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Walter Williams
Walter E. Williams
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Democracy Versus Liberty


It is truly disgusting for me to hear politicians, national and international talking heads and pseudo-academics praising the Middle East stirrings as democracy movements. We also hear democracy as the description of our own political system. Like the founders of our nation, I find democracy and majority rule a contemptible form of government.

You say, "Whoa, Williams, you really have to explain yourself this time!"

I'll begin by quoting our founders on democracy. James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said that in a pure democracy, "there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual." At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Virginia Gov. Edmund Randolph said, "... that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy." John Adams said, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." Alexander Hamilton said, "We are now forming a Republican form of government. Real Liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of dictatorship."

The word "democracy" appears nowhere in the two most fundamental documents of our nation — the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Our Constitution's Article IV, Section 4, guarantees "to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government." If you don't want to bother reading our founding documents, just ask yourself: Does our pledge of allegiance to the flag say to "the democracy for which it stands," or to "the Republic for which it stands"? Or, did Julia Ward Howe make a mistake in titling her Civil War song "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"? Should she have titled it "The Battle Hymn of the Democracy"?

What's the difference between republican and democratic forms of government? John Adams captured the essence when he said, "You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe." That means Congress does not grant us rights; their job is to protect our natural or God-given rights.

For example, the Constitution's First Amendment doesn't say Congress shall grant us freedom of speech, the press and religion. It says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..."

Contrast the framers' vision of a republic with that of a democracy. Webster defines a democracy as "government by the people; especially: rule of the majority." In a democracy, the majority rules either directly or through its elected representatives. As in a monarchy, the law is whatever the government determines it to be. Laws do not represent reason. They represent force. The restraint is upon the individual instead of government. Unlike that envisioned under a republican form of government, rights are seen as privileges and permissions that are granted by government and can be rescinded by government.

To highlight the offensiveness to liberty that democracy and majority rule is, just ask yourself how many decisions in your life would you like to be made democratically. How about what car you drive, where you live, whom you marry, whether you have turkey or ham for Thanksgiving dinner? If those decisions were made through a democratic process, the average person would see it as tyranny and not personal liberty. Is it no less tyranny for the democratic process to determine whether you purchase health insurance or set aside money for retirement? Both for ourselves, and our fellow man around the globe, we should be advocating liberty, not the democracy that we've become where a roguish Congress does anything upon which they can muster a majority vote.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



11 Comments | Post Comment
Walter E. Williams.
Very good article.
We tend to confuse equality with freedom. Democracy as we know it is far from being the friend of freedom. On the contrary it is its enemy. People that think that the government is “us” because they vote for its leaders are living in the Twilight Zone. Unless democracy's primary goal is protecting freedom most countries are going to borrow them self in to certain insolvency no matter what taxation system they use. There can not be freedom when democracy is at the service of power instead of liberty . It becomes a contradiction and a self defeating mechanism.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Adam
Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:35 AM
It is already toooooo late. We are in a socialist democracy that is run by the elitists and the whores called the congress who sell their souls and bodies to the highest bidder(s).
Our only defense is the inalienable Right to bear arms and most of the society has already been so brain-washed and dumbed-down that they (un)think that weapons are a problem and should be eliminated; not even (un)thinking that then only government will have weapons: It is understood that the criminals will always have weapons!
Comment: #2
Posted by: Patriot 2011
Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:18 AM
Decriminalize drugs and crimes from fire arms will be at the level it in in the South Pole. One Government prohibition leads to a other one.
The modern Leviathan Government is a big problem factory.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Adam
Tue Feb 22, 2011 1:10 PM
Dear Walter Williams,

Thank you for writing such an article, very few people articulate the points you make.The ancient Greek states found the Athenians to be a lot of trouble with all their squabbling, one only has to know that this was one of the primary causes of the fall of Athens and the loss of its own freedoms. A very good object lesson from history since the socialists are constantly banging on about democracy, thank you.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Skald crow
Tue Feb 22, 2011 5:04 PM

You amaze me over and over again. This article is brilliant and timely.

Wendell Gunn
Comment: #5
Posted by: Wendell Gunn
Wed Feb 23, 2011 4:01 AM
Democracy: Two wolves and a lamb vote on what to have for dinner.
Constitutional Republic: Two wolves try to vote to eat the lamb. The lamb objects that their Constitution took this issue off of the political table. The wolves vote to adopt the 16th Amendment (unlimited income tax) - and then eat the lamb. When the wolves run out of lambs the scene looks like Athens - or Madison Wisconsin...
Comment: #6
Posted by: dpearson
Wed Feb 23, 2011 9:05 AM
Dr. Williams writes so well that I was near tears reading this. He is the best living libertarian writer.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Nick Kyriazi
Wed Feb 23, 2011 9:49 AM
i agree with you Dr. Williams. I am always telling people about the dangers of democracy, especially with my liberal friends. I tell them all of the worst things about our society's history can be traced back to democracy, specifically slavery. My example is often back to the schoolyard as a kid. If 5 people want to kick the 6th persons butt, that is an overwhelming majority, but it is still wrong. Keep up the fire with your comments.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Eric Jensen
Wed Feb 23, 2011 5:36 PM
As I have often pointed out: The Greeks, who invented democracy, voted to kill Socrates; the East Germans were democratic -- just look at their country's name; and worst of all, Hitler was elected. Democracy's only value is under a system dedicated to individual rights, where it is only a method of selecting representatives we trust with a periodic opportunity to toss them out if we got it wrong. Otherwise, as Dr. Williams shows, democracy is a danger to freedom. I would disagree with him on one issue though: Individual rights derive from our human nature, whether you think that nature comes from evolution, God, Thor, or Santa. To base your political system on a divine intervention implies rights do not have a rational basis.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Phillip Schearer
Wed Feb 23, 2011 6:26 PM
You could vote for the head prison guard but you would still be in jail would you not? That's democracy .
Comment: #10
Posted by: Adam
Wed Feb 23, 2011 9:09 PM
I agree with your appraisal. As a counselor, I find that people who believe themselves to be victims never change because they continue to wait for others to change it, no matter what the issue.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Steven Bush
Sat Feb 26, 2011 9:49 AM
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