Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Divine Right Monarchy, the Worst Form of Government Except for All the Others

Does anybody actually believe in democracy? It’s easy to make fun of the Bush administration’s version of popular sovereignty, the Breshnevian doctrine that people have the absolute right to vote for candidates of the government’s choosing; but American politicians of all stripes have repeatedly found democracy inconvenient and have repeatedly amended the people’s errors by invasions, coups, and assassinations—recall Mexico, Haiti, Nicaragua, Iran, Chile, and Cuba. When you bring up this track record, people regularly respond not by admitting that they don’t seriously believe in democracy, but by explaining why it was such a good idea to bump off Allende or prevent the Algerians from voting in an Islamic government. This is an evasion that becomes all the more problematic as the real power of voters declines at home as well as abroad. It isn’t just third-world wogs who are bombed if they do something foolish that hurts American interests, after all. Our domestic political arrangements, the contrivance of both Republicans and Democrats, are mostly a series of barricades and fortifications against the public will. In the first hundred or so years of our national history, government became more democratic in this country with the expansion of the franchise, the deepening of civil rights, and the direct election of senators. For a hundred years or more, however, the tide has been flowing in the other direction.

I’m not suggesting that the majority rule ought to be absolute. I directed my initial question as much at myself as at anybody else because I’m as distrustful of the people as any Conservative. Anybody who reads these pages knows that I could care less what the man in the street thinks about scientific or philosophical issues. Indeed, I don’t think that anybody has a right to an opinion about matters they know nothing about. What offends me is the Orwellian doublespeak of politicians who claim to promote democracy with high tech terror weapons while working tirelessly to ensure that the liberated masses, appropriately grateful, shut the fuck up and do what we want. And I have also come to believe as a matter of prudence that states in which the people have a real ability to influence policy are likely to be more stable, less corrupt, and less dangerous to the peace of the world than oligarchic republics like the contemporary United States. I got to thinking. Since democracy isn’t sacred, maybe it’s sometimes worthwhile.

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