It is impossible to judge what is wrong with democracy unless we first understand its changing and constant features. The democratic principle as we now encounter it is both ancient and rudely contemporary. Among the ancient aspects of our contemporary democracy are the spirit of equality and the dangers that result therefrom. Aristotle properly perceived that democracy involves a regime of the have-nots, and, as he tells us in Politics, Book Three, the connection between democracy and indigence, real or imagined, is more important than whether the poor become the popular majority. Rule by the multitudes would not be democratic, Aristotle notes, unless that multitude was, or saw itself as, materially deprived. In the Republic, Book Nine, Plato depicts democrats as drones avid for the honeycomb produced by the industrious few. Lack of discipline, exemplified by a demand for endless oration and a boundless appetite for the fruits of others’ work, characterizes democratic man, and by degrees, Plato shows, the lawlessness of democratic life gives rise to tyranny.

The coupling of democracy and equality was axiomatic among Greek political theorists, and it has remained thus for modern critics and exponents of democratic institutions, from Rousseau and Tocqueville to Carl Schmitt, John Dewey, and Harry Jaffa. Whether these theorists advocate or deplore democracy, clearly none of them dissociates it from the expanding application of the principle of equality. Legal equality must move toward political and, to some extent, social equality if democracy is to remain true to its essence. The toleration of privilege, it is said, works against the inculcation of a democratic ethos; thus, as Professor Jaffa is fond of reminding us, American political leaders pointed back to their nation’s doctrinal origins while fighting a war against slavery and carrying through a belated civil rights revolution.

But also present in classical democracy and in the Swiss, Italian, and American republicanism of an earlier age (though increasingly absent from modern Western democracies, including our own) was the practice of self-government. Among Plato’s chief objections to democracy was that the demos in fact governed and were preeminently in a position to inflict their greed and sloppiness on society in general. It was homonoia, spiritual and ethical unity, not isegoria, allowing everyone to have his say, that Plato believed produced a good government and a public-minded population. To achieve a citizenry capable of self-government, ancient democracies and ancient democratic statesmen engaged in what today would be considered hate crimes. With due respect to Donald Kagan who celebrates him as the forerunner of global democracy, Pericles—an advocate of the people and later a virtual tyrant—began his political career by striking from the voting roles Athenians who were not descended from astoi, registered citizens, on both sides. This act was genuinely popular and was thought to underline Pericles’ respect for the lineage of all property born Athenians, whatever their social status. In Politics, Book Seven, Aristotle pointedly warns against allowing xenoi, aliens, to overwhelm an already established polity. Such an oversight could result in social disruption and, as Bertrand de Jouvenel explains in The Pure Theory of Politics, undermine effective self-government by lessening the recognized value of each individual citizen. The larger and more heterogeneous the population base of a political society, Jouvenel observes, the more difficult it is for citizens to run public affairs in a meaningful way. Whence the attempt of ancient democracies to limit rigorously the right of citizenship.

Such facts, it can be argued, illustrate the impoverished imaginations and bigoted mindsets of the ancient world. If Aristotle had only known about democratic capitalism, he would have established his own Heritage Foundation, propagating the ideas of open borders and universal nations. And Plato, once enlightened about global economies and the propositional nature of an American democracy in which anyone can be a citizen by believing selectively in the Declaration of Independence, would have insisted on the ultimate beau geste: bringing the ancestors of the Haitian boat people to ancient Greece, as full citizens.

At the very least, we are led to believe, James Madison would have been suitably broad-minded. Had not that American Founder praised (in Federalist 51) the merits of an extended republic, a regime that would avoid the claustrophobia and strife of ancient republics by opening American society to as many groups as might want to come in? The ensuing diversity would presumably protect us against the danger of majority factions, as proliferating heterogeneous groups would spread out along the Eastern seaboard. This appeal to Madison as a multiculturalist is stupid, dishonest, or, what is more likely, both. Madison, in his comments on the composition of an extended American republic, was referring to artisans, merchants, farmers, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, and possibly Catholics and Jews. But he was surely not speaking about unemployed Rastafarians. He was not indifferent to the kind of cultural base American republicanism required to maintain the ordered liberty under English Common Law that was then, more than now, the birthright of American citizens. Mel Bradford may have turned himself into a moving target by devoting his career to glossing this obvious point, but it is obvious nonetheless. And what renders Bradford’s observation on the inherently restrictive nature of American republicanism so obvious is that the Founders intended to have communities look after themselves. On this there was no disagreement between Federalists and Antifederalists—or among most Americans until the present century. The Madisonian system by which Americans lived assumed that regions and localities would attend to their own affairs while operating together in dynamic tension. The federal government would mediate their differences, provide for the common defense, and regulate interstate commerce. But it was not there, at least not until recently, to impose thought control on groups that in the absence of sensitivity training and handouts would be unable, or so it is feared, to coexist in the same society.

Contrary to what Edwin Yoder states in his December 19, 1992, syndicated column, the Bill of Rights did not first come to be taken seriously “twenty or thirty years ago,” when the federal government began applying it against states and localities. It had originally served as a safeguard for states’ rights as well as for the rights of citizens within states against congressional encroachments. That document goes back to a time when a smaller and far more culturally homogeneous America still practiced self-government, which presupposed state and local control over access to voting and offices. As the Ninth and certainly the Tenth Amendments indicate, that exercise in self-rule depended on keeping federal power limited to certain specified tasks. To the question of whether that self-rule guaranteed equality to all American residents. the answer is plainly no.

Until the 20th century, with the problematic exception of revolutionary France, democratic citizenship was never open to everyone, not even to all residents of self-described democracies. Such regimes have followed the principle that those who are not of the political community, which sets up its own rules for membership, do not exercise its political rights. Thus the Swiss cantons only conferred full citizenship on males who had been born in them and belonged to their established churches. Such circumscribing of citizenship does not indicate disregard for the practice of self-rule. Rather, it demonstrates the continuity of the classical republican assumption that the possibility of self-rule hinges on the presence of cultural unity and of jealously guarded limits on citizenship.

Democratic pluralists reject this idea categorically. They insist that Americans and other Westerners think of their societies as perpetually incomplete and in need of diversity. They are not deterred by the prospects of the instability that results from trying to absorb more unlike things into a society whose collective existence has become steadily more precarious and violent. Speaking on behalf of the pluralist experiment, Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic last year scolded longtime social democrat and British poet Stephen Spender for disapproving of further Third World immigration into Europe. Spender saw such added pressure on countries already afflicted with violence and social unrest as something one ought to avoid. Besides, he concluded, “the immigrants themselves are by no means always upholders of democracy.” Wieseltier, unsettled by his argument and by his reference to a “global population hotch-potch,” stated in response that Spender had confused the object and the source of the hatred: “Reactionary forces are not reacting at all, they are seizing an opportunity to act on a desire.” Moreover, “democrats are not born, they are made. Democracy is an instruction, a taught discipline, and the instincts that it inhibits are common to clay.”

Wieseltier’s own conception of democracy has nothing to do with the practice of self-government or with training for citizenship in a community living by its own lights and customs. It is a “taught discipline” that requires us to rise above what we are or, more accurately, used to be as a result of our political and cultural heritage and to open ourselves to imposed change. And it is not we who are supposed to make or unmake that change as a prudential decision; we are only to allow it to happen to us—as “an instruction,” to use the pseudoclassical rhetoric typical of the new democratic ideologues. As I argue in my book on Carl Schmitt and the nation-state, what democratic pluralists chiefly want is a return to erotic politics, to the bonds of civic fraternity present in the ancient city, albeit under altered circumstances. In the new erotic politics, we shall live together in a global society that absorbs but never excludes. Any retreat from that ideal is now identified in the popular press with tribalism or with a slippery slope leading precipitately into Auschwitz.

Therapeutic democracy, as practiced by a growing welfare state, has a symbiotic relationship to erotic politics. Indeed that politics has become the ideal that fuels managerial tyranny at home and abroad. In the absence of cohesive societies capable of looking after themselves, sensitizing bureaucrats, particularly social workers, have risen to political power. And to some extent this ascendancy has been necessary to maintain civil peace among otherwise warring minorities. A vast bureaucratic structure has sprung into being in France to help absorb incoming North Africans under the banner of “the rights of man.” This bureaucratic network has also been charged with the “sensibilisation” of the French population, whose dislike of the new immigrants is all too apparent. Of course, it is hard to imagine any group that would clash with the French more dramatically than North African Moslems, with whom they fought a long and bloody war in the postwar period and who insist on bringing Moslem dress and religious practices into French public schools. Though there is surging popular resistance, French journalists grouped around Le Monde, social professionals, and human rights advocates in the government have protested any change in immigration policy. It is the French, not the growing and largely unassimilable minority, that are seen as being at fault. Democratic pluralists are always stressing the need for constant adaptation to alien and even shocking lifestyles. This adaptation, it may be inferred, will have to continue until we have shed all established identities in favor of a coercively homogenized and bureaucratically sensitized world community.

I remember a December morning in 1991, when I made the mistake of allowing my eyes to stray over breakfast coffee onto a newspaper column by Richard Cohen. A human rights maven who ranted against a congressman for appearing in public with Pat Buchanan (whom he had personally excommunicated), Cohen was exercised that morning over new insensitivities. The United States was stubbornly refusing to admit 20,000 more Haitians; and this callous behavior made him think of how America had turned back German Jews fleeing Hitler in 1940. What one situation has to do with the other, save for the desire of various people in the 20th century to enter our country, is, to me at least, unclear. Certainly there is no reason to assume that Haitians who return to their homeland will meet a fate as dire as the one that overtook Jews in Nazi Germany. But, even more to the point, are the Haitians whom Cohen and Jesse Jackson and their ilk encourage us to take in likely to yield the same types of citizens as the German Jews who were turned away in 1940? Such an outcome seems highly improbable, on the basis of what can be learned about both groups. But for Cohen and other democratic pluralists, such qualitative distinctions or the unequal dangers faced by different refugees from different societies are ultimately irrelevant. The issue comes down to determining how many diverse minorities we can stick between the two oceans for social workers to assist and human rights advocates to represent. There are no legitimate communities, national or otherwise, in Cohen’s and Wieseltier’s universe, except for designated victims, social therapists, and concerned intellectuals. Unfortunately, these same lobbies stand in the way of any attempt to restore real political communities or even a semblance of self-government in America.