In God We Trust Print
By David Warren   
Saturday, 16 November 2013

It is time I took another kick at the democrats. But note the small “d.” I do not mean to pick on the American political party of that name, nor on the other one. We call such parties “Liberals,” “Conservatives,” and worse, up here in Canada. They use “Social” this, and “Christian” that, and “People's” the other, over in Europe. These are brand names, for a fairly generic product.

And while I may dislike the brands unequally, I reserve a certain polite, or sometimes impolite, distaste for that product. Politics is a mean business, and it is “democracy” I am more and more inclined to despise.

This is a political position, of course, which I am proselytizing. While, as I mention from time to time, I do not propose to overthrow anyone's constitutional order, I am opposed to the deification of Caesar, even when he is transformed into a constitutional order. Given that the United States has gone farther than any nation state in the deification of a constitutional order, I might superficially appear to be anti-American. But “hate the sin, love the sinner” is my strict principle. Moreover, I can hardly hate Americans, since I'm (North) American myself.

Canadians have made a mess of everything with a different constitutional order. To my mind, every Western nation continues to make a mess, with this war cry of “democracy.” It has been the argument by which centralized bureaucratic tyranny has been imposed upon all of Nature's subsidiary arrangements; by which politics has been syringed into every material aspect of human life – and via the body, into the soul.

We are drugged by “democracy” – by the idea that every decision of importance must be collective. Voting has long since ceased to be one method among several for selecting officers and resolving disputes. It has rather become an echo of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that loud bugler of the neurotic and enervating.

It was he, it seems to me, who exactly projected the nature of modern “democracy,” in which, paradoxically, our “freedom” consists in becoming an anonymous member of the mass. It was he who went so far as to anticipate what I now see every day in places like RealClearPolitics: abject confusion between preference and prognosis.

Verily, I read it between every line of the pundits from all sides: a slur between what they think should happen, and what they predict will happen. This includes, to my mind, the most astute pundits, men like Charles Krauthammer with a gift for burning superficial nonsense away, and thereby exposing some of the harder choices.

Politics, he would surely agree, is an “art of the possible,” and any political course, whether “democratic” or not, must start from present reality. The most absolute tyrant must, to keep his job, adeptly judge the limits of his power. That is not the issue here.

Instead, I am drawing attention to the action of a spiritual drug. Once mass democracy is not merely established, but accepted as inevitable, it becomes nearly impossible to think in public, except in pragmatically political terms.


      “We the people” are on a wild bus ride.


This fact of modern life is exhibited in, e.g., debates over “Obamacare.” Like it or lump it, mandatory centralized policy on medical insurance is now the “given” in this debate, and the discussion is restricted to resolving its shape. All realistic positions must be buttressed with statistics, and all parties attempt to prognosticate which policies will massage future statistics in the direction most pleasurable to the (vast) collective.

“We the people” are on a wild bus ride. The discussion necessarily omits the destination of the bus, or who should be compelled to ride it. “Democracy” is so inclusive a concept, that we are all trapped aboard.

We elect the driver, though with a warning that he may soon be replaced. The passengers bicker among themselves about how he is driving, and which way he should turn. To the degree he listens, he is distracted from his driving. Occasionally some of the passengers scream that the bus will go into a swamp, off a bridge, over a cliff, into the trees. When the next vote is taken, we decide whether the screamers should be resisted or appeased.

But there is, and can be, no agreed destination. The discussion consists only of competing predictions of where, given the route most recently voted, the bus will next call.

Rousseau specified this system of government. In private life he was a sick man, and (as we would put it today) rather anti-social. His genius was such that he transformed his own unusually sordid moral condition, into the universal one: squaring the circle between liberté and egalité, the two contradictory Enlightenment ideals. (Fraternité would now be politically incorrect.) He brilliantly inverted Christian theological principles en route to his solution: so that perfect liberty now consists not in obedience to God, but rather in going with the flow.

We are all Rousseaux today, if I may use that mischievous plural. We all agree that this bus ride to Hell is inevitable, except a few eccentrics who, like me, are screaming to be let off the bus.

“In God we trust.” Well, yes, but to a foreign observer, there is a fatal flaw in this formula. It has become effectively Rousseauan. It implies that man proposes, God disposes.

Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit, which is true enough if we gloss it the way Thomas à Kempis did: For the resolutions of the just depend rather on the grace of God than on their own wisdom; and in Him they always put their trust, whatever they take in hand.

But instead we gloss it in our modern, “democratic” way, wherein vox populi, vox Dei.

Serious thinking about our political fate will begin when we stop using “democracy” as a catch-phrase or slogan, and resume wondering again, in the old Christian way, not what we want but what God wants for us; not which way is forward, but which way is Up.

 
David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: http://davidwarrenonline.com/
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

 

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