“What I don’t understand,” said Mrs. Bowman, “is why the people let a dictator like him get power in the first place.”
“Dictatorships,” said Mr. Magundi, “are often, in a sense, more democratic than representative governments. We who live in a country with a strong tradition of constitutional government have trouble understanding it, but dictators often rise to power on a great wave of popular enthusiasm. It’s easier for the average stupid citizen to imagine one charismatic demagogue as his leader than a few hundred colorless legislators. The problem is that popular enthusiasm is fickle. It doesn’t usually last very long. But dictators are hard to get rid of. In that sense, then, the representative government is ultimately the more democratic one. A dictatorship may be, for the moment, more representative of the popular will; but a representative government is more responsive to it.”
“But he’s right when he says that just about all the persecution in the world comes from religions,” I said. “I’m not an atheist myself, but I have to admit he has a point there.”
“He can say that only because most Americans can’t remember anything before last week,” Mr. Magundi replied. “The whole history of the twentieth century was a history of the persecution of religion by brutal institutional atheism. The persecutors saw themselves as the light overcoming the darkness of religion; but if Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao, and Hitler are the light, then I’d rather sit in the dark. If, since the fall of the Soviet empire, religion has come back in a persecuting mood, that is of course deplorable. But to say that there are no atheist persecutions demonstrates such an appalling ignorance of history that I really don’t know how to reply. Persecution is not a religious phenomenon, and it is not an anti-religious phenomenon. It is a human phenomenon; and perhaps we could even say that it is a pre-human phenomenon, one that we share with all animals that live in social groups. Religion may provide the excuse for persecution, or atheism may provide it. But it is only the excuse. What we want is not to persecute atheists, or to persecute Jews, or to persecute Buddhists, or to persecute Christians, but simply to persecute someone.”
“So I showed it to him,” Brielle concluded, “but he just, like, started yelling at me.”
“Nothing is more infuriating than a demonstrable truth,” said Mr. Magundi. “You can be civil as long as the debate cannot be definitively settled. But when you’ve put your whole soul into maintaining a proposition, and the other side produces incontrovertible proof that you’re wrong, your only choice is either cheerful admission of defeat or blind impotent rage—and it doesn’t take a deep or subtle student of psychology to know which way most people will go. If, in an argument about politics or religion or anything else people really care about, one of the participants ends up dead, we are justified in supposing that the victim brought up a really good point, and the murderer was not able to think of an answer.”
“I get tired of hearing about ‘diversity,'” Mr. Bates said. “It’s time we admitted that, as Americans, we share certain core values, and if you don’t share those values you shouldn’t be here.”
Mr. Magundi disagreed. “Diversity is the key to a healthy democracy. No, I’ll state it more baldly: democracy is tyranny without diversity. When like-minded people gather in a group, the first thing they want to do is enforce conformity—which is very easy to do when most of the people think the same thoughts, and the outsiders are few and powerless. And it feels good to be one of that powerful majority—until the others find that one tiny point on which you differ from them, and kill you for it.
“No, the only way to secure freedom is to limit the natural tyranny of the mob, and the only effective way to do that is by dividing the mob. Our Constitution had the good fortune to be drafted when the different sections of the country not only were not of like mind, but in fact could barely agree on anything. Because the disagreements were irreconcilable, our Constitution is a mess, full of irrational compromises that no sane thinker would propose. Yet, for all its faults, it works in the main, and gives each of us a kind of personal freedom that most of the world still envies, whatever they may think of our military adventures. It continues to work mostly because many of our differences are still irreconcilable, and we all know that the only way to preserve our own freedom from the tyranny of those other people is to preserve freedom for everyone. Liberty is a delicate flower, and it does not grow well in a homogeneous society.
“If you asked me to prescribe an elixir for perpetual liberty, my prescription would be this: that if at any time the current population of the country shows signs of too much agreement on the really important things of life, a large influx of new immigrants should be brought in from some other part of the world to break up our shared core values.”
“But at least he’s honest about it,” I said with resignation.
“Give me a hypocrite over an honest villain any day,” said Mr. Magundi. “Hypocrisy at least admits a standard and can be held to it as long as daylight shines on the hypocrite. It’s best simply to be virtuous by habit, and always to do the right thing for its own sake. But it’s far better to avoid wrong from fear of public opinion than never to avoid wrong at all. Honesty is a virtue, but not the very highest virtue of all; and I’d rather be spared by a liar who professes no desire to kill me than slaughtered by an honest murderer.”
“But as for me,” Mr. Bates concluded, “I’d rather live in a Christian nation.”
“Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” Mr. Magundi agreed. “A nation that turns the other cheek when attacked, that gives all it has to the poor, and that loves all its neighbors as itself! What a glorious experiment that would be! I wonder why it’s never been tried before. Benjamin Franklin was right: ‘He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.'”
“But there has to be something they can do to stop illegal immigrants from coming in,” said Mrs. Bowman.
“I don’t think so,” Mr. Magundi replied. “Every revenue officer knows that you can’t stop smuggling if the profit on contraband is high enough. In the same way, if the benefits of illegal immigration are great enough, no one can stop it. Heaven knows we’ve made life unpleasant and uncertain enough for illegal immigrants—heaven knows, and the recording angel is taking notes. But life is so much more unpleasant and uncertain where they come from that they’ll take a real risk of death over staying where they are. We can never make life difficult enough to stop them without making life impossible for ourselves. And so the only thing left is to make a kind of Copernican shift in our point of view, and realize that, instead of making life less pleasant here, we’re going to have to find some way of making life more pleasant there.”