A False God Fails

As Great Britain moves towards its independence day, i.e., Brexit, a false god is failing: the god named “democracy”.  Prime Minister Theresa May, who should have gone back to her kitchen long ago, has made such a bloody mess of it that Britons are questioning the system that put her in office.  The March 31 New York Times says it bluntly:

It has amounted to a hollowing out of confidence in democracy itself.

“I don’t think the central institutions of government have been discredited like this in the postwar period,” said William Davies, who teaches political economy at Goldsmiths, University of London. . . “the political elites–people just want them to get off the stage.  I don’t know who they want to replace them.  But there’s a sense a reboot would be something people would be in favor of. . .”

“I think people have totally lost confidence in democracy, in British democracy and the way it’s run,” said Tommy Turner, 32, a firefighter.

Fortunately for Britain, democracy, in the form of the House of Commons, does not rule at all.  There is still the House of Lords, which is usually more sensible than Commons, and there is the real sovereign, Queen Elizabeth.  If all else fails, the Queen can rule as well as reign.  Evelyn Waugh put British democracy in its place; when asked why he did not vote, he replied, “I do not aspire to advise my Sovereign on her choice of servants.”

Since World War II, Western political elites have promoted democracy as the universal patent medicine.  Whatever ails a society, the cure is democracy.  Democracy is the only possible form of government for any and all peoples, regardless of anything beyond their own village.  This is, of course, the Whig view of history.  As the late rector of my (Anglican) church said, “It is true only of Britain that its whole history can be summed up in four words: Tory good, Whig bad.”

As our ancestors knew, democracy is suitable for few places and those small.  New England town meeting democracy works.  It works because it is small, so people know whom and what they are voting for.  They cast their votes seriously because they will themselves be directly affected.

Democracy works in Switzerland.  It works because, again, it is local–the cantonal, not the federal, government is the most powerful–and because the Swiss are a serious people.

Democracy used to work in the United States, in Great Britain, and in a few other places.  But both Americans and their British cousins have become frivolous peoples and their governments are now centralized and remote.  The result is what history has seen many times: democracy has made way for oligarchy and both countries are now ruled by a political elite that is both incompetent and corrupt.  The false god has failed.

So what comes next?  China is working hard to make the world safe for autocracy, and for most of the world, that is a good thing.  As the Chinese people say, “Better a hundred years of tyranny than one day of anarchy.”  A competent, benign autocracy is the best most of the world’s people can realistically hope for. They will be lucky if they get it.

Another alternative is to reduce the scale of government, to push power down so that most governmental actions are taken at the local level.  This would reflect the important conservative principle of subsidiarity: all decisions should be made and action taken at the lowest possible level, with matters being pushed higher, to state and local governments, only when local solutions are impossible.  But that would displace the corrupt oligarchy in Washington (and London and Berlin etc. etc.,), which will resist with all its vast resources.

A third possibility is Fuhrerprinzip: power goes to whomever can lead and get results.  Somewhat discredited since 1945, when the results were not entirely happy, the elevation of strong leaders to power, at every level within a state, not just at the top, has its merits.  As we tire of the consequences of worshipping weakness, womanishness and “victimhood” among the ruins of our culture, an opposing cult is likely to arise, one that favors the strong, the masculine, and the winners.  At a certain point in decline, results become more important than process.

And finally, there is my favorite: legitimacy, i.e., rule by a monarch from a princely house.  As British democracy fails, Her Majesty waves her wave and waits.  Prince Charles waits too, and he is a doer.  He would make a splendid monarch for a post-democratic Britain.  Commons will still sit, of course, but it will no longer be a dictator.  The British constitution will be restored and rebalanced.

And here?  My choice would be an Austrian Hapsburg, ruling benignly over many local democracies.

Someone once asked the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef what his actual job was.  He replied, “Protecting my people from their government.”  That sounds like just the job we Americans need done in Washington today.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.