Why I am hardly democratic
Translated by Roberto Hope from the Spanish translation of
Pourquoi je suis moyennement démocrate. (éditions du Rocher, 2002)
Because a majority should not be confused with a consensus.
Innocently or deliberately, proponents of democracy maintain a permanent confusion of the notions of majority and consensus. Phrases such as «France has decided that...» or «The Frenchmen have resolved to...» are deliberately contrary to the truth when such decisions have been taken by a majority of 51% of the voters. Since some proportion of abstentions and blank votes occur in any voting operation, it should be evident that, in fact, a 51% majority is in no way an actual majority, and much less a consensus,
This raises at least three questions. That it may be difficult to find the answers to them is no reason to excuse us from posing them.
In the first place, given that certain countries which boast of being democratic require a two thirds majority, not just one half of the votes plus one, for certain measures to be adopted, we can conclude that the notion of a relative majority actually exists, and on the other hand, since majorities in totalitarian countries could reach 99% of the votes — which arouses on the part of observers some legitimate suspicion about voting freedom — how can there be a proportion of votes which may legitimately be called a consensus, not just a majority?
In the second place, to the extent that a nation is a historical reality, at least as much as it is a geographical one, is it of justice that only the opinion of those citizens which happen to be alive at a given time, be the one that counts? Should not the wills of the founders of such nation and the interests of future citizens be also taken into consideration?. Even though it is undeniable that adapting to new circumstances is necessary as these arise, is there no flippancy in affirming that «France wants» such and such when it just wants it today, when yesterday it wanted just the opposite and when tomorrow it will want something different still? Let me be clear here, I am not proposing to have the dead vote, nor the children yet to be born. I simply want to bring forward the confusion generated between the will of a millenary nation and an ephemeral, circumstantial majority.
In the third place, should we really believe as I have heard being claimed, that the soul of a democracy lies in the display of good will of the minority when it subordinates to the majority? The idea is not lacking in greatness, but, does it not, at least in certain cases, lack seriousness? That Louis XVI should have been condemned to death by a five-vote majority, that the Third Republic should have been established by a one-vote majority, that the Treaty of Maastricht (which was the equivalent of relinquishing sovereignty) should have been adopted in France by a 51% majority of the votes cast. does not inspire in me much confidence on the validity of these acts, even and especially from a democratic point of view.
Before decisions of grave consequences, is there no glibness in preferring the abstract theory defining what is a majority, over the concrete reality which offers divergent opinions?
Because of a matter of vocabulary
The meaning of the word democracy has evolved with the passage of time. Let's see the definitions given in some dictionaries:
Furetière, 1708: «Popular State; form of government where the people have all of the authority and in which sovereignty resides in the people, who makes the laws and decides everything, in which the people be consulted»
Boiste, 1836 «Sovereignty of the people, popular government (in the bad sense), popular despotism; subdivision of the tyranny among several citizens»
Littré, 1974 «Government in which the people exercise the sovereignty: Free and above all egalitarian society in which the popular element has a prevailing influence. State of society which excludes all constituted aristocracy except monarchy. Political regime in which the interest of the masses is favored or pretended to be favored. The democratic party, the democratic part of the nation.»
Nouveau Petit Larousse, 1917: «Government in which it is the people who exercise the sovereignty
Petit Robert, 1972. «Political doctrine according to which the sovereignty should belong to the citizens as a whole; political organization (frequently a republic) in which it is the citizens who exercise this sovereignty»
You can notice the slipping: from a «form of government» (Furetière), you first arrive at «sovereignty» (Boiste, Littré, Larousse) and finally to a «doctrine» (Robert). The examples provided bear witness to the same evolution, each time more favorable to the democratic idiosyncrasy.
Furetière adds: «Lycurgus compared democracy to a house in which there were as many masters as there were servants».
Boiste reconciles Voltaire with Rousseau sharing the same skepticism for the opposite reasons: «A pure democracy is only fitting for the gods» (J.J. Rousseau). «Pure democracy is the despotism of the rabble» (Voltaire)
The Petit Larousse invokes Pericles, an a priori likable character who according to it «organized democracy in Athens»
The Petit Robert has no qualms about insuflating the reader with what he ought to think: «Democracy rests on the respect of freedom and the equality of citizens» In the meantime, what has occurred? A linguistic catastrophe. Democracy has lost its antonym «aristocracy» which has ceased to be «government of the best» to signify nothing more than a «superior social class»
Let´s go back to the same dictionaries to find the article on aristocracy.
Furetière: «Type of political government which rests on the principals of the state, be it on account of their nobility, or on account of their ability and integrity. In Venice, in Genoa and in Luca, it is only noblemen who govern by right of birth. But because of the laws of aristocracy in Lacedaemonia, virtue exclusively was considered,.and the right to govern depended upon 1) merit, 2) election. Ancient authors of Politics preferred aristocracy over any other form of government.
Boiste «Sovereignty of various noble or privileged men, government of the powerful, of the wealthy, nobility, privileged class, superiority of any kind (aristocracy of birth, of the wealthy, of the gifted)».
The Nouveau Petit Larousse of 1917 no longer sees in aristocracy anything other than the «Class of the nobility, of the privileged»
While that of 1972 defines it with greater precision as the «government exercised by the class of the nobles» before adding the current sense of «Class of the nobles, of the privileged», and while the Petit Robert also takes into consideration the old sense, the current use has practically forgotten that aristocracy originally meant the «government of the best».
The result of this game of pass-it-on is quite clear: democracy, government of the people for the people, is converted into an unavoidable and undeniably positive notion about which nothing but goodness can be thought. Its most spread and reviled in advance antonyms are totalitarianism and fascism, which turns out to be paradoxical since all twentieth-century totalitarianisms claimed to be governments of the people and for the people; that is, democratic
Because of another matter of vocabulary.
Democracy is the government of the people. Be it by the people. Let us admit it. For the people. Better. But I do not know what the people be, what the devil is the people, and I believe that the confusion has been deliberately maintained by the partisans of democracy.
The confusion seems to be a triple one.
Before anything, it is numerical. I know what is one person, what are two, three, one thousand persons. But beginning at what number of persons do they get to become «the people»? And how can a more or less extended group of persons be assigned a collective face? Herein lies a sleight of hand operation consisting in substituting a quantity of different and quite real persons by a single, perfectly imaginary person. That is well seen in English, where the word people calls for a plural verb but nonetheless is perceived as singular. The American people feel that..., want to ..., have decided ....
Consequently, the confusion is social. Valéry is right in pointing out that «the word people ... designates the indistinct wholeness which one cannot find anywhere, as much as the majority of individuals as opposed to the restricted number of more fortunate or better-cultivated persons». The people is, as it may be more convenient, either the nation or the masses, and you never know of which of the two it is being talked about. Furetière had already specified in its article on Democracy that «in this sense, the term people is not the rabble but the whole body of all citizens» and de Flers and Caillvallet were not wrong in maliciously saying «democracy is the name we give to the masses every time we need them». These comings and goings between the idea that the «lower people» (or more kindly) the «common people» is different from the so-called upper classes, and the idea that these upper classes also form part of the people taken as a whole (which is not a serious matter considering that they are lesser in number) these comings and goings say I also allow all kinds of sleights of hand and substitutions.
All in all, there is a confusion between the relative and the absolute. Expressions such as «the people want» «the people decide» «the people are in favor of» properly signify nothing. It should be said: «the majority of citizens who have expressed their opinion have pronounced themselves in favor, have pronounced themselves against». But at the moment I have an opinion contrary to that of the majority, I feel the language is being abused when they say that the people (it goes without saying that they refer to all of the people, without exception) has this or that opinion but not mine. But I also belong to the people! The matter gets particularly obnoxious when «the people» is not more than 51% of the people, as we have seen in the chapter about majorities and consensus. When the Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789 postulates that «Law is the expression of the general will» it is formulating a contradiction. There is no, there cannot be any, general will; at most, there is nothing more than majority wills.
Some words about «the opinion of the people» speciously called «public opinion» are appropriate here. In fact, no public opinion exists, or rather the expression should not exist, given that the sum of the individual opinion cannot conform a collective opinion. But, alas, the phenomena of rumor, of fashion, of mimicry, and the use that propaganda and disinformation make thereof to fabricate a fictitious collective opinion make individuals who boast of having their own mind adhere to it blindly for fear of appearing not to be solidary. In particular, the polling procedure tends to reinforce the opinions assigned «on the people» or rather rented, as nothing in this world is free.
In short. the notion of the people does not appear to be sufficiently defined as to want to rest a system of government on it.
Because the concept of democracy rests on a petition of principle.
I can do nothing better in this chapter than quoting Jean Madiran, who wrote in Les Deux Démocraties «democracy is good because goodness is democracy, democracy is just because law is democracy, democracy goes in the direction of progress because progress consists of the development of democracy»
Because it is sought to be turned into a religion
Democracy, which was, let us recall, one way among many, of designating rulers, is presented to us as a kind of religion, even a religion of religions.
And it has the essential part of a religion, the pretension of monopolizing the truth. In a religion, this can be understood.
Without necessarily having the ambition of exterminating all those that are not Christian, or all those that do not practice the Christian religion exactly like us (regardless of the fact that we did not refrain too much from this over the centuries), we Christians believe that God is triune, that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, that this is true, and that consequently all those who believe the opposite are wrong. (We believe this where it is supposed we should believe it: if we repudiate this belief, we cease to be Christian.)
On their part, Muslims believe there is no God but God, that he never had a son and that Mohammed is his prophet. If Christians are right, then Muslims are wrong, and vice-versa. We must add that Muslims have the duty to cut the throat of the infidel, whereas we Christians do not customarily do it other than for an excess of zeal, although the principle is the same; if they presume to have the monopoly of truth so do we.
If, as some claim these days, all religions are worth the same, then this is because they are not religions.
The monopolization of truth in politics, whether justified or not, is less understood; a minimum of this so much lauded tolerance by the supporters of democracy ought to be sufficient to admit that the different procedures to designate rulers should be equally worthy, especially if geography and history are taken into account. But here is where modern democracy strips bare its pretensions of attaining the status of a religion; it is no longer a sister of designating rulers, it has become a body of infallible and compulsory doctrine and has a catechism: the rights of man, and outside the rights of man there is no salvation.
Modern democracy possesses other notes indispensable for any religion:
- A paradise, the liberal democratic nations, preferably with an Anglo-Saxon legislation.
- A purgatory: the dictatorships of the left
- A hell. the seditionist dictatorships of the right.
- A regular clergy: the intellectuals in charge of adapting the Marxist theses to liberal societies.
- A secular clergy: the journalists in charge of disseminating this doctrine.
- Religious services: the great television programs
- A tacit index, which forbids taking notice of any work the inspiration of which is considered reprehensible. This index becomes admirably efficacious under the form of a conspiracy of media silence, although sometimes a more draconian way is utilized, even though they do not yet end up in the stake, some books judged to be deficient from a democratic point of view are removed from school libraries, as happened in Saint-Ouen-L'Aumône.
- An inquisition: No one has the right of expressing himself if he is not rightly aligned with the democratic religion, and if he nevertheless gets to do it he will pay the consequences. In this regard the media lynching to which Regis Debray was subjected in France (nobody would suspect him of not being democratic) just because he cast doubts about the legitimacy of the war crimes carried out by NATO in Yugoslavian territory in 1999.
- Congregations for the propaganda of the faith: the offices of disinformation, the self-denominated «communication» or «public relations» desks
- Sunday masses, and bishops who use sundry protection shields borrowed from the various NGOs or the UN.
- Diverse forms of indulgences. generally granted to old communists.
- A criminal law and courts charged with punishing anyone who dares put the official version of history in doubt.
- And even troops charged with evangelizing the non-democrats «by means of iron or fire» We have seen it clearly when we witnessed nineteen democratic nations bombing a sovereign state with which they were not at war.
But in fact, it is idolatry.
Democracy lacks a factor which is essential to any religion, whether true or false: transcendence.
This transcendence may acquire any form one may wish, from metempsychosis to apocalypse, but in all cases, it supposes that man venerates something which is beyond man. And so? Say what you wish but the rights of man cannot go beyond man They are, by definition anthropocentric.
To me, and I say it straight to the point, the notion itself of «rights of man» constitutes a nonsense, not only because it rests on a postulate but because the postulate is badly expressed.
One can understand that a Patagon indian should have the rights granted to him by his Patagon chief, or that the French should have the rights which are guaranteed to him by his republican government or that a club member or patient in a hospital or a customer in a restaurant may have the rights guaranteed to him by such restaurant, such hospital or such club. But that man should have rights in the absolute, that he g|uarantees them to himself by means of newspaper declarations, whether national or international — a matter which customarily is of little worth — seems to me, sorry if I scandalize you, a giant joke.
Young children play this kind of games «You will be the Father and I will be the Mother» or «you will be the sailor and I will be the admiral». With a similar spirit, playful expressions such as «right to health» or «right to happiness».can be understood. Now, given that such expressions cannot prevent people to become unhappy or get sick, it doesn't seem to me that they may have the least shade of reality.
I take the Declaration of 1789 and ask myself about affirmations as the following:
- «The end of society is the well being of everyone» What is the well being of everyone? Give me a definition that is not the aggregate of the well being of the individuals.
- «All men are equal by nature» Really? the big ones, the small ones, the beautiful and the graceless?
- «The law is the free and solemn expression of the general will» Alright. And what, if you please, is the general will?
- «The crimes of the representatives and agents of the people in no case should remain unpunished. No one can pretend to be more inviolable than the rest of the citizens» It would be fine if this could be applied well, or if it could even be applied! Let us laugh, oh my contemporaries, you who do not swear but for immunity or amnesty!
I take the Universal Declaration of 1948 and read there that «all human beings should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood» Attention, they should! Are we talking of a right or of a duty? And, in name of what is such a duty established!
- «No one shall be subjected to torture...» The future tense implied in the verb is touching. It reminds me of «you will be the father and I will be the mother»
- «The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government» Once more, is it not too much to suppose that the people have a collective will?
- «this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures» In other words, people have rights as long as the only way they chose to designate their rulers is Democracy. Is this not a prohibition of other forms of government rather than a right? Again, on account of what is this prohibition established?
- «The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State» And if society favors the concubinage of pederasts, and if the State remunerates the makers of lesbians...?
I do not deny that some of the ideas supporting this gibberish have a certain seducing power, but to signify something, it seems to me they should be expressed in the form of concrete duties rather than abstract rights, and, on the other part, they should be founded on an authority beyond that of man´s, and never on humanity which is nothing but the aggregate of all men, now living, who have ever lived or who are called to live.