I read that John Adams said, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
It will be 227 years on December 15 since the Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution of the United States. It has been 242 years since the Declaration of Independence. It only took 15 years from declaring independence to having the completed form of the Constitution. I’m sure it felt like a long time for those original framers in those perilous, tenuous times.
In the great scheme of things, how long is 227 years in living under an agreed upon document? A blink of the eye. And so we cannot assume that our democratic republic will remain for posterity. Adam’s words are ominous and we must remain diligent.
We, perhaps, are living in the most perilous time to that agreed upon life. What fears draw us to authoritarian rule? What leads us to give up on each other? What draws us from “we the people” to the almighty “I” — when it is “I, I, I, me, me, me,” and not the “community of we”?
Have we forgotten that we are all, including Native Americans, immigrants, those who traveled thousands of miles to be here for economic, political and religious reasons — for freedom? Have we forgotten that our uniqueness in the world is our unity in diversity?
Perhaps a democracy which only emphasizes rights of individuals and not the community context in which individual rights are guaranteed, is destined to suicide. As it has been said that it takes a community to raise a child, it takes community to secure the rights of the individual. Perhaps the essential question is “How do we see ourselves as a community in diversity and not tribal, warring clans composed of angry, resentful individuals bent on the destruction of others?”
The Preamble to the Constitution is as follows: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence (sic), promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States….”
And so we see there is an emphasis on community through the words such as union, common, justice, general welfare, blessings, etc. But this appeal to our better angels is not referenced nor acted upon nearly enough by our duly elected officials some of whom sell their birthright for a pot of porridge and betray their calling as elected officials for thirty pieces of silver thus advancing the cause of plutocrats which inevitably leads to resentment by the people treated unjustly and a house with an open window for despots to fly through.
We do need to be reminded regularly and often that the collective cause is a worthy endeavor to keep in check our personal demon of selfishness that leads to resentment and eventually hate, violence and ends in self-destruction.
If we are not to commit democratic suicide, our commitment must go farther than the constitutional guarantees of rights for the individual, to a call for just the opposite (ironically), the self-sacrifice of the individual for the bond of an all-inclusive, diversified, community.
Perhaps, John Kennedy, realizing the fragility of a constitutional democracy, was getting at the essence of a mutually supportive community when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
And that assumes caring for our constitutional, democratic republic is worth holding off the despotic authoritarians who start by constantly tapping on the window much like Poe’s Raven. The narrator opens the window and the raven flies in, perches on the bust of “wisdom and reason” indicating that wisdom is overshadowed by negativity leaving the narrator to live in the raven’s shadow. That’s bad enough but depots, promising the heaven the raven denied, bash in the window at night (Kristallnacht) and destroy all in the household.
Let’s hope and pray John Adams was wrong and act on that hope and prayer to ward off those who now tap on the window and then plunder and to ward off those who come as wolves in sheep’s clothing by exercising our constitutional right of assembling for peaceful protest and, first and foremost, voting.