Although Russell Brand is not so much a stopped clock as a mop-topped clot, his recent diatribe against voting certainly seems to have chimed with a growing trend of political discontent in the wider British public. The fact that Brand’s reasons for rejecting establishment politics amount to a clutch of inane leftist talking points should not blind us to the basic truth of his argument against voting: that it is a form of “tacit complicity” with (and worse, legitimisation of) a corrupted and unrepresentative system.
In The New Few: Or a Very British Oligarchy, Ferdinand Mount describes just how unrepresentative the British political system has become over the last few decades. Political parties that once spoke for entire social classes, and boasted millions of members, have now become political advertising organisations whose members number in the low hundreds of thousands (perhaps even less for Cameron’s modernised Tory Party. Power has been siphoned away from local activists and concentrated in the hands of politicians, who have come to resemble a homogeneous ruling class increasingly alienated from the people they rule (as was made embarrassingly clear by Gordon Brown’s ‘Bigotgate’ gaffe during the 2010 election. Because it is now increasingly obvious that the democratic system merely allows the people a choice between different factions of a political class they increasingly resent, turnout at general elections has dwindled accordingly, reaching a record low of 59.4 in 2001.
In establishment media discourse, the typical response to these facts is to advocate some change in the system that will “give power back to the people”. All very well – but hang on. If we travel further up the stream of the Alternative Right and read Mosca’s The Ruling Class, we learn that to hope for such a change is a delusion. The division of humanity into rulers and ruled is a universal social fact; people in a democracy cannot rule themselves without leaders, any more than a king in an absolute monarchy can have his orders carried out without the help of a governing class; and thus, oligarchies inevitably arise in every organised society. On the basis of similar ideas, Schumpeter wrote a critique of democracy in 1942 (in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy) that anticipated all of the oligarchical tendencies of modern representative democracy, which have only recently worsened to the extent that they have become visible to the masses.
Although this implies that democracy is not so different from more authoritarian forms of government in practice, most people would agree that it is still preferable to these, on the grounds that it – at least to a certain degree – holds the ruling class accountable to public opinion. And if we restrict our view to the workings of democratic institutions, this ought to hold true.
However, I would argue that democracy in the modern-day West is working towards the opposite end. The problem is not in the workings of institutions, but in the enslaving power of democratic mythology about the “rule of the people” and the immorality of “elitism”, which enable the ruling class to deny its own existence as an elite and conceal its self-interest behind wider and more anonymous social forces. As such, this “democracy-as-myth” is able to hold the populace in thrall just as effectively as a myth of divine right might have done in former times.
As we have noted, elections in Britain (and elsewhere) offer the public an opportunity to throw out one faction of the political class in favour of another, but do not of course provide an opportunity to throw out the political class as a whole. As such, debate over policies – and accountability for them –extends in fact only to those areas where there exist differing views between the different factions of the political class. If the political class (and ruling elite as a whole) happens to possess a broad consensus on a particular policy, not only is public opposition not seriously listened to, but the political class need not ever be held accountable for the policy.
A prime example of this is the ongoing policy of ethnic replacement which goes under the euphemism of “mass immigration” in establishment discourse. When this policy first began to be implemented in Britain, the ruling-class obsession with the evils of “racism” (or “racialism”) ensured that Enoch Powell was ostracised from the halls of kratos for dissenting against it, despite commanding massive support from the demos. The fact that the policy has proceeded since, in spite of consistent popular discontent, no doubt has much to do with the fact that it has benefited the ruling class as a whole, bringing cheap labour to the private sector and economy and cheaper votes to the political advocates of the bureaucracy. And now that the damage caused by this policy can no longer be swept under a carpet of multiculturalist delusions, the political class has effectively abdicated all semblance of responsibility, with Boris Johnson writing with a shrug of the shoulders that “we need to stop moaning about the damburst… it’s happened”.
In a straight-up oligarchy like China, the people would know exactly who to blame for such a disastrous and unpopular policy, and it is doubtful that a Communist Party apparatchik would dare to write so nonchalantly about it in public. But in Britain, the policy in question supposedly took place under the “rule of the people” – so why was it not vetoed by “the people”, unless “the people” in fact wanted or needed it all along? Everyone is compromised who has bought into the system with his vote, the powerful human tendency to rationalise an action ex post facto takes hold, and the concept of the collective will of the political class is so poorly grasped that it can easily be fudged into nonsensical abstractions like “economic forces” or “the progress of history”.
Of course, democracy-as-myth seeps not just into the minds of the electorate but into the entire culture of a democratic state, including the highest minds in the country. As a result, the prevailing tendency in Western academia is to deride the “elitism” of any theory of society or history as primarily driven by the ruling class, and to focus as much study as possible on “the people” (it is for this reason that many of the masterpieces of elite theory by Mosca, Pareto, Burnham etc. are little known or out of print). While this all might be very flattering for “the people”, for a member of a corrupt ruling class it provides an experience akin to that of a thief in a society where streetlights are banned and house lights are mandatory. Not only do the social sciences produce a constant flow of information invaluable for controlling the thoughts, votes, purses etc. of the masses; but on the other hand, the anatomy and qualities of elites are so badly understood by the public that they are rendered incapable of recognising a degenerate and illegitimate elite as such, even when it is engaged in the business of destroying their country.
This, then, is the power of democracy as an enslaving and incapacitating myth: distinct from democracy in practice, which is an impossibility; and positively inimical to democracy as it can best be approximated in the real world, which is a political system in which the ruling elite are held accountable for their actions to some extent by the body of the public. It remains to be seen how effectively the beneficiaries of this myth will be able to defend it against the slow awakening of those whom it has lulled to sleep for so long.