What’s up with democrats who don’t believe in the demos?

Quoting Madison or Tocqueville about how contemporary instituitions operate in 2006 has little more merit than reading sheep’s entrails.”

There’s a quote that makes a civic republican like me sit up and take notice. While Madison and Toqueville could never have imagined today’s society, they pretty much told us what would go wrong with institutions designed like our own if we let them become too majoritarian. Yet Sandy Levinson decries the small ‘r’ republican tendencies of some of his critics using, of all things, the straw man argument:

[Like] Robert Welch and the John Birch Society in the early 1960s… they vehemently opposed poltical liberals who supported the Civil Rights Movement in the name of furthering the development of American democracy.”

Excuse me sir? Has anyone ever said that you look a little like Hitler in the right light?

He calls the logic of checks and balances ‘mindless’ while decrying the Military Detention Act, and calls the actions of one elected official (Bush’s veto) less democratic than that of some others (the House and Senate.) Now look: I support stem cell research and oppose executive authority to suspend habeas corpus and define torture. But the people who agree with me lost the democratic part of the political process, and now I’m hoping that the third branch of government will help us out on the something akin to the ‘checks and balances’ model. The Supremes are a good old Madisonian institution, authorized to overturn moral stupidity like this bill when it needs to be done, by a Constitution that is admittedly suspicious of majority decision-making. I’m confused: what’s not to like?

Calling an action like Bush’s anti-democratic is like denying that the proposition, “Keanu Reeves is a talented actor” is in English. Statements that you disagree with aren’t anti-language, nor are policies that you don’t like anti-democratic. Some policies, like the suspension of habeas corpus, are anti-republican, and even anti-American. But democracy’s like Being: contra Sartre, there’s not really any nothingness around to do it harm.






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