Montesquieu observed that different political systems have different internal motivations, an engine that drives the people in it. He used the term principle as the thing that gave the system energy. In aristocratic systems it was the desire for honor that drove people to act. In a republic it was virtue. Instead of serving a man who was the manifestation of the state, the republican man served the institutions. He respected the office, not necessarily the office holder.
The principle of liberal democracy appears to be morality. The language of this age is drenched in moral claims. The mantra of the age is diversity, inclusion and equity, which is shot through with sentiment. How much diversity is a good thing? There is no limit, of course, as diversity is a good in itself. Equity is a purely subjective term as it means distributing resources based on the needs of the recipients. The people who make that decision are those who are at the top of the moral hierarchy.
In addition to echoing and updating sentiments from the beginning of western racialism (liberté, égalité, fraternité), the point of these sorts of slogans is to communicate civic piety between the speaker and listener. Alone they are just echolalic babbling, but when spoken or written for an audience, the speaker feels virtuous, as she assumes the listener, upon hearing these code words, will see that the speaker is pious. These terms are about signaling and confirming piety.
The problem with this is morality needs authority. In a theocracy, like in Iran, this problem is solved with Islam. The mullahs are the defenders and chief promotors of their form of Islam, so they sit atop the moral hierarchy. They provide the limits on democracy and a scale against which to measure piety. Similarly, Puritanism provided the moral authority for the early settlers in what is now New England. They had democratic societies, bound by Scripture.
Liberal democracy does not have or tolerate a belief outside the fingertips of man, so it cannot rely on established religion for moral authority. Instead, it relies upon the marketplace to provide that authority. The will of the people is formalized in elections and the marketplace. This is why the most powerful people work to make sure their opinions seem to reflect popular will. Rigging an election or faking a public opinion poll makes perfect sense when placed in the framework of liberal democracy.
The god of the marketplace has always had one very serious flaw. If Herodotus is to be trusted, the Persians were the first to notice this. They saw the Greek marketplace as nothing more than brothers lying to brothers. The seller misrepresented his products in the hope of fooling the customer. The customer misrepresented his interest in the hope of bargaining down the price. The spirit of the agora was deception, which makes the god of the market a fickle liar.
We are seeing this playout with the Covid vaccine. A mass vaccination campaign requires public trust. After all, letting someone put something in your body that you do not understand is a leap of faith. In a high trust society where the people believe the rulers have their best interest in mind, this is not difficult. In a low trust society, the rulers must search for external sources of authority. In the case of Covid, they have paraded out hundreds of experts from medicine and science.
The problem is those experts are products of the marketplace. They work for pharmaceutical companies, the political system, research outfits supported by the Chinese communist party and so on. These experts are fully democratic men in that they are products of the marketplace. They represent the interests of whoever is paying their salary at the moment, not the interest of the people. We can no more trust them that we can trust the salesman at a used car lot.
Because we are now fully democratized people, we are conditioned to assume that everyone is a product of the marketplace. Their interest in the truth is meaningless as the truth is what the market says at the moment. They are either making the market or following the trends of the market. In the case of Covid, everyone looks at the experts and wonders whose interests they are representing. The moral authority of liberal democracy turns out to be a cynicism without limit.
Something Montesquieu never mentioned, but that is relevant to this age, is the relationship between the principle of the system and its durability. John Adams famously said in a letter to John Taylor, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself”. A republic, it seems, does not do much better. The one Adams helped found was quickly dashed to pieces by his descendants. Monarchy seems to be the most durable, having been with us since the start.
The reason for this is democracy has no room for religion, while republicanism tries to contain religion within the civic institutions. Aristocratic systems, even without religion, reflect the reality of the human condition. They begin with the assumption that there is always someone one charge. The question is how that is decided and blood turns out to be the most predictable. There is no debating lineage. It is far from perfect, but it seems to be the most stable of mankind’s political systems.
Of course, just about any political system can work in a high trust, competent society, which means a homogeneous society. Both of those qualities are inversely proportional to diversity. Liberal democracy, as we see, places diversity as its highest goal, which is why it eventually murders itself. It burns the social capital built up by the preceding system until that fuel is exhausted. It turns out that liberal democracy is the sign that a people are finished and are ready to shuffle off into the history books.
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