Let’s start with what I see as a truism and most other Westerners will probably regard as heterodoxy, apostasy or downright sedition:
No political system – including democracy – is unequivocally good, although some may be unequivocally bad. What is important isn’t method of government, but the kind of society it brings forth and the kind of leaders it pushes to the top. That’s why it’s as foolhardy to worship democracy as it is to dismiss it out of hand.
Even the definition of democracy is hard to pin down. For the only kind of democracy where the demos would rule would be the direct kind, eschewed by all Western countries. Any other kind of democracy, limited or unlimited, presidential or parliamentary, is a complex organism irreducible to simplistic formulas.
The pro-democracy arguments are usually based on spurious comparisons between Western democracies and their undemocratic antipodes. And yes, the former tend to boast greater freedoms, more respect for individual sovereignty and for the law. Yet ascribing such wonderful things strictly to the way people get their governments is ill-advised.
Democracy in the West built on the solid legacy of Christendom. Such supposedly democratic premises as freedom of choice, respect for human life and dignity, sacrificing if necessary one’s interests to the common good are all fundamental Christian concepts. The founding principles of our legality came down from two mountains, our pluralism owes much to the Catholic concept of solidarity counterbalanced by subsidiarity and so on.
In fact one could argue (as I have done in several books) that the West began to decline when it severed its links with its heritage and abandoned it for the sake of political formalism. In consequence, people have lost the habit, perhaps even the ability, to look at a country and ask not “Is it democratic?” but “Is it good?” And no, although the two concepts may overlap here and there, they are not invariably synonymous.
They could become synonymous, and here I’m about to go on a wild goose chase, if the electorate were made up of individuals aware that taking part in governance (which is what voting is) imposes responsibilities. A citizen should only cast his vote after seriously considering the pros and cons of the policies proposed by various candidates and evaluating their ramifications for personal and public good.
That doesn’t mean that everyone should be an accomplished political scientist, but it does mean that some basic education is a must. For example, if raising interest rates is a key issue in a campaign, voters must understand, if only in general terms, what effect that would have on the economy, specifically the people’s economic behaviour.
Different people may come to different conclusions, and it can never be guaranteed that truth will out. But at least each vote would be cast by serious people aware of their responsibilities to their country, to themselves and to their families.
If anyone labours under the misapprehension that modern democracies meet even such elementary requirements, I can disabuse you of that notion with two words: Taylor Swift.
In a recent survey some 20 per cent of Americans said they’d vote the way Swift tells them. Now, I understand this young lady is some kind of pop star, although I can’t boast any familiarity with either her art or her politics.
However, as someone who cherishes first principles, I have little doubt that her art is an exercise in pseud vulgarity, while her politics is a compendium of brainless kneejerk fads.
As a pop star and an ‘influencer’, Miss Swift has to love abortion, LGBT rights, racial minorities, any Third World values, MeToo, BLM, ‘gender identity’, ‘our planet’, uncontrolled immigration and any Democrat, especially Joe Biden. And she must oppose private ownership of guns, whites who stubbornly cling to their majority status, capitalism, colonialism, men who still outnumber women on corporate boards, and any Republican, especially Donald Trump.
(If I’m wrong in those a priori assumptions, I’m prepared to eat my hat, either raw or cooked by any method known to gastronomy.)
If some Americans have carefully considered those issues and felt affinity with them, then by all means they should vote that way. But voting as some bimbo ‘influencer’ tells them, and simply because she says so, compromises not only them but the very idea of democracy as it has become.
Lest you may think I have it in for America, the situation in Britain is just as bad and more sinister. Our democracy increasingly comes close to any sensible definition of mob rule.
Until relatively recently, British democracy was what is sometimes called Burkean. MPs, Burke explained with his customary epigrammatic clarity, are people’s representatives, not delegates. They should act according to what they see as people’s interests, not wishes. The people choose their representatives and then trust them to govern according to their own conscience.
That concept fell by the wayside long ago, with the arrival of cynical politicians seeking office by pandering to every wish of an illiterate and therefore malleable electorate. Since the silent majority is just that, silent, effectively this means MPs are at the beck and call of variously pernicious pressure groups or simply the mob.
Since our Labour politicians mostly, and Tory politicans often, represent constituencies with a heavy Muslim presence, they are supposed to toe the line drawn by fanatics of Islam. If they dare overstep that line, for example by evincing the mildest of pro-Israeli sentiments, they find themselves under an avalanche of vile abuse and highly credible death threats.
Muslim zealots act in cahoots with white ‘liberals’ who hate our civilisation because it’s British and formerly Christian, and our culture because it’s white and ‘elitist’. Together those groups create a menacing atmosphere making our MPs run for cover or even quit. Some are given police protection, sorely needed because some others are attacked and occasionally murdered.
The Chairman of the Labour Party and his deputy were photographed ‘taking the knee’ during the BLM riots. But both of them seem reluctant to ignore Israel’s right to self-defence when the issue of Gaza ‘genocide’ is brought up by the mob. However, one can see their views moving away from even qualified support for Israel: grassroots pressure, fortified by death threats, is working well.
All this goes to show that even countries with centuries of democratic tradition fail to uphold its basic tenets. Expecting democratic Johnnies-come-lately, such as the former Soviet republics, to be impeccably democratic is either foolish or disingenuous.
There especially, applying moral standards would produce a much better assessment than insisting on unwavering democratic probity. However, pretending otherwise can be used as a ruse to justify Putin’s fascist aggression against the Ukraine.
Peter Hitchens, who has been an open admirer of Putin’s regime from its inception, now blames the Ukrainians for ousting their “democratically elected” president Yanukovych by popular uprising, which Hitchens adroitly refers to as a ‘putsch’.
Ukrainians, unaware that Yanukovych was a Putin stooge, did vote him in. When they realised the new government would shortly put paid to their country’s sovereignty, they rose against him in popular revolt. Democracy was temporarily abandoned; lasting political goodness was served.
Proving that the uprising thwarted Yanukovych’s (meaning Putin’s) mission, reincorporating the Ukraine into Russia, Russia immediately invaded, first surreptitiously in 2014, then openly in 2022.
Yet Hitchens insists on democratic form even at the expense of diabolical content. “Belief in democracy is near-sacred,” he says. He then earns my appreciation by his nimble transition from democracy to regurgitating Kremlin propaganda. One must respect skill even if it’s put to evil ends, as in this case:
“Of course, I do not know who if anyone was behind the overthrow of Yanukovych. All kinds of Western politicians and intelligence types were hanging around Kiev at the time. And the West blatantly betrayed its own principles to condone and forgive the nasty event. But that of course does not prove that any Western nation backed the coup against Yanukovych.
“Even so, it is my view that any outside force which did support that putsch is just as guilty of aggression and warmongering as Russia’s Putin is. Think of that as you listen to all those loud, safe voices demanding that we keep on fuelling this war, in which Ukrainians die daily for democratic principles we do not, in fact, support.”
NATO is to blame, in other words. And Ukrainians come across as both more democratic than thou, prepared to die for democracy, and also contemptuous of it. I’m confused – but enough about Hitchens.
I’m only using him as an illustration of how easily democratic formalism can be coopted to promote evil. One can be validly concerned that before long it will be mostly used for that purpose.