Friday, February 9, 2024

#40 / Barton Swaim Quotes Honest Abe


Barton Swaim is an editorial page writer at The Wall Street Journal. That means that his politics and my politics do not align. I was pleased, nonetheless, to read something that Swaim said in the column that ran in The Journal on January 29, 2024. Swaim's column was tiitled, "How ‘Our Democracy’ Became Undemocratic," The column contained the following observations: 

The word “democracy” doesn’t appear in the Gettysburg Address, but that document contains the finest definition of the term, taking it in its general sense, ever enunciated. Lincoln expressed the hope “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Democracy, if it’s to mean anything, has to include all three of these components.

Government “of” the people: The people own the government and, acting collectively and according to rules, may shake it up and change its policies when they wish. Government “by” the people: Ordinary citizens staff it and guide its decisions. Government “for” the people: Its policies are meant to benefit the citizenry as a whole.

The trouble with progressive thought—both in the early-20th-century and the 21st-century senses of that term—and with the way progressives speak of “democracy,” is that they ignore the first two parts of Lincoln’s formulation and care only about the third. Government, in the progressive view, ought to benefit the people. But it has to resist their crazy impulses, and it’s necessarily composed of credentialed experts empowered to overrule the people when they act against their own interests.

I agree with Swaim that Lincoln's Gettysburg Address includes the "finest definition" of what "democracy" is all about - or ought to be all about. Swaim, however, wants his readers to believe that "progressives" have a flawed idea about "democracy," implying that "non-progressives," like the "conservative" or "neo-liberal" groups and individuals favored by The Wall Street Journal, do not make the same mistake.

This is simply not a fair way to present the issue. Many people and groups don't understand the very important point that Swaim's column makes. Genuine "democracy" demands that we, ordinary citizens, be actively engaged in governmental decision making. 

The main political contest, today, is between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Each party wants to seize the levers of political and governmental power to serve the interests that it represents. Probably a little unfairly, I would characterize the Democratic Party-Republican Party debate as a contest between a party that represents "the people" (the Democratic Party) and a party that represents the "plutocrats" (the Republican Party). 

However you want to define the difference between "Democrats" and "Republicans," neither of the two major parties is demanding a government "by the people" as a main objective, and as an essential component of any system that wants to call itself a "democracy." That means that even a party that claims to be representing "the people," ends up representing various "elites" that are not, actually, "the people" at all.

If you want to find an advocate for government "by" the people - and I think "self-government" is what we should be aiming for, even more than "democracy" - you should search out random bloggers, like yours truly. 

Click the following link to review just one of my many statements in this blog about returning to the kind of government so wonderfully described by Abraham Lincoln: 

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