Tuesday, July 04, 2006

As I sit here, listening to fireworks go off somewhere in my town, I find it necessary to pause and reflect on the true goodness of the democratic enterprise. In the wretched ignorance of my more youthful days, I would sometimes despair of the apparent arrogance which seemed to pervade the American conception of democracy. Indeed, it seemed to me to be nothing more than self-flattering drivel to celebrate a system of government which could become as equally corrupt as others. While I am thoroughly ashamed of this view on my part, I must say that I am also glad that the past few years of my life have washed this rebellious strain of thought from me.

The true goodness of democracy dawned on me when I realized that it holds within it a true affirmation of the power of liberty and free-choice. This thought has grown on me by means of influences both liberal and conservative. The liberals who rail over the imposition of the government on their choices speak a truth. It is often a danger of conservativism that it can ossify a country and, even worse, trap it in upon itself. However, the danger of extreme liberalism is that it too can deprive freedom to people, trying often to justify all actions or force control by means of over-zealous governmental regulation. Now, the point of this is not that liberals or conservatives are bad or good. I find that it is impossible to pin such titles on either group. G.K. Chesterton would say that it is impossible to find a good path of progress in either alone, for the only way to have a sure plan is to have planned it from experience, that is that true progress must be conservative also. We will not discuss this right now, although maybe it will come up at some later time. The essence of what I am saying here is that in this very protracted example, both groups hit upon an essential truth: That the human being is indeed free and must be able to make choices as such.

Of course, such freedom has its limits and any just society must protect the freedoms of all of its members, no matter how frail. Freedom does not stand against freedom but instead for it. Free will must be aimed at the unity of individuals and not the destruction of the bonds of true, unitive love. For this reason, laws exist to ensure that freedom may not be squashed by its own weight when misused. However, I have digressed.

The democratic spirit, when exercised aright, is truly an affirmation of Christian thought. The spirit of democracy proclaims from the mountaintops that man is intrinsically able to look toward the Truth which stands outside of him. It also acknowledges that something is not exactly right with any one man, that all of mankind suffers from the effects of its own weakness and sin. In one grand swoop, the democratic ideal aims to overcome the sinfulness of man by acknowledging his capacity for the Good and for the Truth. It realizes that man can and must strive for the Truth each day. Democracy does not hold itself to perfection. It has no aspirations for perfection in this lifetime. If that were the case, we would need no leadership or we could have a ruling monarch. Instead, we turn together as brethren and consider the Truth, which is ultimately communicated to us from without and reflect upon it within. Democracy can only function by action which sets forth from this type of reflection, always working to overcome human short-sightedness by looking deeper into the depths of the Truth.

Because of this true good which exists in what we Americans (and others, of course) have in our democratic system, we celebrate our Independence Day today. May freedom be embraced, with all of its possible infirmities, and may it always be aimed toward the unity of freedoms, ultimately by means of unity with Him who freely creates freedoms out of a true ontological love.


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