With the 4th of July holiday coming up I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on how our founding fathers felt about direct democracy. In comparing American democracy to Athenian democracy, former President James Madison wrote that defining principle of American democracy “lies in the total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity.”
Which is to say that America was not designed to be governed by the mob rule of direct democracy. Yet we’ve been creeping toward mob rule for some time now. The 17th amendment, allowing for the popular election of Senators, was a big step in that direction. The rise of mass media was another step, and with the proliferation of social media we seem to be very much governed by the whims of public opinion.
Case in point, the George Zimmerman case in Florida, which today saw CNN broadcasting Zimmerman’s personal details (including his SSN) to a jubilant crowd on Twitter and other social media which have already convicted him.
There are other recent examples too. The disruption of legislative proceedings in Texas in a thuggish attempt to block pro-life legislation is an example. The attempt by protesters in places like Michigan and Wisconsin to block labor reforms by mobbing lawmakers is another.
It’s as though a whole movement of Americans has come to believe that they can get their way through sheer force of will, regardless of things like due process or legislative procedure.
This is a troubling development for the American republic.