What Democracy does to us…
Some poor soul posted this on Medium
“I wrote earlier about trying to express my reasons to my dad in a calm and intellectual manner. I actually thought I had been calm and well-reasoned. I thought I might even be making progress.
Today I found out he put a Trump sign in his yard.
I got pissed. Really pissed. And I sent him and my mom a text message. Hands shaking, tears in eyes. This is what it said:
Due to the signs in the yard, the kids and I will not be down. The current occupant of the White House is preaching hate and violence, endangering the lives and safety of many of my friends. This is not acceptable to me at all. There is a complete disregard for women, minorities, science, ethics, and morality. Please consider if you support Trump that much. Because I hate him that much. I wanted to be upfront and honest about my feelings.
And then I went for a walk to calm down. And the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with the message. At this point, it is not acceptable to me. You can vote for whom you wish. But I can choose who I surround myself with. I love my dad, but I can’t be around him until he understands how vital I believe this election to be and what is truly at stake. It is not easy. But it was necessary. Now to see what fallout occurs.”
Trump simply hasn’t been that bad, and I’m no MAGA hat. I’m a real Conservative. I think the Union has been too big for about 200 years. I think the South should have been allowed to leave in 1860. I think progressivism is responsible for public polices like Jim Crow. Heck I even question the wisdom of the first war for American independence. My opinions are unpopular and weird. My opinions are actually Conservative. I’m not a Trump fan but I’m also not a fan of contemporary Conservativism. Not because of Trump but more because of Bush and the NeoCons. That’s where I’m at. I have no real political side in any of this, my politics lost a long (long) time ago (in a galaxy far far away). And that’s not even really a joke. The NeoCons actually think the Empire are the good guys and the Rebel Alliance are bad. 😱
But that being said Trump simply hasn’t been that bad. He’s accomplished very little in terms of policy and his signature policy measure, the wall, has gone nowhere. So why does this guy think that Trump is worth crying over? Worth getting this upset over?
I think there’s a good chance he’s just not well. There’s a good chance he simply doesn’t have enough tying him to the real world. But I think it’s at least as likely that this is just what democracy does to us. It makes us unreasonable, pretentious, and unbearable. Democracy makes people worse.
Yeah that’s the kind of Conservative I am, I’m a democracy skeptic. This is one of the dirty little secrets that mainstream Conservativism and the NeoCons don’t want you to know: Conservativism doesn’t believe in democracy.
Now anybody on the left will laugh at this point and say “that’s right, we’ve always known you guys were fascists!”
To which my response is “the fascists were democrats.” And no I don’t mean that the DNC are Nazis, like D’Nesh D’Souza. I mean the fascists were into democracy. Hitler (who wasn’t really a pure fascist anyway) was democratically elected. Mussolini had to relinquish his power before the Allies got to him. The fascists were a part of the modern experiment with democracy, not some kind of aberration. The tyrants of the last 200 years are a fundamental part of democracy, not something democracy fights against but something democracy creates. Classical political theory predicted that revolutions like the one in France, in the 1790s, would eventually lead to Napoleon style leaders. Democracy leads to tyranny and violence.
I don’t have a problem with democracy because I’m a crypto fascist, I have problems with democracy because I think democracy logically leads to Stalin, Hitler, and George W Bush (no he’s not THAT bad, but what he symbolizes is similar). In other words if you hate Donald Trump, if you really truly believe he’s literally Hitler (he isn’t) I think, really, you hate democracy. Because there would be no demagogues without democracy.
And that’s why this guy was crying over Trump, not because of anything Trump has actually done, but because of his demagoguery. And he’s got some reason to be concerned. Trump’s rhetoric is pretty bad, but crying? Shaking? Not visiting your parents because of a sign?
Then again this guy probably cries when he goes into Whole Foods. He probably cries when Rachel Maddow (another demagogue) comes on. Crying and shaking over nothing is probably his “thing.”
But maybe he’s not a snowflake, maybe this is really where we are right now. Otherwise normal healthy people are waylaid by the Orange bad man. If that’s right then democracy is a mistake. Democracy makes us worse.
Democracy is a complicated concept. It has more than one meaning, but the standard definition, the one most people use, is a very bad idea. The beginning of democratic skepticism is Plato:
“Plato (Republic, Book VI) argues that democracy is inferior to various forms of monarchy, aristocracy and even oligarchy on the grounds that democracy tends to undermine the expertise necessary to properly governed societies. In a democracy, he argues, those who are expert at winning elections and nothing else will eventually dominate democratic politics. Democracy tends to emphasize this expertise at the expense of the expertise that is necessary to properly governed societies. The reason for this is that most people do not have the kinds of talents that enable them to think well about the difficult issues that politics involves. But in order to win office or get a piece of legislation passed, politicians must appeal to these people’s sense of what is right or not right. Hence, the state will be guided by very poorly worked out ideas that experts in manipulation and mass appeal use to help themselves win office.” -Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Plato was absolutely 100% correct. No one can look at Donald Trump, Barack Obama, or most of our democratically elected leaders and honestly say that this doesn’t apply. Career politicians make bad policy and are experts at getting elected. Democracy is a bad leader factory, because it isn’t actually about leadership. It’s about getting elected.
But it’s even worse than that. Plato’s logic would seem to imply that in some sense democracy doesn’t work. That the people want good leaders in theory but the system encourages bad leaders to take advantage. And while that is true Bryan Caplan has shown, In the Myth of the Rational Voter, that democracy actually does work pretty well. Not if you want good public policy, the masses are ignorant and they tend to vote terribly. Democracy isn’t good at producing good results. But democracy is good at producing the results that majorities actually want. We have this belief that our leaders lie to us then when they get in office they don’t keep their promises. And that does happen but they still basically make the policies that are popular. Caplan’s big example here is protective tariffs. Virtually all economists think that trade deficits basically don’t matter and that tariffs are really a tax on your own people. Basically tariffs are a bad idea. Yet democracies do them over and over. Democracy does actually work in the sense that the people mostly get what they want, and since the people are stupid the results aren’t good. Which is the reason for the double down on public education, the populace needs to be educated. If they’re better educated they’re vote better. Except that this simply doesn’t work. Our education system can’t fix stupid, and from a Christian perspective it really can’t fix the more serious problem: sin. People are sinful, for the Christian that’s the real problem with democracy.
But this version of democracy is the most simplistic understanding, literally rule by the demos, by the masses of people. This understanding of democracy has so many Theoretical problems beyond the ones Plato and Caplan have pointed out it’s ludicrous that anyone takes democracy seriously at all. It’s simply false that everyone’s voice should count the same. As I’ve already pointed out most people are very stupid and incapable of running their own lives very well. Most people (probably 51% at least) would be better off as some kind of slave, where their decisions were already made for them (I’m only partially joking about this). I’m not excluding myself from that 51%, I do an okay job at “adulting” but I would be better off in a bunch of ways as a slave.
The best Christian defense of Democracy comes from CS Lewis. And it tweaks the basic definition somewhat.
“I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure… The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”
The real problem with slavery is with the masters not the slaves. And the idea is that democracy is a check on the masters…and I want to agree with Lewis here. But I think history is bearing out that democracy creates more tyrants than it disposes of. There is no reason for demagoguery without democracy.
Demagogue: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.
What reason does a Monarch have to demagogue? He/she doesn’t need to. But if you want democratically based power you have no choice. You can’t campaign on the right thing, you have to campaign on the popular thing. The thing that will get you elected, and keep you elected.
I think that’s what really scares our crying man: the people who like what Trump says. He’s worried that Nazis are about to jump out from the bushes and start burning crosses again. And if you’re a fan of anecdotal evidence I guess that has actually kind of happened…but not really. If anything Trump’s lack of popularity shows how controversial even pale echoes of genuine racism are in contemporary America. The crypto Nazis, if there are still thousands and thousands of them, have not really come out of hiding.
But as many right wing Twitter trolls have gleefully pointed out the “Nazis” did sorta reappear under Trump, they’re just the leftist SJWs who burnt Portland to the ground and are doing naked yoga in public. It’s been four years of Trump and while parts of America are certainly ruined right now that’s been mostly due to leadership from the left, and more importantly the actions of leftist mobs. Yet crying man isn’t crying over that, he’s crying over words from the bad man.
This post has gone on much longer than I intended it to, and I will do a follow up where I detail some “solutions” to our current democratic problems. But for now its important to see that if all we mean by democracy is rule by the masses it’s hard to find anything good to say about this political theory. And the irony is that the solution put forward is always more democracy, especially by the people in power. Look at the response to 2016. Most Americans seemed to be under the impression that the President was elected directly by the people of all the states by popular vote en masse. Obama recently reiterated this in a speech saying that electing the president is the only election Americans all do together. But 4 years ago many people had the rude awakening that the electoral college is actually what elects the president, not all of us together, but rather the states elect the president. The response to this realization has been to get rid of the electoral college. It’s anti democratic, and according to the media it produced the wrong result. But Clinton wouldn’t have been the right result, the truth is that democracy gave us two bad choices and neither result was good. And again Trump simply hasn’t been that bad. What has been really bad under Trump is the left. They’ve become entirely insufferable because they’re starting to realize that America actually has a lot more checks on democracy. Their march up the mountain was halted in 2016, and it broke their brains.
The democratic solution to democratic problems is always more democracy. More books favoring democracy. More documentaries about voter suppression. More voting! More tweeting from very ignorant celebrities about how we can’t let our democracy be stolen! Just more democracy! We don’t have enough of it, we gotta have more!
Caplan rightly calls this democratic fundamentalism. Like all fundamentalism it doubles down on its fundamental no matter what. No evidence, no argument can dissuade Captain Ahab that the white whale of democracy is the highest good possible. No matter how miserable it makes Ahab, or the crying man, they are going to get that democracy or die trying.
Paul Gottfried has been addressing this problem for years. He calls it the god word of liberal democracy. But its very hard to define what constitutes liberal democracy, and it gets thrown around carelessly all the time. Really liberal democracy just means the good, it has very little content except as a term of political religious devotion. This mirrors the left’s use of fascism. They never mean actual fascism because that went virtually extinct after WWII. When they use the word fascist they just mean the bad stuff, the bad people. Liberal democracy is the good, even if its not liberal or democratic, and fascism is the the bad even when the “fascists” are actually libertarians. This is what democracy does to us, it makes us worse. It makes it more difficult for us to actually think freely because our very minds and conviction are brought into the warfare. We are brought into the political whirlwind along with all the people who have actual privilege and power, this is a place where power is what matters most of all and the truth can thrown out in place of politics.
Next time I’ll try to explain how we might be able to “fix” our democratic systems, but sadly most of those solutions are already in place vis a vis the constitution and the American political tradition. But we’ve been running from those things for a long time.