09 December, 2006

Politics: The Weakness of Democracy

This pair of paragraphs comes from a Touchstone Magazine (so far pretty disappointed) book review by Peter Leithart (where have I heard of this guy?) of a book by Matthew Maguire, "The Conversion of Imagination: From Pascal Through Rousseau to Tocqueville."

The review gives the book a pretty intriguing turn. The theme seems to be that imagination was transformed between 1775 to 1825 from something held in disdain to a critical tool in life, but that it remains "unconverted," and therefore still dangerous. Imagination is given a lot of power now, but no direction, so it tends to leads us to either thinking we are gods or that we don't really exist. Both bad effects.

Please forgive the incompleteness of this summary, and realize that it may be pretty misleading, being so short, but it sets the stage a little bit for the quote that really intrigued me from the review.

Imagination plays no role in the constitution of a democratic regime: democracies bow before the truth of natural equality. Lacking the imaginative ascent characteristics of an aristocracy, democracies weigh imagination down: As Maguire puts it, "Tocqueville's presiding metaphor for democracy [is] a gravitational force acting on imagination."

Realistic drama and fiction, and colorless fashions, are the best democracies have to offer. Normally, democratic imagination riss no higher than "inventing means of increasing riches and of satisfying the needs of the public." Tocqueville admires America, but mainly because in America imaginative energy flourishes within a system that supresses it."

WOW!!!!

Maybe in 1835 America had imaginative energy. Would I really dare believe that possible? Well, sure. There's actual evidence.

I'm not sure much such evidence exists to commend the 21st century here.

I have been looking for "it," the thing I am uncomfortable with about America. To call it consumerism is to identify the sickening symptom, but not the cause, not the illness.

To blame democracy for teaching the people to vote themselves corn and circuses is in the same boat. The weak become powerful in a democracy, yet fail to become strong. Their voice is heard, but their voice that of a petulant child asking for more candy and more TV (high-def TV, with lots of original programming), not that of a mature person trying to better himself through better government.

But to think that democracy kills imagination. Now, there's a root cause that makes sense.

I have never liked the idea of making the church a democracy.

Now I know why.

8 comments:

DugALug said...

CP,

I am reminded of Moses and the children of Israel. As Moses was listening to God, the 'masses' grumbled and wanted commitees.

I also so agree with you concerning the differnce between the powerful and the strong.

Yet, here in america, we don't have a democracy, we have a republic. A democratic republic, but a republic none-the-less. Paul patterned church leadership in this manner, and Jesus' response concerning leadership said 'let those who serve you best be your leader'. Again this implication is a republic, not necesarily a democracy.

I can't help but believe that it is the anti-democratic elements in our government that instill a numbing mindset in people.

Unforturnately the best show of this is the anti-Christian/Mega-capitolistic Ayn Rand. Most of her fictional books show how rewarding the week, cripples the strong. I don't know how reconcile this with Christianity the fact that we are in the business of helping the week, but I know from life that, in the flesh, her axiom rings true.

Thanks for the great thoughts.

God Bless
Doug

codepoke said...

A democratic republic, but a republic none-the-less.

Gotcha. I realize this. But our democratic republic is a far, far cry from Plato's republic. In Plato's ideal, the aristocratic ruling class was bred to the job, and held office for life. The author's argument is that this kind of replublic fosters a stronger imagination among the elite that filters down to the plebes.

I see in America a profound lack of imagination. I hear in this perspective a possible explanation. We obsess over equality, and therefore fail to see excellence. We fail to imagine the beautiful and the brave. It's the same stuff that made me enjoy Dostoevsky so recently.

it is the anti-democratic elements in our government that instill a numbing mindset in people.

What anti-democratic elements? I can't imagine who you mean here.

Ayn Rand

Her core argument that selfishness is virtuous is false.

The idea that selfishness should be enshrined is an animal-level idea that eventually leads to the alpha male acquiring a herd of females. And I'm not talking about her philosophy, but about her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged! Is it merely a coincidence that the same thing happens with apes and bulls?

And the thought that her ideas might lead to healthier imagination is not tenable. Her books show no imagination. How can her disciples ever do better?

DugALug said...

CP,

My dear friend, and so we meet again...lol

But our democratic republic is a far, far cry from Plato's republic.

Indeed, but it is also very far from a democracy as I will point out here in a second. And might I add... thank God. Plato had no problem with slaves, and the basic oppression of the entire lower class. He talked a good talk but, basically was a rich old windbag full of hooie-balooie (I like that term). Napolean tried to instill the same things and he too, reaked of man-led wisdom.

Any government that at its core opresses a sector of its own people is destined to vanquish creativity.

What anti-democratic elements? I can't imagine who you mean here.

I must assume you are joking, but just in case here we go:

One man / One vote? Am I correct? Isn't that the basic principal of democracy? Yet here we are, unable to vote for who we really believe would run this country well because of a two party system. Do you honestly think that, for instance, Bob Dole and Bill Clinton were the very best this country had to offer in the 1996 election?

The two-party system has stifled the voice of the masses and narrowed our field to two pathetic shells for us to pick and find what lurks inside. It is a system that is only slightly better than a basic socialistic government.

All you need to ask yourself is are you really 'represented' by today's leaders? You already know the answer. We are much closer to an oligarchy than a republic. And as such, a far shot from both a republic or democracy.

Ayn Rand...

Her core argument was not that selfishness is virtuous, but rather that productivity is the ultimate morality and those who are not productive should be left behind. It was not 'look out for me' it is 'produce or die'.

Her atheism led her to believe in the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest, not the alpha-male mentality that you are suggesting.

As a former communist, Rand thought that it was the weak element of society that would make it fall. She based this on what she witnessed in Russia, where a few productive people held down the fort for hundreds of slackers.

In reality it is God who raises and lowers governments, but the vehicle God chose to use in the USSR's case was their totalitarian government whose policies removed the motivation to be creative.

I think you were missing the point of Atlas Shrugged too. Dafne Taggart, Hank Rearden... John Galt, weren't leaving because they were selfish, they were leaving because they were opressed by the oligarchy and it made productivity impossible.

Atlas Shrugged is a great book, whether you agree with it or not. It teaches something that you might take note of: capiltalism, when left to itself is every bit as evil as communism. I know that is not Rand's intent, but reading that book as a Christian was a real eye-opener for me. It made me not so-hot on the virtues of capitalism.

The 'morality' of people like Rand, makes me run from all 'human' solutions and get on my knees and pray hard.

Your disdain for her is well-understood brother. Hopefully I've given you more to think about concerning her.

Only God can save our nation, and creativity is given to those who are free to think: those who are not shackled by opression. Also creativity is stifled when those with ideas are afraid to reveal them because of the negative repricussions of doing such. I know I have shied away from doing medical micro-controllers for fear of lawsuits and there are many in that boat.

From these two paragraphs you have sited, it is not democracy that suppresses creativity, it is more the oligarchy that I speek of that does. Yet creativity still 'flourishes' here in America.

At this point, I would like to pull out my American flag and say that there isn't a better place to live on this planet, and until Jesus comes that will be true. God bless America, and woe unto those who corrupt what our forefathers intended it to be. I can say this as one who has travelled pretty extensively abroad and want to kiss the ground every time I return here.

BTW, might I also point out that Plato was every bit as wrong as Rand... and every bit as godless too?

God Bless
Doug

codepoke said...

Yep, here we are again. :-)

The two-party system has stifled the voice of the masses and narrowed our field to two pathetic shells for us to pick and find what lurks inside. It is a system that is only slightly better than a basic socialistic government.

Sold. Well stated. I completely missed the direction you were taking, but we are on the same sheet of music here. (Just don't tell anyone ;-P)

Her core argument was not that selfishness is virtuous, but rather that productivity is the ultimate morality and those who are not productive should be left behind. It was not 'look out for me' it is 'produce or die'.

Conceded. I was referencing her title, "The Virtue of Selfishness," but you are right about her real focus.

capiltalism, when left to itself is every bit as evil as communism. I know that is not Rand's intent

Exactly. Her utopia is worse than my dystopia, so I reject her hopes and dreams. I did try to keep some of her lessons, though I admittedly played her pretty sloppily in my comments.

From these two paragraphs you have sited, it is not democracy that suppresses creativity, it is more the oligarchy that I speek of that does. Yet creativity still 'flourishes' here in America.

In America, it is the oligarchy we have that suppresses our creativity. Agreed. But, if we were a pure democracy, I still believe the will of the people would have the same effect.

As for your flag waving sentiments, I feel your pride. I'm not even against it. America is better than anything going. I'm just past the point of believing that we are setting any new standards the world should follow. The world should take their lessons from us and pass us.

DugALug said...

CP,

The world should take their lessons from us and pass us.

I worked for a company for years and learned how to run a business: by doing everything that my former boss didn't do! Maybe some country will do the same with the USA.

Still, I believe in virtues of democracy and am at a loss to see why it would stifle creativity. But I believe any government will only work with righteous leaders who follow God, then the form is arbitrary.

God Bless
Doug

Maria said...

ou really tick me off with posts like this one : ) This takes so much more discussion and reflectionthan I have the time to do!!

It makes me sadder than sad to hear people complain about this country. You might have to leave the cities to find it, but there is so much good to be found here. Why doesn't anyone ever write about those things?

codepoke said...

Hmmm.

My beef is not with America per se, but with a culture that undervalues too many things I hold dear. Turn off everyone's TV, and I probably fall back in love again.

Remember that I served in the military, work as an election judge from time to time, and stay in tune with the debate, even if I don't participate much. I love my country, but indulge in the American penchant for complaining about it.

DugALug said...

Andreia,

Don't look at me: he started it! lol.

God Bless (America)
-Doug