Continued from previous post . . . When I remember the days of the W Administration, I remember some pretty terrible days.
Days when a soul-crushing national trauma was perverted into a justification for war and torture. Days when a government that conceived itself as a beacon of democracy and freedom employed trigger-happy mercenaries who thought nothing of committing mass slaughter in the streets.
But Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and the rest of their crew never turned against democracy in their hearts. Their practice may have had horrifyingly anti-democratic effects, but they always fundamentally believed in freedom.
When Jacques Rancière was writing Hatred of Democracy at the height of the Bush years, he likely sounded like there was a lot of hyperbole in his words. Ten years later, reading him sounds like prophecy.
The current moment of Western politics isn’t all that friendly toward democracy. And I’m not just talking about Donald Trump’s disturbing resurgence of egomaniacal fascist aesthetics and white nationalism. Even relatively sedate Western conservatism is turning against democratic values in significant and disturbing ways.
Jeet Heer at The New Republic gives a pretty solid breakdown of three anti-democratic trends among the American (and to a lesser intensity the Canadian) right wing. Each are challenges to democratic life, the striving of people to live as they wish with dignity. But those challenges differ in important ways.
1) The demand for society to be defined by white European Christian heritage and tradition.
I can’t help but find this the least profound challenge to democracy, even though it might be the most powerful in the world. Transforming society along authoritarian Christian lines is the goal of the radical Christian Right of America.
But it’s also the successful political program of Aleksandr Dugin, chief philosopher of Putinism – a union of state police authority, Russian white supremacy, and Orthodox Christian moral authority.
|Russia's leading philosopher of white nationalism, Aleksandr Dugin.
American religious conservatives praise Vladimir Putin as a leader who unites social conservative values, strong gender role segregation, and opposition to alternative sexuality. While the Americans may be Evangelicals, they see the radical authoritarian Orthodoxy of Putin and Dugin’s underlying philosophy as their fellow travellers.
You might even be able to call this international coalition of Christian authoritarianism a reconciliation of the ancient Schism of Christianity. All they needed was the common enemy of secular democracy.
But authoritarian Christianity is an inherently reactionary position. It’s the social fear of a group of people who face the ultimate denial of their faith – that their universalism is false. It’s the immature demand to be right, despite the world’s proving you wrong. In that, it has a similar structure as . . .
2) Capitalism against democracy. This is the faith that billionaires have, that their riches are deserved and that any attempt to cajole them into directly contributing to their community is an assault on their freedom.
A lot of libertarian philosophy falls along this line. It’s the notion that property rights are the most fundamental – if you happen to have so little property that you can’t live a dignified life, so much the worse for you because you have no right to my property.
Follow this with a few libertarian.org memes like “Taxation is theft!” and “My guns are my freedom!” eagles with M-1s for eyes clutching the shreds of the US Constitution in their talons, that sort of thing.
The ultimate absurdity of this image is a famous story from Donald Trump’s life, appropriately enough. Sometime during his string of bankruptcies through the 1990s, the apocryphal Donald walks along a Manhattan street with Marla Maples or Ivanka.
He sees a homeless man begging for change in the street, and says, “That guy probably has more money than I do right now.” Then Donald walks into the expansive lobby of the first skyscraper to bear his name and retires to dinner in his opulent penthouse while the beggar freezes to death in the winter.
It’s depressing and more than a little scary that all these anti-democratic ideas are so mainstream. It just goes to show that democracy is never a finished process. We’re never fully, completely, and irrevocably free.
But that doesn’t mean we should give up on freedom. It means that an essential part of human freedom is to fight for freedom, and to think hard about the concept of freedom and what a free life would really be. That way, we’ll keep our democratic institutions and cultures on track to work for universal freedom and dignity.
Yet it’s not as though democracy hasn’t been criticized and denounced ever since the idea was invented. One of the most insidious and profound critiques of democracy today is also an echo of the oldest. . . .
3) The idea that most people are too ignorant and stupid to have any say in how their government and institutions should be run.
I was going to talk about this for most of this post, but I spent too long explaining my preamble, as I do on this blog pretty often. Especially when I'm in a series. So there’ll be more detail about this flavour of hate for democracy on Friday, after my review of “The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo.”