This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Theoretical liberty permits actual tyranny

Universal suffrage (the extension of the right to vote to all classes) is a very educational subject of study because it illustrates so well the Liberal sleight-of-hand.

By holding out to the people a new privilege—the right to vote—it becomes possible, in the background and without anyone noticing, to put in place a radical new responsibility, one that no peasant population would have so readily accepted…the duty to wage war. This was originally called conscription, but today it is called the draft.

To quote Hippolyte Taine:

As war has followed war, the burden of conscription has grown heavier. Like a slow contagion it has spread from State to State until now the whole of continental Europe is in its grip. There it holds court along with the friend of its youth, its twin brother, that comes always just before or after it—with universal suffrage; both of them brought to birth at about the same time, the one bringing in its train, more or less openly and completely, the other, both of them the blind and terrible guides or masters of the future, the one placing in the hands of every adult person a voting paper, the other putting on his back a soldier’s knapsack. The promise which they hold for the twentieth century of slaughter and bankruptcy, the exacerbation of hatred and suspicion between nations, the wastage of the work of men’s hands, the perversion to base uses of the beneficent discoveries of science, the return to the low and debased shapes of primitive societies on the warpath, the retrograde movement towards a barbarous and instinctual egotism, towards the feelings, manners and morals of ancient cities and savage tribes—all this we know too well![1]

In traditional civilization, the ‘privileges’ of the nobility were linked to the fact that war was their responsibility: they ruled because they fought, and they fought because they ruled. With the rise of democracy, the people were told that they too could rule like the nobility of old. And so flattered were they at the idea of participating in government that they hardly noticed the cost.

Men of today, insofar as they are sufficiently patriotic, go to war when their government calls them, kill whom it calls them to kill, and die in whatever country happens to have warranted their ‘deployment’. But if we are to judge by the words and actions of the common voter in today’s democracy, we would have to say that he is becoming resentful. Perhaps he is beginning to see how he was swindled, perceiving that the promise of ‘self-government’ is yet unfulfilled. He votes, but he still feels powerless. He is assured that he calls the shots, but at every turn he feels commanded by them. They tell him what to do, they demand his taxes, they start wars, they make laws he cannot understand or condone.

It is becoming blatantly clear to the voter that the ballot sheet he is allowed to sign every four years was perhaps not worth the knapsack on his back. He wonders if perhaps the state, in permitting him to vote, came out far better in the deal. He is skeptical that, in the end, his vote even matters. He does not feel very empowered, but he certainly feels the bullet in his belly.

Universal suffrage was a devil’s bargain and has always signaled the establishment of conscription. In the days of kingship, it is true that men could not vote, but neither could they be pressed into any kind of extensive military service. They could be pressed into something resembling a militia, for campaigns lasting thirty days at a time, but this is of an entirely different order than today, when men can be drawn up via lottery, by the millions, from land masses the size of the United States, for years at a time, to fight on the far side of the globe.

I say to a peasant: You may have a hand in governing your fellows and yourself, like the aristocrat, but you must therefore also fight, like the aristocrat. The offer is accepted, but before long, the deception becomes clear. The new peasant-noble is allowed to fight and to die, like the aristocrat of old—but he dies wondering whether or not he ever really got to govern himself, much less anyone else. He fulfilled his end of the bargain, giving himself up to Power: did power ever give any of itself up to him?

All the talk of rights and shared power is rhetoric. The truth is that it is impossible to bestow a right. Only duties can be bestowed on a man, and anyone pretending to offer you a right is probably smuggling a duty in the fine print. In the case of modern regimes, it was conscription, an institution which Jefferson called ‘the last of all oppressions’.[2] But this is how it has always gone, for Liberalism succeeds by flattery.

[1] Hippolyte Taine, The Origins of Contemporary France.

[2] Thomas Jefferson’s phrase when speaking of conscription.

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