Democracy and Love

Is too Much Freedom Destructive?


The Greek ideal of small communities reaching a consensus in democratic discourse required discussion, involvement and assurance to the disgruntled. As the community grew larger a more efficient method had to evolve. Rome did just that. Unfortunately, the Roman republican democracy robbed the process of a large part of grass roots involvement. Once delegated to office through election, Roman politicians found less need for community discussion and involvement. Fewer citizens knew what had happened or how, therefore fewer assurances and consolations had to be meted out.

The Roman citizen had the trappings of freedom without the responsibility of decision. As Roman politicians discovered, co-opting the Roman vote was as simple as bread and circuses. The Roman citizen, bought by short term gain, essentially lost all real benefit of their own democracy. Clearly modern liberal democracy is developed from the Roman model.

Modern liberal democracy advertises a celebration of life with few or no limits. Freedom. American television produces show upon show with the driving moral force being the acquisition of personal freedom. This emphasis on personal freedom, be it "Roots", alien invasion, or demonic possession, ignores the larger corporate reality in which the will of the people is largely discarded or ignored until a massive protest can be mounted. Those issues which cannot acquire large scale public involvement go to the highest bidder, usually big business.

The emphasis on personal freedom is an aphrodisiac convincing us of our own importance, and so we are unwilling to consider the wider implications of to much emphasis on freedom. Beauty, truth and goodness have clearly taken a second place to life with "No limits!" School teachers and even school principles are encouraging or actually aiding in cheating. Businesses widely employ unethical practices. American self-interest is the first rule of our foreign policy.

President Jimmy Carter attempted to add the consideration of human rights to American foreign policy. The result was revolt in the state department, conflict with congress and ridicule in the press. Apparently the rights that we take for granted, do not need to be extended universally. Instead we push country after country into democratic reform in order to watch new fundamentalist and anti-American governments horribly abuse ethnic and religious minorities.

It would seem that democracy is itself encouraging a drift away from all notions of social responsibility, patriotism and respect towards a stylized social responsibility. Insults to our leaders and our government are much more prevalent than any show of gratitude. There is strong public support for art showings which include religiously, sexually or politically offensive materials in public institutions as if this were a constitutional right.

Our interpersonal relationships are stressed by the notion that personal opinion is more important than corporate concerns. The opportunity to opt out of a situation is strong and compelling. The dictatorship of one over the other is less likely in today's climate, and that's a good thing. Unfortunately, toleration and the freedom to flee is not enough. The idea that a we should tolerate each other rather than truly try to understand each other kills the urge to deeper and stronger relationship. And it is much easier to flee than to do the self analysis and hard work of adapting that make us strong and mature.


Modern psychology has reinforced this by transforming powerful images into new ones. The one I particullarly dislike is "co-dependence". Co-dependence is love. Of course loving someone who is cruel and abusive is a problem. And it is important to learn to love without losing yourself in your lover's opinions (becoming enmeshed). These are problems that plague the art of loving. But there is no excuse for denigrating or down-grading the importance of love to the health and well-being of our lives and society.

Several recent research projects have emphasized the importance of marriage to health and happiness. Married couples live much longer. A good marriage provides as much joy, and I don't know how one quantifies this, as an extra $100,000 in income every year. It would seem that psychotherapy is disinclined to encourage love or marriage. This is similar to a medical doctor not recommending more effective low cost treatments which do not require a doctor's prescription. It borders on the abrogation of professional responsibility.

The emotional fabric stretched between two lovers is too far beyond the realm of science for the imposition of rules. Toleration seems to be acceptable within a relationship, precluding genuine growth and maturation which would bring a deeper and more stable commitment. There is less incentive to adapt and more encouragement to run. The result is fewer marriages and more divorce.

There is a silver lining, for those in a relationship that is hurtful and not salvagable, it is easy to leave. For those who want a strong and stable relationship, they know they have to work at it. While the threat of leaving can be horribly damaging to a relationship, it can also be a strong kick in the rear. The result could be a level of growth and maturity, and therefore happiness, that might otherwise never be obtained. Because a modern marriage is much more fragile, it takes a great deal more care and effort to maintain. Care and effort can only be good for the marriage.

St. Paul

St. Paul, a Roman citizen who found himself frequently in jail, down grades the importance of earthly freedom in favor of spiritual release. He fully understood that his preaching would bring him injury and inprisonment. He chose this course willingly. His letter to Philemon is occasioned by his pleading on behalf of a returning slave sent by Paul's encouragement. Paul does not expound on the institution of slavery, but is clearly not disposed to avoiding earthly responsibilities or the circumstances of life. To Paul, personal freedom is an illusion. He saw that we are subject to a higher authority from which there is no escape.

In this context, it is not surprising that his views on marriage encourage acceptance of circumstance, even if one's partner is not a believer. He encourages disconsolate partners that their choice is a blessing to their unbelieving spouses. While he finds divorce and remarriage acceptable in cases of abandonment, he strongly advocates against fleeing a marriage (I Corithians).

Paul does not directly address the circumstance of abuse. While he strongly condemns cruelty, he does not appear to advocate abuse as an acceptable reason for fleeing slavery. As I understand it, a person became a slave in the Roman empire to relieve a debt burden. As such, slavery was a contract to be fulfilled, but one with few protections for the slave. In the case of Philemon's slave, Onesimes, who had not only run away, but had stolen money, Philemon was apparently within his rights to kill him. Paul is risking Onesimes' death by sending him back to his master.

There were legal guidelines for slavery within the Roman empire. Paul who was apparently under house arrest in Rome at the time, could not legally have protected Onesimes. However, requiring Onesimes to answer his worldly obligations fits well within Paul's overall theology.

Paul's view on marriage may have fit within this context. Certainly in his early days, when the Perousia seemed immanent, marriage seemed a distraction better avoided. As such, he may be seen to regard marriage as a worldly contract, sanctioned by God, but not necessarily encouraged.

Wm W Wells – December 9, 1999

Copyright © 1999 Wm W Wells. May be copied freely without alteration.