First, the professor defines what a democracy is. A democracy he says is a government by the people. Meaning, it is the majority opinion that matters in a democracy. There are two kinds of democracies, the direct democracy and the representative democracy. The American Democracy is the representative type. Therefore, it is called a republic. Before a republic comes into place, people with similar interests come together to form it. This is where we get our first doctrine in the American constitution, which is meant to limit power for the general purpose of advancing human freedom. To fully understand this doctrine, the following question must be answered.
What is wrong with the articles of association in the American Constitution? The Articles of Confederation was formed by the original former British colonies that came together to form the United States. This was followed by uncertainty, turmoil and fear that permeated for eleven years before the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The first president George Washington waged a protracted bitter war with the only the support of the state government. Many parts of the nation were left in shambles. After this, a ‘league of friendship’ was formed but lacked power to levy taxes or regulate commerce. Each state retained sovereignty. The leaders of the revolution like Alexander Hamilton and George Washington believed that a national government which is strong is essential. Thus, in order to limit the power in order to advance the general freedom of a populace, the government made the government stronger and more powerful. This doctrine dictates that if a large group of people (more than three hundred million Americans) come together to make a decision, then the decision would most probably would be full of errors. Majority opinion, they say, is not always the right opinion. Nevertheless, a family may have little or no interest at all in politics.
The second doctrine that shows that the American constitution democracy is a grand experiment to limit power for the general purpose of advancing the human freedom is human nature. The professor states that “a lust for domination is more or less natural to all parties”. In his numerous researches, Professor Wilson found one article written by an anonymous person who said that Americans seek power because they are greedy and ambitious. Nevertheless, they are easily corrupted. He goes on further to ask a rhetorical question that whether during the drafting of the constitution the people of the United States would be protected from selfish and self-seeking politicians. As a consequence, there was a revolution whereby the rich protested over their interests since before; Thomas Jefferson had changed “property “into “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.
Another doctrine with which power is limited to advance freedom as discussed by Professor Wilson is a strong government which does not threaten freedom. The framers of the constitution believed that both men and women were good enough to make possible a free government. However, they believed that they could not make it inevitable. Therefore, the likely result of this would be what the professor call “parchment barrier” whereby people would seek their self-interests with little or no disregard at all to the constitution or a bill of rights. A strong government, they argued, would in more than one cases, absorb or annihilate functions and powers that belong to the mass. Another point to note is that the American constitution framers were so preoccupied with liberty that they had the bill of rights in the constitution.
The next doctrine revolves around a system that separates checks and balances and protected liberty. This system, Professor James Q. Wilson says, has been effective in limiting power and to the advantage of advancement of human freedom. It is interrelated with the theory or doctrine of human nature. Provided that appropriate articles in the constitution guarantee liberty and a source of unity, self-interested groups with personal motives resist encroachment of others. Hence, politicians and other office holders would be prevented from gathering all political power into their hands. In spite of all human nature imperfection therefore, separation of powers would still work. So with federalism, division or separation of powers would still work. By dividing powers among states, the one level of government, that is, the national government would check on the other.
In conclusion, the U.S. effectively limits power by making a national government which is stronger and more powerful than the people who vote the government in. The other way it does this by dividing the government into two. That is, one national government which is also called the federal government and by having state governments. Both of them have powers. However, the national government is more powerful than the others. Finally, there are checks and balances which ensure the federal government does no overstep its mandate but also that the majority opinion does not always carry the day. This can be seen during elections since the Electoral College has the final say.
Mueller, D. C. (1996). Constitutional democracy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Patterson, T. E. (2000). The American democracy. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Wilson, J. (2012). American Government (10th ed.). Los Angeles: University of California.