- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

During the 1972 presidential election, the AFL-CIO decided that they could not follow their usual practice of endorsing the Democratic candidate, in this case the unmemorable George McGovern. They would remain neutral even if it meant the election of Richard M. Nixon. For the pro-McGovern New York Times, this was heresy and its editorial denounced the then AFL-CIO President George Meany for proposing “to sit out the Presidential campaign.” A year earlier, one of its editors had described the American worker as having become “probably the most reactionary political force in the country.” Where the John Birch Society would fit in this finding the writer didn't say.

I was reminded of this piece of history in reading a New York Times news report (May 6) about a brief submitted to the New York Court of Appeals by 19 law professors who oppose the death penalty. They argued, as John Leo, commenting on the Times story put it, “that judges should be able to make up their own minds about the acceptability of capital punishment, regardless of what the law says.” In this case the New York State legislature and Constitution, the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court all support capital punishment. Never mind that, the death penalty debate ought to be taken “out of the theater of political judgment,” said the brief, meaning that judges should have the right to foist their oh! so superior personal values on society regardless of existing legal guarantees and the will of the electorate. Political judgment is what you exercise when you vote and that isn't good enough for the law professors who would undoubtedly agree with the New York Times writer that the American worker has become “the most reactionary political force in the country.”.

What we are witnessing is another attempt by the liberal left and its disaffected intellectuals to smother electoral majorities and the rule of law because democratic voting cannot produce their desired utopia. Ordinary people like the AFL-CIO in the 1972 elections and the millions of “Reagan Democrats” in the 1980s and the millions of Tory workers in England who kept voting for Margaret Thatcher, none of them can be trusted to make the right choices. In other words, we have what John Leo calls “elite disdain for the masses.” He quotes Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist, as recommending that government ought to be conducted by “the party of intelligence.” I recall that John Kenneth Galbraith, an admirer of Karl Marx, once said that “the educational and scientific estate requires only a strongly creative political hand to become a decisive instrument of political power.” To do—what? Professor Galbraith didn't say.

This contempt for the electorate and elevation of an unelected “party of intelligence” goes back a long way. Friedrich Engels in 1868 wrote Karl Marx a furious letter after the 1868 election charging that the “working class had discredited itself terribly” by voting for Tory candidates and thereby demonstrating “the disastrous political ineptitude of the English working class.” Lenin's mentor, P. N. Tkachev wrote: “Neither in the present nor in the future can the people, left to their own resources, bring into existence the social revolution. Only we revolutionists can accomplish this…social ideals are alien to the people; they belong to the social philosophy of the revolutionary minority.” Nor were such sentiments confined to Bolsheviks. Mussolini once said that “history proves that social changes have always been brought about by minorities, by a mere handful of men.” The same contempt for democracy and voting was demonstrated by all revolutionaries—Bakunin, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, Herbert Marcuse, the SDS and the Weathermen who described white workers as “inherently counterrevolutionary, impossible to organize, or just plain evil honky bastards.”

It may seem a long way from a petition by 19 New York lawyers seeking to outflank democratic practice to the Weathermen and revolution. But it is not. The real struggle in America today is between the zealous radical egalitarians, the so-called party of intelligence who find democratic practice a hindrance to their political ambitions and with those of us who agree with Professor Edward Banfield:

“A political system is an accident. It is an accumulation of habits, customs, prejudices and principles that have survived a long process of trial and error…If the system works well on the whole, it is a lucky accidentthe luckiest, indeed, that can befall a society…To meddle with the structure and operation of a successful political system is therefore the greatest foolishness that men are capable of.”


Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for the Washington Times.


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