Monday, April 18, 2005

What people want

Do people in a Democracy generally want those things which are conducive to preserving a Democracy?

Robert Heinlein, speaking through the voice of Lazarus Long had something to say on the subject.
Bread and Circuses is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure. Democracy often works beautifully at first. But once a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader--the barbarians enter Rome.
Most conservatives and libertarians would interpret that as meaning welfare programs. I've always had trouble with that particular interpretation, as it turns out that lower income people who benefit from said programs don't tend to vote as frequently. We are supposed to think the poor are greedy bastards bleeding us all dry by voting for these programs. But the facts don't really back that up.

I think that Michael Barone's latest article might point to a circus the American people are voting themselves. He notes that this last election saw an uptick in both mean spirited partisan rhetoric (all the Democrats fault of course (whereas in reality, I'd say Republicans are at least as guilty)) and in voting.
The point is that you cannot have all good things at once. Enthusiasm in politics usually contains a large element of hatred. You could see it in 2004 in the rants against George W. Bush and in the surges in turnout in central cities and university towns. You could see it as well in the surges in Republican turnout in exurban and rural counties, surges produced partly by affection for Bush but also by a hatred of cultural liberalism and moral relativism.
Centrism, being an attempt to bring sides together, naturally fails to provide such hatred. Compromise, the lifeblood of a Democracy, saps the enthusiasm of a true partisan. What partisan wants to see compromise?

Of course the question presents itself once again; is such partisan hatred good for Democracy?

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