Family Life is not a Democracy

I ran into a problem yesterday when I returned to Germany. On my first evening, I wanted to slake my thirst for German beer, big-time! So I ordered a liter-serving right off the bat; but I knew I also wanted some wine and ordered a carafe of it, as well. Shamefully, I have to admit to not finishing either. I slaked my thirst, but had to leave some of it undrunk. I hate wasting anything, but I had work to do and wanted to operate on all my cylinders.

As I gulped my beer and sipped my wine, I read an article in the Süddeutsche newspaper titled "Die Familie ist keine Demokratie," translated "The family not a democracy." The author writes about a friend who took her son to the local ice-cream parlor for a treat. He looked over the full buckets of ice-cream behind the counter and decided he wanted it all--apple-strudel, blue ice cream, red ice cream, vanilla wrapped in a waffle, and everything else.

"But you must choose only one," said the sensible mother.

e couldn't do it. The choices overwhelmed the little boy. His dithering meant that the other customers had to wait while the little guy made up his mind. After a half-dozen mouthfuls, his tiny tummy had had enough. He wants it all but can satisfy only a portion of his desire. How frustrating is that?

As the little boy ages, he may learn his limits as regards ice cream, but his tastes and capacity change, and Mother is seldom in the picture any longer to rein him in. He has to keep evaluating the challenges, whether ice cream, beer and wine, or money, jewellery, or real estate properties. Lawyers can spend their entire careers sorting out the challenges to their wealthy clients.

Finally, think of a nation as an ice-cream parlor. The children enter and hold votes in good democratic tradition about what helpings of ice cream to choose. Naturally they want the largest helping for themselves. With their mothers not around to act sensibly for them, things can get ugly.

In the national context, the legal authority--the "Mother," the thing that keeps us out of each other's pockets, and preserves law and order--is a constitution. Democracy by itself cannot do that.