Democracy and servility

This article about democracy is making the rounds. It starts off very poorly but it really brings the goods after the first few paragraphs praising democracy.

It begins:

I am in two minds about democracy, and so is everybody else. We all agree that it is the sovereign remedy for corruption, tyranny, war, and poverty in the Third World. We would certainly tolerate no different system in our own states. Yet most people are disenchanted with the way it works. One reason is that our rulers now manage so much of our lives that they cannot help but do it badly. They have overreached. Blunder follows blunder, and we come to regard them with the same derision as those who interview them on radio and television. We love it that our rulers are—up to a point—our agents. They must account to us for what they do. And we certainly don’t live in fear, because democracy involves the rule of law. Internationally, democracies are by and large a peaceful lot. They don’t like war, and try to behave like “global citizens.” There is much to cherish.

This is crap.

Poverty in the Third World has hardly been alleviated by democracy. So far, 60 years of democracy in the Third World has resulted in stagnancy at best, and retrogression at worst (and in most cases).

Democracies are not peaceful, as witnessed by the whole of the 20th Century. Democracies invented the concept of "total war" and carried it to its most disgusting conclusions. In the age of democracy, no one is safe from war and its consequences. This, Comrades, is not progress.

Later, however, the article gets rolling. Here is the thesis:

Democratization is the most dramatic of all the corruptions of constitutionality in which separation and balance are to be replaced by a single ideal believed to solve all problems. The moral life can no more be isolated from this drive than anything else. It too must be democratized. And the result is to destroy individual agency. . . .

Our inherited moral idiom is thus being challenged by another, in which individuals find their identifying essence in supporting public policies that are both morally obligatory and politically imperative. Such policies are, I suggest, “politico-moral.” Such an attitude dramatically moralizes politics, and politicizes the moral life. It feeds on our instinctive support for good causes. Yet it also suggests that the most important sign of moral integrity, of decency and goodness, is not found in facing up to one’s responsibilities, but in holding the right opinions, generally about grand abstractions such as poverty and war. This illusion might well be fingered as the ultimate servility.

Perhaps we could call this SWPL morality or status-seeking morality.

(A perfect example of this point, is this article which begins by unnecessarily praising democracy in factually-inaccurate ways. Sigh.)

The good stuff continues:

The evident problem with democracy today is that the state is pre-empting—or “crowding out,” as the economists say—our moral judgments. Nor does the state limit itself to mere principle. It instructs us on highly specific activities, ranging from health provision to sexual practices. Yet decisions about how we live are what we mean by “freedom,” and freedom is incompatible with a moralizing state. That is why I am provoked to ask the question: can the moral life survive democracy?

What are slaves?

Indeed, in our entirely justified hatred of slavery, we sometimes think that the passion for freedom is a constitutive drive of all human beings. Such a judgment can hardly survive the most elementary inspection of history. The experience of both traditional societies and totalitarian states in the twentieth century suggests that many people are, in most circumstances, happy to sink themselves in some collective enterprise that guides their lives and guarantees them security. It is the emergence of freedom rather than the extent of servility that needs explanation.

What is freedom?

What freedom actually means is the capacity not only to choose but also to face the consequences of one’s choice. To accept employment, to marry, to join a cause, to sustain a family, and so on, all involve responsibilities, and it is in the capacity to sustain self-chosen responsibilities, the steadiness to face up to the risks and inevitable ennui inseparable from a settled life, that we exhibit our freedom.

I couldn’t agree more with these preceding observations. I’ve made most of them myself on this blog.

The social conditions of the servile mind are much less elusive than the personal. That they consist in welfare dependency has been widely recognized—even governments themselves find the resulting costs, crime, and apathy of such programs intolerable. But servility is also evident in the state’s concern to protect any set of people from prejudice, offense, or danger to self-esteem. Immigrants in earlier times did not need, and many would have regarded as demeaning, the current apparatus designed to protect supposedly vulnerable people. Courage and resilience did for these people what the state now does for their successors. Such legislation, in protecting people from victimhood is, paradoxically, simultaneously an education in how to be a victim.

I wish I had written that.

The major change from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is thus one in our very conception of society itself. In Europe, and even to some extent in the United States, it has become less an association of independent self-moving individuals than an association of vulnerable people whose needs must be met and sufferings mitigated by the power of the state.

This is not moral progress.


3 Responses to Democracy and servility

  1. icr says:

    “Poverty in the Third World has hardly been alleviated by democracy. So far, 60 years of democracy in the Third World has resulted in stagnancy at best, and retrogression at worst”


  2. […] – “History’s Losers: New Deal Revolution Edition“, “Democracy and Servility“, “I Am the Rich“, “More Libertarian […]

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