Left-Right Populism versus American Elitism
The principal conservative argument against democracy is the claim that "the people"—ill-educated, vulnerable to mere emotion, susceptible to demagoguery—cannot be trusted. A well-governed state must depend on some kind of aristocracy to rise above such fatal weaknesses.
The flaw in that classical argument was identified by Winston Churchill in his paradoxical comment that "democracy is the worst of all systems, except for the others." History does not show that monarchies or oligarchies, to say nothing of dictatorships, are more just than democracies. Each has its flaws, which can eventually prove fatal. Sinful man cannot create a sinless society.
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James Hitchcock is Professor emeritus of History at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He and his late wife Helen have four daughters. His most recent book is the two-volume work, The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life (Princeton University Press, 2004). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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