Why Believers in Democracy Fail

Why Believers in Democracy Fail


By believers in democracy I mean people committed to the notions that all humans are of equal worth, that the purpose of democracy is to sustain the common good, and that the citizenry is responsible by its vote.  Although such believers are a minority, we are powerful enough to give direction to our culture. However, despite our best intentions, we tend to fail in accomplishing our goals. Here are a few of my musings about this failure.

  • We are prone to focus our energy on symptoms rather than causes and wonder why nothing changes. Through all manner of action we have fought the behavior of racism for over fifty years yet it seems to have not depleted in strength. Social action is imperative because it raises the consciousness of the need to change.  But the social heart must be changed if social behavior is to be changed. And heart change is always belief change.  If we expect a change in behavior we must offer the heart a belief alternative. Belief is cause, behavior is symptom. We find it difficult to see the distinction. Thus, we play to symptom because it satisfies our desire for immediate payoff.  We tend to remain socially impotent in the thrill of engaging symptom rather than being powerful in addressing cause.
  • We are prone to stress the grandness of community while judging its value by the extent to which it blesses us personally. This attitude converts community purpose to private purpose and makes it a utility of individual desire. It divests community purpose of our energizing commitment.  We hide this oxymoronic relationship by wrapping it in our praise of community virtue.  And we attend to its privatized utility while community purpose lies impotent at the feet of our masked individualism.
  • We are prone to stress that diversity of belief is an ultimate value. But while diversity is important in provoking growth and creativity it does not empower social change. The power to create deliberate social transformation belongs to commonality.  We fear commonality because we assume it violates our personal and institutional uniqueness.  We have difficulty with the notion that what sets us apart are differences of belief and what brings us together are commonalities of belief. Thus, we promote our own social impotence when we glorify diversity and downgrade commonality.
  • We are prone to stress the surface reasons rather than the deeper reasons behind irony. The primal question of irony is “Why?”  Here is an example: Trump’s platform was essentially anti-democratic while Clinton’s platform was essentially pro-democratic – yet, Trump is president.  We debate the surface reasons, such as political tactics, that might have produced that anomaly.  While we debate the superficial the profound reasons that speak to the real issues of democracy remain hidden such as which serves the other: democracy or capitalism? Is the dog wagging the tail or the tail wagging the dog? We can remain insightfully impotent until we satisfactorily grapple with these more profound reasons.

This ala carte array of self-defeating tendencies reminds of an observation by H.L. Mencken:

Liberals have many tails and chase them all.

Far more than what conservatives can do to us, we believers in innate human worth and the common good victimize ourselves. If we expect to champion democracy and win we must cross swords in the real battles that determine its destiny such as focusing our energy on cause rather than symptom, embracing community purpose beyond private agenda, engaging the transforming power of commonality, and insisting that the dog of democracy wag the tail of capitalism.

Robert T. Latham

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