democracy

Race, Global Warming and the Experts

Last week we considered the possibility that, precisely to the extent that human equality is the most important issue facing the world, to that extent liberal democracy can claim little legitimacy. It is certainly true that liberal democracies have produced greater equality and have more successfully combated racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry than …

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The Rawls Dilemma

John Rawls, the most important political philosopher of the twentieth century, was born into a prosperous middle class family in Baltimore in 1921. He attended a private school in Connecticut and went on to Princeton. Rawls’ internal life replicated the moral trajectory of many thoughtful people in the Western world, beginning with a deep interest …

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The Stumbling March of Reason

“When the theological content of the idea [of human rights] was abandoned, nothing was put in its place.” —James Griffin, “On Human Rights” Earlier in this series of posts we revisited the Age of Enlightenment, examining the back story of the ideas that led to the creation of liberal democracy. That’s also a good place …

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How Equality Came to Challenge Freedom

“[Liberal democracy] celebrates certain values: reasonableness, conversation, compassion, tolerance, intellectual humility and optimism.” —David Brooks “Nice guys finish last.” —Leo Durocher As I noted last week, the American governmental system in particular, and most modern liberal democracies in general, were well-designed to manage the tension between the two most fundamental rights we have as citizens: …

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The Trouble With Rousseau

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” —The first line of Rousseau’s “The Social Contract” Even by the loose standards of his era, Jean-Jacques Rousseau lived a bizarre life. Rousseau’s mother died giving birth to him and he was mostly raised until his teen years by an uncle. At that point, his …

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The Practical View

“In the beginning all the world was America.” —John Locke The most important thing to understand about the Age of Enlightenment is that it contained both a practical cast of thought and a utopian cast of thought. The practical strain is associated mainly with Anglo-Saxon thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Mill and others. The …

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Has Liberal Democracy Passed Its Expiration Date?

“Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” —Winston …

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The Rest of the “Great” Democracies

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” —“The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats Last week we observed that our own mother country, the United Kingdom (redubbed the Dis-United Kingdom) is crumbling before our very eyes. But the DUK is hardly alone. Let’s take a quick look at …

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A Tour of the World’s Crumbling Democracies

“Around the world, radicalization is making coalition and consensus much harder” —Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times Last week I discussed the abdication of the political middle in the U.S. in favor of radical leftist, rightist and populist ideas. Instead of (as in the past) fringe ideas playing the role of informing public debate and …

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Why Democracy Matters

Just to make it simple, let’s define Europe’s “illiberal democracies” as those countries where elected leaders profoundly disagree with the liberal, inclusive, affluent worldview of the EU’s political classes. The British disagreed with this worldview so violently that they left the Union altogether. Most of the other “illiberal” democracies aren’t in strong enough positions to …

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The Media Has It All Wrong

I mentioned last week that I recently visited Switzerland, Austria and Hungary, and that if we think things have gone nuts in the U.S., we have no idea. The gentle Swiss, as I pointed out last week, have become enamored of right-wing, populist parties and are about to vote on a flat-out silly leftwing ballot …

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Democracy, Populism, and the Tyranny of the Experts, Part III

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. (Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part II, identifying the first step in building a better society) When I was growing up, my family not only never consulted a lawyer, I never laid eyes on one. Lawyers were completely irrelevant to the lives of almost everyone. Then, suddenly, I was …

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Democracy, Populism, and the Tyranny of the Experts

Is it better never to put your ideas in writing and thus be thought a vacuous fool, or is it better to launch your own blog and remove all doubt? To launch this series of posts with such a mouthful of a title—Democracy, Populism, and the Tyranny of the Experts (hereinafter DP&TE)—we’re going to engage in one …

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Waking Up on the Wrong Side of History, Part II

The European political elite [has developed] a habit of profound disrespect for public opinion and democratic process – John Plender in the Financial Times In my last post, on Brexit, I argued that the so-called “enlightened” Remain voters in London were, in fact, blinded by their own economic self-interest, while it was the so-called “uneducated, …

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