Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Can a democratic republic work?

As noted in my last post, it was proposed (from the Introduction to The Closing of the American Mind) that the Founding Fathers believed:

From the earliest beginnings of liberal thought there was a tendency in the direction of indiscriminate freedom. Hobbes and Locke, and the American founders following them, intended to palliate extreme beliefs, particularly religious beliefs, which lead to civil strife. The members of sects had to obey the laws and be loyal to the Constitution; if they did so, others had to leave them alone, however distasteful their beliefs might be. In order to make this arrangement work, there was a conscious, if covert, effort to weaken religious beliefs, partly by assigning ... religion to the realm of opinion as opposed to knowledge.

Going forward, it seems that Mr. Bloom is proposing (at least in the introduction) that the current problem of relativism can be traced to minority groups wanting to remain distinguishable from a conforming mass of people under the Constitution as designed in the quote above.

Granted, I haven’t finished the book (or even the introduction), but there seems to be an inherent problem here. It is turned on its head. Relativism would be the result of “assigning ... religion to the realm of opinion as opposed to knowledge”, not the other way around.

The result of core sets of beliefs being converted into simple opinions of equal value would then give rise to every minority group (defining minority not by race, but by any belief whim) wanting their agendas to be given equal value.

Because there may be real resistance, eventually, this want becomes a demand, causing chaos - such as we are witnessing today – to the extent of again turning things on their heads: unorthodox beliefs being demanding acceptance as knowledge/fact, and traditional beliefs being regulated to the dustbin at best and outlawed at worst. (It is clear that in the current climate the simple acceptance of a coexistence of the homosexual/transgender/etc. agenda is not enough. Beliefs opposed to these agendas, even if held privately or by a church, will not be tolerated in any form.)

Is the constitutional republic as we know it inherently unworkable in the long term, or is it a function of other influences at this particular time in history? Would returning things to a previous order of beliefs under the same constitutional system simply repeat the process?
More on this later, including possibly some thoughts (by Russell Shaw) peculiar to Catholicism in American from the book American Church.
Oremus pro invicem!


Charlie said...

I always recommend reading the Federalist Papers for topics like this. The Framers intention was pretty clear--prevent tyranny. They defined tyranny merely as the accumulation of power in the hands of the one, the few, or the many. To that extent, their experiment has worked.

Another thing to glean from the FP is the idea that "faction breeds liberty." As Madison put it, "Liberty is to faction what air is to fire." The "relativism" we see today is essentially factions going at it. These differences among factions prevents them from ever accumulating power since power requires agreement.

In a Republic, the good can prevail since the good is the only thing that everyone can agree on. This would be things like natural law, truth, etc. Now, not everyone agrees on this because they wish to deny it. But the bad can never draw a similar widespread agreement. Like the Tower of Babel, evil leads to division and dissolution of power. Evil is always striving for unity which is why it loves concentration of power, centralization, and tyranny. It strives to achieve by force what it cannot reach through liberty and reason.

The beauty of the Constitution is that it pits self-interest against self-interest. It's like that Eastwood flick--The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly--where the two characters each had half of the secret. They had to cooperate and work together to ever find the hidden gold. But if one of them ever possessed the other half of the secret in addition to his own, the cooperation would vanish and someone would die.

The Framers were pessimists about human nature. The chaos you see today is not a bug but a feature of our republic. It is when a large body of people gain power and unanimous agreement that you should really be afraid. This would be the Third Reich.

Jim Curley said...

I am bigger fan of the anti-Federalist papers, myself. ..

Here's the problem: the system (to accommodate everyone and every belief) actually promotes a downgrading or watering of beliefs to eliminate the tension.

The problem with that is as Chesterton says, once people stop believing in something, they will believe in anything. Which is very bad for the republic.

In any event, the Constitution is being constantly "rewritten" these days by our Federal courts and ignored by the other branches of government.

You could be right about the division amongst the evil, but the division may happen too late to save any semblance of a republic which has any popular understanding or agreement concerning the common good.

Your comments do give me something to think about.


TS said...

It seems like a catch-22 in that you need to water down religion in order to avoid the wars of the Reformation era and yet you need religion to avoid a subsequent collapse due to weakened morality. There seems no permanent fix, although Charlie's comments do seem pretty smart.

Jim Curley said...

Wow, you said in one sentence what I took the whole post to try to say.

TS said...

Thanks Jim! Perhaps of interest, this on capitalism: