3 min read

Our Culture, Democracy and a Country Song

Our Culture, Democracy and a Country Song
Photo by Sean Foster / Unsplash

By now we've all seen the song by the young, red-bearded man about being a man in America. For those who haven't:

This song is a perfect example of a lament that will stay a lament until people realize the momentous nature of the change necessary to realign our politics in such a way to give this young man real political power and representation.

We love to delude ourselves into believing true political representation exists in a country of 350+ million people with funny words like "democracy," but what people forget is scale.

Democracy literally cannot exist at a scale of 350 million people. It couldn't exist at a scale of the several million who founded this nation, and for that reason the founders rejected democracy and preferred instead a sort of "mixed regime."

This "mixed regime" was not necessarily similar to Rome's in that the central government had elements of all three, but it split up representation into various levels.

Tocqueville eloquently describes the real foundation of American democratic politics: the township. Rule was thick and local - many laws, from laws governing worship to basic torts - were decided at the level of the township, using, essentially the idea of subsidiarity.

Subsidiarity means leaving decisions to the smallest group capable of handling them. So, most decisions were taken at the level of the township, with about 3000 members and true democracy - town meetings and policy suggestions and votes directly from the people.

This system literally cannot exist beyond a few thousand people. We move from democracy - rule by the people themselves - to a mitigated form of aristocracy: representation.

But representation also has its limits.

One man cannot truly represent tens or hundreds of thousands of people. Representation becomes a farce at that level. So, what began as reasonable aristocracy, limited by the will of people actually aware of their needs and interests and in a relatively homogenous society became a protected class representing blocks of voters.

Even if Raytheon, Google and Amazon didn't exist, there would be no way to represent this young man, because in his district or in districts under the same decision-making umbrella there are inner city blacks looking for a check, and democrat politicians looking for a vote.

True representation demands a level of homogeneity much deeper and larger than even Carl Schmitt recognized when he noted that for a democratic vote to retain legitimacy it must not erase the opposition.

True representation demands a similarity in life-situations, in interests, in wants and in needs. This can *only* happen in a situation of small-scale decision making.

This brings me to the crux of the issue, which I understood with the help of @_kruptos and his discussions of "technique" and Jaques Ellul.

Centralized decision making is efficient. It is a technique of governance that allows for enormous economic gains, when looking at the system as a whole. So red-bearded hicks in Appalachia get fucked? Who cares. The system is more efficient.

Of course, some inefficiencies of scale exist, like crony capitalism, but overall - the management of society is much smoother when political systems are larger.

So, really, the issue is all of us. We may have to give up some of our daily comforts if we truly want to return to a situation in which people like this can receive the political life they pine for - as humans are wont to do.

But this won't happen until a true inflection point. Until people feel truly threatened or until the system collapses under its own weight - which the systematic risks concomitant with large systems promise will happen.

We won't go to bat for what we think we believe in because we don't actually understand what that means. We don't actually really believe in it. We can't imagine or don't understand what political change will bring. But facing that is the first step in taking back our culture.

[My promised post on Faith and Reason will, God willing, be published soon. Time and current events dictated this particular post.]