“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” That quote is not from an anarchist or a totalitarian leader. It is, perhaps surprisingly, from John Adams, the second President of the United States, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Similar quotes can be found in the writings of other Founding Fathers of our nation, because although they had the opportunity to do so, they did not establish a democracy. What they established for America, instead, is a republic. And great is the difference between the two.
In a democracy, policies are made by a direct majority vote of the people. What the majority says, goes, and that is final and absolute. So, for example, if the majority were to say that murder is OK, it would be OK. There would not be a mechanism, in a pure democracy, to keep it from being OK, except that the majority changed its mind.
A republic, however, is based not on the rule of the majority, but on the rule of law. Representatives are elected, and they pass laws. They are accountable to the people, and in this sense majorities matter. But they are also accountable to a higher law, and there is the key difference. There are certain laws that the majority can never change. These laws flow from the fundamental rights of the human person and from God Himself.
The Founding Fathers recognized this and expected all future generations of Americans to recognize it as well. Alexander Hamilton, a signer of the Constitution, wrote,
“[T]he law…dictated by God Himself is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity if contrary to this” (The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Vol. I, p. 87).
James Wilson, another signer of the Constitution and a US Supreme Court Justice, wrote, “All [laws], however, may be arranged in two different classes, 1) Divine. 2) Human…Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is Divine” (The Works of the Honourable James Wilson, Vol. I, pp. 103-105).
The Founders of our nation believed in Biblical law, and that was the standard for law and government in our country until the turn of this century. Now, instead, legal positivism has become the standard. It says that there are no unchanging, superior laws. Rather, man-made law is the final law and can always change according to circumstances. That's the poisoned soil out of which Roe vs. Wade and other abortion decisions have grown.
It's time for a change. We need to re-discover our own history and impart it to our youth. The primary legal document of our nation, the Declaration of Independence, recognizes in its first sentence that “the laws of nature and of nature's God” are primary. We are not a democracy; we are a republic.
Fr. Pavone is the Founding Director of Priests for Life. You may contact Priests for Life at PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314; Tel: 888-PFL-3448 or 718-980-4400; Fax: 718-980-6515; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: www.priestsforlife.org.