Democracy isn’t a worldview: It’s worldview dependent. The laws a democratic society produces depend on the worldviews of the people who vote and legislate. To treat democracy like a fundamental source of values and a way of seeing reality is to misunderstand democracy, government, and the human condition. Also, it is asking a political system to answer questions it cannot. It’s simply not big enough.
Though election day is behind us and the direction of the country set, politics will most likely continue to overstep into most of our lives and our culture. After all, the presidential campaign season has already begun.
Without abandoning the political sphere altogether or downplaying its importance, Christians must push back against the all-consuming nature of politics. For many of us, that will mean less time on social media, fewer podcasts, less talk radio and cable news, and more time cultivating our knowledge of Scripture and theology. In this loaded cultural moment, anyone not intentional about what is shaping and forming his or her view of the world is at risk of the political illusion.
Take a recent statement by President Joe Biden, tweeted just before the midterm elections: “Democracy is more than a form of government,” he (or whoever runs his Twitter page) wrote. “It’s a way of being. A way of seeing the world. A way that defines who we are, what we believe, and why we do what we do. Democracy is simply that fundamental.”
In other words, to lightly paraphrase the president, democracy is a worldview. But is that true?
On one hand, the quasi-religious tone used to describe a system of government is a bit like The Washington Post’s melodramatic slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Popular sovereignty is not a “way of seeing the world” that “defines who we are, what we believe, and why we do what we do” any more than the market economy or trial by jury are worldviews. Instead, each is a reflection of prior values, which are shaped by deeply held beliefs about reality. We do things (like voting) that are important to us, and they’re important to us because of how we see the world.
In other words, the president had it exactly backwards. He’s assuming that democracy determines how we view the world.