This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
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).

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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).

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