“Democracy is an experiment the goal of which is to keep the experiment going. The purpose of democracy is to enable people to live democratically. That’s it. Democracy is not a means to something else; there is no higher good that we’re trying as a society to attain. When we compromise with democracy in order to achieve some other purpose, even when the purpose is to defend democracy, then we are in danger of losing it.”
This quote from Louis Menand in the New Yorker (Mar 4, 2013, p71) really got me thinking. It’s such a basic point and one that should be blindingly obvious, yet I’d hazard it’s a subtlety that’s often lost on politicians.
The piece in the New Yorker, incidentally, was a review of a book about the New Deal. Menand was arguing that Franklin Roosevelt’s success as a politician was rooted in his being “a political pragmatist, someone who is less interested in the ideological provenance of a policy than in its effectiveness” – which sounds like a good thing to me. But it must be pretty rare to rise to the top in politics without a strong ideology, right?
I don’t pretend to know enough about politics or philosophy to be able to say more myself, but I like what Menand has to say.