January 8, 2014

Democracy or Aristocracy?

I came across this video cartoon on the internet yesterday and found myself chuckling at more than one point. I hesitated to post it on my Facebook page because I was afraid it might stir up dissension among people who find themselves far removed from one another on the political spectrum. I decided to go ahead with it, however, with the caveat that I possess a fair amount of ignorance in the discipline of political science, because it offers an interesting case study in hermeneutics and critical thinking.

First, the genre of the piece should caution us against oversimplifying the issue it raises. The fact that the actors are portrayed as caricatures primes us to expect that the creator is painting the people (as well as the issues!) with a wide brush in order to make a basic point; she or he is not presenting a carefully nuanced academic argument. Just as the actors’ faces are distorted in some ways from the actual persons they represent, so also are their perspectives exaggerated and distorted to some degree.

Nevertheless, the most obvious point of the video is clear enough: Capitalism is good; socialism is bad. But it seems to me that the larger issue is not economic, but political: is government the servant of the people, or is government the Lord over the people? Put another way do we desire government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” or do we seek government “of the people, by the privileged elite, for the privileged elite? In short, is it democracy we welcome, or aristocracy?

When it comes to economic systems, both capitalism and socialism have skeletons in their respective closets. For capitalism, those skeletons include Pride and Greed; for socialism, they include Pride and Entitlement. But we must not overlook the fact that while each of these has skeletons in their closets, each of them also has some healthy bodies in their kitchens. The problem is not entirely with the systems themselves, but in the particular human shortcomings that each system incites.

When it comes to political systems, neither democracy nor aristocracy is without its problems. With aristocracies, the privileged elite more often than not have their own interests at heart, so the interests of the hoi polloi get trampled under foot; with democracies, the people of the “by the people” and “for the people” can end up being the privileged elite anyway because they have bought out the interests of the hoi polloi.

Neither democracy nor aristocracy is the best form of government, though democracies arguably have the better track record. The best form of government is actually a dictatorship! What?—hold the phone! Don’t click the hate-mail “send” button! Yes, a dictatorship—rule by a Single, All-powerful, All-loving, Everywhere-present, Entirely-fair, Overlord who alone makes and enforces laws that require all citizens to treat every single one of their compatriots (rightly understood as “sisters” and “brothers”) with the same love and respect with which He treats them. Only one candidate qualifies for this position, and by now it should be clear of whom I speak.

The most accurate label for this divine “dictatorship” is theocracy. ALL forms of human government are far from this ideal. But some forms of human government are closer to this ideal than others.

Democracy, it seems to me, offers the kind of “checks and balances” that work to restrain the selfish, self-centered interests of BOTH the powerful elite (greed) AND the powerless poor (entitlement). The legislative and judicial branches of government were instituted to prevent the selfish, self-centered interests of a single leader from wreaking abuse and destruction on the people he (or she) was elected to SERVE. That system is surely compromised when through whatever power-plays available the executive power effectively narcotizes the legislative and judicial branches of government that were intended to limit that very leader’s executive power. Left unrestrained, wonton disregard for—and active disenfranchising of—the legislative and judicial branches of government results in dictatorship. Unfortunately, because there is only one God, all other candidates for dictator leave humanity in a very frightening position indeed. And that’s my memo.

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