2011 ERC Scholarship Essay Program $500 Recipient
Anna Tatelman, Renton (Charles A. Lindbergh High School)
When schoolchildren across the country rise for the pledge of allegiance, few think about the words they routinely speak. It is no surprise, then, that these children – and many adults – often ignore the pledge’s dedication “to the republic” and call the U.S. a “democracy.” Our Constitution never mentions democracy, yet this mislabeling persists. Our Founding Fathers created a republic over a democracy to protect citizens from majority rule and safeguard individuals.
People’s Law Dictionary defines a democracy as “a government by the people, especially: rule of the majority.” This is likely the main reason our country is frequently mislabeled: to many Americans, this definition sounds fine. After all, isn’t America based upon the majority winning? We wouldn’t pass a bill with 10% approval, or convict a citizen if two jurors found him guilty.
In a democracy, however, that bill still wouldn’t pass with 10% approval – but it would with 51%, and the 49% minority wouldn’t be permitted to protest. In a democracy, that convicted citizen couldn’t repeal his case. In a democracy, individuals don’t matter, only the common good of society, even if that common good is – literally – 51%. Benjamin Franklin stated it best: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.”
Historically, democracies always collapse. Even Athens, perhaps the most stable democracy to ever exist, crumbled. Many factors led to Athens’ fall, but two main causes were oligarchs seizing power during instable periods, and the majority-rule decision to execute six generals following a victorious naval battle. The French Revolution, though slightly after the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, was another democracy attempt, aiming to provide equality to all citizens but ultimately slaughtering thousands. Democracies begin with the intention of justly letting all voices be heard, but this goal always shatters beneath either a power coup or the majority committing gross iniquities.
Online Etymology Dictionary defines a republic as “a state in which supreme power rests in the people.” Some might think that is precisely the same as a democracy, but there is an important distinction: in a democracy, sovereignty lies with the majority; in a republic, the people. That bill wouldn’t pass with 51% approval, that convicted citizen could repeal his court case, and that single lamb against the wolves would be “well-armed [and] contesting the vote.” Republics protect minority rights that democracies cannot. The majority still wins, but an individual is never denied their inalienable right to raise their voice, their right to live. As Ayn Rand said, “Individual rights aren’t subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority . . . and the smallest minority on earth is the individual.”
Our Founding Fathers didn’t mince words when they declared the U.S. a republic: they desired a country free of despotic majority rule that preserves the rights of individuals. The least we can do in return is not mince our words and always label our nation not a democracy, but a republic.