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The EETicket Arachnid

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What Democracy Is Not
« on: February 02, 2011, 12:00:52 PM »
What Democracy Is Not
2 February 2011, 8:35 am

It's a snow day, so here's an old column from June of 2003 (because the purpose of technology is to make me less bored) in honor of the mess in Egypt.

(News-Herald, June 2003) Now that weíve completed the conquest of Iraq, we move on to the trick of helping them pull a new form of government out of their turbans.

This is no small feat, not just because our own form of government might not be well-suited to Iraq, but because we donít generally understand, really, what kind of government we actually have.

For instance, I am unceasingly amazed at how many people have no idea what the founding fathers considered the actual purpose of government.

It is not ďto keep people under controlĒ or ďforce people to behaveĒ or ďto make life fairĒ or  ďto spend money we donít have on things we donít want.Ē The Declaration says weíre all born with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Itís the governmentís job to see that these rights arenít taken away.

Thatís important to understand, because although we call our government a democracy, itís less notable for the way it insures democracy than for the ways it protects citizens from democracy.

We cannot, for instance, change our constitution very easily. This is undoubtedly a good thing; otherwise we would be changing the laws every year to suit whatever current craze is making the rounds. We often come up with reasons to abridge various parts of the Bill of Rights; a month doesnít go by that we donít try to get rid of that pesky First Amendment freedom to say annoying, stupid things. If these rights were not set in a sort of institutional cement, we would have thrown them out ages ago.

And who protects this document that says the majority canít change the rules every time theyíre in the mood? Why, that would be the Supreme Court, the nine wise judges who, in our very democratic system, are elected by absolutely nobody. Democratically elected officials can go through the democratic process of concocting laws that the majority of citizens clamor for, and then be told by the Robed Old People Who Can Never Be Voted Out of Office that such a law isnít allowed.

And thatís not always a bad thing.

We like to think that Democracy is a system that is the very opposite of tyranny. It isnít. Democracy can accommodate tyranny quite easily. Democracy would have made it entirely possible to perpetuate the abomination of slavery forever. The Jim Crow laws were democratically produced; we sometimes forget that Rosa Parks was not bucking prejudiceóshe was breaking the law. Democracy in Iraq could make it entirely possible to legally, legitimately, democratically outlaw the kurds or the shiíites just as effectively as any pogrom by Saddam.

Our legal system features similar protections. We could democratically decide to toss people into deep dark holes. We could democratically choose to strip people of every single right the moment they emit even a whiff of suspicious behavior. It is easy and human to decide that certain people do not deserve to have rights, and occasionally we do just that. It was perfectly democratic to lock up Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.

The glory of our system of government is not just our representative democracy (which is a good thing, since so many of us would rather complain than vote), but the restraints placed on that democracy. Itís not just that every citizen can have a voice, but that no amount of democratic process can take away any single personís right to life, liberty, or that all-too-elusive pursuit, no matter how many votes the majority rounds up.

The problem in Iraq is not that citizens do not have a voice. Most citizens have both a voice and a semi-automatic amplifier to go with it. The problem (well, one of the problems, anyway) is that the Iraquis, like many folks in this world, are too willing to accept the notion that restrictions should only apply to people who are wrong (that would be you), but that people who are right (that would be me) should be free to do whatever the heck they want.

Democracy is not really the foundation of our system. Democracy (or our republican form of it) is simply our recognition that it goes against the laws of nature to deprive any human being of his voice, no matter how obnoxious, offensive, or just plain stupid that voice may seem. Our form of government is supposed to recognize that people do not exist to preserve the system; instead, the system is only valid as long as it protects the people. And as a citizen, I have to believe that compromising with opposition to have a stable country that works is better than insisting on having it all my own way, but creating an unstable powderkeg doomed to explode. Thatís not an easy lesson to export.





Source: Venangoland

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