PBS’ Fake History: Greeks and Democracy

Published June 7, 2017

Recently the Public Broadcasting Service aired a three-part series about Greece on its Nature program. It explained that with limited arable land, Greece grew from rude beginnings to unprecedented prosperity by becoming a center for trade in the Mediterranean. PBS would have us believe this occurred because of democracy. But historian Louis Rougier writes that two other factors—which the PBS program never even mentioned—were more important: private property and sound money. In The Genius of the West, he writes the primacy of Piraeus, the leading Greek city, “was due first and foremost the scrupulous respect given to private property. Each year, on entering office, the Athenian archon listed the possessions of every citizen and guaranteed him the ownership and rights of disposal.

“This primacy was almost equally due to a strong monetary discipline….And never throughout their long history, regardless of the difficulties in which they found themselves, did the Athenians ever change the legal title or the weight of their money….Athenians had developed an exchange economy based on money. The money changers became the bankers who accepted deposits, made secured loans, and issued letters of exchange….By the fourth century [B.C.] Athens was importing four times as much food as it was producing…[and] paying with finished goods, such as vases, jewelry, arms, and fine cloth, for raw materials, food stuffs, metals, gold from Thrace, purple dies from Phoenicia, hides from Syria, and wheat from Egypt and Scythia.”

From the coasts of the Black Sea came ship timber, salted fish, honey, wax, pitch and cordage for vessels, leather and goatskins. From Phrygia and Miletus, fine wool and carpets. From Etruria, boots and bronzes. From Arabia, perfumes. And all the sweet productions of Sicily, Italy, Cyprus, Lydia, Pontus, and Peloponnesus found their way to Piraeus. Athenian coins (drachmas, 65grains fine silver) wound up as far away as India and northern Europe.

Trade in all these commodities required property rights. Each item had to be owned by somebody, and other people had to recognize that ownership and exchange their own property right to their commodities (or money) in return.

The connections between life, liberty and property can be understood from the rational cause-and-effect principle. Life is the source of man’s actions. If a man has a right to his life, he must have the right to act for it since he cannot otherwise survive. When a man’s actions result in property, through labor or trade, he has as much right to that effect as to his life, which is the cause.

Economic growth in Greece was accompanied by progress in architecture, engineering, sculpture, painting, theater and many fields of science. The PBS program would have us believe this all occurred because of democracy. There is no explanation of how democracy could have done this. That events happen at the same time does not prove one caused the other. The people who produced this PBS program make the sophomoric mistake of assuming that correlation means causation.

What made possible the expansion of progress in Greece and later in the East and West was the work of Aristotle. He studied almost every subject possible at that time and made significant contributions to most. He studied anatomy, astronomy, geography, geology, meteorology, physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, biology, ethics, government, philosophy, and economics. And he wrote the first formal study of logic.

Logic is the process of correct reasoning. Aristotle said the truths about reality are to be known by the principle of cause and effect and the laws of logic, which he formulated. His words on this subject are so encompassing and penetrating that more than 2,000 years later the philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote that since Aristotle, logic had been “unable to take a single step forward, and therefore seems to all appearance to be finished and complete.”

Aristotle taught mankind how to think. That—not democracy—was what made possible the expansion of knowledge on many subjects in ancient Greece and worldwide over many centuries since. But the PBS program on Greece did not include a single mention of Aristotle, the most influential philosopher in history.

PBS then tries to link its democracy-causes-progress argument with America’s advancement by falsely claiming our Founding Fathers created a democratically oriented government.  This is fake history. Roughly a century ago Albert Jay Nock wrote that it was worth going through the literature of early America “to see how the words ‘democracy’ and ‘democrat’ appear exclusively as terms of contumely and reprehension” [contumely definition: “an insulting display of contempt.”]….One sometimes wonders how our revolutionary forefathers would take it to hear some flatulent political thimblerigger [i.e.swindler] charge them with having founded ‘the great and glorious democracy of the West.'”

Why is the popular view of democracy so at odds with the facts of America’s founding? Most Americans are taught in school that the U.S. is a democracy and that that is the ideal form of government. (What else would you expect from schools run by a government that caters to the political majority to affirm its power and appropriateness for holding office?) People are usually surprised to learn—if they ever do—that the Founding Fathers feared and detested democracy and structured our government to guard against it. The word “democracy” was never mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, or any state constitution.

Edmund Randolph, governor of Virginia, became the nation’s first attorney general, later succeeded Jefferson as secretary of state, and was one of the leaders at the Constitutional Convention. In fact, he was the keynote speaker and said the “general object” of the convention was “to provide a cure for the evils” traceable to “the turbulence and follies of democracy.” Historian Forrest McDonald notes that Randolph expressed the views of “all but a handful” of the delegates.

James Madison, often called the Father of the Constitution, writing in The Federalist, the most authoritative exposition of the Constitution, declared:

“A pure democracy…can admit no cure for the mischief of faction…. There is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party…. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security and the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

In my latest book, The Impending Monetary Revolution, the Dollar and Gold, Second Edition, I cite similar views on democracy by other prominent Americans of the time:

Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”–John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, 1801-1835.

Democracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man’s life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure.” –John Adams.
democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”– Thomas Jefferson.
That the desires of the majority of the people are often for injustice and inhumanity against the minority, is demonstrated by every page of the history of the world.”–John Adams
The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”–Alexander Hamilton.

Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state—it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.” –John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

A democracy is a volcano which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction. These will produce an eruption and carry desolation in their way.” –Fisher Ames, wrote the House version of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.

The experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived.” –John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States.

The government our Founders created was certainly not a democracy. They established a constitutional republic with three equal branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. Only one-half of one, the House of Representatives, was to be elected by the people. It was expected that this would be balanced or restrained by the other half of the legislative branch, the Senate, whose members would be chosen by the states, rather than by popular vote. Edmund Randolph said, “The object of this second branch is to control the democratic branch of the National Legislature.” Gouverneur Morris said, “The propensity of the first branch to legislate too much [and] to run into projects of paper money and similar expedients” needed to be countered by the Senate. These statements reflected the prevailing view at the convention. This is shown by the fact that when delegate James Wilson suggested choosing senators by popular vote, not a single delegate supported him.

It was not because they were devotees of democracy that the Framers chose to have House members chosen by popular vote. Rather, it was because they thought the public needed to have some voice in the new government or they would not support it. And they thought measures they had crafted in the Constitution would be sufficient to restrain democratic tendencies and protect individual rights. The first big disappointment on this came with ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, which required U.S. senators to be popularly elected, making the Senate democratic just like the House.

1913 was probably the worst year in history for damage to the structure of our political system. In addition to the Seventeenth Amendment, the year saw the passage of the income tax and the Federal Reserve Act. No alterations of our system of government have done greater damage to the concept of individual rights, have led to the plundering of more wealth, have done more injustice or caused more suffering to Americans than those.

Popular election of senators transformed the Senate from a bastion for defending individual rights to a means by which the majority could overrun them. If senators or senate candidates wouldn’t support legislation to benefit the masses at the expense of the productive minorities, the voters increasingly would put others in office who would.

All the benefits which the politicians were to promise ever more lavishly to the voters as years went by had to be paid for in some manner. Here’s where the income tax and the Federal Reserve System came in handy. As government promised more and expanded its powers, it had to tax more. When it became a system of universal plunder trying to benefit everyone at someone else’s expense, the losses were becoming too great to be paid through taxation. So it became politically necessary to resort to inflation, which the Federal Reserve System facilitated so conveniently. As Big Government undertook to provide more and more for everyone, it resorted to the ultimate means of plundering everyone.

Before the income tax, there was widespread acceptance that people had to work for a living and what they earned was theirs by right—a recognition of the cause-and-effect relationship between an individual’s labor and the resulting property. After the income tax, people’s earnings came increasingly to be viewed as collectively belonging to society, rather than to individuals who earned it. A man’s life was no longer the determinant of his rights; other people were. They would decide, through the governmental process, how much of an individual’s earnings would go to him and how much would go to society through taxes. In place of recognition of rights as a natural cause-and-effect feature of man’s existence, the distribution of property—in this case, money earned—was now to be determined by the use of force: threats of fines or jail sentences imposed by democratically elected government enforcing tax laws. Money would flow to groups with no cause-and-effect claim but favored by politicians and bureaucrats—including themselves—all through violation of other people’s property rights. Government violates property rights not only by direct transfers of wealth from some people to others but also for environmental, social, educational and financial and other business regulations. Those are additional downgrades of the importance of property rights.

The Federal Reserve enables the government to acquire money not only from taxation but through inflation. Taxation takes money away from people; inflation takes value away from their money as more money is printed to pay for increased government spending. Government borrows money, but the borrowings are not repaid; they are simply rolled over, covered by borrowing more and spending more. When spending threatens to exceed the debt limit, no problem. Congress simply votes to raise the limit, and the process continues worse than before. This is the result of democracy, which politically rewards stealing wealth from those to whom it rightfully belongs, spending it, and passing the debt to future generations.

The national debt has more than doubled in just ten years. Up from $9.2 trillion at the end of 2007, the U.S. federal debt is now $20 trillion, which is about a trillion dollars more than our economy produces. Our debt-to-GDP ratio is 106.4% compared to 69.2% before Obama took office. But a recent study by economists Laurence Kotlikoff and Adam Michel concludes the true level of federal government debt is 12 times the entire U.S. economy and the total U.S. government debt is $210 trillion.

“Congress plays games with the budget in so many ways that it is hardly a stretch to say that if it were held to the same accounting standards as public corporations the entire Congress would be in jail for fraud,” says Paul Gutterman, director of the Masters of Business Taxation program at the University of Minnesota. (This quotation is from a Star Tribune article February 22, 2013, which cannot be found through Google, and the Star Tribune no longer shows any record of it, as though it never existed; however, I have a physical copy of that newspaper showing Gutterman’s article was published on that date.)

I am in favor of a balanced budget amendment under an Article V convention to amend the Constitution. It is one of several I recommend in my book, but I neglected to mention that an Article V convention should also include requiring the federal government to comply with the same accounting standards as private corporations. That would put an end to phony accounting practices of the government which Professor Gutterman says are downright fraudulent. I hope that others who are active in the Article V movement will push for such accounting reform.

Contrary to the PBS program, democracy did not advance progress in the U.S. It weakened property rights and sound money, both of which were distinguishing principles of the success of Greece and the United States. Montesquieu wrote, “The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded.” Democracy played a role in advancing decay in America, not progress.

[Originally Published at American Liberty]