Constitutional Reflection (USA)

We are not a democracy. That word appears nowhere in the US Constitution.

I know that some people think this is a minor quibble, but I don’t.

The dudes who wrote the constitution argued about exactly this issue: Whether we would be a democracy, potentially with the concomitant mob rule that it would almost inevitably engender, or not. Coming to the conclusion that a pure democracy WOULD inevitably lead there, they were deliberate in leaving that word out, and instead making hte United States a national republic, wherein our representatives would be elected by both direct (as with reps and senators) and indirect (electoral college).

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The Founding Fathers distinguished between a direct democracy, which they did not want, and a representative democracy, which is what best describes the government style they chose and we still follow.


Correct. The term “democracy” is used as broad and generic descriptor for countries where the citizens have the popular vote as part of the electoral process. Unfortunately, there’s a right-wing element today that casts disdain on even that generic term, seeing it as incompatible with capitalism or the “natural superiority” of certain individuals or groups.


One could just as easily say, Unfortunately, there is a left-wing element today that casts disdain on the the actual wording, intent, and implementation of the USC, seeing it as incompatible with their view of a fair society, or the ‘natural superiority’ of the majority.

I think it’s important to always keep in mind that the possibility of mob rule, vis a vis direct democracy (vs electoral college) was important enough to the framers of the USC to NOT include the word. They spent quite a bit of time arguing about it, in fact, to make sure the final wording was very specific.

They actually discussed, at length, using the words “democratic republic,” but overall felt that to include the word democratic was going too far. Personally, I think national democratic republic encompasses the primary intent.

Also, I honestly think that if we would all ignore the most extreme 5-10% of all political groups we would be a lot better off.

As for me, I’m a bit of a polyhedron: Neither a square, nor a round peg. Although closer to a Classic Liberal than anything else in today’s politics, I find much of the Left’s rhetoric scary and threatening to our democratic republic-a bill to remove the Electoral College, for example… and just as much of the mainstream Right’s acceptance of the abridging of our constitutionally guaranteed liberties just as terrifying- DWI checkpoints being a clear violation fo the 4th Amendment, but are ubiquitous and -more than just accepted- are almost a der riguer support position in right wing ‘law and order’ circles (the right wing nuts have lost sight of just as much of the USC and Bill of Rights as the left wing nuts, imho).

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The ONLY place it’s mentioned in the Constitution is with regard to the states, not the federal government. Which makes sense, because the very fact of having states is one step further from having a direct democracy. In particular, states can’t engage in representational democracy with each other and the federal government because they’re not people, they’re entities.

Article IV, section 4:

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.


If there is such an element on the American left, it’s a very tiny and quiet one – much smaller than the size of the alt-right. Critiquing the historic racism and sexism and economic classism in that evolving document is not the same thing as suggesting that democracy as a general concept be thrown out the window because it’s supposedly incompatible with capitalism (Peter Thiel’s sentiment, echoed far too often by his capital-L Libertarian fanbois).


Let me guess: longtime Reason magazine reader?

The Electoral College is not a sine qua non to our democratic republic, but an artefact with a decidedly mixed heritage and with some deep and fundamental flaws that need reform at the very least in 21st century. Same goes for the Senate. Reforms to both institutions of American governance could be made without violating the Constitution.


And there are very good reasons why the constitution has been amended since then… including to allow MORE people a great day via the democratic process.

We live in a very different time, with different values than they had. The constitution was never meant to be unchangeable, but it was meant to be a living document. We know this because they gave us the tools to change the damn thing.

Also, what the HELL does the nature of the constitution have to do with cities passing ordinances regarding public safety…



Tyranny of the majority is a real issue in the U.S., but it’s been wheeled out as pants-pissing concern about “mob rule” every time in history it’s been proposed that a member of a group who wasn’t a land-owning white-skinned native-born male be given the franchise.


Limitations on our democratic processes should really be around protecting minority rights along the lines of human rights, if you ask me. No one else can give legislate away your human rights, including the right to vote…


This looks like it will be a nice companion topic to Freeze Peach: a catch-all reference topic where we can direct people so we don’t have to re-hash the basics again and again for newcomers offering us their mind-blowing “contrarian” takes.

Let the K-12 civics and history lessons begin!


The word “national” does not appear in the constitution either.

Oddly, racists see no need to harp on that particular omission.


I had no idea that snowflakes were polyhedrons.


here ya go:

A Republic, Not a Democracy? Initiative, Referendum, and the Constitution’s Guarantee Clause

Texas Law Review, Vol. 80, p. 807, 2002

52 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2012
Date Written: 2002

Although the argument is often made that voter initiative and referendum procedures violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of a “republican form of government,” historical inquiry finds little or no merit in this contention. For the American founders, the concept of republic and democracy largely or entirely overlapped. Moreover, their use of the term “republic” was based on explicit acknowledgment that republics could include direct citizen lawmaking — as had been the case in the Roman republic and in most other republics prior to the drafting of the Constitution. The purported distinction between “republic” and “democracy” is an invention of the political battles of the 1840s, and draws strength from a misinterpretation of Madison’s views in The Federalist.

left over from the last silly internet debate I got into. Might have been on point.


I think my initial conjecture deserves a more objective consideration than being dismissed as some kind of irrational fringe rhetoric.

Western democracy leaves exactly that to be governed by the people (via various indirection) which is of no interest to the owning classes.

When did you last have a vote in a workplace, regarding any matter of hiring, firing, product choice or design, or any other matter of relevance?

When was the last time any significant resource has been transferred from private to public control, and not the other way around?

They will happily let us vote whether we put clown A or clown B in chair C, on the color of bicycle lanes, and sometimes even whether you want your food to be less poisonous or more expensive.

They will never let us vote whether the country goes to war, how gun control is implemented, whether we want our cities to be flooded with shitty cars and our oceans with poisonous plastic, whether we want our fellow citizens to die of curable disease, or anything else of significance.

Western democracy is democracy under the caveat of private property, which the latter constantly expanding at the cost of the former.

There’s no dismissal on my part. I was simply pointing out to him that you were using the term in the generic sense. Take it easy.

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