Democracy

    Winston Churchill once said, with his usual ponderous wit, that democracy was the worst system of government except for all the others that have been tried. I'm not so sure. I think of Barbara Tuchman's statement that throughout all of history in every culture, no matter how brilliant and accomplished, the worst thing they did was government. You imagine a bunch of intelligent ancient Egyptians, let's say, guys who charted the stars and built the great temples and pyramids, and they're going, "Say, we need a new ruler, the paranoid psychotic who tormented us for twenty years has died. How should we rule ourselves? And they're all, "I know! Let's give absolute power to that guy's son!  What a great way to govern!"

     This is a parody of historical actuality, of course, but my point is that even when, in Greece and Rome, those guys sitting around figured out that they should get rid of hereditary monarchy and choose their ruler instead, they screwed it up.   Even though it seemed (and still does) like a great idea,  in practice, it meant only that a large group of people (by no means every person in the state) got to choose from among candidates, almost all of whom were narcissists of no great talent.   In both cases, it led to disaster and a much worse outcome, perhaps, than if they had kept their original kings.   And they wound up with kings again.  Beyond that, kings are by and large peaceable folk, when compared to the tyrants who came after them.  Can we doubt that the perpetuation of monarchy in, say, France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Cambodia, China and Vietnam would have saved the lives of hundreds of millions of people?   

     But aren't we better off than those ancient democracies?  Our brand of democracy must be an improvement on theirs, no?  Maybe not.  Because the great improvement in civil life comes not from democracy at all, but from the rule of law, separation of powers and civil liberties.  The assumption among us is that it requires a democracy to secure these undoubted goods.  Yes, but only to an extent.  You could maintain a perfectly good system of civil liberties under a constitutional hereditary monarchy.  We think that form was a mere way-station on the road to the ideal of full democracy, one that elects all the leaders.  But maybe it wasn't.  Maybe that was the stable form.  And we observe that indeed this is the condition toward which democracies seem to gravitate. It was the case in India from the foundation of its democracy with the Gandhi/Nehru dynasty, and it has become increasingly the case here as well, with our Bushes, Clintons and Kennedys. 

     The question is, would genetic assortment produce a better string of legislators and rulers than the current process?  The answer is probably that there's not much difference.  Yeah, there are stupid and maniacal kings, but there's also Warren Harding and the fact that Hitler was made into the Führer by the acts of a democratically elected parliament.   Again, the important thing is separation of powers. Where these are weak, there is a danger of absolutism.  But ours are particularly strong. That, and not democracy, was what the Framers were most concerned about--the avoidance of tyranny, and when they thought of tyranny they also included the tyranny of the mob. And how well they wrought!   Far from tyrannizing over the American people, POTUS often cannot get anything at all done. 

    And think of the energy we'd save by not having to elect a President!  Everything would sort of slow down.  The White House would be much more like the Vatican in tempo, or like the Britain of the 19th century, when the hereditary head of state had some political influence.  How comfortable our politics would be then!  None of this constant boiling rage, far less room for ideologies. The king would be a middle-of-the-road conservative, sometimes a bit to the left, sometimes a bit to the right, just like all our presidents are now. 

    Such systems went out of fashion over the past century and a half, in favor of purer democracies. But the democracies thus produced are now in bad shape. I look over images of our representatives in Congress and listen to their mode of speech and the quality of their thoughts and I think, "Why did we choose these mediocrities to rule over us?"  And worse than mediocrities--don't forget that for many dozens of Congresspersons it is a proud boast that they believe in neither evolution nor climate change. 

    And yet everyone knows bright, mature, wise people who could make excellent decisions in office, far better than the bozos we have in there now.  The problem, of course, is that such people would never dream of running for office. Instead, that smarmy dullard who always got elected class president grows up to rule us. 

    The reason is money.  I have known a number of politicians far more qualified for public office than the present incumbents, who dropped out of politics, and they agreed that the continual grubbing for money was the chief reason. I mean every day your staff is setting up calls to this or that fat cat, and every time you get a guy's check a little piece of your integrity wears away.  It takes a certain kind of person not to mind doing that, and it is not necessary for that kind of person to have any mental or moral qualities whatever suiting him or her to public office. All they need be is terrific at raising money and cute. 

    So I say, if we are not going to fix the money problem (and we are not) bring back the kings and dukes.  Let us take our chances again with the intricately twisting chromosomes!     But, again, it's  already happening.