DOUBTS OF MY OWN
There are those, such as sociologists Peter Berger (right) and Anton Zijderveld (left), who write odes of praise to "liberal democracy." They assert that its values "can legitimately claim universal authority." They applaud "uncoerced elections, governments changing as a result of elections, [and] the right of citizens to organize in order to compete electorally . . . ." Their recent book, In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic, from which I quote, comprises their attempt to chart a course between the extremes of relativism (anything and everything as truth) and fundamentalism (the absolute truth identified with a particular ideology). The authors favor deliberative doubt and the politics of moderation. Pardon me for laughing, but here are co-pastors attempting to convert the choir. The vast preponderance of their readership – those in academe – proudly style themselves "doubters" and, for this reason, as reasonable (I'm tempted to say, "absolute") opponents of "barbarities" such as torture and capital punishment. The book is best understood as a "window-dressing pep talk," addressed to the academic community, rather than as a daring, meticulously reasoned analysis of doubt, moral decision-making, and liberal democracy.
I find it amusing that academic elites who praise liberal democracy are so often mum about the fact that the legislative "reforms" they support become law in spite of what the people themselves desire. The majority of the American people did not want healthcare reform à la Barack Obama. That is a fact. Yet their elected representatives still supported it, with assurances from Mr. Obama that, if citizens take revenge at the ballot box in 2010, he will be sure to remember the scorned officials for appointments to cushy ambassadorships, judgeships, and other jobs. Does liberal democracy entail flouting the will of the majority? Does it include providing officials who do so with a golden parachute at public expense?
Let me invoke another case in point. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson enacted "immigration reform." The American people were assured at that time that the days of massive immigration were over and that the fabric of American culture would remain intact. Thanks to loopholes in the Immigration Reform Act, residents of the third world began pouring into this country by the millions! They have tended to settle in large enclaves, while retaining their own respective cultures. Nothing of significance has ever been done to resist this overwhelming onslaught. Even illegal immigrants enjoy asylum in certain American cities, and partake of social services intended for citizens. One wonders what part "liberal democracy" has played in all this? When did deception and fraud become integral elements of it? Why have elected officials not taken steps to correct the misstatements which induced passage of LBJ's Act? Why have our senators and congressmen not attempted to correct the unfortunate outcomes of this legislative travesty? Would somebody explain to me why those who support liberal democracy are not righteously indignant?
One final point. America is now a country where, in many quarters, one does not hear a word of English spoken. It is not unusual to see restaurant menus written in both English and Spanish. When one buys a carton of milk, on the reverse side appears the word "Leche." Why? When was there a national plebiscite on whether Spanish is to have equal billing with English? Is this a result of our liberal democracy?
It would be refreshing to witness a groundswell in academic life, whereby professors and students deplore the undemocratic implementation of "reforms." In the meantime, we will, I suppose, have to be content with academic works on the salubrious benefits of doubt and liberal democracy. God help us.
It is easy to discourse in glowing terms about freedom. It is quite the thing to express moral outrage about such subjects as torture and the death penalty. It is acceptable, especially for professors, to equate "doubt" with the constructive process of moral deliberation. But what about honoring those who doubt the moral vision and vigor of professors and other societal elites? What about those who are inclined to believe that many of the proponents of liberal democracy are contemptible hypocrites? What about those who, after reading, researching, and analyzing one political perspective after another, subjecting them all to the "yes" and "no" of dialectical reasoning, conclude that "the politics of moderation," which Messrs. Berger and Zijderveld espouse, is nothing but clever code language describing the political position of a typical academic liberal?
Our two authors have, without the slightest hint of embarrassment, addressed questions that few, if any, in the western world are even asking. Most intellectuals, I dare say, believe in free expression and democracy. There's nothing, shall we say, current or groundbreaking about these ideas. I would respectfully submit that there are far more deserving questions for academics to answer. Some of them are as follows: (1) how can America, as the capstone of western civilization, continue to hold itself out as a liberal democracy when its elected representatives ignore the popular will? (2) if the American people are so unenlightened as to continue being undermined in the manner of dumb sheep, how can liberal democracy work here? and (3) if liberal democracy cannot work here, then why is it good?
March 26, 2010