2.29.2008

The Nature of Democracy

My University newspaper, The New Hampshire, rarely rises above the level of a poorly written tabloid. Even casual observers of campus life admit this. A few weeks ago, they published a poorly edited essay by a Professor of Classics titled "What is Democracy, and is it 'The One'?" In it, the Professor argued (rightly) that democracy in itself is not a panacea. George W. Bush, the professor implied, has too much faith in democracy to solve problems - certainly something that can be debated. But throughout the course of his criticism, he conflates pure democracy and other forms of democracy, confusing his primary argument.

Anyways, I wrote a response to the article and sent it to the editor expecting it to be published. But, true to form, the newspaper never published my letter. They tried to justify it by explaining that the article that had run in the paper was poorly edited and therefore they would not publish responses until a correction was printed - but my letter had nothing to do with the formatting of the article and therefore waiting to publish it makes little to no sense. I suppose it was a convenient excuse.

Anyways, if you're interested, please check out the link above which directs you to a pdf file of the Professor's article - it was written for a University wide symposium on democracy. I've published my response to it below - let me know if you think I'm on target.
Re: What is democracy?

I picked up the TNH this past Tuesday and found an interesting article titled, "What is Democracy, and is it the One?" Intrigued by the possible connection between the Matrix movies and democracy, I read on. At the essay's conclusion I found myself disappointed. Rather than an attempt to connect two unrelated things (at least superficially), the essay was yet another critique of President George W. Bush's foreign policy. Fair enough.

In the course of his argument, Prof. Smith provides a critique of democracy. It seems that he agrees with the late Pope John Paul II, who wrote, "Fundamentally, democracy is a ‘system’ and as such is a means and not an end." But I think the Professor cheapens his critique by conflating Greek pure democracy and the American democratic republic. They are not identical; the very things that the Professor laments about Greek democracy are the things that the Founders sought to remedy through the Constitution, the concept of federalism, and elected representatives. Publius in Federalist 10 writes, "in the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy to the diseases most incident to republican government." Their intention was to maximize self-government and simultaneously hold our destructive tendencies in check. You can debate whether or not they were successful – but in order to do justice to both America and the nature of democracy, Professor Smith should have at least noted these distinctions.

Finally, elsewhere in his essay he seems to suggest there is a better form of government than democracy. I agree with this idea – I think it's the American form. But I'm curious as to what the professor thinks. He does not take up the question explicitly, but alludes to something that sounds like aristocracy. What is the case?

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