The Outstater

October 18, 2022

If ‘Democracy’ Fails, Then What?

THE WEEK BEGAN with my county chairman sounding the alarm that “democracy” will be at risk in 2024. “He keeps using that word but I do not think it means what he thinks it means,” to quote a meme of the great Inigo Montoya.

Let me pair that with another popular meme, “The Constitution was written to protect us from our government; it doesn’t, so now what?”

The first reminds us that we can’t count on being saved by the 2024 election. Democracy, as the Founders of this once-great nation understood it, doesn’t work like that. It is not meant to impose my will or my party’s will, not even to install a particular policy or to elect people who “look like me.”

The original purpose was, as our second meme implies, to protect us from our own government not to guide our government. But if the 2024 ballot follows the pattern of modern politics, there won’t be anyone on it who seriously wants to do that.

So you ask again, now what?

We can abandon the romantic notion that has held sway since passage of the 16th Amendment, that is, an election is anything more than a referendum on how to redistribute other people’s property. We can quit pretending it is a simple matter of selecting competent people to “fairly” govern us, using force only when absolutely necessary.

Some believe that is merely a disguised autocracy, the historian Randall Holcombe being among them. From his book, “Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History”: 

“The Founders envisioned that in most cases the president would end up being chosen by the House of Representatives from the list of the top-five electoral vote recipients. Furthermore, there was no indication that the number of electoral votes received should carry any weight besides creating a list of the top five candidates.”

The succession process, Holcombe argues, was not intended to be popularly “democratic” as we now think of it. He says we should feel lucky when such an election is even honest. 

Before I scare you further with mention of “revolution,” know that I use the word in the sense of revolving back to the original promise of citizenship, that is, the primacy of the individual in addressing public concerns. We can do that in peaceful ways — through education, through reforming our political parties and, yes, ultimately through limited election if we have been careful to choose candidates who are constitutionally self-constrained.

But that is going to take a while. In the meantime our resources are ill-spent trying to elect yet more people who, it invariably turns out, can’t or won’t protect what little liberty and treasure we have left after the Biden gang finishes with us.

Then what? Gather a few friends together for tea (Bohea is recommended) and for a closer reading of the Declaration of Independence. Oh, and you’d better make that a secret meeting. — tcl



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