Without the Right Worldview, Democracy Dies
The presidential campaign season has already begun. Without abandoning the political sphere altogether or downplaying its importance, Christians must push back against the all-consuming nature of politics. Take a recent statement by President Biden: “Democracy is more than a form of government,” he (or whoever runs his Twitter page) wrote. “It’s a way of being. A way of seeing the world. A way that defines who we are, what we believe, and why we do what we do. Democracy is simply that fundamental.”
In other words, to lightly paraphrase the president, democracy is a worldview. But is that true?
The quasi-religious tone is a bit like The Washington Post’s melodramatic “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” But popular sovereignty is not a “way of seeing the world” that “defines who we are, what we believe, and why we do what we do” any more than the market economy or trial by jury are worldviews. Instead, each is a reflection of prior values, which are shaped by deeply held beliefs about reality. We do things (like voting) that are important to us, and they’re important to us because of how we see the world.
In other words, the president has it backwards. He assumes that democracy determines how we view the world. In reality, democracy (or any form of government) emerged from a certain set of assumptions about the world: assumptions about the dignity and importance of individuals, created equalities, and the lack of a divine right to rule as a monarch. (Each of these assumptions is historically rare.)
More importantly, American democracy assumes that there are inalienable rights that cannot be infringed on by popular vote. That assumption lies behind the Bill of Rights, as well as Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education, which ended segregation. If we don’t assume and commit to certain truths about the world prior to democracy, it will devolve into mob rule, something both unsustainable and unjust. If you don’t believe that, the French have a guillotine or two to sell you.
Because America’s founders understood this, they didn’t give us a pure democracy, on either the federal or state level. Instead, they gave us a democratic republic (“if you can keep it”). In fact, their writings reveal how much they feared pure democracy and considered it a terrible form of government (“two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner”).
Democracy isn’t a worldview; it’s worldview-dependent. The laws a democracy produces depend on the worldviews of the people who vote and legislate. To treat democracy like a fundamental source of values and a way of seeing reality is to misunderstand democracy, government, and the human condition. It is asking a political system to answer questions it cannot. It’s simply not big enough.
My kids used to play a game called Topple, in which a plastic platform is balanced precariously on a stick. Players take turns piling little disks on the platform until it topples. Today, we are playing a cultural game of “Topple Politics”—in a sense, loading politics with all the expectations of a worldview.
But politics cannot bring salvation, determine morality, provide ultimate meaning, or secure our relationships. Politics should reflect what is good and true, but it cannot define or sustain what is good and true. If we continue to load it up with so much of our lives, it will topple, and the result will be a mess.
Government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” has brought the world a lot of good. It’s a privilege to vote, and we should take it seriously as a way of loving God and our neighbors and upholding God-given rights. These ideas, however, only come from a Christian worldview—which is big enough to answer life’s most fundamental questions.
—This column first appeared on Breakpoint.org at https://breakpoint.org/no-mr-president-democracy-isnt-a-worldview-politics-cant-answer-our-deepest-questions. Used with permission of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.John Stonestreet
John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center and co-host of BreakPoint, the daily commentary on culture begun by Chuck Colson.Get Salvo in your inbox! Shane Morris
Shane Morris is a senior writer for Breakpoint and host of the podcast Upstream.Get Salvo in your inbox! This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #64, Spring 2023 Copyright © 2024 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo64/politics-ltd