A dangerous U.S. conundrum has become more obvious in the last few years. It has always existed, and is, in fact, incorporated in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It made perfect sense for a new, thinly populated, freedom seeking, immigrant-based, developing country. It doesn’t make quite so much sense for a country that has a larger population, is increasingly urban, developed, and brands itself as a model of democracy.
Individual rights, when they are considered sacrosanct and inviolate in a democracy can be regarded as arrogant, autocratic and anarchistic. When individual rights override community responsibility, democracy can easily fall apart.
Democracy is a fragile concept, which must be continually fostered, cared for, and protected. Given world history, it is not a natural state of human governance, and can be lost far too easily. The world’s greatest promoter of democracy learned that on January 6, 2021, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capital and tried to install an un-elected ex-president as, in essence, a dictator for life. That sounds a trifle dramatic, but it came far too close to reality for anyone’s comfort. It is a dangerous U.S. conundrum, but it is not the only one.
To some extent, freedom of speech, as a concept, has the same problem. In looking back at my birth country, the U.K., I have to ask whether allowing radical Islamic clerics in London and elsewhere complete freedom of speech to exhort young men to commit atrocities in the name of Muhammad, is in the best interests of the community and the country.
I have often said it might be a good idea to deport them, and drop them out the door of the plane halfway across the English Channel. However, that sort of action is also placing democracy on a slippery slope to destruction.
Where, then, is the balance between anarchy and community responsibility. I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I do think it warrants serious discussion, not only as an academic conundrum, but as a serious political conundrum focused on where it might lead. The difficulty is, how do you impose any sort of restriction without endangering the whole concept of democracy? By definition, this is a conundrum, and, by definition, a conundrum is, in theory, unsolvable. It’s an impasse, but an impasse, if ignored, that can destroy countries, political systems, and communities of all sizes.
Human history would suggest that we’re not very good at facing our differences in a logical manner, and jointly thinking through the consequences of inaction, as well as logically and jointly thinking through the consequences of any and all possible actions. It’s much easier to throw up our arms in disgust at our opponent’s stupidity, and go to war. It’s also much easier for our opponents to do exactly the same thing.
We all know that war, as an outcome, won’t solve anything. It usually creates even more problems than we had in the first place, but it does kick the can further down the street until it becomes someone else’s problem. Cowardice comes to mind, as a description of this path. Cowardice, wrapped up in pride, nationalism, tribalism in the broadest sense, and stupidity. Unfortunately, it is more the “modus operandi” of humankind than any sensible approach to problems.
I wish I had an answer to these conundrums. I don’t. The only thing I can hope to do is promote the necessity of humble, respectful and honest discussions that might save the reality of democracy in the U.S. and elsewhere.