Democracy and the United States

An exchange of e-mails about democracy and the United States

Home of the Free

"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy."

"Die when I may, I want it said of me that I plucked a weed and planted a flower wherever I thought a flower would grow."

Abraham Lincoln

Deltanet Guest Book Entry:
WWW_Page=No time to get it going yet:-(
City=Simi Valley
Country=English immigrants arrived in 1992
How is life treating you=Good!
comments=I was reading the Electronic Telegraph, an English paper, in an article about China and the Honk Kong handover. It referenced you pages on democracy in china. This lead me to the rest of your home pages.

>I am rarely impressed with things on the Web but I have felt moved by your writings.

>While I find myself in full agreement and sympathy with nearly all the views expressed in your pages I detect a detestation of America which saddens me.

>Understand, I uprooted myself and my family to come to this country and intend to naturalize. America is a truly great and unique place in the world and both are threatened with extinction by those who blindly tout this this line but when good men give up on the ideals then a very sad day will have arrived.

>America is an idea not a place. The USA is the place where the greatest efforts and closest success to making those ideas a reality occurred. Once the statists take over the US like they have in England then it will become merely quaint to discuss ideals like personal responsibility, freedom. Your right of course most people I meet here who espouse support for the ideals are usually only talking the talk and are muddleheaded. But at least you can take such people and hope to straighten them out and make the walk the walk as well. Elsewhere in the world people don't even like to talk about these ideas anymore.

>Please don't despair.....

>Cheers (the English greeting not the Boston Pub)


      Dear Terry,

      Thank you very much for your nice e-mail. Let me first apologize for the length of time it took to get back you. This tardiness owes itself to two reasons: firstly, I have been up to my ears in work and am writing a book; and secondly, I have had to think long and hard about what you said.

      I am glad you found something of interest in my webpages. I, too, have all too often been singularly unimpressed with much of what I have read on the World Wide Web. But I have been able to engage in some valuable debate with people from all over the world. It seems, as in your case, that intelligent webpages bring in intelligent readers; enriching conversation is often the happy result. This notwithstanding, there is on the World Wide Web an enormous amount of naked Pamela Anderson pictures and "X-files" excerpts, etc. and so much time is wasted plowing through garbage in search of nuggets of gold. Yet is this not also democracy in action? Most people seem to be (unfortunately so, in my humble opinion) much more interested in naked pictures of Pamela Anderson than they are in having a reasoned discourse with others about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

      I do not wish to portray a "detestation" of America in my webpages. I love my country in my own fashion, and I think this comes out in number of different places. However, I am often frustrated at what people choose to do with their freedom in the United States. I feel that in the tension between individual rights and the rights of people to walk down the street without having a gun stuck in their face, we have perhaps too much freedom here. I am not in favor of wholesale throwing out of cherished freedoms, but the law could definitely be tweaked some. Especially in some Godforsaken combat zone like the areas around downtown Los Angeles where I used to live and work. Liberty and the ability of the government to put murderers in jail should not be mutually exclusive. Yet we have managed to make the law bend so far backwards as to make unreasonable demands of the State when it comes to prosecuting violent criminals. I am sure that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson would be aghast at the American Civil Liberties Union and crime in the many parts of the United States today.

      Freedom is a double-edged sword in that an individual has the freedom to truly realize their dreams and also the freedom to screw up their lives irredeemably. They have the freedom to be gangsters without the government shooting them and dumping their bodies in some trash heap, and they have the freedom to make a good life in the richest country in the world. A person has the freedom to do almost anything that might make them happy, and the freedom to paint themself into a corner from where there is no exit. Too many people in the United States make the wrong decisions and the whole society suffers from it. With freedom always comes responsibility, and that is something too many Americans forget.

      Take, for example, those gentlemen in North Hollywood who decided last week to rob a bank and then engage the police and almost a whole neighborhood in a gunfight with automatic weapons. They wanted to leave this world like Bonnie and Clyde in a blaze of gunfire with the coppers. This, unfortunately, is a very American archetype. If democracy is an ideal, then I am often very disappointed at how some of my countrymen choose to live their lives. The thug with a gun on the corner who just gives the finger to everyone all too often thrives in a democracy, unfortunately. However, in non-democratic systems the thug with the gun is all too often the government itself. With all its defects, I truly believe what Churchill said about democracy being the "worst form of government - except for all the others." If democracy's potential has not been realized, it is the fault of individual Americans and not that of the form of government. This is because in the United States the people have so much control of the government - the people for better or for worse get the kind of government they deserve. If it be inferior, they have only themselves to blame.

      In conversations on the Internet, I have found myself to be very much a dyed-in-the-wool classical democrat. I agree partially with Samuel Huntington when he recently claimed that conflicts in the future will not be between nations but between civilizations. I have had extensive disagreements with people of the Confucist and Muslim mindset who are highly critical of democratic theory, and I firmly believe in and defend democracy as advocated by Jefferson, Montesquieu, Locke, etc. In fact, I still today find them incredibly inspiring reading - still as relevant, revolutionary, and life-affirming as ever, in my opinion. Not everyone in the world does, I have discovered. I believe with all my heart in the power of the people to govern themselves in peace and wisdom, and I share the optimism of the aforementioned Enlightenment thinkers with regards to the possibilities of liberty, freedom and the brotherhood of man.

      I also believe in the power of the Internet and the World Wide Web to help foster these ideas in places of the world where they are as of yet not practiced. This is one of the reasons why I went to the trouble of putting up my webpage. Perhaps others can catch the spirit of my passion, and maybe some of my love for literature, learning, freedom, and democracy might be contagious. There is nothing more central to a democracy than the free flow of information. It is exactly this aspect of the Internet which scares tyrants and spy-governments everywhere. And with good reason. People thinking critically for themselves and arriving at their own independent opinions are a threat to a totalitarian government. That is why they so often put such people in jails.

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

James Madison
from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822

      I honestly believe that every person who in good faith sits down and reads the offerings on my "Thoughts Worth Thinking" page - whether they be about democracy in China, Russia, Serbia, or "The Song of Democracy" by Walt Whitman, or heroes such as Miguel de Unamuno, Amy Biel, Manuel de Dios Unanue, etc. - will come to love learning, knowledge, America, liberty, and freedom in their hearts more. It is in the beliefs and convictions of ordinary men such as you and I that democracy either derives or fails to derive its considerable strength. As Adlai E. Stevenson accurately, in my opinion, stated almost 50 years ago, "Democracy cannot be answered by supermen, but only by the unswerving devotion and goodness of millions of little men." My webpage is my own small contribution as a "little man" who in his heart believes in America as the "last greatest hope of mankind." I believe this even in this imperfect world and even when the flawed United States of America fails to live up to her ideals. You are absolutely correct when you say that America is an ideal and not a place.

      If I at times sound very frustrated with the imperfect reality of the "experiment" of democracy in America, it is precisely because I had (and still have) such high hopes for it. I would not trade it for some other government in this world. A retiring-bookish-type in the United States, I fear I might be transformed into a dissident-in-jail-type in a place like Singapore or Syria. In fact, I went to Catholic school for one year and that is pretty much what happened to me there.

      The world is watching us to see which way this experiment pans out here in America, and in places like China we are upheld as something to aspire to by many. This fact only becomes more important as technology and travel make the world a smaller place everyday. If the United States were not so important in both the good and the bad, this country would hardly be the focus of so much criticism and praise. The world is watching.

      I wish both you and your family good luck in the future as fellow citizens of the United States of America. And I thank you for your insightful e-mail which provokes me to think and re-affirm what I believe in.

      Very Truly Yours,

      Richard Geib

"The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog."
G. K. Chesterton
Broadcast talk 6-11-35

The American Experiment in Democracy:
200+ Years and Still Going Strong...

The United States Constitution

"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, 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 of America."

Motto of the State of New Hampshire

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