I never refer to the American governmental experiment as a democracy; rather, it is a republic. A pure democracy is when whatever 51% want becomes the law, regardless of its wisdom or the rights of the other 49%. A republic, on the other hand, maintains respect for the rule of law and guarantees that certain rights are protected no matter what the majority may want.

The view that the people, as a collective, are always right is fallacious. The voters make huge mistakes all the time. Yet so do kings and totalitarian rulers. What, then, is the solution? Our Founders came up with an arrangement that sought to minimize the sinfulness and foolishness of man. The federal republic they created, while not perfect, since there is no perfect system in this world, nevertheless has the potential to diminish the bad effects of man’s selfish tendencies. At any rate, it seeks to divide the powers of government in such a way that no one man or select group can control everything at once. The goal was to avoid tyranny.

C. S. Lewis, although using the word “democracy” to describe representative government, also understood the basic problem. Here’s how he explains it:

I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy.

On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows. That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world. I believe the authority of parent over child, husband over wife, learned over simple, to have been as much a part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast.

Always beware of men appearing in the guise of political saviors. They promise to right all wrongs, provide for all needs, and wipe every tear from your eyes. That “god” will always fail. Again, Lewis says it well:

Democracy demands that little men should not take big ones too seriously; it dies when it is full of little men who think they are big themselves.

I fear we have a plethora of little men in positions of authority who believe their own propaganda about how great they are. We the people must share the blame. The old cliché remains true: the government is merely a reflection of the character of those who elected it.