Hierarchy or mediocrity?

It is for others to judge our merits, defective as their judgements may be; it is for Another to come to the correct and final Judgement. It is not, as I was taught even by post-Christian parents, for us to put ourselves forward. For that is in poor taste at the least, and ugliness provides, like pain, the signal that something is more deeply wrong. (That is why the aesthetic aspect of education must never be neglected.) Our task should be acquiring the merit instead, and should it go entirely unrecognized in this world, perhaps we should be grateful for having been able to avoid much unnecessary grief.

When the prize is power, the ambitious man becomes more than a bore and a jackass; he becomes a public threat. It grieves me that our entire political system is based on the notion that candidates for public office should compete for it.

I was pleased to see, in the penultimate thread, a member of my Commentariat, who wanders off and wanders back, finding solid Augustinian and Thomist ground from which to mount one of my own favourite attacks against bourgeois democracy. It is this notion that men shall not push themselves forward. The point, as Mr Prenot understands, pertains to more than candidates for election, strutting on their own supposed virtues. We have a political system in which, to get the job, one must demonstrate convincingly that one is the person least suited to be trusted with it. But the issue is much broader than that: broader than party politics, in the strict sense.

(Now curiously, Mr Prenot’s adversary on that thread, made an equally compelling point, describing, as it were, the flip side of the same coin. When a man is called to a task, including the task of captaincy, it ill suits him to decline the responsibility, and go off to be a hermit somewhere. The saints understood this: that God has placed us in this world, and under obedience.)

Our whole economy is based on advertising, and our (North) Americanism is anchored in an ideal of commercial aggression. The competition we hail has little to do with the quality or even price of the goods, but rather with cheap “lifestyle” or “coolness” factors. Goods not advertised disappear from view, and in corners of the economy where I happen to know something about the goods themselves (the word encompasses “services” incidentally), I often regret the ease with which the mass-market publicity specialists are able to abet Gresham’s Law. Codes of “truth in advertising” only contribute to this. By a common agreement to forego the overt lie, the advertisers are able from all sides to focus their pitches on claims that cannot be disproven; in other words, claims that have no substance whatever.

Which takes me to a further point. While it is unbecoming in any man to push himself forward, or make a garish display of his wares (or hers), his success will not be assured in the small society, where people know each other by name and reputation, make observations with their own eyes noses and ears, and decisions whose consequences will be felt immediately. The mass market, in politics as in business, makes such direct human judgement nearly impossible. We are atomized — one man one vote, whatever the product that is for sale — and each man is very far, from power even over his own immediate environment, as from anything resembling real information. “Democracy” (and I mean this term to apply to more than the mechanics of elections) has made him a truly meaningless cog in a machine that is ultimately controlled by faceless yet self-interested characters.

The mass market, in politics as in business, works with statistics. The individual voter or other consumer is digitized — is reduced, in each and every calculation, to a one or a zero. Only ciphers can be “equal,” and men are made ciphers for the express purpose of manipulating them.

In the small society, people can see who is the natural leader, and instinctively support him. No one needs to strut: whatever the job, the man who can best do it will be revealed in the doing itself. Whether that small society is a village, or a chamber ensemble, we can see who should play first violin. I have myself been fortunate to obtain plenty of experience in such small societies wherein, from top to bottom by a natural hierarchy, the members were not externally sorted, but in effect sorted themselves, into a team with their natural captain. This is how the world works, by natural design. Our abstract and artificial arrangements subvert this natural order, with results we can see all around in the triumph of ugliness and mediocrity.


An aside. The next person to quote Churchill’s, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others,” will be shot.

It would be truer to say, “Democracy is the worst form of totalitarianism, except for all the others.” But unlike that typical liberal, Winston Churchill, I am no fan of totalitarianism.