Is it democratic when the people reject democracy? This paradox strikes at the heart of the defining principle of democracy, self-determination. Because self-determination gives the people complete freedom, its expression is unpredictable. There is no guarantee the gift of democracy will become self-sustaining. On the contrary, the people can reject the process itself. This phenomenon brings about a collapse or an implosion. There is no future choice because their freedom is given away to a new system out of their control.
There is a fragility in democracy. Its success is built on a political process. Public policy is less relevant than the process used to enact those policies. But political ideals are based on public policies rather than the political process. Political polarization has established a premium on those who form principles out of their policy preferences. Compromise is always difficult. But those who compromise their principles are unprincipled.
Former Congressman Ron Paul was known as Dr. No. His Libertarian principles did not allow him to compromise on legislation that expanded the role of government. His principles were influenced by the philosophy of Ayn Rand. She established a moral philosophy based on the deontological ethical theory of Immanuel Kant. She took his categorical imperative to argue against the redistribution of wealth. She warned socialists, “The end does not justify the means.” She saw the economic philosophies of socialism and communism as using the ends to justify the means. This approach becomes a philosophical trap where moral atrocities become justified to accomplish a utopian vision.
The irony to Rand’s approach is she focused on policy, but never developed a political process. Instead, she implies any means are appropriate to bring about her capitalistic vision. Any political means become appropriate to accomplish her political ends. Ron Paul (and other Libertarians) fall into this same trap. How far will they go to bring about their agenda? Would they set aside the constitution to bring about their utopic vision? Will they oppose the tyrant who puts in place a Libertarian political agenda?
Ron Paul worked around these tendencies through a strict interpretation of the constitution. Rather than reject policies based solely on ideology, he would attack proposals as unconstitutional. This legalistic argument allowed him to avoid the unsettling consequences of his ideological commitments. But his principles were never based on the political process. He used the constitution to justify his policy positions. His violent opposition to the income tax demonstrated his policies did not change even when the constitution was amended to give explicit powers to the government.
The current political climate has many principled politicians. Both liberals and conservatives have unwavering political positions. Political policy is grounded in political principles that make compromise somewhere between difficult to impossible. How far will people go to defend their principles? It is easy to say no or vote against the legislation of a competing political party. But will they go farther? Will they put their principles to the test? Will they violate the constitution to defend the environment? Will they take up arms to oppose a minor marginal tax rate increase?
Amidst all these principled politicians so few have committed democratic principles. Ted Cruz considers himself a constitutional scholar. Yet he suggested the Senate could reject every Supreme Court nominee until the Republicans controlled the Presidency. This interpretation fails to respect the spirit of the law. It weaponizes the constitution. This approach is so irresponsible it gambles our entire political system on a Supreme Court nomination.
Democracy is built on a paradox. It provides a process for creating political policies and laws. It allows people to focus on political policy because they have inherited the freedom to choose their political destiny. But the entire political system depends on a commitment to the democratic process. We cannot abandon political principles. But we must reorient them towards a political process. Democracy depends on a principle of process, not policy.
jmk, carmel, indiana, firstname.lastname@example.org