Self-government or the consent of the governed? One or other of these assumptions about democracy must be a sham if the other is valid. Either we are ruling ourselves, or someone else is ruling us, and one or other of these has to be the preferable model.
Democracy has been elevated to the status of an object of worship in recent decades, particularly in the English-speaking countries and in the discourse of the European Union, but it is accused by some dissidents of being a god that failed. Why is it that Homo democraticus tolerates no end of blatant corruption and has no qualms about the tyranny of the 51% over the 49%, as long as he is allowed to “have his say” in tokenistic votes choosing between increasingly pre-cooked outcomes? Is an “undemocratic upper chamber” (the accusation slung at the House of Lords in recent decades) an outrage or an intentional safeguard? How does the degenerate standard of British rhetoric in the “democratic” 2020s, and the political tolerance of dissent, compare with that of forty years ago?
Last episode, we considered several aspects of — and accurate names for — the distinction between immutable personal rights (immunities) and redefinable civil or civic rights (entitlements), and concluded that there was great tyrannical power in the deliberate obfuscation of these two fundamentally different categories. We now proceed further into the mirk and engage with the thinkers who have dared to question the axiomatic goal of democracy, considering seminal works by Hoppe, Hayek, Mises et al., Ferrara, Legutko, Barnett and Orbán. Just as Episode 1, on constitutional design, inevitably “did God”, so this episode will surprise some by necessarily dwelling on economics and on the capture of thought-leadership channels, the media and academia, by a swelling government. After all, it is in those circumstances that dissidence becomes necessary.
Listeners who are keeping up with our book discussions might already wish to obtain a copy of Ben Greene’s pamphlet The British Constitution and the Corruption of Parliament and an incisive review of its issues on the UK Column website by “A Musing Michael”; these sources will be the focus of Episode 5, Democracy — A “British Value”? (N.B.: due to the amount of material to discuss on democracy, we are again splitting the theme into two episodes, so the introductory section of this series will now be seven episodes long).