What does the state of modern democracy demand of us?
The Spirit of Modern Democracy
The above considerations force reflection on what stance we are to take with respect to democracy as it exists here and now. The worthier proponents of modern democracy – those, that is, who perceive the real state of affairs in the present manifestation of democracy, but who are nonetheless unwilling to abandon their faith in the demos – will surely be ready with any number of suggestions for institutional remedies for the problems that we have attempted to identify. By tweaking this or that wire of the present system, by changing laws, by changing constitutions, by electing the right face in a sea of faces, one may obviate the present vices and permit the eternal virtues of democracy to shine forth.
In the first place, it must be recognized that any such attempt is equivalent to a concession that democracy in and of itself, far from being the ideal form of government, far even from ‘working’ in a normal way, is wont without constant structural alterations to lead to disaster or to a diseased form of government. But the simplest refutation of such ingenuity is simply this: if intelligent and authoritative men of good will are capable of engineering a worthy system whose virtue depends on its institutional integrity, then cunning and extraordinarily wealthy individuals of bad faith are certainly as capable of subverting that same system and bending its innermost tendencies to their will. If ‘law’ is merely mechanical in its function, so that a good law here makes a good law everywhere, then all it takes is a single generation of slick operators to adjust the mechanism at its weakest or most manipulable points, forcing the system to work toward a different and even contrary end.
Others yet, holding nearer to the spirit of democracy, prefer the ‘homeopathic’ remedy to our ills. Democracy, these men claim, has never yet been purely established in the world, and therein lies the true problem. They would fain seek to establish democracy democratically – that is, without the intercession of finance, representatives, or institutions. They envision democracy on a small, not to say communal, scale, and at a local level. They proceed toward precisely the same end as the communists and anarchists, choosing only to take the low rather than the high way. They take their bearings by an abundant awareness of what is dangerously superficial and redundant in the present regime; they believe that in erasing all of this, in culling the dross, in simplifying, in paring all things down to a more ‘human scale’, they might avoid a relapse into the vain monstrosity which the present verges upon. Their view relies on full recognition of the illness of our current institutions – but also on a specific interpretation of the whole past as being of a kind with this present, only not as ‘advanced’ in its abuses of power nor in the mechanisms and tools at its disposal. These men make no distinctions, that is to say, between the kingships and aristocracies of old on the one hand, and the contemporary democracies and theocracies on the other, but consider all of these regimes to be part and parcel of a single category, variations on a unique theme, outwardly diverse but inwardly servile to the same gross manifestations of ‘power-hunger’. And they make this critique, without ever rising to awareness that ‘power’, as they understand and intend it, is an exclusively modern idea, held in ovo precisely in the dawn of modernity, and as unfamiliar to past epochs as indeed the very contemporary notion of democracy itself.
Two responses are to be made to these purist defenders of democracy, whom we may, for useful shorthand, refer to as anarchists (for every pure vision of democracy, in the end, is really a vision of ‘anarchy’). The first is identical to the response that Plato, first through Glaucon and then through Socrates, made against such an idea in the Republic, after Socrates had drawn his sketch of the ‘healthy city’: ‘If you were providing for a city of pigs … on what else would you feed them than this?’1 And Socrates, tacitly acquiescing to the argument, presses on to the ‘fevered city’, which reveals itself to be the true ‘city in speech’, the truly just city. For the city of pigs, whatever else it might be, is not a city of men, a city of human virtue, and therefore cannot be just. The same can and must be said against libertarians and anarchists and anarchoids of all stripes – but that is matter which is best left to a wider cultural critique of democracy.
In the second place, however, one really must ask if these theoreticians, such as they are, do not retain in full force the fundamental weakness and illusion inherent to all democratic thought of all epochs: namely, the belief in the rule of the many – carrying this marvellous illusion, however, to an entirely different level. For present it however you will – any government ‘by, for, and of the people’ drags the demos behind it wherever it goes, and cannot have done with the failures, weaknesses, and mediocrity of that remarkable human hodgepodge. These anarchists, as indeed every democratic theoretician from the first to the last, necessarily posit at least the relative perfectibility of the human being as such, necessarily presuppose that through education and proper upbringing any given human being can be moulded or manufactured into a ‘good citizen’, meaning a citizen capable at once of caring for the well-being of the whole of the commonweal, and also of seeing with adequate clarity how to manifest that caring in his vote. They all of them suppose, that is to say, the tabula rasa of the human soul, which they can fill however they please. They are deniers to a one of the idea of any resistant and persistent human nature: they are anti-naturists par excellence.2
But returning precisely to our commoner contemporaries, let us argue the matter on their own level, for here we have already escaped the narrow limits in which fish like those still know how to swim. We limit ourselves to a mere practical observation. In the first place, we must analyse the nature of power in the ‘system’ that they propose. They are essentially taking the notion of ‘checks and balances’ or the ‘division of powers’ to its extremity, not to say to its reductio ad absurdam: rather than proposing this or that relation of institutions or branches of government as the pivot and crux of the division of powers, they rather propose to imbue each individual human community with its own power, capable of nullifying the power of any other; and more yet, within each individual community, in the deepest spirit of democracy, they propose each individual as the true and final repository of political power. In this way they spread the ‘balance of powers’ as universally as they may. About this, we can do no better than quote Tomislav Sunic’s Homo Americanus, bearing in mind that his words on American democracy in particular hold every bit as much for democracy as such:
Why do Americans opt … for a horizontal type of democratic control in which the system of checks and balances inevitably transforms itself into the system of mutual surveillance? The French anti-egalitarian and postmodern author, Claude Polin, while raising this disturbing question, also provides some cogent answers. Similarly to Tocqueville, Polin observes with concern the horizontal nature of the democratic process in America, which furnishes the framework for ‘terror of all against all’. ‘How is it possible’, he asks, ‘that one fears a king exercising his power, and why is it that one has less fear if the same power is conferred on millions of little kings?’ Surely, in a dispersed egalitarian system of power sharing, such as in Americanism and Communism, with both attempting to project their power worldwide and under the cover of global democracy, no citizen will ever dream of having absolute power. But in the atomized system of Americanism, dispersed power inevitably leads to dispersed terror in which the line between the victim and the henchman is bound to disappear.3
Yet let us set this danger for a moment aside; for the democratic soul will perhaps really see in this world a kind of ‘paradise’ or, more shockingly yet, the perfection of human justice (!). There is nonetheless a very real practical difficulty to this scheme. Supposing – and it is a devil of supposition – that sufficient numbers of ‘the people’ might be persuaded to form small communities of the utopic variety that these thinkers have in mind; supposing furthermore – no less diabolic of a supposition – that these same human beings might be of a calibre sufficient to see both to the practical and to the ethical aspects of their little democracies. Well and good! And what of the rest of humanity? Will they not continue as ever they have done? And even if, by some miracle, it be but a single sliver of the population that so continues, shall they not still have amongst them precisely the very same ‘overachieving’ power- and gold-hungry monsters who even today have brought much greater societies than ‘cities of pigs’ to heel? And how shall our little anarchist communities hold their own against the monetary and technological, perhaps even numerical, advantage represented by non-anarchical societies, when these last come for them, as they certainly sooner or later shall? And – most especially, most pressingly – how shall they resist the technological superiority which those men will be able to purchase and harness for themselves?
But of course – it is senseless to hope for anything of the kind, and our good democrats really do not hope for it. They have much more ambitious ideas; in good Hegelian or Marxian fashion, they foresee a transmutation of the entire globe, the entire human population, into a new state of ‘awareness’. Thus we come to the real but hidden root in any such idealistico-anarchical conceptions: one must believe that the present historical juncture is ripe for democracy of this kind, that this form of democracy is simply waiting to spring into reality from out of the rich chaotic undersoil of History, because its time has finally arrived. It is not at all mere accident which leads a man like Fukayama to proclaim the ‘end of history’ in liberal democracy, or which leads countless others to crave a global ‘open society’. To believe in democracy – not in this or that country or at this or that historical period, but to its very depths – one must perforce believe that mankind has reached an appropriate stage in its ‘evolution’, and is now, thanks perhaps to its modern technology, but also thanks to the long preparation of the Enlightenment, finally in a position to enter into this new and fundamentally ‘utopian’ stage of human history. One must believe, in short, in a benevolent brand of historicism, a kind of ineluctable or at the very least absolutely feasible progressive rise in the level of humanity, up to precisely the ‘end of history’ in a final and totally ecumenical anarcico-democratic reality – a homogeneous world state.
The full consideration of such an idea as this must be long, for it goes to the very heart of modernity, the very core of the modern project. We cannot venture down those winding paths here. Let it suffice, then, to mention merely a single excellent reason for taking the historico-democratico-triumphalist vision of ‘human progress’ with a steep grade of scepticism: it is precisely the latest manifestation of that most natural, and as we have seen most poisonous and intellectually dangerous, optimism which besets each and every human being within democracy as such. This final frontier of democratic theory, which in some corners now announces itself as ‘the future’ or even (impertinence of impertinences!) the last best hope for humankind, is precisely nothing other than the remotest instance of the democratic spirit at work in the realm of ideas: and for that reason it is a hundred times more likely to represent the dying breath of democracy, than its re-inspiration in some new and final form.
The Ends of Modern Democracy
Let us recapitulate. The claims which modern democracy makes as to its character bear little resemblance to its actual character. Those claims represent, as it were, a democratic or liberal ideal divorced from the modern democratic reality. This would not necessarily be a difficulty if the reality were a functional reality, if the present regime were a machine which one could safely suppose would continue working, perhaps coarsely and clunkily, for the foreseeable future; for while modern democracy is certainly not the best possible regime, it very well might be the best or the stablest regime available to us here and now. But analysis of the reality as opposed to the ideal of modern democracy reveals that modern democracy is moving steadily if not ineluctably in the direction of a transformation toto coelo. The nature of this transformation has yet to be seen: it might be the precipitation of democracy into a factional civil war or an otherwise catastrophic scenario such as was predicted by Guillaume Faye (anarchy); it might be the inner mutation of democracy into a kind of arbitrary rule of the rich and soulless few (modern oligarchy); or it might be the final breakdown of the republican regime which is the substrate of modern democracy, the last collapse of constitutional or legal rule, and the issuance therefrom of a despot or a post-constitutional ‘Caesar’ (Caesarism or tyranny).4 It would appear, that is to say, that contra the naïvely melioristic hopes of its theoreticians, modern democracy cannot be indefinitely prolonged, and that the consequences of its demise could be nasty and brutal or monstrously inhuman.5 The outcome will depend on myriad circumstances – many beyond our control, and a few wholly or partially within our control.
It is likely that the mutation of modern democracy, which has been at least in part desired and aimed at by a certain segment of today’s ‘elite’, would proceed relentlessly apace, if not for two separate circumstances. First, the tempo of events has been markedly increased, thus making the changes in politics and society (as for instance, globalism, militant feminism, the breakdown of genders, the erosion of all traditional or pseudo-traditional forms, etc.) more visible and stinging to those who are dispossessed thereby of their accustomed power, status, or mores. This change in pace can be attributed in the first place to a natural coalescence of the forces that modern democracy has unleashed on society (egalitarianism, capitalism, technology, etc.), and secondly to a growing hubris on the part of the ‘elite’, some of whom arrogantly believe that they have already won the day and no longer face any real opposition. They believe, that is to say, that the ‘end of history’ has come, so that all that remains is ironing out the final wrinkles in time.
The second circumstance which is capable of altering the present course of events is this: in recent years especially, mass immigration has been augmented to an unprecedented degree. This has been done from a variety of motives and by a variety of actors. Some have seen their profit in it (cheap labour, human trafficking, profiteering of government subsidies, etc.); some have approached it from a hopelessly ingenuous and idealistic bent (establishing multicultural societies so as to eliminate prejudice and ‘hate’; saving and succouring refugees and the weak; defending and fulfilling the vision of universal human rights; etc.); some have seen in it an opportunity to entrench their political influence (stacking the popular vote with left-voting immigrants; sharpening the ‘identitarian’ divides so as to force policy change; etc.); some are playing at it with a longer game in mind (deculturizing human beings so as to make them docile and economically and politically exploitable; encouraging ethnic conflicts as a pretext for the establishment of increasingly totalitarian laws and controls; pushing humanity toward conditions of rootlessness and borderlessness, in which it is better fit for the homogeneous world state, etc.). Whatever the primary causes for it, or the primary agents behind it, it has brought inevitable conflict and chaos to long-established and generally peaceable Western peoples. For this reason, it is a gross miscalculation on the part of the ‘globalist elite’, for it at once opens the eyes of the common people to the nature and radicalness of the changes their societies are undergoing, and thrusts these same common people back, if only reactively, on concerns which transcend the merely economic sphere: namely, their customs, their ethnicity, their traditions, their religion, their ways. This growing awareness is often called ‘identitarianism’, insofar as it represents the consciousness of the people that their ‘identity’ is under attack. So neutral and in the last analysis democratic and modern a term as ‘identity’, however, fails to capture the power and the potentiality, for good and for ill, of the forces that have been unleashed.
These circumstances do not cause, but certainly aggravate and open awareness of, the fundamentally contingent, transient and unstable nature of modern democracy. The discontents of the masses which are thereby fomented, their growing uncertainty, the atmosphere of doubt, scepticism, cynicism, malaise, unease, distrust, anger, resentment etc. etc. with regard to the ‘powers that be’ opens up brief windows of opportunity. Two distinct possibilities confront us at this point.
The first is the possibility of restabilizing republican rule through a kind of rehabilitation of the law, a confrontation of the clandestine powers that presently manipulate it, and a purging of the parasitic political classes which presently dominate in the halls of power. If the above critique is well-founded, it is clear that this would represent not a solution to the problem of modern democracy, but a support against its collapse. Yet even such a support in a moment like ours might be precious, insofar as it could afford us dearly needed time to order our souls and our affairs and to wage our ‘metapolitical war’, all of which serves to improve the chances that what awaits us on the other side of modern democracy might be at the very least tolerable.
The change in the popular mood which we have briefly sketched above can be exploited politically. This means having recourse, above all, to the popular vote; it means putting one’s support behind a certain kind of candidate, and attempting to encourage as many people as possible to do the same. In the second part of this essay, we have discussed two kinds of candidates on whom one might place one’s hopes: the long-standing politician of a minority party, or a newly arrived non-politician who appears from outside of the ‘system’ and attempts to take it by storm. Examples of the first include Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini; examples of the second, Ross Perot and Donald Trump.6
All said, and laying aside special cases, it seems on the balance wisest to aim for the first and not the second category of candidates. We have already offered critique of the non-politician who makes his debut as a kind of deus ex machina. Beyond this, one should consider that the minority-party politician is already to some extent versed in the movements of the ‘system’, and in general has had long years to build up a small but potentially robust cadre of allies or sympathetic persons, within the ranks of the political order or related spheres, upon whom he might depend. Finding himself propelled unexpectedly to a position of authority, he can, if fortunately endowed by circumstances and by his own skill and sense, make full use of this knowledge and these allies against the many obstacles that will be put up to stall him.
The non-politician who bursts onto the political stage through will and independent wealth, on the other hand, is liable to find the entire establishment arrayed against him, either out of envy, resentment, mistrust, or the simple despite of ‘foreign elements’. He will have to fight the opposition flung at him from all sides by his own strength alone, or with the aid of a number of hand-picked supporters or sycophants who themselves are equally unprotected. Everything will then depend on his calibre, and the least weakness on his part can easily be exploited to bring his ruin. It is a hundred times easier to paralyze such a lone figure and to disarm him, and few and far between will be the men who come to his aid in such straits. He will find himself denounced, and not altogether unreasonably, for his lack of experience and knowledge – accusations which can be brought against a minority candidate with much less credibility – and because he has never been tried in the political arena, practically every misstep he makes will be brought against him as definitive sign of his incompetence, inexperience, overweening ambition or personal instability. And as is always the case in harsh times, the jackals and vultures, perceiving a lone man struggling, unaided, bleeding from a hundred small wounds and fending off predators on all sides, will hasten to make the most of the occasion.
More and more importantly still, the minority-party politician has already proved himself in the decisive sense: he has shown, by the very hopelessness of his cause over the course of long years and his simultaneous refusal to abandon it, that he is not corruptible or not as corruptible as his peers. He has demonstrated that he ‘cares about the issues’, that he has some loyalty to his positions, and that he cannot be easily bought or intimidated.
It is therefore generally the case that the minority-party politician has circumstances more at his disposal, fewer enemies and greater opportunities, than the lone non-politician leader. His chance being the wider, he has better opportunity to take advantage of it, and we to profit of it. It is to such men as this that we should, in general, turn our gaze, and always with an eye toward the final moment.
These considerations will obviously change from country to country. It is clearly easier for a figure like this to ‘arrive’ in multi-party nations. In two-party contexts like the United States, on the other hand, the situation might somewhat differ. Never once in all of American history has a third-party candidate come near to succeeding in a presidential race, even when such a one had two presidential terms behind him. There is less reason to hope for the emergence of a valid third party now than ever on account of the demographic chaos of the country, while at the same time it has never been harder for men of great virtue to make decisive appearance in the major parties, as America enters rapidly into late-stage modern democracy. The great challenge facing the American New Right at present is a tendency toward great expectations exacerbated by an increasingly distraught social and demographic situation. The arrival of Donald Trump has done little to alleviate the latter, and much to excite the former. In failing to live up to his promises, he has incited the cynical anger of his constituency; but in arriving to office in the first place, he has led them to believe that another man like him might succeed in doing what he has left undone. He forced the doors of the palace with his blustering, obstinacy, vulgarity and wilfulness; but he has therefore made it possible for another, who has all of these traits but lacks even Trump’s traces of civic concern, to follow in his footsteps. The country is thus ripe, and for more reasons than just this, for tyranny. Thus, though I know my kinsmen too well to expect that they would ever consider heeding it, I would give them the following counsel: beware of embedding your hopes in some seeming political saviour; look rather to what is your principal virtue and birthright as Americans, your self-reliance, and do what you can to improve upon that. The future of the country lies no where else than that; here the modest road is the royal.
Stated generally, whether we find a candidate upon whom to lay our hopes or not, we all of us are cast back upon ourselves in times like these. We are wont to look about us for the man who will deliver us; but we often enough spend all our time looking, and fail at the same time to deliver ourselves. The nature of tomorrow depends on nothing more than this: the men who will act in it. If we are so concerned then for our future, let it be the state of our souls in that future which most preoccupies us, for that is the one matter we have fully within our control. And for a like reason, there has never been such a moment for men of great heart to step into the political arena.
In closing, we proffer a short message to our contemporary politicians, those who are already ‘within the system’, knowing full well that they of course will never read it.
You, who have spent your lives attempting to establish yourself in positions of power through the democratic vote, have certainly in all that time not been insensitive to the opinion that the people have formed of you. More and more you find yourselves mistrusted where you are not loathed, alienated from growing segments of what you have been pleased to call your ‘constituency’. You have at the same time forged for yourselves golden fetters, ceding your sovereignty in your office to the sway of wealthy and immoral men, perhaps even under the threat of their blackmail, until you find that you have become a species of slave to them. In your ascent to office, you have gained neither the love of the people nor the independence that could be hoped for from your position of authority. You have lost everything that your ambition craved, save the mere creature comforts of your rank, which could have been had with greater dignity and security in a thousand other ways. Supposing you are not entirely numb to the ignominy of your position, you will have asked yourselves if there is any redemption from it. I say to you that if even one of you were to shake off and break through, and escape from all this, trampling underfoot these spells and charms, proclaiming yourself liberated from the influence of blackguards and power-lusters, and dispelling their incantations by dragging them into the light of day, that already would shake the rot. You would be greeted as the champion of the people, and would lend your name to history. For what is wanted in our time above all other things is some sure sign of the old virtue.
1 Plato, Republic 372d.
2The only variant of such thinkers to in any way escape this damnably modern and maddeningly Enlightenment vision of the human being are those who premise their democraticalness on some notion of hierarchy among human populations. They believe, to wit, that amongst certain groups of human beings – select human ethne, that is, which are naturally characterized by a generally innate sense of ‘civic duty’, by a feeling for the whole over the individual, by sympathy for their neighbour and for the plight of others, by political uprightness and a proclivity toward honest dealings in general – democracy is possible; anywhere else, it becomes a mere wicked farce. And hardly can one deny this proposition, which has been proven to some extent by history itself. One things at once of Iceland, of Sweden (before its late globalist-induced misfortunes), of Norway. But that returns us to the question of the special nature of these very special regimes, as well as to the the cultural critique of democracy, all of which falls beyond our present purview, though in fact it really and in the last analysis contains it. – In any case, it must be said that the kind of ‘democrat’ who argues for a democracy along ethnic lines is a very rare animal, and has in the end very little in common with his ostensible, and really much more democratic, brethren. Most democrats of our own or any age fall into the category of the anti-naturists: even in antiquity the proto-‘liberals’ took up that banner. How much more so, then, their very unillustrious heirs in the contemporary world!
4Cf. Aristotle, Politics, Book III and esp. 1281a 11–28, 1285a 17–1285b 4 and 1281a 16–20. Cf. also Leo Strauss, ‘Restatement on Xenophon’s Hiero’, in On Tyranny (Chicago. University of Chicago Press: 2013), pp. 179–180.
5Cf. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil Book V ‘The Natural History of Morals’ §199 and Book VIII ‘Peoples and Fatherlands’ §256 and On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay ‘“Good and Evil”, “Good and Bad”’, §§ 16–17.
6There appears to be a third possibility, namely, a newly arrived politician; but such a one, on account of his youth and his almost certain lack of means, can at best be cultivated for the future, while here and now he is unable to present himself for rule in the highest offices of the land, which must of course most concern us at so critical a historical moment.