Faith in Democracy?
I wish to expand upon a comment made by John Kaufman in his essay "Thomas Jefferson is unconstitutional". He wrote: "Our Constitution is a progressive document, a brilliant example of placing faith in democratic ideals ...".
And, as a historical statement, that's quite accurate. Prior to the American Revolution, governments had always been top-down affairs, with the common people being ruled ("for their own good", it was always claimed) from on high, by kings, warlords, plutocrats, and self-proclaimed "agents of god". Even the vaunted democracies of ancient Athens involved a tiny fraction of the population — the "best free men" of the city, presumably the intellectual elite — making decisions for everyone else.
When Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams, et alii followed the direction so brilliantly laid out by Thomas Paine in Common Sense, they were indeed embarking on a leap of faith. They believed without evidence (which is what faith entails) that the common people could rule themselves. The Founders needed faith, because what they were proposing had never been tested before. It might work in theory, but nobody had tried it in practice.
Today, in 2010, we no longer need to say we have "faith in democracy". We have a 234-year track record to go on. Indeed, the American Experiment has been copied, emulated, and tweaked all around the globe. Today we can say, with assurance based on history, not that we have faith in democracy, but that we have confidence.
Not that that democracy is without its problems, as Paine himself foresaw. But the fundamental rule of analysis is to always ask "Compared to what?". I like Winston Churchill's answer: "Democracy is the worst possible form of government — except for all the others that have ever been tried."
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I hold the highest title within my country’s capacity to bestow upon anybody. I am a citizen.