The word is harsh but fair. All major Western countries are now governed by the sort of people who a mere 100 years ago wouldn’t have been elected proverbial dog catcher.
This is merely an empirical observation involving no thought. The starting point of thought is the question ‘why?’, not ‘what?’
So why is one-man-one-vote democracy so manifestly failing to elevate to government those fit to govern? Why do they all lack in qualities regarded throughout history as essential job requirements?
When incompetent leaders overlap in time with a crisis, a disaster beckons. In the past, Westerners knew this and, when in trouble, usually replaced inoffensive mediocrities with men previously considered too abrasive for high office.
For instance, Admiral Ernest King was being quietly pushed into retirement during the interbellum period. Yet after Pearl Harbour he was immediately elevated to the second highest position in the US Navy. ‘When the shooting starts,’ he quipped, ‘they send for the sons-of-bitches.’
On the first day of the war Britain too replaced the generally inadequate Neville Chamberlain (John Major’s proclaimed role model) with our own son of a bitch, Winston Churchill. The West still had a self-preservation instinct then, and knew how to express it through specific measures.
I won’t bore you with a long list of reasons for believing that today’s situation is as pregnant with disaster as 70-odd years ago. These are self-evident to anyone whose judgement isn’t compromised by ideological afflatus.
And yet the sons-of-bitches haven’t been sent for – we don’t even know who they are. Instead we persevere with our Baracks, Daves and Françoises whose only strategy for getting the West out of a hole is to keep digging (feel free to substitute your own nincompoops – the conclusion will be the same).
We could discuss this problem in every conceivable detail, and in fact many do. Few commentators, however, have the courage to accept what to me looks obvious: a democracy in which reaching a barely post-pubescent age is the sole requirement for voting, and one that’s not counterbalanced by other forms of government, is fundamentally flawed. In medical parlance, the problem is systemic, not symptomatic.
The philosophical premise of democracy is two-fold. First, it’s based on the assumption that most people will be able to comprehend public good and vote accordingly, even if this means some self-denial. Second, if the first assumption doesn’t quite work out, and people insist on casting their vote for purely selfish reasons, then a multiple of private selfishness will somehow still produce public goodness.
When applied to millions of people, the second assumption is dubious and the first is downright wrong. For in the absence of a powerful spiritual and moral adhesive, otherwise known in the West as Christianity, people will never put bono publico before bono privato. To expect otherwise would be to ignore human nature, and this error never goes unpunished.
In other words, by demanding an unrealistic degree of selfless sophistication from the electorate, unlimited democracy turns into a purely theoretical construct, an ideology in other words. It may swagger for a while, but it won’t survive a prolonged clash with human nature.
For human nature will sooner or later trump any ideology – it will prevail over the democratic premise as surely as it will vanquish communist chiliasm. In practical terms, this means that a ballot cast by a self-serving voter can be bought by a self-serving politician.
A typical OAP promised a higher pension won’t stop to think where the money is going to come from – he’ll cast a yes-please vote. A recently naturalised immigrant won’t hesitate to vote for a candidate who promises unlimited immigration. Someone whose livelihood derives from the state won’t vote for a candidate promising to reduce its size.
Hence, coming to the fore isn’t a candidate who can do all the right things for the country, but one who can offer all the right bribes to the electorate.
This corrupts the voters and the politicians equally: the former expect bribes, the latter are all too willing to offer them. And no statehood wholly dependent upon corruption will last – for confirmation just scan Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.
Thus all modern politicians effectively act as agents of destruction – they represent a mutation following a steady, and at times barely perceptible, accumulation of petty corruption until it begets a giant fire-sputtering ogre.
This explains the seemingly suicidal policies followed by every Western government, from the $16-trillion debt amassed by America to the asinine thinking behind the EU, from practically unlimited immigration of cultural aliens into all Western countries to extortionate taxes sucking the blood out of economies just as they exsanguinate anyway.
Democratic romanticism is in fact utopianism – just as capitalist romanticism, pace Adam Smith, is. There is an important difference though.
Smith et al believed in the redemptive moral value of an economy based on private enterprise. This belief is counterintuitive: pursuit of naked self-interest, even when multiplied by millions, isn’t going to produce virtue – this too goes against human nature. What private enterprise demonstrably can produce is a dynamic economy offering opportunities to those capable of grasping them.
Hence an expectation of prosperity in a capitalist society is empirically sound, and this is certainly preferable to any known alternative. For, if expectations are managed, capitalism works. Not always, not equally for all, and not in gaining the high moral ground postulated by Smith – but it does work in achieving purely pragmatic goals.
Democracy resembles capitalism only superficially, in that it too strives to attain a sum of virtue that’s greater than its parts. The basic difference is that, having failed to produce a moral El Dorado, capitalism can still defend itself by claiming empirical benefits.
This fallback is denied to democracy, for achieving secular virtue is its ultimate raison d’être. An unprincipled, self-serving businessman can still make a valid claim to empirical redemption, for example by referring to the jobs he has created or the money he has saved consumers. An unprincipled, self-serving politician has no such claim: his very existence undermines the system he’s supposed to serve.
His only hope is to ensure self-perpetuation – not just for himself but for his own kind. This has become the sole desideratum of the political elite from which all our leaders are drawn, and, their own corruption augmented by the electorate’s, they all pursue it with manic single-mindedness.
This explains why Americans have re-elected their truly catastrophic president – he spread enough baksheesh around to surf in on the wave of bought loyalties. This also explains why the Republicans seem to be chronically unable to come up with a valid candidate – or why, for that matter, we’ve had four awful prime ministers in a row and are sure to get a fifth.
The situation is only going to get worse, for all Western societies have reached the critical mass of moral and intellectual corruption. An explosion is likely, and we can only pray that it won’t be too violent. You may think this prognosis is too pessimistic – but one man’s pessimist is another man’s realist.