Friday, November 11, 2011

Greece started Democracy, is it showing the way it ends?

 Is Greece showing the world the inevitable, tragic fate of Democracies?  Are we all doomed to follow Greece's corrupt footsteps? 

It seems to me that the cancer at the heart of the Greek crisis is the personal corruption and entitlement of the people themselves that is almost beyond imagination.  Apparently, in Greece it is culturally acceptable to pay little or no taxes, and at the same time demand that the government employs a huge majority of the people and provides an amazingly generous benefits system.  This is not a failure of government so much as a failure of the character of the Greek people.

The great Alexis de Tocqueville wrote his masterpiece "Democracy in America" in  1831 when he visited America to see for himself how Democracy worked in America.  He was mightily impressed, but he had a couple of very key warnings about the weaknesses of democracy.  

The first warning is when the people figure out that they can use the government to get goodies:

 “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.” 
Alexis de Tocqueville

America is a little over the 200 year mark already.

The second warning points out that a democracy is only as good as the people who make it up:

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” 
― Alexis de Tocqueville

It looks to me like Greece has fallen prey to both cancers:  the people voted in governments that promised and delivered more services than they could pay for, and the character of the people themselves became dishonorable, as they seem to feel totally entitled to very generous entitlements and are offended by the notion that they should pay for them with taxes.

Is democracy in Greece and the PIIGS of Europe about to collapse because the people will only elect governments that give them stuff?  Is their democracy doomed because of a crisis of character of the people themselves?  Is the U.S. following in those dishonorable footsteps?

I think America will rise again, just as it did from the Great Depression and WWII.  I deeply hope and pray that the ashes won't be as devastating now as they were then.  I have faith in the young Millennial Generation coming of age today to create a world anew, as did the Greatest Generation a cycle of generations ago.  I trust that the Boomer Generation can and will provide vision and meaning to this younger, powerful, creative, energetic, cooperative, and productive generation to create our economy and politics anew. I expect America will find itself and take its lead in the world in a new, not yet imagined way.  I have hope and faith in the power of the very idea of America and democracy.

I think that we don't curse the darkness, but light a candle, one spark at a time, starting with ourselves - creating a light of integrity, responsibility, honesty, and character.  We each can be a spark of kindling that sets aflame the renewal of America, democracy, and the world.