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?
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.