The Pew Research Center reported yesterday that the voters of 29 states have already approved bans on same-sex marriage.
For me, this observation highlights the absurdity of the naïve apotheosis of populism and democratic institutions that constitutes a core element of the contemporary Western zeitgeist. We tend to take for granted that democracy is something intrinsically good, an assumption that gives strength to the growing scorn we see in our society for “elitism” or any other movement that threatens to usurp the will of the people. We Americans seem to invariably forget that, while democratic institutions may sculpt our society in accord with the will of the people, this in no way implies that the people’s vision of a perfect society is something we should wish to see given form. Democracy does indeed give power to the people, but it does not and can never give the people the moral integrity to put that power to proper use.
Indeed, if the age-old adage that “power corrupts” is true, then democracy might even contribute to the moral and intellectual degradation of the populations of democratic nations. Or, as seems more likely, the age-old adage is simply wrong: corruption is a part of the human inheritance, and power, like alcohol, simply brings that latent vice to the forefront.
Before I close, I should note that this is not a peculiarly American problem, though I know many people who would like to claim so. After all, the Swiss are about to vote on a law that would permanently ban the construction of minarets.
Really, when I think of all the crimes that democratic nations commit against their own moral codes, it’s enough to make me wonder if William Henry Vanderbilt was onto something when he said, “the people be damned.”