Review of “The Problem of Democracy” by Alain de Benoist

In this brief but very dense book, de Benoist considers arguments for and against democracy and finds them inadequate in light of what he terms “organic democracy.” It may be better understood as “citizenist democracy.” Here’s his summary:

Democracy must be founded not on the alleged inalienable rights of rootless individuals, but on citizenship, which sanctions one’s belonging to a given folk – that is, a culture, history and destiny – and to the political structure within which it has developed. Liberty results from one’s identity as members of the same national and folk community. The abstract egalitarian principle “one man, one vote” must be replaced with the more realistic and concrete principle “one citizen, one vote.”

A democracy based not on the idea of rootless individuals or “humanity” but on the folk as a collective organism and privileged historical agent might be termed an organic democracy. It would represent the logical evolution of Greek democracy, and of a current of thought that places at the centre of social and political life notions such as those of mutual aid, the harmony of opposites, analogy, the dialectic between authority and consent, the equality of political rights, participation, and the mutual identification of governments with those governed.

I certainly think such a society would be a much more stable society than modern, multicultural democracies. However de Benoist fails to persuade me (or really provide any arguments) that democracy in such a society is preferable to any other form of government in such a society. Is the stability the result of democracy or just the result of an homogenous society with an involved citizenry that exhibits a strong sense of belonging?

My guess is that the latter is much more important that the former. Though he does provide some persuasive arguments that democracy can only function in a citizenist society – in making this argument, he’s in good company.

de Benoist notes that, “No political system exists that is preferable in itself in all historical epochs, circumstances and places. Likewise, no ‘absolute’ solution exists for human affairs, nor any ‘ultimate way’ of living for societies and peoples.”

Later, he notes, “The Mass is simply compromised of a transient plurality of isolated and rootless individuals. A people is instead a crucible by which citizens are given form.”

My guess is that a true people will thrive regardless of government. The type of government matters much more when you’re trying to govern a mass.

Indeed, the overall picture of democracy painted by de Benoist is rather scary. For example,

Claude Polin goes so far as to write, “Prior to the development of the idea of popular sovereignty, men had never even imagined . . . that any human power could truly be absolute.” Far from having replaced a powerful authority with a weaker one, modern democracies have, on the contrary, set up popular sovereignty as a (theoretically) unlimited power.

This force may be easier to contain in a citizenist society, but why unleash such a force?

Another example,

Elections serve to measure “public opinion” and polls to get a clearer picture of it. But how are opinions formed? The fact that elections may be free is meaningless if opinion-forming is not. . . . . it is possible to manipulate public opinion today in ways unknown to the classic propaganda of the past. Popular will is thus being increasingly fabricated by using methods to condition public opinion.

Again, this is still true in a citizenist society. Why turn government over to those who are experts at manufacturing consent?

I can’t resist one more example,

[Tocqueville]: What I find most repugnant in American is not the extreme liberty that prevails there but the virtual absence of any guarantee against tyranny. . . . I know no country in which there is less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America. . . . In the majority, however, is vested a force that is moral as well as material, which shapes wills as much as actions and inhibits not only deeds but also the desires to do them. . . . The Inquisition was never able to prevent the circulation in Spain of books contrary to the religion of the majority. In the United States the majority has such sway that it can do better: it has banished even the thought of publishing such books.

So why vest any force in the majority?

In sum, the book provides great arguments for small and homogenous societies. It fails to justify why such societies should be governed by democracies. As de Benoist himself notes,

Not a single revolutionary constitution claimed to have been inspired by “democratic” principles. . . .

It was only in the United States, once people had started criticizing the notion of a “republic,” that the word democracy first became widespread. Its usage became current at the beginning of the Nineteenth century, especially with the advent of Jacksonian democracy and the establishment of the Democratic Party.

Far be it from me to support revolutionary ideals, but it seems like they were on to something.

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11 Responses to Review of “The Problem of Democracy” by Alain de Benoist

  1. Callowman says:

    “My guess is that a true people will thrive regardless of government.” Boy, does that ever ring true to me, as a long-term non-native resident of the Kingdom of Sweden. Despite their economy-thwarting politics, the Swedes have created a really nice country to live in.

    Lately it has occurred to me that universalism is like the plumage of a peacock. It’s a showy demonstration of virtue that is actually per se harmful to the organism. The Swedes apparently need to show that their egalitarian principles are so strong that they can survive genetic replacement by Muslims and black Africans. As a parent of children, I sure hope they get over this delusion before they do too much more harm.

    • The Swedish model has been a myth though I concur with the overall point. The Swedes have been deregulating, privatizing and reducing taxes since the early 90s now. Did you wonder why it was invoked fewer and fewer times in the American left as a model? It would be instructive to check out all the reforms they did carry out.
      Tino Sanandaji writes a bit about it.

  2. VXXC says:

    “My guess is that a true people will thrive regardless of government.”

    History says NO. The French did not prosper under the Boubons, the Germans did not prosper under the Nazis, and the Russians may yet never recover from Communism. The Russians certainly were a true people, and they do not yet even thrive.

    America now says NO, despite all our peerless advantages we’re not thriving. We do have in the Cathedral government by those who are expert in manufacturing consent, but in the hands of stewards who have lost this consent. They inherited a system they cannot reform or rule. So they do not Rule, they Ruin. They plunder and corrupt. The malice they bear their own nation and people is boundless. They cannot have power or even citizenship ever again.

    As to whose hands it should be in, certainly no one with any connection to the current Ruinous elites. And I remain unconvinced that some and never mind the great mass of men are suited only to be saddled while others are suited to ride, by no virtue other in our current case than their dubious academic scores.

    We need new rulers and new elites. I would still quite trust the actual citizen American to Rule himself. Something he has not done in 80 years. That he still thrives in most places is a testimony to both his natural gifts and the boundless advantages nature has blessed our piece of land. I like the concept of the citizen ruler. Having now lived my life under elites determined to destroy him and the land he lies on it would be the height of folly to exchange one master for another. Another who in the very teeth of a nation arming against it’s masters proposes a novel contract to the American to be a more realistic master who will teach you your place. Citizen America isn’t having it in any case. He’s only recently awakened to the swindle of administrative government and is demanding his share back.

    Of course it matters who rules. We can look around and see thus.

    • Foseti says:

      I recall something about the Nazis expanding a bit beyond their borders. I recall something similar about the Russian Communists. Anyway . . .

      The sort of homogeneity that de Benoist is talking about is much narrower than “German” anyway – which is really only a couple hundred years old (at most). Think Silesia instead of Poland, etc.

      • Handle says:

        The best thing De Benoist does with this book is the intellectual History of the term and concept – it’s hard to find a book that does as good a job at briefly putting it all in one place. He could have more properly titled the collection “Which Democracy?” Modern Americans see “Democracy” as little more than “Voting and Electing those involved with Rule-Making” whereas he posits a ‘participative’ version where one does everything but that – contributing towards public life and welfare and exercising the muscles of social-capital building institutions.

        Well, as we all know, the problem with Nazis was that the Germans just had too much Social Capital.

        Just trying to neutralize the whole “amnesty reduces our social capital” argument. You can either 1. Deny it, or 2. Agree and amplify by reversing the valence of the result, “Yes it does, and it’s awesome. Otherwise we’d be Nazis!”. 99% of pundits take the bait and go for option 1. Yglesias cleverly chooses door number 2. Go big or go home!

        But is it just me, or does Yglesias seem a bit more over-the-top lately and more aggressively snarky and contemptuous than usual? It’s like Caplan. Something about an immigration-related news-cycle just brings out the crazy.

      • VXXC says:

        The Nazi’s expanded beyond their borders because that was their entire plan and program. Hitler met with his new Generals 3 weeks after being made Chancellor in 1933 and was absolutely committed to total war no later than 1938. If his plans had worked perfectly 1942. Rather irrelevant. Who ruled the Germans was quite relevant to the Germans. For instance 12 years after the Nazis took power the Anglo Powers ruled the Western part of Germany, the Russians had Königsberg and East [historical] Prussia, both of which are no longer German. The rest of Germany is still German.

        The Russian Communists did expand beyond their borders, also part of the plan. However they did a pretty good job on the Rus and Urkrainians quite without any wars, other than the internal ones.

        Who rules is relevant. It’s why you have this blog. You may be contending the people have failed the government and hence their right to claim “rule by the people”. Which they haven’t had since FDR. The rulers we have now are the terminal Bourbons on crack, their finance ministers the Harbingers of the Apocalypse. Our cultural elites are pornographers and trash, our business elites treat this country as a conquered province to be pillaged.

        When democracy was swindled out of rule by FDR due to a crisis not of the peoples making but the elites, the New Dealers they elected as administrative overlords bear absolutely no resemblence to what we have now, I describe them above. The people have had but slight influence on the government since. No community ever for instance voted for pornography outlets when it was still confined to shops. That’s our Supreme elites. As it was for most of the decisions that destroyed our cities. You quite know the History.

        There’s no reason to think that swapping one elite administrative government for a more reactionary one won’t mean the same predatory ruin. Everyone went to the same schools. Nope. The people get their check and balance back. I think they’ll insist on it.

        The franchise should be restricted to the responsible and the informed. But no nobility can or should rule us.

      • Chevalier de Johnstone says:

        @Handle,

        Yglesias is as usual spewing nonsense, or in this case quoting nonsense. The Nazi and proto-Nazi organizations were of course entirely different from the voluntary social activity groups (bowling leagues) discussed by Putnam. Any reading of Putnam’s work makes this difference obvious. Satyanath et al are disingenuously publishing garbage while hanging onto Putnam’s coattails. It is like saying that prison and university are the same because they both have cafeteria food.

  3. VXXC says:

    Without Democrat- Republican societies at the beginning the United States would have either gone the way of France or gotten faster to the Hamiltonian Plutocracy we have now. As it happens we have the worst vices and none of the virtues of both the Revolutionary French and Nicholas Biddle.

    The People under the American system are another complimentary check and balance. That was the genius DeTocqueville admired.

  4. VXXC says:

    Ygelsias says in his lifetime the lament for lost social capital reached it’s high water mark in the 90s.

    He was born in 1981.

    So he longs to be a teenager again. I think I shall tell him he never grew up.

  5. Chevalier de Johnstone says:

    But de Benoist is writing for Europe and is nominally pagan. Pagan European societies were “democratic” in the sense that de Benoist intends the term. They had elected kings/warlords/chieftans.

    That a democratic society chooses to have a hereditary kingship rather than bother with all that voting stuff does not make it any less democratic. Democracy, as de Benoist means it, is not a rules-based means of deciding political questions, it is a cultural milieu. In a democracy, if the demos says that a man is King, he is King. If it says his son after him will be King, then it is so. Then again the Celts had a habit of sacrificing their kings every few years if they had a bad harvest.

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