I’m a Penn State alum (Chemical Engineering, 07) and long time Joe Paterno admirer. I own a football that bears his autograph. I have a framed picture of him leading the 2005 team onto the field against Ohio State. I have a dachshund named JoePa.
I don’t, nor have I ever, thought he was perfect. He could be mean; he could be arrogant. Coach Paterno liked his bourbon a bit much (or so I hear). His wife was a girl he met and started dating while he was faculty and she was a student. He was openly condescending toward the media. He was, from time to time, insubordinate to his bosses at Penn State. This list of flaws and/or possible flaws is by no means exhaustive.
But I’ve long admired him for the combination of the high level of ethics and high level of success with which he ran the Penn State football team. I still do, and still do for those reasons. With regard to recent events, the evidence is clear that Joe Paterno did exactly what he was supposed to do, both legally and ethically, in regard to the accusations made against his former assistant Jerry Sandusky.
What does this have to do with modern western society’s exultation of Democracy? This. Most people simply don’t know the truth, and large chunks believe things very contrary to it.
The whys and hows of the beliefs of people in this regard are subject to debate and a number of different factors. Confirmation bias. Jealousy. Lousy media coverage.
What makes this example particularly stark is the abundance of media coverage over relatively lengthy time and how not-complicated the facts are. We’re not talking about something so nuanced as the ethics of public education, the long term effects of poverty subsidies, or whether a public option currency will /should lead to greater fiscal growth. Those things are complicated. The data are easily muddied. The logic of a debate on any of them would be nuanced. Such is not the case with Paterno in regards to his actions with respect to the accusations of molestation made against Jerry Sandusky, and yet people get them wrong anyway.
Democracy, left unchecked, will naturally become a kleptocracy. Individuals will caucus to vote themselves the fruits of others’ labors. Other individuals will caucus to stop them. The power of these individuals will consolidate. What will eventually come about are factions competing and compromising for a treasury filled with the fruits of the labors of the disenfranchised.
What checks a democracy can be a number of things. A general moral culture. A king or queen. A written constitution.
There are problems easily seen with all of these. A general moral culture, even if 100% of the culture had it, would depend on not just the moral fortitude, but the intellectual fortitude of the people as well. As is easily seen, most people are blissfully unaware of the facts, even when the facts are quite clear.
A king or queen is still just a man or woman. Wise and noble as any given one may be, he or she is still mortal and able to be tempted.
The problems with depending on a written constitution to defend against such ills are easily seen by the American experience. The 9th and 10th Amendments couldn’t be more clear; and the powers of the government are extremely limited. Yet even with clear language and educated interpretation, Social Security, ObamaCare, wars on abstract nouns, and a fiat currency still exist. Some parts get ignored; others get warped.
This is why I say I believe in liberty and don’t give one hoot whether it comes by Democracy or dictatorship. At best, Democracy is the least terrible of a bunch of terrible options for an earthly government run by men and women.