On referendums and institutions

Wednesday’s Virginian Pilot had a couple of things in it that were seemingly unrelated yet connected. The first was this letter to the editor. The line that jumped out at me:

I can’t think of an occasion that should prompt a voter referendum except for an election of representatives.

I shook my head. Poor fellow – the mis-education of the voter has worked its magic on him. But then the article on the facing page caught my eye: it was a reprint of this David Brooks piece. In it, Brooks says the people he admires institutionalists, those who “subjugated themselves to their profession, social function or institution.”

[T]he institutionalist has a deep reverence for those who came before and built up the rules that he has temporarily taken delivery of.

I suspect Brooks would find  LTE writer Turner someone to admire.  Brooks concludes:

Institutions do all the things that are supposed to be bad. They impede personal exploration. They enforce conformity.

But they often save us from our weaknesses and give meaning to life.

I can’t say I agree with either of these guys. Perhaps theirs is a perspective that comes from being in the majority. Our political system is an institution cares less about looking out for the average person than protecting the interests of the electeds. Wednesday evening I spent at a forum on the 50th anniversary of the end of Massive Resistance. It was our government – Virginia’s, that is – that chose to close the schools rather than integrate. Turner, if his letter is to be believed, would have supported the Governor’s decision. And Brooks, too.

Pick just about any topic and you could see these two lining up to support the status quo.

Can you imagine what this country would look like if “thinkers” like Turner and Brooks were the majority? Wipe out all of the advances of the past two hundred plus years and you get the idea.

Thank goodness there are people out there – real thinkers – who understand the need to challenge the institutions to change, to challenge our elected officials to learn new things.

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4 thoughts on “On referendums and institutions

  1. So many people seem to think capital-H History and all of its values and structures locks in place the moment they come onto the scene. They fight hard to protect the status quo. They revere things because they’re familiar, not because they’re worth revering. They have a hard time accepting that history’s a continuing story.

  2. “Our political system is an institution cares less about looking out for the average person than protecting the interests of the electeds.”

    Are you SURE you’re not a closet conservative? From that statement, I simply cannot understand why you want the government in control of our health care or our retirement income, or why you would want the government to have the only guns.

  3. Good point, Chris.

    Mouse – you misunderstand. The political system system itself – IMHO – is neither liberal nor conservative; rather, it is a self-perpetuating one.

  4. I think you misunderstand. The system is not conservative or liberal, but conservatives realize that the political system exists for the benefit of the politicians, not the people, and so they want the government (i.e., the politicians) to have as little power as is practical.

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