The moral foundations of democracy
By Lloyd Williams
July 05, 2008 12:30 am— The public rarely recognizes the fact, but all human relationships are moral. That moral quality is a directproduct of humans interacting with one another; it is not something that exists independently of humanbeings. It is not something defined principally by ministers, rabbis, priests or philosophers; nor is it acommodity over which they have exclusive control. Moral qualities arise whenever individuals or groupscontact and influence one another.Most Americans associate democracy with politics, although it is a much more encompassing idea. Factuallydemocracy describes any set of relationships of any social system where the people have the opportunity toparticipate in determining social goals and influencing the identification of problems and how to solve them.The key is that the more people participate, especially with informed intelligence, the more effectivelydemocratic the system will be; conversely, the fewer people participate, especially with uninformedintelligence, the less effectively democratic the system will be.Democracy is never a finished system. It is always in process, incomplete, always in a state of change.Stability is temporary, brief; and the idea of absolute democracy is a contradiction. In interpreting democracywe often misread history, for we think we have arrived politically. After all the revolutionary war was over,independence was won, the constitution was adopted, and our "free" government was functioning. QED, we"have democracy." This is self-deceptive. The facts are what we have is an unstable, imperfect process. It isneglected by some, under attack by others. And it requires constant attention -- frequent tuning --economically, socially and politically. Nor should we forget that democracy is usually inefficient. Theuniverse is in a state of perpetual change, our solar system is in a state of perpetual change, so understandably,our world and its institutions are in a state of perpetual change. The energy devoted to readjusting changingdemocracy is necessarily inefficient. It is not a question of whether, it is only a question of degree. Onecharacteristic of political maturity is recognizing the re-adjustment process goes on ad infinitum.American democracy is sometimes self-canceling; it gets fouled-up in odd and unanticipated ways. One of these is the assumption that democracy and capitalism are synonymous, the idea that to have one we musthave the other. This argument merely serves the interests of a push and pull, grasp and acquire, society.Capitalism and democracy can function quite separately. Germany was capitalistic under Hitler althoughviolently anti-democratic; Russia under several dictators democratically elected hundreds of members to theAll Union Party Congress, the Central Committee and the Politburo although communism was anti-capitalistic. Complicating these relationships is the fact that -- if functioning with authenticity -- democracy isa moral process requiring concern for the rights of others; whereas capitalism -- if functioning according tothe canons of classical economics -- is a system that subordinates individuals to profit. This is why vestedinterests, corporate wealth and privilege can and sometimes do corrupt the democratic process.Habits of neglect are among the greatest dangers to democracy. Failure to consider emotional maturity as aprecondition for holding public office is a serious neglect -- especially in the Presidency. Recentmisjudgments in the White House during the Vietnamese War disrupted democracy and cost hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. The same emotional shortcomings caused Nixon to stumble over his owndeficient ego at Watergate. And the same kind of qualitative fumbling took place in the first decade of the21st century when the U.S. decided to maul a small country of less than 25 million people because wecoveted their petroleum and because we thought they were a threat to Israel. The absence of emotionalimmaturity in these cases was a tragedy leading to defective judgment. We failed in the latter because we didnot possess the former. There are numerous other blunders rooted in neglect. Failure to develop clear andrational objectives is serious, so we continue to stumble. We are perpetuating a society where theaccumulation of material wealth is held to be the highest good; this falls short of an elevated and rationalstandard of the good. In earlier days we bowed to the club or the sword; later we kowtowed to caesars,monarchs and dictators. Now we obsequiously kneel towealth.