What Democracy Does to Us… Part I

 

Some poor soul posted this on Medium:

“I wrote earlier about trying to express my reasons to my dad in a calm and intellectual manner. I actually thought I had been calm and well-reasoned. I thought I might even be making progress.

Today I found out he put a Trump sign in his yard.

I got pissed. Really pissed. And I sent him and my mom a text message. Hands shaking, tears in eyes. This is what it said:

Due to the signs in the yard, the kids and I will not be down. The current occupant of the White House is preaching hate and violence, endangering the lives and safety of many of my friends. This is not acceptable to me at all. There is a complete disregard for women, minorities, science, ethics, and morality. Please consider if you support Trump that much. Because I hate him that much. I wanted to be upfront and honest about my feelings.

And then I went for a walk to calm down. And the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with the message. At this point, it is not acceptable to me. You can vote for whom you wish. But I can choose who I surround myself with. I love my dad, but I can’t be around him until he understands how vital I believe this election to be and what is truly at stake. It is not easy. But it was necessary. Now to see what fallout occurs.”

Trump simply hasn’t been that bad, and I’m no MAGA hat. I’m a real Conservative. I think the Union has been too big for about 200 years. I think the South should have been allowed to leave in 1860. I think progressivism is responsible for public policies like Jim Crow. Heck, I even question the wisdom of the first war for American independence. My opinions are unpopular and weird. My opinions are actually Conservative. I’m not a Trump fan but I’m also not a fan of contemporary Conservativism. Not because of Trump but more because of Bush and the NeoCons. That’s where I’m at. I have no real political side in any of this, my politics lost a long (long) time ago (in a galaxy far far away). And that’s not even really a joke. The NeoCons actually think the Empire are the good guys and the Rebel Alliance is bad. 😱

But that being said, Trump simply hasn’t been that bad. He’s accomplished very little in terms of policy and his signature policy measure, the wall, has gone nowhere. So why does this guy think that Trump is worth crying over? Worth getting this upset over?

I think there’s a good chance he’s just not well. There’s a good chance he simply doesn’t have enough tying him to the real world. But I think it’s at least as likely that this is just what democracy does to us. It makes us unreasonable, pretentious, and unbearable. Democracy makes people worse.

Yeah, that’s the kind of Conservative I am, I’m a democracy skeptic. This is one of the dirty little secrets that mainstream Conservativism and the NeoCons don’t want you to know: Conservativism doesn’t believe in democracy.

Now anybody on the left will laugh at this point and say “that’s right, we’ve always known you guys were fascists!”

To which my response is “the fascists were Democrats.” And no I don’t mean that the DNC are Nazis, like Dinesh D’Souza. I mean the fascists were into democracy. Hitler (who wasn’t really a pure fascist anyway) was democratically elected. Mussolini had to relinquish his power before the Allies got to him. The fascists were a part of the modern experiment with democracy, not some kind of aberration. The tyrants of the last 200 years are a fundamental part of democracy, not something democracy fights against but something democracy creates. Classical political theory predicted that revolutions like the one in France, in the 1790s, would eventually lead to Napoleon style leaders. Democracy leads to tyranny and violence.

I don’t have a problem with democracy because I’m a crypto-fascist, I have problems with democracy because I think democracy logically leads to Stalin, Hitler, and George W. Bush (no he’s not THAT bad, but what he symbolizes is similar). In other words, if you hate Donald Trump, if you really truly believe he’s literally Hitler (he isn’t) I think, really, you hate democracy. Because there would be no demagogues without democracy.

And that’s why this guy was crying over Trump, not because of anything Trump has actually done, but because of his demagoguery. And he’s got some reason to be concerned. Trump’s rhetoric is pretty bad, but crying? Shaking? Not visiting your parents because of a sign?

Then again this guy probably cries when he goes into Whole Foods. He probably cries when Rachel Maddow (another demagogue) comes on. Crying and shaking over nothing is probably his “thing.”

But maybe he’s not a snowflake, maybe this is really where we are right now. Otherwise normal healthy people are waylaid by the Orange bad man. If that’s right then democracy is a mistake. Democracy makes us worse.

Democracy is a complicated concept. It has more than one meaning, but the standard definition, the one most people use, is a very bad idea. The beginning of democratic skepticism is Plato:

“Plato (Republic, Book VI) argues that democracy is inferior to various forms of monarchy, aristocracy and even oligarchy on the grounds that democracy tends to undermine the expertise necessary to properly governed societies. In a democracy, he argues, those who are expert at winning elections and nothing else will eventually dominate democratic politics. Democracy tends to emphasize this expertise at the expense of the expertise that is necessary to properly governed societies. The reason for this is that most people do not have the kinds of talents that enable them to think well about the difficult issues that politics involves. But in order to win office or get a piece of legislation passed, politicians must appeal to these people’s sense of what is right or not right. Hence, the state will be guided by very poorly worked out ideas that experts in manipulation and mass appeal use to help themselves win office.” –Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Plato was absolutely 100% correct. No one can look at Donald Trump, Barack Obama, or most of our democratically elected leaders and honestly say that this doesn’t apply. Career politicians make bad policy and are experts at getting elected. Democracy is a bad leader factory because it isn’t actually about leadership. It’s about getting elected.

But it’s even worse than that. Plato’s logic would seem to imply that in some sense democracy doesn’t work. That the people want good leaders in theory but the system encourages bad leaders to take advantage. And while that is true Bryan Caplan has shown, In the Myth of the Rational Voter, that democracy actually does work pretty well. Not if you want good public policy, the masses are ignorant and they tend to vote terribly. Democracy isn’t good at producing good results. But democracy is good at producing the results that majorities actually want. We have this belief that our leaders lie to us then when they get in office they don’t keep their promises. And that does happen but they still basically make the policies that are popular. Caplan’s big example here is protective tariffs. Virtually all economists think that trade deficits basically don’t matter and that tariffs are really a tax on your own people. Basically tariffs are a bad idea. Yet democracies do them over and over. Democracy does actually work in the sense that the people mostly get what they want, and since the people are stupid the results aren’t good. Which is the reason for the double down on public education, the populace needs to be educated. If they’re better educated they vote better. Except that this simply doesn’t work. Our education system can’t fix stupid, and from a Christian perspective, it really can’t fix the more serious problem: sin. People are sinful, for the Christian that’s the real problem with democracy.

But this version of democracy is the most simplistic understanding, literally rule by the demos, by the masses of people. This understanding of democracy has so many theoretical problems beyond the ones Plato and Caplan have pointed out it’s ludicrous that anyone takes democracy seriously at all. It’s simply false that everyone’s voice should count the same. As I’ve already pointed out, most people are very stupid and incapable of running their own lives very well. Most people (probably 51% at least) would be better off as some kind of slave, where their decisions were already made for them (I’m only partially joking about this). I’m not excluding myself from that 51%, I do an okay job at “adulting” but I would be better off in a bunch of ways as a slave.

The best Christian defense of Democracy comes from CS Lewis. And it tweaks the basic definition somewhat.

“I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure… The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”

The real problem with slavery is with the masters, not the slaves. And the idea is that democracy is a check on the masters…and I want to agree with Lewis here. But I think history is bearing out that democracy creates more tyrants than it disposes of. There is no reason for demagoguery without democracy.

Demagogue: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.

What reason does a Monarch have to demagogue? He/she doesn’t need to. But if you want democratically based power you have no choice. You can’t campaign on the right thing, you have to campaign on the popular thing. The thing that will get you elected, and keep you elected.

I think that’s what really scares our crying man: the people who like what Trump says. He’s worried that Nazis are about to jump out from the bushes and start burning crosses again. And if you’re a fan of anecdotal evidence I guess that has actually kind of happened…but not really. If anything Trump’s lack of popularity shows how controversial even pale echoes of genuine racism are in contemporary America. The crypto Nazis, if there are still thousands and thousands of them, have not really come out of hiding.

But as many right-wing Twitter trolls have gleefully pointed out the “Nazis” did sorta reappear under Trump, they’re just the leftist SJWs who burnt Portland to the ground and are doing naked yoga in public. It’s been four years of Trump, and while parts of America are certainly ruined right now that’s been mostly due to leadership from the left, and more importantly the actions of leftist mobs. Yet crying man isn’t crying over that, he’s crying over words from the bad man.

This post has gone on much longer than I intended it to, and I will do a follow up where I detail some “solutions” to our current democratic problems. But for now it’s important to see that if all we mean by democracy is rule by the masses it’s hard to find anything good to say about this political theory. And the irony is that the solution put forward is always more democracy, especially by the people in power. Look at the response to 2016. Most Americans seemed to be under the impression that the President was elected directly by the people of all the states by popular vote en masse. Obama recently reiterated this in a speech saying that electing the president is the only election Americans all do together. But 4 years ago many people had the rude awakening that the electoral college is actually what elects the president, not all of us together, but rather the states elect the president. The response to this realization has been to get rid of the electoral college. It’s anti-democratic, and according to the media, it produced the wrong result. But Clinton wouldn’t have been the right result, the truth is that democracy gave us two bad choices and neither result was good. And again Trump simply hasn’t been that bad. What has been really bad under Trump is the left. They’ve become entirely insufferable because they’re starting to realize that America actually has a lot more checks on democracy. Their march up the mountain was halted in 2016, and it broke their brains.

The democratic solution to democratic problems is always more democracy. More books favoring democracy. More documentaries about voter suppression. More voting! More tweeting from very ignorant celebrities about how we can’t let our democracy be stolen! Just more democracy! We don’t have enough of it, we gotta have more!

Caplan rightly calls this democratic fundamentalism. Like all fundamentalism, it doubles down on its fundamental no matter what. No evidence, no argument can dissuade Captain Ahab that the white whale of democracy is the highest good possible. No matter how miserable it makes Ahab, or the crying man, they are going to get that democracy or die trying.

Paul Gottfried has been addressing this problem for years. He calls it the god word of liberal democracy. But its very hard to define what constitutes liberal democracy, and it gets thrown around carelessly all the time. Really liberal democracy just means the good, it has very little content except as a term of political-religious devotion. This mirrors the left’s use of fascism. They never mean actual fascism because that went virtually extinct after WWII. When they use the word fascist they just mean the bad stuff, the bad people. Liberal democracy is the good, even if its not liberal or democratic, and fascism is the bad even when the “fascists” are actually libertarians. This is what democracy does to us, it makes us worse. It makes it more difficult for us to actually think freely because our very minds and conviction are brought into warfare. We are brought into the political whirlwind along with all the people who have actual privilege and power, this is a place where power is what matters most of all and the truth can thrown out in place of politics.

Next time I’ll try to explain how we might be able to “fix” our democratic systems, but sadly most of those solutions are already in place vis a vis the constitution and the American political tradition. But we’ve been running from those things for a long time.

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  1. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    As others have said in many places, democracy is not the principal principle of the United States. Individual liberty is.

    I’d even say–individual liberty is the point of democracy. Probably read that in Locke.

    But then–democracy’s more emphatic advocates have their respect for individual liberty too.

    John Dewey:

    Democracy is a way of life controlled by a working faith in the possibilities of human nature. Belief in the Common Man is a familiar article in the democratic creed. That belief is without basis and significance save as it means faith in the potentialities of human nature as that nature is exhibited in every human being irrespective of race, color, sex, birth and family, of material or cultural wealth. . . . The democratic faith in human equality is belief that every human being, independent of the quantity or range of his personal endowment, has the right to equal opportunity with every other person for development of whatever gifts he has. . . . It is belief in the capacity of every person to lead his own life free from coercion and imposition by others provided right conditions are supplied.

    • #31
  2. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    As others have said in many places, democracy is not the principal principle of the United States. Individual liberty is.

    I’d even say–individual liberty is the point of democracy. Probably read that in Locke.

    But then–democracy’s more emphatic advocates have their respect for individual liberty too.

    John Dewey:

    Democracy is a way of life controlled by a working faith in the possibilities of human nature. Belief in the Common Man is a familiar article in the democratic creed. That belief is without basis and significance save as it means faith in the potentialities of human nature as that nature is exhibited in every human being irrespective of race, color, sex, birth and family, of material or cultural wealth. . . . The democratic faith in human equality is belief that every human being, independent of the quantity or range of his personal endowment, has the right to equal opportunity with every other person for development of whatever gifts he has. . . . It is belief in the capacity of every person to lead his own life free from coercion and imposition by others provided right conditions are supplied.

    The left walks right through that wide-open door…

    • #32
  3. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    As others have said in many places, democracy is not the principal principle of the United States. Individual liberty is.

    I’d even say–individual liberty is the point of democracy. Probably read that in Locke.

    But then–democracy’s more emphatic advocates have their respect for individual liberty too.

    John Dewey:

    Democracy is a way of life controlled by a working faith in the possibilities of human nature. Belief in the Common Man is a familiar article in the democratic creed. That belief is without basis and significance save as it means faith in the potentialities of human nature as that nature is exhibited in every human being irrespective of race, color, sex, birth and family, of material or cultural wealth. . . . The democratic faith in human equality is belief that every human being, independent of the quantity or range of his personal endowment, has the right to equal opportunity with every other person for development of whatever gifts he has. . . . It is belief in the capacity of every person to lead his own life free from coercion and imposition by others provided right conditions are supplied.

    The left walks right through that wide-open door…

    Yep. Dewey’s definitely on the left.

    (Or he used to be. The left lurched so far left lately that they left Dewey behind, maybe somewhere on the lefter side of right.  “Faith in human equality,” “Belief in the Common Man,” an individual living “his own life free from coercion.”  The Democrats don’t like that stuff anymore.)

    • #33
  4. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    As others have said in many places, democracy is not the principal principle of the United States. Individual liberty is.

    I’d even say–individual liberty is the point of democracy. Probably read that in Locke.

    But then–democracy’s more emphatic advocates have their respect for individual liberty too.

    John Dewey:

    Democracy is a way of life controlled by a working faith in the possibilities of human nature. Belief in the Common Man is a familiar article in the democratic creed. That belief is without basis and significance save as it means faith in the potentialities of human nature as that nature is exhibited in every human being irrespective of race, color, sex, birth and family, of material or cultural wealth. . . . The democratic faith in human equality is belief that every human being, independent of the quantity or range of his personal endowment, has the right to equal opportunity with every other person for development of whatever gifts he has. . . . It is belief in the capacity of every person to lead his own life free from coercion and imposition by others provided right conditions are supplied.

    The left walks right through that wide-open door…

    Yep. Dewey’s definitely on the left.

    (Or he used to be. The left lurched so far left lately that they left Dewey behind, maybe somewhere on the lefter side of right. “Faith in human equality,” “Belief in the Common Man,” an individual living “his own life free from coercion.” The Democrats don’t like that stuff anymore.)

    “It’s not coercion if it’s for your own good.” 

    • #34
  5. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    This seems relevant:

    “The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
    To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
    To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
    To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

     

    Douglas Adams

     

     

    • #35
  6. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    A.C. Gleason: Hands shaking, tears in eyes.

    This is a grown man? “Waaaaah!!!! Daddy is going to vote for a different candidate than me!”

    Hopefully the response back was : “Dear Son, Grow a set!”

    • #36
  7. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    This seems relevant:

    “The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
    To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
    To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
    To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

     

    Douglas Adams

    I came up with that long before Douglas Adams.

     

    • #37
  8. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    This seems relevant:

    “The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
    To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
    To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
    To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

    Douglas Adams

    I came up with that long before Douglas Adams.

    1:  But I bet you didn’t phrase it as well.

    2:  So did the founders (at least the first two points)

     

    • #38
  9. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    American democracy at the federal level was primarily a speedbump. Its original usefulness was in delaying the inevitable expansion and centralization of power by frustrating legislative activity. That’s good for discouraging government growth. But in modern society it frustrates correction amd locks in a corrupt system. 

    American democracy was originally limited, as it should be. Universal suffrage mistakes participation in government for political freedom. Political freedom is more a consequence of the scope and power of government than of its interests. Americans were more free when laws and agencies were few. They had less (formal) securities, but that is the price of freedom. 

    Modern American democracy is neither constitutional nor truly democratic. Bureaucracies and courts govern more than legislators. Generally speaking, we do not elect our rulers at the federal level. 

    Modern American democracy is inevitably warped by technological progress. A DC bureaucrat can monitor and micromanage citizens with ease, making a king look impotent. 

    Royalty, like communist chiefs and other dictators, rely on “lords” and industry leaders to maintain and exercise power. There was always a cooperative element to political authority. 

    It makes more sense to elect persons we truly know, rather than strangers as presented by media. If I can elect a trustworthy man, I can trust him to do the same; and so on upward through the levels of government. The indirect election of US Senators is closer to the mark of sensible democracy on a national scale. 

    Scale makes a difference. Democracy works better at a level of genuine, constant communication and feedback. Voting for a stranger among millions of peers, summarizing a wealth of issues with a simple “this person or that one” every few years, is hardly a powerful expression of free will. 

    But 2020 is proving the use of legitimacy. A semblance of political participation, real or not, mollifies opponents to tolerate disorder in hope of competitive gain. Popular democracy is a relief valve on demographic pressures. It’s a combination of gambles in which anything seems possible — unlike the certain and enduring personality of a central ruler. 

    I’m just riffing here. But this is basically to say I share your skepticism of democracy, even if it is ultimately preferable, and agree it ends in tyranny or anarchy like any other mode of govermment. 

    Claims that we are instead a republic are not reassuring, since that addresses respect for laws in place rather than how they get there and endlessly multiply. Besides, we are a democratic republic — one is as essential to our history as the other. Both free will and civil cooperation are ideas constantlt challenged by the fallen nature of Man.

    • #39
  10. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    This seems relevant:

    “The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
    To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
    To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
    To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

    Douglas Adams

    I came up with that long before Douglas Adams.

    1: But I bet you didn’t phrase it as well.

    Adams has had a lot of practice.

    2: So did the founders (at least the first two points)

    I was a lot younger than them.

    • #40
  11. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    Modern American democracy is neither constitutional nor truly democratic. Bureaucracies and courts govern more than legislators. Generally speaking, we do not elect our rulers at the federal level. 

    Just wanted to emphasize this part.

     

    • #41
  12. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    This seems relevant:

    “The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
    To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
    To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
    To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

    Douglas Adams

    I came up with that long before Douglas Adams.

    It works amazingly by itself, but it’s also a joke on Plato. The solution is supposed to be the philosopher-king. So Adams gives us the ruler of the universe, a skeptic who doesn’t think it exists.

    • #42
  13. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    kedavis (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    I love my dad, but I can’t be around him until he understands how vital I believe this election to be and what is truly at stake.

    Because politics is more important than one’s closest family ties. (NOT)

    So the father should vote for Biden because junior insists? Otherwise there will be no peace?

    Clearly it’s junior that needs to cool his/her/xhis/xher jets.

    The only way to fix this behavior is by publicly disinheriting the adult brats, making clear that the brat’s behavior will be materially punished and that a cause the brat hates will be rewarded. Seriously.

    • #43
  14. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    That kid is definitely not the sharpest serpent’s tooth in the drawer. 

    • #44
  15. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…
    @ArizonaPatriot

    This Douglas Murray has a good line about this recently. Something like: “An ideology that insists that you cut yourself off from your family is a cult.”

    In my view, though, it is proper in some circumstances to cut ties to a family member, if the situation is sufficiently severe. The case of an actual Jihadi or Nazi or so-called Antifa terrorist come to mind.

    • #45
  16. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    This Douglas Murray has a good line about this recently. Something like: “An ideology that insists that you cut yourself off from your family is a cult.”

    In my view, though, it is proper in some circumstances to cut ties to a family member, if the situation is sufficiently severe. The case of an actual Jihadi or Nazi or so-called Antifa terrorist come to mind.

    And before the Left gets there first with another lie, we need to be clear that it was the ninny child cutting themselves off, not the father or the rest of the family cutting off the child by “insisting on supporting evil” or whatever.

    • #46
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