How the U.S. Constitution Makes Democracy Impossible

Many Americans believe the Founding Fathers were good Christians.  Even more believe they were democrats.   But for the most part, they were neither.  They were propertied men of the Enlightenment, exquisitely aware of the depredations that organized religion had wrought on the polities of Europe and at the same time deeply afraid of democracy and "the people" who they viewed as a threat to property. But even the many historians who are well familiar with the framers’ deep antipathy to democracy seem blind to real story behind the Philadelphia Convention, how the framers, frightened by Shay’s Rebellion and threats of paper money actually managed to PERMANENTLY prevent democracy in America.  

How did the framers prevent democracy in America?  They established a government based permanently on oligarchic institutions—campaigns and elections.  Of course that sounds crazy, since we view campaigns and elections as the heart and soul of democracy.  But that’s just our made-up Orwellian Newspeak.  Up until the time of the founding fathers, the classical political philosophers (Aristotle, Plato, Montesquieu, Rousseau) all viewed campaigns and elections as oligarchic institutions because they favored the rich and famous.  

When we think about that today, we of course must admit that campaigns and elections in our own time do obviously favor the rich and famous – Congress being engorged with multimillionaires and professional athletes and movie stars with the occasional comedian and pro wrestler thrown in.  The classical political philosophers believed that whatever class was in power would rule in its own behalf and at the expense of the other classes.  If the rich and famous are given the reins of power, it was argued, they will invariably create what all the classical philosophers called "oligarchy."  

But it wasn’t just campaigns and elections that made the United States permanently oligarchic.  Representation in the United States Senate gave equality not to human beings but to the "artificial beings" (Alexander Hamilton’s phrase) called states.  Because some states have more population than other states, this is not "representative" democracy.   In fact it is more like the opposite: the fewer people in your state, the better you are represented in the Senate.  Now in 1787 the inequalities this engendered may not have seemed extreme.  The difference in population between the most populous and least populous states was 12 to 1.  Today it is 69 to 1.  By 2050 demographers project that 50% of U.S. senators will "represent" 5% of the citizens of the country, and the other 50% will represent the remaining 95% of us.   And here’s the key point: The founding fathers made this unrepresentative  (or more properly, anti-representative) character of the upper branch of the legislature beyond the power amendment.  

In addition, by granting this unrepresentative upper branch power over nominations to the Supreme Court,  the framers ensured that all three branches of the United States government would be firmly in the hands of an oligarchic elite, with officials selected by campaigns and elections, with the "anti-represenative" upper house of the legislature and with the judiciary effectively put into the hands of this anti-representative upper house.

       In the early decades of the 19th century, to the great consternation of most of the framers, America did become much more democratic.  Campaigns and elections were not waged by mass media as they are today but by men on horseback and by town meetings.  In Democracy in America Tocqueville was amazed at the power of equality in America and how it seemed to be overpowering contrary impulses.  But already in his book Tocqueville was warning Americans that they would lose the great promise of democracy if they ever let the gap between rich and poor grow too great.  What we are living through in our own times, as thoroughly documented by writers such as Kevin Phillips, is the crushing of the would-be democracy under the growing power of the rich and the corporate interests.  

We live in the age of the Internet.  The Internet directly contradicts one premise of the Founding Fathers: that direct democracy is impossible in a large territorial state.  We select our American Idols by direct democracy today.  The "Wisdom of Crowds" argues that under the right conditions large groups of people tend to make better decisions than experts.  Our present system is breaking down under its own greed and excessive individualism.  The oligarchy has failed.  Is it time for a constitutional convention?  Or by what other means shall we gain for the first time true democratic control over our own destiny?