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
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 itselfthe people who comprise
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 keyand 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