Thursday, June 3, 2010

Orlando Patterson on Democracy & Violence

Orlando Patterson, sociology prof at Harvard, wrote an interesting article in the Sunday NYT about democracy and violence. The argument, I think now well refuted, was that democracies wouldn't go to war with each other. Patterson, however, looks at domestic violence and suggests that some democracies have greater violence than their authoritarian peers. Patterson points to street crime in India compared to street crime in China as one example (although the horrific attacks on school children in China demonstrate that no society can claim immunity from random violence). Patterson cites factors that seem to allow greater violence in developing democracies. I cite the article because Americans seem to place so much faith in democracy, although we don't stop to think what democracy means and entails any more than we carefully consider the meaning and implications of love. Both are god terms that users intend to conjure up images of goodness without considering the depth and implications of the terms involved. The Greeks, who left us the records of the first experiments with democracy, executed Socrates. Plato spent much of his adult life trying to figure out a better way. I don't think that he succeeded, but he and other critics surely have raised some legitimate concerns. In the end, I come down with Churchill on democracy: it's the worst form of government, except when compared to all of the rest.

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