For years a mashup email has been circulating on the web based on the work of Alexander Tyler (Tytler/) a Scottish professor who took a dim view of democracy.
The mashup takes some of the good professor’s views and adds a “Tyler Cycle” and a statistical view of the 2008 presidential election to make a case that we are destroying the Golden Goose that is our representative democracy. Tyler and his adherents are critical of the historical record of Athens.
Ancient Greece showed much in the way of democratic tendency. Athens being the best known example. It is a very mixed bag. The Athenian assembly was capable of self-sacrifice and stunning bravery, as several of their responses to invasion by the Persian Empite show. They were also, however, prone to idiotic decisions based on the words of demogogues. On at least two occasions they rallied in the face of dreadful adversity, made hard and wise decisions and recovered their wealth and status. However, they also decided to invade Sicily during the Peloponnesian War, which was a disastrous and wicked decision. Socrates was executed for no compelling reason after a debate that was long of emotion and short on reason.
Tyler dismisses democracy in round terms but he misses important points. I am studying Xenophon and the March of the Ten Thousand. At their lowest ebb the Ten Thousand found themselves about 1,500 miles from the sea, surrounded by the Persian empire and with the core of their leadership dead. Murdered by perfidious Persians. What did they do? They behaved exactly as Greek Democrats. They debated, elected new officers (including Xenophon, who disliked democracy and felt more at home in Sparta) and then proceeded to march home. At each crisis they met and debated and found the leaders they needed to survive. Their Anabasis is still studied today for its story of intelligent response to disaster.
Can we continue to do as well?
We did have a head start.
The Founders wrote the constitution in an effort to remedy the weakness of Athenian Democracy by addressing some of the glaring weaknesses of Athens. Unfortunately, we are not binding ourselves by the spirit of that document anymore. We are sacrificing freedom for comfort and letting our elected leaders run wild. Readers of this blog know I have very little faith in Barack Obama and the Democrats. Unfortunately, it doesn’t follow that the Republicans will automatically cure our ills.
We must fix Congress and return to an older way of doing things if we are to survive as any form of democracy, electing Mitt Romney will not if itself solve the problems we face, but it may stop the slide into Marxism. If Romney wins in November there is a glimmer of hope we can break the entitlement cycle and restore ourselves to a nation of people who govern themselves thoughtfully.
Earlier, I noted that the Athenians made some awful decisions. But they made them by an honest vote after strenuous argument. The Athenian voter debated his views face-to-face and then went with the majority. An Athenian voter might spend five or six hours a day in the assembly arguing and listening. No one does that today.
That is something to ponder.