Democracy and All That

Image result for amber waves of grain
Amber waves of grain. Had to be done. You’ll see. You may also want to hum ‘America the Beautiful’ softly to yourself. 

I’m not a professional political scientist or sociologist. Then again, neither were Washington, Adams, Jefferson and that crowd, so there’s that. Girding up my intellectual loins, as it were, here we go – unburdening myself of some ideas that have occupied my thoughts these last few weeks:

American Democracy has at its roots the idea that the wisdom of our nation resides in its people. (1)

Democracy can only work – can only keep from descending instantly into mob rule – when the people understand that they are the keepers of a Commonwealth.

A commonwealth is that set of moral, intellectual, habitual and physical treasures held in common, for the good of all, and especially for the good of our descendents.

This is what we mean by a Republic: a political structure in which The People recognize that they hold a commonwealth, which it is the duty of all the people in the Republic to protect and hand on.

Modern attempts to denigrate our history, to flatten the political universe so that Washington and Adams are no better, really, than Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, is, in addition to being numbingly stupid, a betrayal and rejection of our commonwealth and the duties having a commonwealth place upon us.

Rejecting or failing in our duties to protect and defend the commonwealth damages not only our patrimony, but our souls. We fritter away our treasure, and our children’s treasure and enslave them and ourselves.

Our freedom is an essential feature of our commonwealth. It is one of those moral, intellectual and habitual treasures we have had handed on to us, that it is our duty to nurture and hand it on to our children.

Our liberty and rights were not won by this generation. Winning them has not fallen to us. Defending and nurturing them (back to health, sadly) is our job.

The pursuit of political management by the Best and the Brightest – an elite assumed to have more wisdom than the people – is, in America, fundamentally an act of treason.

Rule by the Best and Brightest is the outcome fervently longed for by the founders, intellectual descendents, and assorted courtesans and useful idiots, of Harvard.(2)

The election of Trump is, in many senses, stupid. However, it is far, far wiser and more in keeping with the idea that we, the people, are the defenders of the Republic to elect Trump than to elect someone who is beloved of Harvard. On the scale of errors one can make in a Republic, electing an arrogant and impulsive side-show barker is far to be prefered to electing someone whose fundamental goal is making elections irrelevant.

We know that making elections irrelevant is the fundamental goal of the self-declared Best and Brightest (if we naively still harbored any doubts) by how they have reacted to losing: they have brought to bear every weapon they have to destroy the legitimacy of Trump and, thus inescapably, to destroy the process by which he was elected.  This is far more serious than just a bunch of sore losers – this is a declaration of war (cold, so far – let’s hope it stays that way) on the very idea of a Republic.

Let us teach our children, and remind each other, that we are the keepers of a Commonwealth, which we hold in trust, and explain to all that this wealth we hold in common is not, primarily, purple mountains’ majesty nor amber waves of grain, nor silver nor gold.  The most precious gift we have received is the idea of government, under God, of, by, and for the People.

Holding and defending these core truths is the battle. We gain moral and intellectual fortitude by defending them. We form good and gracious habits, virtuous habits, by living these truths.

No republic can long exists unless virtuous people sustain it. Virtuous people sustain our republic by living the intellectual, moral, and habitual truths on which it is built. The daily living out of these virtues makes the wealth common – makes a republic a commonwealth.

(Let me shove this soapbox back under the desk. OK, done.)

  1. This idea is lurking behind much of the writing and all of the founding institutions of our nation. Brownson, in the 1840s, explicitly used it to dispute the importation of Prussian schooling, by pointing out that such schooling was wholly based on the notion that the wisdom of the people resided in their leaders, and thus was entirely unacceptable to Americans, who built their nation on the belief that the wisdom of the nation resided in the people.
  2. While physical Harvard is historically the heart and head of this tendency in America, I’m here using the word to refer to the widespread hopes of many that the wise and powerful will fix things for us. People harboring such hopes always assume, after the manner in which a vast majority of people seem to think they are above average, that they, personally, will be the ones calling the shots, or, failing that, that those calling the shots will act only in accord with their wishes. It’s like they’ve never heard of the French Revolution or Stalin’s purges….