Democracy in an Age of Folly and Passion

In order to spurn some reflection on the state of modern democracy (not least of the contemporary American sort), I would like to submit the following for your consideration.

Democracy only works well when the citizenry is informed and is committed to wisdom and discernment. It works best when we think, research, and use our heads. But unfortunately, democracy has come to function as a mere means for manifesting our momentary desires and fears; elections (in my country at least) are less times of reflection and substance as they are times when we get to speak loudly, times when we can speak rashly before thinking rightly. (No modern presidential debate, for example, can compare to debates that took place in the early 19th century; most moderns couldn’t follow them since they were more substantive than sound-bite centered. The key American Founders were philosophers, not court jesters.) Thus, some (but by no means all) modern presidential candidates often do their best to ramp up fear and rage ahead of elections, and they often get the most press in doing so. Court jesters, with color on their face, easily garner the most attention. Folly is understandably noticeable; the problem is when it becomes electable.

At any rate, one of the great blessings of democracy is that we have the ability to get what we want. Yet, one of the great curses of democracy is that we have the ability to get what we want. What if what we want, that is, what we momentarily crave and lustfully desire, turns out to be…horrifying in the end? When diabetics let momentary cravings for ice cream become the regular ruling factor for every time they eat a meal, they soon get sick and die. So with our democracy: we will get sick and will die if, with every time we get to cast a vote, we do so based on fleeting passion.

Wisdom and prudence beg to be used; passion must never trump wisdom.

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