In my early 20s I had a job which required organizing shelves in a warehouse. I had a brief argument with someone I was working with about how best to organize the product. Should we arrange the product by type? Style? Vendor? Name? Part-number? Alphabetically, numerically, or alpha-numerically? Etc. And then it occurred to me that, while one system might be better than another, the really important thing was that we have a system in the first place, and that everyone understand how to use it. The problem, at that moment, was that there was no system at all, and no one knew how to find the product easily. The first and primary need was order – and almost any order would do.
A corollary of that principle is that, when faced with a system that perhaps isn’t the best, changing from one system to a “better” system can often create more problems than it solves in the short run. Furthermore, depending on the magnitude of the change there are risks involved that could, in fact, end up making things worse. An old system that is familiar and functional is preferable to a “better” system that is untried and unfamiliar.
I think of politics in the same terms. That’s the only reason I vote. Our political system seems hopelessly flawed, hopelessly destined for a magnificent crash landing (perhaps in the very near future), but rather than agitate for a new system – let’s say, a Catholic monarchy – I believe we need to work with what we’ve got, because it is familiar and because a better system will simply not be accepted by the general public. Voters are like EEMs: once they’ve got a taste of “participation”, however superficial, they’re not going to give it up without a fight. And so we must live with democracy, a relentless ideological machine that undermines the entire edifice of Christian faith and piety, but that nevertheless does a decent job at keeping the roads paved and the clean water flowing and the criminals behind bars. It’s what we know, it’s all we have, and it’s the only thing our countrymen will accept.
I stated earlier that I will be voting for Ron Paul. There’s an interesting discussion of his candidacy, from a Catholic perspective, going on over at Caelum et Terra. Mike Huckabee has recently caught my attention, however, because he seems to make up for Ron Paul’s libertarian flaws. To use libertarian parlance, Huckabee is an “interventionist” when it comes to the use of government to achieve social goals. So, for that matter, am I – in principle. But it is one thing to be a mere “interventionist”, and another thing to be an interventionist with bad ideas. Just as good government policies have the potential to achieve a great deal of good, bad government policies can do a great deal of harm. What would Huckabee’s interventionism look like in practice? It’s hard to say. Whatever his personal convictions, he would be the president of a largely post-Christian nation. Whatever good he wanted to do, if truly good, would almost certainly be opposed by the congress and the courts and undermined by the bureaucrats at every turn. He might succeed, however, in paving the way for government intervention at every level, unintentionally handing our internal enemies the rope with which they can finally hang the old republic. In a nation where even the best men don’t quite know why they believe what they believe, an interventionist federal government is not a good thing.
In addition to being a man of unflinching principle and Christian integrity, Ron Paul is without question a libertarian ideologue. But in an ideological age, I suppose a libertarian ideologue is the right kind to have. For all of his flaws, he believes doggedly in subsidiarity and would return “democracy” to a meaningful scale, giving little pockets of decency a chance at survival. In the long run that’s probably the best we can hope for: little pockets of sanity here and there, with spiritual and moral resources sufficient to weather the storm and to provide the seeds of renewal when it’s all over. Yes, it seems clear to me that the system as we know it is more or less doomed. Let’s try to make the inevitable crash as gentle as possible and preserve what we can for posterity. I don’t much like sharing a political coalition with pot-smokers, brothel owners, white supremacists, and porn-addicts, but there you have it.