Friday, March 09, 2012

Make Us Do The Right Thing

"I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it." - Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1932, in a statement to labour leaders who had advocated for bold policies.
Leaders often explain that their failure to enact the right policies is because public support is either lacking or is in opposition to them. The fact that public support is fickle and fashionably sporadic is valid, however the idea that popularity should stop or limit the adoption of correct policies for a nation, no matter how democratic it is, is false.

What is correct or right should not be solely dependent on popular opinion, after all democracy itself isn't. The same principles that provide the foundation of democracy provide the argument that what is ultimately right is not determined by democracy.

Equality of individuals, a principle of which is necessary to democracy, is a principle that does not derive its legitimacy from popular support and yet without it democracy cannot exist. Reason and the values inherent in our human nature justify democracy; the system of governance is something that we all recognize is right without relying or justifying it with a vote. This is evidence enough to show that there are at least some things that are right and should be pursued no matter the amount of public support for them.

Political leaders who defer doing the right thing because it lacks public support, do so either out of self-interest, and therefore what is right was already meaningless, or they never believed it was in fact the right thing to do.

Just like democracy which is a system justified regardless of popular opinion, an ultimately correct course of action is either always right regardless of public support or it isn't. Politicians who subordinate everything they think is right to popular opinion don't think anything is right.


kirbycairo said...

Except I don't believe that Mr. Roosevelt was talking about popular or public opinion in this case. I think he was talking about the resistance that congressional and business establishments had toward policies that took the people into consideration. said...

Kirby, I don't know the specifics in regards to the context of Roosevelt's statement, details seem to be sparse. But I would argue that since FDR acknowledged what was right and that he had the capability to do it, he should not therefore rely on any inducement or support to do it.

Unless of course he never thought it was right or that he put his self-interest first, and what was right never mattered anyway.

kirbycairo said...

I have a memory of having a conversation about this when I was at the university of Colorado with a PhD student who was doing research on the growth of corporatism in America and similarities that the events in America had with the rise of fascism in Europe. That is why I have vague memory that this had to do with Roosevelt's efforts to curb the power of capital and build a more effective social democracy in America.

But you are right, whether FDR was reacting to popular opinion or corporate power, the point is the same - what is right is right. If nothing else, FDR understood that unhindered corporate power in the US would lead to fascism or revolution and that the only way to save America was a social democracy and lots of people resisted this effort.