This sounds like a paradox, doesn’t? It does, but only to those who take modern democracy at face value.
Such people are baffled. They simply can’t understand why so many MPs seem hell-bent on defying the democratically expressed will of the people.
Parliament voted to have a Brexit referendum, didn’t it? That asserted the parliamentary part of parliamentary democracy. The second part was served by the resulting vote itself, yielding a solid majority in favour of leaving.
So what’s the problem? Democracy has spoken. So why are so many democratically elected representatives of the people trying to subvert the very method of government that got them into Westminster?
In fact, those Remainers, while contemptuous of democracy’s form, are true to its essence. Unlike the Leavers they realise that, as it’s used nowadays, the word ‘democracy’ belies its etymology. It’s not the rule of the demos; it’s the rule of a small elite over the demos.
There are many problems with the modern democracy of one vote for every man, woman and increasingly child. Yet again I may selfishly refer you to my book Democracy as a Neocon Trick, where I delve into those problems in detail.
The book is polemical, leaving room for argument. But there’s no arguing about one demonstrable problem: modern democracy clearly doesn’t elevate to government those fit to govern.
Moreover, those who want a job in politics most deserve it least. For serving in Parliament is no longer a vocation – it’s a career like any other. Hence, like in any other career, service has largely become self-service.
A young man embarks on it early, typically right out of university. He then elbows his way through the crowd of equally unqualified career-seekers, gets through the jungle of party selection committees and eventually ends up in Parliament.
If he plays his cards right, in due course he’ll get to sit on the front bench and heave a sigh of relief. He has arrived. Anything above that, such as a top cabinet post or perhaps even premiership is a bonus.
Job done. He has now gained entry into the governing elite, and he’s there to stay. One way or the other, the chap has parlayed his perseverance into lucrative post-government speaking engagements, perhaps even a book provisionally entitled How I Changed the World.
This is a rough outline of a career producing today’s dominant political type: the important nonentity. Statesmanship, what statesmanship? The politician is not only incapable of it, but he wouldn’t even recognise it if it came up and bit him on the part of his anatomy through which he delivers his speeches.
What matters is getting into the elite and staying in it long enough to secure a life membership. There’s only one annoying barrier to achieving this goal: accountability.
Should he indeed be held accountable to the people, they’d see that the mantle of importance he wears is emperor’s clothes. There’s nothing underneath it but a nonentity in all its nakedness.
Hence the governing elite in a modern democracy seeks to establish and keep widening the distance between itself and the electorate. The latter is there for one purpose only: to pinch its nostrils and choose which nonentity will rise to membership in the elite.
Once that’s out of the way, the electorate is to fall silent and submit to whatever outrage the governing nonentity will commit in its name. Effectively, what Lincoln called “the government of the people, by the people, for the people” becomes government over the people, against the people and increasingly up the people’s.
Since constant widening of the distance between the government and the governed is an ineluctable sine qua non, sooner or later the distance has to grow beyond the country’s borders. To expunge the last vestiges of accountability, a national government has to become international.
This would change the nature of the governing elite, but our governing nonentities don’t mind provided they remain in the elite. They realise that staying within the confines of their own country is bound to make them accountable, if only to a small degree. That would jeopardise their membership in the elite, thereby rendering their whole lives meaningless.
Thus it’s the Remainers and not the Leavers who understand, if only viscerally, the logic of modern democracy – and act accordingly. The Leavers want to upset the apple cart, while the Remainers want it to roll on (after they’ve eaten all the apples).
If there’s another explanation of why our democratically elected representatives are undermining democracy, I’d like to hear it. My explanation is that they’re prepared to chuck away some formal accoutrements of modern democracy, while upholding its true, modern essence.
It’s like a chess player who sacrifices a piece to win the game. This isn’t against the rules, which anyone will realise who knows how the game is played.
The only way to prevent defeat in this game is for the other player, the people in this case, to sweep the pieces off the board and declare the game invalid. If the inner logic of the game is perverse, we should play something else.
But I’d better shut up before I’m accused of inciting civil disobedience or, God forbid, a revolt (if only metaphorically). I’m not inciting anything. I’m just trying to get my head around what others describe as a conflict between the people and Parliament.