Friday, December 10, 2004

Pure Ideas Seldom Work

Andrew Sullivan gives a quick tally of expanding marriage rights around the world. His post touches on how the canadian developments are happening without judicial interference, and he takes on David Frum about whether their process is "democratic". Andrew concedes that sometimes good things happen in ways that are not democratic, ie Brown vs. Board of Education.

To say that something is good only if it was decided democratically is dangerous. It places the definition of good onto the process as opposed to the result. As Andrew implies, school desegregation was a good thing, yet it might not have happened to this day had the Supreme Court stepped in said that it was unconstitutional.

A couple of years ago I was a regular haunter of The Fray message boards over at Slate, where I used the screen name of Synthesist. I got into a running argument over whether the make-it-up-as-you-go-along culture of Los Angeles was a good thing or beneath disdain. I took the pro, and another guy took the con. His argument was that LA's "culture" was so mutagenic that nothing was kept long enough for authenticity to develop. I took the position that the lack of a deep history allowed LA to be a true cultural laboratory where ideas that didn't work could be discarded without the inertia of tradition.

Toward the end of the argument he went ad hominem and pointed to my screen name as proof of my disdain for any lasting value, that I prefered the synthetic to the authentic. He missed the point I was trying to make of the way I come to ideas, namely Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis. (I think that was Hegel, but I'm not sure. The danger of being a part-time philosopher.) An idea, Thesis, is proposed, and a competing idea or negation, Antithesis, arised to challenge it. Finally, the best parts of both ideas are brought together to create a new idea, Synthesis. The Synthesis, being a new idea becomes the new thesis, and the process begins anew.

The Founding Fathers did not trust pure democracy. Hence we have the representative framework. They also added a touch of autocracy to the process. The Supreme Court was to either say No to an idea in light of the Constitution, or allow it by their silence. I do think that anything beyond a strict interpretation would invite the court to overstep its bounds, and the Court has come up with some real howlers over the years. If the Constitution is a contract between the Government and the People, however, then someone has to arbitrate and keep both sides within its strictures.

Democracy is the voice of the People. But if the People are bound by the Constitution, then their actions may be judged unconstitutional as well. And I wouldn't have it any other way, thank you very much.

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