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This Month's Scripture Verse:

Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10


Friday, April 18, 2014

Democracy, Conservative-Speak Style

At first, the blogpost being reviewed here, Why Democracy Needs Aristocracy, seems to be a variation of a theme. Since democracy and aristocracy mix as well as oil and water do, the theme being played on came from Orwell in his book Animal Farm,
all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others

But that was before the blogpost' author, Marcia Christoff-Kurapovna,  attempted to play musical chairs with definitions and terms.

Christoff-Kurapovna gives the impression of wanting to discard the more traditional definitions of the words aristocracy and egalitarian as she distinguishes two kinds of democracies: aristocratic and egalitarian. Rather than using these words to depict inherited wealth or birth status, she wants to use them as indicators of human qualities. To Christoff-Kurapovna, aristocratic is the rugged individual for whom Capitalism and Democracy were created because such people excel in virtue and talent and are thus able to sustain political-economic system--we should note that Christoff-Kurapovna borrows some of her concepts of this ideal individual from Thomas Jefferson's natural aristocracy (click here). Christoff-Kurapovna also cites Lord Tennyson as saying that such individuals have "self-reverence, self-sufficiency, and self-perpetuation." Thus, such individuals work for what they can gain in the distant future.

Egalitarian, on the other hand, rather than referring to equality, is cited here to write about the "lowest common denominator" of people. The lowest common denominators are those people who can only see the short-term return and, if allowed to rule, would implement a "mobocracy." For in an egalitarian democracy, individuals are impotent and thus are dependent on others as well as enslaved to their own vices and the immediate satisfaction of appetites. This subjugation is due to a myopia with regard to time.

Thus, without enough of what Christoff-Kurapovna calls aristocracy, Capitalism and Democracy will implode. But there is a trick here. How do we determine who belongs to the natural aristocracy? According to Christoff-Kurapovna, it is those who have significant amounts of self-reverence and even "self-glory." Those who belong to this natural aristocracy and who save the day here are those who possess a noble self-interest . These are the people who can sustain Capitalism because of their concern with the future.

Christoff-Kurpovna cites some of our nation's founding fathers for support. We already showed her dependence on Jefferson in her depiction of the aristocracy America so depends on to continue. She includes Madison, along with Hamilton, who feared a "mobocracy" that would come with direct democracy. And though it is true that the founding fathers were concerned with the distant future while trying to craft our government, Madison not only opposed direct democracy, he was against the idea that people from every class could vote. He feared that, in England, if such was the case, agrarian reform would cause the land owners of England to lose their position and wealth (click here and see Madison's first set of comments in the Constitutional debates on June 26th). 

In addition, we ought to note who Madison regarded as people who preferred a mobocracy. It was those who were disgruntled during his time including those who supported Shays Rebellion (click here). We should note that at the heart of the dissatisfaction of the mob was high debt and taxation and an unresponsive government. That's right, some of the same concerns that served as a driving force in the American Revolution remained after the revolution. And thus there came a time when our Founding Fathers felt the need to write the Constitution, which was a document that created a stronger centralized government, that would protect the country from those who were disgruntled especially if they were to become the majority in the country. So, in essence, our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution to protect themselves and the future from the same kind of reactions they once had toward the British aristocracy. So, perhaps for different reasons, we could regard Madison and others as being aristocratic. And we should add that Shays Rebellion was put down because of a state army funded by merchants.

Other descriptions of this pre-Constitutional conflict and parties involved can be found in Henry Knox's 1786 letter to George Washington (click here) and Federalist paper #10 (click here). 

The real question for Christians becomes this, does nobility come from self-interest and on an emphasis on individualism? Will such a focus, according to the Scriptures, be a vine that produces good  fruit? These questions are not just important for the Christian to satisfy, the answer to them could support Christoff-Kurpovna's thesis regarding aristocratic self-interest.

Once we look at the Scriptures, we easily see that self-reliance is not what Conservatives like Christoff-Kurpovna claim it to be. Moses warned the Hebrews against taking credit for the bounty God gave them. Instead, the Israelites were to know that everything they had came from God. In addition, how they were to treat aliens within Israel was based on how God provided for them in the wilderness. 

In the New Testament, we are to be known by our love for God and others. In addition, we are told that all we have is because God gave His son for us. Thus, for the Christian, self-reliance can be a form of idolatry because it is worshiping a god besides the Lord by giving that god undue credit. Having said that, relying on God is not necessarily to be equated with being dependent on others with the degree of the latter varying during each person's life. When we are dependent on others, we must realize that God is providing through those people. Likewise, when we are more independent from others, we are still relying on God.

In the end, the Christians are to be guided by how God has provided for them and by showing a similar love and compassion to others. Sometimes, this involves carrying our crosses into troubled places which self-interest forbids. And though we are promised the greatest reward of all times for being faithful, one cannot be true to God out of self-interest only. Rather, our loyalty to God should be first out of love for Him which was conceived by His love for us. And we bear fruit for God by relying on the Spirit.

But what about the nonChristian? After all, they are not required to acknowledge God in any of their ways. But the question here becomes, once we let the genie of self-interest become the granter of an unlimited number of wishes, why should the individual care about whether their long-term interests hurts others outside of their group or whether the interests they serve will be long-term in the first place? In addition, where would such an individual be if they lived in a society where everybody was governed by self-interest? For if we look at first responders or some who enter the military or some who teach or some who go into certain fields of medicine, we realize that all of us, including the aristocrats, benefit from those who have the interests of others as well as their own in mind. In that case, we could call aristocrats moochers who sponge off the good will of others when their only interest is self-interest.

There is something disingenuous in the approach of some conservatives with regard to self-interest and individualism. That is because they want to expand the definition of these terms so that only good results from them. For conservative definition of self-interest has been enlarged so that all a person has to do is to know how to do what's best for them to do good. And in doing so, the individual becomes an aristocrat who acts as a vanguard for Democracy and Capitalism. And once the individual joins the vanguard, for anyone to infringe on his/her liberty is to become an enemy of Democracy and Capitalism. And this is the point of the analogy used in the beginning of the blogpost. It defends the aristocratic individual from all infringements from the outside, especially the government. 

But we should remember who is really the aristocrat here. The aristocrat is the one who has experienced success in the system; this is the person who belongs to the vanguard. But we should be aware that vanguards have a tendency to seek privilege over others--see the Russian and French Revolutions for example--so that they cause the word aristocracy, whose definition was given a twist by the author of the blogpost, to revert to its original meeting. And once aristocracy returns to its original meaning, it deflates Democracy by raising the power of some so that they can rule over the rest. If we were to be generous, we would call such a democracy a partial democracy. But practically speaking, partial democracies are not democracies.

For example, Jeff Halper calls a democracy where a religious or ethnic group has privilege and thus can rule over others an 'ethnocracy.' He uses this to describe seeing that Jews have dominance over Israeli-Arabs and laws are passed to ensure the existence of that dominance.

We should note that the dominance called for in this aristocratic Democracy proposed by Christoff-Karupovna is based on economic class rather than on ethnicity or religion. Thus we call the aristocratic Democracy a meritocracy specifically or a classocracy more generally and we should note that those favoring the concept of an aristocratic Democracy are not the only ones who have argued for a classocracy; so did Karl Marx. In calling for a 'proletariate dictatorship,' he was calling for a democratic rule by the working class that would transform society into a classless society. But in calling for such a dictatorship, Marx allowed people like Lenin to hijack the Revolution by claiming to be a vanguard for the proletariate. Thus, Christoff-Karupovna and Marx become strange bedfellows whose only difference is found in the teams they cheer for and support.

Having said all of this, it isn't that we would suffer if each individual gained in positive qualities. It is that the right kind of self-interest and ideal individualism by themselves do not carry the day. By themselves, these items do not produce noble actions and motives. Rather, in this case, they support a paternalistic relationship between the aristocracy and the rest where we look to ride the coattails of the aristocracy. We feel safe with them because of their power and privilege. But the price of admission for letting the aristocratic individuals gain power and privilege is that we dependently and powerlessly exist at their discretion. Thus to advocate self-reliance while promoting an aristocracy lacks consistency.

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