Democracy in Action

Winston Churchill – who, when I last checked, had not yet been canonized by the Church – made the argument we’ve all heard for democracy: “It is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” E.M. Forster’s “two cheers for democracy” might complete our non-extravagant survey. Still, I find it over-the-top.

Our political order is invested by wilder advocates of democracy; every faceless bureaucrat in our expanding police state may accompany his orders with this ideological justification. He is for democracy. Anyone who opposes him is an enemy of democracy.

It is de rigueur, to say this glibly; lest the justification encourage thought. The audience is assumed to be simple of mind; to understand only simple slogans. That comments on the proposition should not be taken seriously is part of our English-speaking argument against genuine political science, philosophy, or thought. They are just tame, artificial war cries. We must obey because “all right-thinking people have accepted this.”

And it is a lie. Very few of our ancestors were democrats, and those who proclaimed a commitment to democratic ideals were, in almost every case, unhinged and shouting slogans. For the ideal of universal equality of rights cannot survive the slightest investigation.

Why wasn’t “Democracy” proclaimed in the Middle Ages? Why was it not even mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, or the American Constitution? Why did it have to wait for the late nineteenth century to be acknowledged by the politically obsessed, who took it as their means to power; and why did it wait a few more decades, to be made the commonplace of the power-hungry? Why has it – only since – advanced against every settled and mature arrangement of social order?

These points are not, and cannot be, controversial. My summary history is plain. Yet controversy is adduced whenever history is told without the strident slogans.

It is a revolutionary action – a very successful one – and in its nature is associated with revolutionary movements, from the Reformation to the French massacres, to the Bolshevik, to the many violent revolts for “Reform” that are pushed today. It is no accident that Communists, Fascists, and other totalitarians have, from their start, championed “democracy” as their cause, and why they were in the habit of declaring “people’s democracies” when they prevailed.

For, “democracy” is a synonym of the will to power. It is the way in which the reality of power-lust is made to sound respectable. We will have democracy – the “will of the people” – and what that entails will not be discussed.

As those who have read, even modestly, in medieval political thought, must realize, our actual ancestors were quite aware of the meaning of democracy, and what it would bring. They were alarmed at the prospect. It would destroy even the possibility of peaceful consensus in a society, and promote instead competing factions. Then turn one faction against every other.

It would be the herald of “change.” It would create a new breed of politicians, or demagogues, who would achieve power by riding openly on the selfishness and self-righteousness of a client faction, against all the others. Their clients would easily believe that they had been held back, and were now promised “liberation.”


They would demand dictatorship. For every democratic innovation demands safety and security, so that it cannot be reversed. Each requires the metastasis of “checks and balances,” that will be legislated by the chief beneficiaries of the revolutionary transformation.

Democracy necessarily implies the breakdown of organic social order, and the destruction of a hierarchy founded upon the cumulative wisdom of forgotten men. This will be replaced with a new hierarchy of corruption – when authority is seized. While laws may be written to prevent the worst excesses, these cannot finally survive the triumph of the will: for it grows impatient with restrictions on the “efficiency” of revolutionary novelties.

The Founding Fathers of the American union were, in this sense, medieval thinkers. They winced at the prospect of direct mass-party elections, on the national scale. While the French Revolution had not yet occurred, they were capable of imagining what would happen when radical cells within a society could be organized as an “efficient” political bludgeon, to intimidate those inclined to resist.

Raw politics is what the formative American politicians most feared: and why, paradoxically, they allowed citizens to bear arms, as all civilized systems of government had always allowed. The people – in their flesh and blood – must keep the right to defend themselves from tyranny when it emerges. All governments can potentially go rogue.

In Canada, a nation that was once bound by sensible laws and restrictions on the “efficiency of power,” we have discovered once again what happens when a ruler and his governing party decide to set the restrictions aside, and indulge once more their monopoly on power.

Modern technology, unrestricted by anything except government legislation, will grab the authority to impose its will – through the latest digital methods – not only on individuals, but on groups attempting to go their own way. Democracy means arbitrary power, vested in those who can win elections, by any nefarious means.

A republic of lies follows from this. The capture of all “essential” bourgeois media, to present a version of reality that is monolithic, is in the end an inevitable operation. In Canada, the media are subsidized by the government. They are entitled to redefine, e.g., “diversity, equality, and inclusion” to compel a vicious uniformity.

I am tired of invocations of “democracy.” My desire is like that of the American Founding Fathers, and the spokesmen for an older British tradition, who recognized liberty as right by nature, conferring freedom upon every human being – to be abridged only for the proven criminals – and then within limits.

It has mediaeval antecedents. It suggests the development of voluntary rights, and their enforcement, once they are responsibly established, in law.

“Democracy” refutes this.


*Image: Une Exécution capitale, place de la Révolution by Pierre-Antoine Demachy, c. 1793 [Musée Carnavalet, Paris]

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David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: