Friday, January 07, 2005

Some Thoughts on Democracy

There's a lot of talk about democracy these days. Democracy in Afghanistan. Democracy in Iraq. Democracy promotion around the world. We're even talking about democracy (or lack thereof) here at home. But as I sit back and let this discussion wash over me, I'm left wondering whether or not we really understand what we're talking about anymore.

For years we Americans have been bred to worship at the altar of democracy. Our schools and our public discourse cement within us the idea that democracy is the Holy Grail of organizing structures. It has become fully equated with our concepts of "good" and "right." Conversely, undemocratic structures have become aligned with evil, considered by many to be an abomination. In short, the concept of democracy has been elevated to such a degree that no serious voices speak in opposition to it.

Of course, neither would I. I love democracy and would never willingly endure nondemocratic rule. However, I believe that when any concept reaches this level of unwavering acceptance, its meaning gradually begins to melt away. It becomes synonymous with its positive associations. People begin to speak of democratic government when they are attempting to describe good government. And while democratic government may in fact also be good government, it's important to remember that they aren't the same thing. Al Franken, speaking about love of country, differentiates between adult love and a child's love for its mother. Adult love still allows one to see flaws, while a child's love does not. Our feelings about democracy follow a similar dynamic. Democracy is good, but it is not perfect, and we should see it for what it actually is.

Anyway -- this is my way of saying that the next few posts are going to focus on the nature of democracy. Hopefully, they will leave us loving democracy as the honest and rational adults that we all are.

Click here to read Part II
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