We here at the Orthosphere are skeptical about the prospects for any merely democratic political order. As has been common knowledge since Plato, democracies are vulnerable to the excesses and errors of the mob, to the suasions and blandishments of sophists and scoundrels, and their political discourse to a rapid devolution toward the lowest common denominator – a race to the bottom, in every way. They tend to vice and imprudence.
The only sort of democracy that might have therefore any very good likelihood of success would be a republic characterized by such constraints of the franchise as to constitute it an aristocracy wherein the aristoi – the electors, ergo their elect – were raised from among hoi polloi by some other principle than a mere accident of heredity (not forgetting that such excellence in life as befits and tells aristoi is largely after all an outworking of just such accidents – so that a merely hereditary aristocracy has a fair shot at working out over the long run).
A democracy not somehow tempered by differentials of political authority and influence could not be other than a war of all against all. What could there be in such an order that would motivate men to agree to abide by the decisions of any political procedure whatever? What would prevent them from flouting every policy they did not like? Why would they abide by verdicts or votes that their part had lost? Why, in short, would they cede the tiniest jot of their own natural political authority to any other? Why would not every man go just his own way, weapons free, and devil take the hind most? What could prevent him, but force?
So is it as Plato saw that democracies are wont to turn tyrannical.
Considering these prior questions, it is clear that there can be no such thing as mere democracy, because in it there can be no kratia, no just admixture and coordination of opinions. The only way to secure agreement is for men – all men – to submit to authorities, and surrender to them their loyalty, giving them priority over their own divergent opinions about what they ought best next do.
[All men: in a true kratia, no man may be, or think himself, above the Law; the Law, on the contrary, must emit the odor of sanctity, and its transgression must seem abominable and damnable to all men, whatever their station (cf. the dreadful horror of Richard III looking back on his crimes as he realizes his doom is nigh)(cf. also the submission of Henry II to public flogging for the crimes his courtiers had committed on the body of St. Thomas à Becket). A tyranny is a state ruled by men who think they are themselves the Law, or that they may change it at whim, or that there is no Law – these are all ways of saying the same thing. Tyrannies cannot then be just, except momentarily and adventitiously, for they are not even trying.]
What is the source of social adherence? Why do men tolerate each other, and do business with each other, of any sort? We take this for granted, because it is inherent to our sort of animality. We are social creatures, with allegiances to each other. But why? Why do men feel loyalty, and pledge it, and then honor such pledges, even unto death? Why do they risk death, and die, for their duty to their lord? Why did young men ever volunteer by thousands and millions to go to war for their fatherland?
Well, consider: what other sorts of persons are men so naturally eager to protect that they willingly sacrifice their lives in so doing? Their families.
I do not mean to suggest that fealty in general is nothing but familiar loyalty. There is more to it than that. But it is at least that, however attenuated. Men agree to abide by the decisions of the polis because they take that polis to be their own, in just the way that their wives (who might be even of foreign stock) are theirs, or that their brothers in arms are theirs.
There is propriety in all such relations. As “my beloved is mine, and I am his,” so am I my lord’s man, and he my lord. “This land is my land;” “my country, right or wrong;” “compadre,” “compatriot,” “comrade.” There is mutual ownership among men; it comes with mutual love, which is their will toward each other’s good; such is duty.
Where it is not queered by exogenous factors, or faked, or perverted by great sin – by great treason against the Law of the polis – that mutuality is even. It balances out, quite naturally and without special arrangements or the exertion of force. How not, since we have conservation laws? The ledgers must all somehow balance. So is much given to the king, and everything expected of him, to the limit of his life. Authority is costly, and beneficial, in both directions. It binds and domesticates all poles of the relation to each other. The peasant has a certain claim on the king’s person, his property and indeed his life, his very body; and the true king reckons and admits of it.
Raw democracy, then, is not feasible. We find democracy everywhere, for every society – and every social order – cooks up from immediate social transactions proceeding among mere men, as such alike, and so able and inclined to agree, so that as distributed across a whole population, and ever vulnerable to wholesale abandonment, any social order is in a sense democratic. But wherever we find democracy, it is cooked: tempered, modulated and structured by authority and loyalty, by Law and custom and bonds. These work among fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, between brothers and cousins. They extend to in-laws and distant relations, to the township, to her metropolis, to the nation. They are not all familiar relations, of course, but are all somehow like them; they partake of the same forms that have their palmary and archetypal instantiations in and between families. A friend is not a brother, but is always at least a bit like one.
A democracy not yet ordered by more formal relations of aristocracy but enough cooked by such familiar relations could succeed. The tighter and denser their familiar relations, and the fewer strangers and outlanders they had in their midst, the more could its members find themselves naturally committed to each other as to their own, to give way to each other for love or duty, and so agree in harmony. In such polities, laws might be few, for all their men would be of like minds and habits, more or less, so that most things would go without saying.
But where familiarity is weak or attenuated, as with large or diverse populations, we find men hedged about with a dense prickle of law and regulation, of formal legal procedures and protocols – and policed commensurately. Such polities tend to political paralysis, to bureaucracy, and then to timor and inevitably la trahison des clercs, thence finally to moral despair: to the collapse of morale and of limits.
But then also do we find that democracies everywhere are so far cooked by structures of authority as to have thrown up at least a de facto effectual aristocracy, whether or not it be recognized by anyone as such. There is always an oligarchy.
As decided originally in face to face conversation, the method of elevation is basically democratic: men take each other’s measures directly, and quickly settle upon their most appropriate leaders. The less familiar the society, the more will such decisions presuppose mutual antagonism and suspicion, rather than common interests and mutual affection: the process of devising and administering political regulation will itself then more and more call for political regulation.
In short, the more familiar the society, the better the chance that democratic elevations of aristoi will occur organically, justly, and rationally; the less, the worse. Democracy works best then in smaller, more homogeneous groups than in other sorts; but it cannot work ever except under an aristocracy.