John Leo

New frontiers for circumventing democratic politics keep appearing. Take the use of United Nations declarations and precedents to create new "norms" of customary international law that could supersede national laws around the world. This is a little-known backroom effort that nobody pays much attention to, but it could do some damage. Abortion lobbyists, for instance, are promoting a norm of "reproductive rights," which is being interpreted to mean the right to abortion anywhere in the world, regardless of local laws. It could apply to girls as young at 10, without parental consent. Since the Supreme Court has ruled that customary international law is enforceable in American courts, an international norm on abortion would apply here, even if a constitutional amendment banning abortion were passed.

The advantage of this semi-stealth system is that you can push things through that would never be adopted though democratic processes in most countries. Richard Wilkins, a Brigham Young University law professor, says abortion advocates are showing "contempt for democracy and sovereignty" by using unaccountable and lightly supervised international meetings this way. He's right.

In part this anti-democratic corner-cutting reflects a changing ethic on the left: Outcomes are more important than procedures. Winning is what counts, not how you win. The furtive and often illegal guerrilla warfare against anti-quota regulations shows a determination to win at any cost.

So do the similar campaigns against welfare reform, charter schools and English immersion in the schools. The rise of this ethic helps explain what has happened to our campuses, where democratic procedures and normal intellectual give-and-take have largely disappeared (free speech, open debate, full disclosure, listening to opponents instead of trying to punish them). If winning is the only value, why debate when you can suppress?

The other half of the anti-democratic problem is elite disdain for the masses. This shines through in a lot of rhetoric on how majorities are always wrong -- wrong about capital punishment, race and gender, immigration and most of the elite agenda. Government should be conducted by "the party of intelligence," said Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish lawyer-economist who wrote "An American Dilemma," the classic 1944 book on race. Though this party of intelligence naturally "despises the democratic principle," he said, it should work within a democratic framework for practical reasons.

We have many Myrdalists among us today. They just don't put things as frankly as Gunnar.


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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