The modern conflation of democracy with the welfare state to the contrary, there is, in fact, a vast, actually unbridgeable, gulf between these two things. Democracy had previously assumed a citizenry independent enough—socially, financially, intellectually, and morally—to be able to form fair, balanced, and informed opinions concerning public matters and issues of state. The welfare state is based on the opposite premise: that a substantial proportion of its citizens is incapable of managing their lives without the state giving them money and moral support, and telling them what to think and do. This is why liberal democratic capitalism is not, as has been claimed for it since 1945, the ne plus ultra of the modern enlightenment; why it makes no sense either in theory or in practice; why it is assiduously destroying both itself and the civilization that created it; why, in short, liberal democratic capitalism doesn’t work. Proof of its unworkability is the current financial, political, and social crisis in Europe and in North America.
A fundamental problem here is universal suffrage. Before the mid-19th century in the United States and the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe, suffrage throughout the Western countries was restricted by the “stake in society” principle. The idea was that only those who had something to lose from political activity should be considered morally responsible enough to take part in it—or, as we say today, to be granted a “voice” in politics. In those days, politicians knew their classical political theory, for which it was axiomatic that to give the lower classes a voice in politics was actually to give them shouting rights to dispossess the higher ones. Ultimately, academic theory and popular politics compelled the political class to retreat from what it recognized to be both political common sense and a bulwark of civilization by giving in to the demands of the mob, which in Jacksonian America meant the vote and in Victorian England and Bismarck’s Europe the vote plus the welfare state. Since that time, universal suffrage and the welfare state have prevailed throughout the Western world under the banner of liberal democratic capitalism, or simply “democracy.”
One might be excused for supposing that people who demand a welfare state are people who feel themselves incapable of successfully providing for their own welfare. If that is what they really fear, then perhaps it is unfair to blame them for casting a vote on behalf of setting some political-bureaucratic structure in place to do it for them. That, one could argue, suggests at least a minimal capability for initiative and effort. But these are not the people who designed the welfare state, constructed it over a period of several generations, and have been running it ever since—who, indeed, are the welfare state, in spirit and in fact. When we speak of the welfare class, we should really intend to designate, not the dependent clients of the state, but the managerial elite that caters to and manages these dependents—after having, to a substantial degree, created them.
Conservatives from the beginning have accused liberal and socialist politicians of encouraging poor, and not so poor, people to sign up for benefits, go on the dole, join “the culture of welfare.” That they certainly have done, and continue to do. Yet, after generations of welfare, this has become a secondary concern. The crucial problem today is not, narrowly, that the welfare state encourages indolence, lack of initiative, and the exploitation of the public purse. It is that, by assuming that a significant percentage of the demos is incompetent to look after itself, and that therefore nothing should be required of it, either by the state or by society itself, it helps to form a dependent mind. (Individuals or private entities who do demand something in the way of standards of behavior are accused by the political class of insensitivity, bullying, and the victimization of vulnerable innocents.) If the proletariat did not exist, it would seem, it would have been necessary to invent it. As it happened, invention was not required—but expansion was, and so expansion has continued to occur with no end in sight until, it appears, in the not so distant future the publics of the Western nations will have all become thoroughly proletarianized.
The great question for democracy is, If the proletarian is deemed incompetent to take charge of his own life, how can he be expected to have a responsible voice in running the state? No politician, democratic or otherwise, honestly believes that he can be. And indeed, his assumed competence to understand questions of state, and his good judgment in these things, is not really the modern democrat’s defense of the principle of universal suffrage. His private interest is. The personal interest of the voter, not the good of society or of the nation, is the justification for consulting the advice of the incompetent ignoramus or ward of the state at the polls. Even a good-for-nothing fool, modern democrats assume, is capable of perceiving his own interest and has an inalienable right to vote it, no matter the consequences for the broader interest. But the first of these propositions is questionable, and the second is simply wrong. Most democratic politicians naturally understand all this quite well. They know that the prole is likely to vote intelligently on any matter of public importance only by accident, but they don’t care—so long as he is competent enough to vote for them.
The chief problem with any country anywhere, at any time, has always been a problem with its upper classes. The fish rots, as they say, from the head. “[T]he first law and principle,” wrote Chesterton, “of an aristocracy is this: that so long as the democracy believes in aristocracy, the aristocracy may safely believe in democracy.” He was speaking, it seems, of aristocracy as a class, but in a particular way also of that familiar type (in Britain, especially): the eccentric aristocrat ready and even eager to adopt unwelcome positions and advance outrageous arguments against the interests of his class. We live in an era when the aristocratic principle of society has been definitively replaced by the democratic one. Even those aristocrats who have not surrendered unconditionally to the democracy are confused and disoriented, having fallen into general disuse in a world that no longer has any use for them—corroded in spirit as a sword relegated forever to the scabbard rusts within the velvet lining. The old nobility, however philistine and nonintellectual it might have been, had a grasp at least of physical and practical realities, and of common sense—a grasp in which our modern political class is hopelessly deficient. In those times before democracy was completely ascendant and a balance still existed between the aristocratic principle and the democratic one, popular influence in politics could be regulated by a limited suffrage. Obviously, that is no longer possible; nor, alas, is it desirable.
Limited suffrage is valuable only when a true aristocracy, or a genuine upper class, is present. The absence of either is dangerous, but their replacement by a counterfeit version is disastrous, politically as well as socially. In a world upright, society is headed and governed by a conservative class, managing and restraining liberalizing and potentially revolutionary elements below it. In our world, which is a world standing literally on its head, the governing class is the revolutionary party, and the single homogenized class below it the antirevolutionary, though innately progressive, one. Hence any restriction of the suffrage, besides being a political impossibility, would guarantee the unchallenged dominance, and ensure the ultimate victory, of the destructive ruling class. The situation is historically unprecedented, and there is no prospect that it can correct itself anytime soon.
The anomaly extends further still. What remains of traditional social arrangements is being supported and defended by the lower, more ignorant, and least sophisticated members of society against a wealthy and powerful elite that is expensively educated in falsity, unreality, fantasy, and untruth and aspires to the status of a meritocratic aristocracy, despite being antiaristocratical in principle and without having a true idea of what aristocracy really is. We are in a through-the-looking-glass world in which the Red Queen cries “Off with my head!” before retreating precipitously into a gated castle compound resembling a Sofitel.
Liberal democracy understands suffrage not simply as a human right but as a test of whether government recognizes its citizens as human beings. But you do not dehumanize a man by denying him the right to vote. You dehumanize him through what Kenneth Minogue calls the politico-moral agenda, which assumes the infinite plasticity and malleability of human nature, or at least that of the middle and lower human orders. The revolutionizing elite in the Western democracies is working to create a demos incapable of officially unapproved actions, including speech, because it has been programmed to think only officially approved thoughts. While that goal has yet to be realized, those of a “servile mind” are recognizable in modern Western publics by their progressive reluctance or incapacity to think for themselves, act for themselves, do for themselves. The servile mind is both a product of what Minogue calls democracy as “a transforming ideal of social life,” and an accomplice and facilitator of that ideal, which is wholly incompatible with the traditional idea of constitutional democracy.
Biologists, zoologists, animal behaviorists, keepers, trainers, and handlers are currently involved in a rancorous debate about whether animals have emotions. As a recent writer on the subject has noted, no pet owner has the least doubt that they do. But the “scientists” say otherwise, and they will not hear the scientific evidence for such a thing. Jeffrey Masson suggests that this denial that animals experience emotions comparable to the ones humans feel is a sort of power play, similar to that by which Europeans once denied the humanity of savage and primitive peoples. “How can we be gods if animals are like us?”
Perhaps the same dynamic is behind the politico-moral project, which assumes that the mass of humanity is innately plastic and can be bent and shaped to the liking of the gods who designed that project and are attempting to impose it on the global scale. Democracy is no longer about freedom and equality. It is about power, and it will continue to be about power, until democracy abandons its effort to produce people who are progressively less capable of fulfilling the duties and meeting the responsibilities of ordinary democratic citizens.