“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America; and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, with Liberty and justice for all.” We all know this verse as our national pledge. We recite it at court, at school, and at various other gatherings. But how many of us truly understand the words and their import to our form of government?
The American form of government is commonly referenced as a democracy, both among it’s citizens and abroad. However, a true democracy has never existed for any length of time in the history of civilization, due largely to that fact that it requires the full participation of the people in all legislative and governmental processes. By nature, individuals will become too occupied with their own daily routines and obligations to make time to participate at the level required by a true democracy. The larger the population grows, the less likely it is to have the people’s full participation. The same is true as a society or nation grows in physical size, either through conquest or exploration.
In contrast, a Republic can support the growth of a nation in both size and numbers. One of America’s Founders, James Madison, defined a republic in this way: “… a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior.” Essentially, the people are grouped together based on population and geography to elect their governmental representatives, who then assemble with the other elected representatives to do the bidding of those whom elected them. In this representative form of government, the mass of the people have a direct voice in the public affairs while not needing to devote countless hours to the process.
Over one hundred years ago, an ideological war was erupting in America, very similar to what can be seen occurring today. In the early 1900’s, the spread of socialism was approaching pandemic proportions across the globe. And in 1905, a group of about 100 people gathered together in New York and formed what they called the ISS, or Intercollegiate Socialist Society. This movement spread quickly across America, and soon had charters on over 60 college campuses from coast to coast. One of the ISS co-directors, Harry Laidler, claimed his group’s mission to be to “throw light on the world-wide movement of industrial democracy known as socialism.” Their slogan was “Production for use, not for profit.” However, in 1921, the USSR and the violence associated with their involvement in World War I, had given the word ‘socialism’ a sour taste, especially in America. It was for this reason that the ISS decided to change it’s name to ‘The League for Industrial Democracy’. But socialism is defined as government control of the means of production and distribution of goods, quite the opposite of the classical meaning of a democracy. The word ‘democracy’ was being misused to carry the idea that through the nationalization of production and distribution of goods, all of America’s resources would be the property of ‘the people’.
Several device were utilized in an effort to convey to the people the distinctions, in fact the sharp contrasts, between socialism and democracy, and republics, including a U.S. Army training manual. Despite these efforts, America continued to be identified as a ‘democracy’, primarily in the media and in school text books. President Woodrow Wilson didn’t help the matter when he declared The Great War to be our effort to “make the world safe for democracy.” Of course, Wilson had surrounded himself with many of the ISS’ early recruits, who likely encouraged this slogan.
Following World War II, as Americans were readjusting to a normal life, they also began to see the word ‘democracy’ in a new light. Throughout the war, the Communists, National Socialists of Germany, and other socialist across Europe had all blatantly abused the word democracy so much that had become virtuously synonymous with socialism. Additionally, socialism was beginning to look far less appealing to the everyday American. Between their reputation of violence and vitriol and their fully evident economic shortcomings, Socialist states around the world were proving to be utter failures, as far as Americans were concerned. With this came a very subtle adjustment to the American general way of thinking. Although they still referred to the United States as a democracy, mentally the word was being more and more equated with the traditional Constitutional Republic that America truly is.
Decades have passed since then, and many things have changed and evolved in American political culture. The rise and growth of the Progressive movement, for example, shares many similarities with the League of Industrial Democracy, simply under a new name. ‘Progress’ has taken the place of ‘democracy’ in a sense that those in the progressive movement who seek to bring about a socialistic change have realized that there is still a connection between socialism and democracy, and have elected to simply rename the same old story.
Sadly, one need only step foot outside America to realize that the words ‘democracy’ and ‘socialism’ are still very much intertwined elsewhere throughout the Earth. Many socialists, though they also refer to America as a democracy, believe that we are not “democratic enough”. Their definition of democracy very much mirrors that of the ISS, that by government control, possession then belongs to the people. There are even some in America that share these sentiments; that equate socialism to democracy, and therefore urge the socialization or nationalization of America.