Does Democracy Require Morality?
For the last 3 months we have been looking at the topic of democracy under threat. The erosion of basic freedoms, a tone-deaf political elite, incremental but increasing authoritarianism, failure to apply the rule of law consistently, resistance to allowing the people to vote on fundamental issues of society - all point a decline in democracy. A case in point was the Australian Federal Opposition’s thwarting of a people’s plebiscite to decide the definition of marriage. The June 23, 2016 in the UK, where the electorate voted to leave or ‘Brexit’ the European Union, was a populist exception to this rule; indeed, the Brexit vote was true democracy in action.
Yet, if we are going to see a return to functional, classic democracy, then let’s visit the question: Does democracy require morality?
‘Among a people generally corrupt liberty cannot long exist’ — Edmund Burke
Democracy is understood to be the rule of the people. This is done through their elected representatives. While it can be time-consuming, factional and, at times, messy, it also is the best guarantor of human rights and individual freedoms. This is due, in part, because the main coordinates of power - the executive branch, legislative branch, and judicial branches of government - are separated and independent. In addition to ‘separation of powers’ is what we call ‘balance of power.’ All three branches are given power and limitations on that power; the desired result is that no branch of government gets too much power. This is meant to prevent dictatorships and coup d’tats.
‘Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters’ - Benjamin Franklin
The collective wisdom of America’s founding fathers, the ones who established the first modern democracy, is that morality and democracy, with its accompanying freedoms, go hand-in-hand.
‘We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other’ - John Adams
In the American colonies in the 18th Century, there was the Great Awakening, a revival that helped lay the moral foundation of the American republic and constitution. In Britain at the same time was the Wesleyan revival; it has been said that without this the UK would have faced a blood-filled revolution like their French neighbours across the English Channel. With the needful separation of church and state, both flourished without being encroached upon by the other. That’s why pulpits on both sides of ‘the pond’ were on fire for the LORD.
‘Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society’ - George Washington
Morality includes character that honours high precepts like the Ten Commandments. It is also a commitment to truth. Two famous US Presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, were famous for their truthfulness, even if it was inconvenient and inexpedient. That’s why when truth is compromised, so is morality, and then by extension democracy itself.
‘No people can be great who have ceased to be virtuous’ - Samuel Johnson
Morality and virtue have taken a beating in the last year’s. The rebellious 1960s, the advent of postmodernism with its nihilism, relativism, and repudiation of absolute truth, increasingly Biblical illiteracy, and a spirit of deception and delusion in public and private, it is more challenging to get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Yet our search for truth must continue because without it we speak the devil’s language (John 8:44).
‘A country cannot subsist well without liberty, nor liberty without virtue’ - Jean Jacques Rousseau
Those who name the name of Christ need to depart from iniquity. Instead, ‘salt and light’ integrity should be cultivated. Integrity means to be sincere, honest, and morally upright. You don’t have to be a Christian to have these qualities, but you do need to be following Jesus in order to be ‘salt of the earth and light of the world.’
A state is nothing more than a reflection of its citizens; the more decent the citizens, the more decent the state’ - Ronald Reagan
Bible-preaching, Spirit filled, evangelistically inclined and missional minded churches are the best guarantee for the continuance of democracy. They provide the moral teaching that fosters good citizens who are committed to truth and integrity. When this happens, democracy will be safeguarded.
‘Righteousness exalteth a nation’ - Proverbs 14:34