It’s hard not to notice the semantic confusion arriving in the slipstream of the Scottish referendum.
No one seems to be any longer sure of anything: nationhood, home rule for Scotland, England or possibly Merseyside, democracy, constitution, why the chicken crosses the road or whether or not it comes before the egg.
What one is observing is an intellectual mess, a veritable rain of error. Whenever a political system delivers such a deluge, one has to question the system, not just its isolated workings.
More than that: one has to take a piercing look at the tectonic shifts that threw up the system in the first place.
Modernity, as I use the term, was brought to life by a frenzied mass rebellion against traditional Western civilisation, otherwise known as Christendom.
At the root of it lay a mutiny against the religion that had inspired the civilisation: its demands had proved to be too onerous, especially when juxtaposed with the seeming free-for-all of humanism.
As Chesterton put it, “The Christian idea has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult – and left untried.”
Steering clear of metaphysical issues, Ortega y Gasset referred to this mutiny as ‘the revolt of the masses’, and this is the only explanation that makes modernity intelligible.
Thus every newfangled political innovation, whatever its positive content, always has a significant, at times dominant, negative element.
Democracy of suffrage for all, including pubescent youngsters, is one such. It belies its etymology in numerous ways, including the most fundamental one. It divests demos of the power it possessed under the putatively oppressive monarchs of yesteryear.
I enlarge on this point in my forthcoming book Democracy as a Neocon Trick, but in this abbreviated format a purely empirical observation will have to suffice: the most absolute monarchs of Christendom never had the same power over demos that today’s democratically elected prime minister or president claims as his due.
Believing, along with St Paul, that their power derived from God, rather than mythical ‘consent of the governed’, traditional rulers were committed to the same structural principles as those applied by the Church.
Fundamental to them was what the Church called subsidiarity and what in a political context is best described as localism: the devolution of power to the lowest sensible level.
Just as familial setups (parish, guild, village commune, township etc.) acted as the individual’s defence against local government, so did local bodies protect those setups, and hence the individual, from the tyranny of the central government.
Democracy of universal suffrage, on the other hand, was put forth as a battering ram of modernity designed to smash traditional polity to smithereens. Its ubiquitous stratagem is reversing the vector of power.
If in the past power was vectored from periphery to centre, in misnamed democracies it infinitely gravitates the other way. Thus George III, against whom his American subjects rebelled, never possessed even a modicum of the power wielded by Barack Obama. Louis XIV may have said l’état, c’est moi, but he was politically impotent compared to François Hollande.
National self-determination is another arrow in the quiver of modernity, and it too is aimed at the heart of traditional order.
The term first gained currency courtesy of Woodrow Wilson, who was a fanatic of world government. The League of Nations, his brainchild, was supposed to be the first step towards that goal – and yet the term ‘national self-determination’ was never far from Wilson’s lips.
There seems to be a contradiction there, but in fact there is none. ‘National self-determination’ was touted to destroy the remnants of traditional polity, largely vested as they were at the time in multinational empires: British, Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian.
Those empires more or less honoured the localism of traditional polity, and even the authoritarian Russian tsars relied on a great deal of self-government at the outskirts of the empire. The other European empires went much further along that route, with the Habsburgs serving the brightest example.
Breaking those empires up was Wilson’s goal, as he heard the clarion call of modernity in every tonal detail. Their demise would inevitably create a vacuum of power, to be filled by a supranational government in hock to the only combatant emerging from the Great War stronger than before: the USA.
It took another war to complete the destruction. The last bastion of traditional polity, the British Empire, collapsed in the immediate aftermath, with the other European empires by then a distant memory.
The map of Europe was now defined by nation states, the biggest of them multiethnic. Yet the inner imperative of modernity, that of greater and greater centralisation of power, didn’t disappear.
Its champions had the same target, but they now had to readjust their sights. If before they wanted to smash the traditional empires, slated for destruction now was the nation state.
But the weapon of ‘national self-determination’ didn’t have to be decommissioned. It’s just that modernity, with its usual sleight of lexical hand, perverted its meaning.
National determination increasingly got to mean ethnic self-determination, which isn’t at all the same thing. In its previous meaning, the term was used to bring down multinational empires. Today it’s counted upon to perform the same outrage on the nation state.
The idea that every ethnic group constitutes a nation, whose birthright to independence is reclaimable by either referendum or revolution, isn’t just spurious – it’s deliberately subversive.
No wonder that both the USA and, more to the point, the EU are firmly committed to it. Both have the same DNA traceable back to the first tentative steps of modernity.
A nation state has clearly defined borders, setting a natural limit to centralisation. Once a morally and intellectually corrupt elite has concentrated all power in its hands, further centralisation seems impossible.
And so it is – within the national borders. For centralisation to proceed apace, such borders therefore have to be made nominal to begin with, and nonexistent in the near future.
It’s in this context that most European politics can be understood. The rise of separatism, of which the Scottish referendum provides but the most recent example, is specifically designed to destroy the nation state.
One might object that Europe is trying to revive the traditional polity of Christendom, based as it was on localism, or devolution as it’s now called. Indeed, one hears many EU fanatics, especially French and German, drawing false parallels between their ugly contrivance and the Holy Roman Empire.
The difference is fundamental. The Carolingian empire was a working arrangement organically evolved to protect Christendom with its political ethos. The EU is an artificial concoction whose aim is to destroy whatever is left of traditional polity.
The Holy Roman Empire was a loose ganglion made up of local elements, exercising real power. The EU, on the other hand, wishes to destroy local power and exercise totalitarian control over all its constituents.
The two entities, therefore, aren’t so much similar as diametrically opposite. And the drive for ethnic separatism, encouraged by the EU, is a destructive weapon.
In connection with Scotland, any sensible government, if we still had one, would have snuffed out any talk of independence. Rather than allowing a pathetically designed unconstitutional referendum, it would have insisted that Great Britain, whose age of 300-plus makes it the oldest major Western constitution, is indivisible.
At the same time, such a government would act to transfer increasingly more power to the local bodies, including, but not limited to, those in the Celtic fringe. The Brits, wherever they live, shouldn’t feel that revolutionary separation is the only path towards self-government.
This would be a step in the right direction, that of restoring some of the traditional political dispensation of Christendom. Alas, we have no such government and we’ll never again have such an arrangement.
What we do have is an agglomerate of self-serving spivs who are unfit for government and hence have to bribe their way to it. All three parliamentary parties spoke in touching unison: let’s give the Scots even more of our money.
Thus a place already corrupted by welfare is being offered more of it. The subversive drive towards ‘national’ independence is bound to return but – and that’s a critical consideration for our spivs – not straight away.
It may take 10 years or even 20, by which time most of today’s politicians will be past their sell-by date. So by all means, let’s throw more unearned cash at the Scots and whomever else may vote for us. Après moi, le déluge, to quote another Louis.
It’s hard to feel encouraged by the referendum outcome. The feeling of disgust at the whole thing comes more naturally.