Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
"I'm just as good as you" is not a bragging point.
The success of democracy is not rooted in our equal goodness, but in our equal fallenness. The idea behind democracy, in the mind of the Founding Fathers, was that nobody could be trusted with too much power, so you spread it around and hope that our fallen selfishness could, with the help of checks and balances, create enough gridlock to stave off our habit of acquiring and then misusing too much power. Thus, a check is put, not only on the three branches of government to keep them fighting amongst themselves, but on We the People too--to keep the mob from doing the stupid things mobs do. The Wisdom of the Common Man--whose most memorable vote was "Crucify Him! Give us Barabbas!"--is checked by the Electoral College.
It's not a perfect system. As the man said, "Build a foolproof system and they'll build a better fool." But still, it's not a bad idea. People made in the image of God have rights and should rule themselves. But fallen people will invariably tend to rule badly. So the Founders struck a brilliant balance and hoped for the best The main problem these days is that The Common Man could not tell you the difference between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, does not know the Pope is Catholic (no, really):
...and retweets the tweets of Justin Beiber 150,000 times for every zero time he has read the Federalist Papers or the Bible. Unsurprisingly, he also tends to be the same sort of person who thinks the purpose of Founding Fathers was tell us how awesome we are and give us stuff. Democracies tend to last until people figure out how to vote themselves access to the treasury and, shortly thereafter, to vote power to some guy who promises to keep them safe while they party with the treasury dough. A tyranny, says Chesterton, is typically what follows on the heels of a tired democracy.
After the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked the departing Benjamin Franklin if the new government was a Democracy or a Republic.
"A Republic, madam," replied Franklin, "If you can keep it."
It remains to be seen if we can keep ours. But a citizenry that is quiescent about the murder of the unborn and the erosion of religious liberty, and which slumbers through administrations who seize the power to torture, murder and jail citizens forever without trial, spy on us, and intimidate the press is a citizenry that well fits Franklin's diagnosis: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."