Saturday, October 2, 2010

Re: Democracy in America?

A few years ago, HBO created a great series on Caesar's rise and the civil wars that followed called Rome. It was remarkably well done for a historical fiction, depicting the life of average Romans very well. In the episode Triumph, one of the main characters, Vorenus, is running for office as a magistrate of Rome and Caesar's slave Posca is helping Vorenus to learn the ropes of politics. Slow to comprehend complex laws, Vorenus suggests such learning can wait after the election since it was distinctly possible he might lose. Posca lets Vorenus know the election is effectively rigged and Caesar's man Vorenus is not going to lose. Understandably, Vorenus is upset; this is a perversion of democracy, but Posca points out a chilling thought: the people are crying for bread and stability, not clean elections.

I bring this up because I am just finishing up covering Napoleon with my 10th graders. In an assignment, I had the students write a paragraph asking whether they would vote to give Napoleon absolute power in a plebiscite. While Napoleon was never that blunt about things, he did hold numerous plebiscites to legitimize his power grabs which eventually lead him to become an authoritarian ruler. Every single class voted in a similar manner as the French people did: in favor of a dictator, so long as they believe that dictator will bring peace, justice, and tranquility or glory. The final count was 30-13.

Most of the supporters mentioned an increase in equality of citizens, price control, and the need for a strong government to preserve the peace. Most of the dissenters opposed the notion of having an all powerful king, especially since France had just suffered a revolution to remove an absolute monarch.

These students will be voting in the next presidential election. While I would not extrapolate the attitudes of one small section of 10th graders from this one district to prove this rule, I think history does provide many, many examples of citizens voluntarily (and often enthusiastically) approving power grabs by individuals promising stability away from democratic bickering, price controls to threaten the upper classes, and increased equality. Rarely, if ever, have those power grabs turned out well for the people in the long run.

No comments:

Post a Comment