American Democracy

The failure of Obama’s initial steps in fundamentally transforming America has brought on accusations that our government is broken and ungovernable… but this is silly. The only thing that has failed is Democrat overreach.

Democrats failure is actually evidence of the system working exactly as it is supposed to. The founding fathers attempted to construct a system that would thwart tyranny with checks and balances. If they had wanted to create a socialist paradise I suppose they would have done so.

Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude. ~Alexis de Tocqueville
Civil Society

Civil Society is a term used to describe the interactions of free citizens. The collective action of free citizens acting outside of government for the betterment and enrichment of fellow citizens and society. De Tocqueville had it right when he said that, "The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens." This is democracy: power in the hands of people.

Unfortunately, progressives and liberals have an agenda that seeks to effectively crowd out all interactions that are outside of government. For the life of me I don't understand why. Government is no different from any other large 'corporate' entity. The only thing I can think of is that it is the religion of Marxism which permeates progressive ideology. For the left, voluntary grassroots uprisings are illegitimate unless their ultimate purpose is to unite in collective action through government or to empower government. All else is heresy.

So when the issue of which nations of the world are more charitable the left can only reference how much governments spend. Ignoring the private donations of individual citizens. The definition of charity, of how much one cares about the poor and the sick, can only be accounted for by how much you want government to spend on the problem. This is why conservatives are called heartless and evil by liberals. Why they are accused of wanting to starve children and old people. Of wanting the sick to die... because they oppose government taking over healthcare.

Representative Republic

Democracy is rule by the people. As opposed to rule by a privileged few. Our founding fathers realized that direct democracy was not a stable form of government, but they also viewed a privileged ruling class akin to royalty as an abomination to human liberty. So they tempered pure democracy and created the United States as a representative republic able to retain the rights of the people to rule themselves and still have characteristics of conservative stability.

The problem Democrats and liberals are having is not new. Friedrich A. Hayek describes how progressive economic planning always devolves into the need to force people to comply with the plan.

Planning and Power

IN ORDER to achieve their ends, the planners must create power—power over men wielded by other men—of a magnitude never before known. Their success will depend on the extent to which they achieve such power. Democracy is an obstacle to this suppression of freedom which the centralized direction of economic activity requires. Hence arises the clash between planning- and democracy.

Many socialists have the tragic illusion that by depriving private individuals of the power they possess in an individualist system, and transferring this power to society, they thereby extinguish power.

When Lincoln spoke of, "government of the people, by the people, for the people," he was not endorsing a dictatorship of the proletariat. He was expressing the political idea that the government is the people. That the power of government resides in every citizen. That it should be citizens exercising power over the state not the other way around.

In contrast, the government of Obama sees Americans as subjects to be taken care of and this requires the state to take upon itself more and more power and responsibility that should rightly be left in the hands of individual citizens.

"It's not that I want to punish your success," Obama told him. "I want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they've got a chance for success, too.

Then, Obama explained his trickle-up theory of economics.

"My attitude is that if the economy's good for folks from the bottom up, it's gonna be good for everybody. I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

A government that cannot yet enact this kind of sweeping control over entire sectors of the economy and override the decision making rights of millions is not broken. The fact that we are still debating whether or not to socialize healthcare is a sign that something is broken: the commmon sense of way too many politicians.

Posted by Eric Simonson at February 26, 2010 3:11 PM
Comment #296291

I love it when Republicans tout their mantra that our system is working when it fails to address the bankrupting of the nation.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 26, 2010 4:40 PM
Comment #296293

Here’s a very good repudiation that our system is not broken:

Eric, it seems you’ve been perusing the writings of De Tocqueville and Hyek lately. Hyek’s ‘The Road to Serfdom’ is on my list of books to buy.

Indeed, president Obama has touted wealth redistribution on many occasions; his philosophical beliefs are generally revealed through Freudian slips. Remember how Obama treated Joe-the Plumber on the campaign trail? That one interaction from a generally concerned citizen allowed millions of folks to see into Obama’s vision, and more importantly, what real Democracy should look like in the future.

Posted by: Kevin L. Lagola at February 26, 2010 5:18 PM
Comment #296294

The Plumber was a concerned citizen? I’m sure he still is…and will be…forever. He’ll just never know what he is concerned about…or why.

Since wealth is gathering to too few Americans at a horrendous rate, and since the amassing of that wealth is more likely to bring the country down than redistribution, it may well come to pass in the natural course of things, but our President will not be the reason for it.

We had our initial rebellion because of totalitarianism (no voice). When the nation’s wealth has gathered to a very narrow top echelon we will once again be subjected to totalitarianism. Obama cannot be blamed for the resultant collapse and revolution. He may be the reason for that to not happen. I certainly hope so…I’m too old and fat to fight.

Posted by: Marysdude at February 26, 2010 7:13 PM
Comment #296296

Kevin, I though Republicans didn’t like the French with their socialist bent? You do realize, that it was DeToqueville who coined the term “enlightened self-interest” to capture Adam Smith’s underlying sociology and psychology of the “invisible hand”, don’t you? Rhetorical question, because the answer is, obviously “not”.

Enlightened self-interest. Look it up. It is as socialist a concept as one can get in discussing free enterprise and capitalist markets. It refers to decision making which considers the benefit and consequences of others, as part of the decision process toward the aim that the decision maximize benefit for oneself and those who will be impacted by the decision.

When government makes decisions according to enlightened self-interest, it is the people’s interests, all the people’s interest, collectively, present and future, which must be the target of the benefits to result from that decision. Similarly, according to Smith and DeToqueville, business owners, if guided by enlightened self-interest, will make decisions with benefit enhanced not only for themselves, but, for their customers, their community and their nation, present and future, as well. According to DeToqueville’s definition of enlightened self-interest, businesses must include consideration for environmental, social, economic, and security interests upon which the business owner’s business depends. And if they don’t, which our corporations tend not to, then the government is the only social institution with the power and responsibility to compensate for such UNenlightened greedy interests, which will damage the environment, society, consumers and nation, present and/or future.

DeToqueville and Smith are anything but simple ideologues. If you read their works, instead of cliff notes, you may discover this for yourself.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 26, 2010 7:37 PM
Comment #296303


I think the problem is that people can act in their own enlightened self interest, but government really can’t.

We also have a simple operational problem of determining what is the collective interest. We can only work through our institutions. So if health care doesn’t pass, we have to assume it is not currently in our collective interests. Since our leaders decided to go to war in Iraq, we have to assume that was in our collective interests.

People who talk about collective interests often seem to think that it coincides with their own ideas about collective interests.

Posted by: Christine at February 26, 2010 8:57 PM
Comment #296308

Alas! I am not a Republican; I am a free thinking Indy with a conservative POV. I am also an historian who spent 9 years studying history and political thought, among other things.

Posted by: Kevin L. Lagola at February 26, 2010 9:38 PM
Comment #296310

More utter nonsense.Are you being thankful that there is still alielyhood that insurance companies can deny or expel people who get sick? Maybe you think it is wonderful that 46 million fellow Americans have at best limited access to health care? Maybe you think its great that the rest of the first world is appalled at just how backwards and callus the United States is to its own people?Thank God insurers can now raise rates 39% so even more Americans lose coverage?Are you especially proud that the infant mortality rate for the richest country in the world is worse than some third world countries? Let freedom ring.

Posted by: bills at February 26, 2010 10:15 PM
Comment #296311

If the Democrats change course and push single payer health care through the legislative process and Obama signs it into law, we have to assume that it is in the country’s collective interest.

If Obama decides to pull all of our troops out of Iraq within the next three mounths we have to assume that it is in our collective interest.

How can we know what is in our collective interest unless we have access to unbiased information about the collective decisions that we make.

Posted by: jlw at February 26, 2010 10:17 PM
Comment #296315


I was just pointing out that “collective interest” is a slippery subject.

If you are waiting for access to “unbiased” information, before you can make a decision, you will never make a decision since you will never find unbiased information.

One reason why the American nation is greater than the American government is that we can all make decisions based on our own information and preferences.

Posted by: Christine at February 26, 2010 10:52 PM
Comment #296318

Christine said: “I think the problem is that people can act in their own enlightened self interest, but government really can’t.”

Pure bullcrap. The government is made up of people, with the charge to represent the interests of other people. Your comment is entirely illogical, and devoid of any appreciation of DeToqueville’s definition of the term.

Christine said: “So if health care doesn’t pass, we have to assume it is not currently in our collective interests. Since our leaders decided to go to war in Iraq, we have to assume that was in our collective interests.”

This is lawyer sophistry 101. If health care doesn’t pass, it means ONLY that this version of health care did not pass. Nothing else. It does not mean another version will not pass. It does not mean no health care reform should pass. It means the elected representatives of the people failed to get sufficient votes to pass this or that particular bill. That is all that can be said of it objectively and unarguably.

When our representatives DO pass legislation, or a Constitution, it means nothing more than at the time it passed, enough agreed that it should pass. Passage is no guarantor that what passed will work, or will have the results intended. Hence, the many provisions in our founding documents for reversal or amendment of previously agreed to policies, to include the Constitution itself.

Legislation which passes is presumed and touted as having passed in the best interest of the collective. The Collective however, gets the final word on whether such decisions shall stand, be modified, or even reversed.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 26, 2010 11:07 PM
Comment #296319

Christine said: “If you are waiting for access to “unbiased” information, before you can make a decision, you will never make a decision since you will never find unbiased information.”

Pure propaganda. America is drowning in unbiased information. It is coming at us faster than we can assimilate it all, requiring ever larger computers to crunch and store it all. Data is unbiased. Data is information. The biases come into play when people attempt to use such data to further their own ends, which requires interpretation of the data. Even then however, not all interpretations are biased equally. Some biased interpretations create meaning the data does not support, and other biased interpretations keep faith with the data but impose it into a context which is entirely inappropriate for that data, rendering it partially or completely out of context.

Tax cuts increasing revenues, being a great example. Tax cuts can increase revenues under a very specific and short lived set of circumstances where revenues are being constrained by the lack of economic activity which is itself constrained by the lack of available capital to permit economic growth and expansion that would otherwise occur. ONLY under that specific and rare set of circumstances, will cutting taxes to a certain degree, increase government revenues.

Often those who are biased, attempt the argument that all are biased, and therefore, no shame or wrong accrues to them for their bias. It is a pitiful defense for a deficiency in objectivity.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 26, 2010 11:18 PM
Comment #296320


I prefer to make mostly my own decisions and would rather not do collectively what I can do individually or by free agreements. It seems like a lot of people agree with me. And if a majority agree and if we can block a particular part of “collective action” then that is the will of the people. It is possible, then, that the “collective action” may be to allow individuals and voluntary groups take care of themselves.

Tocqueville was amazed at the extent that Americans organized themselves w/o resorting to government. That seems to be the way most of us still like it most of the time. Liberals seem to assume that we SHOULD move to greater and greater governmental action. The Obama folks thought they had a mandate for that. Looks like they were mistaken, doesn’t it?

Posted by: Christine at February 26, 2010 11:20 PM
Comment #296322


In order to make information useful, we have to categorize it and sort it into knowledge. Whenever we do that, we introduce bias. I guarantee that if you and I analyzed the same raw information and tried honestly to make it useful we would sort it differently and each disagree about the importance.

Consider the simple one we have talked about, i.e. rising incomes. I see growing prosperity in the last generation. You see growing inequality. Both are correct. Within reason, I don’t think equality is as important as a growing total. I bet you see it differently. So we judge success differently. I am biased toward growth. You are biased toward equality.

Posted by: Christine at February 26, 2010 11:29 PM
Comment #296329

Christine said: “I prefer to make mostly my own decisions and would rather not do collectively what I can do individually or by free agreements.”

And the very existence of Soc. Sec. and Medicare, the military, and SEC, the FDA and HHS, evidence far more people who DO NOT agree with you, because all of these exist by majority consent. Anarchy is everyone acting in their own interests without regard for the collective.

We are not the Individual States of America. We are the United States of America. We are a democratic republic under one rule of law, not 330 million separate republics under our own individual preferences.

There is ample room in our society for individual choice and aspiration, more than ever before, actually. The collective’s decision making is what defines us as a nation, as opposed to a loose federation or state of anarchy.

A seed is sown upon the creation of every democracy which, upon maturation, will become a threat to that very same democracy. That seed is liberty. Liberty for many becomes like an addictive drug, liberating and exhilarating with prudent exercise, but, a monster knowing no bounds or limits when asserted with the perception of the power to ignore the democracy from which it sprang.

Hence, the need for all in a democracy to be educated in the art of “enlightened self-interest”, if that democracy is to survive the challenges posed by its growth and prosperity. Prosperity brings with it a deceptive sense of individual entitlement to live free of the society upon which such prosperity depends. America and the political and economic woes it has undertaken these last few decades with ever greater vitriol, intensity, and threat is proof of this.

It is no coincidence, Christine, that the word ‘secession’ now percolates through our political news on an ever more frequent basis. It is no coincidence that that individual Americans fly planes into government buildings or blow them up in the name of liberty. It is no coincidence in England, tax evasion costs their treasury 15 times more than benefit fraud. It is no coincidence that in the U.S. over 14,000 tax c
cheats came forward under the IRS amnesty program ending in Oct. of last year. Estimates of tax evasion in America are now between 45 and 75 billion dollars every year.

Such ‘simple liberties’ now cost trillions of dollars in lost effective management of our society and nation. And the bulk of that evasion comes from wealthier Americans. I recall a study which indicated wealthier Americans tend to be Republican. No surprise here that Republicans balk so, at collective interests and policies!

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 27, 2010 1:08 AM
Comment #296330

Christine said: “Whenever we do that, we introduce bias. I guarantee that if you and I analyzed the same raw information and tried honestly to make it useful we would sort it differently and each disagree about the importance.”

Hogwash! The vast majority of data and information we as Americans respond to is consensual and without question or debate. Do you stop at stop lights? So, do I. We were both instructed in the same law of red lights, and the reason for their observance.

Regrettably this also true of advertising and marketing which makes it such all consuming and enormously profitable industry. We process the vast majority of information coming to us on a daily basis very much alike, and without bias or question. It is one of those phenomena of societies and nations, which Adam Smith explored in great detail in his work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. And which De Toqueville described in part as a basis for enlightened self-interest.

It is not usually bias to recognize when something benefits one’s own self-interest, like stopping for a red light. It is a simple matter of education. We collectively pay a portion of our taxes to support an expensive military, without much disagreement over the necessity of it.

A minority will deviate along lines of bias, and rationalize that they need not pay for that military in order to benefit from it. But, such individuals, by such reasoning, would destroy the very society and military that they benefit from, since their reasoning, should it be equally available and allowable by all, would surely fail to provide for such a military common defense.

Such bias toward selfishness, excepting themselves from equal obligation of all, for the benefit of all, is liberty taken to a destructive extreme.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 27, 2010 1:25 AM
Comment #296342

So I suppose Americans just hate those regulations that keep maggots out of meat. We should be able to make our own choices,independantly,about whether to eat magotty beef or allow it to be fed to school children. How about leaded gasoline? It should be my choice if I want to still use it or not,even if it gives low level lead poisonning to everyone I drive by. After all they are just the collective.What you are self rightously proponding is polemic political shorthand for,”I got mine,screw everybody else.”

Posted by: bills at February 27, 2010 4:16 AM
Comment #296346

Bills& David

I often repeat that I am not and never have advocated NO government. There are things only government can do and there are things that government can do much better than we could ourselves.

But my default position is less government. If things are okay w/o intervention, don’t intervene. I do not want government to try to establish equality of outcomes and I am willing to tolerate some situations that I consider unpleasant or unjust to keep my freedom of choice.

As I have often said, government should establish basic rules and enforce them. It should take a leadership but not a management role.


Speaking of the maggoty meat, it depends on the how far you want to go with regulations.

You may have heard that according to EU regulations, the people in Finland cannot grow strawberries. They grow something that we would THINK were strawberries and they are very good tasting, but they are smaller than the regulations specify, so they are “red berries” not strawberries.

I agree with HEALTH regulations, but they should be narrowly defined for actual health and safety.


I have written about this too. When we all generally agree, we have law and custom. We use politics for the times when we don’t have broad agreement.It is how we settle these sorts of disputes.

I reject the idea that doing things for yourself or by voluntary agreement is selfishness. I prefer that others do that too. We are all better off when we don’t have to get involved with all sorts of complications to do simple things.

When we live and work with others, we have to cooperate. But that doesn’t mean every decision needs to be made collectively. As a leader, I try to give my people autonomy to make decisions that affect them and about which they have the most experience and information. I want my government to treat me like this as much as possible.

We all know people who constantly want to interfere with others’ lives or want to make every decision political. They can waste days just meeting and scheduling more meeting and trying to build a consensus about things that could just be done. I don’t want my government to treat me like this.

My father told me that we shouldn’t spend a dollar to make a nickel decision. Government tends to do this because it CAN. That is why I prefer freedom.

Posted by: Christine at February 27, 2010 10:14 AM
Comment #296358

Republicans can talk philosophically about freedom, but people are working longer hours in more menial positions for lower wages and fewer benefits, and a lesser share of the wealth of this country.

People were promised that economic justice and prosperity would be greater if the capital class were allowed to dictate terms on a variety of issues. We gave them that chance. They wasted that chance. Now the Republicans want to restrain everybody from choosing differently, telling them, paradoxically enough, that this is in the name of their freedom.

We should be free to determine the extent of the laws that bind us. That’s the point of Democracy. As it is a Democracy, if it’s too much, we can find our way back. Democrats had faith that the wrongs of the Bush Administration could be reversed, his written policies overturned by democratic action. We didn’t make our party a perfect roadblock to our opposition, and instead made an appeal to voters, believing they would act in their own interests.

Why did Republicans not do this from the start, be the loyal opposition that offers alternatives, that seeks out open, democratic methods of bringing balance to the goverment? Because they rightfully did not trust that people would put them back in power after all they did if they let the Democrats run a functional government. They had to hamstring America’s response to its various crisises to make the Democrats look bad. Never mind the harm it does to the American people, the Republicans are all for freedom when its the freedom to get what they want.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 27, 2010 12:51 PM
Comment #296367


WE are indeed free to make what laws and organize ourselves in the way we feel best for us and our country.

But WE may not choose the collective option. WE may want to make our own choices.

GW Bush grew the government way too much. Democrats promised to reverse his policies … well let’s reverse the growth of government.

Sorry for the repeated metaphor, but cure for the fat guy who eats too many donuts is not more donuts, even if he can get somebody else to pay the bill.

Posted by: Christine at February 27, 2010 4:53 PM
Comment #296371


BTW - It seems like liberals always think “the people” means them. I think Democrats are finding out - again - that this is not so.

Posted by: Christine at February 27, 2010 5:24 PM
Comment #296376

Christine, you expose your ideological rigidity everytime you make one size fits all generalizations like: “But WE may not choose the collective option.”

The collective option is ideally suited for a host of challenges facing the American people as a majority, and minorities. Our military being one, and Civil Rights legislation being another. Both are collective oriented policies designed to address needs of all, or only some, precisely because it became evident that the individual people nor States could/would provide a solution for those needs.

Our privatized health care system has so failed millions upon millions up millions of Americans over the decades as to have warranted a collective solution to providing health care. The private sector insurance industry, along with many others, have figured out how to scam and profit from this system in ways never intended. Hence, the need for health care reform.

A private sector solution is an oxymoron. The Medicare System exists precisely because the private sector could/would NOT provide a universal health care access system for Americans. Ergo, a collective solution was warranted.

That system which worked enormously well for decades, and to this day is approved of by more than 90% of participants in it, isn’t going to work well for the future, and needs to be reformed in ways that will allow it continue without bankrupting the tax payers and nation. Of necessity, that means devising a system that drives down the costs of both insurance and actual health care delivery. And in doing so, everyone in America will benefit, not just recipients of government provided health care access.

Republicans oppose such measures on ideological grounds which ignore the realities. So, what’s new? Their “tax cuts increase revenues” ideology resulted in the doubling of the national debt, while expanding the wealth gap by leaps and bounds, leaving less and less U.S. currency circulating through our economy, to a breaking point - The Great Recession, which could no longer be rescued by consumers.

Ideology fails to take into account the realities of the specific circumstances, and therefore, is always doomed to fail, far more often than succeed. Ideology is always born out of a specific set of circumstances, which change over time, rendering them ineffective and even dangerous as those circumstances change.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 27, 2010 5:58 PM
Comment #296682

Eric - The founding fathers never imagined that it would take 60 votes to pass a bill in the Senate. And it will take 60 votes to get rid of that rule. But the Democrats were too cowardly to do so when maybe they could. At least Obama is finally stepping up to the plate and pushing for a up or down, majority rules, vote on health care. That’s what the founding fathers had in mind.

Posted by: DrTom at March 3, 2010 11:21 PM
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