Tag: democracy

On Democracy

The following excerpt comes from the brilliant work of C.S. Lewis entitled Screwtape Proposes a Toast.  I hope the article will illuminate some of the problems of Democracy. At the bottom of the article is an appendix that will clarify some of the terms and ideas within the C.S. Lewis article. Enjoy!-

C.S. Lewis  ON DEMOCRACY

Hidden in the heart of this striving for Liberty there was also a deep hatred of personal freedom. That invaluable man Rousseau first revealed it. In his perfect democracy, you remember, only the state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the individual is told that he has really willed (though he didn’t know it) whatever the Government tells him to do. From that starting point, via Hegel (another indispensable propagandist on our side) we easily contrived both the Nazi and the Communist state….

Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose…. [T]hey should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won’t. It will never occur to them that democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether “democratic behaviour” means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.

You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal…. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you…. No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.

And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority…. “They’ve no business to be different. It’s undemocratic.” Now, this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. Those who were aware of feeling it felt it with shame; those who were not gave it no quarter in others. The delightful novelty of the present situation is that you can sanction it — make it respectable and even laudable — by the incantatory use of the word democratic.

Under the influence of this incantation those who are in any or every way inferior can labour more wholeheartedly and successfully than ever before to pull down everyone else to their own level. But that is not all. Under the same influence, those who come, or could come, nearer to a full humanity, actually draw back from fear of being undemocratic…. They might (horror of horrors!) become individuals….

Meanwhile, as a delightful by-product, the few (fewer every day) who will not be made Normal or Regular and Like Folks and Integrated increasingly become in reality the prigs and cranks which the rabble would in any case have believed them to be. For suspicion often creates what it expects…. As a result we now have an intelligentsia which, though very small, is very useful to the cause of Hell.

But that is a mere by-product. What I want to fix your attention on is the vast, overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence – moral, cultural, social, or intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how “democracy” (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was once done by the most ancient Dictatorships, and by the same methods?…

Once you have grasped the tendency, you can easily predict its future developments; especially as we ourselves will play our part in the developing. The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be “undemocratic.” These differences between pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised. This can be done at various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time…. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the phrase – “parity of esteem”…. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma…by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career…. In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.

Of course, this would not follow unless all education became state education. But it will. That is part of the same movement. Penal taxes, designed for that purpose, are liquidating the Middle Class, the class who were prepared to save and spend and make sacrifices in order to have their children privately educated. The removal of this class, besides linking up with the abolition of education, is, fortunately, an inevitable effect of the spirit that says I’m as good as you. This was, after all, the social group which gave to the humans the overwhelming majority of their scientists, physicians, philosophers, theologians, poets, artists, composers, architects, jurists, and administrators. If ever there were a bunch of stalks that needed their tops knocked off, it was surely they. As an English politician remarked not long ago, “A democracy does not want great men.” We, in Hell, would welcome the disappearance of democracy in the strict sense of that word, the political arrangement so called. Like all forms of government, it often works to our advantage, but on the whole less often than other forms. And what we must realize is that “democracy” in the diabolical sense (I’m as good as you, Being Like Folks, Togetherness) is the fittest instrument we could possibly have for extirpating political democracies from the face of the earth.

For “democracy” or the “democratic spirit” (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first sign of criticism. And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be. For when such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school, where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are allowed no say at all in public affairs, only one result is possible….

It is our function to encourage the behaviour, the manners, the whole attitude of mind, which democracies naturally like and enjoy, because these are the very things which, if unchecked, will destroy democracy. You would almost wonder that even humans don’t see it themselves. Even if they don’t read Aristotle (that would be undemocratic) you would have thought the French Revolution would have taught them that the behaviour aristocrats naturally like is not the behaviour that preserves aristocracy. They might then have applied the same principle to all forms of government….

The overthrow of free peoples and the multiplication of slave states are for us a means (besides, of course, being fun); but the real end is the destruction of individuals. For only individuals can be saved or damned, can become sons of the Enemy or food for us. The ultimate value, for us, of any revolution, war, or famine lies in the individual anguish, treachery, hatred, rage, and despair which it may produce. I’m as good as you is a useful means for the destruction of democratic societies. But it has a far deeper value as an end in itself, as a state of mind which, necessarily excluding humility, charity, contentment, and all the pleasures of gratitude or admiration, turns a human being away from almost every road which might finally lead him to Heaven.

APPENDIX

Progressivism– a political movement that was concerned with ideas of equality. It is the view that human perfection and complete freedom, i.e. in a society, can be achieved. This approach to building a society is rooted in German thought, via Hegel and Kant. Thus, the main tenets of Progressivism are the following: society is not built on absolute truths based in the individual itself or nature, but on posited (theorized/ man made) truths, and second it maintains that human perfection and complete freedom in a society can be achieved and only through total equality.

Rousseau– A French philosopher (1712-1778) who influenced or at least his ideologies played a great part in the French revolution. His philosophy was an amalgamation (mixture) of different views taken from different philosophers.

These philosophers viewed the world as a mechanistic system (as opposed to the classical view that the world is like an organic body governed by natural laws) that can be manipulated and forged to the preferences of Man (these views come from the philosophy of Descartes and that of Hobbes). Descartes changed how we thought about science from the Aristotelian claim that we perceived reality directly by our senses, and therefore qualities such as ‘red’ and ‘heat’ were categories of being really within objects. Descartes’ rejected this and replaced it with his mechanical theory of nature, i.e. positivism. Positivism, in short, is the notion that all knowledge (and therefore all intelligence) is based entirely on the data of experience, that the world is a world of facts, and that these facts follow the rules of pure logic and pure mathematics. Positivism is therefore an anti-metaphysical position, it takes the position that, in short, everything that is known is experience. According to Descartes we must think of knowledge in terms of how we can control the world, that we might know how to dominate the world and become the master and possessor of it. Related to Descartes philosophy is Hobbes conception of civil society. Hobbes argued that life in the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” and the only way out this predicament, is to construct a civil society. Liberty, he considers it as impossible in politics. In the State as well as in nature might makes right. The natural state of man consists in the bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all). The State/ Government is the indispensable means of putting an end to this conflict. It protects the life and property of individuals at the cost of a passive and absolute obedience on their part.

What it commands is good, what it prohibits is bad. The State/Government’s will is the supreme law. More important, according to Descartes and Hobbes, is that the world is made of facts. The philosophies of Descartes and Hobbes established a rational, atomistic tradition in which all phenomena can be described as complicated combinations of simple elements (Descartes), these elements were formal in nature and related by purely syntactical operations, so reasoning could be reduced to complex calculations, pure mathematics (Hobbes) thus civil society is a mechanistic system in which the role of the government is to regulate the machine. Positivism allowed for the abandonment of nature (legality is separate from morality, this is important because it separates morality from laws, that is laws do not legislate morality, this view is detrimental to society because morality must be legislated in order for the citizens to be virtuous and good), as a result all law worth our consideration is positive law. This was the new radical conception of a regime adopted by the US government during the post-Civil war and through the New Deal era (1900-present), in contrast to natural law theory (held by the founding fathers) which maintains that to be legally valid a norm must conform to a body of natural law that is discernible by human reason.

Democracy and Oligarchy: The two main types of regimes that exist are democracy and oligarchy, that is, in Western societies. Democracy is the rule of the majority, since in every regime the majority has authority. An important aspect to keep in mind is that the majority will always be tyrannical since the minority will always suffer, furthermore they (majority) are easily swayed by Tyrants/Dictators (or majorities always act irrational since they mostly act on form passions). The distinction between democracy and oligarchy is that in democracy exists when the free and poor, being a majority, have authority to rule; oligarchy, when the wealthy (this should not be confused with noblemen who are those that govern in Aristocracy) and better born have authority and are few.

The middling element is basically what in modern terms would be considered the middle class. The middling element is logical, in the same manner as Aristotle believes virtue to be a mean between two extremes of vice. A large middle class is absolutely essential for a stable and well-run government because the middle class do not covet rule, are not envious, foster friendship because of their similarity, and can act as neutral arbitrators between the rich and the poor. Hemmed in between people above in which it dislikes and people below in which it fears, the middling element is more likely to listen to reason and to help maintain stability in the regime.

Behavior Democracy likes and Behavior that will preserve Democracies:

Behavior that democracies like in short is the desire to make everyone the same, no one ought to be different. Moreover, the aim of Democracy is comfortable self-preservation which results in a regime/society in which there is no encouragement offered for the exercise of higher human faculties. Furthermore, Democracy left to its own devices is actually prone to the establishment of tyranny.

The behavior that will preserver Democracies, i.e. that will deter them from becoming tyrannical is proper education in aristocratic virtues, which are values opposite of democratic values.