Friday, September 23, 2016
Bring Back The Monarchy! Democracy Is Outmoded And Broken
Democracy is looking a bit frayed these days. Winston Churchill noted that “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others which have been tried from time to time”, but only 70 years have passed since his confidently optimistic statement; and more and more people in the United States and abroad are wondering whether we are stubbornly holding on to a political philosophy which has had its day.
It certainly looks like democracy is broken. Violent protest – without the fundamental core values that animated civil disobedience during the War in Vietnam and the Civil Rights era – has taken over many metropolitan areas. In previous years there was a distinct moral point to protest. Vietnam was an unjust war based on a shaky understanding of history, a cavalier brutality which killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. Rolling Thunder was a vengeful, spiteful, and frustrated attempt to bring a small nation with legitimate political aspirations, to its knees. There was a point to the protests against it.
A hundred years had passed since the end of the Civil War, and yet by the late 1960s, Jim Crow was a pervasive as it ever was. The South was still a militantly segregationist land, and few in either the North or South were disposed to true black liberation. The freedom rides, sit-ins, marches, and assemblies made sense because, although they disrupted the status quo and provoked violence, they were well within the acceptable limits of the democratic process.
The race riots of the 60s in Watts, Newark, Detroit, and Washington, DC are back with a vengeance. The 14th Street Corridor in the District, the epicenter of the violence in 1968 is just now fully recovered but the memories of the firebombs, shooting, and mass destruction of whole neighborhoods not only still remain but are returning with a vengeance.
The temperate democratic process seems ill-suited to violent protests whose legitimate starting point – questionable police action within minority communities – has been lost in a wash of anti-white and anti-police hatred. Worse, these riots have been reflexive, based not on the facts (police departments and individual officers have been exonerated by the courts in Baltimore and other cities), but on emotional presumption. The white cops had to be wrong given the decades of police abuse in black neighborhoods. Hysteria built on emotion built on frustration and anger, built on a hundred years of seemingly insoluble problems has caused chaos, a disregard for law, social probity, and community integrity.
Race relations, despite a black President in the Oval Office are – or at least seem to be - worse than ever.
Much has been made of income inequality in America with the top percentiles holding a disproportionate share of the wealth. While incomes have been rising, particularly among the middle- and lower-middle class, there is a perception that the United States, if not quite an economic oligarchy, is close to it. Wall Street scandals and complicity in the near ruinous downfall of the financial system, have all added to the view that the American economy is top-heavy, ruled by insiders with cozy relationships to government, and insulated from the needs of working Americans.
The credibility of Congress is at its lowest level for decades and for good reason. Political obstructionism is the go-to tactic in partisan war, compromise a thing of the distant past, and decisions influenced by wealthy donors and powerful lobbyists.
The current (2016) presidential campaign – one of the most divisive campaigns in recent memory – is not a one-off but a spawn of this democratic dysfunctionality. Donald Trump has tapped into the frustrations of the white middle class which feels besieged by government interventionism. Deeply-held social, moral, and religious values are being swept aside by the progressive juggernaut. Not only do these voters feel economically and socially marginalized, but feel increasingly put upon by arrogant secularists who dismiss their concerns out of hand.
It may be that this period of divisiveness and social resentment will pass; that troubling problems of race, income inequality, and failing public education, and a general dumbing down of the electorate will be resolved. It may also be, however, that the entire democratic system needs structural reform.
There are some who feel that American-style democracy will never recover from this political chaos. Redesigning the architecture, rejiggering the laws of the land, adjusting capitalism will never be enough. Bring back the monarchy!
Dostoevsky wrote in The Grand Inquisitor chapters of The Brothers Karamazov that people don’t want the free will that Jesus offered in his defiant rejection of the Devil’s offers. Men want only ‘mystery, miracles, and authority’ and will willingly give up free choice and individual expression for them. This, Dostoevsky went, enabled the institution of a venal, manipulative, and authoritarian Church and denied humanity of the divine promises made by Christ.
He was right, of course; and he was not the first nor the last to consider the banal, uneducated aspirations of most men. Our own Alexander Hamilton fought Jefferson in heated arguments about the rights of man. Jefferson wanted a populist democracy in which the majority was not only right but wise. Hamilton knew that the opposite was true; and that unless America was led by aristocratic, highly-educated, wealthy men, it would fall into chaos. The Senate was the weak compromise made between the two.
Democracy of course is a very new idea, and for millennia societies were ruled by kings, queens, emperors, and popes. Regal courts were always the centers of learning, art, architecture, and science. It was understood well before the statistical concept of the bell curve, that only a small percentage of any given population would be born with the intellectual gifts to create and lead; the strong will and desire to defend and expand territory; and the social savvy to maneuver the treacherous waters of palace politics.
The rest of society would produce according to its abilities. There would always be a warrior class, a merchant class, and a working class. There was no point to increased access to society’s lower echelons, for there were very few from them would ever make the grade. The result of such a concentration of ability, talent, will, ambition, and strength has produced Athens, Rome, Persepolis, Constantinople, the great dynasties of Egypt, India, and China.
India’s much reviled caste system is an excellent example of this rational realism. Hindu society was always divided. The priestly caste ruled, the warrior caste defended, the merchant class facilitated trade and commerce, and the lower castes labored. Not only was this system similar to those of Western empires, it was codified and justified by it. Remaining in one’s caste with no mobility was not an unjust penalty but an opportunity. The road to spiritual enlightenment is far easier to travel if it is unencumbered by meaningless, illusory ambitions.
It is not surprising to see the world reconfiguring along ethnic and religious lines. China has insisted on ethnic homogeneity or at least absolute integration of minorities within the majority Han culture. It has equally insisted on maintaining strong central authority. A country of over a billion-and-a-half people, many of whom are still low-income and low-status cannot afford the time or energy to manage a pluralistic democracy – especially when it looks like that in the United States.
Perhaps most importantly, Chinese culture is still Confucian – highly ordered, organized, respectful of order and authority, and following millennia-old moral and ethical principles. By comparison, the United States
Russia’s President Putin has made no bones about his designs to restore Russia to the glories and power of its imperial past. The ethnic Russian-speaking majority must be consolidated, strengthened, and reassembled. Democracy is a non-issue for a strong leader for whom endless debate – American-style – over narrow parochial ambitions is irrelevant and disruptive.
ISIS, whatever its fortunes, simply gave a militant posture to long-held pan-Islamist sentiments. The idea of a religious caliphate ruled according to sharia law and traditional Muslim principles is not new. Many traditional, conservative Muslims espouse the idea of religious uniformity if not hegemony. The division of church and state is an irrelevant issue, since God’s law will always be supreme. Iran is not an anomaly.
Europe, already fractured by Islamic separatism, is becoming destabilized by waves of Muslim refugees from the Middle East. While many may be religiously moderate, there is little doubt that the demands for cultural separatism already seen in France, will increase. Assimilation may be the hope of secular Germans, but the social reality will be far from it.
A democracy in which significant numbers of citizens and residents refuse to abide by democratic, secular rules is no longer a liberal democracy. France seems entirely befuddled by recent events. It is proud of and wishes to retain its policy of laicism – We are All French – but its chances of so doing seem unlikely if not remote.
Either the new configuration of Europe is drawn along religious federal lines – states within states to accommodate the new separatism – or government regimes become more and more authoritarian, demanding as Russia and China have done absolute compliance to national majority norms. The latter is the more likely.
Many years ago, long before the Afghan wars but at a time of ethnic rivalry and warfare, many thought that the best political option would be to restore the monarchy – bring back the King. Monarchs have impeccable national pedigrees, with family lines going back a thousand years. They represent the people in a cultural historical way – i.e. with far more legitimacy than a government elected under suspect circumstances, by an uneducated electorate, and for only a few years at a time. National unity has always had a cultural cast.
The United States of course has no monarch to bring back; but we are no different from any other people who only want mystery, miracles, and authority to help orient and guide our lives. Liberal democracy and market economics are procedural values. They lack the deep moral authority of Confucius or radical Islam. America has no underlying cultural principles. We have no storied imperial or dynastic past like Russia or China. We are a Christian country but irregularly so, unlike Indians for whom Hinduism guides every aspect of religious and secular life, or Islam guides Iranians.
‘Freedom’ and ‘Liberty’ are abstract terms – means to an end in a country without any real ends; and now in this end-game period of democracy, this lack of a moral, philosophical, cultural, or imperial anchor is very evident.