There are a lot of things about democracy I don’t particularly care for. For one thing, people with opinions that differ from mine are too often given a voice, a vote, and even positions of power. Subsequently, I have to live with laws I don’t particularly like and tolerate public officials I don’t particularly care for.
I am certain that if my laws and my way of doing things were implemented without delay tomorrow, our world would soon be all well and good. Progress would lurch forward at astonishing speed. Opportunity would blossom. Evil would tremble and retreat. Injustice would wither and die. Peace and harmony would reign supreme.
Only that inconvenient and archaic Constitution of the United States stands in my way.
And for that I say, thank god.
Because no one, not even The Good Lord Byron of Paris, is smart enough to single-handedly solve all the problems of a small village, much less half the problems of a nation or a world. This is near-blasphemy for me to admit, but all too often wisdom is, at its pinnacle, just knowing our own limits.
What results when one person begins to think that they can solve all the problems of a society and is given (or takes) that power without legislative or judicial constraints? Quite simply, the current tragedy in Ukraine.
What results when a group of people begin to think that they know best and are given (or take) power to implement their ideas without opposition? Quite simply, the ongoing situation in China.
Vladimir Putin is dangerous because nobody around him or in Russia can safely disagree with him or moderate his less-than-brilliant ideas. The Communist Party in China is dangerous because nobody in China can safely disagree with the party platform or moderate its less-than-just policies and practices.
Democracy allows for and even encourages dissent, discord, and disagreement. The obnoxious jerk with a baseless conspiracy theory gets the same opportunity to voice his opinion as the genteel academic with a well-researched public policy thesis. And, in measured intervals, the public gets to vote on who they want to represent them and which ideas they want to become law.
That’s the theory, anyway. The practice is often much more messy, convoluted, and corrupt. Democracy is, in the words of Winston Churchill, the worst form of government we have…except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.
The price we pay for it is multifaceted and may seem contradictory: we must be simultaneously informed, objective, passionate, practical, patient, and tolerant. As we protest and persuade, we must endeavor to see another’s point of view, especially when it is different from our own. As we contrast our policy ideas with our opponents’ agendas, we must remember what we have in common, what we do agree on, and make sure we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
It’s a tall order and a long road with no guarantees, but if we don’t accept the challenge and march on, examples of what we may become–or fall prey to–are all around us. And they ain’t pretty.
The second round of the French presidential election is Sunday. President Macron and his opponent Marine Le Pen debate tonight.