Sunday, June 18, 2006


The past two weeks have held a rather startling lesson. If my e-mail and the responses it's gotten on comment threads are any indication, the plain statement of the supremacy of the People in a democracy seems somehow strange, even far out. Assuming Republicans aren't readers of this blog, that is something I never thought would be found among people on the left.

Thinking about it, though, the out-right statement that leftists hold the basic tenets of democracy as a given isn't repeated nearly often enough. It might be best to begin by considering why we are going to all this bother, anyway.

If we don't believe that the People are the only legitimate and best source of government then we had better say so now. We are on the edge of so many disasters that there isn't time to waste. If we don't believe that the People are the best hope of getting it right, avoiding the distortions of self-interest and the greed-based society, then the only logical thing is to dump democracy and try for a benevolent despot. But experience proves that there isn't any such thing as a benevolent despot. All despots, all non-democratic governments are held in place by violence and thuggery. A very few, such as Tito in Yugoslavia, find it in their interest to suppress ethnic bigotry but almost all of them use racism and bigotry as their primary organizing tool. In very few middle eastern countries it is in the interest of the despot to allow women to be human beings while using ethnic violence. In most the total suppression of women replaces it or rides in tandem.

As a sometime subscriber to The Nation and a few other leftist magazines I've seen some of the more spectacular apostasies of the past forty years. Not having the leisure to go into it and without the interest of the professional left I haven't poured over their writings this week but my impression is that the leftists who turned never exhibited a firm belief in popular supremacy. They all seem too refined and sophisticated for that quaint idea. Maybe that's the key to what made them turn quisling. Maybe it's a line of hypertext in their program that allows them to click and instantly show what seems to be a totally different document, though really a part of the same book. It's happened often enough so someone who does have the time might check it out.

Given the number of these treasons and the character of those who didn't turn, I wonder if this isn't it. Martin Luther King, the greatest American leftist of my lifetime, was ridiculed by the flashier leftists who didn't have any use for his Beloved Community* and his ideals. His critics became fashionable and progress in civil rights stopped rather abruptly. The usual explanations are that King tried to extend the movement Northward and the war in Vietnam but some of the explanation might lie in those who were ascendant at the same time. The number of those who turned conservative must mean something.

Something happened. Some combination of factors stopped the progress. It's not any one thing but it is clear that without a solid basis of belief in the People, even if it's in their unfulfilled potential, the agenda of the left will die. It can't be said often enough. This is an idea that has to be an explicit part of everything we do.

* See: THE PEOPLE DIVIDED, Monday June 12, below.

You are so right. The root of the word democracy is 'people' but it seems everyone, right and left these days are elitists of one sort or another. Most people don't want democracy for everyone, just themselves and their 'kind'. I blame much of it on the lack of 'civics' classes in school these days. And the demonization of democracy by the right. Again and again, in arguments, you will hear the righties claim America is not a democracy but a republic. Fools! It is a democratic republic. Democracy comes first in the equation and a Republic is how we implement this particular form of democracy. But make no mistake it is democratic first. The right would have an elitist Republic run by the rich and (need I say it?) the white. The votes would be distributed by how large your bank account was. Plutocracy at its finest.
There have been times when I've felt like killing someone as they said that, "not a democracy, it's a republic," line.

The way that we are supposed to worship the "founding fathers" and the constitution they produced in 1787 drives me wild. No one, not even the "originalists" or the "federalists" would want to live under that constitution unamended, though I've always thought that they would dearly like to reinstitute the infamous 3/5th provision.

The country we live in today isn't just the result of 1787, it's the result of the struggle for different groups to pry their freedom out of the hands of the aristocrats and the lessons people learned from the experience of living under the constitution. We're always supposed to think that the "founders" were supermen who produced the finest document of its kind. But they weren't, as anyone who bothers to actually read accurate accounts of them knows. The people who came after them often were wiser, more honest and had a real devotion to justice that was so notably lacking in so many of the framers of the constitution. And even if that wasn't true, I don't trust anything but democracy, informed People making a collective decision, the greedy and stupid often overruled by the unselfish and the realistic. If we don't have a democracy I say we get ourselves one.
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