The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

The Devil of Democracy

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Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan has told his followers that President Bush’s efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East represent “the rule of the devil.” Democracy is the “rule of the people,” and whatever the people rule is right. Vox populi, vox dei—”the voice of the people is the voice of god.” In Farrakhan’s case, the voice of the people is the voice of the devil—a counterfeit god (cf. John 19:15; 2 Cor. 4:4).  If the majority of people have a defective worldview, then their vote will also be defective. There’s more to Farrakhan’s article, but on this point he is correct.

Actually, Farrakhan has some history and logic on his side. John Winthrop (1588–1649), first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, declared direct democracy to be “the meanest and worst of all forms of government.”[1] John Cotton (1584–1652), seventeenth-century Puritan minister in Massachusetts, wrote in 1636: “Democracy, I do not conceive that ever God did ordain as a fit government either for church or commonwealth. If the people be governors, who shall be governed?”[2] In the Federalist Papers (No. 10), James Madison (1751-1836), fourth president of the United States and recognized as the “father of the Constitution,” writes that democracies are “spectacles of turbulence and contention.” Pure democracies are “incompatible with personal security or the rights of property. . . . In general [they] have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”[3] These more realistic descriptions of the effects of direct democracy are a far cry from today’s modern appraisal.

So, contrary to what is widely taught in the schools of the United States and bruited about in the news media and expressions of politicians, the United States is not— in the opinion of one its principle founders and interpreters—a democracy. The Constitution itself, Article IV, Section 4, says: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican form of government. . . .” Taken simply literally it is a guarantee of a republican government in the states and a republican government outside and above the states. There is no mention of the word democracy in the Constitution.[4]

What should we think of this? Did these men oppose the democratic process? Winthrop certainly did not. Although voting was restricted at Charlestown compared to our nation’s universal suffrage, assistants were chosen “by the general vote of the people” through the raising of hands.[5] Certainly Madison, as one of the architects of the Constitution, cannot be accused of rebuffing the democratic process since the Constitution mandates the representatives from the states be elected by popular vote.

These men feared that the whims of the majority cut off from an ethical base would prevail if direct democracy were ever accepted as a legitimate form of civil government. On the other hand, these men knew that only “the people” could keep a civil government in check. There was no divine right of kings (or a divine right of representatives or judges), and there must be no divine right of the people. A checking and balancing civil government was the ideal our founders worked for. But if at any time the character of the people changed, the effort would have been for nought.

There must be some consensus of opinion of what democracy is and what makes it work before it will function as an effective and stable aspect of government. Just to say the word does not make it a reality. As Christians there is one thing we should all agree upon, Vox populari est non vox dei (the voice of the people is not the voice of God), for we know that with a simply majority, evil as well as good can be implemented into law.

One of the last accurate definitions of democracy was published in 1928 in a training manual developed by the U.S. War Department. Democracy was described as “a government of the masses.” Authority was said to be “derived through mass meeting or any other form of ‘direct’ expression.” Direct democracy, according to the manual, would result in “mobocracy.” The “attitude toward property is communistic—negating property rights. Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether it be based upon deliberation or governed passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences.”[6] In a word, direct democracy makes “we the people” the immediate sovereigns without any guarantee of external moral restraint. C. Gregg Singer, echoing this opinion, writes that “Modern political theory has replaced the doctrine of the sovereignty of God with that of the sovereignty of man.”[7]

Is it any wonder, therefore, that John Adams, the second president of the United States, declared that “the voice of the people is ‘sometimes the voice of Mahomet, of Caesar, of Catiline, the Pope, and the Devil.’”[8] The results can be devastating. Francis Schaeffer describes law by majority opinion, certainly a definition of direct democracy, as “the dictatorship of the 51%, with no controls and nothing with which to challenge the majority.”[9] Schaeffer deduces a simple result of this definition of democracy: “It means that if Hitler was able to get a 51% vote of the Germans, he had a right to kill the Jews.”[10] Winthrop understood that a standard had to be found to direct the life and morals of governors and the governed.

The Fundamentals which God gave, to the [Commonwealth] of Israel, were a sufficient Rule to them, to guide all their affairs: We having the same, with all the Additions, explanations and deductions, which have followed: it is not possible, we should want a Rule in any case: if God give wisdom to discern it.[11]

Winthrop believed rightly that God gave us His law to check the totalitarian inclinations of the minority and the majority. There is nothing magical or holy about giving people the right to vote. In fact, political power in the hands of the wrong people with the wrong worldview is demonic.

Endnotes:

[1] Quoted in A. Marvyn Davies, Foundation of American Freedom: Calvinism in the Development of Democratic Thought and Action (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1955), 11.
[2] Letter to Lord Say and Seal, quoted by Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson, eds., The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings, 2 vols. (New York: Harper and Row, [1938) 1963), 1:209–210. Also see Edwin Powers, Crime and Punishment in Early Massachusetts: 1620–1692 (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1966), 55.
[3] Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist, Jacob E. Cooke, ed. (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1961), 61.
[4] Ferdinand Lundberg, The Myth of Democracy (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1989), 12.
[5] Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1958), 90.
[6] Training Manual, No. 2000–25 (Washington, DC: War Department, 1928), 91.
[7] C. Gregg Singer, John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1967), 43.
[8] John Adams, quoted by Gilbert Chinard, Honest John Adams (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co., [1933] 1961), 241 in John Eidsmoe, “The Christian America Response to National Confessionalism,” in Gary Scott Smith, ed., God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1989), 227–228. C. Gregg Singer writes: “The coming of democracy, some fifty years [after the drafting of the Constitution], began a process of secularization of American political thought, and that equality implied in the Reformed doctrine of the priesthood of the believers was transformed into the democratic concept of equalitarianism which came to America as a result of the French Revolution. It is pertinent to note that this secularized version of Presbyterianism must logically lead to a democratic despotism because its doctrine of ‘the priesthood of the voter’ is devoid of any Biblical foundation and denies that man is a sinner by nature” (John Calvin, 43).
[9] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century (1970) in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, 5 vols. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 4:27.
[10] Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, 4:27.
[11] Winthrop, “Discourse on Arbitrary Government,” Winthrop Papers, 5:473. Quoted in Powers, Crime and Punishment in Early Massachusetts, 253.

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