By Walter Williams: Syndicated columnist
High up on my list of annoyances are references to the United States as a democracy and the suggestion that Iraq should become a democracy. The word “democracy” appears in neither of our founding documents — the Declaration of Independence nor the U.S. Constitution.
Our nation’s founders had disdain for democracy and majority rule. James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said in a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.”
During the 1787 Constitutional Convention, 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.” Chief Justice John Marshall added, “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”
The founders knew a democracy would lead to the same kind of tyranny suffered under King George III. Their vision for us was a republic.
But let’s cut to Iraq and President Bush’s call for it to become a democracy. I can’t think of a worse place to have a democracy — majority rule. Iraq needs a republic like that envisioned by our founders — decentralized and limited government power.
In a republican form of government, there is rule of law. All citizens, including government officials, are accountable to the same laws. Government intervenes in civil society to protect its citizens against force and fraud but does not intervene in the cases of peaceable, voluntary exchange.
Democracy, what the Bush administration calls for, is different.
In a democracy, the majority rules either directly or through its elected representatives. The law is whatever the government determines it to be.
Laws aren’t necessarily based upon reason but power. In other words, democracy is just another form of tyranny — tyranny of the majority.
In Iraq, Arabs are about 75 percent of the population, Kurds about 20 percent and Turkomen and Assyrian the balance. Religiously, Shia are about 60 percent of the population, Sunni 35 percent with Christian and other religions making up the balance. If a majority-rule democracy emerges, given the longstanding hate and distrust among ethnic/religious groups, it’s a recipe for conflict.
The reason is quite simple. Majority rule is a zero-sum game with winners and losers, with winners having the power to impose their wills on the minority. Conflict emerges when the minority resists.
The ideal political model for Iraq is Switzerland’s cantonal system. Historically, Switzerland, unlike most European countries, was made up of several different major ethnic groups — Germans, French, Italians and Rhaeto-Romansch. Over the centuries, conflicts have arisen between these groups, who differ in language, religion (Catholic and Protestant) and culture. The resolution to the conflict was to allow the warring groups to govern themselves.
Switzerland has 26 cantons. The cantons are divided into about 3,000 communes. Switzerland’s federal government controls only those interests common to all cantons — national defense, foreign policy, railways and the like. All other matters are controlled by the individual cantons and communes.
The Swiss cantonal system enables people of different ethnicity, language, culture and religion to live at peace with one another.
As such, Switzerland’s political system is well suited to an ethnically and religiously divided country such as Iraq.
By the way, for President Bush and others who insist on calling our country a democracy, should we change our pledge of allegiance to say “to the democracy, for which it stands,” and should we rename “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to “The Battle Hymn of the Democracy?”
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He writes for Creators Syndicate and may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org