Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Foreign Affairs

Madison and Egypt

As Egyptins protest against their dictatorship, several commentators are discussing whether this vindicates the argument that the U.S. should promote democracy.  That's rather too simple.  In many times, and in many places, democracy is not the best form of government available.  Sometimes, voting will produce bad government.  As Madison noted in Federalist 51:

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 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.

It is not true that democratic government will, in all cases, be more just than other governments.  In the American republic, democracy is essential, but we should not assume that it always true elsewhere.  The 13 colonies had the most democratic governments in the world in 1776.  That's why it made sense to create a democratic republic.  Absent a wide distribution of property, experience with elections and democratic institutions, secure property rights, widespread literacy, an open press (or, at least, relatively open, as was the case in the colonies in 1776), among other things, the jump to democratic-republicanism can be dangerous. Witness France in the 1790s, and numerous examples thereafter.

What people want is decent government, that treats them with respect, and does not prosecute them arbitrarily and capriciously.  In history, democratic governments are not the only means to that end.   Not every country is lucky enough to be a democratic republic.

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Discussions - 1 Comment

I'm pretty sure that the Federalists distinguish between republicanism and democracy. Both of these 'species' fall under the 'genus' of popular government. But unlike the "petty republics of Greece and Italy" (democratic regimes...confusing), republicanism follows the "new science of politics." Democracy may even constitute "the very definition of tyranny." Republicanism is loyal to the spirit of popular government while correcting for its excesses, found in its more extreme forms. Voting into power a tyrannical majority is just one of those excesses.

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