The Pathos of Politics (42) The Dream of Democracy

The Dream of Democracy

A democracy is a government in the hands of men of low birth, no property, and vulgar employment. ~ Aristotle

Every revolution has for its beating heart a figment that indispensably inspires those that strive for its success. The men that led the English, American, and French revolutions looked upon democracy as a culmination of man’s struggle for freedom: a vacuous notion with no basis in actuality, as civilization is defined by an entanglement of endeavor, and government an erratic check on freedom (erratic in sanctioning certain inequities while proscribing others).

Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike. ~ Plato

As long as democracy was only a dream, it was impossible to appraise its viability. Discussions of democracy, from Plato to Rousseau and Burke, suffered from a sense of unreality in whether it would work.

In a true sense of the term, there has never been a true democracy, and there never will be. It is contrary to the natural order that the greater number should govern and the smaller number be governed. ~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in tribute to tribal power via numerics

The majority is the best way, because it is visible, and has strength to make itself obeyed. Yet it is the opinion of the least able. ~ French Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal

Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people. ~ American clergyman Harry Emerson Fosdick

Democracy’s defenders often saw it as a paradise within reach of rational men. Its opponents predicted it would lead to the destruction of society and decent moral values.

Tyranny naturally arises out of democracy. ~ Plato

Various early thrusts toward democracy failed. The Puritan Revolution in the 1640s (aka English Civil War) had a democratic inspiration but crumpled back to monarchy. 4 decades later, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 established an active parliament, albeit aristocratic rather than democratic.

18th-century England welcomed liberal aristocrats like Montesquieu, but had no room for radical democrats like Tom Paine, who had to flee his native land after defending the French Revolution against its assault by Edmund Burke.

The French Revolution, which began with little violence in 1789, ceased its ersatz democratic experiment a decade later when Napoléon established a military dictatorship on the way to rolling his own brand of monarchy.

Napoléon’s 1814 abdication led to the reactionary rule of the Bourbons, who attempted a reversion to kingship by divine right via alliance with the clergy and aristocracy. That monarchial exercise ended with the July Revolution of 1830, establishing a constitutional monarchy that secured sociopolitical ascendancy for the bourgeoisie (upper middle class). That at least opened the way for popular government.

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A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49. ~ Thomas Jefferson

America’s founding fathers sought to temper majority rule by distorting its representational power: awkwardly aiming at a ruling class a cut above the common man by making land more important than people in the upper house of the legislature (the senate), and by indirect election of the president: with votes going to electors of the party a candidate is in, not the candidate himself. Thus, the United States was designed as a diluted democracy.

If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it. ~ Mark Twain

Distrust is the marrow in the body of democracy. It runs both ways. Politicians are always wary of the public’s capacity for comprehension. Conversely, citizens’ confidence in politicians’ competence is ever shaky.

This picture of the blind leading the blind is an apt portrait of the Collective. It certainly is no advertisement that democracy is a sensible political system.

(The Collective are the great mass of humanity, unwashed of ignorance and often bereft of moral virtue.)