Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series of columns by Joseph Farah commemorating Independence Day 2001.

It’s that time of the year – with Independence Day approaching – when the pundits will be proclaiming how wonderful it is to live in a democracy.

As usual, the pundits will be wrong.

Not only is democracy not wonderful, America is not one and never has been.

This is no small point. This is not a technicality. It’s an important issue to understand. Democracy is always a disaster. The Founding Fathers of this once-great nation understood that.

On Sept. 18, 1787, after Benjamin Franklin signed the Constitution in Philadelphia, a woman reportedly asked him: “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

To which Franklin replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Whether or not we can keep it is still an open question. But we have no chance to maintain a free republic – or to re-establish one in this country – if we the people do not even understand the objective.

Democracy destroys freedom. It always has and it always will. It was the death-knell of Athens, as Plato himself noted.

“Democracy,” he said, “passes into despotism.”

He called democracy “a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike. We know her well. … In what manner does tyranny arise? – that it has democratic origins is evident. … And does not tyranny spring from democracy in the same manner as democracy from oligarchy?”

While our Constitution and Declaration of Independence and other founding documents never mention the word “democracy,” there is a popular misconception today that we live in one. And that misperception – that ignorance – is as dangerous to the health of our republic as it would be if our founders had made the tragic mistake of creating a democracy.

Democracy means majority rules. That was never the intent of our founders. They believed in the rule of law, not the rule of men. They understood that because of the fallen state of man, he would inevitably vote himself into slavery and tyranny if provided the tools.

Instead, as Franklin points out, they created a republic – one with checks and balances built in, with a Constitution, with a federal government of limited power and scope, a system in which the individual’s unalienable rights were recognized and protected, a representative form of government, not one based on direct vote of the populace.

Why don’t democracies work?

Because it is merely a temporary state. It can only function until a majority of voters discover they can vote themselves money and other goodies from the public treasury. At that point, the majority votes for candidates who promise the most benefits to them and the economy collapses because of increased taxation and spending.

That pattern is always followed by dictatorship. Always.

What is the difference between a democracy and a republic?

In a democracy, the majority can pretty much do whatever it wants. They can change laws, they can decide to oppress and exploit certain people. The ultimate authority is the will of the people – no matter how misguided and shortsighted it might be. In a republic, the rule is by law. There are limitations explicitly placed on what government can and cannot do – no matter how popular the decisions might be.

There is no question that America is moving rapidly toward the democratic model and away from the republic model. Let’s face it. The federal government in Washington no longer feels bound to the Constitution, nor to the limits explicitly placed on it.

Thus, as we prepare to celebrate our independence this week, we would be well-advised to consider just how much closer we actually are to tyranny and despotism. We’ve lost our bearings. We’ve forgotten our history. And thus we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Is there time to change course? Do Americans have the will to throw off the shackles to which they have so willingly submitted? Do we have the courage to recognize our errors and address them?

Tomorrow: Part 2: “… Home of the brave.”

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