The World Forum on the Future of Democracy at Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary, the subject of extensive commentary by this site’s host (“Colonial Williamsburg’s Summit of Scrambled Egg-Heads,” September 5), ended on September 18  on a flat note. Only one session of the three-day event was open to the public. The other sessions were “private” events at Colonial Williamsburg’s Williamsburg Lodge, so it cannot be determined if these secret deliberations ended on a high note. Perhaps The New York Times columnist David Brooks, one of the Forum participants, will wax poetic on those private sessions in the near future and let the world know what transpired in them.
That is what I wrote a year ago when flocks of One-Worlders, Global-Governmentalists, do-gooders and altruists of all shades of pinkish stripes, racial, gender, cultural and differently challenged egalitarians, humanity managers, and charter members of Club Clueless descended on Williamsburg to discuss “democracy.” Williamsburg, they all believed, was the cradle of democracy.
Of course, the untruth of that notion has never been questioned. It is propagated and repeated with utter disregard for the truth, from either ignorance or ulterior motives. Indeed, Colonial Williamsburg itself, in its various educational and visitor programs, harps constantly on “democracy.” The Founders, one hears, created a “democracy.” This is not the only way the Foundation has dispensed with facts and adulterated history at the behest of political correctness and craven pragmatism (and for a few federal grants), but it is a significant departure from its mantra that the “future may learn from the past.”
I discovered a Foundation site, Jeffersonblog.history.org, that raises questions about “democracy,” and I have posted a pair of commentaries whose purpose is to disabuse other contributors of the fallacy, danger, and futility of democracy. I stress that what the Founders created was a republic. These men abhorred democracies of any size, for they were astute students of history and saw that always and inevitably, democracy sired tyranny. The members of the Constitutional Convention went to great lengths to ensure that it did not happen in the United States.
The Foundation site poses a series of questions about democracy, but does not question the validity of the premiss that “democracy” is what it is all about, and presumes that no one who visits the site will disagree with or dispute the premiss. Most visitors to the site do not disagree with or dispute it, and so in their own remarks add confusion to a discussion that has already been diverted in the wrong direction. It is like watching a dog chasing its own tail.
The most recent question – “Do party divisions hurt democracy?” – employs a quotation from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to John Dickinson in 1801:
“The greatest good we can do our country is to heal its party divisions and make them one people.”
With some editing, here is my first contribution to the discussion, in which I define the terms by which I would engage in this Socratic dialogue:
What astonishes me about this and other discussions in answer to the questions about “democracy,” is that no one has questioned the use of the term “democracy.” When Benjamin Franklin, after the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, was asked what kind of government the convention had created, he did not answer, “A democracy, if you can keep it,” but rather, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The most fundamental distinction between a democracy and a republican form of government is that the former means mob rule – catering to the mob’s or majority’s prejudices or appetites, at the expense of a minority – while a republic, as the Founders conceived of one, would protect an individual’s right to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. “Party divisions,” under the first form of government, simply means struggles between warring factions for power and the growth of government over the lives of the citizens; under a republican form of government, party divisions would be defined by non-essentials and not propound wholesale violations of individual rights or encroach on the sanctity of the Bill of Rights.
Shortly after posting that, a visitor asked me to clarify “party divisions defined by non-essentials.” I answered:
By “party divisions defined by non-essentials,” I meant that two political parties, such as the Republicans and Democrats, would agree on the fundamental sanctity of individual rights, but differ on how to implement legitimate government functions without suborning constitutional principles. For example, two or more parties in Congress might disagree on term limits, or on the correct amount of compensation that senators and representatives might have a right to claim from the general budget, or on purely administrative details concerning the legislative or judicial branches of government.
In short, the parties would be Jefferson’s “one people,” in agreement on fundamentals, such as the inviolate right of an individual to his own life – that is, the core fact that he owns his own life and that it is not for disposal by the government or a majority, not even for “Country First” – but at odds over how to ensure that right and perpetuate it in the political process. Briefly, nothing that would be grounds for a civil war or the usurpation of individual rights or the reign of political anarchy. It was the non-specificity of the Constitution on limitations of power that moved anti-Federalists like Patrick Henry to insist that a Bill of Rights be appended to the Constitution delimiting government powers and establishing their boundaries.
From another standpoint, a staunchly principled party devoted to the strict adherence to the Bill of Rights and other Constitutional assertions, would always be in opposition to any party advocating socialism, fascism, or any other collectivist form of government. Such an opposition, then, would certainly be defined and governed by essentials and the fundamentals of Constitutional law.
Of course, a party that advocated the slavery and theft (such as “duty,” selflessness, and “giving back”) necessary under socialism, fascism, and other collectivist, individual rights-negating theories or policies would not gain enough popular support to win seats in Congress. Such a party would never become a danger or a peril. Ideally, such an American populace would be educated and smart enough to know that these theories or policies entailed enslavement of themselves or others, and selfish enough to deny their advocates any place in government. No “healing of party divisions” would be imperative or required, because no injury would have ever occurred.
Again, of course, this is not the situation today. The two major parties, as can be plainly seen in the run-up to the November elections this year, do not occupy the same political or moral universe that the Founders inhabited. The Republicans and Democrats differ only over the aims of policies geared to create “one people”: the Republicans want to lasso everyone into a kind of nationalism fueled by a willingness to “serve” and “sacrifice”; the Democrats want to draft everyone to “serve” and “sacrifice” on the road to full-scale, America-destroying socialism. And both candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, have touted the virtue of selflessness as a principal means to accomplish their end of creating “one people.”
I must add here that neither Jefferson, Washington, Henry, Madison, nor John Adams, nor any of the other Founders could imagine or foretell the puerile, anti-conceptual state of political dialogue today. To a man, they would warn: Unless you grasp fundamentals, you are doomed to downfall and even extinction.
John McCain’s acceptance speech of September 4th in Minneapolis was themed on selflessness. Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver was themed on selflessness. Selflessness, they both claim, is the “greatest good” that can create jobs, national security, a workable health care system, and a clean environment.
McCain’s political philosophy is a variation of John Donne’s “no man is an island,” coupled with the warning that if you think you are an island, he will guarantee that your life is made miserable. Obama’s political philosophy can be seen in his statement during his appearance with McCain at an evangelical church in California in August:
“He sought to atone for youthful indiscretions, saying he had been guilty of ‘fundamental selfishness’ at times, notably in his experimentation with drugs….”
A person who experiments with drugs is someone on a quest for selflessness, to escape from a self he does not much respect or care for. Which makes Obama just as much an enemy of individual rights and American freedom as McCain. As with McCain, selflessness is his password to virtue. The one wishes you to sacrifice and serve for the people, while the other wishes you to sacrifice and serve for God. ‘Stand up and fight!” proclaimed McCain last Thursday night with clenched fists and glassy eyes and to a cheering chapter of Club Clueless. “Stand up and fight!” – for a cause greater than yourself.
And God help you if you are not “one with the people.” God help you if you reply that without a self, there is no cause.