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Virtue and Democracy

During the formative years of modern democracies, much concern was expressed about giving popular vote and voice to common people, how the masses would greedily respond, and how their demands would impact freedom. In the United States, the franchise was at first limited to land owners, to keep poor people out.
    The French Revolution served as a frightful example of what could happen. The monarchy was overthrown by mobs of angry people. Aristocrats were executed by the thousands. Ambitious people came into power. In the name of freedom, terror ruled the land and freedom was lost.
    This raised frightened conservatives in England and their more liberal cousins in the United States. England wanted to prevent revolution from happening within its borders in order to retain what they had. Americans still wanted to create a free republic, but one that would avoid the upheavals in France.
    The concerns went something like this. The aristocracy was seen as the bastion of virtue in a land of unsophisticated commoners. They were land owners, invested in making sure the nation moved forward on an even course. It was not so much that gentlemen could do no wrong, but that they did respond to the responsibilities of their caste. Who would do that if commoners were in charge? The gentry were educated, courteous, self-controlled. Their wealth and status bred competence and reliability. They were invested in maintaining the status quo, and could therefore be trusted with power.
    Commoners, it was feared, would seek to elevate themselves by whatever means possible. They would want comfort and equality, but would lower the criteria of equality so that they could fit in. Much would be lost. They would take from one group and give to the well-being of the majority, which would obliterate the idea of freedom.
    In other words, and it would be articulated this way, people in a true democracy would become tyrannical and oppressive, more so than a dictator of privilege. The majority's capricious will would replace virtue and intelligence. In a sense they feared the dangers of Marxism before Carl Marx ever wrote them. They felt that monarchies worked far better than popular rule ever could, maintaining steady traditions and rigid class distinctions that kept everyone in place.
    The founders of the United States tried to safeguard against these problems by dividing government into three separate but equal branches. They also believed that the nation was so large, with so many vested interest groups and factions, that a tension would result that would keep things stable. No one group could rise into power without being checked by others. Even with these theoretical safeguards, some suggested making George Washington king for fear of what chaos might follow.
    What does all this have to do with Chivalry-Now?
    It all boils down to a question of virtue and democracy. The founders looked around and saw industrious, hard working, community-minded people, well-read and strongly religious. There seemed little to fear about a threat to personal and public virtue. Nevertheless, they knew they had to safeguard it for the future. The system, along with the hearts and minds of the people, would have to do this. There would be no segregated aristocracy to keep the flame of virtue alive.
    When Thomas Jefferson went to France, he was appalled by the disparity of wealth around him. Ornate palaces where the wealthy lavished in freedom, while peasant barely scraped out a living in their hovels everywhere else.
    He compared this with memories back home, where the house of a wealthy family, while larger perhaps, was still a house among many, and people on the streets dressed pretty much the same. There were no peasants. Wealth was not something ostentatious, oppressive or conspicuous. He believed that the virtues of America would always avoid this disparity.
    John Adams, was not so sure. When he expressed his concerns about safeguarding virtue, this luminary of the revolution was accused of his being a monarchist.
    Looking back on all this now, one sees things differently from our founders. The balance of government powers and the tension between factions and ideologies does indeed maintain a quantity of freedom. Consumerism infuses enough complacency among the populace to keep people from revolt. Indeed, when power goes astray and values are discarded, they barely protest. The system holds everything in place. While powerful people do exert more control in the form of backroom deals, and the disparity of wealth has widened far beyond Jefferson's expectations, the nations plods on.
    The question is this: Have we lost something in the process? Is virtue sufficiently safeguarded, and are the people really free?
    Business elites, like aristocrats of the past, seem free enough. And maybe the rest of us find the limited freedom we enjoy sufficient. Powerful people keep the laws intact, while everyday people remain distracted enough by consumerism to keep us in line.
    But what of virtue? How does virtue, which makes real freedom possible, fare in this government/societal machination of convenience?
    We hear patriotic words from politicians, but their actions say something else. We hear frantic political ideologues makings their case, but their words ring manipulatively hollow. Religion, as of late, surrendering to the lure of the media and political power, finds itself drifting away from its core principles. The entertainment industry discovered quite a while back that it can make more money trafficking in vice rather than virtue. Our children turn to fiction and superheroes for a sense of goodness and honor, but the world quickly teaches then to differentiate fantasy from fact.
    It is true that today's democracy works moderately well inmost Western nations without sufficiently honoring virtue, but some of its reason for existence has been lost. Freedom once meant the means to and the glory of human virtue. Now it means self-gratification and a legal means to exploit one's neighbor. People scarcely noticed when they are demeaned when defined merely as consumers, or even voters. Schools have become conveyor belt factories of graduates shaped and defined by state-run tests.
    Families struggle to instill virtue in their children while having to compete with everything else. Jobs pull parents away from the everyday needs of their families. And while we still occasionally hear that a woman's place is at home with her children, we forget completely how boys once learned trades and customs at their father's side.
    Where, then, can we possibly find the source of virtue that democracy needs?
    There is only one real place. From ourselves. From people awakened to marriage of conscience and reason.
    Here we find the finest replacement for a ruling aristocracy, one that is far superior and by necessity an intimate part of democracy itself—the people who comprise it.
    There is no need for a special, privileged minority to serve as a guide for virtue if the people themselves take hold of their own responsibility. In this way, people of reason and conscience will not permit the kind of tyranny that the founders predicted, and real freedom is made accessible for all. Under the aristocracy model of old, the vast majority of people were left out. Under the business elite model of today, the majority are duped and pushed aside as irrelevant. All this suppression, in the name of avoiding tyranny!
    One of the goals of Chivalry-Now is to introduce people to their own responsibility, which fits right into this. Today's Knighthood, through its own philosophical dynamics, serves as a clarion call for people to protect their democracy from those who manipulate it. Virtue is the key—and has always been. Conscience and reason are the means not only to foster democratic participation, but to acquire personal authenticity as well. As complete human beings, we are not so easily duped.
    Liberals want the state to replace virtue with government programs. They look forward to a future paradise where everyone's needs are taken care of. Meanwhile, conservatives, in a pretense of reclaiming virtue, throw real virtue out the window and echo the words of Cain that we are not our brother's keeper. They think paradise was something lost in the distant past, so why bother? Both of these partisan ideologies, with their lack of insight into human nature, contribute to the overall problem.
    Free thinking minds can see through these biased strategies for what they are, and demand better.
    Chivalry-Now calls for this kind of freedom.


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