Friday, April 10, 2009

Democracy (gone awry) in America


Alexis de Tocqueville (the elegant sound of who’s name I envy) once wrote:

“If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the omnipotence of the majority, which may at some future time urge the minorities to desperation and oblige them to have recourse to physical force. Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been brought about by despotism.” (see the context here)

He goes on to cite Madison and Jefferson on this matter.

These words – possibly prophetic – are horrible to contemplate because they hold a certain ring of plausibility about them.  Allow me to paraphrase Alexis here just a bit.

Suppose idiots who are suckers for almost any stupid idea in government become a majority in the United States.  Suppose then that these idiots put into place people and policies so bad that those outside the majority finally say, “Enough!” and decide to take whatever action is necessary.

That ‘whatever action is necessary’ is likely to lead not just to the overthrow of the majority, but to a general breakdown of good government, or perhaps anything much like government.  (It might well even lead to conditions that would make that kind of ‘rational anarchy’ advocated by some very unlikely even by their own reckoning.)

Of course, the only way out of this dilemma of the terrible is to convince the majority of the error of their ways.  What is disheartening is the difficulty of persuading majorities of almost anything that is reasonable.  What is even worse is the fact that there are many who know this, and who use this difficulty as a way of destroying liberty.  That is what demagoguery is all about, a fact well known to those like our demagogue-in-chief and his allies in Congress.

It is a case of hoping against hope that the man with the elegant name turns out to be – for reasons we cannot yet discern – wrong.

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