In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu outlined the motivations that drove citizen behavior in the three types of political systems known at the time. In republican forms of government, love of virtue is what motivates the people. In monarchies, it is the love of honor that motivates the actions of the people. In despotism, the people are motivated by fear of the ruler. He argued that the political system must match the inclinations of the people or it would not last.
Although Montesquieu did not address it, it certainly seems that these principles have a hierarchy of their own. Honor, for example, will give way to virtue, once the people begin to think they have a choice. Throughout history, monarchy has given way to democratic rule as the people abandoned honor in favor of virtue. Similarly, virtue has never been much of a match for fear as a motivator. Authoritarianism, the soft or hard variety, tends to overcome public virtue once the rulers realize it.
Montesquieu was working with the materiel at hand, so he could not contemplate the nature of liberal democracy. He knew of democracy, but only in the limited experiments among the ancients. Democracy on the grand scale as we see today was beyond the realm of plausible at the time. Similarly, liberalism was in its infancy. Liberty, consent of the governed and equality before the law were purely theoretical concepts at the time, so he and other theorists had no working knowledge of them.
Almost three centuries on, we have a much better sense of what liberalism and democracy produce. For several generations now, the West has been ruled by the ideology of liberal democracy. Further, the West has worked hard to impose this moral philosophy on the rest of the world. Trillions have been spent, for example, trying to plant the seeds of liberal democracy in the Muslim world. South America has been forced to embrace the rituals and ceremonies of liberal democracy.
What we can now see that Montesquieu would not have been able to see is that something unique motivates the citizen in a liberal democracy. There is no willingness to put the interests of the community ahead of private interests. There is no desire to attain greater rank and privilege. There is fear, but not of a ruler, but rather fear of falling afoul of the general will. The collective morality in a liberal democracy works like an invisible fickle tyrant that terrorizes the citizenry.
We see this in the current turmoil. The citizen is now suddenly faced with a whole new moral order, as if the ruling class all converted to some new church. People who are slow to pick up on the morality are shamed and harassed. You can lose your job for refusing to use the right pronouns, for example. Two members of the Supreme Court just converted and declared that the Founders were actually sodomites in dresses, therefore sodomites in dresses are sacred beings.
Just as fear of the tyrant is a more powerful motivation than a sense of sacrifice to the needs of the community, morality is a much more powerful motivator than virtue or even fear of a powerful individual. Look at Donald Trump. He is incompetent, for sure, but his office has real power. Yet, fear of falling afoul of the new morality leads the converted to risk everything to destroy him. The needs of the new morality are pushing the followers to bring the country crashing down to please the new gods.
Unlike the motivations behind monarchy, republicanism and tyranny, there is no structure to liberal democratic morality. There is no sacred text or body of philosophical work to provide authority. Like a school of fish, morality shifts on a dime and that new direction is assumed to be the general will and therefore the proper course. Morality in a liberal democracy is a riot with no real purpose, other than to feed the need of the people to feel they are the virtuous actor in the great drama of life.
Without a controlling doctrine, morality in a liberal democracy has no limiting principles to contain the excesses. Everything worth doing is worth overdoing. No matter how pious someone is, someone else can be more pious. Each new fad becomes a race to the absurd, which is how we quickly went from tolerance of homosexuals to declaring transvestites sacred beings. You can be sure the pedophiles and polygamists are getting ready for their elevation into the ring of honor.
It turns out that fear, virtue and honor are no match for morality in the great battle of organizing ideas. Honor is an individual characteristic. It is something you give yourself through your own decisions. Similarly, the virtue of the man willing to sacrifice for the good of the institution is largely an individual creation. It has a collective component, which makes it more powerful than honor, but it is still individualistic. Fear, of course, is about saving your own skin or that of your family.
Morality, in contrast, pivots on the collective sense of identity. The chants of “who we are” resonate because it implies a choice. You can be inside where it is good or outside where it is bad. In reality, it reminds the people that they have no choice. To stand against morality is to stand against destiny itself. Those who resist the new morality are first anathematized then invisibilized. Liberal democracy maintains an invisible gulag for those who refuse to bend the knee to the prevailing morality.
The defects in monarchy, democracy and despotism are well known. The next in line to the throne can be a lunatic or a simpleton. Democracy eventually murders itself. The tyrant eventually dies, leaving a battle for power. It seems that the defect of liberal democracy is that it has no way to control the fanatic. They are not just allowed to run free, but they are encouraged to fully explore their fanaticism. Liberal democracy eventually becomes a madhouse run by madmen.
Modern America has entered the madhouse phase of liberal democracy. Just how far along we are in the journey is unknown, but the journey has begun. Evidence of this is the wanton destruction of civil society. The pointlessness of it is the point. No one in power is willing to defend the institutions and customs that defined old America. No one in power is offering an alternative, other than more fear of the mob. The only questions now are the timing and terror of the eventual collapse.
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