“Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.” Alexander Hamilton
Democracy is the national idea of the United States. They consider it self-contained. In their language, this word is a synonym to everything positive. As for the verb “democratize,” for instance in a commercial context, it means to improve a product, to make it of better quality and affordable (for instance ‘democratize mobile communication’). Every American, with some minor exceptions, sees democracy as the key to all problems.
Certainly, such a respect for democracy is not groundless. America has achieved its current position in the world thanks mostly to the respect for the interests of wide sections of the population, especially the manufacturing ones. The countries of Western Europe started flourishing thanks to democracy, though not just thanks to it. There is also culture, scientific and technical progress that existed yet before democracy, as well as labor ethics that developed under influence of such public institutions as the church and army.
The causes and the consequences here is a matter of controversy. Did they achieve democracy first and then began flourishing or the vice versa? Anyway, hardly anybody would deny now that the power should come from the people. Even the most autocratic and totalitarian regimes need confirmation of their legitimacy through expression of the public will, which is not bad, perhaps.
However, for democracy there is no standard/distinguishing mark at the Board of Weights and Measures. The idea of it varies widely depending on both the country and the epoch inside the same country. This process in the United States is of particular interest.
Everyone who had an occasion to watch video movies of 80s surely remembers the phrase “It’s a free country!” It was a very popular phrase, a kind of visiting card of the United States of those years. If anyone in the street admonished children, he could hear in response “It’s a free country!” Yet, this phrase is no longer that popular. It has become a usual thing for the American universities to direct the speakers with insufficiently “faithful” views to discontinue their speeches. In October 2014, students tried to keep Bill Maher from speaking at Berkley due to his views on Islam. By the way, Bill Maher slammed the Christian religion too, but has remained an American liberal fully supporting the policy of the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama. The irony of it is that it happened ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in 1964-1965, when the first of the three demands was “free expression of any political views.” Perhaps, it is time to teach a course “Irony of History” at Berkeley.
In addition, in present-day America, stand-up comedians refuse to perform at colleges as students have become too politically correct and can’t see a joke and even accuse comedians of sexism, racism etc. Jerry Seinfeld even received a cautionary letter sent to Huffington Post from an anonymous, politically correct student who explained to comedians that humor must be politically aware and topical.
If in old times, a Komsomol member addressed a similar open letter to Solzhenitsyn or Pasternak, these letters would perhaps have much in common.
Few people could expect Liberals to attack the freedom of speech in the United States. “American Dream” is another famous symbol of the United States. The Self-Made Man is now a thing of the past. In present-day America, President Obama has distinguished himself with the phrases “If you've got a business—you didn't build that” and “Money which they don’t need” (about money of well-to-do Americans in the context of rising taxes), “Stop subsidizing the rich” (i.e. it is necessary to make taxes even higher) and others. Hillary Clinton once said during her campaign “Businesses Don’t Create Jobs.” They create an atmosphere in the country where more or less well-to-do people should feel guilty for their success. The most recent commercial for Emirates Airlines wherein Jennifer Aniston promotes the luxurious services for wealthy passengers has drawn harsh criticism in hashtags. A popular video blogger even said that she has no money to enjoy such high-class flight, but even if she had enough money, she would feel herself guilty for it. As for Jennifer Aniston, the blogger slammed her for feeling no guilt.
Such a transformation of democratic values – the first one is the freedom of speech and the second one is the freedom of doing business – is a shock for senior citizens in the United States.
Donald Sterling lost his basketball club Los Angeles Clippers for using what the public called racist comments in a personal phone talk with his friend. The latter made the phone talk public. In this light, one of the comedians joked saying that some people live too long and stop comprehending the changes in the society. Walt Disney and Henry Ford were anti-Semites, but no one cared for that then. Today, one can lose his job, business or social status for less mattering wrongdoings.
The idea of personal freedom and democracy driven to extremity is gradually getting features of totalitarianism. Welfare and cult of consumption become less attractive, as they don’t make people feel the reason for existence. The present generation of American perceives the inherited freedoms and welfare as a matter of course. In the absence of religion, which gave moral landmarks to the previous generations, people try to get reason for existence in alternative ideas. However, the idea of absolute personal autonomy and equality does not tolerate the values the present-day Western civilization is based on.
In 1788, Alexander Hamilton, the first minister of finance in the United States, said in his speech urging ratification of the U.S. Constitution: “It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.” History has a sense of humor, hasn’t it?
Yevgeny Rublev, for EADaily