I have always wondered as to whether Democracy is really “freedom” as it is touted by its advocates.
My uncompromising zeal of quest on this complex and may be less understood subject developed because of the way these advocates are championing this phenomenon worldwide and which is undoubtedly echoing on the entire planet earth.
America, to me that is, seems to be the custodian of this phenomenon and apparently seems to be winning the hearts of many, especially the so called “downtrodden” by autocratic regimes who have no regard at all for this “now popular buzz-word”.
America’s success in championing this “democracy phenomena” is clearly manifested in the collapse of the cold war. Russia’s dreams of being a global super power, one would assume, are now history worthy the archives.
The 61 Billion Kwacha Question:
In this epic journey of mine, Mr Jacob G Hornberger has shed some light on this seemingly simple subject which also seems to be controversial, at the same time.
One of the core tenets of American foreign policy is the encouragement of democracy around the world.
The implication is that if a country is democratic, the people within that country are free. But is democracy freedom?
And, this is my 61 BILLION Malawi Kwacha question!
In 1787, the U.S. Constitution called the federal government into existence. The document provided that the president and the members of Congress would be elected. The Founders, however, did not stop there.
They proceeded to do something quite unusual – in fact, unique. They used the Constitution itself to expressly limit the powers of their own government officials. For example, Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution expressly limits Congress to the exercise of only 18 enumerated powers. Why?
Why would the Founders create a democratically elected government whose powers were extremely limited? Why not simply give unlimited power to the elected representatives to do whatever they believed was right for the people?
The rationale was twofold. First, the American people in 1787 didn’t trust government officials with political power, not even their own elected representatives. The second reason was more important.
The American people knew that democracy did not constitute freedom and that historically democracy posed an enormous threat to freedom.
Thus, in order to bring a national government, even a democratically elected one, into existence, the Framers of the Constitution had to convince the American people that the powers of their government would be extremely limited.
The underlying concerns were:
• How can we be certain that this new government will not infringe upon or even destroy our fundamental rights of life, liberty, and property? For example, what would prevent Congress from enacting a law requiring everyone to attend religious services? Or a law punishing people who criticized the government?
• What would protect the exercise of such inherent fundamental rights as freedom of religion and freedom of speech from the tyranny of democratic rule?
The way out:
The defenders of the Constitution responded by pointing to the powers enumerated in Article 1, Section 8. They said, since the powers of the Congress were expressly limited to those enumerated, no one needed to fear that Congress would exercise additional powers that were not enumerated.
Since the power to regulate religion and speech, for example, was not enumerated, Congress would not be authorized to pass a law regulating such activities.
Still, the people were sceptical; knowing that throughout history, governments, even democratically elected ones, had ended up exercising tyrannical powers over the citizenry.
Thus, as a condition for approving the Constitution, the people in the respective states required a promise – a promise to enact the first 10 amendments to the Constitution –and this is what is termed the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of “Prohibitions”
The “Bill of Rights” is actually a misnomer. It would have been more appropriately called the “Bill of Prohibitions” because the amendments do not grant rights to the people, but rather expressly prohibit democratically elected government officials from interfering with fundamental (and pre-existing) rights of the people.
For example, the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.”
Still there were those who opposed the express protection of certain enumerated rights because it might imply, they suggested, that government officials would have the power to regulate rights that were not enumerated.
And this led to the passage of the Ninth Amendment: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
And thus began the most revolutionary political experiment in history. Never before had a people called a government into existence whose powers were limited by the very charter that brought it into existence. The American people had recognized – from the start – that democracy is not synonymous with freedom.
Democracy being, simply put: a convenient and peaceful method by which people can change government officials.
To guarantee freedom, a further step was imperative and this was to use the Constitution to restrict the powers of their (democratically elected) government officials.
Democracy versus the principles of a constitutional republic:
In lieu of the afore-going, shouldn’t American policy makers spend less time extolling the virtues of democracy around the world and invest more in explaining the principles of a constitutional republic?
After all, in many democratic nations, elected public officials have omnipotent power over the lives and fortunes of the citizenry. The only real freedom that people in those countries have is the freedom to elect a new dictator/plunderer/looter-in-chief every so often. And what can be great about this state of affairs?
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Maravi Post’s editorial policy