In his seminal text Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard's pseudonymous narrator, Johannes de Silentio, remarks:
Not just in commerce but in the world of ideas too our age is putting on a veritable clearance sale. Everything can be had so dirt cheap that one begins to wonder whether in the end anyone will want to make a bid.
As my good friend, Dr. Trott, pointed out to me, it's hard to believe that was written almost 150 years ago. Anyone watching the current debacle of a debate (and I use "debate" here in the loosest possible sense) over health care can surely see the dirt-cheapening of ideas and discourse that is underway. Of course, Kierkegaard was no fan of democracy. Like Nietzsche, like Plato-- actually, like most of the history of Western philosophy which, as Derrida noted in Rogues, has "rarely sided without reserve with democracy"-- Kierkegaard despised the very idea of rule by the hoi polloi, itself ruled by the lowest common demoninator. The fundamental principle of democracy-- that each and every one has a voice and a vote-- is meant to cultivate both equity and excellence, and its proponents (pace Kierkegaard et al) believe that the best always triumphs in the marketplace of ideas. But, as we've seen recently, sometimes unrestricted access to the marketplace of ideas gives platform to people like this, whose sheer volume and viciousness (sans ideas) regrettably triumphs too often.
Most of the time, I think there aren't enough truly "radical" voices in American democratic discourse. The "Left" in this country is woefully moderate, which is why we haven't gotten anywhere close to approaching truly costly (read: "valuable") ideas about reform in health care, banking, housing, employment, et al, ad nauseum. Liberals/Democrats shake in their boots when they find themselves accused of "socialist" ideations-- which, more often than not, are merely appeals for the most rudimentary mechanisms of social justice-- and the so-called "radical" Left is repeatedly and publicly disavowed by the Democratic Party for fear that indulging that radical element might exempt liberally-minded folk from inclusion in serious public discourse. So, it is curious to me to see the G.O.P.'s unrepentant indulgence of their own radical element, the Tea Party, which appears more and more to possess no internal censoring mechanism at all.
The Tea Party is politically "backwards" in almost every post-Enlightenment sense of the word. They relish in, even celebrate, their bigotry. They trade in a rhetoric of non-conversation, non-cooperation, non-participation. They pose as a revolutionary movement that is afraid of revolution, a populist movement utterly disdainful of the people. They are patriots who hate their government, who hate any government, who do not want to be "governed"... which makes them "patriots" in the old patria (Vaterland) sense, in the "nationalist" sense, which is always and ever a racist sense. Why does the G.O.P not turn its back on them?
Derrida once said that the inherent risk facing every modern democracy is that "the alternative to democracy can always be represented as a democratic alternative." That is to say, it is squarely within the both the spirit and the law of democracy to democratically opt for those who would bring about the end of democracy. For all of our differences, I still believe that Republicans really do believe in democracy... but they have a wolf at the gates, and they will surely be devoured by it if they continue their sheepish acquiescence. They are letting their own ideas be co-opted and ultimately cheapened by the Tea Party. And eventually, as Kierkegaard predicted, those ideas will get so cheap that no one will care to make a bid.