Problems of (civics textbook) democracy

Isn’t the claim that we have “democracy” a bit of a fossil? It may have been arguable in 1840 that the goal was popular rule, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense today:

  • Due to the development of constitutional law and conventions regarding what issues are allowed to be discussed in public fora like TV and newspapers, elites can now enforce radical changes in fundamental matters of social identity and organization, like immigration, ethnic relations, public religion, the relations between the sexes, and the definition and nature of the family. No back-talk is allowed, and if people complain or drag their feet it shows there’s something wrong with them and they have to be re-educated. But if oligarchs or guardians can redefine the demos and turn it into what they choose, how can the system be a democracy?
  • The new push on the Supreme Court and in enlightened opinion generally to bring United States law and policy in line with that of the “international community” is obviously radically anti-democratic.
  • It’s generally agreed that national security shouldn’t be “political”. Maybe so, but if the most important issues of policy are none of the people’s business, how is it a democracy?
  • When issues are allowed to be political, it’s generally agreed that expenditures by interested parties should be severely restricted near election time so the issues can be defined and information fed the people by responsible established institutions like CBS News, the Associated Press, and the New York Times. How is it democracy though if it’s the oligarchs and guardians through whom the people have to carry on their discussions?

It’s of course possible and even likely that popular rule is a bad idea in many settings, but if that’s what everybody accepts it just confuses things to claim that what we have is “democracy.” It makes it impossible to talk about how things are and how they should be. The claim we have a democracy thus becomes a final way to suppress discussion.

9 thoughts on “Problems of (civics textbook) democracy”

  1. Democracy
    Ok, you opened the door, I’ll walk thru it LOL.

    What you are discussing is the inevitable decline of democracy that Plato warns about:

    Then, in order that we may see clearly what we are doing, let us
    imagine democracy to be divided, as indeed it is, into three
    classes; for in the first place freedom creates rather more drones
    in the democratic than there were in the oligarchical State.

    That is true.

    And in the democracy they are certainly more intensified.

    How so?

    Because in the oligarchical State they are disqualified and driven
    from office, and therefore they cannot train or gather strength;
    whereas in a democracy they are almost the entire ruling power, and
    while the keener sort speak and act, the rest keep buzzing about the
    bema and do not suffer a word to be said on the other side; hence in
    democracies almost everything is managed by the drones.

    Very true, he said.

    Then there is another class which is always being severed from the

    What is that?

    They are the orderly class, which in a nation of traders sure to
    be the richest.

    Naturally so.

    They are the most squeezable persons and yield the largest amount of honey to the drones.

    Why, he said, there is little to be squeezed out of people who
    have little.

    And this is called the wealthy class, and the drones feed upon them.

    That is pretty much the case, he said.

    The people are a third class, consisting of those who work with
    their own hands; they are not politicians, and have not much to live
    upon. This, when assembled, is the largest and most powerful class
    in a democracy.

    True, he said; but then the multitude is seldom willing to
    congregate unless they get a little honey.

    And do they not share? I said. Do not their leaders deprive the rich

    of their estates and distribute them among the people; at the same
    time taking care to reserve the larger part for themselves?

    Why, yes, he said, to that extent the people do share.

    And the persons whose property is taken from them are compelled to
    defend themselves before the people as they best can?

    What else can they do?

    And then, although they may have no desire of change, the others
    charge them with plotting against the people and being friends of
    oligarchy? True.

    And the end is that when they see the people, not of their own
    accord, but through ignorance, and because they are deceived by
    informers, seeking to do them wrong, then at last they are forced to
    become oligarchs in reality; they do not wish to be, but the sting
    of the drones torments them and breeds revolution in them.

    That is exactly the truth.

    Then come impeachments and judgments and trials of one another.


    The people have always some champion whom they set over them and
    nurse into greatness.

    Yes, that is their way.

    This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he
    first appears above ground he is a protector.
    Yes, that is quite clear.

    How then does a protector begin to change into a tyrant? Clearly
    when he does what the man is said to do in the tale of the Arcadian
    temple of Lycaean Zeus.

    What tale?

    The tale is that he who has tasted the entrails of a single human
    victim minced up with the entrails of other victims is destined to
    become a wolf. Did you never hear it?

    Oh, yes.

    And the protector of the people is like him; having a mob entirely
    at his disposal, he is not restrained from shedding the blood of
    kinsmen; by the favourite method of false accusation he brings them
    into court and murders them, making the life of man to disappear,
    and with unholy tongue and lips tasting the blood of his fellow
    citizen; some he kills and others he banishes, at the same time
    hinting at the abolition of debts and partition of lands: and after
    this, what will be his destiny? Must he not either perish at the hands

    of his enemies, or from being a man become a wolf —that is, a tyrant?


    This, I said, is he who begins to make a party against the rich?

    The same.

    After a while he is driven out, but comes back, in spite of his
    enemies, a tyrant full grown.

    That is clear.

    And if they are unable to expel him, or to get him condemned to
    death by a public accusation, they conspire to assassinate him.
    Yes, he said, that is their usual way.

    Then comes the famous request for a bodyguard, which is the device
    of all those who have got thus far in their tyrannical career —‘Let
    not the people’s friend,’ as they say, ‘be lost to them.’


    The people readily assent; all their fears are for him —they have
    none for themselves.

    Very true.

    And when a man who is wealthy and is also accused of being an
    enemy of the people sees this, then, my friend, as the oracle said
    to Croesus,

    By pebbly Hermus’ shore he flees and rests not and is not ashamed to be a coward.

    And quite right too, said he, for if he were, he would never be
    ashamed again.

    But if he is caught he dies.

    Of course.

    And he, the protector of whom we spoke, is to be seen, not
    ‘larding the plain’ with his bulk, but himself the overthrower of
    many, standing up in the chariot of State with the reins in his
    hand, no longer protector, but tyrant absolute.

    – Republic

    I would argue what we see in election process is too much democracy. Let me explain.

    In a Republic, which is what we are supposed to be, we elect people to make decisions for us that we either are unable or unwilling to make – either trival day to day decisions or complicated decisions that the people are unlikely to understand and cannot be easily communicated at the 8th grade level.

    In this model the most important criteria for a representative would be his character and core belief system.

    Instead what we seem to focus on is we want to know his stance on every single issue. How would you vote on X? And often the politicans encourage this by “leading by poll”, Clinton of course is the most recent and visible figure that did that. His views were whatever 51% of people polled thought… that’s not a representative republic. That’s pure democracy and pure democracy is a tyranny of the masses.

    I think we should focus more on the legislature than the judical or executative offices. In our system, the President can do little w/o the legislature and the legislature has the power to control the activity of judges, they are simply not willing to use it.

    It is the legislature that writes laws, spends the money and is supposed to oversee the other two branches. The explosion of positive law in the 20th century can be placed at the door step of legislature who in responded to their constituents demands that the government solve every social problem (their oughta be a law!!). It is in the legislature where the tyranny of the masses plays out.
    I say the whole focus on the judical branch is little more than a smokescreen for the true villans in Congress. Congress could act, under the explicit rules of the Constitution, to restrict the decision-making power of the courts – they have not done so.

    That’s enough to digest for now 🙂

    • this is the old republicanism vs liberal democracy chestnut
      I think there is way too much “republicanism” (i.e. a politics of “virtous representation”, in the tradition of the English Commonwealthmen) in America…and people like yourselves at Turnabout are part of the problem… A liberal democrat takes it for granted that anyone who would seek office/political power is a knave, and the U.S. government was set up upon this principle… You cannot get rid of these wolves, or stop them from oppressing their fellow human beings, so you might as well let them run the country, because they are going to do that anyway—but we arrange things in such a way that these people have to play the game of political domination according to certain rules… it’s a desperate gambit on the part of the sheep, and there is no guarantee of its success—but this subtle form of theoretical hypnotism is truth’s only weapon against power…


      • Yes, isn’t it so nice to see how the liberals play by the rules!
        “You cannot get rid of these wolves, or stop them from oppressing their fellow human beings, so you might as well let them run the country, because they are going to do that anyway—but we arrange things in such a way that these people have to play […] according to certain rules…”

        Yes, and Dave’s outline above (9/10, 5:10 PM) reminds us how his side, the left-liberals, play by these rules so faithfully—how, for example, they scrupulously resist the temptation to legislate from the bench on abortion and homosexual “marriage,” and so on.

        • Sorry, the post above was by me (today, 6:19 PM).
          (Hey, the passions around here at Turnabout can make us do strange things—like forget to make sure we’re logged in!)

          “If a tree falls and an expert doesn’t hear it, is there a sound?” Yes, the sweetest, most melodious sound in all creation: the sound of entropy being brought clanking, screeching, grinding to a halt.

      • and people like yourselves at
        and people like yourselves at Turnabout are part of the problem…

        Not me! I’m “worse”, I’d chuck the whole system LOL

  2. Civics and Plato
    Mr. Kalb certainly lays out the case that the idea that popular rule is a fossil. Plato’s insights are highly relevant and far more astounding than the most intriguing prophecy by Nostradamus. How could someone with such relatively few resources (i.e., libraries) be so relevant thousands of years later? We know he is an essential part of why we in the West think the way we do, but how is this possible? (Was Plato a Gentile prophet we have erroneously excluded from the Old Testament?) Back to the issue.

    Poll after poll say Americans (and nonMexican Hispanic-Americans) favor strong immigration control yet the elite’s spokespersons, the media, vote about 80-90% liberal, who repeat the cultish dogma that open borders are just fine. We know something of cults and why we should be suspicious. Recall the tens of thousands of Protestant cults (e.g., Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses), the hundreds of followers of Pastor Jim Ryan who managed the murder of hundreds of cultists, David Korash, the Hale-Bopp comet cultists, and the Nazis. A cultish dogma is untrue. The elite spokespersons say the opposite.

    The elite politicians, in an attempt to stay in power, repeat this fossilized untruth in an attempt to keep themselves in power. The king must drink from the same well that made everyone crazy or the king will be viewed as crazy. A leader must emerge and say the king is wearing no clothes.

    • re:jim ryan
      cultist leader killing his followers in guyana jungle was named jim jones,leo j ryan was democrat party senator killed while trying to helping to fugitives from that cult(

  3. What to do About Civics?
    Fight for Catholicism, and we might get a civic society. An anecdote might be helpful. I am an avid LSU Tiger fan who realizes some years my tigers are not going to do well, so I avoid their games at times. But I do not give up hope that the right coach will come along. Coach Nick Saban (“well known as one of the keenest minds in football”) has come along. He has won an NCAA National Championship besides a great overall record and has declined more lucrative professional contracts. The spirit at LSU, which he has classified as the best he has ever seen; astounds him and he has been around college and pro teams. We beg him to stay.

    LSU was down 9 to 0 at the end of the first half against a powerful Oregon State Pac 10 team, the only conference rival to the magnificent USC last week. Oregon State put 500 yards of offense on the Trojans last year, and the same 6’6” quarterback faced LSU last week. A typical Southeast Louisiana thunderstorm delayed the game for an hour and hindered LSU’s huge speed. Every LSU player was off their game for that and whatever other reasons. But they kept fighting like Spartans, and they won in double overtime. (Don’t listen to the nonsense that LSU won only because the point-after kicker missed the last extra point—LSU’s magnificent defense would have smothered a good kick, which I have verified many times on my VCR and which Coach Saban has confirmed. Besides, LSU also made many, many errors.) Of course, the SEC is by far the most powerful conference and will present LSU with immense challenges. But now to my point: I never stop cheering during LSU games. I cannot understand deflated fans. Even though I suspect I appear somewhat weird to some people, I don’t stop cheering; besides, it is half the fun of the game. Go all the way or don’t go at all.

    Our present Pope might not be in the best of shape any longer, but we must pray for him and our future. People forget Pope John Paul II was vital in the defeat of communism. He imposed himself on Catholic yet “communist” Poland and drew millions of public faithful. Shortly thereafter the unions and others further weakened the communist oligarchy, which knew it could not defeat Catholicism. Russia was consumed with Afghanistan and could not afford another major front. Reagan, another great leader, made it clear the U.S. would do whatever it took to defeat communism militarily. A third front was unthinkable to Russia.

    We will have setbacks and bad years, but don’t stop praying and fighting. Recall Jesus overturned the moneylenders’ tables in the temple.

  4. Problems of (civics textbook) democracy
    Transcripts of the McCarthy hearings executive sessions which were released a year ago last May contain an interesting segment on the use of the word “democracy.”

    Employees at an American information agency in Central America expressed concern over wire service copy being rewritten by two of their superiors. A rally in support of President Eisenhower and America was modified. “Eisenhower” and “America” were dropped in favor of the word “democracy.”

    By that time, in Central and South America, communists had coopted the word “democracy.” Anyone hearing the broadcast would assume the rally was in support of the Soviet Union.

    Things aren’t much different today. When I hear “democracy” emphasized, I cringe and know the entire PC canon is about to be read to me. Again.

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