Monday, October 25, 2010

Democracy Is Hard

As the midterm elections near and we find ourselves deafened by the noise of unending tea-baggery, it seems to me that a brief dose of Jacques Barzun, by way of a W. H. Auden review, may be salutary.

Democracy Is Hard
Of Human Freedom, by Jacques Barzun
Democracy, to maintain itself, must repeatedly conquer every cell and corner of the nation. How many of our public institutions and private businesses, our schools, hospitals, and domestic hearths are in reality little fascist states where freedom of speech is more rigorously excluded than vermin?

We undervalue the comforts of conscience and the power of ideas, while grossly overvaluing our brute strength. ...

In a democracy the great problem is less to educate everyone beyond his intelligence than to make the intelligent feel socially responsible. To think and act socially is not a form of charity to one's neighbors. It is a form of self-preservation.
I hope these extracts are enough to convey an idea of the grace and common sense of this book. ... I do not think that democracy can be sustained or defended unless one believes that pride, lying, and violence are mortal sins, and that their commission entails one's damnation.
With our current spectacle of Christine O'Donnell, Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul and others saturating our national debate with intellectual, moral and linguistic atrocities, it is hard not to see the spread of "little fascist states" and feel the need to "make the intelligent feel socially responsible" once again. Certainly we have seen "mortal sins" aplenty perpetrated against our democracy this election season and I hope a little "self-preservation" may yet emerge.

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