Acton Institute Powerblog Video: Samuel Gregg Discusses Syria, Tea Party Catholic by Marc Vander Maas • September 27, 2013 Share this article: Join the Discussion: 8 Comments Samuel Gregg, Acton’s Director of Research, joined host Perry Atkinson on Thursday’s edition of Focus Today, which webcasts daily at TheDove.tv. You can watch the interview, which touched on the Syrian crisis and Sam’s latest book, below. Marc Vander Maas Related posts Video: Samuel Gregg Discusses Tea Party Catholic on EWTN Audio: Samuel Gregg Discusses Tea Party Catholic on KTSA San Antonio Audio: Samuel Gregg Discusses ‘Tea Party Catholic’ Audio: Samuel Gregg Discusses Tea Party Catholic in Southwestern New York Comments Marc Vander Maas Curt, you do realize that the founders of the US were quite intentional about creating a “limited democracy,” right? Hence, the representative republican form of government that they actually established… Curt Day Marc, I am aware of that. And one of the ways of limiting democracy back then was allowing states to filter out who could vote. Representative democracies do not necessarily have to be limited democracies. Representative democracies might just be a necessity because of the logistical impossibility of running a direct democracy. But that is different from making Senators, as in the case of the our founding fathers, pretty much immune to the demands of the people. I know that some like to call direct democracy, “mob rule.” But decisions are decided democratically in a Representative democracy with the only difference being in those who are voting. So if our representatives consist mostly of those with wealth and power rather than demographically representing the population, we should call such a representative democracy, The Mob Rules. Marc Vander Maas Representative democracies might just be a necessity because of the logistical impossibility of running a direct democracy. But that is different from making Senators, as in the case of the our founding fathers, pretty much immune to the demands of the people. Well, again: the US is not a democracy. It’s a republic. It is a democratic republic, as we do get to vote on who will represent us in Congress, and for the President, but the government itself is republican in form. So you can talk all you want about a lack of democracy, but that’s not what the Constitution of the United States was written to establish in the first place. And yes, the government established by the Constitution was designed to limit the influence of the popular will on decisions made by the government. You’ll recall the analogy of the Senate being the saucer into which the “hot” legislation from the House (the most democratic of governmental institutions, with the shortest terms of office and smallest constituencies) would be poured in order to “cool” – as the Senate (at the time selected by state legislatures, usually with much larger constituencies and still with longer terms of office and thus more shielded from the whims of the electorate) was designed to do. (If you don’t know the story, it’s on this page.) So while it’s true that attempting to run our nation via direct democracy would be a logistical mess, it’s more true that to do so would be an invitation to trample individual liberty via the tyranny of the majority where whatever passing whim of 51% of the public could be suddenly enacted into law. America is supposed to be about liberty, not democracy. The whole point of the American founding was to create a government that was strong enough to govern, but weak enough to not threaten the liberties of the people. You said earlier that “…to demand a limited government is to insist on a limited democracy.” YES. Exactly. That’s exactly the point. The framers of the Constitution created a government that with certain enumerated powers beyond which it was not to go. This restriction of government power was intended to safeguard the maximum amount of individual liberty, consistent with an orderly society. You may be a really nice guy, and you may have the best of intentions, but when it comes to my life, my faith, my job, my economic decisions, etc, I’d very much like to have you keep your democratic input to a minimum. Feel free to try to convince me of the rightness of your ideas in the public square, but leave the government out of it. By contrast: the larger the government, the more intrusive, the more tyrannical. You’ve said in the past, Curt, that you used to be a political conservative but moved steadily leftward to the point where while you remain a religious conservative (a “flaming fundamentalist, if your blog is to be believed), you now place yourself in the socialist camp. I really find that implausible, if only because your level of engagement with the fundamental ideas of modern conservatism/classical liberalism seems to be very shallow and dismissive. Curt Day Marc, The sharp distinction between a republic and democracy does not work when the word democracy is a synonym for republic and when both involve self-government by elected representatives. But you have to look at why the Senate was originally set up the it was. It was out of fear of every man voting and to make the Senate immune to popular demands. But who were they really protecting? In the words of James Madison, they were protecting the opulent minority from the majority. So this “individual liberty” they were protecting was not liberty but privilege. They just did that in a way where there was more representation of the people and was thus distinguished from, but only in degree, from the aristocracies of Europe. In addition, reducing all liberty to individual liberty does nothing more than to set up a rule by elites from the private sector. Those who have most out of their individual liberty to create wealth know that power follows. Thus this individual “liberty” becomes individual privilege.. For liberty – equality = privilege. The other problem that comes with reducing all liberty to individual liberty is the assumption that all government is tyrannical. Gov’t is as tyrannical as the involvement of people allow it to be. And when people reduce democracy to voting every x number years, gov’t is given too much leeway. And when our gov’t is becoming tyrannical is when it represents the interests of private sector elites over the welfare of the people. We have, according to Sheldon Wolin, an inverted totalitarianism. Finally, who cares if you find my mix of politics and Christianity implausible. That is speculation and that speculation is more confirmed by setting up a false dichotomy between Conservative Christianity and Socialism. BTW, that speculation is not shared by the members of my OPC church and minister and that is despite their disagreements with me. And if you think I am dismissive in something, show an example. You don’t have to do that here, comment on my blog. I know one thing, the people in my OPC church don’t find my mix of politics and Christianity to be implausible. And, one of our former members from England testifies of the fact that Conservative Christians in his country tend to be politically liberal. Marc Vander Maas As for the republic vs. democracy question, I’ll just refer you to Federalist #10. The founders seemed to take the time to deal with the distinction. But you have to look at why the Senate was originally set up the it was. It was out of fear of every man voting and to make the Senate immune to popular demands. that is, essentially, what I just said, yes. But who were they really protecting? In the words of James Madison, they were protecting the opulent minority from the majority. So it’s some sort of scandal that Madison believed that the government should be constituted in a manner that prevented the poor from simply voting themselves money out of the pockets of the rich? That’s perfectly in keeping with the desire of the founders to create a government that protected individual rights and was insulated to an extent from the whims and passions of pure democracy. As for your concern for “reducing all liberty to individual liberty,” well, I don’t even know what to say to that. What rights do we exercise collectively? How does that work? As for your last paragraph – I didn’t say that i found your mix of politics and christianity implausible. I said that I find your claim to have been a conservative in the past to be implausible. Apologies if I wasn’t clear. Curt Day Marc, First, if you are going to argue strictly from Madison’s view, you are resting your argument on a monolithic form of democracy. In Federalist #10, Madison is arguing against a pure democracy. So we have to ask how different is a representative democracy different from your republic? BTW, I read Federalist #10 a while ago. But isn’t that document an apologetic for elite rule by reducing all dangers to the country to those that Madison felt threatened by? That is the dangers to the country that, according to Madison, the Constitution and the Republic addressed were that of factions and insurrections while providing inadequate safeguards against an American aristocracy. Consider what Madison said in the Constitutional debates: In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be jsut, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability. Various have been the propositions; but my opinion is, the longer they continue in office, the better will these views be answered. Notice two points here. First, he is expressing solidarity with landowners in England if those from all classes could vote. Second, the government was to protect the “minority of the opulent” from the majority–again, see the elite view of the problem where evil is externalized to those outside his class. Note that in Federalist #10, another expression of fear of including to many people in the voting process. By enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects So if you are arguing with Madison, are you not arguing for a smaller number of people to vote? According to Madison, the concerns of the populous are often described as wicked as compared to those who are “enlightened”– whoever the enlightened are. So isn’t what Madison was arguing for in Federalist #10 was a stronger federal system compared to what existed at the time? Consider what he wrote in Federalist #10. Hence, it clearly appears, that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic, — is enjoyed by the Union over the States composing it. So Madison is pairing republic with union and democracy with states. How can strengthening the Union protect individual liberty? And whose liberties will be protected the most especially when there is a fear of opening elections to all classes of people? Curt Day Rather than write one super large comment, I thought I would break them up. When I refer to reducing all liberty to individual liberty, I am noting that liberties between different parties often clash. One of the jobs of our representative gov’t is to resolve those clashes. But if we see gov’t’s attempt to resolve the clashes are portrayed as gov’t intrusion into indiviudal liberty, will not the liberties of those with wealth and power infringe on the liberties of the rest? Consider a company that pollutes the air and water of community in which it resides. Hasn’t the company’s freedom to do what it sees fit to do to conduct business infringed on the rights of the community to have a healthy environment in which to live? An example of this occurs with the mountaintop removal in order to extract coal which occurs in the Appalachian Mountains West Virginia. Curt Day No problem with the confusion. Before the 2004 election, I had only voted for Republicans including Bush in 2000. My political views started to change in 2001 after reading Chomsky and Martin Luther King. By 2004, I voted for Nader and since then I might have voted for one republican, one libertarian, a couple of democrats, and the rest third party candidates.