This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
HB220 mandates that, among other things, schools in Utah teach that the United States of America is not a democracy, but a "constitutional compound republic." This legislation did provide us with some comic relief, but it also shed light on some concerns.
Although I am concerned by the legislative hubris to micromanage curricular decisions at such a degree, I will leave that discussion for another day. Presently, I want to address that the actual content of this bill is just plain wrong.
The core principle of democracy is that the supreme power to govern resides in the people. This principle can take many forms, but in a pure democracy, everyone votes for everything and the majority rules. This form of government has a lot of moral advantages, but also some disadvantages.
Disadvantage 1: In a large society like ours it is impractical to expect everyone to be able to vote on everything.
Disadvantage 2: In a simple "majority rules" situation there is no protection from the majority oppressing the minority. This is sometimes called the "tyranny of the majority."
Two solutions are provided.
Solution 1: In a representative democracy, otherwise called a republic, we elect representatives to do most of the voting for us. This solves disadvantage 1 (even though this also creates other disadvantages, they fall outside of the scope of this letter).
Solution 2: In a constitutional democracy, a constitution establishes the boundaries to what the majority is allowed to do. A constitution becomes the supreme law of the land and all actions by the government must be measured against its standards. And basic rights are enshrined and protected from the tyranny of the majority. This solves disadvantage 2.
Thus one might call the United States' form of a government is a constitutional representative democracy. One could also call it a constitutional republic for the terms "representative democracy" and "republic" are interchangeable. It is true that we do not have a pure democracy, but it is still true that we do have one of the forms of democracy. It would be ridiculous to say: "You're shirt is not red, it is scarlet." It is similarly ridiculous to say that the U.S. is not a democracy, but rather a republic. A republic is a subcategory of the larger umbrella category called democracy.
The term constitutional compound republic, as in HB 220, is a garbage term that does not exist in the academic discourse on government. Try googling the exact phrase (in quotation marks) in a Google scholar search. You will find exactly zero results in the scholarly, academic literature. It was fabricated. The legislature has entered the business of stuffing our academic institutions with content that does not exist in the academic world and is just plain wrong. Shouldn't our academic institutions be teaching academic content?
David Rockwood teaches psychology, sport psychology and philosophy and coaches track and field and cross-country at Payson High School and lives in Springville.