Your Nation is Going to Hell in a Handbasket

In democracy, there will always be someone who wants power badly enough to tell you just about anything.

Democracy is riddled with paradoxes.

The more confident we are in the stability of our state, the less attention we pay to our stability.

We demand our leaders persuade us with coherent argument, but we are ruthlessly critical of leaders who sound persuasive.

Even the strongest democracy is only as strong as its collective ability to ignore the next would-be demagogue.

If you visit any democracy on the planet, at any point in history, you will notice another permanent feature of self-sovereign state rule: disparagement of the ruling order. Autocrats and tyrants have the luxury of actively suppressing dissident voices, but democracies are institutions of dissidence: the only way to achieve power in a democracy is to convince enough voters that you would be a more competent leader than the present clown in office.

Criticism is a hardwired, permanent feature of democracy.

No one runs for political office on the platform that the incumbent government has superior practices and policies. Every bid for power is an inherent criticism of those who hold it. Ergo, democracies are cynical places. They have to be. There can be no democracy without skepticism and ridicule. We can’t rule ourselves without being critical of one another.

Think about it for a moment: in a democracy, there will always be someone trying to convince you that the currently elected leaders are ignoring your interests or treating you like crap.

Even at the height of prosperity and peace, you can be guaranteed that there will be someone insisting that your country is being mismanaged, led into decline, or disintegrating into a mire of corruption. You will always hear a voice of protest. As long as someone else wants power, someone is crying foul.

A curriculum for democratic literacy, then, must include a critical piece of training: how do you determine whether or not your nation is really going to hell in a hand basket? Rest assured: for as long as you live in a democracy, no matter what side of the ‘political spectrum’ you setup your tent, you will live amidst people who have strong ulterior motives for convincing you the end is nigh.

Perhaps this is yet another great paradox of democracy: the more citizens, by percentage, who can be persuaded of an impending calamity through a groundless, reproachful lampooning of the present government, the closer calamity itself inches.

Be critical of the critical, too.

Cite this page:
Shelley, James. (2017[2016]). 'Your Nation is Going to Hell in a Handbasket' Originally published on June 30, 2016. Cited version last modified on October 31, 2017. Accessed on December 3, 2020. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permalink:
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