Threatening democracy

“Democracy,” like any form of guvmint, is built upon agreement over certain foundational myths. The “will of the people” must be consulted. They collectively speak, in mass elections, according to the myths. “The voice of the people is the voice of God,” we might say: the opposite to what prevailed in more sober times, before the Enlightenment. And yet in my experience, most people do not know what they are talking about, on most topics, and on politics, foolishness is rife.

If 51 percent prefer one candidate — less if there are more candidates than two, or even with only two, after discounting spoilt ballots — the people have not spoken, any more than the coins have spoken, after you have flipped them a few million times. In reality, the tiny number who have really thought about it, are disenfranchised by the rest. If their vote shifted, it was between each and God. The reasons they give might be intelligent and salient, but the system works on one-man-one-vote. (Or did: we now dispute “man.”)

To my mind, most, if not all, elections are hung. The winners enjoy only a plurality over the losers. Even in a landslide, a third or more of the people likely voted for the losers. This is far short of a consensus.

The democratic idea can be preserved, only where the “principle” of mediocrity is sustainable. There must be general agreement to live with the winners, and good enough will for them to muddle through. Indifference is vital. Resentments must be kept within bounds.

Whoever wins, the result will be much the same. All parties offer the same sort of policies, dressed, perhaps, with a few decorative flourishes — likely to be quietly discarded, because of the expense. Life goes on, whoever wins. The division between Whig and Tory, Liberal and Conservative, Democrat and Republican, rebalances periodically, and the slogans, too, are casually exchanged. They sharpen only when tragedy is near. Tragedy itself can be seen as a sudden clarification in the usual sludge; comedy I recommend as less dangerous. There are moments when Democracy itself is threatened, because real principles have entered our swamp. Real principles are bad for Democracy.

People die one at a time, even when they are killed off simultaneously. It is at that level that differences are significant; where political partialities fall away. The votes of the dead are anyway not counted, except in the more corrupt jurisdictions. But the dead themselves are well out of any controversy that follows.

It is wrong to murder them, I think. This I would give, or would have given, as an example of consensus. (The matter became clouded by Roe v. Wade.) Our laws once rested on overwhelming consensus: thou shalt not kill, steal, bust marriages, worship strange gods, &c. These commandments were beyond “principle”; they were existential. Now, they can be overturned by vote. This was once imaginable only for petty and transient regulations; but the distinction between petty and serious has been lost.

We have “a threat to Democracy,” say the pundits. I don’t say that here, but only because I never believed in any of the democratic myths. At least, once I outgrew childhood.