Not a Fool, but a Democrat

Today, in the Süddeutsche Zeitung online, an editorial by Heribert Prantly which makes, among others, the following point:

In der Spitzenpolitik wurde dieses Referendum diskutiert, als habe Premier Papandreou vorgeschlagen, die Demokratie in seinem Land durch ein russisches Roulette zu ersetzen – und als gelte es daher, dem Premier die Waffe wieder aus der Hand zu winden; das hat man denn auch getan. Dabei hatte Papandreou nichts anderes versucht, als die Demokratie in ihr Recht zu setzen: unzulänglich sicherlich, undiplomatisch, ohne zuvor an Angela Merkel und Nicolas Sarkozy wenigstens eine SMS geschickt zu haben.

Er hätte sein Vorhaben früher ankündigen, es besser vorbereiten, es hätte Teil des Euro-Rettungspakets sein müssen. Aber auch mit der falschen Verpackung und falsch dargereicht bleibt eine Medizin eine Medizin; man muss sie besser einsetzen, zur richtigen Zeit und in richtiger Dosierung. Eine Volksabstimmung ist kein Allheilmittel, sie ist aber auch kein Gift. Wer in einer Demokratie das Volk, den Demos, befragen will, ist zunächst einmal kein Narr, sondern ein Demokrat.

Or, as I translate it:

In senior political circles, this referendum was discussed as though Premier Papandreou had proposed replacing democracy in his country with Russian roulette, and as though it would therefore be appropriate to wrest the weapon out of his hands, which was in fact what was done. But in acting as he did, Papandreou had sought to do no more than give democracy its due — inadequately, to be sure, undiplomatically, and without having so much as sent Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy an SMS beforehand.

He should have announced his plan earlier, prepared it better, it ought to have been part of the Euro rescue package. But even in the wrong wrapper, and improperly administered, a medicine remains a medicine. One need only introduce it more properly, at the right time, and in the right dosage. A plebiscite is no cure-all, but neither is it a poison. In a democracy, he who wants to submit a question to the people, the demos, is first and foremost not a fool, but a democrat.

I agree completely, and can only add that it never ceases to amaze me how thoroughly people who consider themselves the intellectual and moral elite of their respective countries, the custodians of our modern, post-industrial civilization, discount this simple truth. Poke them a little, and none of them actually believes in democracy. That’s their right, I suppose, and no doubt they have their reasons, but I’d have more respect for them if they didn’t expend so much energy trying to convince me otherwise.


  1. Bill, it turns out the Greeks are voting anyway, out in the street. I’m not sure they begged permission of Merkel before doing so.

    • William Timberman says:

      I’m not an unqualified admirer of Churchill’s politics, but his oft-quoted observation about the progress of another war seems appropriate today:

      Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

      As with all Churchillian rhetorical flourishes, this seems a bit too carefully staged to be entirely praiseworthy — except in the eyes of historians who always seem to be fishing for the bon mot — but to anyone caught up in the struggles to reclaim civil society from the death grip of oligarchs and technocrats now going on all over the world, it doesn’t seem the least bit extravagant.