The following was a conversation which took place on the third of January, 2017, in the West Coast Reactionaries Skype group on the topic of democracy in the modern age.
Octavian: One of the more difficult conversation I have with some people is about democracy. The standard response is always, “Well, what is the alternative?” and there is no real response because the reality is that every proposal you make would be rejected.
Mark: But it would not be rejected on logical grounds, only emotional ones. I agree that people are still wedded to democracy, but increasingly only out of convenience. There is a complete distrust in democratic institutions for the most part. People do not feel “represented,” which is when democracy is its worst.
Octavian: Even then, they say, “Democracy has worked for a long time and it allows for stability. The ability to remove leaders without violence.” That’s the hardest one to argue against, to be honest.
Mark: This petty desire to always avoid violence is degenerate. Sometimes violence is healthy.
Octavian: True, but that point will convince very few people — especially those who have lived through wars, and especially if it’s made by those who haven’t
Mark: I know nobody in the West who has lived through a war in the real sense (as in, having been invaded). Maybe on Call of Duty.
Octavian: Eh — maybe not Americans.
Mark: That’s the thing. Arabs have experienced that, and they don’t have the same aversion to violence.
Octavian: Yes, but people prefer peace. Most Arabs would undoubtedly prefer peace.
Mark: It’s not a problem of preference. Obviously peace is preferable to war. But to have a knee-jerk fear of violence is a symptom of Modernity.
Octavian: True. And it’ll be the hardest one to argue against. Granted, I’m recalling a conversation I had with an older person, who did live through the Second World War, whose father was destroyed by it fighting the Japanese.
Mark: Yeah, looking back, I maybe don’t classify these as wars in the true sense, since absent was warrior virtue, either on one side or both. These were more slaughters. Obviously, war in the Medieval period did not have the same effect on people.
Octavian: Well, okay. It was still violence.
Octavian: Older people will definitely cling to democracy and “freedom” more so than the young.
Mark: Yes, I’d say so, but they are passing quickly.
Octavian: Hm — it’s a shame because on most other points this gentleman agrees with me entirely.
Mark: I’ve always found the specialization argument is somewhat effective.
Octavian: Specialization argument?
Mark: Asking why countries should vote on their leaders when they don’t vote on their scientists, their athletes, the men who run street cars, the farmers, etc.. Why is leadership special? Does leadership not require specialization?
Octavian: That comes across a sort of trick. If I were a democrat, my response would be that a leader must reflect the will of the people, as the decisions they make affect everyone, whereas a scientist is regulated by someone else, as are farmers.
Mark: The decision of the scientist also affects “everyone,” or, rather, all those his work affects. Think Thalidomide.
Octavian: Indirectly, though. His power is mediated by many others.
Mark: How any moreso indirect than a politician? One recommends a pill, the other recommends a federal reserve policy. So is a politician’s power.
Octavian: Yes, but the parliament is sovereign. Individually, yes, parliamentarians are mediated by others but, as a whole, a parliament has direct power over everyone.
Mark: The sovereign’s policy will be enacted by a web of bureaucrats, it will be enforced by others.
Octavian: Yes, but the bureaucrats are a technicality.
Mark: Then surely this requires more specialization than any other field! If the role you describe is indeed as monumental, than it would be lunacy to think that anybody could ascend to that role — anybody at all who was able to capture the imaginations of 51%.
Octavian: The argument isn’t bad, but I don’t think it’d really be effective enough to convince many. Also, that last part, yes, the position is monumental and does require specialisation. But that isn’t the point. The point is the legitimacy of power.
Mark: The point being: in most things people want an aristocracy. They don’t want just anybody dispensing drugs to them, they don’t want just anybody in charge of the fire department, they don’t want just anybody operating on them. And yet in the realm of politics, they make an exception, and subject themselves to uncertainty in its purest form. They do want the best to rule, but they choose a bizarre and incoherent method of determining who is best, i.e., who can convince 51% of people that they are the best using cheap slogans, vague policies, and dark money. If the person argues that in fact this is the best method, then they must agree that the country has never elected a poor leader ever. If it has, the method is flawed. Of course there will be bad leaders in any system: this is unavoidable. There are bad scientists, bad doctors, etc..
Octavian: They would just come back by saying there have been plenty terrible kings and consuls.
Mark: But if democracy is as flawed as other models, then it can be fairly compared without special status.
Octavian: But they ultimately fall back to, ”It avoids tyranny and thereby civil war as a bad leader can be removed.”
Mark: Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except from all the others,” but he never explained why. He never made an argument to back up this assertion.
A bad leader can be removed, but he is inevitably in democracy replaced by another bad leader. If he wasn’t, then the parties would not continually jostle for power. People are never satisfied, regardless of the party. They just forget that they already tried the other one.
Octavian: It’s not about satisfaction, though. Democrats would handily agree that democracy isn’t perfect, but they would say that it offers a far more peaceful way of achieving governance.
Mark: Then does democracy raise more good leaders than bad leaders?
Octavian: I can’t answer that quantitatively.
Mark: I can: “No.”
Octavian: They might agree, but they’d argue that any other system would offer worse. The devil they know is better than the one they don’t.
Mark: It seems to me that every ruler decided upon by democracy later has some horrible tale wrapped around their rule, by their opponents. Thatcher was a villain, Blair was a villain, Cameron was a villain, Corbyn would be a villain. By contrast, while there have been villainous kings in history, they prove the scary and terrible exception which people never forget (Richard III, Ivan the Terrible, Caligula). So many lack such terrible tales.
Octavian: Most democrats wouldn’t compare Thatcher or Blair to Richard III or Ivan.
Mark: On the contrary, Thatcher drives Lefties more crazy than either of the latter. They would probably prefer the latter! Anything but the “witch”!
Octavian: Come on now, let’s not conflate your standard Leftie with a sincere democrat.
Mark: As a matter of perspective and place in history. To us today, those men of history are quirks for study. Leaders we knew inspire a visceral reaction, or perhaps disappointment, and every politicians ends up doing this. It is because the people are politicized, because they are actively invested in today’s “kings.” Part of the reason that true kings are better than true politicians is their lack of explicit political connection to the people unless they do crazy things like order soldiers to attack seashells. It is more virtuous for a ruler to be hierarchically displaced from “the people.” I don’t see how democracy can check tyranny. We live in a tyrannical society. Surely evidence wins out. Democracy has utterly failed to check the power of government. Government has only grown more and more invasive, and in fact has done so at the behest of the voters.
Octavian: I guess the only conclusion I can draw from this is that when it comes to democracy we must show not tell. Simply explaining to people that democracy is inferior will not convince them.
Mark: But it is being shown. We don’t need to do it. Why are people unhappy with the current state of affairs? They should be overjoyed! And yet they are not.
Octavian: You seem to think that democrats think democracy is anything but the best of a bad bunch.
Well, there are a few who think it as a concept is amazing, but more realistic ones will obviously have a pessimistic attitude about it.
Mark: So they are not really enthusiastic about democracy.
Octavian: Enthusiastic They believe it is the best we’ve got. The enthusiasm varies.
Mark: You see, this is not my attitude towards monarchy.
Mark: I endorse it on a passionate and moral level. Not simply as some contractual compromise to avoid other bad outcomes. I think man is naturally autocratic.
Mark: Now, do democrats assert that man is naturally democratic?
Octavian: Um — I don’t think so.
Mark: At least not the pessimists. As such, why would we be naturally autocratic if it was not advantageous, as with kin selection or patriarchy? They could of course say that not all things natural are good, and that some things that are deemed “natural” could be morally reprehensible, but then they shift into the moral realm, and in my opinion at least, would need to import some theology into their argument to give it weight. Kind of hard to argue that autocracy is immoral from a theological perspective, regardless of religion
Octavian: They wouldn’t claim man was naturally autocratic. They would probably put forward a Hobbesian view of natural man. Or Lockean. I think the primary crutch of many of their arguments about democracy would be the about avoiding absolute tyranny and thereby assuring peaceful transfers of power. But then again, from a Lockean perspective, a people always has the right to violently depose their government if they infringe upon their natural rights.
Mark: And yet, weirdly, the people are not violently deposing their government, even though they do seem to think their rights are being violated.
I’m sorry if it feels like we’re arguing Mark. I just merely wish to lay this out socratically.
Mark: You should. How can you argue against it if not? You said you dislike democracy. What is your argument?
Octavian: My primary argument against democracy would be that decisions are made by mass popular opinion, and thereby its legitimacy is not founded upon any sense of objectivity. Hence a society is at the mercy of the opinion of the people who inhabit it. And if you are a person who believes in social hierarchy, you would obviously consider this mad.
Mark: What if they say that a king’s decision might have the same flaw?
Octavian: I’d argue that the king would simply be a superior person, and would have greater ability to discern what is needed and how society should be governed.
Mark: This seems to be a reworking of specialization. Some people are better for certain tasks than others, and we would prefer the rule of the better ones. or am I reading it wrong.
Octavian: Well, “specialisation” has a sort of mercantile sound to it. I see governance as more than just a “task,” it is a duty.
Mark: Deliberately so, in a way. “Caste” is hard to talk about. When you speak of “caste” and people who are simply “better,” people get funny.
Octavian: Hm — yes. Well, I never really say “caste,” I just say that that superior people exist and they should rule.
Mark: That is caste. And when I say “specialization,” I am translating caste into mercantile language people might understand easier. Of course, this is not specialization of vocational sort, but rather “from the ground up,” in the sense of inborn specialization. God makes us specialized.
Mark: We can further this initial program, or work against it, but it remains a living presence, a potentiality.
Octavian: I just wouldn’t use the word “specialisation” because I don’t see governance as “job” or a “task,” I see it as a duty and service. But, ultimately, my argument is just theory to most people, hence why I see the only way for democracy to become delegitimised is by its own accord, by revealing itself incapable of maintaining peace and “freedom.”
Mark: Which it is doing masterfully
Octavian: To many it still is because they’ve lived through worse times. Young people on the other hand… might be easier to sway. Depends on how all this plays out I suppose. It’s unlikely that people will surrender their democratic “right” willingly, even if the conditions are perilous.
Mark: If the conditions are perilous, those rights will cease to exist.
Octavian: Most likely, yes.
Mark: Either we take them, or others will.
Octavian: It’ll have to be disguised with the rhetoric of the Enlightenment. In order to preserve some sense of continuity, outright saying, “democracy is inferior” is not a wise idea, in my opinion, which is why I sort of cringe when I hear Richard Spencer say, “I don’t like the Declaration of Independence,” because I don’t see what he gains from saying so.