After a Difficult Violent Roundtable, Part 3

As I intimated yesterday, conservatives’ appropriate fear of populist movements connects with our conviction that the nexus of power and desire ought to be checked. (One can be fearful even of that which is necessary, of course.) During Friday night’s all–Anchor Rising Violent Roundtable on the Matt Allen Show, Marc and Matt kicked off a related conversation in which the latter took the position that structures allowing more direct democracy — such as public referenda — ought to proliferate.
The problem with developing a taste for simple majority rule is that the masses know what they want, but not necessarily how to go about getting it or, even less, how to balance competing needs and interests. This isn’t to take the line that the dirty common folk lack the intelligence to comprehend cause and effect and the possibility of unintended consequences; the salient factor filters through the mechanics of a movement. However well a given voter comprehends how his own interests might be balanced and what compromises would be tolerable in achieving them, by the time political action builds to critical mass, his interests and negotiable thresholds must be overlaid with thousands of variations.
If a movement is to avoid a fizzle from noise, it must be led. Only in sharp, very specific outrages will large groups of people congeal with minimal guidance to answer a question of public policy. In most cases, a handful of leaders with the time and motivation must sort out the series of binaries by which more subtle decisions are reached — “yes” to this policy, “no” to that one, “yes” to this request, “no” to that demand. When the democracy remains representative, those leaders may be held accountable for the results, even as their daily popularity rises and falls over each answer. When those leaders are as voices in the crowd — shouting out suggestions to which the populist cry returns a “hear, hear” — their accountability dissipates, as does the feasibility of subtlety. It becomes guidance by explosion, not by instruction. A herding of votes.
When it comes to the practical operation of a society, democracy is best enacted in escalating tiers — elections followed by referenda followed by revolution — but always with a philosophical tendency to worry about anarchic expressions of power. A population enthralled with its democratic override is at risk of wielding it too lightly, toward ends that are never adequately articulated until the knots cinch tight.

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