It’s rather dismaying to see the thoughtful and well-regarded online magazine Front Porch Republic being roiled by a series of articles written by editor John Medaille celebrating the virtues of monarchism as compared to democracy. I don’t believe John’s point was call for the U.S. to build its own Buckingham Palace or design its own crown and scepter, which will never happen in a million years. It was to simply show the follies of democratism as a guarantor of the public’s liberties compared to an enlightened king (one tyrant 3,000 miles away as compared to 3,000 tyrants one mile a way), not to mention democracy’s effects upon the society. Recent elections in both Haiti and the Ivory Coast have left their capital cities on fire in rioting and hooliganism by the losing side. Elections nearly brought genocide to Kenya, and they nearly tore apart Ukraine. And of course we have Iraq and Afghanistan as a prime example of the stability democracy is supposed to bring, or lack thereof. Far from being a cure all, democracy has often left violence, murder and destruction in its wake.
No one, it seems, complains more about the shortcomings of democracy or its imperfections in the U.S. than those on the Left, and yet their own answer is more democracy, just like the answer to not liking green eggs and ham is more green eggs and more green ham (as David Frum would put it). Their vision of every election as a replay of the Lincoln-Douglas 1858 U.S. senate race is a Utopian ideal in the often messy world of U.S politics. In fact some, like the Obama Administration’s virtual in-house blog at the Washington Monthly, have made demagogic attacks upon those who question whether more democracy is a good thing. Indeed, the line between them and the original democracy freaks among the neoconservatives is becoming more and more blurred all the time (especially when it comes to foreign policy). Campaign finance reforms laws and contribution transparency are nice things, but they do not address the fundamental flaws in the democrat’s arguments. As Medaille points out: 1). Winning an election does not automatically grant legitimacy (as the whole Birther movement clearly shows); 2). Elections don’t fully express the “will of the people,” only those who voted assuming they knew what they voted for and 3). Some nation-states are utterly incapable of being democratic societies.
Plato’s Republic was never meant to be an empire–nor St. Augustine’s City of God. Those who celebrate small “d” democracy can find common ground with those looking for monarchical virtue and dignity among all the would-be statesmen by supporting a repeal of the 17th Amendment, which directly elected U.S. Senators. The institution has been warped by democratic elections (witness the TV commercials last fall), a partisan body where political self-interest rules all, and where individual Senators have more and more become pawns to their party leaders’ strategy games–rather than being their own person. If Senators were appointed rather than elected, would the body be as bogged as it is right now by filibusters that are clearly used for partisan maneuver? And what of the state legislatures that would appoint such persons? By no means are they perfect, but certainly those who would make such decisions are elected in small districts where citizens have a better chance of organizing and affecting such politics than they do on the national level. Time and again, big money controls the process of election and non-entities can get elected in statewide campaigns with just the right amount of television commercials. Is it any wonder the movie “The Candidate” was about a Senate campaign?
The Founding Fathers modeled the Senate after the House of Lords just as they modeled the House of Representatives after the House of Commons. The Founders wanted an aristocratic Senate in style (without having a natural aristocracy), one which served as a check to the directly elected House. Removing this check in the name of “popular democracy” has done exactly that, made Senate elections popularity contests that are easily manipulated by money and cynical “message shapers” of mass media, in the same fashion the popular democracy of the referendum process in California has been vulgarized by big money interests fighting and winning their campaigns on television. The only way to fight back is to truly restore localism by making the U.S. Senate accountable to the thousands of state senators and assembly members across the country, by giving their citizen legislators a say in our national government once again–rather than the corporate lobbyists who are now going to work for our new “popularly” elected Senators.