Americans consistently and greatly exaggerate the value and benefit of democracy. It must be admitted the worst tendency in democracy is that it destroys the conception of a private realm wherein political and social power cannot intervene without committing a great injustice.
The culprit causing such mischief, as Cassius explained to Brutus, “is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” As political power extends to all, a pernicious tendency arises; the private becomes subject to society. Individuals exercise their political power similarly to the exercise of their personal conduct and opinions; that is, law should force individuals to act as they think others should act.
Were we honest, we’d admit that we lack respect for the individuality and liberty of others. The majority of voters never stop and ask themselves whether anyone has a legitimate right to control the sexual lives of women and homosexuals, whether anyone should have the right to send teenagers to die in a third world country 7,000 miles away to spread democracy, or whether anyone should have the right to imprison individuals for marijuana or heroin use.
Ideals of liberty, equality, prosperity and tolerance do not guide political action; selfishness and presumption do.
The political system only encourages such thinking. Sure, Republicans profess loyalty to limited government and the preservation of “traditional” principles (their traditions, mind you), and Democrats pledge fealty under the banner of equality (never defining it) and opportunity (that government must provide, of course). However, their pandering to voters with promises of monetary benefits and government favoritism make their alleged ideals an ingenuous ploy for respectability.
Prefacing his brilliant antiwar novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque wrote, “This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war.” It’s an astonishing passage because Remarque’s humility died early in the 20th century.
As it stands, any individual with political influence acts on the presumption of perfect and omnipotent information, not the acknowledgment that he or she should not have absolute power to enact preferences.
The proper response to the majority of political legislation and action must be abhorrence to the presumption that the public has the right to interfere in peaceful and voluntary action.
Churchill’s oft-repeated quote that “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried” narrowly misses its mark.
Strictly speaking, forms of government aren’t relevant; the procedure to control others doesn’t define the political system as much as its results.
I hold little patience for pompous acclamations for democracy. A democracy that refuses to limit itself in its control over individuals cannot promote any incarnation of the common good, let alone protect individual liberty and voluntary action.
Anthony Hennen is a senior studying journalism and a copy editor for
The Post. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.