Rhetoric riles with paranoia, conspiracy theory

It is a pleasure to see Phil Abbott (Letters, Pine River Times, April 13), and in his wake, Wendy Cox (Letters, Herald, May 1), regale us with their pristine vision of how life on this planet should be. However entertaining, their attempts to brow-beat us into believing that “democracy sucks” bears some scrutiny.

To start with, “republic.” Ever since Rome initiated its fragile “respublica” – “the people’s business” – and then dumped it rudely with the advent of Julius Caesar, the accepted meaning of “republic” has been “a non-hereditary government by the people.” The concept of “rule of law” is quite independent of that, as is “rule of mob.” Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were staunch Republicans who substituted mob violence for the rule of Law. And the current constitutional monarchies in Britain, Holland, Sweden, Luxemburg and Spain are shining examples of how rule of law can be de-coupled from republicanism.

Likewise, ever since the Greeks embarked upon their short-lived experiment in democracy, the term has meant the extension of political rights beyond the confines of a small, powerful, privileged minority. To redefine democracy as “rule of mob” is an abuse of history, current affairs and plain language. I know no good example of a lasting democracy that was not founded on the rule of law and constitutional guarantees. What else would prevent the powerful and privileged from exercising their power and privilege absolutely?

Neither republics nor democracies nor monarchies are immune from demagoguery, populism and mob violence. Alas, no known form of governance has transcended human nature.

Robespierre, a staunch French Republican, was a rabble-rousing demagogue. Hitler’s Nazi depredations followed a Democratic election in a Republic. And mob violence is well-documented in this great Republic and is occasionally still advocated by hot-heads on both right and left. Here Abbott’s dedication to the rule of law and constitutional government is right on.

But his righteous zeal needs to be tempered with a dose of caution against those who would sell us simplistic solutions to complex problems – and then rile us with paranoid fantasies and conspiracy theories.

Tom Givón


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