Exploring the Social Imagination

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Threats to Constitutional Democracy ~ John Brigham


In 1984, John Brigham wrote a book called, "Civil Liberties and American Democracy." In chapter 7, Brigham writes about threats to American democracy. He states that threats to democracy in America appear to be from three sectors: the elites, the people and the experts. It is so worthwhile to read that instead of completely summarizing, short excerpts will be used.

The first threat is coming from the top - elites. Who are they? They are people who occupy the higher tiers of society because they have either money or power or prestige or they have all three.  Brigham points to them first as they are truly the ones who hold the balance of economic and military power. Among themselves they compete for more money, power and prestige which effect everyone else.

There is no open competition in this scenario and because of that there is an ever constant threat to democracy as they feel that their established order is under threat. Thus, Brigham asserts that we should always be alert to the usurpation of state power, whether it is by unaccountable private interest or under the justification of military emergency.

The second threat comes from the people. Really? Yes, really. Largely because, there is no truth in the masses as Kierkegaard noted. Such a threat comes from those who have no share in the top and what goes on up there. They lack information from the top and form groups of like mindedness because of that. Hence, no truth in the masses... The threat from the bottom should be taken seriously. It is out of alienation from the top, a feeling of hopeless and helplessness. This feeling creates the illusion (real or not) that there is something bigger and menacing that is out to get the little guy, something that wants to take his job, his family, his faith and his life.

The third threat comes from experts. Who are they? In America, Brigham firstly points out lawyers and even judges mostly influenced by elites and politicians and or including other kinds of experts: university administrators, think tank groups, foundation/association/org lobbyists, and even today- journalists that are paid to pull strings for the all the others just named.  Experts can be 'made people'; made by the elites who want to keep their position of power and thus create and control their 'experts' which can be anyone from the list above. Why would anyone allow themselves to be 'made'... to get and keep some kind of position of power and money for themselves.

We can observe these three threats underway, undermining American democracy. Yet, in order to 'really' observe that, one would have to ask was there ever any 'real/true' democracy in America to begin with - a democracy for the people and by the people? It can be doubted that there ever was but most believe that there was at some point a more real democracy having more freedom, more liberty and with that more risk. That can be agreed upon for there was a time when more freedom, more liberty and risk was necessary. It opened the West, it introduced industry, it made America great... didn't it?



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