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John Bruce Leonard

The Liberal Mirage – Part 2

Series: The Liberal Mirage

The poisonous intersection of money and power in modern democracy cannot be cured by mere institutional changes.

On the ‘Capitalist’

Most anyone who winds up at the vertices of capitalistic wealth in our day will almost necessarily display certain traits, by which characteristics alone he is able to ‘rise’ in the system to such ‘dizzying heights’ (it would be well for us to maintain a degree of scepticism about the real direction he is most likely going). Such traits include, for instance, extreme organizational capacities, quantities of energy, keen analytic and practical cleverness, an overbearing greed, a willingness to use any tools at his disposal (as for instance, ‘contacts’ of a nepotistic sort or information which might be used for blackmail, but also amphetamines or other ‘stimulants’) to arrive where he wishes to go, and a total unhesitating willingness to transgress all moral constraints, which amounts to moral numbness when it does not in fact indicate precisely a kind of Schadenfreude and ruthless delight in exerting power and causing suffering. If such men are not cruel they will commonly be numb; but because the former is more ‘positive’ a characteristic than the latter, insofar as it establishes a perverse kind of goal in the human soul, it is to be expected that the former will be more prevalent than the latter. Put plainly, one is more likely to find hot monsters in those ranks, than cold ones.

The economic game, all of capitalism itself, is but a system organized toward sifting out the human and selecting for the most mechanically inhuman of human beings, and then rewarding these grossly with the most improbable of prizes.

All of this for the simple reason that in any large-scale money-getting venture you please – and the greater the sums involved, the truer this is – there will necessarily be consequences which affect the lives of other human beings. (The economist nicely passes such results off as externalities and collateral damage – being, as he is, forever perfectly frank in moral matters.) That capitalist who hesitates at the prospect of damaging his fellow man or of bringing about the suffering of individuals he does not know – that wealth-seeker who spends time, energy, perhaps even resources, toward limiting the harm he brings to others, as much as he is able – this kind of man will naturally fall behind. He will be out-manoeuvred, out-played, over-mastered and out-earned by the ruthless soul that trembles not a moment before such scruples, but perhaps even derives pleasure in venting his power over the helpless many. The economic game, all of capitalism itself, is but a system organized toward sifting out the human and selecting for the most mechanically inhuman of human beings, and then rewarding these grossly with the most improbable of prizes. The ‘love of the people’ which inevitably characterizes great political or social ambition here takes on a dangerous and sadistic hue. Moreover, the recipients of these great advantages surely believe themselves superior for their arrival at such exclusive prerogatives – but one should never for a moment forget that anyone who sets out in life with the singular and unqualified aim of making himself rich, is activated and actuated by one of the lowest and most sordid and bestial of all human motivations, which he holds perfectly in common with packrats, beavers, and bower birds; the very fact that such a monomaniac has been so ‘successful’ is in and of itself reason to doubt his calibre.1

It would of course be neither rational nor just to claim that all wealthy men are wicked – as is the tendency, for instance, in some Marxist or crypto-Marxist circles – for of course it might be the case that certain basically decent men seek wealth from out of any number of more or less decent motives, and furthermore good men may always be born to rich families. What one must diagnose is the tendency in a class, not the status of each of its individual members. And there is reason to believe that the capitalism of the modern world is built to facilitate moral disease; for the ‘free economy’ is nothing but a hierarchy stood upon its head, dedicated to forcing to the top predominately those human beings who are quite literally monsters of greed. Put fitter to the truth: the world in which we live is often enough the adulator of the mindless gravity of power; and because the psychotically avaricious are the heaviest among us, best capable of dwelling airlessly in the lightless deeps, we mindlessly follow their suction down.

And it is often these men, in the day and the world in which we are living, who form the true ‘power behind the throne’.

Indeed, the mere politicians in the main can get nowhere without the economic blessings of wealthy sponsors. They are as puppets in the hands of much mightier masters, and all their craving after power or influence, be it good or bad, reveals itself finally for what it is: a miscalculation. The simply ambitious democratic politician is that man who has sought all his life to attain something which can only be attained elsewhere than where he seeks it. Modern democratic politics to this extent is the ideal manifestation of human vainglory.

What then will be the role of these politicians as the political serfs of the super-affluent? Or put otherwise, and more usefully to anyone who wishes to understand the true mechanisms of power in our day – what will the super-affluent seek to extract from politics?

First and most obviously, they will seek conditions such as favour their wealth-getting – laws which grant them ‘freedom’ when this ‘freedom’ promotes their investments; laws which impose ‘regulation’ where they are the beneficiaries thereof; judicial reprieves or limited sentences when they are found to have broken the law; structures, bolstered or protected through legislation, which lay the blame and the penalty for any false step somewhere else than on their shoulders, and which permit them to leap, duly equipped with ‘golden parachutes’, out of the windows of buildings they have lit aflame; etc.

From these reflections it becomes evident that while the class composed of the super-affluent in certain respects can in many ways be considered a unified class with unified interests (even as Marxism considered them), in other respects it is in fact a warring encampment of diverse and fundamentally hostile economic factions. For some laws which favour one group will work to the detriment of others, he who profits from regulations will do so only at the expense of that man who is regulated against, and the ‘businessman’ floating away from the flaming building in his golden parachute leaves any number of similar men behind him to burn in his stead. The super-affluent thus form at once a more or less unified group with identical interests (which they are capable of preserving in unison when there is need) as well as a kind of hidden society of smaller groups which struggle against each other behind the curtain of that grand theatrical performance which is charmingly named ‘democratic politics’. And because that theatrical performance is precisely their cover and their secrecy, the one interest which most consistently unifies them is in seeing to it that no ‘unauthorized’ spectator is able to step behind the scenes and to lay his eyes on the stage director or the screenwriter of the whole affair – that no man enters the higher echelons of rule, who has not first knelt at the alter of their wealth and power. Whenever a ‘foreign element’, imbued with a misguided idealism, strays into the capitalistic or democratic ‘system’, the super-wealthy are most likely to act in unison to liquidate that threat in whatever manner they may, by hook or by crook. And their creatures in the political arena will be most ready to aid them in this.

Whenever a ‘foreign element’, imbued with a misguided idealism, strays into the ‘system’, the super-wealthy are most likely to act in unison to liquidate that threat in whatever manner they may, by hook or by crook.

The collusion of our democratic politicasters with such men as these, the disturbingly widespread extent of this kind of corruption in the most powerful offices (where the low nature of the politician is likely to bend eventually to the imposing influence of the wealthy), will sooner or later stall any institutional mechanisms to control the abuses of power, by containing them in a wider system yet of supra-institutional or supra-national interests and powers. Because the super-affluent are, given the natural growth of modern capitalism, bound to become ‘international’ figures with global interests (as much to escape particular laws or taxes as to consolidate their greater realm of influence and money), they will eventually ‘transcend’ the limits of those particular political mechanisms which have been designed to restrain their influence. They will form, for example, larger and larger corporations or secret ‘societies’ until the size and scope of these corporations and ‘societies’ exceed the natural borders of any given country; at which point it is but a matter of course that such corporations and ‘societies’ will come, amoeba-like, to absorb entire governments by enveloping them. Then all particular institutional legal protections and specific power-limiting mechanisms will become but tools in the hands of men who stand beyond their reach, and who therefore can use, toward the attainment of their ends, precisely those governmental and social functions which were designed to constrict that attainment. All of this is only a question of time – which is the one ingredient lacking for the complete ubiquity of such corruption throughout the modern democratic state. The movement is so inevitable that, looking back, it almost seems that these ‘systems’ have been built for nothing else.

There is no external or higher principle which can correct this perverted course. No morality can aid in a state which posits the ‘equality of human beings’ and thus tacitly denies the existence of human excellence. No national law can constrain men who live and act internationally. No divine law can countervail this venom in the ‘secular state’ (and all democracies are necessarily ‘secular’) which essentially denies the divinity of the divine law and thus decapitates its power from the start. Modern democracy is built upon the swamp, and into the swamp it duly sinks, either all at once or slowly. The most excellent of institutional safeguards can retard, but not halt, this course. And once it has fallen in, not the combined powers of man and god can drag it out again.

One might hope for the salutary intervention of some unbiased and external power, such as the ‘Fourth Estate’ (or the ‘Fifth Estate’, depending on how one likes to count these continually proliferating powers) of the ‘free press’ – another of our great modern prides, or better say, our modern vanities. To some extent, the hope one puts in this press is not ill-founded. The problem of course returns us to the simple question of ‘economies of scale’ – for everything in democracy must return to the question of mass and matter, of ‘economy and science’, it itself being the government of mass and matter par excellence. That portion of the press which enjoys real sway, and which therefore might be able to combat the overwhelming potency of the super-affluent and their dark spheres of influence, can only be that portion of the press which we like to call ‘mainstream’. The mainstream press is characterized by the breadth of its audience; it is that portion of the press which has obtained the greatest number of ears and eyes in the widest possible public within our enormous and multifaceted societies. Several points follow from this: first, that such a press will seek in most cases to be uncontroversial; second, that such a press will tend to be theatrical, and to put up ‘stagings’, being accustomed to manipulating the emotions and the opinions of the many; and third, that such a press will be the most sympathetic to the interest in wealth. For such a press could not arrive in the mainstream without enormous quantities of financial aid, and it would not stay there without the will to improve its ‘earnings’.

These particular traits of the mainstream press make it the natural bedfellow of the corruption of a society. It will be sought out precisely by the super-affluent for its ability to reach into the personal lives of millions through our modern technology and to deceive these citizens by its chicanery and subterfuge – and so the super-affluent will have every reason to spare no expense and to cut no corners in persuading the owners and directors of the press to represent them, in as subtle and insidious a way as possible.2 It is difficult if not impossible to imagine that such a press on the whole can long remain free of that influence, and particularly not over the course of generations.

Those elements of the ‘free press’ which really remain to some extent ‘free’, it is needless to say, will never enjoy the mass appeal of the mainstream. They cannot purchase that appeal, lacking the means and the backers to do so, they cannot hope to win it by substituting ugly and difficult truths for pleasant and cheerful lies, and they have absolutely no power substantial enough to counter the herd-instinct of the mass. They will remain forever ‘alternative’, and their message will be equivalently limited.3

The press, or any other ‘Estate’ extrinsic to the power structure of modern democratic society, cannot be counted on to protect the moral mettle of that society, nor to begin to counter the enormously potent influences which goad that society toward innermost decay.

This then is the necessary end toward which many ‘representatives of democracy’ tend, their inevitable final stage. We are permitted to call this the final stage, because whatever will issue from their generalized corruption will not be ‘democratic’ in any sense of the word, no matter what meaning one applies to it. It would seem that before its final collapse and transformation into something else, modern democracy must come to mean the rule of the vainest of human beings working at the secret behest of the cruellest.

The Populist Hope

That end, fortunately, has yet to arrive. We live still in that key moment at which the soft theory and ideal of modern democracy first begins to rub against the rough exterior of its reality. There remains before the arrival of this end only a single last safeguard to the honest operation of the modern democratic regime: that is, fittingly, the vote, popular elections, and, at bottom, the popular will. The people, informing themselves of the true situation through alternative sources, or perceiving for themselves the degree to which the ostensible ‘ruling class’ is compromised and poisoned against their interests, might bring another and more directly popular set of representatives to reign in their place.

The popular will is, at best, an ephemeral arithmetical result; it is nothing but an abstraction derived from an aggregate chaos.

In the first place, one is permitted to really wonder about the feasibility of such a hope after a certain degree of decay has been reached at the highest levels of government, for at that point the very mechanisms which are in a republic supposed to select for the most knowledgeable, capable, and perhaps even virtuous statesmen for the highest echelons of rule, are co-opted by dark powers to filter for their own traits of cold asocial avarice, until these powers are so entrenched within the system that they cannot be extracted from it again; nor would even a widespread crisis of institution or of social order likely suffice at such a point to drive them out, insofar as they themselves are in a position to expect and to manipulate precisely such crises for their own gain.

Be this as it may – what of those comparatively ‘healthier’ democracies in which the corruption has not become endemic, in which there are still legitimate hopes for some kind of ‘reform’? What is the salutary role of ‘popular will’ in such cases?

But we must really pause a moment to look the beast honestly in the eye – supposing such can be done with so Argos-like a creature as the popular will. For in the first place, what we nicely wrap up in a single word as if it were a unitary and single-spirited thing, is for the most part nothing but the multiform, protean, and perfectly arbitrary addition of each individual ‘will’ (itself a complicated and often irreducible thing) to every other, toward the composition of what must certainly be a fictional whole. One can speak in innumerable cases of a unified society or regime, because one can specify precisely in what aims it is united; but there is no aim which unites the popular will save this or that accidental passion or desire, or else precisely such aims as are embodied in the society to which it pertains (but which cannot however be considered to ‘compose’ it in any meaningful sense, because it is but the redundant expression of these aims). Its aims are always determined ex post facto from the vote, which means, one never really knows what those aims are, inasmuch as they might change from one year to the next. This popular will is, at best, an ephemeral arithmetical result; more generally, the ‘popular will’ is nothing but an abstraction derived from an aggregate chaos.

Is there anything at all that can be said then about the probable nature of this abstraction?

The average individual in normal times in a democracy, so far as his ‘vote’ is concerned, is generally ‘looking out for number one’, as the Americans quaintly put it. That is to say, he votes primarily for his own interests, and only subsequently for his ‘morals’, meaning for what he believes should happen to society, even if it that might harm his interests. Now there are many things which pertain to the ‘personal interest’ of a human being, some lower and some higher, in reflection of his state ‘between beast and god’. These things include family, work, love, gain, hate, etc. But it is clear that the only portion of these interests which are widely and easily generalizable in the form of elections or democratic laws are those pertaining to his material well-being. The ‘economic’ factor of human life is that which is usually ‘expressed’ in the vote, and thus it is that the ‘economic’ factor is that which the powers-that-be must seek to keep stable, if they would retain their positions of power. For one almost never sees scandals or upsets at the poll booths when conditions are stable.

It would seem that the extant powers should have every reason to seek to maintain equilibrium. Yet this precisely is what one does not see. The paradox here can be resolved by recalling that the ‘extant powers’ do not represent a unified front, but rather a miscellaneous assemblage of various desires and interest groups, including politicians, businessmen, capitalists, industrialists, bankers, etc. Some of the great crises of the past hundred years, certainly many of the economic crises and sometimes also the political ones, have been deliberately engineered or at the least happily welcomed and abetted by any number of very powerful men, who have subsequently profited handsomely of these crises. Those crises which have come upon the extant powers unawares indicate rather the limits of the reach of those powers, and thus suggest an institutional failing in modern democracy which might, at a pivotal moment, upheave the entire regime and open the way, for good or ill, for another. It seems then that these powers, whether deliberately or unconsciously, periodically risk precipitating the very conditions for those uprising on the part of the people that they should most wish to avoid.

And in this, we find truly the ‘last best hope’ of modern democracy, its final, its first, its most essential mechanism for bringing the modern democratic regime to really yield, if not the best ‘system of government’, then at least the ‘least of all evils’: namely, that the people, perceiving the wrongs being perpetrated or planned against them, might rise up in display at last of a true and truly unified popular will which extends beyond merely monetary concerns, punishing the self-serving politicasters, enshrining once again the principle of popular sovereignty in government, establishing honest men in the highest positions of power, etc. etc.

The which today sometimes goes by the name of ‘populism’. Populism of this stamp is certainly in specific definite conditions quite possible. But to set one’s hope in this, as if it were the raw, pure essence of ‘effective democracy’ itself, is to reveal oneself in the unflattering hue of ingenuity and blindness to what modern democracy really means, apart from all the pleasant bromides that are attached to it by intellectuals and the common men alike. For naturally, the first condition of any such democratic and peaceful uprising is that the ‘people’ understand what is at stake, what should be accomplished and how to attain it. More, it supposes the existence of a number of good-willed or at least not arrantly corrupt politicians who are practically capable and effectively willing to put themselves at the service of this populism, despite the sacrifices and risks this entails for their careers, reputations or persons, in order to overthrow the ‘old guard’ and to establish the new. It supposes furthermore that such men might arrive without being compromised by powerful, extraordinarily wealthy, cunning and ubiquitous enemies. It supposes finally that the ‘people’ will be able to distinguish between such men and the political actors put up by the moneyed powers to regain or retain control.

It should go without saying that not a single one of these hypotheses can be considered from the outset much more than a grandiose wish or a feeble hope.

To begin with the outer problem first, and to work thence to the very hollow core of modern democratic practice, let us consider what must be the prerequisites of such a democratic champion. Either he must be relatively clean of compromising influences, which means he must have skilfully navigated every blockade put up by the moneyed powers against the rise of such men as him, and he must have done so by virtue of his own will and determination; or else he must come from outside of the ‘system’ altogether.

The first possibility requires a man of remarkable fortitude and virtue, such as is rare in any day and yet moreso in long-standing democracies. If ever such virtues might arise, it would be either in a man of surpassing classical virtue married almost paradoxically to surpassing Machiavellian virtù, or else in the idealistic leader of this or that minority or ‘third party’ whose fidelity has been tested in the course of long and hopeless years, and who has in all that time revealed a certain integrity of beliefs and simultaneously refused the poisoned cup of perfidy.

Such individuals as this are almost ‘by nature’ marginalized; they dwell in the fringes, and very easily grow accustomed to this fringe-life. Indeed, it is easy enough to become addicted to defeat, to the ‘desperate cause’ which, in order to maintain its allure of chivalrous purity, must ever remain desperate. There are in these ranks, alas, all-too-often, shadow-lurkers addicted to the venomous charms of ressentiment. It is not rare for such individuals to spoil everything for themselves the very moment they begin to emerge from the shade; in a very real sense, many of them do not crave victory at all. As for those who both believe in their cause and in the possibility of bringing their cause to fruition, any number of other personal defects might lie in ambush for them. Many of them are cantankerous and have forgotten how to speak civilly. Many of them have grown bitter and hateful and have lost their decency. Many of them have become inured to battle, and their tough vicissitudes have grown around them a rough and crude carapace, so that they have forgotten how to show a soft and enticing face to the masses.

But the democratic masses are wary of warriors, and they will shy from such hard looks as these in all but the direst straits. Hardly can one hope for the ascent of such a politician in normal times; only when the modern democratic regime has already entered into a period of deep decay will the people begin to turn to such extremities as are promised by a candidate of this nature. Similarly, many of these politicians have had to be so ‘uncompromising’ that they have forgotten the difference between surrender and compromise; they have suppressed or ruined in themselves those traits which are necessary for politics as such, even in exceptional conditions, and certainly in the vast majority of democratic elections and terms. In general, it may be said that such politicians as this have had long years to accumulate a wealth of acerbity and hostility toward the system, anger and enmity toward the politicians in office and perhaps even toward the electorate, impractically rigid intransigence in their views (for one ‘wins’ by purity alone, while all diplomacy represents failure and ‘weakness’), and a perspective, both about what is possible and what is desirable in government, which is distorted by unyielding idealism on the one hand and by long-incubated resentment on the other, so that even should they arrive in power they will in most cases achieve nothing, but will pass their terms bumbling about breaking things, speaking inappropriately, making awkward passes toward impossible alterations in law, and injuring their already vulnerable rapport with those key figures who might have helped them toward their ends. Thus they too often contribute to the generally poor reputation of candidates or politicians like themselves, and make it that more difficult for any better one of their ilk to arrive in the future.

We will have reason to return to these men and their ‘lost causes’, but for now we turn to the second possibility, of the outsider politician who takes the political scene by storm. This requires independent wealth on the part of the candidate in question. Either this politician was born with such money or else he acquired it. If he was born with it, he will have had to combat within himself the corrupting power that money influences in a society which worships it. Money in a society like ours is identical to power, and this gross and materialistic power is moulded, refined, or constrained by almost no mores or traditions whatsoever. A young man of rich means, particularly as he is endowed with other virtues, is beset by an almost invincible temptation to bow to the more bestial and weakest parts of his soul, and it is almost certain that such a man will be deeply handicapped by his very good fortune in one way or another, unless he has been saved by some unusual inner or outer fortuity. In the realm of art, one thinks of the figure of Bruce Wayne as an example of such a ‘saved child’. But Batman, from his very byname itself, is better fit for fiction than for reality, and once again we find that the possibilities are slender unto invisibility.

If on the other hand he has gained his wealth by his own efforts – but here, to say it again and a hundred times again, only a thoroughgoing democrat could ever expect anything high, noble, and free from a man who has dedicated his entire life to hoarding his slop. And it is just as absurd if not moreso to hope that such a man will not harbour any number of dark secrets capable of ruining or at least hobbling him the moment they fall – as fall they shall – into the wrong hands. Even if he should be free of such secrets, who would ever want to guarantee that everyone near to him, his family and friends and working associates, are so immaculate? For they, too, can be used against him. Not only he, but also everyone with whom he has regular dealings, thus must be spotless. The degree to which one hopes for any candidate like that to ‘save the day’ is the measure of how far one has been infected by the ludicrous optimism of our contemporary democratic Pollyannishness.

Money in a society like ours is identical to power, and this gross and materialistic power is moulded, refined, or constrained by almost no mores or traditions whatsoever.

Supposing, however, he arrives, our ‘democratic white knight’, by navigating all the menaces to his virtue and his position, both external and internal – well, how shall he make himself known? He can either play the political game – against his opponents, who will likely be by nature and long practice a hundred times his superior at such shameless showmanship – or he can scorn that game in favour of brute honesty, smashing through the sham. But the bitter pill of honesty will be tasted alongside his opponents’ honeyed mendacities, and so everything will depend then on the degree to which the populace has grown cynical or can be forced to perceive hard truths by virtue of hard times. That is rare enough a proposition; it grows rarer yet, for the simple psychological fact that if our glimmering politician restrains himself to the negative arguments in favour of his vision, he cannot furnish his potential voters any positive reason to vote for him, but if he focuses on the positive vision, he cannot convince them of its practical plausibility. For if they are cynical, they will not vote for him on the basis of negative arguments alone, for these will do nothing but rankle and remind them of all the reasons they should trust no one, including him; if they are cynical, they are as unlikely to believe any positive vision he might provide. He must then arrive at that precise historical juncture between the usual blindly cheerful ingenuity of the prosperous democracy, and the brutal and callous cynicism of the failing democracy. That is a narrow window for a figure to slip through who, as we have seen, in any number of ways must be ‘larger than life’.

As if all this were not enough, we see furthermore that our hero must be brutally honest and simultaneously profoundly inspiring. He must add to all his other improbable qualities a golden tongue as well; he must be a rhetor of the first rank. Or else he must be favoured by an utterly unlikely fortune beyond his power to engineer, such as – an unexpected crisis in the ruling structure, the chance opposition of a particularly unappealing or incompetent opponent, the imminent threat of some catastrophe, some accident or event which hurls him to pre-eminence in the public eye, or some other totally unpredictable and uncontrollable happenstance.

Enough: it is clear that such a condition might arise only in the most wildly improbable of conditions. But supposing, once more, that all of this comes about – what then? What shall the people make of their chance?

Well, in the first place, shall they necessarily recognize it for what it is? Shall they see their hero as being ‘one of them’ sufficiently to put their trust in him? (For it is the necessary and natural condition of all democratic politics that the people vote their own.) Unlikely – particularly as he, being a man of virtue, cannot help but demonstrate those rare qualities which brought him to his chance in the first place. But supposing he knows how to play the demagogue – and, what is a thousand times rarer, knows how to play the demagogue without being or becoming a demagogue, as for instance Caesar or Napoleon were able to do – well enough. Though this be yet another incredible virtue to stud into his already rare crown, let us enrich him as we may, in order to see this hypothetical through to the end.

How then will he communicate the true issues of the day to his potential constituency? But surely he cannot; for especially as he is candidate for office in a modern state, replete with all the infinite complexities of such a state, ‘the people’ – which means necessarily the composite of Everyman, who is in the majority of cases a simple working man – will have neither the time nor the capacity to understand the world as he understands it. Then he must appeal to them via proxies, convincing them with simplified and half-deceptive appeals to their passions, milking their support through their material interests for his wider vision, which in some cases must necessarily contradict precisely those interests in order to benefit the whole. He must put to practice precisely the same techniques used by his opponents – only he is ‘fooling the people for their own good’. Everything will depend then on his ability to manipulate the people into voting for him with greater success than his wholly unscrupulous opponent, who is almost certain to be practised in such grand deceits. And he must subject himself to these lowly means without himself being corrupted by them.

But by now it ought to be clear that we are discussing, not at all the likely candidate of a common democratic election, but a soul of heroic excellence in a time of unique crisis surrounded by extraordinary historical circumstances – which perforce means, in almost every real-world situation in actual democracies, a fairytale.

We have in all of this neglected to consider the fundamental question of faction, the existence of various conflicting groups within the democratic state which are characterized primarily by differences of view as to the final aims or the working means of whole society; nonetheless, this question cannot help but further complicate what is already a deeply complicated situation. Factions in the past revolved primarily around religion and economic class; in modern multicultural societies, they revolve primarily around ethnic disputes. The abusive politicos of contemporary democracies have seen with a lucid clarity how they are favoured by the compounding of these ethnic disputes, and have done all in their power to encourage and incite them under the guise of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘identitarianism’. This mighty electoral force, which might issue in terrible consequences unforeseen or underestimated by those who are presently operating it, is further advanced in some Western nations than in others, but in all of it them threatens to alter the make-up of our societies to such an extent that democratic politics can never again be bent to favour the native sons and daughters of the land. For this reason, ‘populism’ has often coincided with ‘nationalism’ in our day.

This last circumstance, wholly unique to our historical juncture, opens up unexpected possibilities in the otherwise bleak scene we have so far been constrained to paint. We will return to discuss these in the final part of this essay.

References

1Consider Plato, Laws Book V, 727e–728a, 729a and 743a. Cf. also Matthew 19:16–24 and John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government, Chapter V, §§ 47–49.

2Consider, for instance, Berlusconi’s historic control of the press in Italy, George Soros’ so-called ‘Free Press’ and his enormous donations to any number of media outlets, and the increasing control wielded by ‘big tech’ companies like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc. over the exchange of information and news.

3For further reflections on the nature of ‘media bias’, see my essay, ‘On Media Neutrality’.

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