At a Notre Dame commencement, conservative pundit George Will launched out on an exploration and defense of the constitution, especially in regard to the role of religion. Conrad Black found it brilliant, if flawed. Mr Black did touch on an issue I have recently come to re-think.
Second, I don’t agree that Madison’s constitutional stipulations of divided and restrained powers, no matter how faithfully adhered to, would have prevented the crisis that George Will rightly fears is upon us — a society that looks to government to cure all ills as a matter of right. That process is the result of a universal franchise, which, though Madison and Jefferson favored a broader electorate than did Washington, Adams, or Hamilton, is not what any of them, including Franklin, sought. Democracy was going to open the whole process to a supreme test of the maturity and political sobriety of the people, and the people’s will was never going to be frustrated indefinitely by recourse to the limited jurisdiction of the federal government. The idea that in what is essentially a free country the majority could be denied what it wants, even if its desires are incited by demagogues and charlatans, is moonshine.
With a HT to VFR, this typically oracular musing of Alexis de Tocqueville about American democracy and its future, in 1831:
I wish to imagine under what new features despotism might appear in the world: I see an innumerable crowd of men, all alike and equal, turned in upon themselves in a restless search for those petty, vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, living apart, is almost unaware of the destiny of all the rest. His children and personal friends are for him the whole of the human race; as for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he stands alongside them but does not see them; he touches them without feeling them; he exists only in himself and for himself; if he still retains his family circle, at any rate he may be said to have lost his country … Above these men stands an immense and protective power which alone is responsible for looking after their enjoyments and watching over their destiny. It is absolute, meticulous, ordered, provident, and kindly disposed. It would be like a fatherly authority, if, fatherlike, its aims were to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks only to keep them in perpetual childhood; it prefers its citizens to enjoy themselves provided they have only enjoyment in mind. It works readily for their happiness but it wishes to be the only provider and judge of it. It provides their security, anticipates and guarantees their needs, supplies their pleasures, directs their principal concerns, manages their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances. Why can it not remove them entirely from the bother of thinking and the troubles of life?Sound familiar?