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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The danger of democracy

The danger of democracy is not anarchy but convention.

There is even a sort of double meaning in the word 'convention'; for it is also used for the most informal and popular sort of parliament; a parliament not summoned by any king.

The Americans come together very easily without any king; but their coming together is in every sense a convention, and even a very conventional convention.

In a democracy riot is rather the exception and respectability certainly the rule. And though a superficial sight-seer should hesitate about all such generalisations, and certainly should allow for enormous exceptions to them, he does receive a general impression of unity verging on uniformity.

Thus Americans all dress well; one might almost say that American women all look well; but they do not, as compared with Europeans, look very different. They are in the fashion; too much in the fashion even to be conspicuously fashionable. Of course there are patches, both Bohemian and Babylonian, of which this is not true, but I am talking of the general tone of a whole democracy.

I have said there is more respectability than riot; but indeed in a deeper sense the same spirit is behind both riot and respectability. It is the same social force that makes it possible for the respectable to boycott a man and for the riotous to lynch him. I do not object to it being called 'the herd instinct,' so long as we realise that it is a metaphor and not an explanation.

Public opinion can be a prairie fire.

It eats up everything that opposes it; and there is the grandeur as well as the grave disadvantages of a natural catastrophe in that national unity.
Source: What I Saw in America by G. K. Chesterton

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