Thomas Fleming: Down With Democracy!

Thomas Fleming, editor of the American monthly Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture, author of several books on ethics (The Morality of Everyday Life) and politics (Socialism, The Politics of Human Nature), contributor to newspapers, magazines, and academic journals on both sides of the Atlantic, and formerly a professor of Greek and Latin at several universities, is again proposing following the Athenian example.

It turns out that the American political system had been in reasonably good shape until Martin Van Buren copied the party system from the UK, and in doing so put the US government on the path of corruption. The final nail in the coffin, Fleming asserts, was the institution of primaries, replacing the corrupt but still useful party leaders as the determinants of party candidates.

Taking a break in dispensing dubious historical synopses, Fleming moves to the present:

If this is democracy, I am ready to try an alternative.  Whenever anyone dares to criticize democracy, he is inevitably slapped down with Churchill’s witticism that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.  What neither Churchill nor his millions of quoting admirers have ever explained is what they mean by democracy. Indeed, after decades of studying political theory–and discussing such matters with the learned and the wise–I still have no clue as to what people mean when they use the word, other than their opinion that democracy is decidedly a good thing.

Cheerleaders for democracy, the American way of life, and my sweet old etcetera tell us that the principles of one man/one vote and representative government are the essence of our democratic liberty. Interestingly, the people who are credited with inventing the institution and certainly gave us the word–I mean of course the Greeks–did not regard elections as particularly democratic.

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