Lies, barefaced lies and democracy

After decades of compulsory and comprehensive secondary education, the people have become putty in demagogues’ hands.

No limits exist any longer on the ignorant idiocy of political falsehoods uttered by politicians and swallowed by their flock. By far the greatest falsehoods involve democracy, raised to the status of pagan demiurge.

People everywhere, especially in the US, react to various word combinations featuring ‘democracy’ with Pavlovian alacrity. Some such combinations have attained idiomatic stability. For example, no one sees anything wrong with intellectually unsound phrases like ‘liberal democracy’.

Democracy refers to a political method used to decide who governs the country. Liberty, with its various cognates, refers to a desired effect of government, no matter who forms it and by what method.

Democracy is a physical technicality; liberty mainly has metaphysical connotations. It describes the amount of latitude the individual enjoys, his autonomy in the face of pressures exerted both vertically (by the state) and horizontally (by society).

Accepting the two components of ‘liberal democracy’ as mutually indispensable betokens an inert mind. The underlying assumption is that liberty is an integral property of democracy and vice versa.

But this assumption doesn’t stand up even to cursory examination, never mind scrutiny – either in theory or in practice.

In theory, 50.1 per cent of the electorate may well vote for selling the nation into slavery, provided the price is good. The remaining 49.9 could scream themselves hoarse about the monstrosity of it all. Their protests would go unheeded: democracy has been served.

Nor is it justified to believe that democracy precludes tyranny. This is simply not the case, as the democratically elected Messrs Hitler, Perón, Mugabe, Putin, Lukashenko, Ahmadinejad, Yanukovych and Macîas Nguema (who gratefully murdered a third of the population of Equatorial Guinea that had voted him in) demonstrate so vividly.

In fact, no serious political thinker, from Plato and Aristotle to Machiavelli and Montesquieu, from Burke to Lecky, from Jefferson, Madison and Adams to de Maistre, Tocqueville and even Mill (the last two both talked about ‘the tyranny of the majority’), was unaware of the despotic potential of democracy. They all had misgivings about democracy; most of them were downright hostile to it.

The subjects of King George (choose any numeral) or King Louis (ditto) enjoyed the kind of individual freedom that isn’t even approached by the citizens of any ‘liberal democracy’ of today. To use one, far from the most important, example, no Western monarch would have dreamed of extorting over half of his subjects’ earnings – something that’s accepted as a fair privilege of any ‘liberal democracy’.

No Western monarch could have conceived intruding on the people’s private lives to the same extent as modern ‘liberal democracies’ routinely do for ‘the common good’. (Michael Gove, supposedly the intellectual giant among the Tories, has foolishly praised Mrs May for using those words at every turn. He doesn’t seem to realise that ‘common good’ is the self-vindicating buzz phrase of every modern tyranny.)

It wouldn’t have occurred to, say, Charles I to dictate what the good yeomen of Suffolk or Yorkshire should eat or drink, how they should raise and educate their children or what kind of help they should employ.

Not only do modern democracies exert an intolerable (if often unnoticed) vertical pressure, they also corrupt or coerce societies into applying the even worse horizontal kind. For example, no lords or magistrates of the past imposed such tyrannical diktats on language as do today’s enforcers of political correctness. No government censorship of the past was as despotic as today’s self-censorship demanded by society.

The state throws its weight behind such demands, with any ‘liberal democracy’ prepared to punish people not for what they do but increasingly for what they say. This blurs the distinction between state and society, yet not many see this as a factor of tyranny.

Having destroyed the content of Western civilisation, modernity has become obsessed with its form. Hence people are brainwashed into worshipping the democratic method without fully understanding what it is. Ask your average American what the difference is between democracy and republicanism and he’ll think you’re talking about the two political parties (an Englishman would fail the same test with ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’).

Actually, there exist two types of democracy: direct and indirect. The former is people voting for policies by plebiscite, without mediation by institutions. The latter is people electing their representatives and trusting them to govern.

Representative democracy also has two types: democracy proper and republicanism. Burke dreaded the first type: parliamentarians being not people’s representatives but their delegates, committed to act not just according to people’s interests but also their wishes. The second type, republicanism, involves representatives governing according to their own conscience.

Direct democracy, as the dominant method of government, clearly can’t function in communities larger than a few thousand inhabitants. If it tried to do so, complete anarchy would ensue.

As to the two forms of indirect democracy, the much touted checks and balances of modern politics involve a combination of them. After all, as Machiavelli argued in his Discourses, taking his cue from Aristotle, no political arrangement can exist in its pure form without degenerating into something unsavoury.

The republican element is historically aristocratic, going back to the erstwhile councils of elders, such as our own Witenagemot. In the crypto-republic of our constitutional monarchy this is the role played by the House of Lords. Thus accusing it of being undemocratic, as ignoramuses do all the time, is like accusing the courts of being judgemental.

But ours isn’t the only undemocratic constitution. The republican (a simulacrum of aristocratic) element in the US political mix comes from the Senate. Those who think it’s a representative democratic body ought to consider the fact that California (p. 38,332,521) and Wyoming (p. 582,658) each have two senators.

The modern tendency, which both Plato and Aristotle predicted with uncanny prescience, is to eliminate or at least emasculate the republican elements, letting democracy run riot. Hence our modern government by focus groups: spivs elected by manipulating blocs of voters expect to be re-elected by pandering to voters’ whims.

It’s critical to realise that therein lies the structural flaw of democracy. This is what turns democracy into a lie and those in government into liars. If you wish to contest this comment, simply compare today’s politicians with yesterday’s statesmen.

Where are the Pitts, Burkes, Washingtons, Madisons and Disraelis of yesteryear? Water under Westminster Bridge. May and Trump are the best we can do these days, and we’re happy to have them rather than Tony-Dave-Hillary-Barack.

Hilaire Belloc wrote about such joy with his customary brilliance: “We are tickled by [the Barbarian’s] irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond; and on these faces there is no smile.”

3 thoughts on “Lies, barefaced lies and democracy”

  1. “It wouldn’t have occurred to, say, Charles I to dictate what the good yeomen of Suffolk or Yorkshire should eat or drink, how they should raise and educate their children or what kind of help they should employ.”

    A certain Internet web site called “The Mad Monarchist” makes an assertion that having a king make decisions is probably governmental rule not a whole lot worse [if at all] than what you get with and elected government with a prime minister or President in charge. Probably mostly so!

    1. Among many arguments in favour of monarchy is that, by and large, monarchs were professionals trained in statecraft since childhood. Democracy (as distinct from republicanism) is by definition rule by amateurs who typically have no time, once in office, to climb the learning curve. Someone like Trump, starting his political career at presidency, is akin to a soldier whose first rank is four-star general, unthinkable in either an army or a monarchy. That doesn’t mean that monarchs are invariably better than presidents or PMs, only that the odds go that way. Note that all the major combatants in the First World War, arguably the greatest catastrophe in Western history, were either democracies or monarchies with strong democratic elements. The German Reichstag had to vote for war credits and, had it voted against, the war wouldn’t have happened.

  2. “In fact, no serious political thinker . . . was unaware of the despotic potential of democracy. They all had misgivings about democracy; most of them were downright hostile to it.”

    All that too when considering that the vote until relatively recently was restricted to a small portion of societies we label as “democracy”. Usually white men who were property holders and no others.

    Ancient Greece about only 5 % of the society allowed to vote.

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