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That Old Bugaboo, Democracy

I recently read Hans-Hermann Hoppe's Democracy: The God That Failed and owe to it a blessed simplification in my outlook on life in the good ol' U.S. of A. today. I have taken aboard his radical critique of democracy, now, so to speak, in the mainstream, and at last I feel free to admit something I've kept pretty much to myself for more than 50 years.

I have long thought democracy a freak and a fright and a philosophical and political error of the first magnitude, but I kept on trying to talk myself out of it and take on a firm belief in what (nearly) everybody else seemed to worship. I have the same trouble with professional football, and fear I am, at bottom, an alien from Mars.

I took a course in Plato one summer at college. It was given by Philosophy Professor Raphael Demos (coincidence!), and I remember two things and two only from it: one was Demos's helplessness in the face of a charge made by a girl student. In those days, girls, now known as women, could attend summer-school classes but not courses in the regular school year. (This was, as you'll gather, shortly before the Flood.)

The charge delivered to Professor Demos on that hot day in August 1942 was that Plato "did not understand the woman's point of view." Demos uttered a long drawn out sigh: "Ahhhhhhhh." He paused for a long moment, chalk in hand, and then went on with his discourse. Ever since, I have always supposed that Plato's primary shortcoming was revealed in that vivid moment.

The other thing I remember from the course is that Plato said democracy was inevitably followed by tyranny. We had the proof of that in front of us in those days: Adolf triumphant, elected in democratic Germany. Benito, ditto in Italy. Plainly, these were terrible betrayals of Wilson's plans for a democratic Europe, which we had been told were very fine.

And our own FDR, what of him? At that point everyone I knew seemed to think he was not at all the tyrant sort of thing. A hero of the people was more like it. I know I thought so. I was a member of the kind of Irish Catholic family of whom it was said we were born Democrat, and baptized Catholic.

(Some members of my family continue to vote Democratic all these years later, apparently with no understanding that their party has become the leading proponent of Jacobinism in the nation. The Dems are followed closely, it has to be admitted, by the Repubs, and perhaps are now even being outpaced by them and with even better ideological "cover.")

I thought then that we (the US that is) simply could never produce a tyranny, although I did wonder how the people of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, the "most literate and scientific nation in Europe" as they were famously considered back in those days, could have elected such a sorry item as Der Führer. It was simply incomprehensible and had to be chalked up to the Devil himself.

Around that same time we suddenly learned that the political outfit we had all along thought was the Devil indeed, namely the Communist USSR, was now our staunch and stalwart ally. At that point one shut down one's thinking apparatus, rather as you do when you step into a roller coaster car, hanging on for dear life for the duration of the ride.

Some ride. We now know that FDR was a bunko artist with the best of them. A dreadful man with a slick and charming way about him. I think every student ought perhaps to read The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley, especially the part about the inevitable and winning charm of psychopaths. We are insufficiently alert to the type when it comes to us wrapped in the glad rags of political triumph.

There never seems to be much connection between what politicians say and do. And the disjunction seems the more severe the higher you go on the political totem pole. Clinton did us all a great favor when he revealed, in a particularly steamy moment in his career, that the truly political mind (which is a distillation, I think, of the truly lawyerly mind) has serious doubts, reservations, and hesitancies when confronted by such a puzzler as the meaning of the word "is."

It was a common thing to hear, back in the war years, that nations got the government they deserved. The Germans and Italians had, the Japanese had. Tough for them. We would prevail against them because we, too, had the government we deserved, and it was just great and heading on to victory.

I wonder if the principle still holds?

March 4, 2002