Professor Gottfried has a post up at the UNZ review on the extension of the franchise over time and its dolorous effects on liberty and good government. This is my comment.
The ever wider granting of the franchise took a while. It is hard to see how it can be withdrawn, even piecemeal. Of course, far too many people vote.
The over extension of the franchise was due to the accumulating effects of the spirit of the age. A great treatise could be written on this. Suffice it to say that the spirit of egalitarianism provided a momentum that once begun, could not be stopped. Those who remember when they didn’t have the vote are in a poor position to deny it to others.
I think a culprit in this slide into mass democracy is the simple tendency of people living in large complex societies to forget that such societies are mortal. One might say that most of us are not citizens so much as inhabitants of our country. They become obsessed with issues of fairness to the exclusion of any need for systemic function. Indeed, the idea of the nation as a functioning system that must prosper in an unfair world hardly exists now. We undertake wars we cannot pay for in order to extend Democracy to people who don’t know what it means. We expand our welfare system without taking account of its bankruptcy.
The founders wanted a natural aristocracy to man the government. They wanted this because they lived in a compact and simple enough society to see that yeomen farmers and laborers had little practical experience of the wider world. They could not be expected to vote for the common good since they had not the information to do so. The founders reasoned that successful, wealthy stakeholders would have more information while understanding their fate was tied to the common wheel.
Today voters are no longer even expected to vote for the common good. They are understood to vote for their own narrow interests. These have nothing to do with the orderly, efficient management of the nation. Democracy in America consists of professional politicians conning ignorant or venal voters into voting for them in the deluded belief that they are serving themselves. Of course they only serve to promote the agendas of the politicians.
American’s belief in Democracy approaches our former belief in God. The extension of mass Democracy is seem as the cure for all ills. Showing that Democracy causes said ills is the great taboo. If we didn’t have mass Democracy to believe in, we would be forced to see how little we have in common. The impulse to constrain popular tyranny can only exist in a society with a strong culture that deeply values particularity and tradition. That is no longer us.
I don’t think there is a conservative cure of this. As we enter the age of oligarchs like Soros, Adelson, Zuckerburg and Gates we will see a reprise of the Late Roman Republic. Democratic politics will become a meaningless plaything of the big men, their money and their factions until the whole edifice falls down and a authoritarian new order takes its place.