TAMPA, March 19, 2012—Give yourself a test. Without doing a web search or whipping out that pocket U.S. Constitution that a wild-eyed Tea Partier handed you, fill in the blank in the following sentence: The U.S. Constitution guarantees to every state in the union a _____form of government.
If you are like ninety percent of the American electorate, you answered “democratic” and you were wrong. The answer is “a republican form of government.” There is a drastic difference between the two and one would think that the Republican Party would know it. Instead, they are identical to their rivals in not only ignoring the distinction but promoting democracy instead.
In a democracy, the will of the majority is the law. Fifty-one percent of the vote empowers the winners to exercise any power they wish. Not so in a republic. The reason the founders constructed a constitutional republic was to protect Americans from democracy.
That may sound like sacrilege to most 21st century Americans, but it’s true. James Madison called democracy “the most vile form of government.” Thomas Jefferson said that when majorities oppress an individual they “break up the foundations of society.” Benjamin Franklin mused that democracy was like “two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.”
Republicanism is the logical form of government for conservatives. Conservatism at its best protects property rights from an unchecked majority plundering the individual. Liberalism at its best protects property rights from the wealthy conspiring with the government to plunder the masses. At their worst, both conservatism and liberalism legitimize plunder; the former for the few, the latter for the many.
Ron Paul’s presidential campaign strategy is rooted in republicanism. He has deliberately focused his efforts on the states that hold caucuses instead of primaries because caucuses do not let the majority rule unchecked. Instead of merely pulling a few levers behind a curtain, caucus participants must complete a multi-tiered process that occurs for months after the popular vote before being chosen for the national convention. Who can doubt that these delegates are more informed than the typical primary voter? The essence of republicanism is for reason to triumph over the transient passion of the majority.
Paul’s platform likewise represents what is best about conservatism. Without exception, it protects the individual from oppression by the majority. He is the only Republican presidential candidate that has actually said the words “role of government” during any debate. That’s because he is the only candidate that seems to recognize that the government’s role is limited; that even a majority vote cannot sanction it to exercise power beyond those limits. Throughout all of human history, conservatives have defended this principle against the ungoverned passion of the majority.