Biblical Dangers of Democracy

Neither the Framers nor the Ratifiers of our Constitution wanted to make the new national government a democracy. They were, overwhelmingly, republican, not “democratic,” political thinkers. And with plenty of good reasons, for they were not ignorant of the Bible, the nature of man, or the performance of various kinds of civil government in history.

Strictly speaking, democracy is a form of civil government ruled directly by the votes of a majority. Democracy is based on the notion that all men are equal. The vote of the wisest, most learned, most experienced, most intelligent, most godly man counts no more than that of the man with the opposite of all of these qualifications.

But are all men equal? Are all men created equal? Are all equal in the sight of God?

Were Israel (the nation upon whom God set His love) and the Canaanites (not to mention all the other pagan peoples upon whom God did not choose to set His love) equal in the sight of God? Obviously not.

Were Jacob and Esau equal in God’s sight? By no means. Paul reminds us that God chooses whom He wills for salvation: He has mercy “on whom He will (have mercy), and whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18). And the apostle says of Esau (Rom. 9:13) “As it is written, for Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” The word for “hated” means to detest—which certainly is not equal to love. Only by extension does it mean to love less—and even that is not equality. Moreover, who would want to be loved less by God if that meant getting what Esau got?: The loss of his blessing and his birthright, no assurance of eternal salvation, and his descendants being a pagan people outside God’s covenant and facing eternal damnation. So the premise of equality is biblically false: all men are neither equal nor created equal in God’s sight.

Are there ways in which all men are equal? They are all equally created by God; equally dependent upon Him for their existence and wellbeing; equally obligated to have faith in Him and obey His laws (equally morally obligated to Him in this sense); equally morally obligated to obey His commandments in regard to their attitudes toward and treatment of other human beings. But from none of these does it follow that all men should be politically equal nor that the majority should rule.

But even given these kinds of equality among men, it is manifest that all men do not equally acknowledge that they are created by God; or dependent upon Him for their existence and wellbeing; or obligated to have faith in Him; or to obey His commandments concerning Himself or the treatment of other men. These inequalities among men certainly raise problems for the democratic argument that all men are equal and that all men should be politically equal.

In what ways are men unequal? They are unequal in physical attributes, mental attributes—intelligence, character, wisdom, etc.—and talents. They are unequal in the circumstances into which God creates them and into which He providentially places them in life: religion; family background and characteristics; geographic location and characteristics; societies and cultures; economic circumstances; social status; political and legal orders and the freedom and justice which they afford. In any known society they are also unequal in their social condition—authority and/or subjection to authority (parental, church/religious, governmental)—and unequal even to themselves at various times in their lives (infancy, childhood, adulthood, old age). And these inequalities among men are more politically significant than the few equalities which can be imagined or discerned among them—unless it be supposed that intelligence, character, wisdom, pertinent knowledge, and the like are no more desirable in citizens and civil government officials than their opposites. The Bible certainly does not present character and wisdom (see Proverbs), for example, to be irrelevant to the choice of rulers.

The inequalities among men are more significant than the equalities, and the inequalities are certainly more important to civil government (and to government of all kinds) than the equalities. The democratic premise of equality resoundingly flunks the biblical test.

Moreover, does the Bible present majorities as being better than minorities? No matter how large the majority who follow worldly wisdom, worldly wisdom is inferior to true wisdom which is from God and His word (Proverbs). Nor are the worldviews and actions of an ungodly majority superior to the worldview and actions of a godly minority. It is the broad road taken by most, not the straight and narrow one, which leads to destruction. The worldviews and decisions of the peoples of the cities and nations of the Promised Land were scarcely models of righteousness or wisdom! And the worldviews, decisions, and actions of the vast majorities of the Hebrews in the wilderness, the Hebrews in the Promised Land who insisted on being ruled by a king, or the Jews (true representatives of all sinners) who shouted of Christ: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” were certainly democratic disasters and disastrous for majority-rule arguments.

The Bible certainly does not present democracy—majority rule—as the best, or even a good, form of civil government. Majorities, like minorities, are composed of sinful men. Moreover, they are likely to be composed of men who have worldly worldviews, short-run interests, and ungodly motivations. All men are not equal in the ways most important for good civil government, and majorities are prone to being manipulated by a more intelligent

minority or a popular individual. The best form of civil government, which God gave to His people after they were settled in the Promised Land, was a republic—with both aristocratic and federal elements as well as republican ones—not a democracy. But the majority of the people rejected that republic in favor of a monarchy—though God through Samuel warned them it would become tyrannical (1 Samuel 8).

The Framers and Ratifiers of our Constitution were familiar with—and agreed with—the biblical assessment of human nature and with the biblical record of civil governments, popular governments and majorities—as their forefathers had been. Moreover, the vast majority of the Framers and Ratifiers were Bible-believing Christians—not rationalists, Deists, or adherents of any other religion. They were men of a culture shaped by Christianity in general and Protestant Christianity in particular, a culture whose political thought was dominated by Christianity; whose political writers cited the Bible as authoritative far more than they cited any other book, and cited conservative Protestant and Roman Catholic political authors as authoritative far more than they cited either ancient or modern non-Christian writers; and whose leading legal textbook, Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, pointed men to Scripture as the highest standard and revelation of law.

This is a large part of the reason that they sought to give us not a democracy but a republic—if, as Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said after the Constitutional Convention, we can keep it.

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