Power plays

One of the more laughable claims for “democracy” is that it is government by the people. As I’ve mentioned before, perhaps too many times, it is rather government by the politicians. True, the masses — ever inchoate — have the luxury at intervals of tossing them out; of replacing one batch of politicians with another. This begets dangerous illusions. Occasionally, a demagogue arises who may seize power in a fluctuation of the public will. But he will have his own agenda, and the chance that a demagogue will restore timeless constitutional norms, thus free a people from under the weight of accumulated bureaucracy, is nil. That would dissipate his power. By overturning such checks and balances as stood against him, he will adapt society itself to his own preferred ideological ends.

This may sound the ranting of a political pessimist. It is. Too, I am a “cynic” in these matters, according to the common (and fallacious) definition of that word.

For their part, the people think well of “democracy” when they are able — beyond the usual Pavlovian adherence to such abstract propositions as “democracy” itself, “equality” and so forth — to calculate that they can get the best of the bargain. The majority assume they can get more benefits out of the system than they put resources in, and a minority assume that the majority can be bought off with their own money. The poor vote to “make the rich pay,” and the rich have accountants and lawyers. Massive public borrowing fills the inevitable gap.

Was this always so? Yes, though on a more modest scale. I find no historical record of government by saints (elected or unelected), and prefer monarchy by inheritance because it subverts the will to power, at least until a monarch goes rogue, forgetting his place in the Great Chain of Being. There is an art to ruling, and an art to being ruled as Wyndham Lewis suggested, and better to master arts and be ruled by ancestral custom than have everyone chafing. The ancient Greeks, and mediaeval Venetians, filled many offices by lot. I think this might also be recommended.

And there has always been a legitimate place for voting: where the polity is so small that electors and candidates are familiar with each other. Above the parish or ward scale, it is ripe for trickery, corruption, and abuse.

In a recent essay (here), Angelo Codevilla presents what I think the most coherent view of the revolution now unfolding in the Natted States. His trope of “elites versus people” has been taken up by many other writers, as an explanation for why La Trompe came to power. There is little in Codevilla’s essay I could contradict. I think it is largely true, and am myself on the populist side, for the moment. In the longer run I am on both sides. I share the elite’s view of the people, but too, the people’s view of the elite.

Again, as a spiritual monarchist, and Christian restorationist, who pines for the recovery of Catholic Christendom, I think the key constitutional challenge is to keep both “the people” and “the elites” away from power. With Codevilla and most, I require the consent of the ruled, in all their interests and factions, if for no other reason than to avoid combustions of violence. My only deviation is from the notion that democracy was ever likely to obtain this; or that any balance at all can be achieved without centuries of appeal to the divine.

As that is unlikely to begin in any foreseeable future, the fallback is “waiting on God.” No matter how confused and murderous the times, our hope can always be in a time beyond time, death, and even taxes, and the promise we’ve been given that it will arrive. In addition to our guns and our bibles, we should cling to this.