Does A Commitment To Democracy Require Radical Tolerance?

We’ve just had an interesting conversation over at Bill Vallicella’s place. Bill proposed that subversive political parties be excluded from participation, and we went from there to a discussion of the relative merits of democracy itself. (Over the last decade or so I have become deeply skeptical of democracy — which is, after all, just one form of government among many, but has become a sacred principle of our new, secular religion.) Joining in was a Canadian reader of Bill’s.

The key variable, it seems to me, in a democratic republic is the breadth of the franchise. Bill remarked that “pure democracy is pure disaster”, which of course it is. Given this, I pointed out, it follows that republics are vulnerable to the liabilities of democracy in proportion both to a) the extent to which their sovereignty grants power to democratic processes, and b) the universality of the franchise. But republics tend, it seems, always toward expansion of the franchise. (The American system certainly has, amendment by amendment, and in recent years we’ve even seen people seriously propose to give illegal aliens the vote.)

At one point, dismayed by my lack of enthusiasm for our present form of government, Bill asked me: “What are you, a monarchist?”

I asked in reply:

What’s so terrible about monarchy? It has many advantages over democracy, and the whole world ran this way until very recently. Democracy, as we’ve agreed, is vulnerable to entryism à la Hitler, and even at its best it creates constant political turmoil and factional strife. It forces politicians to think in very short time-frames, and so they compete to make the most appealing promises to voters: promises that, as they well know, somebody else will have to keep.

Am I a monarchist? All I will say about that is that all I want is to be governed well. I don’t really care who’s in charge. What I want from government is the security of my rights, care for my nation’s future, defense of its borders, and the maintenance of public order. Those are the things government is for — and the question of which form of government is better at this is, in my view, a purely empirical one. (On balance, if I were offered the choice to give up my infinitesimal sliver of illusory power so that people like Lena Dunham and Ta-Nehisi Coates don’t get one either, I think I’d likely take it.)

Ask yourself: are we governed well? Have we been, in living memory? Look at Congress. Look at our presidential races, and the choices we get. Look at our political discourse. What happened? Is this as good as it gets?

Churchill is often quoted as saying:

Democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

I think another remark of his is much more to the point:

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

Quite so. Try as I might, I simply cannot find persuasive the notion that the aggregate of ignorance is wisdom.

You can read it all here.


  1. Wilbur Hassenfus says

    Behold democracy:

    Posted January 8, 2018 at 7:03 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    I’m afraid that’s about right.

    Posted January 8, 2018 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

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