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The Party System’s Newest Flaw

August 6th, 2011 // 10:08 am @


I recently watched a televised debate on whether America’s two-party system is making our nation ungovernable.

During the debate, New York Times columnist David Brooks said something fascinating.

He mentioned that political scientists keep track of how much cooperation there is between the two parties in Congress, and that while there have been periods of major party fighting such as the 1860s and 1960s, we are at an all-time low in partisan cooperation to get deals done.

Then he noted that the major difference in our current party system is that always before each party included a wide variety of viewpoints.

Within the same tent of the Democratic Party, for instance, many views and policies were suggested, debated and decided.

The same diversity existed within the Republican Party.

Today, however, this is not the case—at least not when it comes to policy proposals.

“The problem is that each party has become more rigid in my own lifetime of covering this,” he said. “When I came to Washington in the early 1980s, I could go to back ventures like Jack Kemp or Newt Gingrich on the Republican side. They had all these weird ideas they were trying to push on leadership. That doesn’t happen [anymore]—the leaders control everything now. The nature of the parties has changed.”

In their drive to win, the party leaders have organized around single, central themes and strongly demanded that congressmen stay within the accepted partisan bounds on nearly all topics.

Most of our elected officials are reasonable and dedicated, and if we put a group of them in a room without party labels and the goal of solving a given issue—say debt, deficits, immigration, or health care—they would almost certainly be able to propose sensible and plausible solutions in a relatively short time.

But attach a party label to each person in the room, especially with the historical baggage now attached to the parties, and the cost, timeline and likelihood of success would suddenly and permanently change.

This is a serious problem for modern America.

Racism of Red and Blue

Calling someone a Democrat or a Republican today is fraught with danger—they may well take offense.

 I once watched a man stand at a public meeting and make a suggestion on how to solve the problem before the group.

The officials at the front of the room asked him several questions, and he answered them with common sense and a clear understanding of the situation.

A few members of the audience stood to add their support and small suggestions to improve his idea.

The room was moving toward consensus, when another participant asked if the speaker was a Republican.

When he answered that he was a registered Democrat, the mood in the room changed.

A few argued with him (making the point that they were Republicans, which literally had nothing to do with the topic at hand).

This fueled anger among Democrats and within minutes the room was deeply divided.

The official running the meeting took the floor and pointed out to everyone that the man’s idea had been almost universally supported before his political affiliation was mentioned, and tried to get the group back to discussing the merits of the idea.

But it was too late: the Republicans in the room now disliked his idea and the Democrats supported it.

Many had to change their minds to get to this point, but it seems that was easy once they knew which party he belonged to.

This kind of divisiveness is all too common.

Even online, many, perhaps most, American citizens who engage in political conversation limit themselves to groups where the other people agree with their views.

Few discussions on political topics are inclusive or open to learning from diverse perspectives.

Squabbles and Solutions

Fortunately, the solution to this starts at the ground level.

Each of us can listen to the views of people who disagree with us on politics.

I don’t know when the idea that discussing politics is impolite came into vogue, but it has only hurt our freedom and prosperity.

Right now, today, we can learn from other political views, not to debunk them immediately and angrily like most people do, but rather to really understand their point.

This is not the same as forgetting one’s beliefs—it is in fact the opposite process of strengthening one’s most important beliefs by increasing your understanding of the world.

A move to a European-style multiparty system is not the answer, since this would create a structure where the winner still runs the whole government but is usually a lot more extreme than moderate.

Ideally, America could adopt a non-partisan model like that suggested by many of the American framers.

The Constitution is actually designed for a nonparty system.

In the absence of a major shift to a nonpartisan model, the best reform to our system would be for more American citizens to ignore party spin and think independently—and openly listen to and learn from others who do the same, even if they disagree with your ideas.

We all have more to learn, and in fact significant political learning is more likely when we are listening to those whose views differ from the thoughts we’ve already had.

New ideas spark increased thinking, even when you disagree with the details.

Of course, people shouldn’t simply accept ideas they find problematic or wrong, but free citizens need to be good listeners and open-minded thinkers.

Such maturity is needed in any free society, and especially in one where ideological political parties dominate the discussion.

Our leaders, deeply mired in partisan squabbles, are unlikely to make this change, so it is up to regular Americans to take the lead in discussing and promoting needed solutions for many of our biggest challenges.


odemille 133x195 custom Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of HistoryOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

Category : Blog &Citizenship &Constitution &Culture &Featured &Government &Leadership &Liberty &Politics

Debts and Deficits: A Jane Austen Story

August 2nd, 2011 // 10:54 am @

Chapter I: A Truth Universally Acknowledged

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when a nation treats business badly, corporations with extra capital take it abroad and the home nation faces job losses and economic challenges.

Such nations experience widespread anxiety about their future, problems feel overwhelming, and the leaders seem unable—or unwilling—to find and implement effective solutions.

But the answers are actually quite clear, if only the people and their leaders have the courage to apply them.

When great nations struggling with debt, deficits, sluggish growth and high unemployment cultivate the most friendly global environment for business investment and economic growth, their economy booms and flourishes.

The current debate in Washington about debts, deficits, taxes, spending cuts and political parties is a lot like a Jane Austen novel.

There are attractive, well-spoken charmers who turn out to be villains, shockingly inappropriate self-promoters, and well-meaning individuals of influence whose personal flaws and arrogance cause problems around them—even as they are entertaining to the audience.

There are also regular, good people who stand to gain or lose a lot.

And, above all, there is the romance of important things happening, things which touch us on a level deeper than the intellect.

The most striking similarity, however, may be that the first paragraph of the story—and even the title—contain the whole answer.

Readers who carefully ponder the thoughts of the first paragraph of certain Austen novels get a preview and veritable overview of the whole plot to come.

In Pride and Prejudice, for example, the reader discovers in the first several sentences that the daughters of a modestly-situated family are in need of marrying well and that their prospects have just improved due to the proximity of a promising young man.

The plot is pretty much determined at this point.

The girl will get the boy, after some courtship, disappointments, major crisis, and so on.

And since we are told right off the bat that more than one girl needs to get a boy, we can be sure that at least some of them will succeed.

The title helps too: we can be fairly certain that the disappointments and crises will have something to do with pride, prejudice and misunderstandings, and that when these flaws are overcome the crises will be over and the story will find resolution.

The same is true of our current national narrative, which could be entitled Debts and Deficits.

Chapter II: A Rocket Science Conclusion

It really isn’t rocket science to conclude, even without going into detail, that deficits will be solved by spending less than we bring in, and that debt will be overcome either by not borrowing too much in the first place or by growing the economy to bring in surpluses that pay off the obligated amount.

Of course, it is in the details, dialogues, relationships and minutiae that the real fun is found.

Who will succeed?

Who will show their true colors?

Which characters will face reality and change?

How will the audience respond?

Still, whatever the particulars, the plot is generally known from the beginning.

Yes, it is within the realm of possibility that the whole thing could turn strangely off course.

 The story could progress, develop and build toward crescendo only to suddenly go in some strange and totally unexpected direction, but only by refusing to overcome the debts and deficits.

These are what the story is about, after all, so dealing with them is vital—and eventually this is what will happen.

Americans want two things which seem to be in conflict with each other.

Chapter III: Greedy Americans

First, they want freedom, opportunity, prosperity, low taxes and non-intrusive government, and, second, they want a lot of government programs that provide significant benefits which they have become accustomed to enjoying—from roads and schools to trash collection, national defense, personal protection, prescription drug benefits, retirement checks, and much more.

At first glance, it seems impossible to simultaneously increase both.

Either government spending must go down or taxes must go up.

This is the crisis.

Darcy wants massive new programs that will require huge government spending increases, while Lizzie wants tax cuts and decreases in government red tape.

You can imagine the letters they would exchange on the subject.

As the disagreements escalate, both sides eventually resort to name calling: “inferior connections,” “lack of gentlemanly behavior,” “tax cuts for the rich,” “socialists,” “party of no,” “the President has no plan,” etc.

Still, the plot is basically set: overcome your pride or you won’t get what you want, realize that your prejudice has caused you to misread people and their real character, spend less than the nation takes in or see fiscal problems exponentially increase, become attractive to business investment and hiring or watch the economy and unemployment continue to sputter.

Mrs. Bennett’s behavior is shocking; no wonder Darcy feels pride in comparison.

The corporate tax rates in the United States are double those of our top competitors; no wonder jobs are scarce in the United States.

Sometimes the context tells the whole story.

David Cote said on Meet the Press:

 “Right now the problem we’ve got is uncertainty of demand. Businesses don’t add until they’re sure that somebody is going to want to actually buy something. To that we’ve added uncertainty of regulation, and when you combine those two it just causes businesses to say, ‘I’m going to wait a little bit.’ And I always find it interesting when I hear government say, ‘We need to create jobs…’ Actually, government doesn’t create jobs. Government can create an environment where jobs can be created, and I think it’s important to start to distinguish between the two.”

Ohio Governor John Kasich added, in the same conversation:

“In my state, where we faced an $8 billion deficit, we wiped it out and eliminated it, and here’s the interesting thing: we have just been taken off of negative watch [credit rating]. In the middle of this we also have jumped—according to CNBC—11 places in terms of business friendly [states]. We’ve been able to cut taxes, improve and reform government, and you know why? We looked it square in the eye because Ohio was dying, and we are beginning to really become business friendly. That is what they’re not doing here in D.C. right now.”

Ohio faced a massive deficit, and overcame it by becoming business friendly, by attracting business growth.

As a result, they were able to cut taxes and drastically improve their economy.

But Washington has yet to make such changes.

As Senator Marco Rubio said on Face the Nation,

“If you talk to job creators, not politicians, not presidents, they will tell you…they’re looking for some regulatory reform….because they think these regulations that are being imposed make America a more unfriendly place to do business. When people tell you, ‘communist China is a better place to do business than America,’ you know you’re in trouble.”

As Jack Lew, Director of the White House Office of Budget and Management said on This Week With Christiane Amanpour,

“It’s not enough for us just to do what we have to do. We have to do as much as we possibly can to deal with the fiscal challenges.”

Chapter IV: A Strategy for Washington

The strategy for Washington is clear.

Become business friendly.

Cut spending to get our fiscal house in order.

Cut the corporate tax rate to make America’s business environment competitive with other nations.

That’s the only jobs program Washington needs.

I recently heard a radio talk-show discussion that suggested the United States can’t make the needed changes without a huge crisis.

Unless we engage a massive military conflict, one commentator argued, the American people will never be willing to fund the level of government spending needed to get our economy turned around.

This kind of thinking is entirely wrong.

Yes, Darcy must have become even more attached to Lizzie by facing the Wickham crisis and bringing it to resolution, but every indication is that he would have fully pursued her anyway—and everyone would have been better off without the crisis.

We may need crisis to get us to do the right thing with our economy, but we really should just do it without waiting for calamity.

The Great Recession, continued unemployment and our sluggish economy are crisis enough.

And, again, the solutions are clear.

They were inherent in the plot before the economy ever started struggling.

When you spend more than you have, stop.

When you need more than you have, become attractive to business opportunity.

Pay your bills.

Don’t default.

Don’t keep increasing the debt without reducing spending and following a valid plan for fiscal prosperity.

Make hard choices because they are the right thing to do, regardless of what the Lady Catherines or Mr. Collinses of the world will think.

There is only one way this can end: We have to get our fiscal house in order.

Chapter V: Happily Ever After or…Not So Much

Image Source: Pride and Prejudice, A&E. 1995.

We can do this right now, with celebrations and smiles, or we can refuse to make the right choices and let world markets force our government spending, regulation and excesses to change.

But change they will.

We can marry Darcy or Wickham, but marry we shall.

That ending was foreshadowed when the first page was written.

The story of the United States right now is Debt and Deficits, and there can only be one ultimate conclusion.

Debts and deficits are real, we have them, and we must overcome them—by choice or natural consequences.

How much we suffer between now and the last page depends on us.


odemille 133x195 custom Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of HistoryOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

Category : Blog &Citizenship &Constitution &Economics &Featured &Government &Leadership &Politics

Our Government Isn’t Broken

August 1st, 2011 // 10:22 am @

The Third Party Solution

Our government isn’t broken.

It is just caught in the past.

Specifically, the current divide between the parties is a mirror image of the country.

Politics is a reflection of society, and the bickering right now in Washington is a direct projection of the nation.

There is one big exception.

The nation is divided into three major political camps.

The problem is that the two smallest camps (Democrats and Republicans) have party representation in Washington while the largest camp (independents) does not.

In short, it’s not that our government is broken, but rather that we are stuck in a twentieth-century structural model even though the society has fundamentally changed.

Instead of a two-party nation sending its representatives to Washington, we now have a three-party society where the biggest “party” must divide its representation between the two smaller parties.

It’s not broken, it just acts like it.

The Great Fall

This situation began to develop when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

Up to that point, the two-party model was a natural reflection of a nation engaged in a long-term Cold War with an enemy capable of destroying our entire civilization.

This omnipresent reality colored all policy for over four decades.

Having sacrificed greatly to overcome major conflicts in WWI and WWII, the large majority of citizens from both parties stood firmly together against the Soviet threat.

When the Cold War menace significantly decreased, Americans took a long sigh of relief, and then they reassessed their priorities for government.

Some felt that the needs of big business were the top priority, others considered moral issues the lead concern, while still others deemed an increase in social justice the major challenge.

The first two pooled resources in the Republican Party, while social liberals and those emphasizing social justice combined in the Democratic Party.

The largest group of Americans rejected both of these extremes, feeling that government should indeed fulfill its role to corporations, societal values, and social justice, but also to a number of other vital priorities including national security, education, and fiscal responsibility.

But, because independents come from many viewpoints and also because they have no official party apparatus in Washington, the biggest political group in our nation today has little direct political power except during elections.

The consequence is that subsequent elections tend to sway widely in opposite directions.

When independents put Republicans in power, they are naturally (because they are not Republicans) frustrated with how the Republicans use that power.

When, in contrast, they vote for Democrats, they find themselves discouraged with what Democrats do in office.

This is a structural problem.

When Democrats elect a Democrat, the elected official can swing to the center once in office because while supporters may dislike their Democratic official’s actions they will almost always still vote for him/her in the next election—after all, in their view the Republican would be worse.

The same applies to Republicans electing a Republican.

All of this changes when independents put a Democrat, or a Republican, in office. Naturally, the elected official will disappoint supporters in some way, and independents are as likely as not to believe that a candidate from the other party will do better.

Historical Realignments

When similar historical realignments of politics with cultural shifts have occurred, a major new political group in society reformed one of the big parties to fit its new views.

For example, when the Declaration of Independence and hostilities with Britain changed the old Tory versus Whig debate, the Loyalists mostly joined the new Federalists while the Whigs split between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists.

When the new U.S. Constitution changed the makeup of society and made the Federalist versus Anti-Federalist debate obsolete, most of the Anti-Federalists joined the Jeffersonian Democratic Republicans while the Federalists split between the Democratic Republicans and the Federalists.

Other such changes have happened several times in American history, most notably in the 1830s, 1850s, 1910s, 1930s and 1960s.

Note that in the twentieth-century shifts the names of the parties (Democrat and Republican) did not change even though political philosophies were significantly altered during these periods of realignment.

The current repositioning may or may not adopt a new name for one of the parties, but a philosophical shift is occurring nonetheless.

Some believe that this shift is fundamentally rooted in social concerns, from issues of gender and sexual preference to values debates and immigration.

But this is a view left over from the twentieth-century style Democrat-Republican argument.

The rise of independents is not a morality-driven movement.

It’s mostly about the economy.

The New Party

The new party of the twenty-first century will emphasize economic growth and getting our financial house in order.

Many independents will flock to this party, whatever its name—Democratic, Republican, or something else.

This is the party of the future.

And while analysts say that independents are not joiners, it is likely that many would join such a party.

Note that a real three-party system is not likely to last.

A third party may arise, as Thomas L. Friedman and others have suggested, but history suggests that t will eventually take the place of one of the top two parties.

There is an important reason for this.

The American framers did not want the U.S. President to be elected by a plurality of the nation, so they wisely structured the Electoral College in a way that the President can only be elected by a majority of electoral votes.

This means that any third party will eventually have to gain the support of one of the other parties in order to win the White House.

This constitutional reality is one of the most important things keeping America strong.

Without it, any extreme party might win a given election and take the nation in even more drastic directions than we’ve witnessed to date.

To sum it up, the frustration with two-party infighting is a positive thing.

The framers rightly foresaw that the greatest danger to America would be an apathetic citizenry, and the Electoral College requirement for majority has caused a no-party or two-party structure and also incentivized citizens to stay informed and involved.

When a powerful third party arises in America, it has always come in response to a change in society and it has always worked to reform the two existing parties in ways that better reflected the desires of the people.

This is a huge positive, as chaotic as it may seem at times.


Today, it is independents that most dislike the party bickering, and as a result independents are more actively involved in government.

This is a powerful check on the aristocratic-political class, and shows once again the brilliance and inspired effectiveness of the U.S. Constitution as established by the framers.

Our government isn’t broken, but the current two-party system is outdated.

Neither party truly represents the views of the largest political “group” in America—independents.

Until this problem is fixed, the entire political system will look untenable and appear unable to solve major American problems.

But such realignment is already occurring, albeit slowly, and the future belongs to whichever party—Democrat, Republican or a third party—gets serious about three things:

  1. A moderate view that government has an important role to play in society and that it must also be limited to the things it really should do like national security, schools and basic social justice
  2. Actually getting our financial house in order
  3. Creating the environment for widespread enterprise and a true growth economy

The party that effectively and consistently champions these things will be the leading political group in the years ahead.

In other words, some major shifts in the parties are ahead.


odemille 133x195 custom Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of HistoryOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

Category : Blog &Citizenship &Constitution &Current Events &Featured &Government &Independents &Leadership &Liberty &Politics &Statesmanship

Simple Freedom

June 21st, 2011 // 9:48 am @

“I left the fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sensible since.”

–G.K. Chesterton

Freedom is not a complex idea. But we do live in a complex world, and only complex government forms have proven able to keep those with power from exerting too much of it. The American founders mixed the simple and the complex. They simply pitted power against power, institution against institution, authority against authority. And they simply put the people in charge of it all.

The details are more complex. The House represents the people. The Senate represents the states, and also, naturally, the wealthy. The President represents the nation. The Court represents the Constitution. The States represent themselves, but also the people. The Constitution represents itself; the people just have to read and apply it. It also represents the people—it is written by them to the government, outlining limits of what the government may and may not do. The electors in the Electoral College, which elects the President, also represent the people. This is the way it stood originally.

In simple terms, the following were represented once: the wealthy and the nation. On the complex side, those which were naturally less powerful than the wealthy and national government were represented twice: the States, and also the Constitution. The least naturally powerful, the regular people, were represented in our Constitutional model four times; this is complex in design, but what could be more simple than a government by, for and of the people?

On the side of complexity, the founders mixed the ideas of Polybius, Montesquieu, Hume, Blackstone, Adam Smith and others in this process. On the side of simplicity, the people simply need to read the Constitution and the great freedom classics to understand freedom.

Another simple reality is this: When we lose our freedoms in such a system, it is always the people, not the system, which has failed. The people have all the power—if they understand freedom, read history and the Constitution, and stay actively involved in maintaining their freedoms, the complex arrangement of Constitutional freedoms will not fail.

But when the people turn to other matters and neglect to maintain their freedoms, when they allow the 17th Amendment or Butler v. the U.S. or the insertion of party politics into the government, for example, to reduce the power of the people, it becomes more difficult for later generations to promote freedom. Still, the Constitution is there and a wise citizenry has the power to reboot American freedom.

When the understanding of the citizens is simple, the actions they must take to be free are complex—even confusing. When the understanding of the citizens is complex, the actions they must take are simple.


odemille 133x195 custom Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of HistoryOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

Category : Blog &Constitution &Government &History &Liberty &Politics &Statesmanship

Is America a Democracy, Republic, or Empire?

April 20th, 2011 // 7:09 am @

Some in Washington are fond of saying that certain nations don’t know how to do democracy.

Anytime a nation breaks away from totalitarian or authoritarian controls, these “experts” point out that the people aren’t “prepared” for democracy.

But this is hardly the point.

A nation where the people aren’t prepared for democracy–but where a strong leader is prepared for tyranny–is still better off as a democracy.

A nation where the people aren’t prepared for democracy but where an elite class is prepared for aristocracy is still better off as a democracy.

A nation where the people aren’t prepared for democracy but where a socialist or fundamentalist religious bureaucracy is prepared to rule is still better off as a democracy.

Whatever the people’s inadequacies, they will do better than the other, class-dominant forms of government.

Winston Churchill was right:

“Democracy is the worst form of government–except for all those others that have been tried.”

False Democracy

When I say “democracy,” I am of course not referring to a pure democracy where the masses make every decision; this has always turned to mob rule through history.

Of Artistotle’s various types and styles of democracy, this was the worst. The American founders considered this one of the least effective of free forms of government.

Nor do I mean a “socialist democracy” as proposed by Karl Marx, where the people elect leaders who then exert power over the finances and personal lives of all citizens.

Whether this type of government is called democracy (e.g. Social Democrats in many former Eastern European nations) in the Marxian sense or a republic (e.g. The People’s Republic of China, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics–USSR, etc.), it amounts to the same oligarchic model of authoritarian rule.

Marx used the concept of democracy–he called it “the battle for democracy”–to argue for the working classes to rise up against the middle and upper classes and take back their power.

Ironically, he believed the masses incapable of such leadership, and felt that a small group of elites, the “vanguard”, would have to do the work of the masses for them.

This argument assumes an oligarchic view of the world, and the result of attempted Marxism has nearly always been dictatorial or oligarchic authoritarianism.

In this attitude Marx follows his mentor Hegel, who discounted any belief in the power or wisdom of the people as wild imaginings (see Mortimer Adler’s discussion on “Monarchy” in the Syntopicon).

The American founders disagreed entirely with this view.

A Democratic Republic

The type of democracy we need more of in the world is constitutional representative democracy, with:

A written constitution that separates the legislative, executive and judicial powers. Limits all with checks and balances, and leaves most of the governing power in the hands of the people and local and regional, rather than national, government institutions.

In such a government, the people have the power to elect their own representatives who participate at all levels. Then the people closely oversee the acts of government.

One other power of the people in a constitutional representative democratic republic is to either ratify or reject the original constitution.

Only the support of the people allows any constitution to be adopted (or amended) by a democratic society.

The American framers adopted Locke’s view that the legislative power was closest to the people and should have the sole power over the nation’s finances.

Thus in the U.S. Constitution, direct representatives of the people oversaw the money and had to answer directly to the people every two years.

Two Meanings of “Democracy”

There are two ways of understanding the term democracy. One is as a governmental form–which is how this article has used the word so far. The other is as a societal format.

There are four major types of societies:

  • A chaotic society with no rules, laws or government
  • A monarchical society where one man or woman has full power over all people and aspects of the society
  • An aristocratic society where a few people–an upper class–control the whole nation
  • A democratic society where the final say over the biggest issues in the nation comes from the regular people

As a societal form, democracy is by far the best system.Montesquieu, who was the source most quoted at the American Constitutional Convention, said:

“[Democracy exists] when the body of the people is possessed of the supreme power.”

In a good constitutional democracy, the constitution limits the majority from impinging upon the inalienable rights of a minority–or of anyone at all.

Indeed, if a monarchical or aristocratic society better protects the rights of the people than a democratic nation, it may well be a more just and free society.

History has shown, however, that over time the people are more likely to protect their rights than any royal family or elite class.

When the many are asked to analyze and ratify a good constitution, and then to protect the rights of all, it turns out they nearly always protect freedom and just society better than the one or the few.

It is very important to clarify the difference between these two types of democracy–governmental and societal.

For example, many of the historic Greek “democracies” were governmental democracies only. They called themselves democracies because the citizens had the final say on the governmental structure and elections–but only the upper class could be citizens.

Thus these nations were actually societal aristocracies, despite being political democracies.

Plato called the societal form of democracy the best system and the governmental format of democracy the worst.

Clearly, knowing the difference is vital.

Aristotle felt that there are actually six major types of societal forms.

A king who obeys the laws leads a monarchical society, while a king who thinks he is above the law rules a tyrannical society.

Likewise, government by the few can either have different laws for the elite class or the same laws for all people, making oligarchy or aristocracy.

In a society where the people are in charge, they can either rule by majority power (he called this democracy) or by wise laws, protected inalienable rights and widespread freedom (he called this “mixed” or, as it is often translated, “constitutional” society).

Like Plato, Aristotle considered the governmental form of democracy bad, but better than oligarchy or tyranny; and he believed the societal form of democracy (where the people as a mass generally rule the society) to be good.

Democracy or Republic?

The authors of The Federalist Papers tried to avoid this confusion about the different meanings of “democracy” simply by shortening the idea of a limited, constitutional, representative democracy to the term “republic.”

A breakdown of these pieces is enlightening:

  • Limited (unalienable rights for all are protected)
  • Constitutional (ratified by the people; the three major powers separated, checked and balanced)
  • Representative (the people elect their leaders, using different constituencies to elect different leaders for different governmental entities–like the Senate and the House)
  • Democracy (the people have the final say through elections and through the power to amend the constitution)

The framers required all state governments to be this type of republic, and additionally, for the national government to be federal (made up of sovereign states with their own power, delegating only a few specific powers to the national government).

When we read the writings of most of the American founders, it is helpful to keep this definition of “republic” in mind.

When they use the terms “republic” or “a republic” they usually mean a limited, constitutional, representative democracy like that of all the states.

When they say “the republic” they usually refer to the national-level government, which they established as a limited, constitutional, federal, representative democracy.

At times they shorten this to “federal democratic republic” or simply democratic republic.

Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson frequently used the term “representative democracy,” but most of the other founders preferred the word “republic.”

A Global Problem

In today’s world the term “republic” has almost as many meanings as “democracy.”

The term “democracy” sometimes has the societal connotation of the people overseeing the ratification of their constitution. It nearly always carries the societal democracy idea that the regular people matter, and the governmental democracy meaning that the regular people get to elect their leaders.

The good news is that freedom is spreading. Authoritarianism, by whatever name, depends on top-down control of information, and in the age of the Internet this is disappearing everywhere.

More nations will be seeking freedom, and dictators, totalitarians and authoritarians everywhere are ruling on borrowed time.

People want freedom, and they want democracy–the societal type, where the people matter. All of this is positive and, frankly, wonderful.

The problem is that as more nations seek freedom, they are tending to equate democracy with either the European or Asian versions (parliamentary democracy or an aristocracy of wealth).

The European parliamentary democracies are certainly an improvement over the authoritarian states many nations are seeking to put behind them, but they are inferior to the American model.

The same is true of the Asian aristocratic democracies.

Specifically, the parliamentary model of democracy gives far too much power to the legislative branch of government, with few separations, checks or balances.

The result is that there are hardly any limits to the powers of such governments. They simply do whatever the parliament wants, making it an Aristotelian oligarchy.

The people get to vote for their government officials, but the government can do whatever it chooses–and it is run by an upper class.

This is democratic government, but aristocratic society. The regular people in such a society become increasingly dependent on government and widespread prosperity and freedom decrease over time.

The Asian model is even worse. The governmental forms of democracy are in place, but in practice the very wealthy choose who wins elections, what policies the legislature adopts, and how the executive implements government programs.

The basic problem is that while the world equates freedom with democracy, it also equates democracy with only one piece of historical democracy–popular elections.

Nations that adopt the European model of parliamentary democracy or the Asian system of aristocratic democracy do not become societal democracies at all–but simply democratic aristocracies.

Democracy is spreading–if by democracy we mean popular elections; but aristocracy is winning the day.

Freedom–a truly widespread freedom where the regular people in a society have great opportunity and prosperity is common–remains rare around the world.

The Unpopular American Model

The obvious solution is to adopt the American model of democracy, as defined by leading minds in the American founding: limited, constitutional, representative, federal, and democratic in the societal sense where the regular people really do run the nation.

Unfortunately, this model is currently discredited in global circles and among the world’s regular people for at least three reasons:

1. The American elite is pursuing other models.

The left-leaning elite (openly and vocally) idealize the European system, while the American elite on the right prefers the Asian structure of leadership by wealth and corporate status.

If most of the intelligentsia in the United States aren’t seeking to bolster the American constitutional model, nor the elite U.S. schools that attract foreign students on the leadership track, it is no surprise that freedom-seekers in other nations aren’t encouraged in this direction.

2. The American bureaucracy around the world isn’t promoting societal democracy but rather simple political democracy–popular elections have become the entire de facto meaning of the term “democracy” in most official usage.

With nobody pushing for limited, constitutional, federal, representative democratic republics, we get what we promote: democratic elections in fundamentally class-oriented structures dominated by elite upper classes.

3. The American people aren’t all that actively involved as democratic leaders.

When the U.S. Constitution was written, nearly every citizen in America was part of a Town Council, with a voice and a vote in local government. With much pain and sacrifice America evolved to a system where every adult can be such a citizen, regardless of class status, religious views, gender, race or disability.

Every adult now has the opportunity to have a real say in governance. Unfortunately, we have over time dispensed with the Town Councils of all Adults and turned to a representative model even at the most local community and neighborhood level.

As Americans have ceased to participate each week in council and decision-making with all adults, we have lost some of the training and passion for democratic involvement and become more reliant on experts, the press and political parties.

Voting has become the one great action of our democratic involvement, a significant decrease in responsibility since early America.

We still take part in juries–but now even that power has been significantly reduced–especially since 1896.

In recent times popular issues like environmentalism and the tea parties have brought a marked increase of active participation by regular citizens in the national dialogue.

Barack Obama’s populist appeal brought a lot of youth into the discussion. The Internet and social media have also given more power to the voice of the masses.

When the people do more than just vote, when they are involved in the on-going dialogue on major issues and policy proposals, the society is more democratic–in the American founding model–and the outlook for freedom and prosperity brightens.

The Role of the People

Human nature being what it is, no people of any nation may be truly prepared for democracy.

But–human nature being what it is–they are more prepared to protect themselves from losses of freedom and opportunity than any other group.

Anti-democratic forces have usually argued that we need the best leaders in society, and that experts, elites and those with “breeding,” experience and means are most suited to be the best leaders.

But free democratic societies (especially those with the benefits of limited, constitutional, representative, and locally participative systems) have proven that the right leaders are better than the best leaders.

We don’t need leaders (as citizens or elected officials) who seem the most charismatically appealing nearly so much as we need those who will effectively stand for the right things.

And no group is more likely to elect such leaders than the regular people.

It is the role of the people, in any society that wants to be or remain free and prosperous, to be the overseers of their government.

If they fail in this duty, for whatever reason, freedom and widespread prosperity will decrease. If the people don’t protect their freedoms and opportunities, despite what Marx thought, nobody will.

No vanguard, party or group of elites or experts will do as much for the people as they can do for themselves. History is clear on this reality.

We can trust the people, in America and in any other nation, to promote widespread freedom and prosperity better than anyone else.

Two Challenges

With that said, we face at least two major problems that threaten the strength of our democratic republic right now in the United States.

First, only a nation of citizen-readers can maintain real freedom. We must deeply understand details like these:

  • The two meanings of democracy
  • The realities and nuances of ideas such as: limited, constitutional, federal, representative, locally participative, etc.
  • The differences between the typical European, Asian, early American and other models competing for support in the world
  • …And so on

In short, we must study the great classics and histories to be the kind of citizen-leaders we should be.

The people are better than any other group to lead us, as discussed above, but as a people we can know more, understand more, and become better leaders.

Second, we face the huge problem all great democratic powers have eventually faced: how to reconcile our democratic society at home with our imperialism abroad.

As George Friedman has argued, we now control a world empire larger than any in history, whether we want to or not.

Yet a spirit of democratic opportunity, entrepreneurial freedom, inclusive love of liberty, freedom from oppressive class systems, and promotion of widespread prosperity is diametrically opposed to the arrogant, selfish, self-elevating, superiority-complex of imperialism.

This very dichotomy has brought down some of the greatest free nations of history.

On some occasions this challenge turned the home nation into an empire, thus killing the free democratic republic (e.g. Rome).

Other nations lost their power in the world because the regular people of the nation did not reconcile their democratic beliefs with the cruelty of imperial dominance and force (e.g. Athens, ancient Israel).

At times the colonies of an empire used the powerful democratic ideals of the great power against them and broke away.

At times the citizens of the great power refused to support the government in quelling rebellions with which they basically agreed (e.g. Great Britain and its relations with America, India, and many other former colonies).

Many of the great freedom thinkers of history have argued against empire and for the type of democratic republic the American framers established–see for example Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristotle, the Bible, Plutarch, Tacitus, Augustine, Montaigne, Locke, Montesquieu, Gibbon, Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, and Madison, among others.

The Federalist mentions empire or imperialism 53 times, and not one of the references is positive.

In contrast, the main purpose of the Federalist Papers was to make a case for a federal, democratic republic.

Those who believe in American exceptionalism (that the United States is an exception to many of the class-oriented patterns in the history of nations) now face their greatest challenge.

Will America peacefully and effectively pull back from imperialism and leave dozens of nations successfully (or haltingly) running themselves without U.S. power?

Will it set its best and brightest to figuring out how this can be done? Or to increasing the power of empire?

Empire and Freedom

Some argue that the United States cannot divest itself of empire without leaving the world in chaos.

This is precisely the argument nearly all upper classes, and slave owners, make to justify their unprincipled dominance over others.

The argument on its face is disrespectful to the people of the world.

Of course few people are truly prepared to run a democracy–leadership at all levels is challenging and at the national level it is downright overwhelming.

But, again–the people are more suited to oversee than any other group.

And without the freedom to fail, as Adam Smith put it, they never have the dynamic that impels great leaders to forge ahead against impossible odds. They will never fly unless the safety net is gone.

The people can survive and sometimes even flourish without elite rule, and the world can survive and flourish without American empire.

A wise transition is, of course, the sensible approach, but the arrogance of thinking that without our empire the world will collapse is downright selfish–unless one values stability above freedom.

How can we, whose freedom was purchased at the price of the lives, fortunes and sacred honor of our forebears, and defended by the blood of soldiers and patriots in the generations that followed, argue that the sacrifices and struggles that people around the world in our day might endure to achieve their own freedom and self- determination constitute too great a cost?

The shift will certainly bring major difficulties and problems, but freedom and self-government are worth it.

The struggles of a free people trying to establish effective institutions through trial, error, mistakes and problems are better than forced stability from Rome, Madrid, Beijing, or even London or Washington.

America can set the example, support the process, and help in significant ways–if we’ll simply get our own house in order.

Our military strength will not disappear if we remain involved in the world without imperial attitudes or behaviors. We can actively participate in world affairs without adopting either extreme of isolationism or imperialism.

Surely, if the world is as dependent on the U.S. as the imperial-minded claim, we should use our influence to pass on a legacy of ordered constitutional freedom and learning self-government over time rather than arrogant, elitist bureaucratic management backed by military might from afar.

If Washington becomes the imperial realm to the world, it will undoubtedly be the same to the American people. Freedom abroad and at home may literally be at stake.

The future will be significantly impacted by the answers to these two questions:

Will the American people resurrect a society of citizen readers actively involved in daily governance?

Will we choose our democratic values or our imperialistic attitudes as our primary guide for the 21st Century?

Who are we, really?

Today we are part democracy, part republic, and part empire.

Can we find a way to mesh all three, even though the first two are fundamentally opposed to the third?

Will the dawn of the 22nd Century witness an America free, prosperous, strong and open, or some other alternative?

If the United States chooses empire, can it possibly retain the best things about itself?

Without the Manifest Destiny proposed by the Founders, what alternate destiny awaits?

Above all, will the regular citizens–in American and elsewhere–be up to such leadership?

No elites will save us. It is up to the people.


odemille 133x195 custom Quantity. Quality. Method.Oliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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