Ironies of democratic alienation

The range of mainstream opinion has never been narrower–just consider the wild diversity of ideas getting major attention one hundred years ago.  The Overton window hasn’t just shifted Left; it has narrowed.  Even the Left used to be more daring.  One would think people would be gratified to see their ideology established, but in fact writers still insist on posing as radicals.  Who would agree to the statement “I support the ideological status quo”?

Ages of ideological consensus tend to be ones where people focus on “corruption”.  After all, what else is left for the parties to argue about than who will be more conscientious?  (One wonders, was the Church really more corrupt in the Renaissance than in the fourth century, or was it just that there were no more Arians to worry about?)  Yet today’s rhetoric is not one aimed at personal corruption, but at a society organized around evil principles.

Billionaires, newspaper editorialists, and tenured professors agree that they are daring rebels, just like President Obama.  And they’ll happily expose to ostracism and unemployment anyone they catch defending the racist, sexist power structure.

Believing in conspiracy theories like the Elders of Zion is the mark of a personal nut.  And yet, believing in a hidden system that controls government, business, and media is our age’s great mark of sophistication.  The conspiracy must not be conscious; it must be an emergent phenomenon.  Neoreactionaries have given us the word “Cathedral”, but commentators on the Left believe in the nefarious system no less strongly:  the capitalist, globalist world order, the patriarchy, etc.

Government, business, academia, mass media–they work together so seamlessly.  They’re in cahoots!  Who can doubt it?  That such ideologically different observers experience the same horror is interesting, though.  Isn’t it a good thing for the different parts of society to cooperate?

All laws are bent to this cooperation in a most marvelous way.  Freedom of association was originally designed specifically to keep civil society independent of the state.  It doesn’t extend to discrimination against protected classes, and to avoid discriminating against protected classes one must have a welcoming work environment, which means dissidents like “racists” must be fired or re-educated.  Yet the racist cannot complain that his employer is penalizing him for violating the state’s dogmas; by freedom of association, the employer can fire, demote, or re-educate whomever he wants.  The state has, as it were, released the heretic to the private arm for punishment, and the private arm is happy to punish heretics.  Notice as well how neither party needs feel responsible for the racist’s persecution, although they both relish it.

The point of democracy was to remove the alienation of authority.  No more separation of ruler and subject.  The polis belongs to everybody, and everybody is responsible for it.  There’s no one to point to and say “He’s in charge.  He’s responsible.”  Today, this promise of democracy is fulfilled to an even greater degree through bureaucracy.  We are ruled by rules, and no one in particular is responsible for these rules.  This obviously hasn’t worked for curing alienation.

Authority is visible power, responsible power (in the sense that there is a clear person in charge who is to blame), the agency of the state made manifest, made one will among many.  Eliminate authority, and power must remain, but it must be invisible, which means it must be irresponsible.

The power behind the throne always sounds like a sinister thing.  There’s no reason it must be exercised in a sinister way, but the subjects of a hidden power will not feel respected.

The alienation democracy came to abolish was the distinction between ruler and subject.  Modern man is alienated by his failure to be commanded.  What he really finds wicked are not his orders, but how he is controlled by incentives rather than addressed as a full moral subject.

After 9/11, President Bush encouraged people to go shopping, and some were angry about it for years afterward.  Most people do believe that shopping helps the economy, but they wanted to have sacrifices demanded of them.

14 Responses

  1. In a democracy, friends rule and are ruled in turn. There is no identification of the ruling and the ruled, as you are implying.
    There is nothing wrong with democracy or the republican form of govt.
    Lots of great republics have endured-Rome, Venice, Florence, USA (not the least among them).
    Polis does belong to the citizens, indeed even the medieval king belonged to his subjects. For the State exists for long-term florishing of a people and not as a private property of a family.

  2. “Ages of ideological consensus tend to be ones where people focus on “corruption”.”

    In any mature democracy, there will always be two parties (or coalitions of parties); the friendsof corruption and the sowersof sedition; those who hope to profit from existing abuses and those who hope to profit from the disaffection those abuses produce.

  3. @vishmehr24

    That tends to only work out well if the state is small enough in size that ruler and subject actually are friends.

  4. I’m afraid that at the end of the day, it’s always the Jews.

  5. “the medieval king belonged to his subjects”

    I appreciate what you’re getting at here, but I wouldn’t phrase it quite like this. The king’s authority is to be exercised for the good of his subjects and the common good of the kingdom–they are the final cause of kingship–but I wouldn’t say that subjects “own” their king in any usual sense of the word (which would imply authority over him). If anything, God owns the kingdom, and the king is delegated responsibility for its upkeep.

    “In a democracy, friends rule and are ruled in turn.”

    This at least acknowledges the reality of rule. (Compare some time ago ThorDaddy denied that there are subjects in a modern state because its functionaries are called “civil servants”, as if I could give orders to a policeman.) But, as ArkansasReactionary pointed out, it’s most plausible for small states (and, you’ll recall that political thinkers up through the Enlightenment agreed that democracy is a form of government that works best on small scales). In a big representative democracy, if I were to ask when I get my turn to rule, most people would probably tell me that my piece of rulership is in my voting right. This is a way of obscuring the distinction between ruler and subject, by creating a sense in which the subjects rule their ruler.

  6. Another thing to note is that mass democracy for a large state is pretty much impossible without a mass media. And having a mass media means that the media rules.

  7. “[Y]ou’ll recall that political thinkers up through the Enlightenment agreed that democracy is a form of government that works best on small scales.”
    This is a truth often overlooked. Rousseau, for example, rejected “representative democracy. ”As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall. When it is necessary to march out to war, they pay troops and stay at home: when it is necessary to meet in council, they name deputies and stay at home. By reason of idleness and money, they end by having soldiers to enslave their country and representatives to sell it.”
    He identified democracy with the Landesgemeinde of the cantons of his native Switzerland. As Lord Acton says, “The idea was that the grown men met in the market-place, like the peasants of Glarus under their trees, to manage their affairs, making and unmaking officials, conferring and revoking powers. They were equal, because every man had exactly the same right to defend his interest by the guarantee of his vote. The welfare of all was safe in the hands of all, for they had not the separate interests that are bred by the egotism of wealth, nor the exclusive views that come from a distorted education. All being equal in power and similar in purpose, there can be no just cause why some should move apart and break into minorities.”

  8. “The range of mainstream opinion has never been narrower”

    I am reminded of one of Dávila’s aphorisms.

    “Modern man believes he lives amidst a pluralism of opinions, when what prevails today is a stifling unanimity.”

  9. > Yes, I was actually thinking about Rousseau when I wrote that, and also how even Maistre quotes him with approval on this subject. I think Madison gets credited with being the first person to imagine that having a large mass of faction-riven people was a good setup for a democracy. People all over the political spectrum of the time would have thought this was nuts.

  10. “the medieval king belonged to his subjects”
    The sense I was trying to convey was that the king was of the same stock as his people. Not that he was a king over a certain piece of land and his subjects were those were accidently living there.

  11. […] And then… this: Ironies of democratic alienation. […]

  12. vishmehr24 wrote, “the king was of the same stock as his people. Not that he was a king over a certain piece of land”

    Their titles show this – not “King of France,” but Christianissimus Rex Francorum (Most Christian King of the Franks) and recall “Mary, Wueen of Scots.” Thus, we still have King of the Belgians and King of the Swedes, the Wends and the Goths.

    By contrast, the formal titleof the Holy Roman Emperor was simply Imperator Semper Augustus – Ever-August Emperor, representing the universality of his claims, as civil head of Christendom.

  13. Democracy works great for ants, bees, and termites. All decisions are made by mass consensus, sort of like a crowd of occutards twinkling their fingers. The “queen” does not rule; she only lays eggs.

    Insect democracy is never corrupted by vainglorious demagogues or special-interest groups because all the voters are sterile, and thus have no interest but the success of the hive.

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