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What's So Great About Democracy?

BY Pat Archbold

| Posted 2/22/11 at 1:32 AM

 

With dictator after dictator facing early retirement over the last month, we have heard a lot of talk about democracy.

We are told that protesters are seeking democracy.  We should support democracy.  The people deserve democracy.  I say, so what?

What’s so great about democracy?

I think people sometimes mistake the means for the ends.  Democracy can be a means toward a larger goal, the securing of individual liberty.  But it is no guarantee of the same.  Without a culture supporting it, democracy can be just as bad as whatever it replaces.

Democracy in the hands of the Klingons probably still portends bad news for Starfleet, not to mention your average Klingon.

People often misunderstand the greatness of the American experiment.  The greatness came not from “one man, one vote.”  The greatness of the experiment lay in the concept that democracy is to be used to secure unalienable God-given rights. What good is democracy in a culture in which those concepts are alien?

Democracy is a tool, nothing more.  I conceive of it as a loaded gun, used for good or ill.  A loaded gun can put food on the table and protect your life and liberty.  A loaded gun can also oppress, coerce, and kill.  Democracy, like a loaded gun, is a tool that inherits the morality of those who wield it.

One need not look to the Middle East to understand this, our own history suffices.  Democracy in this country enabled and endorsed slavery.  Remember, many people in many states voted for that.  Slavery was democracy in action.  It took some very undemocratic actions to do away with it.  More recently, democracy has enabled abortion on demand. Even without abortion by undemocratic judicial fiat, abortion on demand would be the rule in many states. People vote for that. Democracy in the hands of the culture of death produces death.

We understandably applaud people throwing off the shackles of dictators.  But for people and cultures that do not respect and hold dear the concept of unalienable God-given human rights, oppression lies only a popular whim away.

Benjamin Franklin said “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

If you don’t believe him, how about Pope John Paul II?  In his farewell address on a visit to the US, the Pope reminded us that:

...But democracy needs wisdom. Democracy needs virtue, if it is not to turn against everything that it is meant to defend and encourage. Democracy stands or falls with the truths and values which it embodies and promotes.

Democracy serves what is true and right when it safeguards the dignity of every human person, when it respects inviolable and inalienable human rights, when it makes the common good the end and criterion regulating all public and social life. But these values themselves must have an objective content. Otherwise they correspond only to the power of the majority, or the wishes of the most vocal. If an attitude of skepticism were to succeed in calling into question even the fundamental principles of the moral law, the democratic system itself would be shaken in its foundations.

So when people rise up and protest in the name of democracy, I have one question. Why?

We the people…what?

In the answer lies either God-given liberty or the tyranny of the majority.