December 4, 2000
The Lure of Democracy
It's not so bad, really.
PESSIMISTIC SIDE OF THE FENCE
has never really been popular on the Right. Well, how could it be
when almost the very definition of being right wing is that us human
beings are not perfectible, the more religious would call it original
sin. This belief, doctrine, or excuse for professional gloom informs
almost all of the Conservative movement. The think tanks and neo-conservatives
get their glitzy charts out and worry about the growth of the underclass
and how on present trends most of Europe is going to be one large
sink housing estate in 2087. The traditionalists worry about the
decline of morality, the parlous state of Western culture and its
inevitable decline. Even Libertarianism, that sunny capitalist creed
is largely based on the (surprisingly controversial) idea that people
will just go off the boil without the discipline of the market.
Oh and in case my left wing readers think that they have got off,
why are you reading this unless you believe in the unlimited capacity
for imperialist meddling making the most dreadful situation ten
times worse? A set of beliefs based on the fallen nature of man
is hardly going to lend itself to the ordinary man ruling over government.
This lack of enthusiasm is, I would say, unnecessarily throwing
away one of our strongest cards in taking our world back.
by this time if I haven't got at least a few of my dear readers
gasping in disbelief at my portrait of their motives, I doubt they've
been reading. The Libertarian creed is a direct attack on the legitimacy
of democracy three wolves and a sheep voting on dinner. Liberty
trumps democracy. As far as the neo-cons and think tanks are concerned,
all I can say is that if they believe in the mass of America they
seem to be devoting remarkably few of their resources towards them
rather than their leaders. What of the movement conservatives, who
stretch from the Conservative and Republican parties to the National
Review to the Heritage Foundation to the rough tribes of Paleo
Conservatives and Eurosceptics in the hinterland? Surely they have
learned the efficacy of mass democracy with all the populist posing
and odes to the grassroots? Well to an extent, but a very weak extent.
Those Americans who have suddenly found the wonder of the Electoral
College or the British who argue against proportional representation
often do so from an antidemocratic position. Although I will not
wade into these controversies, especially the electoral college
that is none of my business I think the basic
thrust that the people cannot be trusted is wrong and self-defeating.
first essential fact of democracy is that it is by far the best
way of ensuring the maximum of Liberty. Now all these socialists
who think that democracy is going to lead to the spontaneous expansion
of the state into the economy are wrong. Well wrong if they think
that Democracy will lead to socialism faster than any right or left
wing dictatorship. Now this is not because the masses are yearning
to breathe free (if you want sunny optimism on human nature you're
reading the wrong column) but precisely because they are not. If
we accept that human freedom in both the economic and social spheres
leads to a better society then what's stopping that? Simply put
the fear of those who will resent the differences or envy the success
of others. How does democracy deal with it? Regulations, stupid
regulations to be sure, and taxes that are far too high. But the
crucial point is that they decide how far people can be different.
Non-democracies cannot be so certain. They have to appease the people,
but they do not know quite what will strike the right note. So there
are two opposing urges that go in the same direction, suppress unpopular
and impotent groups, and suppress the potential rivals for power.
In this sort of environment property rights and free philosophical
enquiry are hardly going to flourish. In democracies on the other
hand they may break up Microsoft to satisfy the jealousies of the
people, but Microsoft was allowed to grow in the first place. I
am not saying that this is a perfect system for fostering liberty
but it's by far the best we've got.
reason why Democracy is a good thing is because of its symbiotic
relationship with nationalism. I use this word sparingly because
nationalism is becoming a boo word, so what I mean is that democracy
helps maintain states with shared cultures and similarly democracy
has only proven itself permanent in these states. If we left everything
to the political, business or journalistic elites then nations would
have about as much meaning as the "nations" of the Soviet Union.
The idea that America has a view of economic policy that is informed
by her circumstances, and that France has a radically different
view is just not comprehended by many of our elites. The idea that
there is only one method and pace and order for economic reform
is a given to most of our elites, and it is this blinkered view
that informs the disastrous decisions of the IMF and World Bank.
The reason why American style policies have been imposed has been
the weakness of the indigenous political culture in, for example,
many African countries (yes it was largely the Limeys' fault). No
one dares to try labour market reform in France.
NEED FOR THE NATION
does not often survive outside the nation state. This is for a good
reason, unless you have immersed yourself in another culture, you
do not fully understand the subtleties of the discourse. Few British
people understand why many Americans think that keeping guns
is the most effective safeguard against tyranny (and I probably
know roughly two thirds of them I haven't met the other three
yet). Few Americans really understand the importance of the monarchy
as a focus of national unity and a symbol of continuity. It is for
this reason and about ten thousand others that making
England the fifty-first state is a nonstarter. The inability of
the voters to comprehend their leaders makes democracy unworkable.
This even goes for when there is a large minority as is sadly
proving the case with the Catholic population of Northern
Ireland. And this is before we bring in the question of language.
Democracy simply cannot survive multilingualism unless the country
is so decentralised, like Switzerland, that the central Government
barely matters. This is one reason why the European Union will never
be effectively democratised.
title is a bit misleading, but it fits in with the rest of the headlines,
so I'll keep it. The international order is most peaceful when nations
are ruthlessly pursuing their own strategic interests. Crusades
and empires are most definitely not in any nations narrow
strategic interest therefore these two most unsettling habits
are held in check. Nationalism can lead to wars, especially when
your national group is just over the border, but it wasn't nationalism
that brought NATO into Kosovo or Bosnia. If the baffling medieval
nationalism of Serbia, Albania and Croatia had been allowed to run
its course would there still be fighting today? Maybe, but it was
becoming clear that the forces had exhausted themselves to a standstill
and were only holding out for (or trying desperately to forestall)
foreign intervention. The most thorough ethnic cleansing
of the Serbs in Krajina, the Muslims in Srebrenica and the Serbs
and Gypsies in Kosovo were either done with the aid of or in reaction
to the coming of NATO forces.
Democracy helps nationalism, it also helps freedom. This is not
just a case of keeping tax rates low and currencies (fairly) stable
through the unforgiving gaze of the capital markets, but it is at
a more fundamental level. In the Cold War dissidents escaped from
the Soviet Union to the West, will this be possible in a post-national
the olden days when I was at school I was taught European political
history. One of the things that was taught was the growing wave
of rebellion in the nineteenth century that yoked together the nationalists,
liberals and democrats. This was taught as if it were a contradiction
by my teachers. How could those three creeds ever get on? It looks
like we'll have to find out, and soon.