Monday, July 13, 2009

Democracy and the rule of law

Okay, here's a quick primer on democracy and the rule of law.

Democracy means self rule through a voting mechanism. Generally, it's majority rule -- though not if Lani Guinier gets her way on "proportional representation voting." Usually, it's one man, one vote.

We don't live in a democracy, in the strict sense of the word. We live in a republic. A republic is a place where governance is by rule of law, not by the whims of the demos, the majority.

That doesn't mean we don't have democratic aspects to the republic. We employ representative democracy at the federal and state levels. We vote for representatives, then the representatives make discretionary decisions, and draft laws.

The purest form of democracy is "direct democracy." It is the condition where governance is achieved by one man, one vote; and all decisions are tabled so that the governed may take an up/down vote to decide how to proceed.

Voter referendums are a form of direct democracy. Voters, deciding that the representative government is insufficiently solicitous of the desires of the people, take a petition, get a measure on the ballot, and then take an up/down vote. The barrier of representative democracy, of democratic republicanism, is taken away, and the voters rule directly on the issue raised. It takes an issue out of the hands of the elected representatives and the courts, and puts it squarely in the hands of the people.