Democracy we Presume?
Dominic Campbell asks himself what democracy really is in theory and in practice
Two fundamental questions belong to every consideration of democracy: -do we have democracy and do we want it? In the course of this essay, which is an attempt to help towards an understanding of different approaches to the subject, the two questions should be kept in mind. If we are unaware of them, discussion about democracy and everything associated with it is likely to become a polemical tool in a debate in which protagonists speak past one another, because they are arguing on different premises.
In 1985 Alain de Benoist published a work entitled Democratie le Probleme, (Le Labyrinth Paris). He starts by underscoring some facts about the meaning of the word and the original form of democracy in Greece. Democracy means the rule of the demos and demos notes de Benoist, comes originally from the Dorian dialect of Ancient Greece and meant a people or a commons, that is, a people on and belonging to, a territory. Democracy for the Ancient Greeks was not linked to the individual but to the polis, to the city state, a rule by citizens. Slaves, he notes, were not included because they were, as slaves, non-citizens, which meant not a part of the polis at all. The citizen (polites) was entitled to participate in the affairs of state, in contrast to the non-citizen (idiotes). The word freedom, etymologically related to the word friend just as liberty is related to liberi (Latin children) indicates not freedom from tyranny but a state of belonging to the ethnos. Democracy is dependent, according to de Benoist, on what Otto von Gierke called the Daseinseinheit eines Volkes, the entity of a people. In other words, in its origins democracy does not refer to individual sovereignty but to popular sovereignty.
For Aristotle, democracy was one of the three principle forms of government, the other two being aristocracy and tyranny, which we can understand in modern terms as respectively: rule by a group whose legtimacy is based on an accepted meretriciousness and rule by individuals whose legitimacy is primarily founded on force. The characteristic of democracy was and supposedly still is that by means of the equality of citizens, all members of the community of the polis participate in ruling the state. Because democracy, in contrast to aristocracy or tyranny, implicates all citizens as decision makers, the supreme source of authority under democracy is the same law equally applied to all citizens. What is "right" is decided by the law. Law has precedence over whim, will and custom.
The sovereignty which democracy grants to law (higher than custom or the whim of individuals or the rights of groups) creates a moral problem. If I think that a law is morally wrong, am I ethically obliged to follow it? If I am a full bloodied democrat, then I am morally so obliged, the law being the source of all legitimacy and morality. This was why Socrates chose not to escape drinking hemlock. "The law, right or wrong", says the democrat. Rousseau in Le Contrat Social demands supreme respect for the law. People may make bad laws, even cruel ones, but in a pure democracy all laws if passed with due procedure, are legitimate. If the people is the ultimate source of legitimacy, then we must logically accept a decision of the people to make a law which approves abortion, or for that matter, public torture. I am not consistent as a democrat, if I appeal to a higher morality when civic duty bids me accept such laws. Should I nevertheless rebel by appealing to what I claim is a "higher authority", then I am opposing democracy in the name of extra-democratic values, religious or ethical or of another political order as the case may be. My ethical hierarchy is at that moment ipso-facto, not democratic.
Although the people are seen as the ultimate source of legitimacy in democracy and make the laws, they clearly cannot all foregather in one place to propose legislation. A democracy in any complex society necessitates a system of elective representation. The election of representatives of the people is termed the "the democratic process". This process is subject to so many divergent influences and variegations and abuses that the possibility that a large section of society may dispute the democratic credentials of their society is ever present.
Democracy is popularly associated with the principle of majority rule. While it is the case that democracy per definition is the expression of the sovereign will of the people, there is nothing per definition to say that the method by which that will is deemed to be defined must consist of majority rule, or as some would dismissively term it, "head counting". Numerical equality in the matter of decision making, as has been many times pointed out, leads to a levelling of standards to a mediocre level, the level fixed by the average. The majority principle is however not a prerequisite of democracy. The underlying principle of democratic procedure is not that the majority votes on every decision but that the genuine choice of rulers by the ruled is the basis of political legitimacy, in other words, that those who rule either are the people or are truly representative of the people. The key to the health of a democracy lies not in this or that right but in the level of participation of the people in the decisions which decide the course of their own destiny. Majority rule is a means among possible others, to arrive at an expression of what Rousseau called la volontÃ© gÃ©nÃ©rale, the general will. For Rousseau the general will was the source of legitimate democratic decisions, that is: not the sum of individual wills, and not a dominating will or wills imposing itself but the expression of the will of the people as a political body.
The drawbacks of majority rule, for example that it swamps quality with quantity, are drawbacks which are often ascribed to democracy as such. They constitute however the drawbacks of any system which operates on the principle that the "majority knows best" and which does not adequately educate its citizens or where (which amounts to the same thing) it is not possible to educate the citizens.
Rule by a majority may easily constitute a tyranny of its own. If a majority constitutes the exclusive source of political legitimacy, then it can be legitimate and legal to expropriate or exterminate minorities if the majority so wishes. If Tom Dick and Harry are a democracy which has to decide how four eyes are distributed among them, it is democratically fair in a system of absolute majority rule, if Tom and Dick decide to have two eyes each and Harry go blind. As modern democracies tend indeed in the direction of, at least theoretically, claiming that majorities are the source of all political legitimacy, they are compelled to insist on human rights and civil liberties beyond or outside democratic power, in order to protect minorities. In the example given of Tom, Dick and Harry, there may be for example, an "inalienable right" to the power of sight. Thus it is that liberalism is often identified with democracy, not because liberalism and democracy are necessarily linked, but because individual rights are needed to protect the individual from a tyrannical sovereign "democratic" will of majority rule.
Alain de Benoist writing on democracy draws a sharp distinction between democracy and liberalism. He argues that they are not complementary but fundamentally opposed to one another. In DÃ©mocratie le ProblÃ¨me, we read that while democracy is based on the sovereignty of the people, liberalism is based on the sovereignty of the individual. If the sovereignty of the individual arguably leads to the destruction of the collective, then it follows that the sovereignty of the individual brings with it the destruction of true "republican" democracy (a democracy as Rousseau understood it, one which seeks to maintain the health of the body of the citizens defined as members of a given political organism).
Early theoreticians of individual rights were not concerned with more than the security and prosperity of the individual. Since the collapse of Marxist doctrine as a serious challenge, the idea that democracy is an umbrella of enshrined human rights has become an indispensable part of so-called "Western values". For early theoreticians of the individual rights that the Western world now takes for granted, such as John Locke, the individual precedes the community; the state serves the individual. Democracy is interpreted as the means of helping the individual and protecting his property (ownership in liberal systems defines the man). In this perspective, democracy is not established to serve a people because a people is in any case a mere collection of individuals. Politics is then little more than the art of settling their differences, reconciling interests and mediating in disputes. For de Benoist, the sovereignty of the individual necessitates the abdication of the rights of the collective. The individual being the source of political justification of any kind, the collective inevitably gives ground until it is nothing more than an adjudicator in disputes between individuals. On the other hand, and overlooked by de Benoist, liberal rights emerge at least in part to protect the individual against the absolutism of a fully democratic state laying claim to the law as supreme authority.
Liberalism is associated with freedom and freedom is associated with democracy, which are therefore linked in popular perceptions to the extent that the two terms are presented as more or less interchangeable and identical by Western media: "freedomandemocracy", but freedom, as Schopenhauer pointed out (Die Freiheit des Willens) is a negative concept (unlike democracy, even if democracy has realised itself historically as a negative phenomenon). Freedom is a negative concept because if we define freedom, we find that we are defining the removal or the absence of hindrances to action or thought.
Most people, including its passionate supporters, will agree that democracy is not a system which should be applied in all circumstances. As Plato's Socrates pointed out in The Republic, we do not want the first choice of the people to be our doctor, we want the best doctor to be our doctor. We should be unhappy if a plane in which we were flying were piloted by the first choice of a group of schoolgirls, or if our hospital surgeons were elected by the votes of local rate payers. Why would we be uneasy? Because we might reasonably doubt the qualification in both cases of the schoolgirls or ratepayers to decide on the issue in question with adequate knowledge and experience. Those who choose or vote must be qualified to do so, they must be equipped with sufficient knowledge to make a choice in awareness of what it is they are doing. In addition to that, their motives should be disinterested: otherwise they will vote out of self interest and not for the general good and their chosen representatives will be no more than lucky individuals who have reached positions of power and influence through the support of their friends-they will not be humble representatives of any popular will. Instead, they will be ciphers of a lobby. It logically follows that the more general, the more national, the more a matter of principle, the decision to be made, the stronger the claim, in democratic terms, of the entire people to make their voice heard directly. In democratic states today the reverse is the case. Crucial decisions affecting the very survival of a race, a nation, a people, or indeed a democratic system, are taken out of the people's hands with the time-honoured anti-democratic argument, that the issue is "too complex" for the man in the street to cast his vote upon. It is a matter for "the experts"; "experts" are commonly invoked in democracies. The people need "experts" to make the "right decision" on their behalf. Experts replace the rulers of non democracies in taking decisions on behalf of the people without consulting the people. An example of such disingenuous argument was the refusal by the Federal Government of Germany to allow the voters to decide in a referendum whether to abandon the post-war Federal constitution in the interests of European integration (Treaty of Maastricht). The reason which politicians gave for their refusal was that a referendum was contrary to the spirit of the very post-war constitution whose fate was being decided!
Modern Western democracy, with its official acceptance of, but growing hostility towards, the right to demonstrate, referenda, grass roots activism and populism, increasingly discourages participation or interest in the important decisions of state. Furthermore, the machinations leading to the election of representatives in modern representative democracy who are expected to make such decisions "in the name of the people" works against such civic virtue. Representative democracy favours instead showmanship, eye-catching but superficial presentation and the "hard sell". This is particularly the case to the extent that power is weighed in favour of central party leadership against local party organizations. In Britain the defeat of the far left's attempt to control local party sections of the Labour Party, lead to a small group of modernizers seizing power, whose aims include the stifling of grass roots party democracy and the growth of a more paternalistic style of government in which widespread political activism is neither required nor expected from the population.
Greek democracy, which differed notably from Western democracy in insisting on civic virtue and responsibility as the measure of democratic health, and in which the citizens were expected above all to decide on the crucial issues of state, consisted of four principle elements: isonomy-equality before the law, isotimy-equality of opportunity, isegory-freedom of expression and ekklesia-the right of assembly. In these constituent parts there is something of a syllogism, namely to the extent that I believe that person x is my equal, I must, if at least I wish to be fair, agree that x enjoys the same rights as I before the law and so on. If I do not believe that x is equal to me, then I do not believe that x should enjoy the same rights before the law. Clearly, there have to be limits, based on intelligence and knowledge, to the extent to which individuals are allowed to participate in decision making. To take an extreme example, not the most fervent and uncompromising democrat believes that non-human animals should have the right to vote. In respect of the ability to participate in decision making, everyone agrees that the mental powers of a dog are considerably inferior to those of a human. There is a point to consider here. Many people would nevertheless argue that a dog should be granted certain rights-the right not be subject to a gratuitous and prolonged taking of its life, for example. The exclusion of dogs from the democratic decision making process of the state does not exclude the possibility of permitting a dog such rights, rights which might not be accorded to a lesser animal, such as a flea. The existence of rights is therefore not dependent upon membership of a democracy. The granting or withholding of rights may apply to human beings as well without those human beings necessarily enjoying democratic rights. Democracies themselves acknowledge this insofar as they do not to this day permit children, prisoners or lunatics to vote. Only those have the right to participate in the decision making process, who belong unequivocally and entirely, as members, to the polis. The rights of the citizen and the rights of the human being are not the same in a democracy. It is a tyranny which claims that the individual and the citizen are the same. Democracy qua democracy presupposes no right whatsoever, other than the right of a citizen to be free and free from fear of doing the "wrong" thing, to participate in the expression of the will of the community to which he belongs to create or reject new laws, obligations and decisions. All those who believe in fairness believe in democratic equality for those who are equal. But as Plato realised, equality provokes the crucial question: equal in what? For a democracy, the answer is equal in the power to actively participate in decisions. As members of the same polis or res publica or for that matter, school, housing estate, association, club or business, a wholly democratic constitution would demand that all members would have an equal right to give their voice to the general will in their expression of the direction and destiny of the community to which they are bound.
Equality is certainly a vague term which always requires specification. If participation in the decision making process of the polis is the defining right of a democracy, political equality in a democracy is the right of those and those alone who share an equal ability to participate in the decision making process, to make decisions. Given the strong tendency to for an elite to exclude legitimate persons from decision making on grounds of incompetence, it is in the interests of effective democracy to aim at a definition of the polis and who shall be members of it and to educate and improve those who already are, ensuring that nobody is unfairly excluded. But modern democracies with increasing frequency are weakening and blurring the definition of who is to be called a member of the polis (everyone is my brother or sister now) while at the same time depriving citizens of their right to make political (as opposed to personal) choices.
The current trend in Western politics is towards less democracy, despite, or rather partly owing to, the extension of the range covered by universal human rights. Giving the stranger the right to vote is to acknowledge that that the stranger has "become one of us". Modern democracy, committed to internationalism, is moving to sever the distinction between "them" and "us" in geographical or ethnic terms and replace it with a paradigm of non-democratic "them" and pro democratic "us". That means that democracy shifts from being an ideal of optimal political procedure to being an ideology, quite a different thing. Democracies of the Western kind have largely abandoned the notion that for democracy to work, it must be linked to ethnic identity. They embrace instead the notion that all the people of the world are potential members of a one true democracy in which place of residence is the criterion of membership of a local chapter of the universal state.
Residence alone is a weak way to forge identity. Without identity, interest and participation in a democracy is likely to shrink and decay. As citizens identify less with other citizens around them, they lose interest in political affairs which are to an increasing extent apparently no concern of theirs and which they feel powerless to influence. Debate is hampered by not knowing what are even the premises upon which a stranger bases his thought. Without debate, debate among the people, democracy withers. Western citizens tend to avoid meaningful political debate among themselves partly because the parameters of identity are missing. Political debate then retreats to internet news groups and radio and television shows. Democratic discourse has been withdrawn from daily discourse and restricted to a kind of hobby room. It is no surprise to learn that interest in the democratic process and knowledge of it is falling. Not only are all voters considered theoretically equal, there is no suggestion that they should be better informed or more involved in politics. If this is so, there is no call to educate better citizens. Those able to do so ascend to a pro-democratic elite, among whose flagships are the established parties of the internationalist consensus. The rest of humanity must make do with sympathy, promises and ultimately, must obey without having shared in the decision making process. Not only are politicians among the most despised professional groups, they are considered as "in a class of their own" which is very precisely what the theory of democracy argues that democratic rulers should not be.
In DÃ©mocratie le Problem, Alain de Benoist observes that effective democracy is about participation as a member of a group, as much as if not more than the procedures which a democracy adopts. From the very origin of the Greek word for freedom, elutheros, is the notion of belonging to a particular group. "To belong to a good line and to be free, is one and the same" (Emile Benveniste Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-europÃ©enes Bd. 1 p.321). Freedom belonged in its origins to belonging, and what is belonging if not in some sense: participation? This was the key of Otis' call, the fundamental demand of the American democratic revolutionaries: "No taxation without representation!".
Democracy as it is developing for and in the European Union with its parliament and commission and most recently Constitution, fails singularly in this respect. European elections in Britain draw about 25% of those eligible to vote. The average in Europe is well below 50%. The importance of one cause or another of such lack of interest may be debated, but the fact in itself that a large number, not infrequently a majority, of the franchised in the democratic countries do not exercise their right to participate in the choosing of their representatives, points to a crisis of credibility in the effectiveness of the Western democratic system and a crisis of legitimacy so far as governments are concerned.
As majority rule is not the quintessence of democratic rule but only a possible expression of it, so is representative democracy a possible form of democracy among others. It is not the case that a democracy must be a form of government by appointed representatives of the people. Rousseau, whose writings are concerned with pleading for authentic, natural and ultimately popular government, was very critical of the idea of representative democracy. In contrast to Voltaire, he was unimpressed by English parliamentary democracy, noting that the English only exercised their democratic rights every five years. ("In the few minutes that <the Englishman> enjoys liberty he acts in such a manner as to deserve to lose it." Le Contrat Social III 4 ) He rightly understood, as Voltaire did not, that giving a carte blanche to a deputy to act as proxy in one's place is hardly more "democratic" than to concede that a master or employer is entitled to decide alone what is best for one or the enterprise which one works for. Even when he does vote, the voter in a representative democracy may vote for eccentric, ill-informed or wholly misguided reasons. The more sovereign power representatives exercise in a democratic system, the more problematic is the existence of a democratic form of government. In the extreme case of Hobbes' Leviathan, the people choose once and once only, to surrender their sovereignty to an all powerful monarch to protect themselves from themselves. Does a free people have the democratic "right" to voluntarily sign away its freedom? According to the liberal principle of democracy as expressed by Locke, it does, because the individual's own freedom is his property to dispose of as he chooses; if he chooses as an individual to surrender his freedom, the property of his body and soul, that is his free choice. Not so, said Rousseau: the freedom of the individual is even inalienable unto himself. If necessary he must forced to be free, forced to participate in the process of expressing the general will of the people. If we do not allow someone the freedom to experiment with heroin, surely the same principle applies to experimenting with slavery.
The expression of a general will as the democratic voice of the people is only conceivable if one accepts that there is a people (as opposed to collection of individuals) in the first place. In other words, the idea of democracy which refuses the right of a majority to abandon democracy or for that matter, national freedom, must have a notion of democratic legitimacy which is at least more than just the majority in a head count.
Here we come to the fundamental inadequacy of democracy as a complete form of political decision making. Democracy is in itself not a way of understanding the world at all. It is not, like socialism or Christianity, a Weltanschaaung. It does not seek to explain the world or interpret it. Democracy, the rule by the people, is a way of ruling which presumes the right of equal decision making for all members of the body politic. Western democracy however, democracy as it is commonly understood today, does aspire to a status of Weltanschauung. Whereas in its historical roots and in the meaning of the word, democratic aspirations should be practical ones and ones concerned with the natural demand for fairness, democracy has been made ideological; but the more it becomes ideological, the less it is democratic.
In the homelands of democracy, the extension of the franchise and the expansion of democracy is eagerly promoted by the powers that be as an indisputable benefit. Many would dispute this, not least the members of the classes of the least educated themselves, who in large numbers are sceptical of the use of casting a vote at all. As one man quoted in Britain's Daily Mirror put it, "I am only interested in bikes and birds, in that order. Politics mean nothing to me." This is the honest reaction of the non-qualified. The more frequent and less honest reaction is to blame a lack of democracy on politicians themselves who "do not listen" and who "betray their election promises". Such criticism usually comes from those who are not notoriously good listeners themselves and are likely to not remember an election promise until a journalist tells them it is broken. If the people are the source of legitimacy, the people are responsible for the failure of "their" politicians.
Democracy, it is said often enough, is in crisis today. The most persistent view is that "voting doesn't change anything"; " if voting could change anything they would ban it." But what is one doing when one votes? Is one choosing pragmatically a person or group most likely to carry out a programme efficiently or is one expressing a preference for a philosophy, for an approach to civil life? Democracy theoretically includes both aspects of voting and this is one if its ambiguities. On the one hand, competing politicians are asking for support because they claim that they can more effectively rule than their opponents, on the other hand, by the nature of party politics, they belong to a group which historically is based on a different philosophy, where not just the means, but also the ends, are different. Political parties are at the same time pragmatically insurance salesmen for certain policies and ideally guardians of a political faith. Increasingly, as has been widely observed, the pragmatists are gaining ground at the expense of the idealists. The shell of the democratic party system is conserved, but different parties included in the democratic consensus represent increasingly the same philosophy. They term their philosophy of self aggrandisement and hedonism "democracy" but democracy is not a philosophy. What is then the philosophy or Weltanschauung of today's purveyors of democracy?
To answer the last question we need to know who really has power in a democracy and not who theoretically holds power. Political and economic power are increasingly hard to distinguish. Politicians are the spokesmen not of the people who nominally elect them, but of the internationalist capitalist system.
The Weltanschauung of Western democracy is an ideology of change and materialism. The very perverseness of making of change, a neutral biological fact, an ideology, is intentional. As for the various rights associated with a democratic system, these were originally the demands not of the people in their majority, but of an ambitious emerging merchant capitalist class which spearheaded the French and American revolutions. Thus the principle historical references of modern Western democracy are the American and French revolutions and the nationalist revolutions of 1848. Their principle aim was the destruction of the old world order of sceptre and crown in favour of the rule of a capitalist class where membership of the aristocracy was not determined by blood but by lucre. The agenda included the disestablishment of religion, the dissolution of nationhood, the abolition of the very existence of race as a significant social factor, and in the long term the establishment of a world government with a single market run by businessmen. In conformity with this long term plan, the champions of modern mass democracy are eager to promote political democracy within the ideological framework of their own beliefs and the beliefs of their paymasters, but show no interest whatsoever in industrial or economic democracy or democratic fairness so far as the ownership of communications media is concerned.
The dynamo of capitalism is expansion and trade and the consequence of expansion and trade is change, economic ambition and the replacing, to borrow an expression of GuÃ©non's, of the reign of quality with the reign of quantity. This process has been long and painful but it is impossible not to recognise it. Modern politicians act on the assumption that universalism and economic growth are in themselves good things, more than that that, that they are the supreme benefits of political action. Matters of religion and spiritual beliefs are to be confined to the private conscious of each individual and made politically ineffective.
Logically, the more committed to a project whose driving ideological force is change and materialism, the more likely I am to profit from it, socially as well as economically. Jews have especially benefited in this respect. Their immense influence on the Western democratic process, where now the slightest criticism of them results in a barrage of protest (especially from the loudest proponents of democracy) cannot be honestly overlooked by the intelligent observer. That professional commentators behave as though the facts about Jewish influence are pathological fantasies, speaks for itself. Much legislation had been enforced in the Western world banning public comments on Jewish influence in Western political and economic affairs and the intention is to prevent political parties from commenting on it in any way, much less proposing what should be done about it. Those who profess to be "shocked" by descriptions of Western democracy as a "Jewish democracy" should lucidly explain how on the contrary the Western democratic system is not disproportionately influenced by Jewish wishes and aspirations. They are indeed candidly invited to do so in the pages of this publication.
The "indigenous population" of "ordinary voters" while encouraged to abide by the terms of the system, are not only allowed but actively encouraged to abandon their sense of social engagement in return for the delights of material goods and several habit forming "hobbies" which act as substitutes for civic engagement: most notably sexual promiscuity (especially vicarious through pornography) and spectator sport. Such "hobbies" channel and exhaust the energies of the citizen and reinforce an impression of the fleetingness and relativity of all things. (All values are relative according to the capitalist-relative to demand and supply. There is no intrinsic worth). In the meantime, the elite amasses fabulous wealth and presides over an aimless acquiescent herd of voters who are presented with arguments and issues chosen by the elite and advertised in the establishment (pro-democratic) press. This has reached its highest point to date in the politics of the United States of America. The process is an on-going one and will take several decades before it has reached completion (assuming it is not interrupted). Modern Western democracy stresses interruption in place of the natural cycles of nature. It is impulsive and present oriented, paying scant regard to the long term future and the long term past and is obsessed with growth and change, as is the money system which it serves.
Theoretically by definition in a democracy power is in the hands of the people. It has always been the argument of what democracy labels "political extremists" (viz. opponents of Western democracy) who usually receive little popular support in a democracy, that the representation of the people in a democracy is based on fraud. The radical right argues for example that "the ordinary voter" never wanted mass non-European immigration and would have rejected it had he been given the chance to do so (presumably in referendum). On many issues, the argument continues, such as capital punishment, national independence and immigration, the people are said to have been deprived of their right to decide for themselves, their opinions being vastly less generous and liberal than those of the politicians who are supposed to speak in their name. The radical left depiction of the failure of modern democracy to be fully democratic (because historically class based) likewise argues that current democracy is fraudulent; the people, at least the majority working class, so the argument, have acquired a false understanding of their own economic and political interests, so that they allow themselves to be ruled by those whose interests are materially far removed from their own.
The counter argument to both radical right and left is that the oppressed people do not show much inclination to support radical policies at the ballot box. The only explanation from the radical point of view is that the voters are unable to understand their own vital interests, either because of their own inadequacy or because they have been duped, misled and misinformed. The populist argument in this case is to invite the majority to make a snap decision on a crucial issue by means of a referendum. The argument against a referendum is that in an emotional fit of outrage or anger, the people might support disastrous policies. (There again, how do the people reach this emotional state?)
Had there been direct voting on the specific subject, a majority of French, British and German citizens would have almost certainly rejected the massive non-European immigration which has transformed their nations. The least one can say is this being the case, democracy is incomplete in those countries. Whether democracy should be complete (responding exclusively to the voice of the people) is of course another matter. Not only does Joe Six Pack often express the desire to have foreigners dance on his grave and be buried at sea, his response to most wars led by his country's elite is to want to push aside the "pinko-liberals" who mismanage the country and "nuke" the enemy nation. Full democracy in Britain or the United States could quite possibly, indeed is likely, to have resulted in both nations being involved in more than one atomic war, and it is quite feasible that full democracy then would have by now resulted in the total destruction of the nations concerned if not the planet itself. Right wing populists who nod and wink at the extreme racialism of Joe Six Pack, are discomforted when they learn that the same ordinary man follows blindly any small elite into any war which carries with it the blessing of his country's flag. As America and Britain fight Israel's wars, it is the extreme right which finds itself incongruously in the role of the intellectual dissident defying "patriotic" opinion and even the opinion of the democratic consensus. The fact is nevertheless that the wish of large majorities on key issues touching on the philosophy of the ruling elite is repeatedly and intentionally ignored. The "Labour" Prime Minister of Britain at the time of writing is a man most happy when in the company of millionaires and it is highly implausible that he honestly regards himself to be the voice of a majority of the people.
Liberalism, which claims to speak in the name of democracy, makes the individual the central concern of society, in contrast to democracy, which makes the polis the central concern of society. It has encouraged a new elite of the "personally successful", whose interests are openly egotistical, as the Chicago School argued they should be for society to prosper. While all nominally enjoy equal rights, in reality, the successful enjoy considerably more than the unsuccessful and in the one area where in a democracy, the economically unsuccessful would be granted equality, they are deprived of it, for in important matters the Western party system deprives the citizen not of a voice (protest is tolerated) but of any structure to ensure shared decision making. The shibboleths of growth and profit are so constructed as to benefit the system and be defined by the system
The supreme democratic virtue in the West today is a man's (or woman's) personal success, regardless of how that success is achieved. Western democratic societies operate with a supreme contempt for virtue. The ultimate crime is failure, the collapse of self-esteem. Public responsibility is ignored. Responsibility to an image before the media is indispensable. Equality of opportunity for the individual (to be successful at the expense of others) and not equality of power is of paramount concern to Western democracies and an important slogan in their many military crusaders against non-democratic "heathens". Is it not the democratic, (or should one not, in view of developments in China, better call it utilitarian?) acceptance of the view that the common man is sovereign in the small world of his personal appetite, and the veneration for quantity at the cost of quality, which is driving our planet to the verge of oblivion?
Here there is a failure of all democracy, howsoever "pure" and virtuous. Democracy has little sense of a future beyond the time of those currently living. It is very much a practice of the present. By contrast, conservatism and aristocracy are deeply endowed with a sense of the continuum and repetition of all things. In this respect democracy indeed resembles liberalism. It responds to the moods and appetites of the individual. Can politicians in a democracy take the steps necessary to slash long term human population levels? The answer is that only democratic politicians with a sense of destiny and responsibility to posterity may be expected to do so.
It is the visionary, altruistic, above all, those not bound to the present, who will take measures necessary for long term well being, but democracy is hide-bound to the present, dependent on the will of the common man, the average, whose will is mired in the concerns of the present. Modern democracy owns to no end beyond that of growth, which is a syllogism, for growth can only be into something beyond itself, When not, growth is pathological. There is no consensus on the end for which democracy exists. Here emerges the proper role of a new religion yet to arise, the vision of which will extend beyond the day-to-day decision making and tribal/national/individual/anthropocentric selfishness of democracy as we know it today. .A democracy without religion lacks all responsibility to a hereafter, either beyond this world or within it. It is not democracy as such, but the atheism in the widest sense of the world, of modern democracy, which makes it abject and repellent to good instinct.
The so called "crisis of democracy" is therefore not a crisis of democracy as a possible form of government, but a crisis of legitimacy, a crisis of geography and a crisis of biology in Western democracies. What meaning can a democracy possibly have outside an anthropological, sociological or in politics geographical, field of reference? If I vote for a university representative, my field of reference is the university. If I vote for a representative in parliament, presumably my field of reference is my region or nation. This is the point of crisis-as my nation loses significance and the physical point of reference of my nation loses significance as "everywhere is nowhere and nowhere is everywhere" then a vote for a representative loses meaning. The people cannot be represented in a One World Market because there is no people to represent, only a populace. What use is a democracy if the populace is just that: a populace, unable to understand political issues other than in terms of its personal advantage?
A democracy (and not only a democracy) cannot be expected to flourish where the members are so diverse that they cannot identify one with another. It is natural that there be divergence of interest, but without a social cement of common identity, the notion of a "loyal" opposition becomes impossible to maintain. Beyond differences of opinion about decisions to be made, there is expected to be a common agreement on the shared interest to promote the good of the whole. Democracy in this case will always have human selfishness to contend with. This is in the nature of the beast. Where there are competing ulterior motives however, participants are "playing" according to different aims and the "game" cannot be meaningfully played. This was the earlier justification for the banning of communist organizations: if they were acting in the interests of a foreign power (Russia) then it followed that adherents of the Moscow faction were not expressing political opinions on the basis of the same criteria as their opponents. Their aims were different-a dialogue in sense of discussing an agreed purpose could not be maintained. This is equally true in the case of different cultural or ethnic groups, to the extent that different religions for example are believed to act in the interests of those closest to them religiously. This was the political justification for religious tyranny in many societies. In heterogeneous societies, the only common point of reference seems to be liberal rights of the individual, which, as I have tried to argue, are not a defining element of democracy. Democracy is damaged by multi-culturalism and ultimately succumbs to it.
Historically, democracies have been moving towards the acceptance of nearly all residents of a given geographical area, including those who do not work or pay taxes (thus going further than the radical demands of the American revolutionaries) as members per definition of the polis. At this point all that counts (literally) is numbers. Strength lies in numbers and the ultimate secret of power is babies. In former European colonies, the post colonial democratic systems meant that majority rule would fall to the largest tribe or ethnic group. Survival for a minority group could only be ensured by dictatorship: whites in South Africa and Tutsis in Ruanda-Urundi spurned comprehensive democracy because they knew it would bring with it their political, even physical, destruction. Now that there is full majority democracy in the Republic of South Africa, the white minority is likely to be gradually stripped of citizenship and eventually expelled. Protection for minorities in any democracy cannot be ensured by appeals to democracy itself or democratic rights, since the simple response to that is to proclaim the minority outsiders and therefore not included in the gamut of said rights, or less drastically, that the minority must accept the majority decision to deprive them of their privileges or livelihood. To guard against this, extra rights are introduced, independent of democracy, that is to say, based on an equality other than the equality of the right to participate in decision making (for example, the Rights of Man). Democracy is therefore open to a special kind of infiltration, the infiltration of an extra-democratic legitimacy which operates superficially as part of a kind of democracy and freedom package but which is in fact introduced into democracy without being decided on in a process of debate. In modern rhetoric, democracy and human rights have become intertwined, so that the fact is usually overseen that human rights are not an inherent part of democracy at all. The widespread belief that such rights as human rights are part of the same "demand of progress" as the advance of democracy, is based and can only be based on, the assumption that democracy is quintessentially egalitarian and international. Indeed, advocates of modern democracy argue that differences between human beings only exist at an individual level and that differences at the level of a group are false generalisations, prejudices, clichÃ©s.
In the modern view, all adults are now equal and equal in all that matters, that is to say equally able to participate in the decision making process. Towards the end of the nineteenth century (Gladstonian liberalism) and again in the 1950's, there was much optimism in the Western world that "democracy had come of age" and that all peoples of the world were moving sometimes slowly but always inexorably, towards that state of political perfection which approximated to the British or American Constitutions, even though the British Constitution is not written, but is a constitution of precedent, while the American Constitution is in a permanent process of change through amendments. A lack of majority democracy and a lack of formal equality and freedom were viewed as one and the same. The provision of democratic institutions and modern science would ensure a civilized and democratic polity.
Developments since the fifties have confounded this optimism. In the non-white world the introduction of Western style democracy in freshly independent lands brought more tyranny, exploitation and injustice than existed under the old patriarchal racialist dispensations. Only India, to the surprise of many, has shown an ability to develop a system which approximates in some respects to Western notions of democracy. In the West, immigration and the "rising tide of colour" (Stoddart) has broken up the feeling of identity in terms of a national and ethnic community and therefore the very basis of democratic consensus. Modern liberal democracy, which stresses the importance of the individual, leaves him to his own devices politically; in an anonymous society the voter may not even know the name of his representative in parliament. The very notion of democratic "free choice" in a multifarious and multi-cultural society separates and isolates the individual. But one kind of optimism from the fifties has proved to be well-founded: the uninterrupted continuation of scientific progress and liberal capitalism. Marxist socialism, not its opponent, crashed "under the weight of its own contradictions". Capitalism has progressed unremittingly, chiefly because of the unprecedented ability of privately funded technology to meet new challenges in a competitive world. Superficially, a seeming paradox here, freedom of choice for the individual from career to consumer goods has continued to increase while democracy weakens. The individual's material comfort has risen almost without a break in the last fifty years in the West but a willingness to participate in the decision making process has not risen with it, quite the contrary. Comfort has replaced freedom as the mark of democratic systems. But comfort and freedom from fear, desirable as they may be, are not inherent elements of a democracy, or freedom, for that matter.
The freedom of choice of the individual at has risen in relation to the decline in popular participation in the politics. The "society of distraction" (de Benoist) is the society of political non-participation. The representative has given way to the politician, the career politician, the politician as professional. The Western world makes a cult of the professional and despises the amateur. This is as true of politics as of sport. If democracy means the rule of the people, must it not mean the rule, or at least the voice, of the amateur? Amateur politics is given a special term in Western democracy and not an especially complimentary one: populism. Populism is the manifestation of the amateur in politics. Those who argue that Western democracy has reached the highest stage of evolution are extremely uncomfortable with outbursts of political enthusiasm that are not in the hands of democracy's approved professionals. In fact, moves are immediately set in motion to disgrace and discourage such enthusiasm in a highly undemocratic manner.
Political leaders in contemporary democracies are increasingly regarded as comedians (in the wide sense of both actors and entertainers) and careerists. Politics in democracy has become a career like any other, where the principle interest served is one's own future. What the democratic leader is selling to the people is something like an insurance policy: "chose my party because it will bring higher returns on your rate of tax", the difference to the classic insurance model being that taking out a policy is mandatory. The politician's performance consists largely of playing to a specific audience of party, voters and backers and balancing the conflicting interests of the three. The politician has become again what he was in the eighteenth century-a career politician, one seeking a career in politics, using ideas and ideals as pretexts and props. Most commentators agree that the differences between major political parties in the West are continually shrinking.
The career of the politician overrides the causes and issues which the politician has to confront. At the same time, in Western democracy, there is little restraint on the power of the Fourth Estate. Apparently in the name of freedom of expression, the media have been progressively extending their powers, in part owing to the relaxation of restrictions and the advance of technology over the restrictions of time and space, in part owing to the decline in local associations and structures. Media information has been replacing the authority of historical institutions and the sensory experience as the primary source of information. As events become less predictable and as change accelerates, so that familiarity loses its intensity in the lives of people, the dependency on information grows and thereby the power of the dispensers of information grow. The so-called "freedom of the press" as a guarantor of the liberty of the individual is not unproblematic. While it is true that democracies have a press in which it is possible to reveal the foibles and failings of the great and powerful, which in a dictatorship or aristocracy would often be censored, at the same time the Fourth Estate is equipped with an immense power to manipulate the way of thinking and even the behaviour of the masses for whom it claims
only to act as herald. The media are overwhelmingly "one party" on a wide range of issues. In many ways public media have replaced the church. Soap operas play the role of the preacher in inculcating the right values to the flock.
The private media are usually beholden to specific parties and interests. Because of the nature of party democracy, the reporting of news takes the form of part of a campaign to maintain or achieve power. A party democracy creates a society to some extent at permanent war with itself. The media of the state attempt to maintain objectivity, or are expected to do so, but as democracy becomes more privatised, the power of the public media shrinks. Besides, the state media are themselves strongly inclined to the temptation of assuming monopoly powers. In extreme cases where the private media are in the hands of a powerful oppositional group, the government may be forced or tempted to use the public media as an alternative propaganda organ, so that the state organ becomes the mouthpiece of an alternative faction. In Britain, the current Prime Minister has curried favour with the press baron Rupert Murdoch, a kind of modern Warwick the King Maker. His power arguably exceeds that of elected politicians and his mood may make or break them. Only politicians of the "political fringe" express the ambition to remove such undemocratic influence, and earn for their pains the sinister sobriquet of "enemy of a free press". This "free press" in Western democracy means the power of money to buy and form opinion. The media in Europe and North America are overwhelmingly under Jewish ownership and the perspective of the media on world events is slanted correspondingly. The so called "free press" is in this case to a significant extent an illusion.
For some time democracy has been a kind of litmus test of political virtue, a label to which many regimes, not notable for their concern for popular opinion, aspire to. Diverse regimes, including Marxist dictatorships, have laid claim to being democratic, with a reality far removed from declaration of intent. The dictatorship of the proletariat was justified on the grounds that only the most progressive elements of the working class could grasp the true interests of the masses. While reaching an extreme form in Marxist dictatorships, this notion of "we know what is best for you" is not far distant from all representative democratic systems. This leads easily to contempt for both the opponent and the masses, but it is precisely respect for the opponent which we may reasonably expect to be a supreme virtue of a system which is defined by participation of all the people in the decisions which shape its destiny. The answer has developed out of the British Constitutional concept of "His Majesty's Loyal Opposition". This apparent oxymoron accepts the existence of two levels of political loyalty-one to the nation state incorporated in the name Majesty, the other to the political idea incorporated in the name Opposition (opposition to the politics which are currently those of His Majesty's government).
But what is the will of the people when democratic governments abandon the concept of "the people"? We are left with the wish of a populace, which democratically is expressed in terms of preferment for one or another team of managers of a system whose nature and parameters are already fixed. Slowly and not smoothly but discernibly, the notion of "political enemy" had crystallised as "enemy of democracy". Not surprisingly, for fear of being labelled by a term which is known to mean one is "not democratic" and therefore being deprived of all power, all respect and all privilege, political associations, parties and not least individuals, strain to be accepted as "correct". The term correct refers to an accepted paradigm, so that those who even enter into a debate about the "politically correct" have signed the contract not to discuss what is forbidden under a democratic consensus which has been drawn up without discussion by the political and behind it the financial, elite. In this way, being for or against democracy has become a kind of test of one's belonging to civilization itself. In the Western democratic perspective, there has thus emerged two kinds of "disagreement" or "opposition" to government policies, one which is accepted because included in the democratic family, the other rejected because beyond the democratic pale and therefore "dangerous". What in the past was "enemy" because enemy of the folk, the nation, is now "enemy" because enemy of democracy and everything which has been fortuitously attached by interested politicians to their notion of democracy.
Democracies are notoriously less principled abroad than at home, although dictatorships which befriend democracies are in constant danger of being suddenly uncovered as abusers of human rights and undemocratic, when their usefulness is exhausted and they are weak enough to be insulted with impunity. Mrs Thatcher called General Pinochet "a good friend of Britain" and Ronald Reagan declared RÃos Montt, president of Honduras, a man who is widely alleged to have sanctioned the gruesome atrocities against civilians in his war against leftist insurgents, "a man of great personal integrity." Democratic politicians have no qualms about doing business with China which is at least as repressive as nations which they have fought against ostensibly in the cause of democratic freedom-North Vietnam, Iraq.
More important in modern society than what is often shadow boxing between governments and opposition in parliament, is the opposition between world finance and its political spokesmen on the one hand and non governmental organizations, such as Greenpeace on the other. The democracy of a pressure group like Greenpeace is not a matter of structure but a matter of claiming strength on the basis of financial support. (So many persons give us so much money therefore we have the opportunity to undertake such and such work).
What is accepted as "democratic" is defined by the prevailing social and political organizations which have already established themselves as legitimate organizations. Being regarded as enemies on the grounds that they are "undemocratic", movements and organizations which are excluded from the democratic club are treated fundamentally differently to those which are included. Those excluded are denied certain democratic privileges such as equal access to the means of communication and non-hostile reporting by media. There lies to hand within democracy the possibility of severely curtailing the freedom of groups or individuals in the very name of democracy itself: the enemy is undemocratic, and that is justification, when necessary, for silencing him and even banning him.
To call oneself democratic is to lay claim to the highest political virtue. Dictatorships are fond of the word. The countries of the Soviet bloc claimed they were truly democratic and genuinely free, in comparison with the capitalist states whose democracy was labelled "incomplete", because "bourgeois". For the Marxist, the acquisition of democratic rights was the historical achievement of bourgeois revolutions, but did not constitute the completion of democracy. That could only be reached, in one of the great Marxist paradoxes, through the dictatorship of the most advanced sections of the proletariat, whose voice was the Communist Party. Democracy in capitalist society was half complete, bourgeois democracy. However, the Marxist argument that democracy in the West is class democracy, is not groundless. The liberal belief that the freedom to vote is sufficient in itself to assure the most fair political choice possible to society, is indeed extremely naÃ¯ve, ignoring as it does all the factors which can distort a result: prejudice, money, influence, pressure, lobbies, biased media, being a few of the most obvious.
Solidly established as typically democratic today is party democracy, a form of government which the founders of the American Constitution saw as a major failing of the British system and unsuccessfully strove to prevent in theirs. The major element of all party democratic systems is the lobby. At the moment that a party exists, it represents by definition only a part of society or a part of the people, and will be therefore especially associated with particular interests. Clearly, if I build cars, I have an interest as a car manufacturer which is not identical with my interest as "pure" citizen of the state. If one party promises a political course of action which is more likely to favour car manufacturing than the politics of another party, I may well seek to support that party with money, with favourable press comment or financial favours. In short, I will seek a return on my investment in a business-like manner, expecting to be rewarded by "my" party if it is successful. The list of lobbies in the widest sense of the word can be extended almost indefinitely. A political party can by its nature not be disinterested. It has detached itself from a purely representative function vis Ã vis the people and become a representative of interests and at the same time the representative of an idea associated with many of those interests. Power is not in the ballot box alone, as according to the pure form of democracy it should be, but largely in the establishing and building of power of groups and their success in achieving influence. Choices are made for the voters before they vote.
It has been cogently argued by Marxists that democracy in the West is the outward political form, a superstructure covering the real content of economic power, class power. Democracy in the West, which permits freedoms that were not permitted in the past, freedom of the press and economic freedom, does not offer genuine freedom in terms of access to power, since the power structures are wedded to the capitalist economic order. According to this analysis, democracy serves the interests of the bourgeoisie; democracy in a capitalist system is therefore "bourgeois democracy". When Marx wrote his critique of capitalism, society was weighed in favour of the producer and the consumer was expected to be grateful for what he got. Today the reverse is true. The producer runs after the consumer. Consumer rights have outstripped producers rights.
The balance between consumer and production hegemony has not been reached, perhaps it never can. The forced introduction of gene manipulated products despite consumer indifference or even hostility may be a sign that we have reached the high point of consumer directed capitalism. The fact remains that it is simplistic to summarise Western democracy as merely "bourgeois democracy". It is also a "consumer democracy" one driven very much by the desires and fashions of the moment, desires and fashions which themselves interrelate with the advertising industry. Consumer driven economies do not influence politics by sharing in decision making but by determining the discourse and priorities that politicians are expected to refer to. Business is content with this. Consumer driven economies are favourable to a certain kind of democracy, namely a democracy of influence. The consumer has to be taken into consideration but his role is passive. At the same the consumer/citizen is expected to learn to live without fear, to be disrespectful, to challenge opinion, but only in the context of a personal choice, a declaration of individuality, not as a declaration of political wish, of democratic participation in a body politic.
Politics are subordinate to economics and democracy becomes a question of successful and continued consumption ("growth"). The democratic candidate goes begging to the voter-consumer with promises of more security, more happiness, more health. The democratic politician today is little more than an insurance salesman of dubious integrity. Democracy is implicitly understood as the highest state of Western (formerly white) civilization. The standard bearer of Western democracy, the U.S.A., berates its enemies for a lack of democracy and freedom. Historically this makes of the democratic state in arms a redoubtable foe, one that believes at the same time that it is fighting for freedom and a higher good in universal terms, therefore for itself and at an altruistic level for its enemy ("we are bombing your cities for your own good, to free you from your anti-democratic rulers"). The enemy is a force out of the past, something retrogressive, an ideological not strategical foe. Victory consists not in advantage to oneself but in the destruction of evil. "Hurrah, hurrah we bring the Jubilee, hurrah! hurrah! The flag which makes you free!" sang Sherman's "dashing Yanky boys" as they plundered and pillaged their way through Georgia.
Belief in democracy has historically an often crypto-or not even crypto-religious association. In the Book of Mormon, we are told that the angels vote on God's proposal to create man. Two thirds of the angels approve the plan and a third reject it. Lucifer leads the rejectionist party in revolt. Lucifer and his angels leave the Heavenly Assembly. The Devil is not a democrat.
Dictators=bad; democracies=good is the Tarzan like simplistic coda of Western democracy just as socialist democracy=progressive bourgeois democracy=capitalist, was the simplistic formula of the communist "peoples' democracies". In the war for Vietnamese unity, both South and North Vietnam and their super-power supporters, the USA and USSR respectively, claimed that their side represented the will of the people and were fighting for "democracy" and "freedom" against (horribile referens) dictatorship. So has "democracy is on our side" replaced "God is on our side" as the expression of the righteousness of a military cause and its optimistic impulse.
A democratic comradeship in arms exists in the Western military tradition and is expressed in its literature. In Shakespeare's plays, for instance, in Macbeth and in Henry Vth, the strength of one army lies greatly in the fact that the cause is the cause of justice, where justice is strongly linked to the more brotherly/democratic nature of the side which carries victory in its heart, opposed to the aristocratic and tyrannical. The democratic warrior is motivated by the spirit of freedom and justice, the warrior of the tyrant is a hireling or else motivated by fear. Of Macbeth Angus says, "Those he commands move only in command, Nothing in love" and Henry V tells his troops before the field of Agincourt: "He today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile This day shall gentle his condition." The act of fighting tyranny strengthens the feeling among those fighting that they are brothers in arms, which is in itself an impulse arising out of a sense of equality as a people. Historians have noted that English victories in the Hundred Years War were at least partly owing to the greater efficiency of a more "democratic" army, in which all men were considered valuable; the French aristocracy considered its foot soldiers and hired crossbowmen with contempt.
Democracies have an advantage in wartime against dictatorships insofar as the right to criticise without fear limits the chances of making blunders; a fearless press is ready to expose incompetence on the part of the leadership. Democracies in war demonstrate an awareness of the importance of distinguishing between constructive and destructive criticism which dictatorships lack. This distinction is maintained, if less obviously, in times of peace. Democracies tolerate, even encourage and absorb, that which they recognise as not fundamentally dangerous to their survival. They attenuate and redirect serious criticism as much as they can and publicise debates and talk shows which are apparently democratic forums, but from which debate considered dangerous is banished in advance.
It is said that democracy is ineffective because the time taken up in talk could be more usefully give up to action, that democracy is "soft" and incapable of taking hard decisions, but democracies, for all their praise of peace, may prove ruthless and efficient when they do go to war, where the right to criticise is a part of military strategy and democracy is inspired with a sense of the righteousness of what it is fighting for, its "noble cause". Many dictatorships have learnt this to their cost. There emerges however, a conflict between the image of benevolence which democracies are especially keen to show to the world and investigative journalism, the existence of which is a hallmark of modern democracy but which is dedicated to revealing to the world the failings of democracy to live up to its own standards.
The belief that there is a kind of brotherhood of men of one tribe or nation against a hostile outside world runs like a thread through the political history of the
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