Tag Archives: democracy

How Democracy Made Us Dumb


By ilana mercer

From the riffs of outrage coming from the Democrats and their demos over “our democracy” betrayed, infiltrated even destroyed—you’d never know that a rich vein of thinking in opposition to democracy runs through Western intellectual thought, and that those familiar with it would be tempted to say “good riddance.”

Voicing opposition to democracy is just not done in politically polite circles, conservative and liberal alike.

For this reason, the Mises Institute’s Circle in Seattle, an annual gathering, represented a break from the pack.

The Mises Institute is the foremost think tank working to advance free-market economics from the perspective of the Austrian School of Economics. It is devoted to peace, prosperity, and private property, implicit in which is the demotion of raw democracy, the state, and its welfare-warfare machine.

This year, amid presentations that explained “Why American Democracy Fails,” it fell to me to speak to “How Democracy Made Us Dumb.” (Oh yes! Reality on the ground was not candy-coated.)

Some of the wide-ranging observations I made about the dumbing down inherent in democracy were drawn from the Founding Fathers and the ancients.

A tenet of the American democracy is to deify youth and diminish adults. To counter that, I’ll start with the ancients.

The Athenian philosophers disdained democracy. Deeply so. They held that democracy “distrusts ability and has a reverence for numbers over knowledge.” (Will Durant, “The Story of Philosophy,” New York, New York, 1961, p. 10.)

Certainly, among the ancients who mattered, there was a keen contempt for “a mob-led, passion-ridden democracy.” The complaint among Athenians who occupied themselves with thinking and debating was that “there would be chaos where there is no thought,” and that “it was a base superstition that numbers give wisdom. On the contrary, it is universally seen that men in crowds are more foolish, violent and cruel than men separate and alone.” (p. 11)

Underground already then, because so subversive—anti-democratic thinking was the aristocratic gospel in Athens. Socrates (born in 470 B.C.) was the intellectual leader against democracy and for the even-then hated aristocratic philosophy. Socrates’ acolytes, young and brilliant, questioned the “specious replacement of the old virtues by unsocial intelligence.”

The proof of the foolish, violent and cruel nature of the crowds is that the crowds, not the judges, insisted on making Socrates the first martyr of philosophy. He drank the poison at the behest of the people.

No wonder Plato, Socrates’ most gifted student, harbored such scorn for democracy and hatred for the mob—so extreme that it led this controversial genius to resolve that democracy must be destroyed, to be replaced by his planned society; “the rule of the wisest and the best, who would have to be discovered and enabled.”

Plato’s “Republic,” seconds the Economist, “is haunted by the fear that democracies eventually degenerate into tyrannies” (June 22, 2019). To libertarians, Plato of the planned society was wrong. However, the fear reverberating throughout his “Republic” is righteous.

A democratic utopia of freedom cannot come about because of the nature of man, thought Plato. Men “soon tire of what they have, pine for what they have not, and seldom desire anything unless it belongs to others. The result is the encroachment of one group upon the territory of another.” (“The Story of Philosophy,” p. 19.)

Plato agreed, that “the diversity of democracy’s characters … make it look very attractive.” However, “these citizens are so consumed by pleasure-seeking that they beggar the economy”; so hostile to authority that they ignore the advice of sages, and so solipsistic and libertine that they lose any common purpose.

Most agreeable to libertarian thinking was Aristotle, who ventured that democracy is based on a false assumption of equality. It arises out of the notion that “those who are equal in one respect (under the law) are equal in all respects. Because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.” (P. 70)

Tocqueville, too, was not sold on the new American democracy. He conducted “his extensive investigation into American life, and was prepared to pronounce with authority [about what he termed the new democracy].” (Russell Kirk, “The Conservative Mind,” Washington D.C., 1985, 205-224)

The American elite, Tocqueville observed, does not form an aristocracy that cherishes individuality, but a bureaucratic elite which exacts rigid conformity, a monotonous equality, shared by the managers of society.” (p. 218) Remarking on “the standardization of character in America,” Tocqueville described it as “a sort of family likeness” that makes for monotony. (p. 210)

What menaces democratic society … [is] a tyranny of mediocrity, a standardization of mind and spirit and condition …  The mass of people will not rest until the state is reorganized to furnish them with material gratification.”

“Pure democracy makes libertarian democracy impossible,” posited Tocqueville. (p. 213) “In America, the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within certain barriers, an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them … his political career is then over, since he has offended the only authority able to defend it. … Before making public his opinions, he thought he had sympathizers, now it seems to him he has none any more, since he revealed himself to everyone; then those who blame him criticize loudly, and those who think as he does keep quiet and move away without courage. He yields at length, overcome by the daily effort, which he has to make, and subsides into silence, as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth.” (p. 218)

Consider that Tocqueville was writing at a time so much smarter than our own.

Tocqueville in the 19th century, and Solzhenitsyn in the 20th, noted that conformity of thought is powerfully prevalent among Americans.

This column, now in its 20th year, can attest that writing in the Age of the Idiot is about striking the right balance of banality and mediocrity, both in style and thought, which invariably entails echoing one of two party lines and positions, poorly.

Let us not forget Friendrich Nietzsche (admired by H. L. Mencken, whose genius would have remained unrecognized had he been plying his craft in 2019).

Born 39 years after Tocqueville, Nietzsche saw nothing good in democracy. “It means the worship of mediocrity, and the hatred of excellence. … What is hated by the people, as a wolf by the dogs, is the free spirit, the enemy of all fetters, the not-adorer, the man who is not a regular party-member. … How can a nation become great when its greatest men lie unused, discouraged, perhaps unknown … Such a society loses character; imitation is horizontal instead of vertical—not the superior man but the majority man becomes the ideal and the model; everybody comes to resemble everybody else; even the sexes approximate—the men become women and the women become men.” (“The Story of Philosophy,” p. 324.)

For their part, America’s founders had attempted to forestall raw democracy by devising a republic.

In his magisterial “Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government,” constitutional scholar James McClellan noted that universal suffrage and mass democracy were alien to the Founders: “They believed that a democracy would tend toward mediocrity and tyranny of the majority.” Writing about the first state constitutions (penned between 1776-1783), McClellan attests that, “A complete democracy on a wide scale was widely regarded throughout the colonies as a threat to law and order.”

Why, Pennsylvania became the laughingstock in the colonies when it “abolished all property qualifications for voting and holding office. This confirmed the suspicions of many colonial leaders that an unrestrained democracy could drive good men out of public office and turn the affairs of state over to pettifoggers, bunglers, and demagogues.” A conga-line of those you witnessed at the CNN/New York Times Democratic debate, the other day.

“The Founders wanted representation of brains, not bodies,” observed McClellan, noting that, at least “for a number of years, the best minds in the country dominated American politics.” No more.

**

Watch ilana mercer’s entire address, “How Democracy Made Us Dumb,” on YouTube.

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Brexit and the British State


Brexit and the British State

By Duncan Whitmore

Following the drama of the past two weeks which culminated in the embarrassing behaviour of opposition MPs blocking the Speaker’s chair in the moments of Parliament’s prorogation (pictured above), we can hope for some dying down of the recent hysteria now that they have been royally booted out for a month. At least, that is, until October 19th, when Boris Johnson must either pull a new Brexit deal with the EU out of his hat or ask for an extension to the October 31st deadline.

In the meantime, we can enjoy the comedy value of the Labour Party trying to square the circle with its Brexit policy. Trapped between a rock and a hard place by its support coming from both working class Leave voters on the one hand and middle class, liberal Remainers on the other, their aspiration is to negotiate a new deal with Brussels in order to show their Leave credentials. But they will then call a second referendum in which they will campaign against their own deal in favour of Remain. Such absurdity has driven even Remain-biased journalists to barely concealed sniggering. On Wednesday of this week, deputy leader Tom Watson chimed in by suggesting that Labour should campaign for a second referendum ahead of voting for an Autumn general election (the conditions for which Labour has already shifted several times since they backed the Brexit delay bill last week). Given that Labour is the official opposition and, by far, the second largest party in Parliament, whatever it chooses to do is likely to carry more weight than whatever the likes of Little Bo-Swinson and the disproportionately mega-mouthed Ian Blackford have to offer. So, amidst the hyperbolic outrage at the Scottish Court of Session’s finding that the prorogation of Parliament was “unlawful” (strange how there were no screaming headlines when the first instance judges drew the opposite conclusion) as well as at the release of the worst case scenario no-deal planning documents this will probably be the only thing to keep much of an eye on for now. Read more

Trump, Brexit and Leftist Delusions – A Taste of Things to Come?


Trump, Brexit and Leftist Delusions – A Taste of Things to Come?

By Duncan Whitmore

Over the weekend Special Counsel Robert Mueller finally concluded his investigation into the possibility of “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia in the run up to the 2016 presidential election. A summary of the findings released by Attorney General William Barr cleared Mr Trump of the allegations, thus ending a wrangling, two year process that has seen a number of Trump aides prosecuted for peripheral charges but nothing that smacks of being in bed with “the enemy”.

Over here in the UK, final frustration with the quagmire of the EU withdrawal process on the Remainer side has led to a petition to revoke Article 50 receiving a record breaking five million signatures, while a “People’s Vote” march in London on Saturday apparently attracted more than one million attendees – both dubious figures, incidentally. Thus, we are now expected to believe that the “will of the people” has turned against a Brexit that never could have been anything other than a complete, unmitigated disaster.

All of these events represent, on both side of the Atlantic, the childish attempts by the leftist-liberal elite to block out of their minds the possibility that maybe – just maybe – their vision of globalisation, open borders, multiculturalism and ever greater degrees of economic control in the hands of multinational institutions really isn’t what millions of their fellow countrymen and women wanted. That may be Trump really did get elected to office fairly and squarely, and it was not a foreign-orchestrated stitch up; that may be the British people didn’t just swallow a bunch of “lies” from the official Leave campaign, nor was their vote for Leave, to quote Lord Adonis, a “populist and nationalist spasm” rather than the manifestation of a long, deep seated antipathy towards the EU that has been bubbling under the surface since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty.  All of these charades by those on the losing side have been nothing more than exercises in coating themselves in yards of bubble wrap – postponing the day when they have to step out of fantasy into reality, and realise that their visions of a world order that seemed so secure prior to 2016 are, in fact, crumbling around them. Read more

Church, King and State – Decentralisation and Liberty


Church, King and State – Decentralisation and Liberty

By Duncan Whitmore

Introduction

It scarcely needs to be said that life as a libertarian theorist and political activist is an often isolated and lonely existence. Even though we often have the evidence to illustrate that we are correct, our ideas are ridiculed, if they are ever listened to in the first place. While “free-marketism” from the point of view of generating “economic efficiency” enjoys a seat at the table of the mainstream and may, depending upon the circumstances, disseminate views which are taken seriously by the highest echelons of government, radical libertarianism does not. We are a bare minority of extremist nutcases, deluded by the romantic fairytale vision of the industrial greatness of the nineteenth century, the reality of which, we are told, meant spoils for the rich and destitution for the masses. Our intellectual heroes are derided as dogmatic crackpots who would do away with all of the civilising achievements of our social democratic world order and consign us all instead to a vigilante society reminiscent of the “wild west”.

Having said of all of this, the endeavour to justify libertarian principles is only a small part of the battle. In fact, the biggest difficulty in such justification is not in crafting high quality arguments that will consign statism and socialism to the intellectual rubbish heap. Rather, it is the fact that the die is so heavily weighted in favour of statism, and that the willingness to accept any kind of confirmation bias, however minute, for the status quo is so eager, that even if one was armed with a fortress of insurmountable libertarian arguments the debate could still be lost. No doubt many libertarian has been in the position of having taken a horse to water only to find that he will not drink – and that, sadly, we must be prepared to wait for him to realise that he is dying of thirst. Read more

Why Libertarians Should Read Mises – Part Three


Why Libertarians Should Read Mises 

Part Three 

By Duncan Whitmore

In this final part of three essays exploring the importance of Ludwig von Mises’ for libertarian thought, we will examine Mises’ views on the fundamental importance of economics in society, and the meaning of this for understanding the particular nature of the state and statism in our own time. We will then conclude (in a separate post) with an annotated bibliography of Mises’ major works.

 The Fundamental Importance of Economics in Society

Mises had a particularly insightful understanding of the special, foundational status of economics and the influence of economic theory in human society. In his own words:

Economics […] is the philosophy of human life and action and concerns everybody and everything. It is the pith of civilization and of man’s human existence.

[…]

Economics deals with society’s fundamental problems; it concerns everyone and belongs to all. It is the main and proper study of every citizen.

[…]

The body of economic knowledge is an essential element in the structure of human civilization; it is the foundation upon which modern industrialism and all the moral, intellectual, technological, and therapeutical achievements of the last centuries have been built. It rests with men whether they will make the proper use of the rich treasure with which this knowledge provides them or whether they will leave it unused. But if they fail to take the best advantage of it and disregard its teachings and warnings, they will not annul economics; they will stamp out society and the human race.1

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Interview: Analysing ‘Democracy, The God That Failed’


By Andy Duncan, Vice-Chairman of Mises UK

With the PFS 2018 conference rapidly coming up at Bodrum, I thought it might be worth dusting off an interview I did a couple of years ago with a friend of mine, Greg Moffitt, from the Legalise Freedom podcast.

Greg had earlier contacted Professor Hoppe to ask whether he could interview the current Dean of the Austrian School about his books, particularly, Democracy – The God That Failed. To my great personal surprise, the professor had then directed Greg to contact me instead, to sort of stand in as an ‘Ersatz’ Hoppeian!

As an Austrian, and as a believer in a totally voluntary society, it’s really difficult to think of any higher honour, so I stepped manfully into the breach.

In preparation for the interview, I re-read all of the main Hoppe books, and then in this quite extensive interview, we discuss most of them, with me in an unfamiliar role as a podcast guest rather than in my more familiar role as a podcast host.

Although most of the podcast is dedicated to DTGTF – along with Hoppe’s other major works – we also cover a number other books, by various other Austrian luminaries, so it really is quite a smorgasbord of Austrian economics.

Anyhow, that’s enough talking, here’s the podcast:

Book Review of “Against Democracy” by Jason Brennan


Recently, I heard interesting things about a new book “Against Democracy” by Jason Brennan. “A brash, well argued diatribe against the democratic system” and “Sure to cause howls of disagreement,” said one reviewer. “Reveals libertarianism’s bankrupt conscience,” said another. “Among the best works in political philosophy in recent memory,” said a third. I rarely review books; it’s a lot of effort, often for little gain. But in this case, I decided it might be worth my while to buy, read and comment on this book. And I wasn’t disappointed.

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