Why Does the Far Right Hate Democracy?

Texas State Board of Education member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, has written a new essay defending absurd, politicized changes the board is making to the social studies curriculum for public schools. We have discussed in the past many of the points she touches on in the essay. But we haven’t said much about one in particular — the insistence by far-right board members that students learn the United States is a constitutional republic, not a democracy.

By majority vote the board in March decided that “democracy,” “representative democracy,” “democratic republic” and similar phrases should be replaced with “constitutional republic” throughout the standards. Says Cargill in her essay:

“The United States is a constitutional republic, not a democracy. The Pledge of Allegiance correctly identifies our form of government as a republic, and the State Board of Education members expect students to recite that pledge and understand its meaning. This reference to constitutional republic refers to the form of government our Founding Fathers instituted.”

Well, yes. But.

The Soviet Union was a “republic.” So is communist China. Castro’s Cuba? A republic.

What’s the difference between those “republics” and the United States?

Democracy. People in this country choose our government through free, democratic elections.

But the far right in this country finds the word “democracy” increasingly distasteful. Last year David Barton — the political propagandist appointed by right-wing board members to a panel of social studies “experts” (even though he’s not) — objected in his review of the standards in place since 1998 to using the term “democratic” to describe America:

“Because America is correctly identified as a republic and not as a democracy, the derivative of this is that ‘republican’ rather than ‘democratic’ is the proper adjective – that is, we have “republican” values or “republican” process rather than ‘democratic’ values or process.”

Yes, we are well aware of the technical and definitional differences between a pure “democracy” and a republic governed by representatives of the people. But we wonder how much the salience of this issue is related to Barton’s status as the former vice chair of the Republican Party of Texas — and to the status of a majority of board members being members of the Republican, rather than Democratic, Party.

And by the way, let’s all remember that some decisions in this country are decided by popular referenda, especially in certain states. So there is a strong strain of democracy in America.

But there seems to us to be a sniff of contempt for the rabble out there when we hear far-right pooh-bahs prattle on about America as a republic, not a democracy. We’ve noticed that this prattle seems to get louder when they don’t like the results of democratic elections. Go figure.

And then there’s this: in March the state board’s far-right faction changed a standard in the high school government course dealing with the importance of the expression of different points of view in a democratic society constitutional republic. The original standard focused the First Amendment rights of petition, assembly, speech and press. But far-right board members insisted on adding “and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”

The right to bear arms in a standard teaching students about the expression of differing opinions? Perhaps that helps us understand a bit more clearly the phenomena of right-wingers who insist on carrying firearms to events featuring elected officials, including the president of the United States.

10 thoughts on “Why Does the Far Right Hate Democracy?

  1. Even Scalia is going to get tired of these clodhoppers. I don’t think he’s going to view the brandishing of a weapon as constitutionally protected free speech.

    At any rate, these yay-who’s are so venal that they call their opponent the Democrat party. This is just part and parcel of that venality.
    You know, as the internet ages, the society will become more sophisticated and less vulnerable to whacko websites than they are now.
    That’s because there will be incidents of people being led down the path of fools and winding up famous for their stupidity, or dead, or something.
    This kind of revisionist history only works on the internet and only temporarily. They’ll figure that out eventually.

  2. Article IV, Section 4 states: Section 4 – Republican government

    The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

    What does that mean? That this country is a government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and is usually a president; also : a nation or other political unit having such a government 2 : a government in which supreme power is held by the citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives governing according to law; also : a nation or other political unit having such a form of government.

    In the context of the United States, both definitions apply.

    Therefore, yes, we have a republican (not Republican) form of government that is a democracy.

    It took me a whole ten minutes to research that by referring to the Constitution and then looking up the meaning of the word republican as relates to the Constitution.

    I used to live in New England where Town Meetings were still the means by which the people met and made new laws. Can you imagine trying to get Town Meetings today? Impossible, which is why we have elected individuals to represent us.

    Let’s face it, the SBOE as it currently stands is a missionary for the Far Christian Right. They want to call this SECULAR country a Christian Nation. They have consistently LIED about the intentions of the founders of this country. They despise that many of the founders were NOT Trinitarians; they were Deists, NOT Christian and that is why we have the first Amendment.

  3. Jack Matlock:

    When I was in Middle School, Jack Matlock’s son and I were close friends. You can read about daddy Jack here:


    I think this quote from Jack needs to be absorbed by David Barton and the far right members on the Texas SBOE. Here is the money quote:

    “I don’t see much difference between a communist regime and a fascist regime. In fact, I think one of the greatest intellectual confusions that many have had over these decades is the whole right and left thing — fascists are on the right, communists are on the left. Nonsense! They come together and overlap, and we’re seeing this in Russia today where the allies are the nationalistic chauvinists and the communists. They are natural allies because they are authoritarians by nature. And more than authoritarians, they tend to be totalitarians, which means that they tend to destroy all of the elements of the civil society. To me that’s much more important than whether you’re philosophically right or left. You know, are you willing to create and live in a civil society, in an open society, or not? That to me is the basic issue.”

    Speaking of a “REPUBLIC,” the guys in the music video below had a formal republic too. Not only did they have a republic of their very own, they had a really “catchy” song that went with it. It is 10:54 p.m. here in the east, and I would like to play this comforting song to lull all of you far right fruitcakes in Texas to sleep on this balmy May evening. The video that goes with the song is really great, and it too has an allegorical message for you. I love the part with the divers, representing a whole people who have willfully gone off the deep end into madness. Watch it. It’s good. Think of it as a mirror set before you. Sleep tight y’all. Here it is:


  4. Several years ago, when I first heard about this “democracy vs. republic” canard, I looked up the two words in a couple of standard dictionaries, and there was no discernable difference in the meaning of “democracry” and the meaning of “republic.”

    I think what some of these folks are getting at (although they don’t express it very well) is that our system is that of a representative democracy (we elect representatives, and the representatives make our laws), rather than a direct democracy (all the citizens meet and vote on their laws). There aren’t many direct democracies in the modern world, but some of the Swiss cantons and some New England towns have such structures on a local level.

    Why it’s so important to a certain political tendency to call the U.S. a republic rather than a democracy is something I haven’t figured out, though. “Democracy” seems to be a dirty word to them for some reason.

  5. I think they’re working on a “conservative model” of the “Don’t think of an Elephant” idea. (Lakoff?)
    Frank Luntz is the major promoter of “framing” the debate on their terms.
    They don’t want the word “Democratic” to have any subconscious leverage on people, and they want “Republican” associated with all things good.
    Very Orwellian.

  6. I still don’t have a problem with “constitutional republic” although I see what the Barton’s of the world are up. I also wish to avoid getting drawn into a battle to defend the the contextual turf represented by the word “democratic” because it’s as petty and it’s what the right-wingnuts do.

    I’ve been trying to sort it out and came up with this test: Were we a democracy in 1820? Were we a constitutional republic in 1820? I have a hard time accepting that we were a democracy in 1820, when a good portion of the population didn’t have the right to vote. But we were certainly a constitutional republic. Were we a democracy before 1920 and the 19th amendment? We were still a constitutional republic.

    “Democracy” is more nebulous than “constitutional republic” and that’s why I’m partial to it.

  7. You are exactly correct Democracy sounds Democratic and Republic sounds Republican. I would settle for representative democracy, which is probably the best way to describe how our system works, but it is a little too democratic sounding to them also. I’ve had too much of this Orwellian language the Republicans use. You only have to look at the names of programs given by the Bush Administration. If a Republican program is named “Clear Skies” it has air pollution. We also need to stop naming things war that are not war. Homeland Security needs to be American Security, or U.S. Security. We can probably thank Karl Rove for most of this B.S.

  8. @ Eric: But what’s behind the word changes? Why change them at all? What was wrong with the original wording?

    Surprising how intolerant the Right is over everything.

    @ Kenneth: But isn’t “Homeland Security” just so much more apple-pie? “Homeland” instills such a warm fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it?

    Yeah, war on poverty, war on drugs, war on terrorism…. these wars go on and on. And no end in sight. Why didn’t they call WWII “the war on fascism”? Or “the war on blitzkrieg? Or “the war on kamikaze”?

  9. To the degree that any republic is democratic must be determined by the amount of its people have the right to vote. Our country started out as a republic with only rich white men who owned land were allowed to vote. That was latter widened to rich white men who were rich enough to own land being allowed to vote. Our own Constitution marks the progress to a democracy by the amendments allowing other races than whites to vote and then allowing women to vote plus the election of senators by the people rather than appointment by congress. The ever widening voteing rights of our citizens tells the story of our democracy. The far right believe that only ‘true’ white christians should be allowed in our ‘christian’ nation, everyone else being ‘mud people’. Check the views of Christian Dominionism for a startling eye opener!