Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Democracy is messy

Digby unearths a treasure in the google cache: a diatribe by a writer for Family Security Matters named Philip Atkinson. I have never heard of either FSM or Atkinson before, but apparently this group has on its board such right-wing luminaries as Barbara Comstock, Monica Crowley, Frank Gaffney, Laura Ingraham and James Woolsey. Please read it to get a sense of the pure bat-shit nature of some of the people we are fighting and be ready to pick your jaw off the floor after reading things like this:

If President Bush copied Julius Caesar by ordering his army to empty Iraq of Arabs and repopulate the country with Americans, he would achieve immediate results: popularity with his military; enrichment of America by converting an Arabian Iraq into an American Iraq (therefore turning it from a liability to an asset); and boost American prestiege while terrifying American enemies.

He could then follow Caesar's example and use his newfound popularity with the military to wield military power to become the first permanent president of America, and end the civil chaos caused by the continually squabbling Congress and the out-of-control Supreme Court.

President Bush can fail in his duty to himself, his country, and his God, by becoming “ex-president” Bush or he can become “President-for-Life” Bush: the conqueror of Iraq, who brings sense to the Congress and sanity to the Supreme Court. Then who would be able to stop Bush from emulating Augustus Caesar and becoming ruler of the world? For only an America united under one ruler has the power to save humanity from the threat of a new Dark Age wrought by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.

Now, I will concede completely with the notion that this person and anyone who publishes his shit should not be allowed within 200 miles of the levers of power. But even in a dung heap like this there is a glimmer of something important that needs to be comprehended, a lesson that needs to be learned.

The inadequacy of Democracy, rule by the majority, is undeniable – for it demands adopting ideas because they are popular, rather than because they are wise. This means that any man chosen to act as an agent of the people is placed in an invidious position: if he commits folly because it is popular, then he will be held responsible for the inevitable result. If he refuses to commit folly, then he will be detested by most citizens because he is frustrating their demands.

In its simplest terms this assessment is correct. Democracy, rule by popular majority, can produce truly awful policies if leaders simply do what is most popular. The popular opinion of the majority can sometimes be truly, astoundingly wrong.

The mistake people like Atkinson make is in forgetting that the opinion of the strong-arm ruler can also be truly, astoundingly wrong.

The sublime beauty of Democracy is that it requires that, for the society to survive, both the majority and the leaders must come to a consensus on what is the best course of action. A populace can engage in this kind of conversation as long as it is well educated, well informed, and lead by leaders who know how to engage them in that conversation.

The genius of the founders of America was in acknowledging that there was no such thing as a perfect form of government and that the best government could only be achieved when the system was structured such that it would require such a conversation to take place. This is why, for example, they deliberately divided the power to run the military (the Commander in Chief) from the power to decide how its considerable might should be extended (the Legislature). The system was designed to induce conflict between the branches, not eliminate it. Because it was only when the branches conflicted that they could hope to come to a consensus. If there was no conflict then there would be the strong temptation to simply avoid the discussion altogether and rule by fiat.

This is why it is essential that Congress not abandon its role in holding the Executive accountable. It is precisely in times of present danger (War) that consensus through conflict is essential to determining the best way forward.

Otherwise we will be left with decision making that is truly, astoundingly wrong.


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