The Spirit of Democracy & the Threat of Elitism

April 2014By Robert Lowry Clinton

Robert Lowry Clinton is Professor and Chair Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He is the author of Marbury v. Madison and Judicial Review and God and Man in the Law: The Foundations of Anglo-American Constitutionalism (both published by the University Press of Kansas), as well as numerous articles and book chapters. His articles have appeared in The American Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly, The Journal of Supreme Court History, The American Journal of Jurisprudence, and First Things, among others.

Wallace Mendelson, a late great friend and mentor, was fond of saying that “no man is fit to govern another.” In that simple and true statement is contained the whole spirit of democracy. Not any particular form of democracy, but any political expression of the idea that men ought to be allowed some meaningful say in the decisions that determine how they are to live their lives. The “ought” in this statement suggests that democracy is, in some sense, a moral requirement, not merely a political form.

Why is it a moral requirement? It is not because democracies always make better policies than aristocracies, oligarchies, or monarchies, for they surely do not. Nor is it because everyone’s ability to govern is equal, for surely, as in all other things, some are more competent at this than others. It is only because no man is really fit to govern another, period. It is well to remember this teaching, for some say that democracy is under attack as never before, though I think, for reasons that will become apparent, it is under attack as always before.

Americans bask in ignorance of the true history of democracy. We stand on the shoulders of the giants of our founding and live in the shadows of the institutions they created. Those institutions are an experiment and, like all experiments, are fraught with danger. And the greatest of all dangers for a risk-taker is to forget that there is a risk. We act as if democracy is the norm of history, and deviations from its ideal exceptional. It is quite the other way around. Take all the area of the earth, multiply it by all the time in which men have walked it. That is the denominator. The numerator is the amount of time multiplied by the area in which anything resembling democracy has existed. What is the fraction? It is minuscule. Why is it minuscule? It is because democracy, in any form, has always been at risk, and democrats have always and everywhere forgotten this, sooner or later.

It has usually been sooner. Cleisthenes, some say, founded Greek democracy, and thus perhaps democracy itself. Themistocles defended that democracy against the Persian challenge, but once the Persians were gone, the Athenians began to feel secure, became complacent, and Themistocles was ostracized. Pericles rose, but succumbed to plague, Athens succumbed to Sparta, and the wars that followed ushered in Alexander the Great’s empire. The Roman republicans tried constitutional government in a different way, but ended up ushering in another empire. And so the story goes, on and on. As John Adams said two centuries ago, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide” (Letter to John Taylor, Apr. 15, 1814).

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So, governments are incapable of self democratic rule for very long (maybe 250 years) because of man's Fallen state, which I agree with. Then the best we can hope for is to have Christian men and women voting to elect men of moral integrity, as much as that's possible, and have term limits. That may be as good as it gets. And, I think the Founding Fathers would agree with much of this, some having almost said as much.

Then, to check to find out how well this kind of government would be working we could look at the Supreme Court decisions as we should have moral justices in place, as much as humanly possible. Then, if we see Supreme Court decisions based on solid constitutional and moral principles of votes of 7-2, 8-1, or 9-0 we would know our voters are voting for representatives that are usually appointing Godly justices.

So, when God is booted our of government run schools and public institutions, along with school prayer, we end up with what we have today - Christianity replaced by a religious secular humanist belief in government thus opening the door for all kinds of mischief as discussed in this 2014 article.

America hasn't long in its present condition because a domestic, in-house effort is already well under way, as President Obama said, to fundamentally transform America, and he got a great start with a lot of continued strong support.

So, can we get back on track? I really don't think America has much of an appetite for God or Godly people anymore judging by the popular votes the past two elections and especially telling are the Catholic and protestant votes. That is, about half of each group voted for the presidential candidate with values that oppose Christian values, so what chance is there of recovery?

I firmly believe those who vote this way have little knowledge about their faith or are not committed to it, putting politics over their weak religious beliefs, such as they are. This is truly a sad state of affairs in America today and will continue to be.

This is only my opinion but I would wager that about all of the devout Christians in America today would agree with most of what I've written - but they are in a small voting minority.

Jim Carnine
Lincoln, CA
July 2017
Posted by: jkcar9@yahoo.com
July 07, 2017 10:45 PM EDT
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