework, the rights of citizens from the dangers of an uncontrolled popular democracy.

It was necessary to avoid at all costs that the organs of the state become the exclusive beneficiaries of civil and political rights. This explains why in the subsequent first 10 amendments a series of constitutional reforms were established to protect individual rights from the interference of popular democracy.

The most conclusive critical review of the concept of democracy, as a form of state organization whose collective decisions depend on the arbitrariness of representatives, appears in the political thought of John Adams. “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

In the same vein, James Madison warned in The Federalist 10 about the great dangers that the majority government understands when it uses the legitimacy of certain anti-regulatory practices that would otherwise be considered tyrannical. “Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”

It is understandable that the Founding Fathers voted for a republican system in which rights came before the state on the basis of the rule of law, so that the subject of rights would not be the state and its corporations, but the citizenry.

Arbitrary use of power

To the extent that political freedom is exercised by the citizen, -never by the state organization itself-, citizens and public servants could be subject to the same rules. Avoiding such corporatism that directly affects the representative sphere, the state could only intervene in civil society to protect individuals from violence and fraud, but in no way to interfere in the peaceful and voluntary exchanges of citizens.

These premises, which would be part of the primary civil law of a genuine system of public freedoms, are not compatible with the model of democracy, where the majority supposedly governs through its elected representatives. In this case, the law depends solely on what is established by the government, which grants and deprives citizens of rights to the extent of their interests.

The drafters of the Constitution, aware of the dangers of majority rule, introduced several clauses into the basic law to curb these totalitarian aspirations. This explains, to cite only a couple of examples, that a two-thirds vote in Congress is required to correct the Constitution. And that the president of the nation is elected by the Electoral College, not by popular vote.

This insufficiently known historical derivation is a perversion of the concept of law that has facilitated the emergence of totalitarian democracies, useless in the defense of personal freedoms as they are permeable to the management of special interests that manage to make the state an instrument at their service. Thus, we find in the work of Friedrich Hayek, “Law, Legislation and Liberty: A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy,” a formidable thesis to warn about this assault on the state using the legitimizing stamp of democracy.

“For two centuries, from the end of absolute monarchy to the birth of unlimited democracy, the great objective of constitutional government was to limit all the powers of government. The fundamental principles that gradually asserted themselves to avoid any arbitrary exercise of power were the separation of powers, the sovereignty of the law, the submission of the government to the law. (…) all these great liberal principles were pushed into the background and even almost forgotten when it was thought that democratic control of government made another bulwark against the arbitrary use of power superfluous.”

Unfortunately, the debate taking place today in the U.S. on the Electoral College or the composition of the Supreme Court is only a maneuver orchestrated by the extreme left, with the complicit silence of the Democratic Party, to hide the real constitutional dispute they want to promote: the replacement of a democratic republic, where the rule of law is respected, with the model of a tyrannical democracy with corrupt officials and judges, great restrictions on economic freedom, high taxes and limitations on individual rights, expression and beliefs.

Juan Carlos Sánchez, journalist and writer. His columns are published in different newspapers in Spain and the United States. He is the author of several books and is preparing the essay "Nación y libertad en el pensamiento económico del Conde Pozos Dulces" // Juan Carlos es periodista y escritor. Sus columnas se publican en diferentes diarios de España y EE.UU. Autor de varios libros, tiene en preparación la obra de ensayo “Nación y libertad en el pensamiento económico del Conde Pozos Dulces”

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