Come the revolution
It is a little known, & therefore underappreciated fact, that I am not trying to overthrow the Government. Nor, though I am vexed by democracy, would I blow up the Parliament — not even if provided with the munitions gratis, & a crowd of cheering supporters. I am anyway, like the American Loyalists from whom I descend, generally opposed to the use of violence, in pursuit of political ends. And even when goaded by revolutionists, I recommend the least violent course in defence of the established order. As a tactical matter, I do not think the cause of de-politicization can benefit from extreme politicization, or that when we are (as invariably) defeated in the ballot box, we should take to the streets. For everything else that can be said against it, let me emphasize that insurrection is charmless, & beneath the dignity of the well-bred.
“Mow them down to marmalade” was the recommendation of our Canadian sage, Stephen Leacock, when considering civil disturbances of that kind. It was a last resort he was proposing, albeit with some warmth, in response to news from South Africa, where the imposition of British rule was not going smoothly (more than a century ago).
But like most reasonable-sounding men, Leacock would counsel that we start with schemes of amelioration, in order to sap the rebellious impulse. Responsible democrats, as monarchs of old, first try to buy off their opponents. To a mob that is forming, that will not listen to reason, bread & circuses may first be applied. This may work, sometimes, for extended periods. The expense inevitably rises, however, & the debts accumulate. Finally they are on the scale of Obamacare, & one can no longer afford even to pay one’s militia. “Pas d’argent, pas de Suisse,” King Louis is said to have lamented, in a mangled Racinian moment. I’m sure the freely-elected rulers of Greece have entertained the same despairing thought.
So far as I can see — & I have been looking at the history, in a life-long desultory way — democracy must inevitably end as it begins: a failed scheme of amelioration. By increments, the power of the purse is itself surrendered to the crowd, with mordant parting advice to spend it wisely. The business of holding them in thrall is transferred from hereditary agents, to the political demagogues (i.e. devils in human flesh). We have, immediately, a New Class of rulers, who differ from the Old in important ways. They are no longer in any sense minding their own business, nor spending money they might otherwise keep.
The great Pierre Elliott Trudeau provided a nice illustration, in his own person. He was the wealthy scion, from the sale of his papa’s gas station empire, appropriately enough. He was a man of style. He would flaunt his wealth in showy sports cars, suits, & an art-deco mansion in the primest neighbourhood of downtown Montreal; but for him such vanities were easily afforded. For the rest he had a very Scottish reputation (his mama was Scotch) for tightfistedness. I knew a man who knew him well: you couldn’t borrow a fiver from Trudeau. He paid his bills promptly, & no more.
But then he came to power, by popular election, thanks largely to his carefully crafted reputation as a “swinger” in the Hugh Hefner ‘sixties style, with a few added Gallic Intellectual touches. Women swooned, & fainted at his feet; men wanted to be him. Instead of the few millions he had inherited, he now controlled the bottomless billions of a modern democratic State. His spending habits changed. Paradoxically, this tight-fisted Franco-Scotchman left Canada drowning in a peacetime debt, unprecedented in our history. He’d blown the bank in budget after budget, through sixteen years. How odd, gentle reader might think, that such profligacy should come from a man who counted the nickels & dimes in his own pocket. And yet there was an explanation. It wasn’t his own money he was spending.
Bread & circuses are all very well, & the welfare state if someone can afford it, according to the best current liberal thinking (from moderate Left to moderate Right). Actually, not very well, for free money, or even the illusion of free money, has a terribly corrupting effect. Moreover, what begins as windfall, continues as contractual obligation. Tell people now that the party is over, & they won’t just thank you & go home. They will riot. I am amused by the mob reasoning the Left now employs, in its angry demands for continued pay-outs. “If you could afford this yesterday, why can’t you afford it today?” They think the Government must be hiding something. They observe rich people who have yet to be eaten: the viciously targeted “one percent.” Let the banquet resume!
It could be argued that this is a simplistic account. Not everything simple is false, however.
Some gentleman in Texas has been prattling to my inbox about our need of equality before the law, which requires, he imagines, a more general egalitarianism. It began as a discussion of the game of golf, wherein it came to my attention that the Americans have amended the rules of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrews. And done so without compunction.
“In the real world (outside your head),” my Texas assailant writes, “bias has a great deal to do with egalitarianism. Specifically, when non-egalitarian procedures are relied upon in the construction of the law, bias becomes part of the law. And, that is why ye olde aristocratic order was destroyed. It biased the political game in favour of ye olde aristocrats.”
I think what he was trying to say, in his awkward Maoist sloganeering way, is that the envy of the trolls is constantly at work, cutting down the achievements of higher civilization. But while it is true they annoy me, I am much more grieved by the sacrifice of freedom, my own in particular. There is this “game” of politics that we are forced to play, under troll rules. I don’t want to play it. I don’t want to have to defend everything I already have & enjoy from these appropriating People’s Committees. I should rather they get on with their miserable little lives, & find their own desperate little pleasures.
Now, under the laws of Old England as I understood them, an Earl reserved the right to be hanged with a silk rope. Whereas, a commoner had to settle for hemp, “the Bridport dagger.” But so what? We all hang anyway.
And it is for a rather simplistic reason that I now propose not to overthrow the Government, & seize power, & do what seems necessary by main force. It would be short-sighted. For no one in his right mind could wish to inherit the democratic legacy. And besides, none of the problems are soluble, or could ever have been solved from the top, down. Leviathan has always had his own agenda.
It is not actually “democracy” I oppose, in principle, but the power of the State. And this is immensely enhanced by the shrill whistle of mass democracy. Men are reduced to the equality of interchangeable cyphers, in the service of an incomprehensibly huge machine. The Canadian constitution, like the American & some others, made reasonable sense on the assumption of peace, order, & respect for the autonomy of the local & voluntary. I’d say restore them to what they were, if I believed for a moment that this were possible. The totalitarian dynamic is all the other way, & we only encourage it by voting.
The propaganda of the State relies on a selection of cant terms — “democracy,” “equality,” “freedom,” “human rights,” “reform,” “progress” — each an unqualified abstract conceptual designed to prey upon human credulity. As all sophistical language, such words are intended to make what is evil appear to be good, & what is good appear to be evil; to bait the trap, & oil the machinery for the Big Lie. They are for grinding down persons into a mulch called “The People,” & evaporating their human souls. I would not propose to overthrow the Government, for that would only put me in control of the machine, & make me responsible for its preservation. Instead I would propose to calmly & persistently dismantle it, from the ground up, & in the only way I can imagine it could ever be peacefully dismantled.
I revert once again to the first political principle of Confucius, & Orwell. The true reform of a political order begins when we resume using words for what they mean — & with their necessary adjectival & adverbial qualifications, in sentences that parse, & admit subsidiary clauses where & when required. It thus begins by discarding the slogans, the clichés, the formulae, the bullshit. It begins by distinguishing Heaven from Earth, & recognizing the transience of earthly arrangements, & therefore the inapplicability of absolute terms to non-absolute realities.
Not slogans, but prayers, will advance liberation. Here, to my mind, is the most radical political agenda that was ever enunciated in Planet Earth:
Pater noster, qui es in caelis: / sanctificetur Nomen Tuum; / adveniat Regnum Tuum; / fiat voluntas Tua, / sicut in caelo, et in terra. / Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie; / et dimitte nobis debita nostra, / sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris; / et ne nos inducas in tentationem; / sed libera nos a Malo.
Before those carefully qualified words, & in the blood of our own martyrs, the demonic power of the Roman State melted away, & its very gauleiters were converted.
I cannot think of any truth, goodness, or beauty, that is incompatible with that paternalist agenda. Whereas, I cannot think of any that is not potentially an affront to every earthly tyrant, whether or not freely elected as the Ruler of the People. Therefore I support this radically idle, hippie course:
“Random acts of kindness & senseless acts of beauty.”
This anti-slogan was, I gather, contributed by my babyboom contemporary, Anne Herbert, who maintains her own anti-blog somewhere (Peace & Love & Noticing the Details). She also supplied: “Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.” Whether she were from Left or Right is no matter, we are obviously on the same side. Compare & contrast:
“Revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly, & modestly. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”
In this famous analysis, Mao Tse-tung gave his position away — identical, in principle, with that of Thomas Jefferson — thereby providing my fellow “enemies of the people” with a few useful hints.
Let us advance the counter-revolution with dinner parties, essays, paintings, embroidery. Let us proceed softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly, & modestly. And when we cannot escape the ministrations of these devils in human flesh, let God help us to endure them.