Here is a stunning ’graf:

“In most parts of Europe, democracy took firm root only after the killings and expulsions of World War II turned countries that had once been home to a large number of minorities deeply homogeneous. Democracy in those places is a creation of the nation state, and for outsiders, membership in those nations has always remained difficult and incomplete.”

This was found by a reader in Slate, of all unlikely places (here). The author, Yascha Mounk, is often an interesting pundit, but beyond this excerpt, the piece is a journalasmic spundle, and the tension Mounk cites between “illiberal democracy” and “undemocratic liberalism” is, the more I think of it, blather. In particular, his notion of undemocratic liberalism — “rights without democracy” — is not something foreseeably upon any table, for there is nowhere in our power elites, or among their populist opponents, a coherent notion of what “rights” might be, let alone their relationship to “custom.”

Here is the paradox that is not a paradox. To the inheritor of power, the idea that rights are also inherited is not hard to grasp. To those who achieve power through their own efforts (whether by electoral methods, or by coup), rights are something that power may dispense — on a level with welfare payments, at best. In a fully functioning, advanced democracy, rights are not recognized but conceded, and those who still have them can only defend them if they are willing to play politics themselves — to which end, they will need to mobilize and coordinate large numbers, or ski the ideological slopes.

We start with illiberal, nanny-state democracy; we end with the democracy part gone. The practice of letting people alone, to make their own lives within their own immediate surroundings in light of their own traditions (with the superaddition of a little physical security) was what came down when the war cry for “democracy” went up — going back one additional World War, and then some. “Classical liberalism” has never been attractive to self-interested politicians; it would leave them with too little power. The word “liberal” is itself something they have adapted to their own uses.

A much less trivial account may be found in e.g. Rémi Brague’s essay, “Are non-theocratic regimes possible?” (here). We post-moderns are under the impression that we have overthrown theocracy — by replacing one kind with another, and imposing it with more arbitrary force.

While superficially, the replacement of God with an abstract conception of Man has demolished “mystical” religious authority, it has done so, and could do so, only by setting a new god, or Mammon, on the cosmic throne. (My terms now.) And this Mammon demands sacrifices much bloodier than will be found in e.g. the ancient Catholic Mass.

“Democracy,” before the World Wars, could exist only in homogeneous countries, and there, only when long-established custom, plus carefully articulated legal principles, prevented the masses from getting involved. From the first breach of populism — the first realization through income tax and other fetters, that one could vote to appropriate someone else’s property — democracy was going to be totalitarian.

Soviet Communism lasted an amazing seventy-four years. In most countries that such as Mr Mounk would call “liberal democracies,” the system has enjoyed a shorter span.

I am not surprised that it is cracking up. I am rather impressed that it could last this long.