The Influence of Democratic Republics on Morality
Democracy has shaped the moral landscape of the west for centuries. It has led many to throw off monarchies and lose their interest in dictators. It has made the WEST suspicious when power is given or accumulated to a few (in politics or business). It has given liberty and freedom strong moral currency in our ethical decisions and our public justifications.
But the U.S. founders divined a weakness to democracy. It needed both internal and external checks and balances to keep it effective. Crowds, in rabid pursuit of liberty, could be just as despotic as kings. The founders formed a republican form of government–a democracy with constitutional protections of minorities. This “principled” and “rights” approach promised to be more lasting.
This republic innovation and solution to shared governance, moved past monarchy rule, past even theocracies and elite rule to a more egalitarian approach useful in managing pluralism. It proved more effective than the lawlessness create by the French Revolution or even the compromised forms of government in England and Spain that let kingly power and elite indulgence/rule continue.
This constitutional and republican form of democracy has proven to be a fairly effective but very difficult to replicate in other nations.
The Influence of Morality on Democratic Republics
As Woodberry has shown, the most effective exporting of democracy has from the work of conversionary Protestants (protestants who believe in adult conversion based on education and informed decisions). His work shows that democracy took root better in places these Protestant missionaries went than it did in other places. He linked it to their renewed social ethic that worked for increased literacy and education, freedom of speech and press, and better egalitarian solutions. Only then could the power of the elite be challenged by the needs of the nation and the poor. See Christianity Today simplified review of Woodberry’s work.
Nick Miller highlights similar basic spiritual and practical elements needed for democratic rule in his book on the Religious Roots of the First Amendment. Central among these is the right of private judgment. Central to that judgment is the individuals spiritual and intellectual development.
I believe it takes these qualities not only to start a democratic republic but to keep it running.
What will make America Great?
I believe the U.S. is running the risk of a deep erosion to the values and process basic to democratic republican rule. Without a certain buy-in to basic human rights and constitutional and civil principles, we could easily deteriorate into a non-egalitarian, capitalistically driven, police state.
While I leave it to wise political scientists like Woodberry or constitutional lawyers and historians like Nick Miller for the best guidance on the political and legal aspects of keeping a democracy vital, my activity in leadership and education has made me interested in their role in making strong nations or leading to the demise of nations.
The Role of Good Education and Leadership in National Welfare
As a member of the Department of Leadership in a School of Education within a Christian Adventist University, I am especially attracted to the role of education and leadership in church and national greatness.
That interest has lead me to look for solutions to social arrangements (a type of social ethics) in “unusual places.”
One such place has been in understanding the transition of leadership from Samuel to Saul in ancient Israel. It believe it was not just a change in persons, but a change in systems, principled guided education and shared leadership that made this a step backward for Israel. I believe the U.S. and maybe even the SDA church can be tempted by similar mis-steps.
The connection has become more evident to recently as I noticed Ellen White’s book Patriarchs and Prophets put two chapters side by side that gave me a new respect for the connection between education and leadership: “The Schools of the Prophets” and “The First King of Israel” shows God’s step to strengthen the nation and some “leaders” move to weaken it.
“The schools of the prophets were founded by Samuel to serve as a barrier against the widespread corruption, to provide for the moral and spiritual welfare of the youth, and to promote the future prosperity of the nation by furnishing it with men qualified to act in the fear of God as leaders and counselors” (p. 593).
Samuel may have started this system because he saw how much he needed such a system in his own home. He had problems developing his own sons as leaders. “When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders…But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:1-3, NIV).
It is the lack of effective education, in the home or school, that weaken individuals ability to bear the cost of share leadership, a cost basic to the success of democracy. A distorted view of leadership as self-serving quickly moves into centralized views of leadership and governmental control. Such self-serving views of leadership make dictators seem normal, even desirable.
While I hope to write more about this in the coming weeks, here I just share my deep concerns and ask you to examine the elements that keep a democratic republic strong and the role of education and shared leadership in that process.
To help, I recommend reading chapters ch. 58 and 59 from Ellen White’s Patriarchs and Prophets https://text.egwwritings.org/publicationtoc.php?bookCode=PP&lang=en
I also recommend doing an internet study on the Schools of the Prophet and their role in Ancient Israel and in the early days of the U.S. college system.
Our democracy depends on our strengthened view of effective education and leadership, ultimately letting God and His moral government be our standard of practice in education and especially in leadership.
Do we really want to go back to kings, pharaohs, and dictators?