Note: I agree with every word of this. England was a much freer country when it was ruled by a committee of hereditary landlords. The old ruling class would turn nasty about protection of their game, and were perhaps overly protective of the Church of England. They never tried telling us what to smoke or drink, and only interfered in what we did so far as they could be prodded by middle class busybodies who had to collect their own funds and never got control of the enforcement agencies. Letting everyone vote has allowed the emergence of a new ruling class of totalitarian puritans. Since we can’t go back to the good old days, I suppose the only answer is radical decentralisation and appointment of all representatives and most officials by sortition – oh, and possibly frequent referenda for the actual making of laws. SIG
Detailing the childhood experience of Isaiah Berlin in post-revolution Russia as a preamble, it hinted that equating democracy with freedom might be a flawed way of thinking.
We believe that freedom and democracy are inseparable, so that when a dictator is toppled the result is not only a more accountable type of government but also greater liberty throughout society.
This belief forms the justification of the repeated attempts by Western governments to export their own political model to countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. In this simple and seemingly compelling story, freedom and democracy are a package that can be delivered anywhere in the world.
At this point, many will be nodding their heads in agreement – it is, after all, what we are told by western politicians on a regular basis – but it’s quite wrong to believe that.
An older generation of thinkers recognised that freedom and democracy don’t always go hand in hand. The 19th Century liberal John Stuart Mill was a life-long campaigner for greater democracy, but he also worried that personal liberty would shrink once governments could claim to express the will of the majority.
Born in 1872 and dying in 1970 at the age of 98, Mill’s godson Bertrand Russell agreed and shocked many people when he observed that while Britain after World War II was a more democratic society than the one he’d grown up in, it was also in some ways less free. For Russell, as for Mill, liberty was one thing, democracy another. It’s a deeply unfashionable view, but I think essentially correct.
The article meanders after that and fails to nail the fact that democracy has made us less free in our own country, instead focussing on other countries where tyranny is more easily recognisable to BBC readers.
It’s a theme which had already been discussed at length in Democracy and the Fall of The West by Craig Smith and Tom Miers (who you can read regularly on the blogroll to your right).
In their book, they describe how democracy actively works against freedom by its very nature. Instead of government working for the interests of the entire nation, the system of democracy encourages – or, you could say, nudges – politicians into working only for a section of society which will deliver them 51% (or often less) of any particular vote.
Democracy destroys altruism in governance and replaces it with naked self-interest backed up by a tyranny of the majority. Rooted in this flawed system is the huge machine of lobbyists, vested interest groups and emotional rabble-rousing which is inflicting the illiberal policy we rail against here by turning that tyranny into one of a minority arrogantly posing as a majority.
It leads to the most heavily-funded being listened to, and those who have no understanding of politics – or power to get involved – being completely excluded. It’s why working classes in the UK are routinely ignored by forensic party machines who often don’t even bother leafletting where turnout is low, and therefore why Westminster has no interest in framing policy to protect their meagre enjoyments.
The bullying of lifestyles detailed on these pages branches directly from a democratic system which is geared towards those who have the ability to shout loudest, often funded by the government itself because of their snobbish prejudices.
As Smith and Miers note:
“The power of the state has re-grown at the expense of the liberty of the individual. Far from underpinning our freedoms, Democracy is in fact undermining them. It has unshackled the coercive power of the state …”
Herrick was a successful and popular Republican politician with a majority of 113,000 and ample campaign funds. His only mistake was to have trampled on a local option bill proposed by the Anti-Saloon League.
[The Anti-Saloon League] held hundreds of dry rallies in favour of his opponent – the Democrats had sensibly nominated a bone dry candidate – and scurrilously accused Herrick of being in the pocket of the drinks industry.
[The AntiSaloon League] directed tens of thousands of floating voters from the church pews to the polling station and the unfortunate Governor was overwhelmed.
Herrick’s defeat [...] was a bleak warning to wet politicians that it was safest to drink in private and support prohibition in public.
This unprincipled, if practical, fudging culminated in the disastrous farce of wet politicians lining up to vote for national Prohibition.
A more modern illustration can be seen in the unceremonial – and orchestrated – destruction of John Reid prior to the UK smoking ban. ASH still gloat about it.
In Spring 2004, following publication of the Wanless review the DH began a public health white paper consultation on action to improve people’s health. March 2004 had seen the extremely successful implementation of comprehensive smokefree legislation in the Republic of Ireland, but the Minister for Health John Reid made very clear at the launch of the consultation that he was against the introduction of smokefree legislation in England and still favoured the voluntary approach. Legislation had been in the Wanless review so it had to be discussed as part of the consultation process, but it looked like Reid would ensure that it was not in the final recommendations. Fortunately, he overreached himself. At a public meeting with journalists present he said, “I just do not think that the worst problem on our sink estates by any means is smoking but that it is an obsession of the middle classes. What enjoyment does a 21 year old mother of three living in a council sink estate get? The only enjoyment sometimes they have is to have a cigarette.”
This led to a media firestorm, dominating the news agenda for days, in which Reid came under attack by the media as much as by the health lobby. In the middle of it we launched our MORI poll results showing that 80% of the public supported a law to make
all enclosed workplaces smokefree. John Reid, who had refused to meet us until then, finally agreed to meet. The group that went to see him included all the major medical and public health organisations and health charities, making clear that the whole of the health community was as one on this issue. It was clear when we met him that he had been forced to concede that legislation had to be on the agenda, the issue was now what the legislation would contain.
Despite valiantly defending those who couldn’t speak for themselves, Reid – just like Merrick before him – was browbeaten into submission by the system created by democracy, and freedoms were lost in favour of tyranny fostered by a highly-paid, intensely vocal minority.
This is the problem we face in the UK, and elsewhere, in the 21st century. Talk to any reasonable man or woman in the street and they will tell you they have no objection to smoking and non-smoking bars; that minimum alcohol pricing is a pretty lame idea; and that McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are benign products over which there has been far too much fuss.
And if you can find anyone, but anyone, in a supermarket queue who doesn’t think hiding tobacco displays is truly laughable you’ll be doing very well.
Yet democracy has created these disconnects between what the public want and what over-thinking – and sometimes bullied – politicians end up promoting.
Yes, I know it’s depressing, but just wait till I tell you how this system has now led to government intentionally attempting to bypass your conscious mind to implement policy. Since democracy now means they don’t really need to consult you anymore, why the need to even let you mull over what they are doing ‘for your own good’, eh?
Tune in again soon, why don’t you?