In Defence of Democracy

I expect many people won’t agree with what follows. But there seems little point in writing if the only objective is to imitate those around us, as if we were shadows on walls aping others’ movements. So much harm can come from this shadow dance. Not so much from what is said, but what is left unsaid. Because if we merely repeat what we consider to be the popular response, we will become a people who will be silent about many things.

It seems strange that I should have to qualify my support for the practice of rule by majority verdict. That it wouldn’t be the popular thing. Except it is. Our view of popularity is warped by the losers being much louder than the winners. By them thinking that they know better. But unless we respect other people’s opinions, we disavow our own, because in a democratic system neither can survive without respect, and they of course have no future without survival.

In recent times bashing democracy has become a popular pastime. Not a day goes by without the majority’s judgement being questioned, and without their choice being attacked. Many do so by invoking the spirit of the high ideals western civilisation has been built upon, including democracy itself. But in affirming democracy, it appears as if millions of people are actually rejecting democracy, without knowing the difference.

Democracy can’t succeed unless the losers concede defeat. What we have seen from some quarters is an increasing unwillingness to do so. A multitude of excuses have rained down on proceedings like a monsoon.

We have had personal scandals, Russian conspiracies, Ukrainian conspiracies, character assassinations, violence on the streets, rent-a-mob protests. And much else besides. We are led to believe that all of it is justified; that the establishment’s lamp is shining a light on corruption. But it’s as if the devil himself is lighting the lamp only to make everything appear as it is not. Because on both sides of the Atlantic nothing has come from these attempts other than an ongoing obstruction of government. In the US the failure to bring an administration down has certainly not been through a lack of will. In the UK efforts have been every bit as desperate, if only more civil.

In both countries what can only be described as the weaponisation of the legal system has been an unwelcome development. And for what? Either the winners’ heinousness is somehow escaping eagle-eyed justice, or the losers are emptying their arsenal of bad faith. But I would tentatively suggest that if these frenetic efforts had as much substance as billed, they would have met with more success than just the vitiation of democratic will.

Many have welcomed these interventions. Their bias has afflicted them with a feverish misapprehension that the law is the last bastion of justice; that it is the guardian of public interest. But anybody with a trace of common sense must know that legal processes will probably work against democracy, but quite certainly in favour of an oligarchy. In a society where power goes with wealth and where wealth is in an extreme state of inequality, extending the powers of the law means something quite different from extending the powers of the public.

If those with material wealth or position can muzzle those they disagree with in an electoral system, the public become little more than chimpanzees at the ballot box. As it is the vote is reduced to scrawling an illiterate X in one of two boxes. But now it appears as if it’s effectively an X in one box. Because if we so much as dare to put an X elsewhere we are treated as primates who are not able to follow simple instructions. Not only are our wishes not respected, we’re insulted for having them.

This has a destabilizing effect. People don’t like to be treated as fools. They prefer their abjection to have the character of self-determination.

Put simply, we either have a democracy or we don’t. If we desire a system that is genuinely democratic, public choice must be the means as well as the end. Otherwise we live in a system quite different. One in which people are told to keep their minds on their work, pay their taxes and leave matters of the state to the state.

It requires tacit and explicit consent for a small class to rule over a much larger class. The democratic process is part of that consent. When you toy with it, you toy with the very basis of the social contract itself. A house with rotten foundations will eventually crumble, for we should always remember that there is a marriage that cannot be endured by anybody or anything: to be overworked and neglected.

Neither can a house at war with itself survive. Indeed, the constant barrage of negative, sensationalist media coverage has achieved little but impede governance and inflame tensions. Every stone thrown has disrespected the vote of hundreds of millions of people. And more troublingly, its long-term effect will be to threaten salubrious dialogue. I think it’s no coincidence that society has become more polarised since electoral results started to go against the established order.

As for those presently siding with an anti-democratic power smarting from electoral defeat, they may get what they prefer in the short-term, but in the long-term the surrendering of popular consent to the expertise of a ruling class is very dangerous. Because what happens when it is their democratic wish superseded by ‘expert’ edict? It’s surely foolish to think that it won’t be. To forgo your democratic say for favoured short-term results is akin to wanting to trade real beauty in exchange for its appearance, like gold for bronze. One principle is ageless, the other will only have its moment in the sun, before it’s lost to Time’s Caprice.

“The democratic tendency… leads men unceasingly to multiply the privileges of the state and to circumscribe the rights of private persons… often sacrificed without regret and almost always violated without remorse… men become less and less attached to private rights just when it is most necessary to retain and defend what little remains of them”

– Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

If we want to retain our rights and freedoms, we must keep one eye open like a watch-dog and keep guard even when rested; we must remain ever attentive to the ruses of those who wish to subvert them; we must never grow complacent, always remembering how hard people worked for them and under what harsh conditions. Because a “[Citizens’] chief business… is to remain their own masters”.

The surest way of doing so is by the upkeep of a democratic system fit for purpose, by the people and for the people, with public servants accountable to the electorate they serve. The surest way of doing so is to not be a part of a process that constantly denigrates our fellow citizens, scolding them as if they were wayward children. We must at least consider that we sit in the same schoolroom as they do. I’m afraid that in such a world, if Truth and Honour are the objectives, it isn’t the children who receive gold stars who are the most enlightened.

In fact, if we are unable to assert ourselves by making meaningful democratic decisions, we may as well be tots in a nursery. In other words, if we lose the responsibility for these rudimentary functions and forms of freedom, we lose not only our citizenship, but our adulthood. You only have to take one look at the television and cinema listings to discover that we are championing this infantilization in more ways than one.

There’s not a huge number of positives to take from this infernal mess in the play pit, but at least the people paying attention should realise that the liberal establishment holds them in utter contempt. All people. Because wherever your loyalties lie, the attempt to cancel a vote is the attempt to cancel every single vote cast; an attempt to constantly hinder an administration, not through debate, but by slinging mud, is itself an attack on every single person. Because democracy isn’t simply the public’s opportunity to ratify what has already been agreed; nor to be induced, through the art of manipulation, into accepting it. For democracy to have any real meaning it is surely that the masses can go against the wishes of a governing class, and for their wishes to be respected.

The Holy EU Empire

“So the story of man runs in a dreary circle, because he is not yet master of the earth that holds him”

– Will Durant, American writer, historian and philosopher

History’s a broken record because the forces that drive it never change. Always in affinity with what went before, everything in existence, material or immaterial, is the progeny of something else. Which is to say that there is never a clean break from the past. It’s always present. This is true of ideas and beliefs as it is the winds of political change.

Henry VIII

Recently Professor David Starkey drew a comparison between Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Church and Brexit. It’s fought over the same territory. It’s fought over jurisdiction. And it’s fought over the meaning and significance of sovereignty. You could go further and say that Brexit is analogous to the Reformation itself, which was the desire to practice one’s religion free from the restraints of a despotic regime naturally craving the fundamental characteristic of despotism: control.

In order to get his divorce from Catharine of Aragon, Henry is forced to sever religious and political ties with Rome. Because England is subordinate to a European court, to which it pays hefty subsides, which has already refused to grant him his request. The Roman Church’s hold over English affairs isn’t a forceful one, but a moral, political and economic one. In Tudor England there are Catholics whose loyalty remains with the ancient regime and attempt to thwart partition. Henry purges them and this purge continues right up until the English Civil War.

To do all of this, Henry, a formerly staunch Catholic, jumps on the coattails of an already established seditious movement, and uses it to seize power from the despotic Church.

If you replace Henry VIII with Boris Johnson, the Church with the European Union, ‘Remainers’ with Catholics and the seditious movement with Brexit, you will see close parallels with the political landscape of today.

The Reformation started with the subversive infiltration of Protestantism, but Brexit has been triggered as a result of the angry backlash to the apparent infiltration of the nation’s socio-economic-political structure with huge combinations of transnational capital and agents loyal to its bureaucratic institution, namely the European Union.

It should always be repeated that the country never voted to join the EU. In 1975 the country voted to join the European Economic Community (EEC), a vote which merely ratified the country having already entered in 1973. Since then more powers have been ceded in an ever closer political and economic union, with the EU in its current guise being established in 1993 after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, which was followed by the Treaty of Amsterdam, Treaty of Nice and Treaty of Lisbon.

This transfer of more and more power through the backdoor represents a major, mostly silent reordering of the bonds that bind us. Of the social contract itself. The reason for this silence is that established power is asking the public to accept in practice what they know perfectly well they wouldn’t accept in theory. And though the conscious manipulation of the masses is an indispensable element of societal control, the current schism exposes the failure of silence and contrivance to steer public opinion away from an outdated belief system: the love of country.

This failure is responsible for the widening chasm between the beliefs of the liberal establishment and the bulk of the population, and between popular sovereignty and parliamentary sovereignty. And this is despite the current liberal establishment not daring to admit to what it believes. As a class they are non-literal Mohammedans who continue to wear the garb of Christ, observing the Eucharist while facing Mecca.

Taken as a whole (and considering the signing into soft law in December last year of the UN’s Global Compact for Migration, which creates an international structure of resettlement, with migrants having the right to settle where they please, national governments being encumbered to ensure they are safely housed and provided for and to enact legislation to criminalise as hate speech anyone who criticises mass immigration) you would have to conclude that the liberal establishment believes in the disintegration of the nation state. Of most nation states, for that matter. Which, by inference, points to a largely invisible, hegemonic global power, of which the EU is one head of the Hydra.

This isn’t democratic, how could it be? The centralisation of power over a vast area is to democracy what the Vatican is to religious self-determination.

Mutual ideas and beliefs are the pillars that hold up the edifice of a healthy society. They are the glass in which the social cocktail is housed. When they start to breakdown, society itself starts to breakdown. And presently in Britain, as in the rest of the Western world, we are seeing cracks, major fault lines in the very structures that hold it together. The reason is that because the fabric of power has changed, its accompanying beliefs have changed.

In the past, attempts to make radical changes to belief systems have invariably met with bloody resistance. Since WWII the global establishment has tried to avoid this by implementing its grand vison by slow degrees, of which the EU is but one manifestation. Other trading blocks, and global institutions, such as the IMF and UN are others. They are proxies of a transnational power that seeks to dissolve national boundaries and establish a global control grid, which conceals its power by leaving the various forms of nationhood largely intact.

To-date, its success has been proportional to its ability to hide its own mechanisms. A transnational power that has been marked by sly infiltration, not philosophical and religious conversion. Indeed, most of the talk of those loyal to the EU consists of sophistries and excuses invented to patch up a corrupt compromise of a transnational oligarchy. Thus, worship isn’t a social undertaking, but a private one.

But this network, of which the EU is a vital cog, is failing. The genie is out of the bottle and the troglodytes are out of the cave. The torch of nationalism the world over has caught alight. It will either be quelled by persecution or it will spread like wildfire; because until this point, the establishment’s attempts to throw cold water at it have only exacerbated the blaze.

The Brexit debacle is the white smoke billowing from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. It’s the signal that our relationship with power has changed.

The question is, what do we do about it?

The Brexit Carnival

The concept of democracy is very simple, or at least it should be. It’s that citizens should be given an equal choice over their collective futures; where welfare is the social object, and normally will is the social law. Take the example of a plane crash in which 20 people are left stranded in the wilderness. Who would rule? Could the strongest and cleverest rule without the other 19 submitting to his/her authority? If their talents are used for the community, then they are the servant of the community. And the community is sovereign. If their talents are used against the community, why should the community submit to them?

In such a simple example we can see the benefit of rule by popular consent. We also see that there’s clearly a direct relationship between the freedom of choice and results. The problem is that the directness of this approach has been corrupted in a society which is infinitely complex; in a system where nothing is straightforward; where all paths are meandering even when they are meant to be straight. The fault, therefore, isn’t with the concept of democracy per se, it’s that anti-democratic things have hidden themselves within this complexity and seek to thwart and undermine it by ingeniously presenting its own self-interest to be in the democratic interest of all.

Of course, in a system that calls itself a democracy, anti-democratic elements will only be tolerable if they mask a substantial part of themselves. It’s rather like the Carnival of Venice where masks give wearers free licence to do as they please. Occasionally, however, the mask slips, and we see the true face of power in all its ugliness; we may even see the identity of those who are committing debauched acts. And in recent times, nowhere has the Carnival’s spotlight been shone more than on Parliament’s handling of the Brexit referendum.

A referendum is perhaps the purest form of this direct method of governance, so it is perhaps unsurprising that in this most indirect of systems there’s been a failure to fit the most direct of all ideas. But the clash isn’t necessarily between simplicity and complexity, it’s between sincerity and insincerity. And the battleground, as ever, is the economy. It seems the main contention to upholding the result of the referendum is that it “would be bad for the economy”, while a no-deal Brexit “would be catastrophic for the economy”.

One MP who is a loyal slave to the economy is Hilary Benn, who has motioned the Benn Bill, which essentially aims to block a no-deal Brexit. This hastily written bill has been passed by Parliament. The official position of Labour, the opposition party of which Benn is a mutinous member, is to renegotiate a “good deal”, then put that before the public in a second referendum in a binary proposition with remain. Labour first said that they will then campaign for remain because it would be “better for jobs and economic security”. Now, after attracting a considerable amount of public ridicule for this stance, they say that they will be “neutral” in that scenario. Yes, really.

To my knowledge the media hasn’t seriously analysed this prevention of the possibility of a no-deal. Lamely repeating ad nauseam that “no-deal would be catastrophic for this country”. Nor has it adequately analysed the very deliberate attempt to thwart the result of a popular vote, as we see inferred by Labour’s official Brexit policy. It merely wheels out cherry-picked expert after cherry-picked expert with dire economic forecasts; talking point after talking point that roll off the tongue like a Bishop reading the liturgy from a holy book.

Media talking points fall upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the details and obscuring features. It’s a gentle process that accumulates over time, for if the storm was more violent, it would be more visible. But because a small clearing in the wood can be worth more to us than whole forests of mere entanglement, let’s point out the obvious. To block the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is to block Brexit itself. Because all the EU needs to do to keep the UK in the union is to offer terrible deals making remain the only viable option. At the very least, the prospect of securing a deal advantageous to remaining will be successfully negated.

The Bill therefore can be rightly described as a “Surrender Act”. Because a very rudimentary understanding of the concept of bartering is clearly missing from Hilary Benn’s motion. Rather, it’s designed to immure the pro-Brexit Government in paralysis. And attempts to prevent a snap election merely deepen that paralysis. Such disingenuous prevarication has marked parliament’s stance on this issue. In what is a very clear circumvention of a democratic vote, the largest mandate in British electoral history.

To be, on the face of it, so ignorant of basic trading principles makes one a little sceptical of the judgement of those who are keen to invoke trade as a good reason to suspend the democratic will of the people. If, as I suspect, parliament is not ignorant of trading principles and has cynically passed the bill to thwart the result it, in turn, makes one cynical of their concerns. Which seem to centre around short-term economic problems and not long-term predictions. Indeed, decisions grounded in the short-term tend to fail in the long-term. But regardless, even if they were sincere and their concerns justified, it is quite immaterial to the question at hand.

Surrendering everything to trade and commerce is not democracy. Capitalism is not democracy; and is admittedly, at various gradations, rather against democracy. Did it not occur to the purveyors of sound economic planning that the vote could have been about culture and identity, and not the God of GDP? In fact, inherent in the very notion of voting is the suggestion – and what so many journalists seem so eager to forget – that the country and its economy is the servant of the people and not that the people are servants of the country and its economy.

If parliament refuses to uphold a democratic vote it ceases to be credible. Actions signify more than words. You can’t speak the words of democracy while walking the walk of dictatorship. Because it is simply not tenable that the result that failed is the same as the realities that did succeed.