The Conversation

Lesson of Chávez: Democracy is not self-correcting

The lesson of Hugo Chávez's 14 years in power is exactly the lesson Alexis de Tocqueville tried to teach us nearly 200 years ago: that democracy's flaws are not self-correcting. A despot who claims the support of the people can rule indefinitely, exercising a kind of tyranny that makes even absolute monarchy look tame.

In the U.S. we have become accustomed to thinking of democracy as a sort of stable state, because the Framers of our Constitution were students of Montesquieu and Locke, and understood both the need for checks and balances, as well as the fundamental importance of individual liberty. But even their system is not infallible.

Chavez used--and stoked--class resentments to maintain his grip on power. He targeted critical media outlets. He appointed lackeys to the courts and fundamentally altered his country's constitution, pretending that he was actually restoring its original purpose. We haven't quite seen that yet here--but we are seeing its shadow.

Ultimately, the only guarantee against democratic despotism is the virtue of the people--their love of liberty and their willingness to resist tyranny. The Second Amendment is a necessary tool, but an insufficient one. Love of liberty, and the courage to defend it, are the only defense--one that government itself cannot provide.


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