Republic form of government protects us from rampant majority rule

Published 6:22 pm Friday, November 8, 2019


Contributing columnist 

In pure democracy, the majority tends to abuse minorities. If majority rules in every decision, then the preferences of minorities receive little attention. How could this inherent flaw be addressed in a constitutional republic? This was a central issue in framing the constitution. When asked “what kind of government did you give us Ben?” Franklin’s response was “a republic, if you can keep it.”

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“Majority rule” is not the primary criteria for resolving all disputes in constitutional republics; the majority is expected to consider minority preferences. 

The separation of powers among the administration, congress, and the judiciary are an integral part of the Constitution. In Congress, we have two legislatures: the House and the Senate. The number of representatives for each state is driven by population, while each state has two senators. The states with the largest population have the most power in the House, while all states have equal power in the Senate. The House has new members every two years and the Senate has new members every six years. Things can happen quickly in the House, but the Senate is slower and more deliberate. 

The electoral college is one more check on the majority’s impulse to abuse minorities. Furthermore, the Constitution is woven with threads designed to protect the rights of individuals, not groups or classes. It does not matter whether a person is a member of the majority or minority, their rights must be respected. Groups are irrelevant.

The electoral college is not something imposed on us from the dead hand of the past. Assume it is not in the constitution. Thus, simple majority rule decides every election. Since the population has always been concentrated on the two coasts, real political power would only be found on the coasts. Politicians would only campaign there and serve only those two regional interests. Consequently, voters in the interior states would have de facto “taxation with-out representation” after they fought the war for independence from England. They could hardly be content with that outcome; rebellion would be very likely. The republic would be lost and our place in history forever changed.

The electoral college is not just some cranky old antique, it is an ingenious mechanism designed to force politicians to consider the interests of minorities in order to get elected. Indeed, this is the source of the current populist uprising. Middle Americans have been badly treated by the elites over the past fifty years, they know it, and now they are looking for restitution. Removing the electoral college would be the last straw. 

Also, the integrity of elections is the life blood of republics, since that’s how every stable democracy resolves disputes. Except for Abraham Lincoln’s election, almost all our elections settled disputes without major violence. This is not an accident. This has been our tradition for over two hundred years. Why have so many abandoned this tradition? Do they not understand that what applies to the opposition will also apply to their party in a spiral that will be resolved only by widespread violence and many casualties?

If elections are replaced by coups and violence in the streets, chaos will rule, and the US will become a banana republic. The current attempt to reverse the results of the 2016 election will have a disastrous effect on the electoral process. If the deep state wins, our elected representatives will not be able to control the permanent bureaucracy and voters will be disenfranchised.


Bob Martin is Emeritus Boles Professor of Economics at Centre College.