domingo, 29 de maio de 2011

The Dogma

John Médaille
The Dogma of Democracy

Modern democracy has come to mean, in preference to all other possible forms, electoral democracy, where the officers of the state are chosen in periodic plebiscites determined by secret ballot. This has long since been the dominant form, and has become, in common usage, the only meaning of democracy. In the last 100 years we have fought numerous wars to make the world “safe” for this form; it is as if we believed that the right level of shock and awe would turn the citizens of Baghdad into good Republicans and Democrats, or convert Afghanistan into a suburb of Seattle.

Since this democracy is something we are willing to both kill and die for, it assumes the status of a religion, albeit a secular one. Like all religions, electoral democracy has its central sacrament, its central liturgy, and its central dogma; its sacrament is the secret ballot, its liturgy is the election campaign, and its dogma is that the election will represent the will of the people.

But is this dogma true in any sense? Is the “will of the people” really captured by 51% of the voters? Clearly, not everyone votes, so the will of the voters may not at all be the will of the people. One might respond that it is the will of the people who cared enough to vote. However, that ignores the fact that there are people (like myself) who care enough not to vote; people who find no party acceptable, or worse, find that both parties are really the same party with cosmetic differences for the entertainment and manipulation of the public.

I suspect that if there were a real choice on the ballot, such as a box marked “none of the above,” turnout would be higher, and this last choice the consistent winner. But in any case, it is not true that the will of a bare majority of the voters can easily be equated with the “will of the people.”

Further, we can ask if a bare majority is actually a sufficient margin for any really important decision, one that commits everyone to endorse serious and abiding actions. For example, should 51% be allowed to drag the rest into war? Or into the continuing war against children that is abortion? Certainly, there are issues that can rightly be decided by bare majorities, but the important issues cannot fall in that category.

There is yet another problem with the dogma of representation, because there are clearly two groups which elections cannot canvass: the dead, and the yet unborn, the past and the future. In an electoral democracy, the interests of the living predominate. Now, as to the first group, some say that we should not be bound by the dead past, and that our first freedom is freedom from our parents. There is, of course, a grain of truth in this; death is there for a reason. Nevertheless, life is bigger than the present moment, and no generation, no matter how scientific, can grasp the totality of life, can completely discern the correct way of living in the world.

The world as it is at any given moment is the result of decisions and actions that make up its past. The traditions we receive are the sum total of the distilled wisdom of the past about how to live in the world and with each other. It is, of course, an incomplete knowledge, and our task is to add to it, and to pass it on. Tradition therefore comes from the past but is oriented to the future. But democracies tend to erode traditions by pandering to current desires. G. K. Chesterton has labeled tradition “the democracy of the dead,” and a real democracy will accommodate these absent constituents.

In abandoning the past, democracy also abandons the future. We pile the children with debts they cannot pay, wars they cannot win, obligations they cannot meet; we allow the infrastructure to deteriorate and so weaken even their ability to earn a living. We vote ourselves large pensions at an early age, confident that we can live on the taxes paid by the children, even as we restrict the number of children we have, placing an even bigger burden on the ones that remain.

But in abandoning both the past and the future, democracy abandons even the ability to represent the present, because without the guidance of the past and the concern for the future, even the present moment loses its reality. The present moment is always ephemeral, because as soon as one grasps it, it is already history. Without tradition and an orientation to the future, the present moment becomes a kind of cultural Alzheimer’s, with no memory and no direction.

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"(...) as leis não têm força contra os hábitos da nação; (...) só dos anos pode esperar-se o verdadeiro remédio, não se perdendo um instante em vigiar pela educação pública; porque, para mudar os costumes e os hábitos de uma nação, é necessário formar em certo modo uma nova geração, e inspirar-lhe novos princípios." - José Acúrsio das Neves