Sunday, May 1, 2016

                            Democracy at home and abroad.

 
Together with untold destruction and suffering, we did bring democracy to Iraq. To be sure their elected parliament has not been able to legislate or to govern because they have been too busy yelling at each other, pelting each other with water bottles, or even getting into fist fights. They have democracy but it does not work.

But that is for us only too familiar a phenomenon. Members of our Congress have not gotten into fist fights but they also have been unable to legislate. They are too busy bickering. They have been unable to ascertain how the government is working. Congressional hearings  have become public relation events in which each party is trying to blacken the name of the other.

What is worse there are now two kinds of citizens: citizens with money and citizens without. The former have influence on the government. The latter are pretty much left out in the cold.

Citizens--the kind without money--have however rallied and during several days during the middle of April significant numbers of protesters sat in in front of the capital in Washington, DC. 400 citizens, practicing civil disobedience, were arrested on one day. Not only does  everyone know  of the blatant corruption of our democracy but there are many citizens who are not willing to put up with that. 



They are asserting their democratic rights by protesting, by committing civil disobedience, by getting arrested.

In a democracy the people rule. When the democratic system works smoothly, everyone has a say, everyone is heard, and all work together to govern themselves. When the democratic system does not work, as is the case in the US as well as in the Iraq, ordinary people need to come to the seat of government to claim their rights as autonomous citizens of the democracy.

This is what has been happening in the United States. Today's news reports that it is now also happening in Iraq. Ordinary folks in Baghdad invaded the Green zone and the parliament building and the elected legislators either ran away or hid in small rooms in the parliament building making a rather disgraceful spectacle of themselves.

That, of course, is excellent news. People in Iraq are learning the real lesson that democracy does not consist of having periodic elections, often paid for by rich citizens or corporations, but that when the government is not functioning, the people have a duty to take back their power and demand that their elected representatives either do their job with integrity, or leave town and go back to where they came from.

The Iraqi protests made the front page of the Sunday paper. The protests in Washington DC were barely mentioned in the media. The free press, which is an essential ingredient in any democratic system, is in the pay of billionaires and chooses what news is suitable for their readers to hear and what news is better hidden from them.

When, after living in the United States for five years as an immigrant, I became a citizen, the judge in the downtown Chicago courthouse insisted on reading the entire Declaration of Independence to all the new citizens before him. In his final comments he urged us to never forget that the United States was born in a revolution. It is not periodic elections that makes our republic remarkable. It is the revolutionary spirit in which citizens are willing to go to great lengths to assert their rights to govern themselves and not to be governed by corporate managers.

We are indebted to the protesters in Baghdad, in Washington DC, and many other US cities for remembering the revolutionary history of democracy and for remembering that that history has not yet come to an end. The revolutionary impulse remains the soul of democracy.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why Racial Turmoil?


Racial divisions have lately been in the news with many protests against police rampages in black communities.

Harvard University has responded to these major injustices by putting on one of its buildings a small plaque that commemorates four slaves who served presidents of the University in the 1700s. Portions of our cities are torn apart by gang wars, by unjust incarceration, by appalling poverty and Harvard University commemorates four slaves who lived more than  300 years ago!

What a striking example of how little justice and equality matter to our leaders! A university that has on its staff eminent philosophers, historians, sociologists, political scientists, students of education could have called together all these scholars to make a careful analysis of our racial problems and to make concrete proposals for overcoming them.

What would we have expected one of the world's most eminent universities to ask? Our nation has been and continues to be torn apart by racial hatred and, to tell the truth, we don’t understand that condition. From our origins, as a nation that used slaves to create wealth, to a nation that is officially dedicated to racial justice while, in reality, large numbers of whites distrust blacks and disrespect them, we have consistently been unable to understand why we continue to be plagued by the scourge of racial hatred.

In different periods of our history, our inability to overcome racial divisions will most likely have different histories and origins. How can we possibly understand why after the heroic years of civil rights struggles in the last century and after electing a black man as president of our country, the cancer of racial distrust keeps eating away at our soul?

Why is it impossible for us whites to live our lives contented and proud without despising others and believing lies about them?

These are clearly important questions to ask. What is the matter with white people in America that they cannot be happy unless they invent spurious reasons for looking down on their fellow citizens who are not white? Why must they disrespect others in order to respect themselves?

Answers to these questions are not easy to find. Which answers are reliable will be especially difficult to ascertain. But here are some obvious ideas:

For many Americans, their work life is repetitive and tedious. They do not receive the respect they deserve from their employers and often from the people they provide services for. Gaining self-respect under those conditions is really difficult.

"America’s business is business" said Pres. Calvin Coolidge. Many Americans echo that pathetic platitude. But if I am not the owner of a business, what is my source of self-esteem? We have different answers to that question. We treat ordinary citizens as consumers but being a consumer is not an occupation that strengthens your self-respect. You cannot walk down the street with your head held high because you bought the latest electronic gadget.

Alternatively, the role of citizens is to help enrich the owners of the businesses they work for by getting paid as little as possible. That too is hardly designed to make employees feel proud and valued.

There may well be other reasons why it is difficult for white men and women to feel confident in themselves. Whatever the reasons, we are experiencing a major crisis of self-respect. Recent statistics show a steady increase in the number of suicides in America. Every year more men and women, and even children, decide that their lives are not worth living and kill themselves.

And those who do not commit suicide frequently need to bolster their failing self-esteem by reminding themselves that at least their skin is white or, at least, that the government pretends that their skin is white.

Instead of installing memorial plaques, perhaps Harvard University can rally its intellectual resources to ask why Americans in large numbers cannot bear their lives at all or can bear their lives only by tormenting others. If we could answer that question, perhaps we could begin to confront and resolve our racial hatreds.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Crisis in oufr Values

The Crisis in our Values


 If the current presidential campaign teaches us anything, it is that America is suffering from a serious lack of positive goals, of projects that arouse the enthusiasm of citizens and make them feel that their life has a purpose.

The need for a positive goal is so tremendous that, however appalled they may be by his foulmouth bragging, people follow Donald Trump enthusiastically just because he promises to make America great again. Many citizens feel that our nation  is drifting without clear direction and values. They will follow anyone who promises to provide new inspiration to their lives.


More surprising even is the widespread support for Bernie Sanders. Not too long ago anything called "socialist" was completely unacceptable in the United States. Any proposed project that its enemies could label "socialist" was dead. No politician would have ever supported a socialist project. But today many ordinary Americans support Bernie Sanders with money, with great enthusiasm at his rallies, and with their votes because Bernie has a set of clear ideals. Justice and equality, he believes, are very important--important enough to fight hard for. His followers are looking for positive goals and values. They want them so badly, they are willing to support his crusade even though Sanders calls it socialist.


Whence this pervasive sense that our lives do not have much value? Why is there this desperate need for new ideals, for goals that are worth working and sacrificing for? Wherever we look in our nation we find corruption, selfishness, unwillingness to take on the obligations of citizenship. Our leaders talk about freedom and equality but seem to care only for their rather petty self-interests. In the end, making money seems to be their only goal. For thoughtful Americans it has become difficult to be proud of their country.


Our public life has become embarrassing--a series of sexual scandals like that of President Clinton or later Gen. David Petreus. Many political careers have been ruined in recent years by extramarital affairs. Defenders of family values have been put to shame by their abandonment of most ordinary marital loyalties. It is difficult to admire our public officials because they embarrass us.


The Panama papers reveal once again widespread corruption in the political classes of different countries. We learn that three states in America--Delaware, Wyoming and Nevada--allow the creation of secret corporations in which the wealthy can shelter money from the tax man. These states allow citizens to evade their civic obligations by paying the taxes they rightly owe to support the government that has allowed them, in the first place, to gain the wealth they have. Some of this money, whose owners remain unknown, ends up financing political campaigns. Our democracy is being manipulated by people whose names remain secret.


Very large sums of money, given by a relatively small number of individuals, play a significant role in our elections. For ordinary citizens who cannot do more than give $25 here and there to Bernie Sanders, it is clear that their participation in our democracy counts for very little. Citizens’ votes are not equal because some spend millions of dollars trying to determine who will get elected; the voice of ordinary citizens is silenced by these large contributors. It is difficult to feel any enthusiasm for our political system of which we have been proud for so long. But that pride has been seriously undermined by the role of 187 families who essentially control political giving in our country today. Large corporations and their owners have debased our democracy. Political offices are for sale.


Global corporations, like Exxon or General Electric, pay no income taxes in the United States. The major drug producer, Pfizer, almost succeeded in moving its mailing address to Ireland in order to evade its obligation to the US government and pay much lower corporate taxes in Ireland instead. Major businesses model the prevailing attitude toward our democracy: take what you can get but be sure to avoid supporting it.


Lacking the tax support owed but not paid by large corporations, the government must increase the tax burden on working people whose economic situation is  precarious. Governments are short of money and, under pressure to cut their budgets, they save on services for ordinary people, often working people of color. The result is an epidemic of high levels of lead in the drinking water and many children affected by lead poisoning, such as in Flint, MI. We are not wiling to guarantee good health to our children in spite of our great wealth.


The nation’s main goal seems to be ever larger profits for global corporations. The well being of ordinary citizens who produce those profits is not considered important. The nation’s motto has become “Get Rich!” and only the already rich succeed in meeting that goal. We may be the richest nation in the world but we distribute this wealth without any regard for fairness..


On a series of scales of international comparisons such as educational achievement of our youngsters, such as infant mortality, such as cost effectiveness of medical care, our country does very badly as compared to many other countries, even ones that have considerably fewer resources than we do. Yes we are rich but we do not know how to use our money wisely.


Not everyone knows all of those facts. Not everyone is willing to admit that our military adventures have ended in embarrassing failures. For different groups of Americans, their sense of futility, that America has lost its greatness derives from different experiences. For young Black men and women, the continuing violence perpetrated  against them by the police, by prosecutors, juries and judges leaves them profoundly disenchanted with their country and their outlook for their own future. For white working class men whose pay has stagnated for almost 50 years and whose jobs continue to be insecure, the promise of America has been broken that if they worked hard their condition would improve. Their condition has slowly deteriorated; their future looks grim.


Profound disillusionment of different groups of Americans flows from their different experiences, from the different ways in which they have been betrayed by powerful businesses and powerful political groups.


No wonder that we have an epidemic of drug overdoses not only among the young, both white and brown and black, but among middle-aged white men who have worked hard and see no reason why they should continue to do so. No wonder that we have gangs of young men who are willing to kill each other in the pursuit of illegal gains because for them, too, life is not worth a great deal. Their gangs offer a source of pride that their country  does not provide.


Yes, we need a living wage for many hard-working Americans, we need free education for all of our young people, we need to tame the high cost of medical care due in considerable part to drug companies, to physicians, to the manufacturers of medical machinery trying to get rich.


But none of these reforms will do us a whole lot of good, as long as we drift through our lives without a sense that our lives are worth living, that we stand for important ideals, and pursue noble goals. Whatever political or economic improvements our political leaders might devise, will not make a significant difference unless we are willing to recognize this crisis in our values and to overcome it. As long as the nation is dedicated to getting rich and allows success in gaining wealth only to those who are already too rich, many citizens will find their lives empty, their work unrewarding, and their country an embarrassment.

Sunday, April 3, 2016


The Lesson from the Arizona Primary

The word "democracy" is a composite of two Greek words--"demos", the people and "kratein", to rule. Democracy is the rule of the people. That is what we keep saying, and that is what democracy theorists keep telling us. But the recent primaries in Arizona demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that our democracy does not consist of the rule of the people.
In the recent Arizona primaries, many voters, especially in neighborhoods where the majority of people were poor and/or persons of color, had to wait in line for many hours in order to be able to exercise their right to vote. The Republican legislature and state government cut back sharply on the amount of money available for opening polling places. The number of polling places was reduced. Hence the long waits.
No doubt the shortage of polling places prevented a number of citizens from voting as they had planned. Parents needed to pick up their kids in school. Workers needed to be at work and could not stand in line for hours. Parents needed to be home to cook dinner for their children. They needed to be elsewhere to take care of aging parents. They had other obligations and commitments. There was not enough time for standing in line for hours in order to be able to vote.
The decisions of the state government excluded significant numbers of citizens from being part of "the people." They were prevented from exercising their citizenship rights; they were effectively prevented from acting as citizens.
In this situation the people did not rule because the government decided who was going to be a citizen. It was up to the government to allow some people to be active citizens and to prevent others from doing so.
When the government decides who is a member of "the people," the people no longer rule. On the contrary the government has the power to determine the membership of the people. Our Constitution begins with the words "We the People . . . “ But in Arizona you need government permission to be a part of that people.
Nor is the regulation of polling places the only technique by which the government decides who may vote and who may not. Many states have passed laws that make it much more difficult to vote. In some states you need to have a birth certificate in order to register as a voter. Once again the people, people of color, people whose lives are difficult and often chaotic, are likely to be excluded because they don't have the needed pieces of paper. Other states require photo IDs for anyone to go and vote. Photo IDs are hard to come by, especially for people living in the country, who have transportation challenges, little money and find it difficult to procure these identity cards with their picture on it.
“Gerrymandering” is a venerable American expression referring to drawing the lines of electoral district in artificial ways in order to deprive some populations of any chance of having an influence in elections. Drawing districts with smaller pockets of African-American voters, assures their failure to ever elect an African-American candidate. By distributing African-American voters over a number of different districts, their votes are made ineffective unless they vote for the dominant white candidate. By drawing electoral districts so as to effectively disenfranchise certain groups, the government, specifically state legislatures, deprives certain groups of effective voting rights. Gerrymandering steals the civil rights of targeted groups.
Our government effectively limits who might have a chance at being part of the people that rules. Eliminating significant groups from the electorate it determines what kind of influence voters have on government. The political interests and goals of upper-middle class whites are different from those of a more mixed electorate. What people will want and what they will strive for is seriously shaped by filtering the membership of the citizenry allowed to vote. The people do not rule. The government determines in significant ways what voters will demand.
They then insult our intelligence by telling us that we live in a democracy where the people rule. Of course, they had their fingers crossed behind their back when they say so.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Our Educational Caste System









I said in an earlier blog that the ascendance of Donald Trump is an embarrassment to our educational system. Donald Trump is an uneducated person. He appeals to people who are also uneducated. Given his large-scale support it is obvious that this country is awash in uneducated people in spite of the fact that we have a functioning public education system.

I still stand by that but it does need some explanation. I must begin by pointing out that being uneducated has nothing to do with ability. Most of our fellow citizens are capable of much higher achievements. The ability to think straight demonstrated by many of our leaders is put to shame by the same ability displayed by ordinary citizens. Our schools fail to develop the abilities widely distributed among us.

Many of our schools fail in transmitting elementary information to our students who often do not read well, do not write well,and have little information about our history or our political system.
What is worse, our educational system is constructed to maintain an educational caste or class system.
It is really instructive to listen to call- in shows about the political primary. Clearly thoughtful persons call in and admit that they are supporting Donald Trump. Sometimes, interestingly enough, they vacillate between Trump and Sanders. Most of these callers will add a sentence or two saying that they are not well educated. Americans are very much aware of what educational caste they belong to. They are very much aware of the educational caste of the persons they are talking to. Our people is divided into separate strata that are never mentioned but are rarely out of mind.

Many years ago when I was a more alternative teacher than I may be today, I asked my students--most of whom belonged to the well-to-do middle-class--to address me by my first name. They tried but could not do it. In some way that never got spelled out I was too different, my world was too different, they were not able to address me as, in some important way,  equal. Although I was obviously older and knew more about some things than they did,  I was not actually that different but the world in which they saw me and the figure I cut in the world was totally extraterrestrial for them.

You may think that is an insignificant anecdote but I do not think so. For a college student to call the teacher "Professor" provides important security by clearly marking social lines and social differences. From their perspective my world, how I talk, what I talk about, are unknown lands, for which they have no maps and where their compasses do not work.

I am reminded of a friend from college who told me of her complete shock the first time she saw one of her instructors eating lunch. It had not occurred to her that this person would eat. Because professors are completely different.

There are many different important implications of this caste system concealed just under the surface of our lives. The sharp line between the learned and those who are not means that those who do not know something cannot, by themselves, find out what they want. They need to take courses. Ignorance is not easily remedied. You'll need help to do that.

If you work, say, for a nonprofit organization and are doing an exceptional job, but the other person in the office has an advanced degree and you do not, the other person, however incompetent will be the queen and you will be the working bee. In order to get more powerful, better paying jobs, it is not enough to know things, a recognized institution needs to certify you. There is no easy transition between layers of the educational caste system. You may be as smart as anyone, who may read more and think better than many people with higher degrees than yours, they will get the power and the prestige and you will get the minimum wage.

The educational system with its different institutional levels has become a means for choking off access to positions of power, to positions of directing institutions, to prestige, and social recognition.
The educational caste system gives the lie to our protestation that we are dedicated to "liberty for all" because liberty and power depend on educational credentials.

Our schools cooperate in this system of progressively restricting access to the most desirable positions in this society and our educational system cooperates with other forces to limit social mobility and to keep many people in the working class. (Calling them "middle-class," as is now customary, is just a way to conceal this issue.)

Our schools do a very specific job: they teach our young to internalize the caste distinctions of the educational system. They must learn to apply the differences between the educated and the not educated to themselves. They must learn to feel powerless to remedy this situation. They must learn to blame themselves for not knowing more than they do and for belonging to their specific layer of this pyramid.

If I were a person who found myself uneducated, confined to the lower layers of the educational hierarchy and if I were one of the millions of people who felt apologetic and in some way incomplete for that reason, I would love Donald Trump who is in the same educational layer. But that does not hold him back from being a loud braggart, from talking about himself non-stop, from glorying in his real and imaginary accomplishments. What is not to like about a man who does not hesitate to parade his ignorance and take pleasure in it?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Blame Game



Now that it seems quite possible that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for President and both Republicans and Democrats are panicking, the question is: who is to blame for this disaster? There are different answers. Some people blame the media. Some people blame the Republican Party for not taking Trump seriously when he first started campaigning. Others blame the people who support Trump.


The question is important. Some of us are old enough to remember when, in 1933-- the Germans voted Adolf Hitler to be Chancellor --the German equivalent of president in the system they had then. No one is saying that Donald Trump is going to commit genocide. But it is hard to overlook his tendency to be racist and sexist, to be quite supportive of violence, and to be utterly irrational. What will happen to us, should Trump become President of the United States?


The first thing we need to notice is that the people playing the blame game begin with the implicit premise that they have nothing to do with this, they are blameless. But it is useless to ask what caused this disaster if we are not willing to consider that everyone has some part in a move towards something that looks a lot like fascism. The question in what way we are responsible is  only useful  if we are looking to prevent similar failures in the future. But we cannot prevent future failures if we are unwilling to  say  honestly: We did this. We did it in this way. We need to do this and that and something else to avoid a future repetition.


What does it take to produce millions and millions passionate supporters for Donald Trump? One thing it requires are people who are ignorant, who don't see an ignoramus when he's talking to them, and who, worse, don't care whether Trump knows what he's talking about. To support Trump you need to be really uneducated. One source of this terrible event is the massive failure of our educational system. We have not been willing to pay for good schools. We have not been willing to pay our teachers decent salaries.


Eight years ago we had a president who was not as nasty as Donald Trump but he was not very smart and equally ignorant and nobody seemed to mind that. His first election might not have been quite on the up and up, but we saw him in action and he got re-elected even though there was no question of his limited education and intelligence. That too was a clear failure of the American educational system.


Lesson number one: if you want reasonably intelligent presidents in the leadership you need to see to it that all voters get a decent education. We don't do that.


But that's only part of the problem. American society is clearly divided into classes. There are families with money. They can send their children to good schools and good universities to become skilled professionals. They tend to run the government. And then there are a lot of people who are poorly educated, who used to have good manufacturing jobs and now have low skill  service jobs that don't pay a lot of money, that are not very steady. Since the early 1970s --almost 50 years ago --wages for this segment of our people have not risen substantially. For them, work has not always been easy to find. It has not been satisfying. It has continued to pay very little.


The upper class, the well educated professionals, who have political power have not been interested in this working-class. They have not cared that their wages have not gone up while pay on Wall Street has gone through the roof. They have not cared that people who used to have skilled and honorable manufacturing jobs now have service jobs which are not interesting, which it is difficult to be proud of.  They have callously ignored this working-class.


Four years ago when Mitt Romney was running against Barack Obama, he told his rich friends that 47% of the American population did not work , that they were on the dole. 47%, Mitt Romney said in so many words, were not people one needed to have respect for. They were not people who took responsibility. One would not consider inviting them to join one's club.


In this unfortunate comment, Romney put into words what all working-class people in the US know perfectly well, that we do live in a class society that the upper class runs the country for its own benefit and could care less for the well-being of working people.


When you bring this up, Republicans will start talking about "encouraging class warfare." They don't want you to talk about class distinctions. They will deny their existence. But they also deny that they have any responsibility for their fellow citizens who are all working men and women. They deny that they owe any respect to the men and women who do much of the work in this country.
Well now they get what they deserve. These ignored, abused working people have now found a voice and it is Donald Trump's. The patrician Republicans, like Mitt Romney, are appalled by vulgarians like Trump but that's what you get when you don't educate people and simply ignore or denigrate them. They will get their revenge in some way and they are getting it.


Lesson number two. An upper class that denies that there are people they exploit and despise will sooner or later have to confront a rebellion of the maligned lower-class.


These are some of the reasons why Donald Trump is flying high. Every one of us is to blame because it is a failure of the American Society, a major failure. It will not do to say: it is not my fault, it is the fault of those other persons or institutions.


We will have many Trumps, perhaps worse ones than the Donald, unless we build schools that educate children and not just warehouse them, unless we are honest about the class distinctions in our society and learn to respect everyone not only the super-rich and upperclass Mitt Romney’s of this country.

Monday, March 7, 2016

                                Death of Democracy

In Mitt Romney’s frontal attack on Donald Trump you can find this interesting paragraph:


“Ronald Reagan used to quote a Scottish philosopher who predicted that democracies and civilizations couldn't last more than about 200 years. John Adams wrote this: "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." I believe that America has proven these dire predictions wrong for two reasons.” (http://www.politico. com/story/2016/03/full-transcript-mitt-romneys-remarks-on-donald-trump-and-the-2016-race-220176#ixzz41xdjpx5E) Mitt Romney cannot, of course, take James Madison’s ominous prediction seriously. Being a politician, he must insist that our democracy is as vigorous and flourishing as it was in 1789. But it is very important for us to try to understand what Madison had in mind and to consider his forecast more seriously than Romney does.


We frequently think of democracy as an electoral system in which the citizens have to go to the poll one day every two years to select their Congress persons, one day every four years to elect a president and one day every six years to elect their senators. That is not very burdensome but, if that is all citizens do, ours  is going to be a fairly poor sort of democracy.


Citizens going to the polls by itself will not accomplish a great deal. If citizens are not well informed about the issues before the voters, if they have not considered their decisions carefully in the light of the best information available, political elections differed little from the Grammys or the Oscars or some other popularity contest. The original idea of our democracy was not  that people choose the most popular person as their leader, but that they chose the person they regarded as the most competent, the person with the best judgment, the person with a suitable calm and impartial temperament to make the difficult calls that most presidents and Congressional leaders will confront in the course of their political careers.


Citizens have to be well informed. That means that they are willing to dedicate a good deal of time and energy to reflecting about the issues confronting the nation. They have to be willing to discuss current issues with people who have different opinions. In these conversations they need to be open-minded. They need to make real efforts to understand what moved their political opponents and what shapes their thinking about current problems.


This requires a serious commitment to democracy, to self-government by all the people. Sometimes that is boring. Sometimes it is enormously aggravating to listen to people whom you can't help regarding as prejudiced, ill-informed, irrational and overly emotional. Participating in a democratic government is not all fun and games. It involves a willingness to work hard for the sake of the general well being.


And this brings us to the heart of Madison's dire prognostication about the death of democracy. The democratic process works if people are willing to do things they themselves don't particularly like but which they believe to be important for the common good. Democracy works only if people think about what is good for everybody and not just about what is good for them individually. Frequently when people talk about democracy they talk about people voting their interests. Madison was quite clear that a people whose citizens vote their own interests will soon lose their democracy: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” (http://www.veterans today.com/2011/08/21/democracys- violent-death/) The citizens of a democracy must be moral, they must be willing to put the common good ahead of their private interests. A functioning democracy is run by active hard-working citizens who are interested in taking measures that benefit everybody even if those might be against their own private interest.


Madison was clearly aware that this made extraordinary demands on human beings. Democracy makes extraordinary demands on all of us. Those demands are even more difficult to fulfill in a country like ours dedicated to capitalist competition. The central dogma of a capitalist economy holds that a country flourishes when everybody pursues his or her private interest. In his praise of the free market, Adam Smith, an early advocate of free markets, pointed out that we are supplied with bread and meat not "through the benevolence of the butcher and baker," but because each was doing what was best for them and their business. The leaders of capitalist enterprises must put the interest of their own businesses above everything else.


Our children are brought up to work in capitalist enterprises and if they are fortunate to lead them. They must learn to be good competitors and to look out for themselves. But, as democratic citizens  their orientation must be the opposite of their orientation as capitalist enterprises. As citizens of a democracy they must look for what is good for everybody. They must be, in the words of James Madison, "moral"-- not self-interested by dedicated to what is good for all.


James Madison thought that it is hard for fallible human beings to be good citizens. He did not live long enough to see that being a good citizen of a democracy is particularly difficult for those living under capitalism because they are constantly being steered to consider their own good at the expense of that of everybody else. People like that may thrive in capitalism and become billionaires--not mentioning any names--but they are not suited to be good democratic citizens.


Where everyone pursues his or her own private interest, agreement is very difficult to reach. Few people want the same thing and the more people are involved in decision-making the more different interests have to be reconciled. In order to get a capitalist democracy to work, it is best to reduce the number of people who have real decision-making power. Most members of Congress count for very little. Their leaders are, to put this very bluntly, bribed to take positions favorable to large corporations. In the end the number of genuine decision-makers becomes quite small and the affairs of all American citizens are run by a very limited number of corporate leaders. Democracy comes to an end.



James Madison's prediction of the death of democracy foretold with precision what would happen to a self interested citizenry. It has come out just as predicted.