The Hypocrisy of Democracy

2 05 2011

We Americans cannot see the limits on our notions of democracy, because we are Americans.  Refugees, entrepreneurs, adventurers, and others who wanted independence from the controls and conventions of the “Old World” came to the “New World,” which became America.  Associations were necessary and voluntary among the free immigrants.

Democracy was a natural form of cooperation for fiercely independent farmers, merchants, and tradesmen.  The “common good” and the “needs of the community” were limited to what individuals and families could not do alone.  Militias were ad hoc and temporary; taxes were in-kind contributions from each person’s skills and efforts.

Democracies need “constitutions.”  English common law and Christian morals provided social structure.  The members of the community enforced the standards of behavior, to the extent a person’s actions affected other members of the community; justice was local and immediate, sometimes with the mediation of accepted elders or leaders.  Exile or banishment was often the price for miscreants.  In the wilds of early America, that could be a harsh sentence.

Consenting people, with common interests, participated.  No one was forced to remain in the community (save slaves).

One critical difference was our separation of church from state (uncommon elsewhere in the world at the time).

Here are the questions:

How far would you be willing to extend democracy?  Would you be willing to include Canada, Mexico, Africa, and China in the pool of eligible voters deciding your fate?

No, we want democracy limited to “us” and “them.”  We are not interested in diluting the freedoms, privileges, and wealth we enjoy.

Americans struggled for two and a half centuries to get our system where it is.  Why smugly and selfishly promote democracy to countries that do not have the resources, experience, social or cultural context to make it work?  What do we expect from cultures without our origins of individual identity, independence, and self-sufficiency?  What do we expect from “countries” that colonial world powers whimsically created by drawing boundaries combining the lands of historical enemies?  What do we expect from people at war with each other over race, religion, or tribe?  We shall see.


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