12th Grade: The Peace Democracies Pursue

Greetings to all,

Welcome!  I hope the year will be a blessed one for you and your family.  Senior year can be at turns stressful and special all at once.  My prayer is that you will look back on the vista of your achievement have reason for thankful hearts come June.

As I mentioned in orientation, this class discusses the idea and practice of democracy.  This means we will look at different events and thinkers across time and space.  It means also that we need to hit the “reset” button and re-examine our beliefs with the aid of the great philosophers and events from the past.

We began the year rethinking our approach to civilizations in general, just as we did way back in 8th grade.  We discussed what a civilization is and is not, and how democracies fit within that framework. But I also wanted to consider whether or not we should view civilization as good thing in itself, or if civilization is in fact the core problem of our existence.  Here we have two basic approaches:

  • Civilization is good because it provides a framework for fruitful human interaction.  Civilization as we know it would have existed even without the Fall — note that there was “law” in the Garden.
  • Civilization may have some redeeming characteristics, but overall it is the symbol of the “City of Man” and serves to concentrate the human impulse to exploit one another.  Note how in Genesis 4 the arts of civilization get developed by Cain’s lineage.

You can read more about this theory in the post reviewing I Saw Satan Fall like Lightning.

We also discussed what the concept of democracies mean.  We might understand that democracies, like dogs, can take different forms.  But what is it about democracies that we would intrinsically recognize across different forms?  What is the central core of democracies?  How do we recognize that boxers, poodles, and labradors are all dogs?

We can start out our thinking on this question by considering what the “natural core community” is of a particular form of government.  In monarchies the family serves as this core.  The king comes from a “royal family.”  The successor to the king is the king’s oldest son, and so on.  In oligarchies one could argue that the clan, or an extended group of families, forms the central core.  When one builds from a proper foundation, good results can follow, but if not, we can expect significant problems.  For example, imagine a literature teacher who thought that “it’s all about the kids.”  With this approach, the teacher would not care whether or not they read Homer, Shakespeare, or the latest teen romance so long as “the kids were engaged.”  In fact, in literature class it should be “all about the literature,” and the students’ engagement with it.  Without this foundation, no “literature class” would exist.

What about democracies?

Truthfully, they have no central building block.  Democracies build on the foundation of “all men are created equal.”  Each individual is a core unto himself.  The giant mass of people (“We the people of the United States . . .”) also could be the core, for democracies at least in theory do not discriminate. Not only do democracies have no ethnic divisions or class divisions, they also have no geographical boundaries.  Democracies preach human rights, not English rights, or German rights.  The spirit of democracies roves to and fro, in contrast to the more tradition oriented forms of government.

This reality gives democracies enormous potential dynamism.  It is no coincidence that democratic peoples both now and in history have been the most powerful countries in existence when they thrive.  They build invincible citizen armies, and can even produce superior culture (think of Periclean Athens, or the law of Rome’s Republic, or Whitman and Twain, etc.)

But this floating and amorphous core gives rise to potentially massive and dangerous contradictions when individuals don’t receive equal treatment.  Our own civil war comes easily to mind, or the tumultuous 1960’s which had its roots in the unequal treatment of blacks.  Today we see the same logic used surrounding the marriage issue for homosexuals.  Christians have solid Scriptural and historical reasons for opposing it, but do democracies?  If the majority of people approve or disapprove of something, should that be enough to make it so?  As one student last year noted, democracies find their reference point in the here and now.

These potential stress points also inform a democracy’s foreign policy.  We see that in regards to Syria. When flagrant human rights abuses take place and the world knows about it, the boundary-less, human-conscious democracies must take notice (I realize that there is some dispute as to exactly what is happening in Syria).  Of course, we should realize that democracies will process information differently than other forms of government.  The internet age fits very well with the international field of vision democracies can’t help but fall into.

I assigned the students a small portion of Augustine’s magisterial The City of God which we will discuss on Wednesday.  Augustine discusses how each person ultimately seeks eternal peace with God.  On earth, we seek shadows of this peace in various ways.  He wisely points out that even we make war to bring about a peace more suitable to us.  By the nature of our creation in God’s world we naturally seek harmony with our surroundings, though often in false ways.  I want the students to consider what kinds of political and social equilibrium democracies pursue, and what the consequences for that will be.

Many thanks,