There’s an old story that, as Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention after its conclusion, he was stopped by a woman who asked him what kind of government the delegates had given us. His famous reply, according to that story, was “A republic, ma’am, if you can keep it.” Wise words, from a wise man – “if you can keep it.”
We are losing that republic. We have been, for decades now, at least.
I had a curious thought this morning, that I came to realize is a key idea that has been lost, and almost entirely forgotten by today’s citizens – and it’s absolutely central to keeping a functioning republic from becoming a collapsing democracy. It’s also very simple.
In a republic, we elect officials to represent the best interests of their constituents and of the Republic as a whole, within the framework and limitations imposed by the Constitution. In a democracy, voters elect officials to enact their desires, and the power of that majority knows no limitations.
It’s a subtle distinction, but a profound one. What you want is not always in your best interests, and what is not in your best interests is not always what you want. This is not to say that we should sit back and let the elected officials do what they want, assuming they know better than we do what is in our best interests. The Constitution places limitations on the power of the politicians, in order to protect the fundamental liberties of all individuals, and the purpose of elections is for the people to serve as a check on the politicians, to let them know if we believe they have done their job properly, and to remove them if they have not.
But this requires that we vote not for the politician who promises to fulfill our desires, or the one who promises to benefit us, or the one who makes us feel good, and not even for the one who promises to do what we feel is right, but that we vote for the politician who will represent our best interests, and the best interests of the Republic as a whole.
This is something we have failed in. It is a long-held truth that no democracy can survive once the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the ensuing loose fiscal policy. We have been living that scenario now for a long time, and the republic is slowly, ever so slowly, collapsing under the weight of the majority voting themselves that largess.
If we cannot correct this deficiency, soon, the total collapse of our republic will become inevitable. Hopefully, it is not already too late.