The critics of Democracy

Over at Rod Dreher’s blog a commenter states:

… as democracy goes on its horizons are increasingly limited to the individual and the state—the individual as the reason and justification of all social life, and the state as the ultimate horizon of human experience and life, accountable and subordinate to nothing beyond it. Hence why ‘government is just the word we use for things we do together’ is thought to be just common sense, and why politics is considered to be *the* vehicle for human flourishing. Everything is politics, because politics is the final horizon that shapes the conditions for individual liberty…

As a consequence increasingly democracy actively seeks to form people as little more than worker-bees, consumers, and pleasure seekers and begins to use its authority to marginalize and harass those groups that seek to create a social life that catechizes people into a different vision of the good life based on different metaphysics.

I think the commentor accurately describes how the history of democracy has unfolded in practice. But he takes it a step further and argues that this is how democracy works intrinsically: a democracy will always devolve into hedonism, collectivism, and the politicization of everything.

Given the vicissitudes of history I doubt that, and there are counter examples: a Benedictine monastery is democratic: leaders are voted in by the members of the community, and they govern according to the Rule, but no one would argue that a monastery inevitably devolves into hedonism, or starts interpreting its own politics as the primary means of human flourishing and bullying members who want to serve a greater good.

Democracy is not the only way to arrange the nation, and nation states are not the only way to arrange the world: we could revert to feudalism or Empire and we would just be exchanging one set of problems for another. Or we could say “fuck it, less all starve to death” and finally give international socialism a try. The critics of democracy on the alt-right don’t have any solutions except an absurdly stupid crush on Vladimir Putin (if you are going to worship power, at least worship real power, not the tin-pot dictator of a no-longer great nation teetering on the edge of a demographic death-spiral).

The problem with replacing democracy and the nation state is that the only other serious option out there is the attempt to sneakily replace them in all but name with an unaccountable bureaucratic class (Progressivism = rule by self-proclaimed experts) and that strikes me as the worst possible model: dishonest, naive, and transparently selfish to all but its advocates.




  1. “Democracy” in the Western world is now equated with freedom, liberalism, as if these were all good things.

    What is seldom understood however, is that freedom can have a much darker side while authority can be a blessing. I sometimes think of an orphan now having the “freedom” to go fend for themselves. That is NOT preferable to the authority of loving parents who chose too look after you. Having the “freedom” to go dig in the garbage for scraps is not the most desirable state of being.

    “a democracy will always devolve into hedonism,” it will if it is not governed by a recognition of the value of authority and the collective values of those who submit to such authority. The only reason why America has survived as a grand experiment, is because of our Christian values that tend to frown on hedonism. The farther we move away from them however, the more hedonistic our democracy becomes. That is how gender becomes a matter of perception, human will, that is how we come to redefine marriage, that is why we start splicing 3 way DNA to create designer babies. There is no place unrestrained human will won’t go.

  2. Interestingly enough Insanity’s comment elicits the obvious problem with the alt-right side of the argument: she’s happy with authority instead of democracy- or so she thinks. All it would take is for someone with a different vision of the world to have the authority and I guarantee she’d be bouncing off the walls.
    That’s why the fathers of modern democracies came up with such exceptional frameworks for life. Individual liberties, freedom of religion, freedom of the press- these are all concepts that guarantee the largest amount of freedom for the largest amount of people. Certainly imperfect, but undoubtedly the best that humanity has been able to come up with.

    P.S. the idea of the “self proclaimed” expert is hardly a political phenomena as evidenced by the many faux-experts putting themselves forward- however that doesn’t mean real experts who know what they’re talking about aren’t out there. They are and what they say has value if they can back it up with evidence.

    1. What you really have is “fake” and “real” experts both spouting evidence and both sounding quite reasonable if you accept the premises of their arguments. In some disciplines (especially sociology, but also some economic or environmental issues) there is no difference between a fake expert and a real one either because the disciplines they claim to be experts in are not subject to hard and fast rules (like math and physics are) or because we simply don’t understand the all the elements in the system and therefore can’t make any predictions concerning them.
      And we know from experience that the experts are often wrong. We laugh at the expert advice from yesteryear, so why do we listen to it today? Because for the Progressive the important thing is not getting the right solution, but making sure the right people, their kind of people, are in charge, be they right or wrong.

      1. Religious people say that when the evidence doesn’t match their religion.

      2. Which is not relevant to the conversation, which is about how to govern a society.

      3. It’s entirely relevant because it’s the evidence that demonstrates which policies decrease crime, decrease violence, decrease abortion, decrease accidental deaths, decrease deaths by cancer, and so forth. The verifiable evidence.

  3. “Interestingly enough Insanity’s comment elicits the obvious problem with the alt-right side of the argument: she’s happy with authority instead of democracy- or so she thinks.”

    No. Actually I am quite pleased with those who recognize that government by it’s very nature, even democratic government, is authoritarian, and quite terrified of those who never make that connection. Those who never make that connection tend to be the ones who persecute Christian grandmas for refusing to do flower arrangements, all in the name of “tolerance.”

    1. Only if you don’t actually understand the meaning of the word authoritarian.
      Modern democracies have found a way to balance the rights of all individuals. Each and every citizen can choose any religion they like and apply its tenets to *themselves*. If you’re Muslim or Jewish, for example, you have the right to follow a religious tenet of both those religions which is not eating pork. The second you try to make another person follow that rule, then you’re interfering with *their* individual freedoms and personal liberties. Authoritarian would be obliging every citizen to eat pork or banning pork all together.
      It’s actually a very simple concept which unfortunately people like you don’t seem to understand.

  4. “The second you try to make another person follow that rule, then you’re interfering with *their* individual freedoms and personal liberties. Authoritarian would be obliging every citizen to eat pork or banning pork all together.”

    So then, it would be very authoritarian and dictatorish to punish a florist for not wanting to provide flowers for your wedding or another who doesn’t want to bake a cake? Like fining these people hundreds of thousands of dollars, shutting down their businesses,and seizing their homes, pretty much violates their individual liberties and personal freedoms?

    I quite agree. And yet that is exactly where societies always arrive when we fail to understand that government is force, always. It is hidden right there in the word, “enforcement.” It is not that I embrace authoritarianism, it is that I know from experience that those who would deny the nature of power are always the same ones who would usher us towards fascism the fastest, always for our own good of course.

    1. Read back what you wrote: Would it be authoritarian to fine a florist for *not selling flowers*, or to fine a baker for *not selling a cake*? Although most likely a waste of time, it wouldn’t be authoritarian because there are basic principles of decency civilized societies respect and non-discrimination is one of them. When I’m hired to research a work of art, my responsibility is to do the research and possibly facilitate a sale; either directly or by putting the client in touch with the most appropriate sales venue which could be a specific collector, dealer or auction house. It’s not my place to ask the client about who they sleep with, what contracts they’ve signed with other private citizens, what they intend to do with the money they make from selling their artwork- or anything else relating to their private lives. Their life is none of my business. My job consists of a specific activity and denying them service based on their identity is the very definition of discrimination and goes against the proper and smooth functioning of society.
      Your suggestion sounds fine to you because you get to be part of the group *in this case* which does the discriminating. Surely you’re not stupid enough to understand that that dynamic would allow Muslims to refuse service to women not wearing veils, even bar them from establishments. It would allow Catholics to not serve Protestants (remember the troubles in Northern Ireland?), it would allow Pakistanis to not serve Hindus. To promote social cohesion and avoid the marginalization of any particular group, civilized societies worldwide developed non-discrimination practices based on the concept of the individual liberties as framed during the Enlightenment. None of which are authoritarian because there’s no “burden” placed on a worker which is asked to offer exactly the same service he offers regularly. A baker bakes, a florist makes arrangements.

      1. The point of contention is not whether it is acceptable to deny service to one group or another but to what degree can you coerce someone to participate in an activity she finds repugnant.
        The question in the case was not whether the florist would serve a homosexual – the couple were long-standing patrons of hers – but whether she would participate in an event she considered sinful.
        Now you can argue about whether the participation was direct or indirect, they were not asking her to officiate or anything just do the flowers, but that is a different argument.

  5. “… it wouldn’t be authoritarian because there are basic principles of decency civilized societies……To promote social cohesion..”

    Welcome to fascism 101. Authoritarians never see the nature of their own power and they can justify any atrocity in he name of the common good.

    1. Is it an atrocity to bake a cake or to sell flowers? Or is it more of an atrocity to refuse service to black people?

      1. It’s an atrocity to take someone’s business, seize their home, drag them through the courts, and financially cripple them with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

        Why do this to another human being? Because the woman didn’t want to make you a flower arrangement.


        That’s the very epitome of tyranny and you can’t even see it.

      2. Fascinating! So it’s an atrocity to complain if someone doesn’t obey the law, but it’s correct and moral to disobey the law?
        Your utter stupidity never ceases to astound me. You simply can’t have it both ways, which is what you continue to fail to address. If laws allow for discriminatory practices, that opens the door to a sectarian society where people divide themselves along tribal lines. It creates ghettos and is bad for society as a whole. It’s bad for business, it’s bad for safety, it’s bad everything except for the sectarian leaders who live off of division.
        Why do you think business premises cost more in Manhattan, Paris or London than they do in any Islamic country? Because Western laws guarantee everything from being able to make a return to knowing people won’t be refused service based on their gender or religion. In Northern Ireland people lived and shopped *only* in their own communities. How well do you think that works out? How do you think India was working before partition?

  6. “the couple were long-standing patrons of hers – but whether she would participate in an event she considered sinful.”
    There’s a clear line right there. The idea of passive or active participation is a stretch. A stretch into the absurd. If her participation is limited to making flower arrangements and handing them to a delivery person at her own premises, there’s no burden on her whatsoever. If they’re asking her to actually set up the flowers at the event, then there is.

    1. But you see it is a different argument, not at all the one you were making.

      1. It’s precisely the argument I was making. That if a person does a job they don’t get to refuse their normal service based on the identity of the client. Not to mention what I’ve always held which is if people behave like polite decent human beings I very much doubt there’d ever be an issue.

      2. No, not precisely, but I won’t belabor the point.
        Where do you draw the line? What sort of activities would someone in a service job be allowed to pass on? If I were a tailor I’d have no problem having a white supremacist as a customer, but I would not want to sew his funny little hoods for him, even if there is nothing illegal about it. Where is the line to be drawn?

      3. The line is drawn by the law in almost all of Western civilization. Do you need me to point out how many countries that is?
        The only two that have had difficulty with comprehending civil liberties and individual rights were Apartheid South Africa and Jim Crow USA. Every single other country was capable of writing laws that balanced individual and collective rights.

  7. […] and so any opinion on a matter has the same value. You can see an attempt at promoting that trope here. This is, of course, an old religious tactic. The obvious problem is in the math, they rely on the […]

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