The chimera of liberal, social democracy hovers in garlic fumes that despite a sour odor cast their magic spell over an audience long weary of the Enlightenment’s failure to deliver on promises. During the late 1960s in the USA and western Europe, doves descended for a summer of love that hasn’t yet reached its autumnal equinox. Regarding the imagined institution we read, “However, to create it and keep it requires tolerance and willingness to make reasonable compromises. It also precludes making deals with authoritarian forces whose ambitions are dangerous to democracy itself” (Davidson in Brave New World, Mar. 6). Compromise is required, yes, but hardly tolerance for those whose cultural preferences differ from your own. The statehouses whose delegates hammered out the constitutional compromises at Philadelphia don’t strike me as particularly accommodating toward social minorities, if Missouri Governor Boggs’s 1838 “extermination order” against the early Mormons can be taken as example (Whitman in BYU Harold B. Lee Library, 1992). Eventually, the federal government itself would be required to fight and win a civil war to assert its authority once and for all. Current popular imagination, especially among academic multiculturalists, conflates democracy—in its modern guise of “small r” republicanism—with popular sovereignty. The latter of course has never existed; the whole notion of a government where everyone is a ruler and there are no ruled is an oxymoron. The closest known approach to this fancied condition is Athen’s Periclean democracy of 430 BC, where about 1 in 7 Athens residents nominally held a decisionmaking franchise. But even here effective power to act was exercised by only a small number among the 5,000 who might attend the assembly, nor were decisions really taken with the benefit of every citizen in mind. Instead, we saw ultimately disastrous power grabbing via the Delian League and the resulting Peloponnesian wars.
Our discourse today is all about “sensitivity” on behalf of minorities and others under governance. Yet by definition, being subject to a government means having to do things you do not want to do, such as yield up your firstfruits for someone else’s profitable enjoyment, or report for induction in case volunteer enlistments don’t reach military needs, to defend with your life what they have confiscated from you. The less esteemed or smaller your identity group, the more convenient to single it out for such treatment. The American constitutional compromise was made because the founders could open their history books and read about things like the Wars of the Roses between England’s overmighty magnates, or its bloody Cromwells between Puritan and Anglican. These events were more recent and less abstract for them than for us. Noting they had a rare opportunity to start afresh and not wishing repeats of history, the convention at Philadelphia and the subsequent 1st Congress indeed enacted sensible provisions about separation of powers and about separation of politics from religion.
Individual rights for everyone (as opposed to a crust of property-owning white males) came only after material advances in the sciences, industries, and education made it possible to satisfy popular demands for improved living standards and gave average citizens aspirations to participate in government processes in the first place. Multicultural agendas remain as firmly rooted in narrow self-interest as any other politic. For example, gays have won the right to legal recognition of domestic partnerships, so that one partner can collect Social Security or health insurance based on the other partner’s accounts. We call this “progressive,” but does it seem so generous to single persons who cannot draw on someone else’s account, yet may have to pay higher taxes and premiums to finance Social Security and health care for the domestic partners who are entitled to benefits? True progress would be a system where old age security and ability to access health care were decoupled from domestic partnership statuses of any kind. Yet I don’t see the gay lobby ever pressing for this arrangement; nor do I see them campaigning for police to extend more “tolerance” toward the homeless folks beneath the viaducts in the newly-gentrified “gayborhoods.” If democracy is by numerical plebiscite, then isolated singles, who are never likely to comprise more than 10 or 20 percent of the adult population, will always belong to a politically disadvantaged minority. I’m sorry; I fail to perceive the sanctity in the Ultramodern Left’s positions. And I’m not conservatively inclined by nature. In other words, I think we’ve been pretty lucky in the Western world, in a way that Arab or Eurasian societies may not be able to duplicate.
Their national and tribal cultures can probably see through the pretenses involved anyway—global military supremacy plus unsustainable consumerism are the true guarantors of our new liberties—as well the inability of such loose political methodology to maintain even short-term order absent these warranties. Watching parliamentary formalism become universal in governance as a way of “looking good,” I doubt that countries in Africa, the Middle East, or former Soviet Union will espouse our kind of multicultural tolerance within foreseeable futurity.