The Founding Fathers started three things: two were intentional but the third was not. They wanted to separate from Great Britain, so they started the Revolutionary War. They were successful and the United States of America became an independent nation. They wanted to create a new system of government for our nation, and they succeeded by designing and implementing our constitutional system.
The third thing they started was the idea that America is a democracy. It started when they wrote the Declaration of Independence and proclaimed the seven self-evident truths:
- All men are created equal;
- They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights;
- Some, but not all, of these rights are: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;
- Governments are instituted among men to secure these rights;
- The powers of the government can come only from the consent of the governed;
- If any government fails in its duty to secure these rights the people can alter or abolish it, and create a new government;
- The people can structure the new government any way they please.
By declaring these truths, the Founding Fathers firmly planted the idea of American Democracy in the brain of every free American. So, by the time the new Constitution was written, the people were convinced that “republic” and “democracy” were synonymous. But, not long after America’s new constitutional system was implemented, the French Revolution took place and the victorious rebels formed the French Republic, which soon became a field of bloody horrors and no doubt made the idea of an “American Republic” a thing to be avoided wherever possible, and never to be mentioned in polite company. We do hear it from time to time today, but on television we hear “American Democracy,” as well as “our Democracy,” constantly. The idea of “American Democracy” is firmly fixed in the brain of every living American, well, except for one or two. Abraham Lincoln reinforced that belief when he said, “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” If that is not the clearest declaration of American Democracy I do not know what it could be. I do not know if Lincoln even thought about the difference between a republic and a democracy.
The people of America believe so strongly that America is a democracy that when I say it is not I am made to pay for my indiscretion. Just the other day I was called a “half-wit” for saying that America is a republic. I have been called much worse by some very angry people. For reasons I will explain below, this mistaken belief blinds us to ways to solve many of the problems that plague us. The problems that hurt America today spring from the inherent flaws of republics—flaws that are not present in democracies. To begin at the beginning:
As a boy, I was able to listen regularly to veterans returning from World War II. These men were not yet teenagers when the Great Depression began. They lived through it and then fought in World War II. They all felt they had lost valuable time that they could have used to get an education and otherwise begin to build good lives for themselves and their loved ones. They felt that the government should help them make up for lost time and they had specific programs in mind. I watched as the government failed to provide the rights, resources, opportunities, and protections that these heroes needed to catch up. Over time, I saw these men fall far short of what they felt they should have accomplished and as a result they led what they thought were economically stunted lives. I often heard these men discuss various government programs that fell short of what they needed, and other government programs that rewarded some groups that did not actually fight in the war. I also often heard them discuss their ideas for new government programs that would work for the common good.
From these experiences, I developed a deep interest in how our systems of government and economics worked and how they failed to provide what was needed to give most Americans a fair and honest chance to build long lives worth living for themselves and their loved ones. In high school I vowed to study our systems until I reached age 65 in 2004, and if at that time I felt I had learned something worthwhile, I would write a book about it.
For the first nine years of my study I followed no formal process, but rather just continued to analyze the actions of our governments in the same way that the World War II veterans, my heroes, had done. But in 1965 I began work as a rookie designer and developer of large-scale computer hardware and software systems for large enterprises. I began to understand how to analyze systems and it was easy to do. We, the people, do it all the time.
The first thing one must do when evaluating an existing system is to determine how well it meets its design goals. In the case of governments one must determine how well the systems of the government treat the citizens. It was not difficult to see that our system of government not only mistreated the returning veterans, but all citizens. It was easy to see that our method of delegating and exercising government power was designed to ignore the people. Governments have a need for two kinds of power: transformative and administrative. Transformative power, in the hands of government officials, can transform or take the lives of the people without their input or consent. Administrative power cannot. It was immediately clear that transformative power should never be delegated to a single person, or even a small group of officials, it should be kept in the hands of the people. So, my first design goal for our new system was self-evident. We must change the way we manage government power—how we delegate it, how we apply it, how we scrutinize it, how we keep it under the control of the people.
I was beginning to change my opinion of our system of government, but at that time I still proudly believed that our government was a democracy. In college, just a few years before these events, I had taken an elective course on the Constitution. In that course the professor gave us a list of recommended outside readings. One of them was Federalist 10 by James Madison. In it, Madison clearly said that our form of government is a republic, not a democracy, and I was confused. I truly believed that I had misunderstood what Madison was saying. I read the short essay several times and could not make sense of what I knew to be true: America is a democracy, and what Madison said: America is a republic. I was not alone. Several of us asked the professor how we could reconcile the conflict. He wisely said, and I believe he was sincere, that in the late 18th century it would have been impossible to implement a true democracy in America so Madison chose the next best thing. He chose a republic with its “scheme of representation,” and thereby created a “representative democracy.” Problem solved; conflict resolved, the Universe returned to normal—for a while.
I continued to study our systems and I became interested in our Supreme Court. The members of the court are given transformative power, the power of life and death, they hold it for life, their decisions cannot be appealed, they are appointed, not elected, and they answer to no one, especially not the people. I began to see how badly this system was designed. I began to think that the power of life and death should be delegated to many people and their decisions should be subject to review by the people at large. This gross misuse of the power of the people made me suspicious of the way we choose our representatives. I had noticed over time that our Congress constantly did things that did not meet with the approval of the people. Scientific opinion polls often showed that the people had a very low regard for the actions of Congress. Finally, in 2004, I decided that I would devote full time to my study of our systems and attempt to design new systems, which I would then describe in a book.
My first topic of study for the new systems was how our systems manage power. I realized that our system of economics, our capitalist system, wielded transformative power. It had the ability, through the way it distributed money throughout our population, to transform the lives of people without their input or consent. It seemed obvious to me that our system allowed the men of Congress to conspire with the men of commerce and finance to enact policies that transformed the lives of American citizens without their input or consent, and it seemed that those transformations were almost always against the common good. Our systems took actions that worked against the interests of ordinary citizens and those actions were impossible to reverse. It became clear that the people had a voice in government only on Election Day. On that day they transferred their power to the people they elected and thereafter they had no ability at all to affect government policies. The management of power, the power of the people, was in the hands of officials who could do what they pleased with that power. This struck me as plainly wrong and would have to be corrected in our new systems. Not just government power, but economic power as well.
These realizations caused me to think again about Madison’s “scheme of representation.” I had naively thought that our representatives would make an effort to stay in contact with our wishes and would try to follow them. But I began to truly suspect that I was wrong. I began to truly believe that most of our representatives, if not all, did not care one whit about the wishes of their constituents. I wanted to learn more about the theory of representation and I found a book by Jack N. Rakove called, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. The book had won the Pulitzer Prize which seemed to be a good indication of its quality. I was especially interested in “Chapter VIII The Mirror of Representation.” That chapter alone was worth the price of the book. It seems that at the time of the creation and ratification of the Constitution, there was a vigorous debate on whether the members of Congress should so closely mirror their constituents that they would have the same desires and diseases as the people back home. Others said, that once elected, the representative was free to substitute his own judgment for the judgment of his constituents. It was then I realized that America is truly a republic, not a democracy. My view of a democracy is that its public policies would reflect the wishes of the citizens—at least the majority of all the citizens. Our history, a quick review showed, is filled with situations in which Congress enacted measures that were contrary to the wishes of the people. Madison’s “scheme of representation” is decidedly anti-democracy. There is no way around that fact, and it is a fact. Our system is true to Madison’s definition of a republic as spelled out in Federalist 10. Madison said this (emphasis added):
The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.
The meaning of Madison’s words that I emphasized above, was so clear that I could not believe I had failed to understand their significance when I first read them years before in college. Furthermore I realized that my professor’s explanation of Madison’s words meant that he had failed to understand them as well. The words that reveal the true importance of Madison’s “scheme of representation” are “the delegation of the government.” He could have meant only one thing by those words. He meant that the people, by voting every two years, handed the entire government to those whom they elected, and thereafter they had no power to prevent or change any legislation their representatives might wish to pass.