Pragmatic Destruction

Greek writers, and writers coming after them for the next 2,000 years, attributed the short life and violent end of democratic governments to democracy’s infallible tendency toward demagoguery and the dispossession of the wealthy and educated by the poor and ignorant.  Tocque­ville thought democracy’s fatal weakness to be uniformity of thought and opinion, and the potential for the tyranny of the majority over the minority.  Without ever quite placing his finger on the matter, he came closer than earlier critics of democracy had done to recognizing that the fatal weakness of democratic government is pragmatism—the pragmatism inherent in the commercial society that engenders democracy and with which, in the short run, it is compatible.

Democracy is supposed to mean government by the people, yet democratic publics are never content with the process of self-government.  Almost at once, they learn to demand practical and material results from government which the government feels compelled to produce, just as a business enterprise is compelled to create those products most in demand by consumers.  The risk to democracy lies in the fact that democratic electoral pressure encourages and agrees with the natural tendency of government toward limitless power through efficiency and growth, which parallels and directly reflects an equal tendency of business enterprise toward greater economic gain and political influence through...

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