by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
“American democracy is cracking,” warns Washington Post Chief Correspondent Dan Balz in a recent column that presents some ideas to repair it. His suggestions include, among other things, proportional representation, diminishing the power of the Senate, and eliminating the Electoral College. What these three suggestions have in common is a desire to remove any intermediary institutions between the will of the people and government action — otherwise known as “direct” democracy.
These proposals are not new. Indeed, even the framers of the Constitution were familiar with them. But the reasons why such suggestions would significantly erode the republican government envisioned by our Founding Fathers are not new either.
Given Biden’s low approval ratings — especially in important swing states with critical Electoral College votes — as well as broader Democrat fears of a Republican takeover of the Senate, we will likely hear a renewed chorus of voices calling for direct democracy. After all, masses of individuals are much easier to manipulate than smaller families, communities, or even states. Conservatives would do well to arm themselves with the best arguments against such initiatives.
The framers of our Constitution felt quite strongly that direct democracy was something to avoid. In Federalist 10, for example, the Father of the Constitution James Madison warned of “the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority” on a government, or what has come to be called the “tyranny of the majority,” in which a majority of the population exerts great coercive power over minority factions.
Again in Federalist 51, Madison wrote: “[I]n the federal republic of the United States … all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.”