Friday, September 01, 2006

The Democratic Decalogue

The Democratic Decalogue by Leo Rosten, LOOK Magazine, January 15, 1963

Democracy works because of ten central ideas that we have made sacred:

1. Political power is power over others, and power over others must always be watched, guarded, and circumscribed.

2. No man, no group, no sect, no party ever has a monopoly on truth, virtue and competence.

3. This means that no man, no group, no party is wise enough and good enough and sane enough to be entrusted with too much power. For good men are often silly and competent men are often wicked, and even the combination of virtue and ability in no way guarantees judgment or reason or sanity. Good intentions do not necessarily lead to good results; purity of heart is not always linked to political skill or emotional balance. Human history is studded with tragedy precisely because too often have “sincere” and passionate men seized the power (or bamboozled others into letting them exercise it) to do what they happen to think best.

4. Those we like may be wrong; those we hate may be right. The only way to find out what is best, for whom, is to let the ideas and the theories, however disturbing, roll out in uninterrupted contest. The right to talk creates the duty to listen.

5. Freedom dies under dogma. In a free society, no person or group or policy can be permitted to exist beyond scrutiny, criticism, even ridicule. When dogma gains enough power to punish those who oppose it, it becomes fanaticism. When dogma is invested with enough power to suppress opposition, it becomes tyranny. And when men are afraid to say what they think — however cockeyed or unpopular it may be – freedom has been violated, for it has been corrupted by fear.

6. The only thing worse than a too powerful minority is a too powerful majority. Government must at all costs protect all minorities against any majority — including the government itself.

7. Every man has a right to opportunity, to respect, to fair treatment under law. Justice is a right, not a favor. No man shall be penalized for his parentage or his pigmentation or his faith.

8. No man, however disagreeable or dangerous, shall be denied an open trial, on specific charges. No man shall be judged by the same people who accuse him. Every man has the right to confront those who accuse him and try to prove them liars.

9. It is up to the authorities to prove a man guilty; it is not up to a man to prove himself innocent.

10. The true and final purpose of government is so to arrange life that each man can do as he damned pleases — so long as it does not harm or menace others.

The greatest political invention known to the race of man is the idea that men shall be protected in their sacred right to criticize the state itself; that every man shall be free to think what he pleases, read what he pleases, say what he pleases — so long as it is within the bounds of decency and does not incite others to violence.

Originally posted by W. Bro. Tim Bryce at

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