Friday: Areopagitica Tomorrow: Second Treatise on Civil Government
Book: The Bubble Boys: How Mistaken Educational Ideals and Practices are Causing a Warped Social Fabric
Wow, everyone, I needed that break…I’ve had to tell too many people too many times what I’m trying to do with the Great Books program, as though it’s somehow extremely difficult. This is in fact really simple: in exchange for being paid you will get the best quality education because I will tell you what classics to read and we will discuss them in a small group, if in LA then in person, if elsewhere then by Google Hangouts. Really not very complicated. Since I am completely unique intellectually–all one has to do is look at my reading list, then my age (again, I’m 25), and they can tell that I’m not exactly like just any other teacher. Perhaps more people should read Plutarch’s “On Listening”.
In any event, today I want to write briefly about the two big problems with democracy. I am working on my third book, The Conundrum of the Democratic Ideal, to explore this–I don’t know that I have the right approach for a book-length work, but I think so, and the thoughts are certainly clear in my head. Conceptually it is fairly simple.
Basically for democracy to really work, two primary elements need to subsist: first, that the mass of the people are informed and know how to interpret information that they are given; and second, that dissent is managed with decency and diligence and not simply stifled without remorse or care for consequences. I believe in my core that both elements are impossible over the long-term, and that what in essence happens to most democracies is that they either 1) meet some catastrophic end such as being subject to conquest or 2) they morph into some other less pleasant form of government, usually a choice between oligarchy/plutocracy, elected monarchy and eventually autocracy, absolutism, or totalitarianism. One of the elements of any course I will teach on political theory will be a definition of the various forms of government, so I’ll leave that blank here and you can ask me if you’d like.
In the last fifty years the United States has become preoccupied with statistics and quotations. These are two mechanisms by which information is transmitted, but they are not by any means the only ones, and many other more important and more precise measures of information are being suppressed or ignored. Look at how writing teachers teach students to write–one thing my course in the fall will address is the various kinds of facts and how selection from among them determines the strength of the writer’s argument–and you’ll get a good picture. Most teachers are nowadays telling their students that the ONLY valid facts are statistics and quotations, raw and unprocessed. Yet these two kinds of information can both be subject to extensive manipulation and external control, and in fact these come out as the weakest forms of fact when really put to the test against other types, such as first-hand experience (which teachers are telling their students NEVER TO USE).
As to an increasing degree the populace becomes entranced by the snippet, the statistic or the quotation, the real substantive forms of fact get left to those in power to act upon. In the short-term this may not mean too much. In the slightly longer-term, though, this cedes power more or less completely to those who already hold some, giving them absolute power. And we all know Lord Acton’s famous dictum, that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
In the mean time, however, the snippet, because it has come to be considered strict truth and the only kind of strict truth, has led to the demonization of political opposition. Anyone who does not see the snippet exactly as they are told to is considered to be either a) stupid, b) stubborn, c) too cowardly to face the facts, or d) anti-authoritarian. We’ve seen this in debates about economic and fiscal policy (opponents of increasing government intervention are always called stupid), government subsidies to individuals and/or institutions (opponents called stubborn), those who disagree with what is either global warming or climate change (despite having to change its name because the facts did not support the premise, opponents are called too cowardly to face the facts), and d) resistance to gun control legislation (opponents are labelled anti-authoritarian).
This means that the angels who seek to impose all of these policies will, for the most part, get their way. But it also means that the government grows much larger, that it cannot be made smaller, and that an increasing class of government workers can exercise the monopoly of force that government implies in more arbitrary ways. One common phrase says that you “can’t fight City Hall”. Certainly every time I have tried–from objecting to a teacher at a public school teaching the wrong class to objecting to my streets being coned off so that I cannot access my own home by car beyond a certain hour–I have been met with threats of prosecution and jail time. I am of course highly intimidated—pffffff. Yeah, right. But the difference between the threat and the reality is mostly slim, and I’m sophisticated enough to squirm away when others aren’t necessarily so.
But with angelic government comes extreme danger: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” This is of course the great quote from The Federalist #51, and it is as relevant today as it was in 1789. Make no mistake about it. Human nature never changes, hence the relevance of every book I comment on and every book I seek to teach.
We live in an age where our foreign policy sponsors “building democracy” abroad, yet consistently seems to lead other nations right back to absolutism; where all men are considered equal, but some men are more equal than other men; and where the intellectual abilities of thousands upon thousands of students are stifled daily by democratic requirements for teacher hiring, where the students are intellectually emasculated and converted into sheep to simply follow the next leader, and where our next generation is being bred to carry on a system that doesn’t really seem to be working too well as it is, with lots of winners and lots of losers. Those winners will assume power when the time is ripe. Rest assured.
While I am not an alarmist, it is clear that we are in a dangerous time and dangerous position. There is a reason I am teaching these courses, of course, and that is it. Just remember this, the next time you hear that democracy is unquestionably better than all other kinds of government: the longest-lasting and most successful straight government in history was the Roman Republic that lasted for some six hundred years before Christ, and the other candidate (though it has morphed in form over the years and cannot be considered a continuous one) is the British monarchy which has ruled from 1066 to the present. It is not democracy that has succeeded the most. It seems abundantly clear from a thorough study of history that the best form of government is not a democracy but instead a republic.
Do you even know what a republic is, or would you like me to teach you??