...Both the literal and the merely figurative mobs clamoring for justice against Zimmerman are in important respects asking for the same thing. Sure, the lynch mobs want Zimmerman dead, while those pushing for a federal case just want him locked up -- an important distinction to be sure. But they both want to reject the findings of a court of law and a duly appointed jury because they do not like the result. In this, both are manifestations of arbitrary power, the bane of conservatives since Edmund Burke. Arbitrary power is the exercise of force for grievances found neither in law nor reason. It is the marshaling of violence to remedy resentment and justify caprice.
Because we are drenched in the language of democracy, we tend to think that the will of the crowd has legitimacy simply by virtue of numbers. But numbers alone do not a reasonable argument make. As I wrote back in 2006:
George Zimmerman leaves court with his family. Credit: Wiki Commons
Goldberg's article dovetails nicely with the following video, which explains the difference between a democracy and a republic, and from where the title of this post -- "The Founding Fathers Did Everything They Could to Keep us From Having a Democracy" -- is taken:Politics has a math of its own. Whereas a scientifically minded person might see things this way: One person who says 2+2=5 is an idiot; two people who think 2+2=5 are two idiots; and a million people who think 2+2=5 are a whole lot of idiots -- political math works differently. Let's work backwards: if a million people think 2+2=5, then they are not a million idiots, but a "constituency." If they are growing in number, they are also a "movement." And, if you were not only the first person to proclaim 2+2=5, but you were the first to persuade others, then you, my friend, are not an idiot, but a visionary.
Arbitrary power is the same whether it comes from a monarch or a mob. Indeed, they are very often the same thing...
In that 2006 article, Goldberg goes on to write:
in its purest form democracy allows for 51 percent of the people to pee in the cornflakes of 49 percent of the people whenever they so choose. The American constitutional order, on the other hand, recognizes democracy as a qualified good, necessarily tempered by republican and constitutional safeguards. As the heirs to classical liberalism, American conservatives in particular have long emphasized the importance of individual rights even when they come at the expense of what “the people” want.And that is what is playing out now in the response to the Zimmerman verdict.
Historically, populism greets such arguments, and those who make them, and smashes both with a rock, sometimes rhetorically, sometimes quite literally. Most populist movements have contempt for mechanisms which dilute or delay people power.
Unfortunately, politicians and leaders -- from Obama on down -- are joining the populists.
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