How We Got Here

It’s very well indeed to find an author of Chilton Williamson, Jr.’s distinction and intelligence bidding us to a discussion of democracy.  We need to have such a discussion.  And if you really want to know why we need to have it, consider the tenor of national conversation during the presidential campaign.  Take, for instance, the uproar over Mitt Romney’s secretly recorded comments concerning the 47 percent of Americans to whom Romney imputed intractability in their commitment to the existing democratic order, under which they pay no income taxes.

One couldn’t call Romney’s analysis particularly happy from the standpoint of outreach to the 47 percent.  Yet his comments, and the indignant reaction heard around the land, reeking of faux injury and thirst for partisan advantage, certainly reminded us that democracy, like the old gray mare, ain’t what she used to be.  Unless . . . wait: That might be Williamson’s point.  What democracy “used to be” was mainly, on his showing, a package of hope and inheritance, dependent for success largely on context and the character of its practitioners.  What if the old nag has come down, in our time, with spavin and the heaves?  What if, indeed, the seeds of her disintegration might have been discerned from the start, had we been sufficiently alert, with minds unnumbed...

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