The Corner

Does Democracy Have a Metaphysics?

Wretchard at the Belmont Club has a really outstanding post about the problems and challenges a society faces when its democratic apparatus loses the moral superstructure it was originally housed in.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As Wretchard notes, America’s founders took it as a given that the larger society had the sort of moral controls and institutions necessary for a healthy society. The machinery of the American democratic system was largely — though certainly not entirely — amoral. This tracked the consensus of the Scottish — i.e. the good — enlightenment as opposed to the French Enligtenment. Whatever the faults and horrors of the French Revolution, the one thing they understood was that most people want their governments to reside within their moral universe rather than without. Even today the French are very comfortable using the State as an instrument of culture and values in ways that still cause hissy fits here in the US.

For good or ill, I’ve become increasingly convinced that it is impossible in the modern age to keep the state from falling into the hands of those who want to use it toward moral ends (Sorry my anarcho-libertarian friends). People who are driven by moral passions and missions are simply more likely to do the hard work necessary to wrest control of the levers of government. This needn’t be scary or bad and it can be great. But it is a fact. Which mean a society — not just its government — must be very, very concerned about the sorts of citizens it creates. In Holland, as Wretchard notes, radical Muslims could win the battle if for no other reason they care more about winning than the, until recently, self-indulgent, spoiled and lazy Dutch who’ve taken the tolerance and decency of their system for granted.

Anyway, read the post. We’ll chat about all this more later.


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