The Monarchist reported previously this month on an article by Roger Scruton earlier this year, with a few quotes, which could be said to be democratism or democracy as more or less blind faith or ideology and its opposition in a nutshell.
This October marks the 110th anniversary for two important critics of democracy. October 22, 1903 was the date of the passing of W.E.H. Lecky, the author of Democracy and Liberty. On the the last day of that same October 110 years ago, the French nobleman and thinker Bertrand de Jouvenel, a member of the Mont Pelerin Society, was born.
W.E.H. Lecky wrote of the worship of democracy:
However unscrupulous, however dishonest, may be the acts of a party or of a statesman, they are considered to be justified beyond reproach if they have been condoned or sanctioned at a general election. It has sometimes happened that a politician has been found guilty of a grave personal offence by an intelligent and impartial jury, after a minute investigation of evidence, conducted with the assistance of highly trained advocates, and under the direction of an experienced judge. He afterwards finds a constituency which will send him to Parliament, and the newspapers of his party declare that his character is now clear. He has been absolved by ‘the great voice of the people.’ Truly indeed did Carlyle say that the superstitions to be feared in the present day are much less religious than political; and all the forms of idolatry I know none more irrational and ignoble than this blind worship of mere numbers.
Of the connection between liberty and democracy, Lecky wrote:
As we have, I think, abundantly seen, a tendency to democracy does not mean a tendency to parliamentary government, or even a tendency towards greater liberty. On the contrary, strong arguments may be adduced, both from history and from the nature of things, to show that democracy may often prove the direct opposite of liberty.
He wrote this, not in this century, nor the past century, but in the century in which for the most part Queen Victoria sat on the Britannic throne.
Bertrand de Jouvenel, the author of On Power and Sovereignty, wrote, on a similar note:
The mistake is one which was exposed in advance by Montesquieu: “As it is a feature of democracies that to all appearance the people does almost exactly as it wishes, men have supposed that democratic governments were the abiding-place of liberty: they confused the power of the people with the liberty of the people.” This confusion of thought is at the root of modern despotism.
The French nobleman goes many centuries back into history:
So said John of Salisbury in the twelfth century: “The difference between a prince and a tyrant is that the prince obeys the laws and governs his people in accordance with right.” This formula receives its full force only if it is remembered that what is here referred to is a law and a right which issue from a source higher than Power.
Also said de Jouvenel:
The adjective “absolute,” generally used today as a vague term of abuse, has in reality a well-defined meaning: it translates the phrase “legibus solutus” – freed from the laws. Now who is the more uninhibited by the rules? The man who is morally bound to observe the rules, though not subject to sanctions, or the man who is in a position to change them at any moment? Clearly the latter. For that reason the movement in time toward a sovereignty with unrestricted legislative power has been a movement toward absolutism, and the period which we call the absolutist period was in fact only that of the gestation of absolutism.
[P]articipation in government (absurdly called “political liberty” when it is in reality one of the means given to the individual of safeguarding his liberty against the unending onslaught of the sovereignty) has come to seem to him more precious than liberty itself? That this participation of his in Power has sufficed to induce him to raise up and encourage state encroachments, which have, thanks to the approval of the mob, been carried to much further lengths than absolute monarchy could ever have carried them?
Another of Bertrand de Jouvenel's wisdoms:
Why does the modern state meet no organized resistance?
The ancien régime met with such resistance, which was offered it by the representatives of the various elements in the nation who fought in line against Power. But in the modern regime these elements have become Power, and the people are left in consequence without a champion. Those who are the state reserve to themselves alone the right to talk in the name of the nation; an interest of the nation as distinct from the interest of the state has no existence for them.
The general view in our own times is that societies have always acknowledged an authority which, as Jurieu puts it, has no need to be right for its acts to be valid – an authority which creates and destroys rights to any extent and has nothing but its own will to regulate it: sit pro ratione voluntas. Current belief is that this authority was formerly in bad hands and today rests in good hands, and to have put it in good hands is the only safeguard as to its use which can be given to the citizens. But it is a mistake to suppose that over time Sovereignty has merely changed masters. More than anything else, history records the actual erection of this boundless and unregulated Sovereignty of today, of which our ancestors had no conception.
The only effect of the proclamation of the sovereignty of the people was to substitute for a king of flesh and blood that hypostasized queen, the general will, whose nature is always to be adolescent and incapable of personal rule; the occasional inconveniences which arise in a monarchy during the minority or mental incapacity of the sovereign being now permanently present, the aforesaid queen boldly entrusted her person to a succession of favourites, who abused their position the more freely the less she became an object of controversy. The only possible safeguard was in the sense and morals of that regency council, the sovereign assembly.
The frenchman nobleman said elsewhere:
What in fact happened was that the laws came to be looked on as mere regulations which were always open to criticism and revision.
The life of democracies has been marked by a growth in the precariousness of laws. Kings, chambers of peers, senates, anything that might have checked the immediate translation into law of whatever opinion was in vogue, have everywhere been swept away or rendered powerless. The law is no longer like some higher necessity presiding over the life of the country: it has become the expression of the passions of the moment.
The legislative authority, now regarded as the expression of the will of all, or, more accurately, of the whole, exercises a total sovereignty. Who dares hinder it?
Moreover, the French nobleman wisely said:
It is possible, with the help of prudently balanced institutions, to provide everyone with effective safeguards against Power. But there are no institutions on earth which enable each separate person to have a hand in the exercise of Power, for Power is command, and everyone cannot command. Sovereignty of the people is, therefore, nothing but a fiction, and one which must in the long run prove destructive of individual liberties.
And our final quote:
[Authoritarianism] could, no doubt, have been avoided if there had been a stable, vigorous, and unified executive to which the legislature acted merely as limitary principle. But in fact, as we have seen, the contrary happened: the legislature made itself the ruling sovereign.
More wisdom and reflection like this can be found in the works of these two fine late gentlemen.