“It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy,” he wrote in a famous passage. “It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.” – John Adams
The great shortcoming of democracy is and always has been the culture, the people themselves. The stupidity and hypocrisy displayed every day on social media is proof of that.
As was noted above, John Adams, and other Founding Fathers, were dubious about the idea of democracy, precisely because it provided the means to weaponize the general stupidity of people.
But isn’t America a democracy?
Well…despite what the anti-electoral college idiots tell you…the pledge of allegiance states, “and to the republic for which it stands.”
The Framers of the Constitution were, again dubious of pure democracy, “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths”– (Federalist No. 10).
They instead opted for a republic. A democracy is a form of government in which the people decide policy matters directly–through town hall meetings or by voting on ballot initiatives and referendums. A republic, on the other hand, is a system in which the people choose representatives who, by proxy make decisions for them.
Over time, “democracy”, liberalism, has become a bit bastardized, adopted to mean a form of government in which the government derives its power from the people and is accountable to them for the use of that power. In this sense, the United States might accurately be called a democracy.
Writing of the merits of a republican or representative form of government, James Madison observed that one of the most important differences between a democracy and a republic is “the delegation of the government [in a republic] to a small number of citizens elected by the rest.”
The Constitution notes that “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government” (Article IV, Section 4).
What this means is that the real value isn’t so much that we have universal or regular elections, but the tripartite government with a further subdivided legislative branch in which senators (at one time they were appointed, not elected) had the power to keep in check the more democratic House of Representatives. We also have a fundamental Bill of Rights—these right shall not be infringed upon, where the people are not allowed to vote on the determination of rights such as freedom of speech and of religion. The Supreme Court is empowered to use the law to restrain such “democratic assaults” on liberty and citizenship.
However, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. In 1937, Karl Loewenstein published “Militant Democracy and Fundamental Rights,” in the American Political Science Review in 1937. According to Loewenstein, fascists were able to abuse the fundamental rights granted to them by democratic constitutions – namely freedom of speech, press, and assembly, and equal participation in the electoral process – to destroy democracy from within. The key to defending democracy and defeating fascists was to deny them these fundamental rights through temporary restrictive legislation. Confronted with the success of Hitler and Germany throughout the 1930s. He understood fascism not as an ideology but as a method, one that exploited nationalism and newly available forms of media to achieve “a supersession of constitutional government by emotional government.”
He noted, “The technical devices for mobilizing emotionalism are ingenious and of amazing variety and efficacy, although recently become more and more standardized–among them, besides high-pitched nationalist enthusiasm, the most important expedient, perhaps, is permanent psychic coercion, at times amounting to intimidation and terrorization scientifically applied.”
Lowenstien’s is a lament on the inability of democracy to contain fascism. It refers to a form of constitutional democracy authorized to protect civil and political freedom by preemptively restricting the exercise of such freedoms. Today, we see it manifested in the raft of anti-terrorism legislative initiatives that many states introduced in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001. At the federal level, we see the Patriot Act and empowering of the NSA. More traditional manifestations of militant democracy include hate-speech legislation, the banning of political parties, restrictions on mass demonstrations, and the criminalization of certain political organizations.
While Lowenstein may have had his heart in the right place, he was just trying to ward off totalitarianism with more totalitarianism…most Americans have not had to go to the extremes he witnessed in Europe.
The framers, by limiting the powers of the federal government and the division of those powers limits autocratic ambitions.
Still, militant democratic tendencies seep in, such as Net Neutrality or “campaign finance reform,” a subtle way of suppressing and regulating political speech coming from unapproved parties at unapproved times or in unapproved contexts. Youtube removing PragerU videos, or Facebook labeling Diamond and Silk as “dangerous”.
The totalitarians’ rhetoric always returns to some form of militant democracy and the idea ultimately finds its way into legal action–those who would ban dissident sermons about gay marriage or the wanton use of unapproved pronouns as “hate speech,” those who advocate the arrest and suppression of activists and scholars with unpopular views about climate change, presidents who threaten to sic the federal regulators on media critics and left-leaning technology companies, mayors who would use the powers of government against nonconformist Chic-fil-A.
A Slight Regression to lament a Sad Chicken
Mayor Bill de Blasio and members of the New York City Council are calling for a city-wide boycott of Chick-fil-A – “I’m certainly not going to patronize them and I wouldn’t urge any other New Yorker to patronize them,” the mayor told DNAInfo.com.
Councilman Daniel Dromm was even more blunt – accusing the Southern restaurant chain of spreading a “message of hate.” Chick-fil-A opened its first New York City restaurant in 2015 – followed by a second location in April. The mayor’s remarks came after it was announced a third restaurant would be opening in Queens – which happens to be the district represented by Councilman Dromm. So why do the mayor and the city council have a problem with Chick-fil-A? Basically, Chick-fil-A is owned by a devoutly Christian family. Back in 2012 company president Dan Cathy ruffled feathers by telling a reporter that he believed marriage is between a man and a woman.
“What the ownership of Chick-fil-A has said is wrong,” said De Blasio. Reminder, this is the guy who eats his pizza with a fork.
Run to the Cry Closet!
Worse, if Ben Shapiro or Milo is permitted to speak on a college campus, the argument goes, then the gas chambers can only be a few days away. It appears now that the great threats to American democracy are a mild-mannered Orthodox Jew with a newspaper column or a provocative homosexual that likes to wear fur or one or two nice blonde ladies from Connecticut who spend Saturdays driving their kids to soccer matches. I doubt even Lowenstein would make any correlations to Weimar Germany. This is all just basic stupidity.
Can liberalism contain democracy—is mass democracy more dangerous threat to freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, property rights, and other fundamentals of citizenship than Nazi storm troopers?
As Kanye West found out, it is the democratic mob, not an autocratic elite, that demands conformity in life and thought and speech, and brooks no dissent.
Just recently, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has called for prosecuting Charles and David Koch as traitors and war criminals. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank, was subjected to subpoenas (including demands for information about its donors) because the nation’s Democratic Attorneys general don’t like what its former patron Exxon has had to say about global warming. ExxonMobil remains under investigation for its activism and advocacy on climate change. As attorney general of California, Kamala Harris illegally demanded donor lists from conservative nonprofits for the obvious purpose of subjecting them to political bullying. The IRS harassment of Tea Party groups and the National Organization for Marriage is part of our history. State University of New York at Oswego administrator has reprimanded a conservative student for delivering an “uncomfortable” speech during an “Open Mic” event last month.
The leftist culture that told itself it was radically open-minded really turned out to be one balkanized by fear, insularity, intellectual bigotry, and closed-mindedness.
That makes it valuable as an artifact of the mindset that has done so much to alienate conservatives from much of the media and that has contributed so much to the ghettoization of our political discourse. Not surprisingly, when you tell roughly half of the country that they are benighted bigots whose ideas are not even worth hearing, they go elsewhere.
For those of us raised by Roosevelt Democrats, the feeling we have now is disappointment, and of being woke.
Irving Kristol famously said, “a neoconservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.”
So it goes.