This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3| Volume 4 | Volume 5 | Volume 6

2.3. Democracy

General remarks

“The cause of democracy’s stupidities is confidence in the anonymous citizen; and the cause of its crimes is the anonymous citizen’s confidence in himself.”

~ Nicolás Gómez Dávila

“For monarchy to work, one man must be wise. For democracy to work, a majority of the people must be wise. Which is more likely?”

~ Charles Maurras

Tell the average American that political parties are toxic, and you may get a nod of tentative agreement. Suggest that voter misinformation is a serious impediment to functional government, and you may again find some common ground. But if you then suggest that these problems are rooted in the very nature of democracy, then you will meet, and best, a confused stare and the sound of crickets.

Here in the age of freethinking individualism, we are led to believe that no doctrine is beyond doubt and no person beyond criticism. Our government officials are readily disrespected, or at least viewed with suspicion. Even in the most patriotic social circles, even amongst the ‘good ole boys’, we aren’t surprised to hear talk about shooting the President if he is not the candidate these ‘patriots’ voted for. In our democracy, then, we are willing to call everything into question—except democracy itself. The ideal of democratic government, we treat as dogma—in fact it might be the only dogma we have.

The purpose of this section is not to paint a picture of democracy as always, everywhere, and in every form, an evil. It is rather to offer criticism of it—to round out the picture—because if we cannot acknowledge the weaknesses of our own system, then we render ourselves incapable of facing any problems that might be rooted in the system itself; and indeed it turns out that, after some honest reflection, most of our contemporary problems are of just that nature.

Democracy is only bad, or only becomes bad, when it is built around a misguided idea of what it means to be human, and when it becomes so revered that it escapes all forms of critical reflection. At that point, it becomes what we could describe as a superstition, because a superstition is an activity or belief that continues even when those who practice it no longer understand its nature, purpose, beginning, or limits.

The traditional world was not necessarily set against democracy.  It simply believed that such a system did not provide the most effective means for achieving peace, supporting personal autonomy, and facilitating the pursuit of the good life. In the medieval period, the preference was for monarchy. At other times, aristocracy was the norm. Always there were elements of democratic thought incorporated into the system, insofar as this was practicable.

Modern regimes, on the other hand, hold democracy in highest regard. Furthermore, we hold every other possible political system in disgust, and in this way we are much more rigid and narrow than our ancestors, since they made efforts to compare, discern, and synthesize positive aspects from all political forms.

Thus, if we single out democracy for critique, it is not so much because the traditional world had no room for it, or because we consider it an unqualified evil, but because the Liberal world where we live today seems to have room for it and nothing else. The modern Liberal-Democratic world is intolerant to an unprecedented degree when it comes to political options, and this narrowness is disturbing. If we can figure out why we have settled into this dogmatic insistence on the democratic ideal as the only ideal worth considering, then we will have learned something.

A second reason to engage in a study such as this, even though the first alone is sufficient justification, is that if you cannot take seriously any alternative point of view other than your own, then you are a bigot. A Western Christian who cannot imagine a sincere Hindu, one who takes his own religion as seriously as any saint, a Hindu who loves truth and who is therefore deserving of respect as a fellow pilgrim seeking after God—then this Christian is a bigot. In the same way, the Westerner who cannot imagine a monarchy without automatically inferring backwardness, tyranny, ignorance, and injustice, is blind both to the insufficiencies of his beloved democracy and to the strengths of the various alternatives.

A historical fallacy

First, we must situate our modern notion of democracy in its proper historical significance by acknowledging it as the novelty that it is.

Gonzague de Reynold wrote:

It has been attempted to give ancestors to modern democracy: ancient democracies, the urban or peasant democracies of the Middle Ages. These are only pictures acquired by a newly rich to adorn his chateau; he may take on the name but he is not of the same house.[1]

What we call democracy has no precedent in terms of Western civilization. The common references to Athens and Rome are inappropriate. Yes, the government was in some cases carried out by the citizens, and the citizens participated in the courts and legislation. But these were slave societies and so whatever freedoms or participatory powers were exercised by the citizens, they were of a very exclusive nature. The citizenry was in fact a minority, and so what they called democracy was really nothing but the belief in the self-government of the elite. Majority rule for them meant the majority opinion of a ruling minority.

Only if we limited political power to a small percentage of economically powerful individuals in America, and allowed only those few to vote, and then called the result the majority opinion, then perhaps we could begin to draw parallels.

What’s more, we must keep in mind that the ancients were conscious of this fact. They were not hypocrites in the way that the American Founders were hypocrites for preaching universal equality while holding slaves themselves. The Athenians were honest, and never would have never preached a populist democracy that included everyone, for they believed that slavery was a necessity for the kind of government they were attempting to establish. They believed that the only way men could be capable of giving the amount of time necessary for government, as well as achieving the knowledge necessary for judgment of such affairs, was to be exempt from physical toil and menial occupations.

[1] Gonzague de Reynold, L’Europe Tragique.

The patricidal offspring of Liberalism

To quote Gonzaque de Reynold once again:

Democracy…will devour liberalism, whose child it is. Liberalism from the beginning on felt that it would have to be the victim. Liberalism is generous and therefore weak. Democracy is jealous and therefore strong.[1]

We have already discussed the ideology of Liberalism and its doctrines: free speech, equality, liberty, representative government, universal suffrage, rights, free markets, etc. We can interpret modern democracy as the offspring of Enlightenment Liberalism, for although democracy is only one possible realization of the Liberal ideals, democratism is the inevitable manifestation of its doctrines with respect to the popular mind. Unable to respect the moderation and limits with which the early Liberals hoped to circumscribe their principles (the American Founders, for example, spoke of a Republic and not a democracy), the people carry their slogans with blind acceleration to their extreme ends. We may live in a nominal Republic, but the modern man thinks and feels and acts in terms of democracy. Thus, we can speak of a deep-seated democratism regardless of the presence of a structural republicanism.

Democratism is at the same time Liberalism’s caricature and conclusion. It exaggerates and brings to completion the aforementioned ideals which the Founders, through a prudent inconsistency, chose to carry only so far. Where Jefferson thought that all men could be educated men, and that all educated men could be disciplined enough to vote rationally, it was only when Liberal-democratism had matured in the common mind that America finally attempted to educate all those men and send them to the voting booths. Jefferson was willing to do neither, for although his principles seemed to dictate this, he was an aristocrat at heart. He had no intention of giving votes to his own slaves.

It is clear by the way in which those early Liberals shunned democratism that they feared it; it is as though they sensed that it would be their undoing. Gouverneur Morris, Founding Father and so-called “Penman of the Constitution” wrote to Robert Walsh in 1811: “History, the parent of political science, had told them [the framers of America’s Constitution] that it was almost as vain to expect permanency from democracy as to construct a palace on the surface of the sea.”[2]

There is, in truth, not too much danger in having Liberal sentiments, and in the past there were many noblemen and monarchs who had them. What doomed modern civilization was the extension of these sentiments to all men everywhere, not only as an optimistic attitude entertained by a superior about his inferiors, which could be healthy in a nobleman, but as an opinion of every man, however inferior, about himself.

From the moment Liberal sentiments became the preconceived notions of every man about his own nobility, goodness, and intelligence, there was born Liberalism, which could not but produce the mentality of democratism, and which could only end in the death of the original, somewhat healthy, liberal sentimentality. Liberalism was originally generous, but it could remain generous only so long as it was directed from the nobility toward the world. When it became the attitude of all of humanity toward itself, it became suicidal.

[1] Gonzague de Reynold, L’Europe Tragique.

[2] Jared Sparks, The Life of Gouverneur Morris with Selections of His Correspondence (Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1832), III, 263.

Democracy as the most primitive form of government

“[T]he rise of monarchy appears to be an essential condition of the emergence of mankind from savagery. No human being is so hide-bound by custom and tradition as your democratic savage; in no state of society consequently is progress so slow and difficult. The old notion that the savage is the freest of mankind is the reverse of the truth. He is a slave, not indeed to a visible master, but to the past, to the spirits of his dead forefathers, who haunt his steps from birth to death, and rule him with a rod of iron. What they did is the pattern of right, the unwritten law to which he yields a blind unquestioning obedience. The least possible scope is thus afforded to superior talent to change old customs for the better. The ablest man is dragged down by the weakest and dullest, who necessarily sets the standard, since he cannot rise, while the other can fall. The surface of such a society presents a uniform dead level, so far as it is humanly possible to reduce the natural inequalities, the immeasurable real differences of inborn capacity and temper, to a false superficial appearance of equality.”

~ James George Frazer[1]

We view our own period as the apex of an ever-improving social awareness, democratic regimes being the most ‘civilized’ form of government yet devised. But this view is not adequate or historically accurate. Quite the opposite:

“Democracy or the democratic state is the natural state for a primitive society where the diversity of conditions is not very distinct; or maybe in an arbitrary state of cells where social conditions are considered having no report to political functions…We therefore find democracy sometimes at the origins of a society or in their decline but rarely at the height of their historic development.” [2]

According to Benjamin Disraeli it is not democracy but monarchy which “requires a high degree of civilization.” He added: “It needs the support of the free laws and manners, and of a widely diffused…An educated nation recoils from the imperfect vicariate of what is called a representative government.”[3]

Democracy requires almost no cultural foundation to be established. Even children naturally adopt democratic methods in their play when there are more than two of them in the group. It is not an advanced form of reasoning to follow the will of the group and to occasionally surrender one’s own desires to the desires of the mob. Many animal species do just this, allowing themselves to be guided instinctually, falling in line with the surrounding members of the group, de-individuating and melting into one body.

Of course, this point of view also implies something else: that the so-called ‘evolution of society’ in the direction of democracy is actually a ‘devolution’—a regression back to a less sophisticated state. We find this view affirmed in traditional writings, such as those of the Christian Father Hippolytus of Rome in the 3rd century. In his commentaries on the book of Daniel he set himself to analyzing the symbolism of the composite statue in its historical significance. He said that last and most decadent stage in history, the fourth kingdom, which was represented by the “toes mingled with iron and clay”, was to be understood as referring to democracies, the weakest and most inferior of all the political structures.[4]

[1] James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, Vol. 3.

[2] Le Marquis de la Tour-du-Pin la Charce, Aphorismes de politique sociale, cited and translated by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s The Menace of the Herd.

[3] Coningsby, Book V, Ch. 8.

[4] On Daniel, Second and Third Fragments. Available online at New Advent:

Democracy implies the use of force

To reinforce the point that democracy is not a sophisticated system, but is rather suited to the most primitive societies, we can cite Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn:

“One could well imagine that if seven out of ten cavemen wanted to do a thing collectively in one way and the three others decided differently, the majority of these cavemen (assuming that they are of about equal bodily strength) could force the rest to accept their decision. The rule of majorities, in combination with the employment of brutal force, is likely to be the most primitive form of government in the development of mankind.”[1]

As a further illustration of the crudeness of majority rule, it is worth noting that even though in theory the proponents of democracy picture their system as a highly advanced form of social cooperation, this is never the case in the concrete political reality. Taking the current situation of the United State as an example, there seems at any given time to be at least half the population which is dissatisfied by the operation and decisions of the governing authority, and in no way feels that the decisions being made by it are an expression of their own will. This amounts to saying that they feel they are being governed by an oppressive and alien authority, and the only reason they put up with the oppression is because they entertain hopes of someday becoming oppressors themselves.[2]

Democracy, then, differs not in the degree of force required to carry out the wishes of the government, but in the condition of passivity it has been able to instill in its people by doing nothing else but ‘letting them drive’ every so often—or, even if not actually allowing them to drive, at least giving them a tour of the cockpit.

All this goes to show that government by force is alive and well in the democratic system, as it always has been, and insofar as it is alive and well, democracy cannot be said to represent an advance, but instead only mirrors the earliest of possible arrangements. It is the arrangement of the caveman.

[1] Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Menace of the Herd (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1943), p. 103.

[2] “Universal suffrage in the end does not recognize any of the individual’s rights except the ‘right’ to be alternately oppressor or oppressed” (Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Scholia to an Implicit Text. 2013, Bilingual Edition. p. 181. Since this edition does not offer numbers with aphorisms, they will be referenced by page number for this edition.)

Democracy as the depersonalization of power

“Modern man accepts any yoke, as long as the hand imposing it is impersonal.”

~ Nicolás Gómez Dávila[1]

Bertrand de Jouvenel, who demonstrated in his treatise On Power that the rise of Liberal democracy has only aided the growth of power, said that it owed its continued expansion to the impersonal nature that such regimes are able to assume. He says of state power:

Formerly it could be seen, manifest in the person of the king, who did not disclaim being the master he was, and in whom human passions were discernible. Now, masked in anonymity, it claims to have no existence of its own, and to be but the impersonal and passionless instrument of the general will.[2]

Do you detest the encroachments of the state? Well the joke is on you, because you live in the age of self-government and so it is your own will that you detest. You govern yourself, do you not? And if you have come to the conclusion that you do not, and that you are ruled, who is ruling you? What name can you really identify? Certainly not the President who, although he has more power than the British monarch, makes only a few laws in comparison to Congress. And who drives Congress?—it is impossible to tell since the doors in and out are revolving.

Eventually you realize that to blame any one man is to miss the point and to have nothing but a scapegoat. You also cannot choose to blame no one at all, for where there is blame there must also be personal responsibility, and so you are left again with yourself, which is absurd. This difficulty, which stems from the depersonalization of power in democracy, is the modern state’s greatest asset. This camouflaging of power has enabled endless growth in power, since you cannot fight what you cannot name or see, and so it is not surprise that today the common man must cope with more anxieties, whether in terms of taxation or war or rent or complexity plain and simple, than any man before him.

[1] Dávila, 2001 edition, aphorism 1345.

[2] Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power (Boston: Beacon, 1962), p. 9.

The depersonalization of the statesman himself

We select a candidate for any office we are not selecting a leader—in fact we are not looking at character traits at all—we are merely selecting a mirror, and the man who can best function in that reflective capacity is the victor.

“Politics, under a democracy, reduces itself to a mere struggle for office by flatterers of the proletariat; even when a superior man prevails at that disgusting game he must prevail at the cost of his self-respect. Not many superior men make the attempt. The average great captain of the rabble, when he is not simply a weeper over irremediable wrongs, is a hypocrite so far gone that he is unconscious of his own hypocrisy—a slimy fellow, offensive to the nose.” [1]

Since democracy requires the politician not only to try to ‘mirror’ my desires, but also a thousand others, the one who wins is not simply a mirror, but a complex prism of sorts, attempting to ‘represent’ a thousand wills at once. The last person he is actually allowed to be is himself. Needless to say, no authentic man—much less a great leader—would subject himself to such degradation. And yet we demand it of all politicians.

[1] H.L. Mencken, Introduction to Nietzsche’s The Antichrist.

The rise of the politician

“The world is weary of statesmen whom democracy has degraded into politicians.”

~ Benjamin Disraeli

“Democracy obviously has need of politicians, has need of nothing else but politicians, and has need indeed that there shall be in politics nothing else but politicians.”

~ Emile Faguet

 “And this hypocrisy found I worst amongst them, that even those who command feign the virtues of those who serve…‘I serve, thou servest, we serve’—so chanteth here even the hypocrisy of the rulers—and alas! if the first lord be only the first servant!”

~ Friedrich Nietzsche[1]

What disgusted Nietzsche so much about the operations of democracy was the effect that it had on men whose role was traditionally one of a superior character. The leader of a people had always been selected because he was presumably of man of exceptional wisdom, virtue, ability, or birth. In short, he received his exceptional position on the basis of his exceptional character. Whatever the area of exceptionality, it was assumed that he was in some way truly better than those he was to lead. If he were not better, then it would have made no sense to appoint him.

With the adoption of democratic modes of thought, with the emphasis on ‘representation’ as the utmost, if not the only, qualification for an office, all of the highest attributes of a man, and therefore all of the highest types of men, are automatically excluded from consideration. Only the man who could present himself as most ‘representative’ of his constituency was considered a valid choice. And so, while it would have been neither expected nor proper for the most important leader of a society to feign a likeness to those he was to lead, it now became the single factor determining whether or not a man would hold an office.

Because great leaders are differentiated—that is to say, they are inherently unlike the common man, in that they surpass him in wisdom and virtue and boldness—democratic societies immediately run up against a conundrum: either they demand that these differentiated men pretend they are not what they are, that is to say, they demand hypocrisy; or else they drive these men out of their midst and choose ‘leaders’ who are not leaders but are simple experts in mediocrity.

This leads us to a second point. It is possible, and in fact very useful, to draw a distinction between the art of politics and the art of statesmanship: the former can then be said to pertain to those activities by which a candidate seeks and maintains his office, which in democratic regimes involves campaigns, speeches, promises, and expensive PR experts; the latter pertains instead to the actual activities proper to a head of state in his strictly administrative role. These two activities, it has been observed, are mutually exclusive. So long as a man is concerned with ‘politicking’ or, as we say, ‘campaigning’, he cannot begin to concern himself with actual statesmanship; and, likewise, insofar as he is acting in his proper role as statesman, he cannot allow himself to be influenced by the fluctuations of public opinion.

If we separate these two roles or spheres of activity, we can see immediately that in democracies or ‘representative republics’ where the officials are perpetually insecure and dependent on the voters, they are never able to step into the role of statesmen. No doubt they make administrative decisions—and important ones at that—but they do so as politicians, which is to say they do so under improper conditions and therefore badly. Thus, we can say that Nietzsche’s complaint was that he saw the active exclusion of statesmen in favor of politicians whose activity consisted primarily in pretending that they were even less than that.

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathusra, “The Bedwarfing Virtue”.

Honorable men are averse to participation in democracy

“Democratic republics place the spirit of a court within the reach of a great number of citizens and allow it to spread through all social classes at once. That is one of the most serious criticisms that can be made against them…Among the huge throng of those pursuing a political career in the United States, I saw very few men who displayed that manly openness, that male independence of thought, which has often distinguished Americans in previous times and which, wherever it is found, is virtually the most marked characteristic of great men…It is true that American courtiers never say: ‘Sire,’ or ‘Your Majesty,’ as if this difference was of great importance, but they do constantly speak of the natural enlightenment of their master. They do not seek to question which is the most admirable of the prince’s virtues for they convince him that he has every virtue without his having acquired them and without, so to speak, desiring them. They do not give him their wives or daughters for him kingly to raise them to the position of his mistresses but, in sacrificing their opinions to him, they prostitute themselves.”

~ Alexis de Tocqueville[1]

For those who still cannot see how we demand the hypocrites and flatterers that we complain of so often, for those who still believe that we do in fact prefer authentic men in our American offices, perhaps a comparison between two men of different nations and different times will suffice. Each illustrates a certain type of a character and answers to a set of cultural expectations.

First, the famous historian, Hilaire Belloc. In 1906 he ran for a seat in the English parliament. His opponent, knowing that Belloc was a devout Catholic and of French blood, made his slogan “Don’t vote for a Frenchman and a Catholic.” Belloc responded by standing up amidst his Protestant audience and saying:

Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This [taking a rosary out of his pocket] is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative.

The audience erupted in applause, and Belloc won the seat. He overwhelmed the prejudices of his audience with his manly authenticity, and the people decided they would rather have a leader in office than a mirror.

Turn now to John F. Kennedy, also a Catholic, who found himself in an identical situation, speaking before a Protestant audience amidst a presidential campaign. His words, however, are somewhat different:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute…I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me…Whatever issue may come before me as president—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject—I will make my decision…in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.[2]

Between these two men we see a profound difference of attitude, which we may assume reflects the attitudes of the voters to whom they were speaking. Belloc would not compromise his honor to win a vote, and his voters loved him for it. Kennedy, on the other hand, apparently felt that he could not enter office at all without first swearing an “oath of inauthenticity,” pretending to leave his faith on the White House lawn.

This should tell us something about our politicians, but it should also tell us about ourselves and what we have come to demand of our so-called leaders. We have, in a very real sense, created a special breed of hypocrite. We have systemically excluded the possibility of any real leader winning an office, because a real leader could never transform himself into the representative prism of pretense and hypocrisy that the office now requires.

The result? In the words of C.S. Lewis: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”[3]

Or, to turn to Gomez Davila: “Democracy is the political regime in which the citizen entrusts the public interests to those men to whom he would never entrust his private interests.”[4]

[1] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, p. 301.

[2] Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association delivered on September 12, 1960 in Houston, TX.

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

[4] Dávila, 2001 edition, aphorism 1088.

The tendency toward materialism

In the passage below, Tocqueville comments on the tendency of egalitarian democracies promote an egoistic rationalism that not only undermines social trust but also tends toward materialism.

 “As for the effect which one man’s intelligence can have upon another’s, it is of necessity much curtailed in a country where its citizens, having become almost like each other, scrutinize each other carefully and, perceiving in not a single person in their midst any signs of undeniable greatness or superiority, constantly return to their own rationality as to the most obvious and immediate source of truth. So, it is not merely trust in any particular individual which is destroyed, but also the predilection to take the word of any man at all. Each man thus retreats into himself from where he claims to judge the world…As they realize that, without help, they successfully resolve all the small problems they meet in their practical lives, they easily reach the conclusion that there is an explanation for everything in the world and that nothing is beyond the limits of intelligence. So it is that they willingly deny what they cannot understand; that gives them little faith in the extraordinary and an almost invincible distaste for the supernatural.”[1]

Elsewhere he makes the surprising observation that, considering these tendencies, it is necessary for the elected officials to direct the attention of the people upwards by encouraging the practice of religion. In this way we can see that Tocqueville is no true believer in secularism and that he understood well the inevitable consequences of an ‘absolute’ separation between church and state.

[1] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, p. 494.

Quantity over quality

“[W]hat is this law of the greatest number which modern governments invoke and in which they claim to find their sole justification? It is simply the law of matter and brute force, the same law by which a mass, carried down by its weight, crushes everything that lies in its track. It is precisely here that we find the point of junction of the democratic conception and materialism…”

~ René Guénon[1]

We’ve already acknowledged that democracy automatically implies force. That the democratic mentality also tends toward materialism, we’ve mentioned. That this combination creates a poisonous preference for quantity over quality, we will explain below.

If not irrational, we can say that democracy is at least nonrational, since it prefers ‘victory by numbers’ and sides with the majority first and foremost without regard to reason and in spite of any objective truth. Everything is about the numbers.

It is no coincidence that mass warfare became the norm alongside the rise of democracy, and that the traditional army composed of career warriors came to be replaced by the armed horde composed of cannon fodder, justified by universal suffrage.

We can see the preference for quantity over quality even in the way rhetoric and debate are conducted. If a certain cause or movement needs to be justified in a democracy, how does one proceed? In logic, a demonstration involved evidence and structured argument such that the truth of a position can be verified. Not so in democracy, wherein a ‘demonstration’ is nothing more than a mass gathering in the form of a protest or a march, whether the cause is civil rights, gay pride or the March for Life. The obvious assumption is that the greater the number of participants, the more the proponents of that agenda are justified in their position, and—so the thinking goes—the more convinced the leaders and the general population ought to be of the validity of the cause. The gathering together of a mass is interpreted as a special kind of argument in itself—as a proof of truth.

But clearly it doesn’t matter how many people take part in such demonstrations if they do not have a basis in justice, and no quantity of participants can prove the rationality of an opinion. In fact, it proves nothing except a general desire amongst the participants.

In the search for truth, quantity has little weight. If a thing is true by reason, then it matters very little how many citizens agree with it, or how many participated in a parade for or against it. This is the difference between quality and quantity, and it demonstrates (in the non-democratic sense) the underlying mentality of a democratic people.

[1] René Guénon, Crisis of the Modern World (Hillsdale: Sophia Perennis, 1996), p. 76.

Equality, not liberty, is the ruling passion of democracy

 “Freedom has appeared in the world at different times and under various forms; it has not been exclusively bound to any social condition, and it is not confined to democracies. Freedom cannot, therefore, form the distinguishing characteristic of democratic ages. The peculiar and preponderant fact that marks those ages as its own is the equality of condition; the ruling passion of men in those periods is the love of this equality. Do not ask what singular charm the men of democratic ages find in being equal, or what special reasons they may have for clinging so tenaciously to equality rather than to the other advantages that society holds out to them: equality is the distinguishing characteristic of the age they live in; that of itself is enough to explain that they prefer it to all the rest.”

~ Alexis de Tocqueville[1]

This observation is not merely an interesting bit of sociological trivia but becomes extremely important when we enter a discussion of equality and its relationship to liberty. Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, we can simply say that liberty and equality cannot both be sought at the same time and to the same degree, because at a certain point they become mutually exclusive. Equality cannot be sought except at the expense of liberty, and vice versa. Thus, a social preference for equality will inevitably demand the sacrifice of liberty.

[1] Tocqueville, op. cit., p. 584.

Monarchy as a counterpoint for the American mind

“Every teacher of comparative political science will discover what enormous effort it requires to impart a clear notion of European monarchical institutions to even quite mature students. A Napoleonic tyranny, a dictatorship— this is easily within the realm of their comprehension. But a legitimate monarchy seems to the American a simple absurdity, and he cannot understand how otherwise quite intelligent people can have faith in such a thing.”

~ Ernst Bruncken[1]

G.K. Chesterton defined bigotry as “the incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.”[2] According to this definition, Americans suffer from an extreme political bigotry. Regardless of how dissatisfied they are with their political circumstances, they cannot or will not (it matters little which, at this point) imagine that any real alternative could exist. And they apply this not only to their own situation, which would be somewhat understandable, but even to their view of history. They seem unable to picture a functional and benevolent monarchy existing at any point in time, regardless of the undeniable record of such regimes. It is thus rendered nearly impossible to speak to Americans of any political arrangement other than liberal democracy.[3]

It was for this reason that we delayed our discussion of monarchy until after we were able to offer some critical remarks on democracy as an ideal. It was my hope that those remarks would prepare and enable the earnest reader to appreciate the positive aspects of monarchical government, whether we are speaking of a constitutional monarchy or some other historical form. Regardless of whether my preparatory remarks were successful, it was necessary to make the effort, because the plain fact is that no real analysis of our own system is possible if we cannot at least historically understand the possible alternatives.

Even if the reader remains convinced of the superiority of democracy after reading this section, he will at least have a more realistic and therefore reasonable notion of monarchy which he can compare with his preferred system. Thus, a general enumeration of the strengths of monarchy will be of great benefit as a counterpoint to what, for most Americans, is an opinion justified by nothing except national pride.

[1] Ernst Bruncken, Die amerikanische Volksseele (Gotha: Perthes, 1911).

[2] G.K. Chesterton, Lunacy and Letters.

[3] See also D. W. Brogan, The American Character (New York: Knopf, 1944), p. 146: “In the same way, the word ‘republic’ has an almost magical significance for Americans…whatever the origin of the belief, it is now part of the American credo that only citizens of a republic can be free. And no matter what romantic interest Americans may display in the human side of monarchy, it should never be forgotten that politically they regard it as a childish institution.”

Three arguments for monarchy from St. Thomas Aquinas

 “[We] must now inquire what is better for a province or a city: whether to be ruled by one man or by many…

Now it is manifest that what is itself one can more efficaciously bring about unity than several… several men, for instance, could not pull a ship in one direction unless joined together in some fashion. Now several are said to be united according as they come closer to being one. So one man rules better than several who come near being one.

Again, whatever is in accord with nature is best, for in all things nature does what is best. Now, every natural governance is governance by one…Wherefore, if artificial things are an imitation of natural things and a work of art is better according as it attains a closer likeness to what is in nature, it follows that it is best for a human multitude to be ruled by one person.

This is also evident from experience. For provinces or cities which are not ruled by one person are torn with dissensions and tossed about without peace, so that the complaint seems to be fulfilled which the Lord uttered through the Prophet [Jer 12:10]: “Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard.” On the other hand, provinces and cities which are ruled under one king enjoy peace, flourish in justice, and delight in prosperity.”

~ St. Thomas Aquinas[1]

The arguments of St. Thomas are helpful not only because of their simplicity (anyone could memorize them in a minute) and cogency (they would be difficult to directly refute) but because they convey very well the traditional modes of reasoning.

For example, the doctor bases his arguments on nature, which is to say, concrete reality as it is. He does not begin in an abstract ideal which he then attempts to realize, as must be done with democracy. He also insists on rationality, and then follows with historical experience. Also, to get a further idea of the medieval mind, he stresses the need for unity, which is a specifically traditional principle, as opposed to the liberal belief in ‘progress by competition’. Furthermore, he argues from nature and its mode of governance. He does this because natural laws are derived from the eternal law, which is nothing other than the mind of God. Therefore, it can be assumed that nature has educational value. If natural things are governed by one, then the artificial things of man can be considered superior if they follow its structure. This does not stop at manufacture but extends even into politics because statesmanship is an art, and “Art is the imitation of Nature in her manner of operation.”[2]

[1] De Regno, Book 1, paragraph 3.

[2] Summa Theologica, 1.117.1.

Security of station and dispassionate judgment

 “Constitutional monarchy offers us…that neutral power so indispensable for all regular liberty. In a free country the king is a being apart, superior to differences of opinion, having no other interest than the maintenance of order and liberty. He can never return to the common condition, and is consequently inaccessible to all the passions that such a condition generates, and to all those that the perspective of finding oneself once again within it necessarily creates in those agents who are invested with temporary power.”

~ Benjamin Constant[1]

We are tempted to think that King Solomon, if he had been one of our duly elected officials, would have actually cut the baby in half. We say this because all elected officials seem to be, at most, half-acceptable specimens. They always split the people down the middle, and in like fashion the justice that emanates from their offices always has an abortive character to it. If a good law enters, it comes out maimed and disfigured beyond recognition because they are bound, by the nature of their position, to always tend toward the ‘happy middle’, the ‘reasonable compromise’.

Objectivity for such men is completely impossible: not only can they not access objective judgment; they cannot access their own judgment at all. Their decisions rest entirely on the will of their constituency, whether that means votes or the moneyed interests responsible for their successful campaigning.

An official whose job is on the line (and an elected official’s job is perpetually on the line) can never detach himself from concern for his own self-preservation, and in fact the quicker and more tumultuous the electoral process, the less he is able to turn his mind away from himself and toward the demands of justice. A king, even a foolish or mediocre one, can at least apply whatever wisdom he has to the task before him; the elected official, on the other hand, even if he is wise, is too busy preserving his job to ever begin doing it.

[1] Benjamin Constant, Constant: Political Writings, pp. 186-187.

Self-government is a contradiction in terms

“It is possible, with the help of prudently balanced institutions, to provide everyone with effective safeguards against Power. But there are no institutions on earth which enable each separate person to have a hand in the exercise of Power, for Power is command, and everyone cannot command. Sovereignty of the people is, therefore, nothing but a fiction, and one which must in the long run prove destructive of individual liberties.”

~ Bertrand de Jouvenel[1]

Anyone who promises the people the power of self-government is immediately suspect as either a conscious or an unconscious propagandist, for he promises a pleasant notion that sounds plausible and even laudable as an ideal, but which is utterly impossible in practice. For a straightforward explanation of why this is true, one might turn to Rene Guénon:

If the word ‘democracy’ is defined as the government of the people by themselves, it expresses an absolute impossibility and cannot even have a mere de facto existence—in our time or in any other. One must guard against being misled by words: it is contradictory to say that the same persons can be at the same time rulers and ruled, because, to use Aristotelian terminology, the same being cannot be ‘in act’ and ‘in potency’ at the same time and in the same relationship. The relationship of ruler and ruled necessitates the presence of two terms: there can be no ruled if there are not also rulers, even though these be illegitimate and have no other title to power than their own pretensions; but the great ability of those who are in control in the modern world lies in making the people believe that they are governing themselves; and the people are the more inclined to believe this as they are flattered by it, and as, in any case, they are incapable of sufficient reflection to see its impossibility.[2]

By referring to Aristotle’s terminology we can disband the illusion through simple reasoning: it is not possible for a man to sit and not sit at the same time. He has the power to sit, certainly, but at any given moment he is either actually sitting or he is potentially sitting but actually not sitting. All men can both sit and not sit, but it is impossible for both to be done by the same man at the same time. For those who appreciate logic, this suffices to disqualify the notion of self-government automatically. Nor is this limited to high-minded political philosophers, as it could be heard in the American colonies from Protestant preachers the likes of John Cotton:

Democracy, I do not conceyve, that God did ever ordeyne as a fitt government either for church or commonwealth. If the people be governors, who shall be governed?[3]

If the people govern then there is no one to be governed, and this is equivalent to anarchy. The fact that men who claim to be self-governed do not live in actual anarchy is simply proof of the illusion under which they live, that they have only escaped subjection by becoming subjects-in-denial.

[1] Jouvenel, op. cit., p. 257.

[2] Rene Guénon, op.cit., p. 74.

[3] Larzer Ziff, The Career of John Cotton: Puritanism and the American Experience (New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1962). p. 28.

Self-government as experienced by the individual

“You have, it is true, a twenty-millionth share in the government of others, but only a twenty-millionth share in the government of yourself. You are therefore much more conscious of being governed than of governing.”

~ Bertrand Russell[1]

The theory of self-government is much more pleasing than the reality, because it does not take into account the psychological experience of the individual participant, but rather concerns itself only with lovely abstractions. In actual practice, the abstraction becomes a sort of Promethean agony, a specific type of suffering that results from man attempting, in hubris, the impossible.

‘Self-government’ is a marriage of two terms, expressible mathematically as a ratio (self-government). The first thing we should observe about this relationship is that the first term is always static while the second is potentially infinite. The smaller the second term, which is to say, the fewer the participants and the simpler the apparatus of government, which within democracy is theoretically everyone, the more tolerable we find the arrangement, and the more believable it becomes. But as the second term approaches infinity, we feel our isolated selves dissolving into insignificance in the face of the imponderably complex machinery that we are supposed to be controlling. The wider the theoretical circumference of this self-government, the smaller the share of each self in the governing of the selves which comprise it. We begin to understand that what was flattering in theory can become terrifying in practice.

Thus, universal suffrage enfranchised everyone and, in doing so, reduced everyone’s power to the smallest share possible. While this was acceptable when it was conceived as a clever way of preventing one man from having power over another, it becomes intolerable when we realize that our power over ourselves sacrificed in the bargain. The individual, in a regime of universal suffrage, has an absolute minimum of influence on the society of which he is a part.

The apologists of modernism may retort that, in the ancien regime, the individual did not have even the nominal power that we are arguing against presently. This is due to their prejudice toward Liberal arrangements which excludes from their comprehension any alternative means of political effectiveness.

To point to one traditionally empowering institution that is quite incomprehensible today, we can mention patriarchy. In a family where the father is considered the head and actually functions in that role, the mother technically does not have equal rights explicitly stated, much less do the children have any sort of suffrage. Nonetheless, although the child does not have a vote, he has his father’s ear. He knows his father, and his father knows him and is intimately familiar with the life and situation of the realm where he so governs. In this patriarchal arrangement, the subjects do not have any of the rights and safeguards of the modern citizen, but they have infinitely more sway within that patriarchal sphere. It is an ‘organic’ political power and is therefore far more reliable that any abstract legal measure.

Now we may extend this familial arrangement to its broader expression in the traditional world, which was thoroughly patriarchal in attitude and operation. Instead of a President he’d never see and representatives he’d never meet, the peasant had a single lord. This lord was a local master whom he knew by sight even though he had no television or newspaper. This proximity allowed for an organic familiarity between ruler and ruled. They were not on a first name basis, of course, but they were acquainted in the sense that they could be rightly considered neighbors, even if they were not equals. This organic familiarity meant that the peasant paid his taxes in person, complained in person, and if need be, he hung the lord in person on a neighborhood tree.

Keep in mind that we are speaking of the local nobility, because this was the only ruler of the land whose rule was felt by the peasant. The common man was aware of the king, or the emperor, but the more distant the ruler, the further removed he would have been from the peasant’s own life. In short, his relationship to authority was the inverse of what ours is today, where those who impact our lives the most are those furthest from us. The peasant and his patriarch formed a more or less autonomous sphere, although this sphere existed in conjunction with concentric or intersecting circles. Because of this subsidiarity, what little sway the peasant had in the eye of his superior had more in common with that of a son to his father, and it would be anachronistic to imagine him to be as impotent as a modern American would be if deprived of voting rights. The peasant’s voice was incomparably louder because the ratio of ruler to ruled was so much smaller within a given jurisdiction.

[1] Bertrand Russell, “Authority and the Individual,” The First Reith Lectures (London: Allen and Unwin, 1949).

Only the patriarch can identify with the general interest of the people

“[S]ince it is human nature for habit to engender affection, the king, though acting at first only from concern for authority, comes to act with affection as well and in the end to be motivated by affection.”

~ Bertrand de Jouvenel[1]

“Real kingship — hard as it may be to get this idea into the heads of our narrowminded democrats — seems to be created by God for the special purpose of protecting the vast masses of a people against the possibility of violation by a popular elite. . . The popular elite, be it a cultural, a social or an economic one does not want, under ordinary, normal circumstances to recognize a master or at least only the semblance of one, a fact which is forgotten again and again or which is purposely kept quiet. Only in extreme danger and distress this elite suffers a master and king, should one be at hand. But for the masses a king standing above all classes and parties is under all circumstances necessary and desirable.”

~ Dr. Schmidt-Gibichenfels[2]

Theodore Roosevelt once asked Francis Joseph, Emperor of Austria, what the role of a monarch in this modern age could possibly be, and the Emperor answered: “To protect my nations from their governments!”

This interpretation is not uncommon and can even be seen as part of the reason monarchy was eventually overthrown—it could not be permitted to remain since it put limits on the expansion of power in favor of the people:

The very support which republican doctrine finds in ‘democracy’ has been handed down directly from the royal tradition: the king, ever since the early Middle Ages has ruled against the privileged classes, allying himself with the common people, later on with the third estate. And it is precisely the rupture of this alliance which brought about the fall of the monarchy.[3]

This attitude paints a true picture of monarchy in most periods: he is not the government but is rather the advocate of his people in the government, or at least has the capacity to function as such. For in medieval society the monarch met with nobility, and by his ever-so-slight functional superiority over his peers, he was able to in some way transcend their particular interests for the sake of the general interest—the interest of the people. Today it is much the same: while the seats in senators and presidents are manipulated by special interests, the monarch whose position is secure can withdraw and contemplate the needs of the common man and the population at large—something it is almost impossible for everyone else to do. Thus, only a monarch can effectively protect his people from their government when such a necessity arises.

This process answers to human nature. A man invested with power will inevitably feel it in his ego. This is unavoidable and is no less present in socialist and democratic regimes than it is in any monarchy. The task, then, if we must deal with men who are always prone to egoism, is to ask which form of government is most conducive to that process of sublimation by which the egoism of the empowered is converted into an authentic sense of duty and care toward one’s subordinates. In short, which regime is more likely to produce power-hungry, self-centered beings who view their subjects as footstools, and which encourages rules to instead view the people as family members under his protection?

While it is possible to conceive of a king who cares for his people out of familial affection, it is utterly impossible to conceive of a bureaucracy caring for its people for any other reason than efficiency. We say this for two reasons: first because a bureaucracy is too impersonal to feel anything whatsoever, regardless of the humanity of the fact that it may be composed of men. Second, because all such bureaucracies, particularly electoral bureaucracies of democracy, are by nature positions of insecurity. A man concerned always for himself does not have the opportunity to escape from self-concern and to allow his ego to fully identity the people with itself—a necessary condition for him to love them as himself. He needs both security and time, and he has neither. The king, on the other hand, may achieve this identification:

And in this way the institution of monarchy, so far from merely subsuming the interests of the mass into those of one man, became sensitive to every wound received by every little cell. A secure hold on Power and its descent in a regular line assured the maximum of identification of egoism with the general advantage. Whereas, contrariwise, a transient or precarious hold on Power tends to make of the nation merely the instrument of a personal destiny, of an egoism which resists absorption in the whole.[4]

Here we may be tempted to recoil in horror as we imagine the king viewing his people as an extension of himself, depersonalizing them into so many objects to be moved about on a playing board. Yet a cursory study of the psychology of identification, combined with a character study of great monarchs, would show us that the process is quite the opposite: it is the ego of the king that becomes absorbed in the people, rather than the people subsumed by the king. It is he who begins finally to feel their pain as his, and their good as his, at least as much as this is possible. The former problem, which degrades the people into objects to be moved to the advantage of their superiors, while admittedly possible in a monarchy, is not only possible but virtually guaranteed to happen within the framework of democracy, where the healthy form of identification is simply not possible:

The more quickly the holders of Power succeed each other, the less completely can their egoism be extended to a body which is but their mount of a day. Their ego stands more apart and takes its enjoyments in more vulgar fashion. Or else, if their egoism can be projected outwards at all, it stops at a formation, such as a party, with which it can stay in long association. So that the nation gets ruled by a succession of men who have identified their egos not with it but with parties in it.[5]

And so, we see that in America if the president does manage to identify with his people, it is only be with a certain subset of the people, while he must view the remainder not merely with the indifference of a negligent monarch, but with outright hostility, for they are truly his enemies.

[1] Jouvenel, op. cit., p. 118.

[2] Dr. Schmidt-Gibichenfels, Die demokratische Luge und der Krieg, Berlin, 1915.

[3] Lucien Romier, Explication De Notre Temps, Paris, 1925, p. 195.

[4] Jouvenel, On Power, p. 135.

[5] Ibid.

Patriarchy or the police state

“The full realization that the Catholic world is faced by the simple alternative of the patriarch or the policeman would have spared millions of lives.”

~ Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn[1]

The idea that a man can live in a functional society, can participate in its government, and at the same time not feel himself governed at any time, is one of the more frustrating contradictions that must be endured when hyper-individualism becomes the norm. This attitude is reinforced, albeit irrationally, by the myth of self-government, for reasons we’ve already examined.

Under the influence of this delusion, the individual comes to believe that no exercise of authority is necessary in society so long as everyone ‘looks out for themselves’. If any authority is felt, it is automatically perceived as an injustice. This injustice is either the result of an overreaching government (the paternal state), or else it is the fault of some external group of persons who have ignored the cardinal rule of minding one’s own business.

Because of the anti-social tendencies brought on by the promises of hyper-individualism, all acts in favor of social justice must be realized by force and are met with utmost hostility and cries that “that government governs best which governs least.” The result is the cancerous growth of the police state in which the police officers, themselves congealing into a privileged social class of their own, wield a power hitherto unheard of, deploying methods appropriate to the military. This is a specific fruit of egalitarian regimes, and was not possible in the presence of traditional social hierarchies:

[I]n a stratified society the police agent is afraid to attack anyone of importance. He is never free of the fear that he will come off second best in such a conflict, and that fear keeps him down and renders him inactive. It is only in an egalitarian society that the nature of his activities elevates him above everyone else, and this inflation of the man contributes to the inflation of the office.[2]

Ironically, it is the downfall of the institution of patriarchy (and the establishment of equality) that historically accompanies the increase of police rule. And as hard as this is for the modern man to imagine, the offenses of which policemen are frequently acquitted in today’s news are ones that would likely have cost them their lives in the Middle Ages.

[1] Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Liberty or Equality (Caldwell: Caxton, 1952), p. 204.

[2] Jouvenel, On Power, p. 384n21.

Monarchy is more conducive to subsidiarity than democracy

No one should be surprised at the fact that modern democratic regimes are prone to gigantism, with the state consolidating more power within itself each day. An informed look at previous periods would indicate that this must happen in societies that have no structural hierarchy. Nonetheless, moderns are shocked, and this is a result of having been reassured, repeatedly and without any historical basis, that democracy would result in a minimum of government interference. Had they looked toward experience instead of theory, this idea would have been seen as questionable, if not preposterous.

Will Durant wrote: “The state, in feudalism, was merely the King’s estate.” [1]

While Durant’s statement is not surprising to a student of the Middle Ages, it sounds strange to anyone who has been taught to imagine the king as a man of relative omnipotence while presidents are men of moderate influence. But no king could push his people into war as rapidly and with such horrifying efficiency as a George Bush or Barack Obama. Nor can this be dismissed as a technological issue brought about by progress. It stems directly from the configuration of power structures in democracy, which facilitate large-scale social manipulations.

Here we must emphasize the difference between a stratified society and the modern egalitarian regime. In the latter, the state has direct authority over each individual or group, and this is true primarily because all have been reduced to one dead level. Access to one member on any single level implies access to all. In the stratified framework, however, the authority of a man at the uppermost level does not imply access to any other level beyond that which happens to be immediately adjacent to his own. He does not subsume command of all that falls below him in the vast hierarchy. He sits on the top rung, indeed, but his arms aren’t any longer than yours or mine, and so he can only grasp at the next rung down from his own.

The medieval king could command his dukes, but he could not command the dukes’ knights. He could draw taxes from the peasants who lived on his own estate (which was not much larger than a duke’s), but he could not draw taxes from the peasants who lived on his dukes’ estates. In this way the monarch had no effective way of exercising direct dominion over anyone but the dukes themselves. Any influence on the peasantry was indirect, a secondary result of convincing the nobility of the justness of his cause. It was open to them to refuse involvement in a way that no American governor can refuse mobilization of his population for a national military campaign.

[1] Will Durant, The Age of Faith (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), p. 565.

Power corrupts the corruptible

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”

~ Lord Acton[1]

Lord Acton’s famous statement, quoted above, brings us to one of those slogans which moderns use to comfort themselves in the timidity of their institutions. Power corrupts, certainly, but the frequency and degree of the corruption depends entirely on the man. Power corrupts, but it only corrupts certain men in certain ways and under certain conditions. Since power is unavoidable even in democracy, then it would be much wiser to learn what conditions lead to corruption, and, more importantly, what type of men are most prone to this kind of corruption. This would have better results than our pretending that we can avoid it altogether.

And what do we find when we analyze the conditions that lead to the corruption of those invested with power—those men which every society must allow to exist if it wishes to live?

First, we find that power is most likely to corrupt the man who has no training for its vicissitudes. That is to say, if two men are to be placed in a situation that makes great demands on their character, the man who has been prepared specifically for this role is more likely to be able to stand the strain than the man who, as a matter of whim or as the result of popular enthusiasm, rode to the heights of his station on a wave of electoral sentiment.

Second, the rule of St. Thomas More in his Utopia, although openly utopian, had a rationale which anyone can admit as sound: Anyone who campaigned for a public office became disqualified from holding any office at all. The obvious reasoning here is that men who seek most fervently after a public office are often of precisely that character most prone to corruption by power; that is to say, the man whose desire is strongest for wine is probably the man with whom you’d least want to drink it. A man who so passionately believes himself worthy of an office that he is willing vie for it in the shameless fashion that we see in every electoral campaign, is a man in whom the virtue of humility is only tenuously active. By allowing the holding of offices to become the prizes of popular competition, those men of moderate temper whose constitutions will not allow them to participate are automatically excluded, and in their place a category of most undesirable candidates is ushered in.

Third, even for a man somewhat prepared for the weight of power is apt to be crushed under it when its pressure is applied too rapidly. Human virtue holds up the best under natural, which is to say gradual, adjustments and transitions. From this point of view, a man groomed for statesmanship, able to observe at close range the pressures it entails from his earliest moments, would be the ideal candidate for the position—one who steps into the role as he would his natural adulthood, rather than as the result of some “victory” in popular combat after which he is thrust into the midst of conditions entirely foreign to any of his experience.

Offering a sort of summary of these points, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn:

Even a monarch of mediocre talents and natural gifts has the advantage of having received an education for his profession. A democratic leader can only have the hasty technical training of those with a ‘late vocation’…The education which the ideal monarch can enjoy is not only intellectual, but also moral and spiritual. The democratic leader coming into power is always ‘unprepared’…corruption through power, naturally, is worse in a plebiscitarian dictatorship, where popularity combined with autocracy and lack of humility show the most devastating results…On the other hand, the continuous preparation for the exercise of power which, with a king, begins practically at the cradle, usually prevents this loss of all sense of proportion.[2]

It seems that in all three of these cases we find that democracy would be the natural incubator of the tyrant, and that it was the hierarchical and hereditary systems of old that precluded the possibility of the Hitler.

The truth is that, if the maxim ‘power corrupts!’ is a reliable one, then we would expect the papacy to be always and everywhere the most corrupt institution in the world. But instead we find that in majority of cases—with a few glaring exceptions which rather prove the rule—the office of the pope is most often held by a man of very high intelligence, virtue, and devotion. Even if he is simply mediocre or simple or incompetent, it is quite rare that he is “corrupt,” which is the requirement we must demand if we are to give the saying any credibility.

The truth is more in line with the words of Frank Herbert, written in God Emperor of Dune:

All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.[3]

Yes, the king could be a Nebuchadnezzar; but he could also be a David. And whatever else is true, he could never have been a Hitler or a Lenin. This brings us to our next point.

[1] Lord Acton in a letter to Mandell Creighton (5 April 1887).

[2] Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Liberty or Equality, pp. 151-152.

[3] Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune.

Power as a necessary condition for humane governance

“The absolute ruler may be a Nero, but he is sometimes Titus or Marcus Aurelius; the people is often Nero, and never Marcus Aurelius.”

~ Antoine de Rivarol

That democratic movements tend to show more animalistic and violent tendencies is a point given far too little attention, and which could be easily proven by a study of persecutions carried out since the modern liberal regimes came into existence. Connecting the two significant examples of American history and the French Revolution, A.J. Nock observed:

The American mob’s grim reputation for sheer anthropoid savagery is equaled only by that of the revolutionary mobs of Paris. At the outset of the German Government’s movement against the Jews, an American visitor asked Herr Hitler why he was making it so ruthless. The Reichskanzler replied that he had got the idea from us. Americans, he said, are the great rope and lamppost artists of the world, known of all men as such. He was using the same methods against the Jews that we used against the loyalists of ‘76, the Indians, the Chinese on the Western coast, the Negroes, the Mexicans, the—every helpless people in fact whom we had ever chanced to find underfoot.[1]

And so it seems that Rivarol’s point was simply that, while it has been proven that the mob can do at least as much irrational violence as any absolute monarchy, often more, it remains to be proven that the mob can, through universal suffrage or any other means, produce figures such as St. Louis, Charlemagne, or Empress Maria Teresa—all products of hierarchical and authoritative institutions. Likewise, if we turn to the religious realm and apply the principle, we can see that the democratism of the Protestant movement has resulted in quite a few Christian leaders of mediocre influence (if we judge not by their momentary popularity but by their historical significance), but has produced no theologian or political character of the stature of Leo the Great, a Pius XII, or a John Paul II. Men will continue to speak of the great popes for hundreds of years—yet in a generation no one will care about Joel Osteen. Always and everywhere, we are reminded that the answer to evil is not the prideful denial of hierarchy or the cowardly attempt to deny the exercise of any worldly power, for both are necessities for higher human development and can only be denied at the cost of retarding human possibilities, limiting them to their lowest level; and we must remember always that at the lowest level the greatest evils are still possible.

[1] A. J. Nock, “The Jewish Problem in America,” Atlantic Monthly, June, 1941.

Democracy necessitates propaganda

“[I]n a democracy, a government that is honest, serious, benevolent, and respects the voter cannot follow public opinion. But it cannot escape it either. The masses are there; they are interested in politics. The government cannot act without them. So, what can it do?…Only one solution is possible: as the government cannot follow opinion, opinion must follow the government.”

~ Jacques Ellul[1]

Propaganda is the subject of a later section of this manual, because it is a very modern phenomenon and because it shapes the minds of our people and determines their fates. And so, while avoiding too much depth at this moment, we must explain how and why democracy requires the existence of propaganda, both for the operation of the state and for the peace of mind of the people.

It is an inescapable rule of democracy that any public operation, however complex, must be addressable to all of the citizenry, regardless of whether or not this populace has the experience or perspective to assess the information they receive. If it is not actually addressable to the entire population, it must at least appear addressable to them. The populace, believing itself the true engine of public policy, will not have it any other way. As a consequence, the operations of democracy must be simplified, either in reality or in presentation.

If they are simplified in reality, then we immediately see that democracy will only be able to address those problems that even the most ignorant of its citizenry would be able to understand. We then come to understand why democracy has been called the most primitive of systems, because in this case any sort of action would be reduced to the level of comprehension of the lowest elements in society. Such a mode of operation will prevent the government from ever rising to meet any significant issue, such as the formulation of a coherent foreign policy, for it is evident from experience that the general population has no possible way of achieving this.

However, we find that democracies do indeed carry out foreign policy, and that they do so in a very complex and coordinated fashion, along with many other vast projects on the national and local level. Therefore, we must assume that the simplification chosen was not the simplification of problems in reality but only in presentation. In short, the problems always remain complicated (since reality is complicated and reality cannot be altered) but the solutions proposed to the public are ultra-simplified so that the public can have the power of responding yay or nay.

This is why the social authorities in democracy, unable to honestly present the problems with which they, as government officials, must cope, must resort to propaganda, the main purpose of which is to offer artificial simplifications of reality to an audience unable or unwilling to acknowledge reality as it actually is. Propaganda, and the ideologies it develops and encourages in order to further its ends, is the life-blood of democratic operations.

The various elements of propaganda are then combined and refined to distill a beverage that the average man can comfortably drink, and which will intoxicate him so that he happily applauds resolutions he does not understand, and confidently fills out ballot sheets covered with names of men he does not know.

We recognize the fruits of this distillation in various forms: political slogans, catchphrases, party platforms, and most of all ideologies (which are by definition over-simplifications of reality). All of these represent pre-packaged sets of opinions, most of them meaningless or at least too vague to present any specific and useful meaning, which serve to comfort the consumer, telling him that he comprehends the actions of the State and agrees with them—nay, that they are his actions. The program offered is the program he himself wanted. This function—the manufacturing of certainty for the individual—is one of the primary functions of propaganda. The individual thirsts for it; and the government cannot do without it. It satisfies both, and so both collude to keep the intoxicating beverage flowing.

[1] Jacques Ellul, Propaganda (New York: Vintage, 1973), p. 126.

The rising costs of democracy

“Money, money, always money—that is the essence of democracy. Democracy is more expensive than monarchy; it is incompatible with liberty.”

~ P.J. Proudhon[1]

It was Oswald Spengler who first developed the intimate connection with the democratic mentality and plutocracy:

…it must be concluded that democracy and plutocracy are the same thing under the two aspects of wish and actuality, theory and practice, knowing and doing. It is the tragic comedy of the world-improvers’ and freedom-teachers’ desperate fight against money that they are ipso facto assisting money to be effective. Respect for the big number—expressed in the principles of equality for all, natural rights, and universal suffrage—is just as much a class-ideal of the unclassed as freedom of public opinion (and ‘more particularly freedom of the press) is so. These are ideals, but in actuality the freedom of public opinion involves the preparation of public opinion, which costs money; and the freedom of the press brings with it the question of possession of the press, which again is a matter of money; and with the franchise comes electioneering, in which he who pays the piper calls the tune. The representatives of the ideas look at one side only, while the representatives of money operate with the other. The concepts of Liberalism and Socialism are set in effective motion only by money.[2]

Various other massive expenditures that accompany the establishment of democracy are not difficult to identify: since conscription always accompanies universal suffrage, armies become gigantic hordes of common men, each of whom must be paid out of the state’s coffers since, unlike the nobility who traditionally waged the wars, they cannot survive without wage. The United States military is now the largest “employer” in the world, and the “defense” portion of the budget reflects this reality.

Further, if we look at the tax burden on the common man, we see that it has increased profoundly with democracy. The same man who must leave his craft to fight ends up paying himself for the trouble. The American of the 1940’s paid more in taxes that the typical peasant of the Middle Ages paid in dues, and we must also note that the peasant labored about half the amount of his over-worked modern counterpart. It is of course a commonplace that government operations are inefficient, that campaigning costs a fortune,[3] but it is rarely acknowledged that these expenditures are necessitated by the nature of democracy itself and are not some sort of “aberration” due to negligent officials, as is commonly implied by those who would fault the government for being what it must necessarily be.

[1] P. J. Proudhon, Solution Du Problême Social.

[2] Oswald Spengler, Decline of the West: Perspectives of World History (New York: Knopf, 1928), pp. 401-402.

[3] We ought to carefully note the relation of campaign costs to those of democratic warfare itself. They are, in a way, expensive for the same reasons, because they are both expressions of popular conflict: “Every change of regime and, to a lesser extent, every change of government is, as it were, a reproduction, on a more or less reduced scale, of a barbarian invasion” (Jouvenel, On Power, p. 119).

Honor the honorable

 “A man’s reaction to Monarchy is a kind of test. Monarchy can easily be ‘debunked;’ but watch the faces, mark the accents of the debunkers. These are the men whose tap-root in Eden has been cut: whom no rumour of the polyphony, the dance, can reach – men to whom pebbles laid in a row are more beautiful than an arch. Yet even if they desire equality, they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film-stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.”

~ C.S. Lewis[1]

C.S. Lewis was not one to argue for monarchy, but he was at least honest in his observations. He knew that, whatever man thinks he wants, his actions reveal an impulse to show honor to persons of honor—to engage in that healthy worship of greatness where it is found. This impulse is a completely healthy one because it corresponds to reality: that which is superior deserves respect from that which is inferior.

Hierarchical societies were the result of an acknowledgment of this “impulse to show honor to persons of honor.” Egalitarian societies are the result of its denial, and because this denial is unnatural it has one of two results: either it frustrates the impulse (which does not disappear even when denied) or else it directs honor toward that which is not honorable or is only honorable in a perverse sense.

For example, the man who really believes in egalitarianism will wind up honoring himself, refusing to see in his betters (who are always many) anything that outstrips his own self-image. If he does not do this and chooses to express the impulse externally, he will worship, as Lewis wrote, money or fame or some other surrogate-nobility. That is, after all, what happens in capitalist societies such as America: they worshipers of capitalism deny that any man is better than any other, but they also speak and act as if they rich man is automatically—simply because of his wealthy—a superior specimen, both in morals and in aptitudes, than those with less. In short, they project the class assumptions of old regarding the stratification of human virtue, with the difference that they project it in purely economic terms, which is perhaps the lowest possible measure of a man’s worth. The aristocracy of money is the material aristocracy. Further, by allowing these surrogate-aristocracies to thrive (which they always do when traditional aristocracies are denied), new models of virtue are erected for imitation. Where the wealthy are the most noble of citizens, and where wealth is the very mark of this nobility, then men seek after money rather than nobility. In short, greed replaces the good life—becomes the good life. The same happens regarding celebrity and fame.

[1] C.S. Lewis, “Equality”, Present Concerns (Orlando: Harcourt, 1986), p. 20.

It remains for democracy to prove itself in things that truly matter

 “I say that democracy can never prove itself beyond cavil, until it founds and luxuriantly grows its own forms of art, poems, schools, theology, displacing all that exists, or that has been produced in the past, under the opposite influences…For know you not, dear, earnest reader, that the people of our land may all read and write, and may all possess the right to vote—and yet the main things may be entirely lacking?”

~ Walt Whitman[1]

What the poet is saying is that if democracy cannot manage to produce a culture, then it is not a valid or desirable system, whatever else it may produce, be that wealth, power, or leisure. This is in fact one of the most powerful arguments against the rule of the people and the modern democratic regimes: that they are bland. They produce technocracy but never beauty. They become powerful but they never develop good taste. This is true not only of modern democracies but even of the free peoples of the past in some significant cases, especially when they entered their stage of decline. Rome, it has been said, merely copied its art and culture from the Greeks—it even borrowed their mythology. And what philosophical heritage did the Egyptians leave? Their constructions boast of nothing else but a fixation on enormity, which is not an aspect of beauty. We can mention the Greeks, of course, but the comparison is, in the end, absurd. The ‘free men’ of Greece were a small elite compared to the slaves and the non-free that made that freedom possible. And so Whitman’s challenge stood firm and still stands: that democracy can begin to make an argument for itself when it proves conducive to the higher realizations of human potentiality. Until then, we consider it on trial, and failing.

[1] Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas (1871).