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A New Form of Democracy?

In ancient Greece, philosophers speculated on what type of government would be best. One such idea was the oligarchy, which embraced rule by a small group of people who were distinguished by their virtue, intelligence, and leadership abilities. It was believed that they would be loyal to justice and the good of the people through their own sense of personal honor, which would guide their decisions and prevent corruption. Honor was the central focus.
    Another kind of government that they discussed, among others, was democracy, which was generally disparaged by such notables as Plato. It was thought that democracy was synonymous to mob rule, or the tyranny of the majority. The founders of the United States were very cognizant of this warning, and devised a republic instead consisting of checks and balances and a constitutional bill of rights to avoid those results. As time went on, this government drifted toward the model of democracy, however, extending the franchise and allowing popular vote for high officials.
    We tend to think of Western democracy as being the best form of government, or at least the best among many poor choices. Let the people decide for themselves according to majority opinion, within the protective guidelines of a constitution. The people in aggregate, it is thought, are smarter than politicians. Of course, this smartness comes under scrutiny when the people vote into office the very politicians that they do not trust, but that is another matter. The important point here is the general reliance upon aggregate wisdom, the faith in majority opinion.
    Under this system, of course, mistakes are made and partisanship handicaps necessary progress and much needed reform. These are considered acceptable risks. After all, what alternative is better? Monarchy? Dictatorship? Oligarchy?
    Democracy, however, is only as good as the people who partake in it. Not every culture or group of people can make it work properly. A respect for law and the rules of play are paramount in this. An educated populace who respect what is true is of vital importance. Handing democracy to a culture that is not ready for it is setting those people up for failure. Even educated societies with a history of democracy sometimes vote people into office for the wrong reasons, and suffer for it later.
    What the ancients never seemed to question why democracy had to be something akin to mob rule. They assumed that the rule of a selected few, as a noble oligarchy, would be based on a system of honor, but that code of honor is ignored for the general population. It is assumed that other forces would be in play, such as competing self-interest, ignorance and partisanship. In effect, people are looked down upon as selfish children incapable of acting honorably. A system that does such a thing invariably creates what it disdains. It sets the rules and expectations and asks for nothing more.
    If honor is something we respect and would like to propagate in our culture, society and governmental system, we should not circumvent it by assuming the worst from people, thus setting the system up to fail.
    If we look upon democracy as something necessarily akin to mob rule, then the type of political strategy we witness today is justifiable. It becomes acceptable to lie and use fear and anger instead of reasonable discourse and constructive debate. The people, it is assumed, are meant to be manipulated by the few for their vote and monetary support. Truth becomes meaningless. Patriotism is redefined according to the speaker's goals. Ideology replaces cooperation and common sense. The loudest complaints, no matter how nonsensical, take the floor. Rule of law is threatened by violence. Citizens are shouted down at town meetings. Paranoia becomes a vehicle for political influence.
    We see all of this today, in the 21st century, and it is the grossest insult to us all.
    But what of honor? What of all the virtues that our founders were so hopeful to propagate? Should we expect only the worst from people? Or instead, by expecting the very best, encourage the nobility that human nature is capable of?
    It is a given that the success of democracy depends on the people engaged in it. There is no magic about this, no guarantee for success. Democracy depends upon truth and must reject political manipulation if it is going to survive. It does not allow an oligarchy of hidden elite to coerce our values and place the world in jeopardy to satisfy their greed.
If we do not trust our government, then we need to ask ourselves why and then work hard to make it trustworthy. Rejecting it outright leads nowhere at this point. Why throw out the good with the bad? We need to remember that this government, this democracy, is ours. We have to make it work, rather than be duped by those who would manipulate us for their own gain.
It does not matter how technologically advanced we are, or how powerful our military is, or the influence of our economic on the rest of the world. Without virtue, without honor, we are nothing. Worse than nothing. We have taken the blessings handed down to us from the past and trampled them underfoot. This is cause for shame, not pride.
It is not too late. It is possible for us to start anew, first with ourselves, and then with the world around us. We can, with merely a choice followed by commitment, call forth what is precious in life, and turn our backs on falsehood and illusion. We can use our minds for good no matter how temptation says otherwise.
It is not enough that our founders formed a democratic republic. It is up to us to continue in their footsteps and make it work.


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