This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

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.

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