Considering Democracy, Part 3
We continue with our discussion of democracy and how it harms society and erodes civilization. We’ll continue this discussion and conclude with some thoughts from America’s Founding Fathers. In future editions we will also discuss a proper Christian foundation for civil authority and what forms of government are amenable to this foundation.
Democracy and the Politics of Envy
Among the vices that run rampant under a democratic paradigm, the worst might be envy. Envy is a manifestation of covetousness that is expressly condemned in the tenth commandment. Envy is clearly and unambiguously condemned in the Bible (Prov. 14:30; 27:4; Matt. 27:18; Mk. 15:10; Acts 7:9; 13:45; 17:5; Rom. 1:29; 1 Tim. 6:4; Tit. 3:3; Jas. 4:5), and perhaps the worst form of envy is exhibited by public officials. Of course, no form of government can prevent the sinful inclinations of humanity towards envy. One of the most infamous examples of envy being manifested by a civil magistrate is King Ahab’s coveting of Naboth’s vineyard which resulted in the murder of Naboth and the theft of his property (1 Kings 21). No regime, no matter how carefully designed and well-intentioned can avoid these pitfalls which are inherent in the fabric of fallen humanity. This being the case, we would be remiss not to notice that the history of democracy is particularly influenced by the vice of envy. The Spanish conservative Gonzalo Ferdinand de la Mora comments on the new concept “social justice,” which emerged alongside the increasing democratic trend as part of social progressivism in the twentieth century:
Demagogues appeal to envy because its universality makes potential victims of all the people and because the invincible inequality of our own personal capabilities and of the irremediable limitation of many social goods makes it inevitable that the majority will feel inferior to certain minorities. The promotion of this envious feeling of inferiority is the dominant political tactic, at least in the present age. The demagogic promotion of envy, as with everything else that refers to this unpublishable feeling, is not carried out in public but under cover. A contemporary disguise of collective envy is what is called ‘social justice.’ How does this ideological and derivative argumentation run? A fundamental postulate is established that the more just a society is, the more equal its members are in opportunities, position, and wealth; and immediately it is established the party will fight without rest to achieve such justice. The appeal of this axiom and of such a program is evidently unbeatable for the envious, since it promises to abolish the unassimilated inferiority that causes them so much pain. Quality is a paradisiacal promise for the envious—the definitive incentive.1
The “progressive” trend towards “social justice,” entrenched in the idolatry of democracy, began in earnest in the twentieth century. It is simply an attempt to repackage envy, making it more attractive to the masses. The fact that some people are poor while others are wealthy strikes a “progressive” thinker as an injustice. It never occurs to a progressive thinker that inequality might simply be the result of the unequal distribution of God-given talent and ability, coupled with the unequal exertion on the part of those who are talented. Wealth can certainly be gained through unjust and illegitimate means, such as fraud or theft, but the progressive forgets that it can also result from hard work and natural ability. Ultimately, the concept of “social justice” is rooted in a false morality. Unequal wealth and possessions, acquired through hard work and good fortune, or inherited from father to son, are not the result of injustice, but rather are the gift of a gracious God. The egalitarian envy that has become entrenched in public life since the advent of social justice is the result of humanistic morality replacing traditional Christian morality. M.E. Bradford discusses how egalitarian envy has impacted the political landscape under democracy:
[P]olitical systems that champion across the board egalitarianism among citizens, acting regardless of their merit or ability, and which recognize no individual distinctions between people according to intelligence, capability, experience, and affinity are, in fact, producing a society dedicated to sameness rather than equality. Because people are so different, de la Mora argues, true social equality, the kind championed, for instance, by the Marxists, is simply not achievable in this most imperfect of worlds. What such states produce instead, he claims, is an ersatz equality, one based on the envy of the incompetent for the competent, of the weak for the strong, of the ungifted many, for the gifted few.
Envy in this regard, wearing the mask of “righteous indignation,” becomes the fuel to fire the so-called egalitarian process. While de la Mora does not deny the spiritual dignity of each individual he insists that the need to “equalify” all of society leads inevitably to the politics of expropriation, and that “egalitarianism is the opiate of the envious, and demagogues are its distributors who intend its massive consumption.” Moreover, organized envy, which usually takes the form of radical politics, insidiously suggests that “those in position of superiority are evil exploiters, and those who feel their position is inferior are innocently exploited. This corollary sounds like heavenly music the envious person who sees his own pain as required for the happiness of others and his resentment therefore as fully justified. Those who appear to be the best are really the worst.” Finally people come to believe that this supposed equality is not only politically justified but ethically essential. Thus, egalitarianism becomes “a moral imperative that does not require proof, but fulfillment, like an ‘ought’ that is evident to every conscience.”
Envy, claims de la Mora, is one of the great unspoken human taboos. Everyone indulges in it; few admit to it. All the more ironic then that when envy is assimilated into political ideology it ceases to be considered contemptible and becomes instead the very fulcrum of human justice.”2
There isn’t much more to expand on from what Bradford and de la Mora are saying here. Their perceptions of democratic politics are stunningly accurate. The rhetoric we perpetually hear in democratic elections about social justice really amounts to nothing more than thinly veiled references to organized envy. Rather than try to jump on the secular-humanist bandwagon that drives this false morality, it is incumbent upon Christians who have retained our moral compasses to recognize this rhetoric for what it is, envy!
Democracy and the Equitability of Law
Proponents of democracy argue that democracy is superior to other forms of government because anyone without distinction can participate at any level of government; therefore there is more accountability of the government to the people. The reality is that democracy has created a new distinction between private law which pertains to individuals, and public law which pertains to the state. Hoppe observes:
It is again only after World War I, under democratic republicanism, that public agents achieve “immunity” from the provisions of private law, and that a view such as the leading socialist legal-theorist Gustav Radbruch’s found general acceptance that:
“For an individualistic order of public law, the state, is only the narrow protective belt surrounding private law and private property. In contrast, for a social [democratic republican] order of law private law is to be regarded only as a provisional and constantly decreasing range of private initiative, temporarily spared within the all-comprehensive sphere of public law.”3
The primary reason that democratic governments have been so successful at peddling fiat currency is because of the modern distinction between private and public law. This is another irony of the democratic, egalitarian paradigm. The emergence of democracy has greatly allowed the state to augment its own authority all while insulating itself from the standard of the law to which individuals are held accountable. Private individuals could never get away with what is done in the name of the all-important “people” for whom democracy claims to speak.
The result of the concept of public law has led us to government that is rife with corruption and is ironically less accountable to its constituents than traditional governments were that generally utilized equitable law (though not equal privilege) among all of its classes. The greatest economic impact that this modern distinction between private and public law has created is a legacy of massive debt fueled by compulsive spending and the issuing of fiat currency.4
Democracy and the Transition from Real Money to Fiat Currency
Recently, America’s debt has come to the fore as the mounting debt has threatened to entirely overwhelm our ability to pay creditors and has resulted in the downgrading of America’s credit rating. Many mainstream conservatives decry America’s prevailing fiscal irresponsibility that has pushed us to the brink of economic armageddon. What these mainstream conservatives (and libertarians) don’t realize is that this problem has been the result of a trend towards democratic government as well. Hoppe comments:
It was only under conditions of democratic republicanism in the aftermath of World War I that the gold standard was abolished and at long last replaced with a worldwide system of irredeemable national paper monies in 1971. Since then, the supply of money and credit has increased dramatically. A seemingly permanent ‘secular’ tendency toward inflation and currency depreciation has come into existence. Government deficit financing has turned into a mere banking technicality, and interest rates—as an indicator of the social rate of time preference—which had continuously declined for centuries and by the end of the nineteenth century had fallen to around 2 percent, have since exhibited a systematic upward tendency.5
The predominant form of government that antedates democracy is monarchy. Some kings unsuccessfully attempted to establish fiat currencies, but failed because no one would trust an individual to make money out of essentially nothing. However, when “the people” in a democracy are “in charge,” then almost anything can be justified. This includes allowing the government to simply declare that money printed on paper be of a certain value. Obviously, this becomes problematic when a government plunges so far into debt that it becomes impossible to pay back creditors. With the advent of fractional reserve banking, in which banks lend more money than they have covered on reserve, banks are now the creators of money. Because of this system, the United States government now owes more money than actually exists, so that it is impossible to ever pay our debts back. The Economic Collapse Blog writes,
It is now mathematically impossible for the U.S. government to pay off the U.S. national debt. You see, the truth is that the U.S. government now owes more dollars than actually exist. If the U.S. government went out today and took every single penny from every single American bank, business and taxpayer, they still would not be able to pay off the national debt. And if they did that, obviously American society would stop functioning because nobody would have any money to buy or sell anything. And the U.S. government would still be massively in debt. So why doesn’t the U.S. government just fire up the printing presses and print a bunch of money to pay off the debt? Well, for one very simple reason. That is not the way our system works. You see, for more dollars to enter the system, the U.S. government has to go into more debt. The U.S. government does not issue U.S. currency — the Federal Reserve does.
The Federal Reserve is a private bank owned and operated for profit by a very powerful group of elite international bankers. . . . So, when the U.S. government needs to borrow more money (which happens a lot these days) it goes over to the Federal Reserve and asks them for some more green pieces of paper called Federal Reserve Notes. The Federal Reserve swaps these green pieces of paper for pink pieces of paper called U.S. Treasury bonds. The Federal Reserve either sells these U.S. Treasury bonds or they keep the bonds for themselves (which happens a lot these days). So that is how the U.S. government gets more green pieces of paper called ‘U.S. dollars’ to put into circulation. But by doing so, they get themselves into even more debt which they will owe even more interest on. So every time the U.S. government does this, the national debt gets even bigger and the interest on that debt gets even bigger.”6
The reason for this trend is simple to understand. Since the advent of public law, government has been able to justify fiat currency more easily than aristocrats. Since kings and noblemen were still private individuals and subject to the sinful inclinations that everyone suffers from, it was generally understood that even the greatest of them couldn’t be trusted with the authority to print or issue fiat currency. The effect that the issuance of fiat currency has had on the American and Western economy has been devastating. The printing of fiat paper money has been coupled with high taxation and historically unparalleled spending. In fact our current and habitual economic woes are perhaps the most tangible pitfall that democratic government produces in the lives of average citizens.
What Did America’s Founders Think About Democracy?
“Democracy, simple democracy, never had a patron among men of letters,” wrote John Adams, in A Defense of the Constitutions. “The people have almost always expected to be served gratis, and to be paid for the honor of serving them; and their applause and adorations are bestowed too often on artifice and tricks, on hypocrisy and superstition, on flattery, bribes, and largesses.”7 This statement by John Adams provides a decent summary of the opinions that most respectable men held at the time of the American Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution. In spite of this, a common appeal that proponents of democracy make is that America’s Founding Fathers intended to found a democracy. The founders self-consciously embraced political equality as an antidote to British monarchism. The reality is that although the Founders did largely reject monarchical government, they were equally united in their rejection of democracy. The Founders did not share the prevailing post-modern notion that everyone, regardless of any distinctions, ought to be considered political equals. Concerning America’s Founding Fathers, Hoppe observes:
Of the American founders, Alexander Hamilton was a monarchist. Likewise, the Governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Morris, had strong monarchist leanings. George Washington expressed his profound distaste of democracy in a letter of September 30, 1798, to James McHenry. John Adams was convinced that every society grows aristocrats as inevitably as a field of com will grow some large ears and some small. In a letter to John Taylor he insisted, like Plato and Aristotle that democracy would ultimately evolve into despotism, and in a letter to Jefferson he declared that ‘democracy will envy all, contend with all, endeavor to pull down all, and when by chance it happens to get the upper hand for a short time, it will be revengeful, bloody and cruel.’ James Madison, in a letter to Jared Parks, complained of the difficulty ‘of protecting the rights of property against the spirit of democracy.’ And even Thomas Jefferson, probably the most ‘democratic’ of the Founders, confessed in a letter to John Adams that he considered the natural aristocracy . . . ‘as the most precious gift of nature, for the instruction, the trusts and governments of society. And indeed, it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed men for the social state, and not have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of society. May we not even say that that form of government is best, which provides most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?’ Characterizing the general attitude of the founders, then, the most appropriate pronouncement is that of John Randolph of Roanoke: ‘I am an aristocrat: I love liberty, I hate equality.’8
Although the Founders didn’t intend to create a democracy, it is certainly disturbing to observe how readily democracy began to take hold after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in the late eighteenth century. The electorate was rapidly expanded and traditional restrictions on voter eligibility were relaxed. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Old Republic was mortally wounded and her death finally came with the so-called Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. This was clearly never what America’s Founders had intended. Particularly frustrating is the fact that most phony conservatives, and especially Christian theonomists, make constant appeals to the Founders’ intentions without the slightest inclination of reproducing the kind of society that the Founders envisioned.
Though the noted English Parliamentarian T.B. Macauley was a formulator of the erroneous Whig view of history, he was nevertheless a man of remarkable conservative sensibilities who correctly anticipated the ruin that democracy would wreak upon society. “My firm conviction is that, in our country, universal suffrage is incompatible, not with this or that form of government, but with all forms of government, and with everything for the sake of which government exist; that it is incompatible with property, and that it is consequently incompatible with civilization.”9
The brief history of democracy has clearly vindicated the concerns of many of the greatest thinkers of the past in regards to the harm that democracy would pose to civilized society. Past democratic thinkers are more easily forgiven due to their overly optimistic outlook and perspective on human character. These same mistakes are considerably more difficult to ignore today. Now with the benefit of hindsight after the experiences of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, it is now imperative for conscientious Christians to learn from the mistakes that have already been made. Democracy contradicts biblical precepts and is founded about humanist presuppositions rather than Christian anthropology.
First, democracy contradicts the biblical precept that the highest authority for morality and civil order is God’s revealed law, and instead replaces this standard of authority with the will of the majority (see Deut. 4:5-8; 33:10; Josh. 1:8; 1 Chr. 22:12; Ps. 40:8; 94:12; 119; Jer. 32:23; Hos. 4:6; 8:1; 14:9). It is disheartening that Christians have largely abandoned the idea that moral progress can only happen when God’s law is implemented in society. Instead we are far too accustomed to seeing important moral questions open for constant debate and revision. Until recently, Christians considered important moral questions as something that has been settled by God in His wisdom and providence long ago. Sadly most Christians today don’t believe that God’s law should be the final authority, and give the excuse that morality cannot be legislated. It certainly is true that people can’t simply be made moral by physical compulsion, but it is also true that there are certain heinous behaviors that are extremely detrimental to society and must be prohibited if godly order is to be maintained. These same Christians still believe that murder, stealing, perjury, and fraud should all be illegal, but are these crimes not rooted in morality? Of course they are! The idea that civil policy does not have a basis in morality is a dangerous fable.
Secondly, democracy is premised upon a faulty theory of human character. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that democracy historically gained traction as the traditional Christian doctrine of the depravity of man was on the wane. Democracy emerged as a post-Enlightenment innovation that viewed humanity as basically good, while Christian anthropology teaches that mankind is basically evil (see Gen. 6:5, 12; 1 Kgs. 8:46; Ps. 51:5; Eccl. 7:29; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:9-12). Trying to build a society based upon majority rule will only result in disaster, especially since the multitude is prone to doing evil (Ex. 23:2). This is why Christians need to abandon the idea that the spread of democracy complements or aids the expansion of Christ’s Kingdom. Instead, we must seek an alternative theory as to what constitutes legitimate civil authority.
The reason an alternative theory of civil legitimacy is necessary is because the democratic idea that civic authority is grounded upon the consent of the governed is false. Imagine this theory applied to the family. Would disobedient children obey the God-given authority of their parents? Or would they seek to democratically out vote them? It’s easy to imagine what might happen, and the results wouldn’t be pretty. Authority doesn’t derive from the consent of the governed, but as R.L. Dabney pointed out before, authority derives from the “ordinance of God, and hence a share in the ruling franchise is not a natural right at all, but a privilege to be bestowed according to a wise discretion on a limited class having qualification to use it for the good of the whole.” Dabney’s perspective agrees with the Apostle Paul, who stated that all authority is derived from God (Rom. 13:1).
Finally Christians should be aware that Fukuyama and the neoconservatives are dead wrong: liberal democracy most certainly does not constitute the “end of history.” Most American politicians, including Christians unfortunately, are obsessed with the fantasy that America will abide forever. We are told that the current financial crisis is only a passing inconvenience. After all, we survived the Great Depression and we will overcome this problem as well. It is as though normal moral laws don’t apply here because this is America. America will abide forever because democracy is unable to fail. The reality is that all civilizations experience cycles of success followed by decline. It is hubris to suppose that America is any different from other civilizations, regardless of our political paradigm. H.W. Prentiss describes the rise and fall of civilizations, “The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back into bondage.”10
From a practical standpoint, we should ask what Christians can do in the meantime, since it appears that at least for the short term, democracy is here to stay. I think that there is room for some practical accommodation to the present circumstances. Christians can try to promote godly, moral, and respectable candidates for political office who have a respect for America’s political tradition, even if we can only expect to see modest success at best. What Christians should focus their energy on is working toward restoring a more traditional order by teaching the proper perspective of national identity, strengthening families by promoting traditional morality and gender roles, and asserting a more biblical perspective on authority. Christians should think globally, but act locally to make small but meaningful improvements around ourselves. In my next installment, I would like to delve more into what constitutes legitimate authority, and defend the ancient regimes of Christendom against many of the prevailing misconceptions that have become so common in our post-modern age.
- Gonzalo Ferdinand de la Mora. Egalitarian Envy: The Political Foundations of Social Justice. p. 93 ↩
- M. E. Bradford, from the introduction to Gonzalo Ferdinand de la Mora, Egalitarian Envy: The Political Foundations of Social Justice, p. x. ↩
- Gustav Radbruch. Der Mensch im Recht (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck, 1957), p. 40. As cited in Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God that Failed, p. 29 ↩
- For more on the issue of real money, I recommend S.C. Mooney, Money: Symbol and Substance. http://www.amazon.com/MONEY-Symbol-Substance-S-Mooney/dp/B000BPCV7Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1315875839&sr=8-1 ↩
- Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Democracy: The God that Failed. p. 28 ↩
- Posted on The Economic Collapse Blog. “It is now Mathematically Impossible to Pay Off the U.S. National Debt.” Posted February 4, 2010. http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/it-is-now-mathematically-impossible-to-pay-off-the-u-s-national-debt ↩
- John Adams, quoted in Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind, p. 240 ↩
- Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God that Failed, p. 103. See on this Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism Revisited (Washington D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1990), especially chap. 6. ↩
- Thomas Babington Macauley. Miscellaneous Works, V, p. 258. As cited in Russell Kirk. The Conservative Mind. p. 191 ↩
- Prentis, Jr., Henning Webb (1943). Industrial Management in a Republic. Newcomen Society in North America. p. 22. http://books.google.com/books?id=a-RCAAAAIAAJ&q=%22bondage+to+spiritual+faith%22. ↩