Skip to comments.Liberal Clichés 101: Abstract Democracy and Unity
Posted on 07/12/2012 1:07:49 PM PDT by MichCapCon
Jonah Goldbergs Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas provides a quick, enjoyable, highly readable analysis of the memes employed by progressive argumentation. Repeated often enough, these clichés seemingly have a ring of what faux conservative comic Stephen Colbert would call truthiness.
Therefore, a field guide such as Goldbergs is in order to better enable those who would identify and refute such liberal claims that either stall or prevent completely honest and open public policy discourse. Liberals or progressives or what-have-you arent the only portion of the political spectrum subjected to Goldbergs opprobrium. Conservatives also take a bit of a lashing for their repeated mantras of capitalism and democracy, about which Goldberg notes:
(Lost on many conservatives is the fact that the two core stanchions undergirding the American system are quite simply unnatural. Democracy is not natural. Capitalism is not natural. Both depend on and exploit natural phenomena self-interest, the yearning for respect just as a house depends on stone, wood, and metal. But you wont find a naturally occurring house in the woods, will you? Capitalism is the greatest system ever created for peacefully universalizing prosperity, but it doesnt feel like it because it is unnatural. Democracy is the noblest of experiments; you will be hard-pressed to find a tribe putting everything up for a vote as a matter of custom and ritual, never mind binding law.) Lastly, Goldberg decimates the continued calls for unity (expressed by every president in this writers memory) as a greater good. Unity for a good cause is, of course, wonderful, but there are also groups that unite for undesirable or even evil purposes. Think of the gangs joined together to brutalize neighborhoods and countries united under despotic regimes. After all, sometimes the urge to Kumbaya leads to the socialist salsa, the Pol Pot polka, or the Taliban tango. Again, to quote Goldberg directly:
In short, black hats and white hats alike can admire the principle of unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (all for one, one for all!). And yet, once you start paying attention youll see how thoroughly the cult of unity infects our politics. On the right it generally gives its expression in the form of patriotism and is honest about it, though George W. Bush hammered the whole Im a uniter not a divider refrain until it was wet mush. On the left and in the center, overt appeals to patriotism are less common or more forced. What comes more naturally are appeals to unity and coming together. Unity is the secular humanist euphemism for patriotism . But taken to its rational conclusion, appeals to unity are troubling because they work on the assumption that strength in number is, on its own, a virtue. That is not the American political tradition or creed. In America the hero is not the mob. It is the man or woman who stands up to the mob and says: You will not lynch this man today.
Leaving aside the polarized liberal vs. conservative dynamic, which itself admittedly is a cliché, Goldbergs The Tyranny of Clichés should be required reading for all competitive debaters, public officials, opinion writers and anyone compelled to post comments on the Web pages of their local newspaper because the only thing better than the ability to recognize the empty and/or lazy rhetoric behind the deployment of these clichés is the avoidance of using them in the first place.
Not having Goldberg's work yet, we might observe that one over-used "cliche" of so-called "progressives" and one that those who self-describe as "conservative" never seem to refute adequately is the one which claims that America was and is a "democracy."
Anyone who has read the Founders' and Framers' writings and speeches knows that the idea of a pure "democracy" was soundly rejected. The Year 2012 might be a good time for reading the concluding paragraphs of John Quincy Adams' "Jubilee" Address of 1839. This son of John Adams, who was 9 when the Declaration was authored, 20 when the Constitution was adopted, and served in various capacities, including that of President, had been invited by the NY Historical Society. If anyone can clear up the "democracy" myth and cliche for us, Adams should be qualified.
Here are excerpts from that Address:
". . . but history, ancient or modem, had never exhibited in the real life of man, an example in which those two properties were so happily blended together, as they were in the person of George Washington. These properties belong rather to the moral than the intellectual nature of man. They are not infrequently found in minds little cultivated by science, but they require for the exercise of that mutual control which guards them from degenerating into arrogance or weakness, the guidance of a sound judgment, and the regulation of a profound sense of responsibility to a higher Power. It was this adaptation of the character of Washington to that of the institution over the composition of which lie had presided, as he was now called to preside over its administration, which constituted one of the most favorable omens of it: eventful stability and success.
"But this institution was republican, and even democratic. And here not to be misunderstood, I mean by democratic, a government, the administration of which must always be rendered comfortable to that predominating public opinion, which even in the ages of heathen antiquity, was denominated the queen of the world: and by republican I mean a government reposing, not upon the virtues or the powers of any one man - not upon that honor, which Montesquieu lays down as the fundamental principle of monarchy - far less upon that fear which he pronounces the basis of despotism; but upon that virtue which he, a noble of aristocratic peerage, and the subject of an absolute monarch, boldly proclaims as a fundamental principle of republican government. The Constitution of the United States was republican and democratic - but the experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived; and it was obvious that if virtue - the virtue of the people, was the foundation of republican government, the stability and duration of the government must depend upon the stability and duration of the virtue by which it is sustained.
"Now the virtue which had been infused into the Constitution of the United States, and was to give to its vital existence, the stability and duration to which it was destined, was no other than the concretion of those abstract principles which had been first proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence - namely, the self-evident truths of the natural and unalienable rights of man, of the indefeasible constituent and dissolvent sovereignty of the people, always subordinate to a rule of right and wrong, and always responsible to the Supreme Ruler of the universe for the rightful exercise of that sovereign, constituent, and dissolvent power.
"This was the platform upon which the Constitution of the United States had been erected. Its VIRTUES, its republican character, consisted in its conformity to the principles proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, and as its administration must necessarily be always pliable to the fluctuating varieties of public opinion; its stability and duration by a Re overruling and irresistible necessity, was to depend upon the stability and duration in the hearts and minds of the people of that virtue, or in other words, of those principles, proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, and embodied in the Constitution of the United States.
". . . the Constitution as construed by Washington, still proved an effective government for the country.
"And such it has still proved, through every successive change of administration it has undergone. Of these, it becomes not me to speak in detail. Nor were it possible, without too great a trespass upon your time. The example of Washington, of retiring from the Presidency after a double term of four years, was followed by Mr. Jefferson, against the urgent solicitations of several state Legislatures. This second example of voluntary self- chastened ambition, by the decided approbation of public opinion, has been held obligatory upon their successors, and has become a tacit subsidiary Constitutional law. If not entirely satisfactory to the nation, it is rather by its admitting one re-election, than by its interdicting a second. Every change of a President of the United States, has exhibited some variety of policy from that of his predecessor. In more than one case, the change has extended to political and even to moral principle; but the policy of the country has been fashioned far more by the influences of public opinion, and the prevailing humors in the two Houses of Congress, than by the judgment, the will, or the principles of the President of the United States. The President himself is no more than a representative of public opinion at the time of his election; and as public opinion is subject to great and frequent fluctuations, he must accommodate his policy to them; or the people will speedily give him a successor; or either House of Congress will effectually control his power. It is thus, and in no other sense that the Constitution of the United States is democratic - for the government of our country, instead of a Democracy the most simple, is the most complicated government on the face of the globe. From the immense extent of our territory, the difference of manners, habits, opinions, and above all, the clashing interests of the North, South, East, and West, public opinion formed by the combination of numerous aggregates, becomes itself a problem of compound arithmetic, which nothing but the result of the popular elections can solve.
"It has been my purpose, Fellow-Citizens, in this discourse to show:-
1. That this Union was formed by a spontaneous movement of the people of thirteen English Colonies; all subjects of the King of Great Britain - bound to him in allegiance, and to the British empire as their country. That the first object of this Union,was united resistance against oppression, and to obtain from the government of their country redress of their wrongs.
2. That failing in this object, their petitions having been spurned, and the oppressions of which they complained, aggravated beyond endurance, their Delegates in Congress, in their name and by their authority, issued the Declaration of Independence - proclaiming them to the world as one people, absolving them from their ties and oaths of allegiance to their king and country - renouncing that country; declared the UNITED Colonies, Independent States, and announcing that this ONE PEOPLE of thirteen united independent states, by that act, assumed among the powers of the earth, that separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitled them.
3. That in justification of themselves for this act of transcendent power, they proclaimed the principles upon which they held all lawful government upon earth to be founded - which principles were, the natural, unalienable, imprescriptible rights of man, specifying among them, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - that the institution of government is to secure to men in society the possession of those rights: that the institution, dissolution, and reinstitution of government, belong exclusively to THE PEOPLE under a moral responsibility to the Supreme Ruler of the universe; and that all the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed.
4. That under this proclamation of principles, the dissolution of allegiance to the British king, and the compatriot connection with the people of the British empire, were accomplished; and the one people of the United States of America, became one separate sovereign independent power, assuming an equal station among the nations of the earth.
5. That this one people did not immediately institute a government for themselves. But instead of it, their delegates in Congress, by authority from their separate state legislatures, without voice or consultation of the people, instituted a mere confederacy.
6. That this confederacy totally departed from the principles of the Declaration of independence, and substituted instead of the constituent power of the people, an assumed sovereignty of each separate state, as the source of all its authority.
7. That as a primitive source of power, this separate state sovereignty,was not only a departure from the principles of the Declaration of Independence, but directly contrary to, and utterly incompatible with them.
8. That the tree was made known by its fruits. That after five years wasted in its preparation, the confederation dragged out a miserable existence of eight years more, and expired like a candle in the socket, having brought the union itself to the verge of dissolution.
9. That the Constitution of the United States was a return to the principles of the Declaration of independence, and the exclusive constituent power of the people. That it was the work of the ONE PEOPLE of the United States; and that those United States, though doubled in numbers, still constitute as a nation, but ONE PEOPLE.
10. That this Constitution, making due allowance for the imperfections and errors incident to all human affairs, has under all the vicissitudes and changes of war and peace, been administered upon those same principles, during a career of fifty years.
11. That its fruits have been, still making allowance for human imperfection, a more perfect union, established justice, domestic tranquility, provision for the common defence, promotion of the general welfare, and the enjoyment of the blessings of liberty by the constituent people, and their posterity to the present day.
"And now the future is all before us, and Providence our guide.
"When the children of Israel, after forty years of wanderings in the wilderness, were about to enter upon the promised land, their leader, Moses, who was not permitted to cross the Jordan with them, just before his removal from among them, commanded that when the Lord their God should have brought them into the land, they should put the curse upon Mount Ebal, and the blessing upon Mount Gerizim. This injunction was faithfully fulfilled by his successor Joshua. Immediately after they had taken possession of the land, Joshua built an altar to the Lord, of whole stones, upon Mount Ebal. And there he wrote upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written in the presence of the children of Israel: and all Israel, and their elders and officers, and their judges, stood on the two sides of the ark of the covenant, home by the priests and Levites, six tribes over against Mount Gerizim, and six over against Mount Ebal. And he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that was written in the book of the law.
Fellow-citizens, the ark of your covenant is the Declaration of independence. Your Mount Ebal, is the confederacy of separate state sovereignties, and your Mount Gerizim is the Constitution of the United States. In that scene of tremendous and awful solemnity, narrated in the Holy Scriptures, there is not a curse pronounced against the people, upon Mount Ebal, not a blessing promised them upon Mount Gerizim, which your posterity may not suffer or enjoy, from your and their adherence to, or departure from, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, practically interwoven in the Constitution of the United States. Lay up these principles, then, in your hearts, and in your souls - bind them for signs upon your hands, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes - teach them to your children, speaking of them when sitting in your houses, when walking by the way, when lying down and when rising up - write them upon the doorplates of your houses, and upon your gates - cling to them as to the issues of life - adhere to them as to the cords of your eternal salvation. So may your children's children at the next return of this day of jubilee, after a full century of experience under your national Constitution, celebrate it again in the full enjoyment of all the blessings recognized by you in the commemoration of this day, and of all the blessings promised to the children of Israel upon Mount Gerizim, as the reward of obedience to the law of God." (Underlining added for emphasis)
So said John Quincy Adams who had served in many posts, including Secretary of State, President, and remained in his seat in Congress until he died!
There are two definitions of democracy that I remember.
I am unsure of the author of the first but it goes like this: Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.
The second is from Milton Friedman: Democracy is when A and B decide on what to give C and how D is going to pay for it.
Nobody explained the ideas of liberty and warned of the counterfeit ideas of tyranny more explicitly than America's Founders and early generations.
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