Democracy can lose its soul when it “exaggerates” its principles, when it forgets the legitimate place of hierarchy, authority, and truth within their own spheres. As Dominique Schnapper argues in a brilliant new study inspired by Montesquieu’s insight (The Democratic Spirit of Law), in an “extreme democracy” equality risks becoming indiscriminate egalitarianism, the defense of novelty risks giving rise to the “temptation of the unlimited,” and healthy skepticism risks decaying into “absolute relativism.” As another contemporary French thinker, Pierre Manent, has put it, “To love democracy well it is necessary to love it moderately.”
This is what we should mean if we say we want to get back to a better America, rejecting hubris and restoring healthy boundaries in our civilization. People in the old days were not sinless, but they did understand the morality that builds and maintains a nation a little better than perhaps we do today. How do we get back there? It is partly by politics, but politics only as an outgrowth of godly community, by healthy church life, and by following the Good Shepherd wherever he goes.