Why I am hardly democratic
by Vladimir Volkoff
Translated by Roberto Hope from the Spanish translation of
Pourquoi je suis moyennement démocrate. (éditions du Rocher, 2002)
Because of my spirit of contradiction
Yes, I admit it. If democracy were just one more system among others. if it were not imposed upon us as an evident and obligatory panacea, if it were seen in it nothing more than a way of electing rulers, I would be better disposed to find qualities in it.
Jean Dutourd asserts that virtue begins with a spirit of contradiction and I, on my part, add that such a spirit is necessary to conserve impartiality: it maintains love for independence of judgment, ensures the rebellion against everything gregarious and vulgar and, in short, constitutes something certainly more agreeable than submitting oneself to the fashions, to snobberies, to conformisms of any sort. I loathe the yes-men, the politically correct, without I — God forbid — being infected by the idolatry of rebellion.
If the scale tips too much to one side, my spontaneous reaction is to put some weight on the other pan.
Because even as a way of electing rulers, democracy is not all advantages.
As a system of designating rulers, democracy presents some evident advantages, which actually can be reduced to a single, though important, one: the acquiescence of the governed. No question of denying that herein lies a superiority over regimes where rulers are designated in other ways, such as birth, fortune, chance or merit.
But there is also no reason to disregard the practical disadvantages of this procedure.
In the first place, rulers designated by a majority of voices cannot, in any case, feel equally responsible with respect to the people who voted for them, as compared to those who voted for another candidate. In fact, if they sought the public welfare in opposition to the interests of their own faction we would not be wrong if we branded them ungrateful.
In the second place, to be designated by a majority, it is necessary to seduce voters, but it turns out to be quite questionable that the qualities necessary for the latter and those necessary to govern — which have something of an antinomy — can be found in the same individual. At the limit, you could say that he who has the most possibility of being elected is the one with the least possibility of being a good ruler.
In the third place, the sort of person desirable to be elected is not necessarily the one deserving the greatest degree of confidence on the part of voters. Aristotle was not wrong in saying that the demagogue and the courtesan belong to the same species.
Because climates, peoples, and times differ
Solon was once asked what was the best political regime. He retorted: For what people?
Indeed, a considerable dose of naiveté is necessary to imagine that an ideal political regime exists which is perfectly convenient for all peoples, for all ages and for all nations, or even that it turns to be for all peoples, at all times and places, the least bad of all systems. Taine was not wrong when he applied three coordinates to every event: race, environment and time.
In no way do I pretend to say that democracy is always bad. I readily recognize that, in certain circumstances, it can be more convenient than other systems. Saint Augustine was of the same opinion, as stated in his Treatise on free will, quoted by Saint Thomas Aquinas "If a people is reasonable, serious, very vigilant in its defense of the common good, it is well to enact a law allowing such a people to appoint themselves their own magistrates to administer their public affairs. Nevertheless, if such people eventually degrade themselves, if their vote becomes something venal, if they hand the government over to scandalous or criminal persons, then it will be convenient to withdraw from them the faculty of conferring honors, and return to the judgment of a small group of good men."
In short, democracy is no panacea nor is it an antidote, there is no reason to condemn it or to canonize it a priori.
(To be continued)
(To be continued)