13 Oct HL Mencken and the Occupation of Wall Street by Kaiser Leib
“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
-H. L. Mencken
In the etymological sense, all societies are democracies. No government could remain in power, even with the support of the police and the military, if every citizen were simply to pick up a rock and throw it. Therefore, any government which remains in power has the tacit consent of the people, or at least a plurality of motivated people.
It seems that the American government is losing this tacit consent. The Occupy Wall Street protests and the copycat movements across the country are evidence of that. These protesters are not a majority of the people. They are not a plurality of the people. They do, however, represent one majority opinion: that the nature of the present relationship between government and high finance is intolerable, and must be changed.
The rest of the protesters’ message is unclear, because it is unfocused. Polling would indicate that the protesters want more government regulation, but determining the nature of that regulation would be left to existing powers – leaving us exactly where we are now, albeit with shiny new lipstick on our pig of a financial system. And what of the wars, against “terrorism” and “drugs?” Have those been forgotten, or are the prison-industrial and military-industrial complexes simply a smaller threat to our well being than the undefined greed of the “1%”?
The Occupy Wall Street movement is composed of people who have every reason to be angry. Their property has been appropriated, their opportunities are repeatedly limited by government interference. They’ve been sold a package of unjust wars, useless education, and dubious protection from threats less real than the Bogeyman. To be sure, crony corporatists and congressman have colluded to commandeer the future of this country, and of the entire world. But OWS doesn’t seem to be about that. OWS asks for more regulation, more government meddling in our affairs. They ask evil to protect them from evil, and don’t understand the similarity between the 1% of high finance and the 1% of government.
Mencken’s snide dismissal of democracy is too kind. These common people, these “99%,” don’t really know exactly what they want. Unfortunately, the getting will be just as “good and hard” regardless.