Democracy may be one of the most admired ideas ever concocted, but what if it’s also one of the most harebrained? After many years of writing about democracy for a living, David Harsanyi has concluded that it’s the most overrated, overused, and misunderstood idea in political life. The less we have of it the better.
“Democracy” is not synonymous with “freedom.” It is not the opposite of tyranny. In fact, the Founding Fathers knew that democracy can lead to tyranny. That’s why they built so many safeguards against it into the Constitution.
Democracy, Harsanyi argues, has made our government irrational, irresponsible, and invasive. It has left the American people with only two options—domination by the majority or a government that can’t possibly work. The modern age has imbued democracy with the mystique of infallibility. But Harsanyi reminds us that the vast majority of political philosophers, including the founders, have thought that responsible, limited government based on direct majority rule over a large, let alone continental scale was a practical impossibility.
In The People Have Spoken, you’ll learn:
- Why the Framers of our Constitution were intent on establishing a republic, not a “democracy”
- How democracy undermines self-government
- How shockingly out of touch with reality most voters really are
- Why democracy is an economic wrecking ball—and an invitation to a politics of envy and corruption
- How the great political philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Burke and Tocqueville predicted with uncanny accuracy that democracy could lead to tyranny
Harsanyi warns that if we don’t recover the Founders’ republican vision, “democracy” might very well spell the end of American liberty and prosperity.
The More You Politicize Guns, The Weaker Your Case Becomes.
David Harsanyi writes: After the horrific mass shooting at a community college in Oregon, President Obama made an impassioned case that gun violence is “something we should politicize”—and why should this be any different:
“This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”
Everything in that statement is wrong. What happened in Oregon is tragic, and the nation should comfort families and look for reasonable and practical ways to stem violence, but there is only one murderer. Now, if government somehow bolstered, endorsed, or “allowed” the actions of Chris Harper-Mercer—as they might, say, the death of 10,000-plus viable babies each year or the civilian deaths that occur during an American drone action—a person could plausibly argue that we are collectively answerable as a nation.
“For the liberal, every societal problem has a state-issued remedy waiting to be administered over the objections of a reactionary Republican. But just because you have a tremendous amount of emotion and frustration built up around a certain cause doesn’t make your favored legislation any more practical, effective or realistic.”
Then again, when the president asserts Americans are collectively answerable, what he really suggests—according to his own broader argument—is that conservatives who’ve blocked his gun-control legislation are wholly responsible. The problem with that contention, outside of the obvious fact that Republicans never condone the use of guns for illegal violence (in fact, these rampages hurt their cause more than anything) is that Democrats haven’t offered a single bill or idea (short of confiscation) that would impede any of the mass shootings, or overall gun violence. This is not a political choice, because it’s likely there is no available political answer.
For the liberal, every societal problem has a state-issued remedy waiting to be administered over the objections of a reactionary Republican. But just because you have a tremendous amount of emotion and frustration built up around a certain cause doesn’t make your favored legislation any more practical, effective or realistic. It doesn’t change the fact that owning a gun is a civil right, that the preponderance of owners are not criminals, or that there are 300 million guns out there.
And if it’s a political argument you’re offering—and when hasn’t it been?—you’ll need more than the vacuousness of the “this is bad and so we have to do something.” That’s because anti-gun types are never able to answer a simple question: what law would you pass that could stop these shootings?
With Defeat Looming, Democrats Retreat Into Fantasy
One of the unfortunate things about being addicted to reading news about politics is that it doesn’t take long to become overexposed to the parallel hypocrisy and predictable self-delusions of each side’s columnists and loyalist OP-ED writers. One longs for relief. One thing I like about The Federalist is their media coverage of media coverage. Media criticism and analysis isn’t exactly in short supply in the blogosphere, especially in the run-up to the 2014 election. But finding good sources of media commentary (about media commentary) that are revealing, on-target, and reliably entertaining isn’t easy. The Federalist delivers. Particularly when conducted at the savage keyboard of virtuoso ego-slayer Mollie Z. Hemingway. But you know who else has a good aim? David Harsanyi. Here’s a sample of Harsanyi’s latest column, from which I borrow liberally in the following post. To enjoy the full text, go here.
David Harsanyi writes: With prospects of Republicans recapturing the Senate a chilling reality—though certainly not a given—I’ve noticed a number of pundits, including, the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson, embrace some conventional self-soothing myths about our political situation. Each one means to reaffirm liberal intellectual and moral superiority and rationalize events that aren’t exactly going according to plan.
“Maybe Obamacare killed for decades the idea of big centralized governance? I find the prospect heartening.”
It is inconceivable voters could be unhappy with Democrats’ recent body of work or the content of their message. A GOP victory will sit atop a mandate-free edifice of anxiety, hate, rage, and lies. “Republicans are conducting a campaign of atmospherics,” Robinson explains. “Be afraid, they tell voters. Be unhappy. Be angry.”
“Parties often fool themselves after setbacks. The GOP will, as well. No doubt, we’ll soon have a barrage of post-election autopsies that will get to the heart of the matter. You know the drill…”
Is Robinson referring to the campaign to persuade voters that plutocrats have the ability to steal democracy by drilling into the collective subconscious of America and forcing all of us vote for Republicans? That kind of atmospheric? Or is he talking about the condom-thieving vote-stealing white men whose detestation of entire genders and races is so fervent that it leads them to a career in reactionary politics? You know the type. The kind of scum that still supports slavery. Or maybe, when Minnesota becomes a desert because we haven’t pumped enough subsidies into windmills conservatives will be happy? After all…
“Civilization as we know it today would be in jeopardy if the Republicans win the Senate.”
…says the rational, idea-driven leader of the House Democrats.
“…what if people aren’t interested in being governed in such dramatic ways any longer? Maybe Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of politicians planning so much of their future.”
Sure, only one party has a laser-focus on the issues that matter.
Only One Party Is Irrationally Rigid
In a recent POLITICO piece sifting through potential bipartisanship measures after the midterms, Norm Ornstein ascertains that trade policy (please retard your excitement) is the most feasible low-key legislation Washington can hope to pass, because Republican “activists will not go ballistic over a signing ceremony conducted by the Socialist Kenyan president.”
So biting! You hear this sort of thing often, of course. I’d say believing GOP obstinacy is driven exclusively by fantasies and bigotry is almost as inane as believing in a Manchurian candidate. But if you think there’s gridlock now, wait until Republicans are driving policy. Should Republicans win, I do look forward to a slew of Ornstein columns lamenting the Democrat minority’s filibustering and sabotage…
Why is Obama bringing up Australian gun control laws?
For The Federalist, David Harsanyi writes: While answering a few questions on Tumblr this week, President Obama informed participants that “our levels of gun violence are off the charts.” He claimed that it was incomprehensible that congress hadn’t reacted to overwhelming public opinion and passed legislation to expand gun background checks, adding that nations like Australia had long ago enacted sensible gun control laws to stop mass shootings:
“Couple of decades ago, Australia had a mass shooting, similar to Columbine or Newtown. And Australia just said, well, that’s it, we’re not doing it, we’re not seeing that again, and basically imposed very severe, tough gun laws, and they haven’t had a mass shooting since.”
This isn’t the first time Obama has brought up Australian gun control laws. He did so after the Navy Yard DC shooting, as well. Actually, on the left, Australian laws are frequently cited as a way to limit shooting rampages — perhaps get rid of them altogether. A few years ago, Nicholas Kristof, after mischaracterizing the law, recommended that it should be the “road map” for United States policy.
What are they talking about here? Longer wait times? Banning “assault weapons”? Not really. In 1996, after a ghastly massacre at Port Arthur, the Australian government passed firearms regulations that banned ownership of almost all semiautomatic weapons, all self-loading rifles and shotguns, and instituted strict restrictions on all sale of ammunition for the weapons.
[Check out another David Harsanyi book “The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy”, also available at Amazon.com]
A person can own a gun if they can demonstrate to the state that he has a “genuine reason” for having one – and “self-defense” is not considered a legitimate basis for ownership. Australia proceeded to run a buyback program that lasted nearly a year, in which time the government ended up paying citizens for 640,000 prohibited firearms. It was, in other words, a massive confiscation of guns. Read the rest of this entry »
David Harsanyi writes: Buzzfeed recently offered readers a peek into the bottomless well that is right-wing hypocrisy. “Republican Senator Who Voted To Defund NPR Says He Listens To NPR,” reads the headline, “He declined to mention that on the show.” Arizona Senator Jeff Flake is evidently a fan of cerebral upmarket radio programming, but also voted to defund the media organization.
…”Paul argued that a dose of libertarianism would not only help the GOP broaden its base, but that it was philosophically compatible with social conservative values.”
You know, it’s almost as if he knows one of these positions has absolutely nothing to do with the other. I enjoy NPR. I believe NPR, a network that boasts an audience in the tens of millions, can compete without taxpayer funding. You see: those are two distinct and non-conflicting sentences. But you know the drill. Distinctions are distracting. If you fail to support the Fair Pay Act, deep down you believe women are nothing but baby-making automatons. If you oppose nanny-state intrusions, you’re probably cool with fat kids and their diabetes… and so on.
For progressives, politics is not just a difference of opinion, but a great battle between decency and unfettered greed. So the conflation of choice and coercion is often aimed at your morality. You may claim to care about the underprivileged, but your votes say otherwise. To even suggest that a fiscally conservative outlook might be compatible with faith is hypocrisy.
Noah Rothman writes: Even President Barack Obama’s administration has acknowledged that “private sector velocity” is much closer to optimal swiftness of action than anything the public sector can achieve. If only the political class could match the private sector’s ability to respond promptly to observable trends. Politicians and political organizations often exhibit the worst elements of both divisions of society, featuring the public sector’s lethargy with the private sector’s elitism and lack of inclusiveness.
As such, political organizations are slow to respond to developments and often find themselves flailing gracelessly in the effort to accommodate trends that actors in the more responsive private sector are quick to embrace. One recent and unavoidable trend is the speed with which libertarianism is catching on. Polling has indicated that voters, particularly the youngest American voters, are adopting a libertarian philosophy which rejects the paternalism displayed by members of both parties and instead places its faith in the ability of the individual to best manage their affairs.
Writing in The Federalist on Tuesday, David Harsanyi parses trends in recent polling data which suggest a libertarian shift in the electorate. This is a shift, he notes, which has been mistaken by both Democratic and Republican partisans as an indication that younger voters are embracing their respective philosophies in droves. In fact, as Harsanyi adds, it is more likely a broad rejection of both political parties as they are currently constituted.
David Harsanyi writes: Throughout the Old Testament, God warns his chosen people about the perils of assimilation, shiksappeal and false gods. If we’re to believe the findings of Pew’s new comprehensive investigation on the matter, American Jewry hasn’t heeded these warnings. And after decades of treating religion like a secular political enterprise, Jews are finally disappearing.
Sure, three-quarters of those surveyed by Pew claim they have a “strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people” and 94 percent say they are proud of their identity. The question is: what identity? Granted, it’s a bit complicated. A Jew thinks of himself in both ethnic and religious terms. Or, at least he used to. Today, most American Jews believe culture is central to identity than any of the Old Testament’s many – many – commandments. According to Pew, in fact, six-in-ten of my fellow tribesmen believe that being Jewish is mainly a matter of culture or ancestry, while only 15 percent say it is primarily a matter of religion.
Or put it this way: 42 percent of Jews believe a sense of humor is integral to being Jewish, while far fewer believe religious law is similarly important. In the United States, then, Jerry Seinfeld is more fundamental to Jewish identity than the Prophets or Moses.
Here, of instance, is a taste of Roberts questioning Priebus:
But why do we need to attach the solutions or changes that go along with the law that has been vetted by the Supreme Court, by a mandate by the people reelecting the President and both houses of Congress. Why should that be attached to shutting down the government and as the President is saying basically writing a ransom note and asking for some type of goody bag in response to Congress doing its job to govern?
It can be uncomfortable watching a head-on collision of hackery, but the truth is the entire exchange is weirdly honest, entertaining and informative. It’s not often a TV anchor admits to viewers that he’s reading “directly from what the president just gave us.” Roberts is standing in for the president. Perfect. It’s not as if Reince Priebus was on MSNBC to offer his dispassionate impression of the situation, either. He should be challenged. And though the table-setting question is preposterously biased, it’s exactly the kind of question Priebus should be able to deflect. And he gets to do it in front of an audience that generally detests Republicans. I saw many people on Twitter wondering why Priebus does it to himself. They should be wondering why he doesn’t do it more often. Read the rest of this entry »
More wishful thinking on joblessness
That didn’t seem right. Innovation creates jobs, drives output and growth and improves the quality of goods, services and our lives. Or, at least, that’s the theory economists have been peddling. Read the rest of this entry »