I am forever seeing posts and columns by conservatives who speak of the need to defend the democracy established by the "founders" of America. The United States were not founded as a democratic nation but as a confederation of republics run largely by educated aristocrats. To the extent that political leaders like Lincoln and FDR used the language of democracy, they were acting as demagogic dictators in defiance of law and custom. There has probably never been a real democratic state, and, if there were, it was ancient Athens, which as a moderate republic joined republican Sparta in repelling two Persian invasions but as a democracy attempted to walk in the shoes of the Persian Empire.
Democracy, in practical terms, is virtually impossible in any country larger than Luxemburg, partly because most people are contenty to run their own lives and have neither the interest nor the wisdom to exercise authority, and partly because of what was once known as the Iron Law of Oligarchy. All governments are inherently oligarchical, because no single man can rule without a cadre of loyal cronies and because any group of men, including Boy Scout Troops, the PTA, and lynch mobs are ruled by a few dominant personalities. A long time ago, George Fitzhugh pointed out that any nation based on the principles of "liberty and equality" would concentrate all power in the hands of the ruthless seekers of power and would exploit and subjugate the weaker and more virtuous citizens.
This was self-evident 150 years ago, and it is astonishing that so many well-intentioned people are still celebrating the political fiction by which they are enslaved. Another enslaving illusion is the cult of liberty. Liberty and freedom are tricky words. In a political context, the Greeks thought first of the independence of their cities which they contrasted with the enslaved communities of the Persian Empire. They secondly thought of the distinction between slaves and free men. The Greek phrase the Romans translated as artes liberales, the liberal arts, originally designated those skills and activities that feee men engaged in--literature, music, philosophy, oratory. Now, Greek philosophers of various types liked to argue about who was really free. Were slaves to appetite free? Slaves to prejudice? Greed?
To my argument, I sometimes get the response that this or that person prefers a different form of government, monarchy or aristocracy, but if democracy, apart from certain ancient Greek cities, is a mythical beast--one used to terrify children into obedience-- it is not a question of what system one prefers but of acknowledging reality
On a more practical level, Aristotle recognized certain common ethical qualities among free people--that is, Greeks--and is said to have advised Alexander to treat the barbarians as free, the Greeks as free. To be free requires some degree of economic autonomy, which in turn encourages moral autonomy, which makes possible spiritual autonomy. TV watchers and sports fans, no matter how many times they vote for Donald Trump or watch Fox News, can never be free in any sense of the word the ancients or Jefferson would understand. (I am not referring to people who watch television occasionally or root for their home team but to the habitual abusers of popular culture, including Facebook.