The Stoic Traveler

"Wherever I go, it will be well with me."

12 April 2007

Students for Ochlocratic Society

L.A.S. s.d. C.L.

As I traversed the Internet last night, I received an invitation to join the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World). On the same page, I noticed with some alarm that Students for a Democratic Society has re-emerged from its oubliette to start causing trouble again.
On the organization's Facebook page (here for those of you who have succumbed), these halcyon hearkeners and putative protesters have broken the name into its component parts: Students, Democratic, and Society, and placed them into questions following the function "what" They give "Students" a broad, inclusive definition that excludes almost no one with even a modicum of intellectual curiostiy. Likewise, "Society" is more than "communities, cities, or nations;" it is the fabled brotherhood of man, a cosmopolis if you will. Putting it all together, they claim to be a teaching/activism movement that aspires to put democracy into all aspects of society.
Leaving aside the confused conflation of society and government, SDS's conception of democracy is fundamentally flawed. They say democracy is self-rule; that it is a continued evaluation of events and policies and engagement in politics.
I'm not sure it's possible to be more wrong.
Democracy, first and foremost, is a system of government; it is not a system of social interaction. What they call a democratic society is anarchy, plain and simple. Second, democracy does not mean self-rule, except on the national level. Here's why: democracy is, literally, rule by the people. That is to say, power for directing affairs rests with the citizens. Historically, this system of government has only functioned in very small communities, with very limited franchises. Moreover, the communities that have adopted this form of government have also adopted very stringent moral codes along with it. Indeed, democracy requires that the citizens have no concerns, or very few concerns, apart from the running of the state. This was true in Athens, was true in Geneva, was true in Rome. It means, essentially, that there must be a productive class, in the ancient world a slave class, that allows the luxury of government to a non-producing class. Essentially, the further one gets from the national level of government, the less self-government actually exists. It becomes not self-rule but rule by others.
All democracies function on a majoritarian principle. Except in the rare cases of unanimity, even the largest majorities entail minorities. These minorities, under a democratic system, really have no means of redress. They have no protections, save the good will of the majority. These democracies can, and frequently do, devolve rapidly into ochlocracies, or rule by the vagaries of the mob.
The great mass of mankind has no interest in politics; they are occupied with their own affairs, trying to make their livings and improve their lots. SDS would force them away from their affairs and into the workings of government. Not only that, but they would sacrifice good order and reasoned policies in favor of a mob rule. What we currently have in the West is not perfect, but it provides the opportunity still for real self-government. Pay attention to your own affairs, mind not the affairs of others.