Below are pieces of text taken from an article by William Kristol. Kristol is, as most know, a staunch conservative. And conservatives like him, are very thoughtful people dedicated to preserving the democracy as they understand the founding documents to have described democracy. They are the republican intellectuals and their thoughts are always worth studying because they do make good sense from their particular perspective—the thoughts are based in good logic that, when studied properly by those of different political persuasions, is sound, the fault being in the basic premises upon which the logic operates. These are the people who those who care about the potential and future of democracy should be sitting down and talking to, debating. The following reflects the fact that sometimes good sense comes from the right, that what is right is not always wrong.
That the people can be taken in by demagogues is obvious, has been obvious for a long time before the current election, but a fact of our civil existence that is often ignored by those who accept for themselves the label of “liberal.” There is a book that I read many years ago, early in my college career, that almost scared democracy out of me, Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses. Today the French President urged the world to be weary of the populist juggernaut that is pushing democracy, democratically, toward demagoguery (http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/01/28/world/europe/ap-eu-portugal-eu-leaders.html?ref=aponline). Government by the people can become something other than government that is truly for the people and this through decisions that are of the people.
The idea that grass roots are necessarily attached to good fodder is something of a pipe dream, a dream, however, that can be realized through good education, I think. That Kristol’s concerns are eminently important concerns has much to do with the quality of mind that is the popular mentality of this day. Holland’s worries concern those who, as the dictionary definition suggests, appeal to the ordinary people. What can be wrong with that in a democracy? As Kristol’s Lincoln citation cautions, it is the ordinary people’s response to such appeals that can destroy democracy or, perhaps worse, turn democracy to serve the tyranny of the people.
Democracy, humane democracy, works only if ordinary people are ready and able to do what democracy trusts they are capable of doing—be well informed and thoughtful, knowledgeable, of good sense, fair minded, and of good heart.
From Kristol’s piece:
Abraham Lincoln commented in 1838 that if the experiment were to fail, the danger would “spring up amongst us. . . . If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
And now we have, not to put too fine a point on it, a talented demagogue as president. Demagogues have always been among us, and have always been understood as a threat to liberal democracy. They appeal to the people and claim to speak for the people. President Trump asserted in his inaugural address that “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American people.” Power to the people! What’s not to like?
Well, as Federalist 51 points out, “a dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”William Kristol, Daily Standard, “Country First”
FEB 06, 2017