Reforming our Democracy?

Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute, and writing in 2012, had this to say:

“Our democracy needs reform. We need to limit the powers we grant to our representatives, make it easier to get rid of them, and put safeguards in place to protect minorities against populist campaigns backed by parliamentary majorities. America’s founding fathers had a good stab at this, and their efforts served the country well for many decades; but even there, personal rights are being crushed by populist majorities. Changing that is not going to be easy. But getting free of servitude never is.”

It the standard introduction to some right wing ideology to which most conservatives, moderates, and liberals would agree until it is examined more closely.  To be sure, our democracy does need reform.  We do need to improve the safeguards that protect minorities.  And change is never easy.  After that, problems arise.

Mr. Butler wants to limit the powers we grant to our representatives.  Taken literally, that would mean drastic changes to the Constitution.  If, metaphorically, he meant limiting the rights and privileges we have granted to them, including, perhaps, their access to unlimited campaign funds from unknown sources, then he’s on to something that most of us could agree with.

Recent experience with far right wing ideologues confirms that protecting minorities against populist campaigns means protecting right wing ideologues, and their friends, from immigrants, people of color, homosexuals, welfare addicts, and other disruptive elements.  It also means, for many, protecting honest gun toting self appointed vigilantes from a nanny state that wants to take away their guns.

Finally, Mr. Butler is certain that the efforts of the founding fathers served the country well for many decades.  It’s hard to believe that he would harken back to the good old days of slavery, limited voting rights, robber barons, Indian genocide, suppression of women, tolerance of child labor and domestic abuse, and so forth.  Of course he doesn’t desire a return to those good old days of yore.  But there is a golden age that exists in his imagination, and I expect that is what he has in mind.  Sadly, it’s a time that never was.

I don’t know Mr. Butler, nor much about what he writes.  But I have had conversations with local friends who echo what I do know about him.  They are terrified of losing their freedom, and emotionally anxious about escaping the servitude they see as imposed on them by government.   They have some legitimate fears.  The curious thing to me is that the remedies they often espouse come close to old fashioned fascism, and they don’t seem to recognize the irony of that.

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