A few weeks ago I came upon the end of an interview on public radio with a fellow discussing the meaning of Barack Obama's ascension to the Presidency. He was a spokesperson for a liberal Christian denomination, and mentioned something about the "nation's soul."
The nation's soul. It made me wonder, how can nations have souls?
I'm not blaming this person for using the cliche. Indeed, many Christians may believe that nations have "souls," hearkening back to the Old Testament and God's apparent desire to bless and punish not just indiviudals, but nations.
So I won't question why religoius believers would embrace the concept. But I have to wonder about non-believers.
Over the past three years or so, atheism became prominent again with best-selling books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. I haven't read them and won't judge them. But I will say that there are other kinds of religious faith that have nothing to do with belief in God.
After all, if "God" is just an idea that nobody can prove really exists, the same could be said of the soul and the conscience. To believe that either the soul or the conscience actually exists, or that there is objective Right and Wrong, is to make a religious statement, that is, an statement of faith unbacked by science or reason. If science can't singularly identify that something which makes us feel good and bad, then all reasonable atheists must agree that it doesn't really exist, just as they believe God doesn't exist. If we are not to believe in God, so it is we should not believe in a conscience or a soul, and if we are offended by a politician who mentions God, we should be equally offended by politicians who speak of souls and consciences, especially those who talk about the "nation's" conscience or soul.
Yet, there are many people who reject the existence of God but embrace politics as a form of salvation. Specifically, they embrace Democracy. And what they mean by Democracy is not town-hall assemblies, petitions, or referenda. They mean, rather, representative democracy: voting for legislators and executives in large, populous districts.
And they will claim that this is necessary to prevent a) mob rule, and b) "anarchy" (by which they mean, chaos).
And then they will express hope that this "democracy" will fulfill our nation's "ideals" provided the right people are elected.
The premise they embrace is beyond foolish. It is existential confusion at the core: people mock those who believe the Universe has a Creator - a premise they can not disprove - and then they turn around and place faith in Democracy, even though it is plain common sense to say that Democracy does not work, and, moreover, can not work.
Sure, there are people who remember what it was like in the 1950's when the post-New Deal bi-partisan consensus in favor of Big Government was working swimmingly and the American people reached a standard of living unheard-of in history. They think that if it worked then, it could work again. They think we just need that caliber of statesman again, in the White House, Cabinet, and Congress.
What they don't consider is how America got to that position. It was through World War II, which killed the British Empire and which, for a generation, destroyed every economic competitor the U.S. may have faced. The world had to "buy American" for lack of options. And before World War II, democracy in America wasn't exactly working. There was the Depression, which no amount of government spending and regulation could fix. Before that, there was Prohibition, a singularly unwise policy with enough popular support to the get Constitution amended.
Yes, when America was economically dominant throughout the world, it seemed that we could afford Big Government. But Big Government's last real accomplishment was the Clean Air Act of the early 1970's. Since then, no new big ideas have been implemented, just tweaks of existing programs. And the reason is, as other countries got back on their feet and became competitive, America's "share" in the global "market" dwindled. We could no longer afford major expansions of Big Government.
So those who are nostalgic for the mirage of 1946-72 deserve a wake-up call. Even if we accept the argument that Government "worked" back then, it certainly hasn't since. And not because the character of the people or the politicians have deteriorated, but because we lost the economic advantage that made politicians of that era look good.
Democracy, and the Big Government that Democracy is supposed to run, can't work for a simple reason that the blogger "ka1igu1a" identified several months ago: "If you propose the State is necessary to serve as an equalizing force to balance out the strong (oppressor class) vs the weak (oppressed class), then it would be self-evident that this so-called Strong would naturally be the most adept at using the State to regain/retain it's advantage." That is, the wealthy and powerful in anarchy will be even more strong and powerful in a State. If in a system of completely voluntary exchanges (that is, a free market), the weak will be duped and exploited, then they will even more likely be duped when they go to vote. Democracy can't and won't "control" greedy, powerful interests. Rather, democracy will be controlled by those very interests.
If you have the gift of increasing your wealth and power through con games and deceit, it is to your advantage to shield your behavior with legal privileges and protections. The strong and the smart will use the political process to protect their interests, and will use their wealth and media influence to deceptively persuade the masses that they are looking out for little guy. And that's what the State is: a protection racket where the strong oppresses the weak, with the consent of the weak.
What is most distressing is that so many people, including those who think they are wise enough to reject religion, still cling to Democracy. They still cling to the State. They fail to realize that the very same form of Reason that would reject faith in a Creator must also reject faith in abstract ideals. It must reject collectivism as irrational. For plain, unvarnished Reason that excludes all religion must realize that one's own will is the only thing in the world of real value, and is the only thing worth defending. In the absence of God, there is only individualism. One who rejects God but then embraces any form of Statism or collectivism at all is a fool or worse.
Next week, I will explain why devout religous believers should also reject all forms of Statism and coerced collectivism.