The debate between democracy and republicanism is part of the most important cultural, as well as political debate of our time. It starts out with different understandings of what a democracy and a republic look like, in both a cultural and political sense, where politics is nothing more than the inevitable extension of the culture, of a whole view of Reality. The moral cornerstone of a political system is a doctrine of the functions, the purposes of human life as such. Because the debate so often begins with whole different systems of thought, whole different grammars including different rules for using the terms “democracy” and “republic,” it often falters and goes nowhere.
This debate about democracy, concomitant with a new and passionate defense of democracy, has arisen among some of those of us on the right because the problem we face in America today is the tyranny of the few. It is now small “r” republicanism which relies on an expert view of what rights and happiness really are, and this is tyrannizing us. The republic has become rule-by-expert, rule-by-objective truth as determined by bureaucrats, scientists, and politicians out to serve the “truth” rather than their constituency. It is much more dramatic and self-inflating to serve “the truth” than to serve the tradition of the rednecks back home. And so even Russell Kirk, in his classic The Conservative Mind, published in the middle of the last century, notices at the end of his historical account of the conservative tradition in the west, that conservatives may now need to make democracy their new weapon.
The obvious problem is that the liberals and progressives have gained control of the republic and rights take a back seat in the liberal tradition. The only right in the liberal tradition is the right to justice. But then justice, in the liberal tradition, has nothing to do with individual desert. Justice is utilitarian. It is the greatest good for the greatest number. But of course the liberal concept of The Good is entirely relative, and there is no such thing as an objective measurement of net utility, net happiness. The conservatives in our time have been unable to dismantle the traditional utilitarian nonsense of Enlightenment liberalism, the political
practice of utilitarianism as a will to power, which has otherwise been destroyed by philosophical analysis, because they themselves embrace the notion that there are people who know what is best for everybody — them.
There is only one way to take down the cultural and political dominance of this kind of authoritarianism which leads to radical evil like the legalization of abortion as a perfect example of how liberal reason, the utilitarian myth, completely ignores any notion of inherent human rights. In order to destroy liberalism and progressivism we must present a simple and clearly opposed thesis. We must deny that leaders have a more rational and authoritative view of Reality, of the true ends of human life and therefore the true nature of happiness, including the route to maximizing it. We must assert simply and clearly what conservatives will not assert — that the people know better. The new philosophical foundations for this in the postmodern age are massive. They arise with a theory of meaning, of language, which is viewed as an inherently democratic, self-organizing tradition; the grammar of ordinary language as common, moral, sense. (Keep in mind how infected this grammar is with western Christianity, to the dismay of progressives. This is why they want to change our language from the top down.) There is no superior, expert, authoritative language which is even meaningful.
The inherent superiority of the people’s apprehension of the nature of truly meaningful language, of reason, of justice, of The Good, is the clear opposing thesis which destroys liberalism and progressivism as rationalist authoritarianism. This postmodern weapon, laying at our feet, is unwielded by conservatives who think this is the destruction of the republic and their own power.
We must take the risk, and in point of fact we are taking the risk, of asserting that the people know better than the government. I have stated one reason already for doing so — this is the only way to destroy the left. Our democratic thesis has clarity, power, simplicity, and philosophical legs. We must offer a clear antithesis to destroy a thesis.
There are two more reasons. The second is that there is much less risk to Christian civilization from taking power away from the government and transferring it to the people than allowing the government to stay in charge, let alone grow. The third is that republican limits on democracy remain coherent with our commitment to democracy, for democracy must limit itself to preserve itself. Again, the three reasons for transforming our understanding of the republic in a democratic direction are:
- There is no other way to destroy liberal and progressive authoritarianism, practically speaking, than to assert the antithesis clearly and simply which conservatives, as conservatives, cannot do. This is the thesis that the people know better than the experts and even their so-called “representatives” who are captured by the proud, rationalist political culture they are elected to destroy. The people know better than the “scientific” republic.
- Complete control of the culture, by a free people, is much more likely to produce a Christian society, than cultural control by the government. This is an anti-Burkeian, anti-conservative position. Nevertheless, very few people on the right disagree with this thesis at this point in American history. Christianity is the most overwhelming moral and religious force in the history of the world, and every time it is allowed to operate, it commands the culture. The only thing which can keep Christianity from dominating the culture, and therefore politics, is a very powerful government which opposes it. Christianity is an overwhelming force pent up by the world, by design, and at great expense. The liberals and progressives are terrified of the inherent, existential, pragmatic power of Christianity.
- Democracy itself is anchored in Christian assumptions about the nature and destiny of man, and it must protect itself by limiting itself constitutionally. The majority must not be allowed, as it has in our time, to vote an end to democracy. The value of democracy, and the rules for preserving it (including the primacy of private property, free speech funded by private property, and self-defense as an expression of moral equality implying the right to life) are not tradition-neutral. The republic is simply the natural constitution of democracy.
We have learned a lot about the needs of a true democracy since the Enlightenment, since the construction of our own constitution in America. Democracy needs a constitution, a republican house, to live in. But as a process it must be much more empowered to deconstruct government than it is currently. This power is essential to preventing authoritarian government. Democracy, in my postmodern view of it, is complete control of the culture by the people, and is habitually deconstructive of government. In a postmodern democracy, the people own and control all of the means of cultural production; the state is separated from all education, and judges are elected. The democratic majority has the power to destroy, instantly, any law, any bureaucracy, constructed by its elected officials. It can even nullify court decisions like those of the supreme court, becoming the supreme court. But a democratic majority is not allowed to construct government, to directly create new laws and agencies, for this would establish a competing power with a vested interest in destroying the process which created it and threatens it. Direct, democratic construction would simply put the experts right back in power. It would, ironically, tyrannize not just the minority, but the majority. The problem of modern politics is not the abuse of the minority by the majority, but of the majority by the bureaucracy.
The liberals and progressives have proven that a republic, based on the authority of reason, of leaders who are supposedly the incarnation of reason, can be used to strip the people of their freedom rather than protecting it. Democratic deconstruction, combined with democratic cultural control, will be the end of liberalism, of rationalist progressive ideology and government.
In a sense, as a neopopulist, I am simply asking for a better republic, not the kind of democracy which turns the democratic majority into the one and only law. But behind this idea that a democracy is, above all else, and under all else, the control of the culture by the people, there is a pragmatic recognition of the fact, illustrated by history, that no matter how righteous the written, positive law may be, if the culture is not aligned with it, if there is no common understanding of it, then the rule of law is merely theoretical. If judges are not elected, if they are not solid with the dominant tradition of the people, they will rule in terms of their own version of reason and justice; they will exercise solidarity with the emerging, independent, and opposed tradition of the government. They will create competing uses of the language of the law. They will use the same terms, but not the same rules for using those terms correctly. They will not, as they have not, tell us that they have changed the rules. They will simply use the terms as if their rules for using them correctly are the only rules. This is the tyranny of our age.
Republicans ask those of us who are now interested in exploiting democracy for our ends, how democracy can ever be limited. We, in turn, ask the republicans how a republic can ever be limited. The current “republican” political paradigm is obviously out of control. The tyranny of the few seems even more likely and dangerous than the tyranny of the many. It seems more likely that we can change the hearts and minds of the people, than a handful of ideologues who are governed only by their will to power; who will always attempt to promulgate by force the world-view, the grammar, which serves their ambition.
My goal, as a neopopulist, is to create a world which is a living hell for experts — rationalists who think they have the one and only scientific grasp of Reality and the true ends of human life. Their torture, by its very nature, is democratic.