11A015 Where Civility Begins by Jim Davies, 1/15/2011    

After the Tucson shooting, and after the failure of government people to blame it on anti-government people, their fallback position has now been taken: to call for "civility" so that politicians can disagree politely instead of using or inciting violence. Who can argue with that?

A form of that call was well proposed by Mark Shields on last Monday's News Hour. He expressed it this way: "[Suppose] David [Brooks] is a member of Congress, and so am I. Instead of saying David on an issue on the other side is misinformed or mistaken, I say David doesn't love America. He's evil. He obviously doesn't believe in the same God we believe in. He doesn't believe in the same country that we believe in. He's owned by other people and other interests, probably foreign interests. And when this happens, this not only debases our debate; what it does is, it forecloses democracy from working."

Shields was reasonably complaining of a danger that disagreement is changing from debating or reasoning about a subject, to demeaning the person with whom one disagrees; a trick known as argumentum ad hominem. No quarrel there - until we come to the final phrase in that extract; he said such rudeness "forecloses democracy from working."

Did you spot his unspoken premise? - it is that properly and normally, democracy is a civil and reasonable process.

That premise is totally false; the civility is a sham, a mere veneer. Democracy, like every other form of rule or "-cracy", is a mechanism for exercising brute force, to oblige people to submit to the ruler's will not by persuading them in a civil manner to agree that the ruler is wise, benevolent and reasonable but by making it clear that he will kill them if they won't. Stefan Molyneux's highly perceptive offer is to "Put down the gun, then we'll talk" - or to use a well known analogy, democracy is "two wolves and a lamb, debating what to eat for lunch." The wolves may be polite, but we know what's on the menu. That's the ugly truth, which Shields and his friends manage somehow to overlook.

There can be and is reasoned debate, certainly, about how best to exercise that brute force, to disguise it. Calmly show people how to surrender large portions of what they earn rather than resist and get imprisoned (or resist absolutely, and get shot.) Submit to the regulators peacefully rather than get burned alive or have one's wife and baby shot dead by a government sniper. Certainly, government people are concerned to appear civil, orderly, polite; but as a nearby advertisement urges about the Holocaust, "Never forget what governments DO!"

There is nothing whatever about government that is civil, and nobody here should ever be suckered into supposing otherwise.

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