The slow death of democracy
By: Brian McLeod
| Posted: Saturday, Feb 02, 2013 06:00 am
Winston Churchill once observed “democracy is the absolute worst possible form of government, until you consider all the alternatives.” What Churchill knew, what so many of our modern day politicians do not, is that democracy is not a clean, elevated process. Democracy thrives when, to a large degree, it’s living on the streets, getting involved in the current tapestry of life, fighting and brawling, and arguing the great ideas of the times. Democracy was never designed to be clean, neat and polished. In fact, democracy cannot survive in a clean, neat or polished state. It needs the tumult of debate, the fires of argument, and the scars and bruises that result from any good fight.
It’s democracy’s interaction with its friends and opponents that keeps the process alive, current and relevant to the people. While theory would suggest that a dictatorial, one leader political regime should be the best model for rapid change and improvement, the facts do not support this theory. Residents of these despotic states are regularly amazed when they see how quickly democracies can respond to challenges, and modify their actions to deal with new threats or new opportunities.
Prior to the start of the U.S. Civil War, Abraham Lincoln noted that the United States did not need to fear the action of foreign enemies, for no other nation was capable of destroying the U.S. The real danger, he said, was from within, with the threat that Americans could turn against each other, and by doing so, destroy the country in an act of collective suicide. One hundred years before Lincoln, the founding fathers of America had similar concerns, although their focus was not on the people causing the destruction, rather they feared governments would be the source of such a tragic end. It is for that reason that they wrote a constitution with numerous “checks and balances” to restrict the power of the federal government. They went even farther, by incorporating the radical position that any power not specifically mentioned in the constitution was reserved for the people, and was outside the scope of any government’s authority.
The reason I mention all of this background is because I believe that western democracies are under real threat, and the survival of these democracies remains very questionable. Yet, like Lincoln noted, this is not an external threat. As much as North Korea, Middle East terrorists, sabre rattling old communists, and other lackeys run their mouths about destroying the west, they are not the threat.
Rather, the threat comes from inside, and it comes from, as Theodore Roosevelt called them, “those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.” What is so ironic is that this internal threat is not lead by evil people manipulating conditions to gain power, rather it’s lead by well-intended (but awfully naïve) souls trying to make our democracy “clean and polished.”
We see so many examples of their work, of the need to be politically correct, of universities threatening anyone whose views do not match their own, of human rights commissions acting way beyond the scope of their authority. Even little St. Albert is not immune. The local forum held in St. Albert during any election is a great example: citizens cannot ask questions nor can they speak to the candidates. Rather, they must write down their question, and then hope that the event organizers decide their question is worthy of being asked, and if so, then the organizers ask the question (or some modified form of it, depending on how they are feeling that evening).
This is a stunt straight out of the textbook that is required reading for any political despot. Or, take the recent actions of one of our local city councillors, who wants to limit (or preferably eliminate) the number of campaign signs during any election. While these signs are ugly, and removing them makes our city “cleaner and more polished”, they are only in place for a short period of time, and are a small price to pay for democracy.
Will this councillor’s actions destroy our democracy? No, of course not. Is it one more arrow into the back of a system that is “of the people, for the people, and by the people?” Yes.
And as we all know, with enough arrows, even the toughest warrior eventually dies.
In the next election, Brian urges you to vote early and often.