Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world

DEMOCRACY IN TROUBLE

 

The Brexit vote in the UK and the Trump victory in the USA  are protest votes by people who see themselves as ignored by an intellectual, political elite.

I connect this with a comment by Kenneth Clarke, , a senior Tory in the UK, who lamented a change in the way democracy works. He postulated a time when the general public elected MP’s in the belief that they were more educated and far-sighted than the ordinary voter and could be trusted to know what was best for us all. Whether or not that was ever the case, today’s reality is different. People outside the intellectual elite have no respect for politicians or members of the ‘The Establishment’ and credit them with objectives based on greed or fashion or questionable ideals.

So there is a big gap between the populist masses and the legislators. Yet Britain went into democracy willingly. We passed the Great Reform Bill of 1832, and subsequent Acts of Parliament, to enfranchise people whose views had previously been ignored, except when they rioted. The motive must have been a belief that the views of all adults should be taken into account. Now, in two countries, the defeated elite are complaining that half the population are too stupid to know what is good for them and should be ignored if possible.  The extremists among the elite are saying that democracy is a failed system. Democracy has only failed in the sense that the political elite have forgotten how it is supposed to work.

I suspect that the elite are obsessed by fashionable ideology and the masses concentrate so much on present needs that they give little thought to deeper matters. I find the latter attitude easy to understand. The attitude of the elite. on the other hand, seems quite contrary to their claim of mental superiority.

An issue that illustrates the argument is globalisation, using this as a blanket term. It covers Pragmatism versus Idealism and Nationalism versus Internationalism and Local versus Central and Traditional versus Modern and Deliberation versus Haste and Variety versus Conformity. The mind-set of the intellectual elite joins the second of all these pairs in a sub-conscious alliance.

The danger of idealism is very evident in the concept of a United Europe. It started with revulsion at the horrors of two world wars and the objective of making such wars impossible. The proposed method was to unify the countries of Europe by peaceful means. The objective was laudable. The method has encountered practical difficulties. Two things have happened with the passing years. Generations have grown up to whom the idea of wars between European states is no longer a serious possibility and a strategy to avoid it is not needed. Added to that, a group of extreme Europhiles has developed to whom the unity project has become an end in itself. The original purpose no longer motivates them: pursuing their project does. This is what happens when Ideals become Obsessions.

On the other side are people who regret recent changes and want things to go back to what they used to be. It won’t happen and they are certain to be disappointed. Great men in the past have tried to put the clock back (Charles De Gaulle and Douglas MacArthur among them) and none have succeeded. Trump won’t either, even if he tries.

So putting the clock back is a doomed strategy and the ‘progressive’ people offer nothing that appeals to their static partners. How will that group react to their two-nation defeat? First of all, they must recognise that it is not a serious positive proposal. It is actually a scream saying, “Stop and think.” The intellectual elite still have a vital role but they must ask, “Have we got it wrong? Have we become so obsessed with certain ideas that we have ignored other options?” It can be most unpleasant for somebody considered clever to be halted abruptly by a person of lesser intellect. When then the progressives have got over their pique and accepted this check on their activities, then they can get back to leading in a democratic way.

 

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