“THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!”
That chant has truly been making the rounds of late. Today’s example comes from the streets of New York, where a large crowd of anti-Trump protesters gathered as a couple of racially diverse grandmas gyrated awkwardly to music provided by a frat-boy wannabe trumpet player wearing a “WOKE AF” tank top.
It’s a popular chant these days on the Left; you rarely hear such chants from the Right, which generally assumes that democracy looks more like this:
That’s because there are two widely varying beliefs about democracy that currently split the country. The first mirrors the beliefs of the founders: loud, boisterous debate and popular movements must be channeled into republicanism, voting for those who can represent us best, and whose ambitions will be counteracted by other ambitions. The founders feared and hated mob politics. They were readers of Cicero, who said that “No tempest or conflagration, however great, is harder to quell than mob carried away by the novelty of power.” Alexander Hamilton summed up the founders’ notion of democracy well: “Real liberty is neither found in despotism, nor in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate goverments … if we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy.”
The second view of democracy mirrors Rousseau and the French Revolution more than the American Revolution: the mob in the streets makes the rules. No one man is better than any other; the collective rules the individual.
The Right believes in the first form of democracy; our picture of democracy is the voting booth. The Left believes in the second form; their picture of democracy is mobs in the streets, chanting and singing and wearing pussyhats.
There are two problems with mob politics. First, mobs have no correlation with democracy. Every dictatorship in history has relied on the mob. Ask Hitler or Stalin if they had trouble gathering a crowd; for that matter, ask Kim Jung Un or Vladimir Putin.
Second, the problem with mob politics is that it tends to beget mob politics. If we are to determine rightness or wrongness by crowd size, we’re likely to forego voting for marches, and likely to forego legislation for demonstration. All of which makes conflict more likely, not less: I’ve been at enough rallies and counter-rallies to know that the rule of law breaks down far more quickly when thousands of people stand opposed to one another than when they vote.
So, by all means, let’s protest. Let’s demonstrate. Let’s use our freedom of assembly to make our views heard. But let’s not pretend that the entirety of democracy is the mob in the streets. It isn’t, and it can never be.