Second Meditation on Democracy [written Monday, August 7, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elic­it inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have anoth­er round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-post­ing them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Most­ly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updat­ing.


Þingvel­lir, the out­door site of the medieval Ice­landic elect­ed par­lia­ment. Þingvel­lir, the out­door site of the medieval Ice­landic elect­ed par­lia­ment.

Civ­i­liza­tion is the process in which one grad­u­al­ly increas­es the num­ber of peo­ple includ­ed in the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ and at the same time decreas­es those labeled ‘you’ or ‘them’ until that cat­e­go­ry has no one left in it.” — Howard Win­ters, an Amer­i­can archae­ol­o­gist who stud­ied ancient set­tle­ment and trade pat­terns [quot­ed by Anne-Marie Cantwell in Howard Dal­ton Win­ters: In Memo­ri­am]

“Voice or no voice, the peo­ple can always be brought to the bid­ding of the lead­ers. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the paci­fists for lack of patri­o­tism and expos­ing the coun­try to dan­ger. It works the same in any coun­try.” — Her­mann Wil­helm Göring, sec­ond in com­mand to Adolf Hitler.

What most telling­ly dis­tin­guish­es demo­c­ra­t­ic from non-demo­c­ra­t­ic thought is its respect for human beings. By this, I don’t mean respect for some neb­u­lous abstrac­tion called “human­i­ty” or “the peo­ple”, which is all too eas­i­ly trans­formed into a mys­ti­cal col­lec­tivism. It’s a respect for real-life indi­vid­ual human beings, who live, fall in love, have chil­dren, and strug­gle to find secu­ri­ty and hap­pi­ness. In demo­c­ra­t­ic thought, the well­be­ing of indi­vid­ual human beings is the pur­pose and mea­sure of polit­i­cal choic­es. Well­be­ing, to the demo­c­rat, is defined first in terms of what mat­ters most to con­scious beings — lib­er­ty, self-respect, dig­ni­ty, con­trol over their own lives. The phys­i­cal neces­si­ties of life, such as food and shel­ter, are mean­ing­less to human beings except with­in the con­text of those val­ues. We are not cat­tle.

It is this respect for human beings as human beings, and not mere­ly as domes­tic ani­mals, that dis­tin­guish­es demo­c­ra­t­ic thought from all oth­er forms of polit­i­cal thought. The pur­pose of non-demo­c­ra­t­ic thought is to secure pow­er, glo­ry, and wealth for some par­tic­u­lar peo­ple — invari­ably a very small num­ber of them — over the remain­der. In order to accom­plish this end, those who seek such pow­er con­coct fraud­u­lent intel­lec­tu­al struc­tures. Their aim is to con­vince human beings to sac­ri­fice them­selves, to aban­doned their rights, or to vic­tim­ize their neigh­bours. Some super­nat­ur­al or col­lec­tive enti­ty is pre­sent­ed as the pur­pose and ben­e­fi­cia­ry of polit­i­cal choice. Whether it be nation, race, reli­gion, par­ty, or what­ev­er, the sur­vival of some col­lec­tive enti­ty is pre­sumed to be the mea­sure of all worth. Human beings are pre­sent­ed, not as valu­able in them­selves, but as exist­ing only to serve and per­pet­u­ate the cho­sen col­lec­tive enti­ty.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic ideas are not vari­ants of, rel­a­tives of, or exten­sions of any form of non-demo­c­ra­t­ic ideas. They are not part of any “spec­trum”. They do not con­sti­tute an “ide­ol­o­gy”, com­pet­ing with oth­er, essen­tial­ly equiv­a­lent “ide­olo­gies”. The gulf between demo­c­ra­t­ic thought and non-demo­c­ra­t­ic thought is a chasm of absolute and irrec­on­cil­able oppo­si­tion. The two ideas — that human beings have val­ue, on the one hand, or that they are mere­ly objects to be sac­ri­ficed to a col­lec­tiv­i­ty, on the the oth­er — exist in two sep­a­rate con­cep­tu­al uni­vers­es. The first exists in a moral uni­verse, and the oth­er does not.

I must empha­size that I don’t believe in the sin­cer­i­ty of non-demo­c­ra­t­ic thought. Those who are called upon to sac­ri­fice their lives and lib­er­ty would not do so if they dis­cov­ered that the only ben­e­fi­cia­ry was some oth­er indi­vid­ual, not close or dear to them, who lived and pros­pered par­a­sit­i­cal­ly from their self-sac­ri­fice. They must either be con­vinced that human beings are ranked in real val­ue, and that their self-sac­ri­fice reflects their own innate­ly less­er val­ue than their ben­e­fi­cia­ries; or they must be dis­tract­ed from see­ing the self-serv­ing inter­est of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries by imag­in­ing that some more impor­tant, non-human thing is being served; or they must have their ordi­nary human needs for love, friend­ship and fam­i­ly crushed, and a neu­rot­ic emo­tion­al trans­fer­ence to a “leader” sub­sti­tut­ed for them. For any of these phe­nom­e­na to come into effect, the ben­e­fi­cia­ries can­not be uncon­scious of the fraud­u­lent nature of their claims. It requires a con­stant refresh­ment of lies and manip­u­la­tion, switch­es in tac­tics and tech­niques, and sub­sti­tu­tions of one “aim” for anoth­er to main­tain the spell. In all my stud­ies of tyrants and non-demo­c­ra­t­ic regimes, I have nev­er once seen any cred­i­ble evi­dence that the cen­tral lead­er­ship of any such regime actu­al­ly believed in the truth of their sup­posed “ide­ol­o­gy”. One of the chief plea­sures of dom­i­na­tion, from the point of view of the dom­i­nant, is the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing that the “suck­ers” believe absur­di­ties which they would nev­er fall for them­selves.

To under­stand this process, we must not look to some dubi­ous notion of human nature, but to the more con­crete­ly vis­i­ble phe­nom­e­non of human char­ac­ter. Human nature, what­ev­er it might be, is that which all human beings hold psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly in com­mon. Peo­ple have argued fruit­less­ly for mil­len­nia about whether peo­ple are “essen­tial­ly” self­ish, or benev­o­lent, or vio­lent, or peace­ful, or sub­mis­sive, or aggres­sive. What­ev­er they might “essen­tial­ly” be, our expe­ri­ence tells us that human beings vary in their char­ac­ter, that they do not all fit a sin­gle tem­plate. We have invent­ed words like “cru­el”, “kind”, “self­ish”, “pompous”, “cred­u­lous”, “gen­tle”, or “sen­si­tive” because we encounter dif­fer­ent kinds of behav­iour in human beings. With­in a cer­tain range, we are pre­pared to deal with these vari­a­tions, and to rec­og­nize that our own char­ac­ter is among them.

How­ev­er, cer­tain spe­cif­ic human char­ac­ters present prob­lems to human com­mu­ni­ties.

The most obvi­ous prob­lem is cre­at­ed by the vio­lent per­son. Every­one has the poten­tial to be vio­lent, but it’s clear that some peo­ple come to it more eas­i­ly than oth­ers. Every com­mu­ni­ty has its bul­lies. On a small scale, these can be held in check by the threat of revenge, and this, in fact, is how most local com­mu­ni­ties have dealt with the prob­lem. How­ev­er, the solu­tion has nev­er proven very sat­is­fac­to­ry. Exam­i­na­tions of “non-state” and pre­lit­er­ate soci­eties, time and time again, have revealed death rates from war and mur­der aver­ag­ing .5 per capi­ta per annum [see Kee­ley, Lawrence H., War Before Civ­i­liza­tion, Oxford UP 1996.]. The typ­i­cal pre­lit­er­ate soci­ety stud­ied by anthro­pol­o­gists cus­tom­ar­i­ly sanc­tions a series of “nest­ing box­es” of rela­tion­ships defined by who is oblig­at­ed to take revenge on who for thefts, assaults, or insults. A fist­fight between two cousins over a coconut can rapid­ly be trans­formed into gen­er­a­tions of bru­tal war­fare, as fam­i­ly, then clan, then col­lat­er­al clans, tribes, and con­fed­er­a­tions of tribes are each called upon to exact revenge for pre­vi­ous acts of revenge. In response to this dan­ger, most such com­mu­ni­ties cre­ate con­sular bod­ies, usu­al­ly of wide­ly respect­ed peo­ple, vil­lage elders, or heads of fam­i­lies, which attempt to damp­en these cycles of vengeance by per­sua­sion and diplo­ma­cy. Demo­c­ra­t­ic tech­niques, such as we have devel­oped them, have evolved from these con­sular bod­ies, which can be found in every region of the world, every era, and every exten­sive cul­tur­al and reli­gious tra­di­tion. [see Muhlberg­er, Steven R. & Paine, Phil = Democracy’s Place in World His­to­ry. Jour­nal of World His­to­ry 4:1 1993]. Their effec­tive­ness in lim­it­ing vengeance is hard to deter­mine, since we can’t com­pile sta­tis­tics of vio­lence that might have hap­pened, but did not. How­ev­er, the death rates per capi­ta speak for them­selves. Cul­tures in which state orga­ni­za­tion does not exist, or in which it is only super­fi­cial, exhib­it death rates by war and homi­cide far exceed­ing the most vio­lent cities in the Unit­ed States, and often exceed­ing the mor­tal­i­ty rates in mod­ern civ­il wars. This con­tra­dicts a wide­ly-held roman­tic fan­ta­sy of pri­mor­dial non-vio­lent soci­eties in har­mo­ny. This is not to say that the con­sular tech­niques devel­oped in such soci­eties are unim­por­tant. They are ear­ly attempts to imple­ment pro­to-demo­c­ra­t­ic ideas, and such demo­c­ra­t­ic prac­tice as we have today owes its exis­tence to these fal­ter­ing first steps.

Lucy Mair’s com­par­a­tive study of sev­er­al small soci­eties in East Africa [Mair, Lucy Philip. Prim­i­tive Gov­ern­ment: A Study of Tra­di­tion­al Polit­i­cal Sys­tems in East­ern Africa. 1977] rang­ing from extreme­ly decen­tral­ized clan soci­eties to full-fledged monar­chi­cal states, shows that infor­mal con­sular bod­ies are rea­son­ably good at inhibit­ing vio­lence at the fam­i­ly and clan lev­el, but pro­gres­sive­ly less effec­tive as the con­flict involves larg­er or more dis­tant par­ties. What is more, the process comes to a halt when the “eth­nic lim­it” of the group is reached. Con­sular bod­ies make no attempt to lim­it vio­lence out­side of the largest group that the soci­ety defines as “we”. State­less or “trib­al” soci­eties, usu­al­ly exist in a per­pet­u­al state of war­fare with their neigh­bours. Raid­ing neigh­bour­ing eth­nic groups for cat­tle, graz­ing land, access to water, or sim­ply to mas­sacre and take cap­tives, is usu­al­ly regard­ed in such soci­eties as a demon­stra­tion of val­our. The sup­posed provo­ca­tions are usu­al­ly spu­ri­ous, or cyn­i­cal­ly con­trived. Such war­fare is com­mon­ly very bru­tal, empha­siz­ing tor­ture and rape to inflict the max­i­mum humil­i­a­tion on the ene­my. Arche­ol­o­gy has unearthed vast num­bers of for­ti­fi­ca­tions and vil­lages placed in loca­tions that were obvi­ous­ly cho­sen for ease of defense, all in times and places where it is assumed that no large-scale states or king­doms exist­ed. Recent attempts to claim that trib­al soci­eties engaged in war­fare only because they were sub­ject to eco­nom­ic pres­sures from more tech­no­log­i­cal­ly advanced soci­eties are not con­vinc­ing. The pat­tern of per­pet­u­al inter-trib­al war­fare, through­out his­to­ry, is evi­dent.

This may give us a clue to why vio­lent peo­ple are sur­pris­ing­ly tol­er­at­ed in human groups. Where there is a dis­tinct trib­al “we” which is engaged in per­pet­u­al vio­lent rival­ry with sev­er­al “thems”, it is handy to have peo­ple with­in your “we” who have an unusu­al­ly vio­lent tem­pera­ment. They may be a nui­sance at home, but they can deliv­er a use­ful amount of fierce­ness in war. Their psy­chol­o­gy may even be mim­ic­ked and styl­ized into mil­i­tary cults, so that young men of more placid tem­pera­ment can be trained into effec­tive mil­i­tary forces.

Anoth­er human type that strains the egal­i­tar­i­an ethos in human com­mu­ni­ties is the psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ty. Some peo­ple take plea­sure in con­trol­ling oth­er human beings, and are very sen­si­tive to the body lan­guage, vocal into­na­tions, and oth­er sub­con­scious tricks that trig­ger an unthink­ing obe­di­ence in oth­ers. If you don’t have this par­tic­u­lar skill, it’s hard for you to imag­ine how it works . Some peo­ple are sim­ply able to tell oth­er peo­ple what to do, and obtain auto­mat­ic com­pli­ance. If they embark on some project, they can expect to have oth­er peo­ple doing the work for them, not just because they are offered a quid-pro-quo, but because they are infect­ed with an irra­tional desire to please that per­son. They fall into an unthink­ing assump­tion that their own pri­or­i­ties are less impor­tant. Even when skep­ti­cal of their aims, or irked by the arro­gance implied by their man­ner, peo­ple tend to assume that some great tal­ent, intel­li­gence, or secret knowl­edge must under­ly the con­fi­dence that the dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ty radi­ates. At the very least, peo­ple imag­ine that the dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ty is gath­er­ing the fruit of intense and self-dis­ci­plined labour. These assump­tions, how­ev­er, do not stand up to exam­i­na­tion. Adolf Hitler, for exam­ple, was able to get mil­lions of peo­ple to obey him, even when the obe­di­ence was obvi­ous­ly destruc­tive to their inter­ests. Why? He was not par­tic­u­lar­ly intel­li­gent, and oth­er than perus­ing a hand­ful of pop­u­lar crank books, was not par­tic­u­lar­ly knowl­edge­able about any­thing. Even at the height of world con­quest, he spent very lit­tle time work­ing. He spent most of his time sleep­ing, hav­ing leisure­ly meals, and watch­ing movies. He read almost none of the reports that came to him, and rarely inquired into the details of his admin­is­tra­tion. On the few occa­sions where he chanced to issue detailed and direct orders, they usu­al­ly made no sense or caused con­sid­er­able dam­age to his own aims. What he did do, unfail­ing­ly, was to com­mand peo­ple to solve prob­lems for him. They went out and did so. Gen­er­als were told to win bat­tles, finance min­is­ters told to finance them. He him­self had no idea of how to do such things, but he did know that if he gave any order, it would be obeyed.

Where aris­toc­ra­cies are firm­ly entrenched, a great deal of effort is made to train aris­to­crat­ic chil­dren to employ the psy­cho­log­i­cal dom­i­nance tricks, and to block their use by non-aris­to­crats. As a defen­sive mea­sure, estab­lished aris­toc­ra­cies make a spe­cial point of inflict­ing pun­ish­ment for “pre­sump­tion” or “inso­lence”. These pejo­ra­tive terms are attached to any use of dom­i­nant speech or body lan­guage out­side of the approved cir­cle. Despite the efforts of hered­i­tary aris­toc­ra­cies to train suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions in dom­i­na­tion skills, it does not appear to be some­thing reli­ably inher­it­ed. A tal­ent for it con­stant­ly appears among any group of human beings.

Like the vio­lent tem­pera­ment, the dom­i­nant tem­pera­ment is tol­er­at­ed in most soci­eties much more than we would expect. Most dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ties do not find them­selves in a posi­tion, like Adolf Hitler or Mao Zedong, of hav­ing an entire nation make them­selves avail­able for tak­ing orders. The aver­age dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ty must oper­ate in a sit­u­a­tion of lim­it­ed resources and pos­si­bil­i­ties, and must use their psy­cho­log­i­cal tricks with­in some con­text where quid-pro-quo exchanges con­sti­tute the pri­ma­ry activ­i­ties. Large orga­ni­za­tions pro­duce things that the soci­ety as a whole is hap­py to have. There’s a ten­den­cy for peo­ple to assume that what­ev­er an orga­ni­za­tion accom­plish­es is the direct result of a dom­i­nant personality’s per­son­al “dynamism” or charis­ma. Cli­mat­ic, demo­graph­ic and eco­nom­ic fac­tors may ensure that, for exam­ple, there is a great demand for air con­di­tion­ers, and mon­ey avail­able to pay for it. Any orga­ni­za­tion that pro­duces air con­di­tion­ers to meet that demand will pros­per. But if a charis­mat­ic “leader” is in charge, part of his dom­i­nance tech­nique is to con­vince oth­er peo­ple that what­ev­er suc­cess hap­pens is the direct result of his dom­i­nant sta­tus.

In some cas­es, this is demon­stra­bly true. How­ev­er, few peo­ple con­sid­er that the same ends can usu­al­ly be achieved with­out the par­tic­i­pa­tion of dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ties. Equal­ly pro­duc­tive orga­ni­za­tions can be put togeth­er, and man­aged skill­ful­ly, entire­ly by quid-pro-quo rela­tion­ships between peo­ple, with­out the inter­ven­tion of any psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ty strut­ting around bark­ing orders, or ema­nat­ing an aura of author­i­ty. I’ve worked in such an orga­ni­za­tion, which was quite suc­cess­ful as an eco­nom­ic enter­prise, and char­ac­ter­ized by a pleas­ant atmos­phere and high morale.

Pol­i­tics, of course, has been treat­ed by many jour­nal­ists and his­to­ri­ans as if it were noth­ing but a chron­i­cle of the suc­cess­es of var­i­ous dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ties, and there is an unend­ing fas­ci­na­tion with the the careers of tyrants. Their abil­i­ty to “accom­plish” things (usu­al­ly death and destruc­tion) with a pow­er­ful stare or a com­mand­ing voice, is not inter­pret­ed as the sad result of human creduli­ty and emo­tion­al weak­ness, but as the man­i­fes­ta­tion of “genius”. But Mozart did not get oth­er peo­ple to com­pose bril­liant music for him by bark­ing orders at them, or know­ing how to stand in an impres­sive way. He sat down at a desk and cre­at­ed the music with his mind. The music’s val­ue speaks for itself. He was not a dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ty. Noth­ing about true cre­ativ­i­ty has any­thing to do with psy­cho­log­i­cal dom­i­nance.

Def­er­ence to dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ties will prob­a­bly exist in any soci­ety. How­ev­er, a civ­i­lized soci­ety will encour­age peo­ple to have suf­fi­cient self-esteem, fore­warn­ing, and self-dis­ci­pline to ignore auto­mat­ic obe­di­ence to any­one who learns how to arch an eye­brow or speak in a low, even voice.

There’s yet anoth­er par­tic­u­lar kind of human char­ac­ter that has a pro­found influ­ence on soci­ety, while at the same time remains almost invis­i­ble and uniden­ti­fied. Psy­chol­o­gists have coined terms like “sociopath” and “Anti­so­cial Per­son­al­i­ty Dis­or­der” to describe the small num­ber among us who ruth­less­ly and effi­cient­ly exploit oth­ers, with­out any restraint from con­science. We under­stand the process when we encounter it on a small, per­son-to-per­son lev­el. All of us have known the jerk with a trail of abused, but incom­pre­hen­si­bly loy­al part­ners. All of us have been sub­ject­ed to the con­vinc­ing con-artist who glibly attempt­ed to part us from a hard-earned pay­check. We have sighed when we heard of a naïve friend drawn into a pyra­mid scheme, or fall­en in with a drea­ry reli­gious cult lead by a charis­mat­ic guru. Occa­sion­al­ly, we hear of some extreme case of egre­gious ruth­less­ness, such as some­one keep­ing an elder­ly rel­a­tive locked in an attic while steal­ing their pen­sion checks.

More com­mon­ly, we suf­fer the depre­da­tions of small-scale social schemers. These peo­ple move through a group of friends or co-work­ers, tak­ing plea­sure in manip­u­lat­ing them, plant­i­ng strate­gic lies, set­ting one friend against anoth­er, engag­ing in sub­tle char­ac­ter assas­si­na­tion, and gen­er­al­ly emerg­ing pros­per­ous, priv­i­leged and unscathed while the more moral peo­ple around them suf­fer. Any rea­son­ably large group of peo­ple is like­ly to include at least one such per­son.

What few peo­ple learn, or face up to when it is demon­strat­ed to them, is that the halls of busi­ness and state pow­er are shaped and dri­ven by many such peo­ple. While they are only a small per­cent­age of us as a whole, their par­tic­u­lar psy­cho­log­i­cal char­ac­ter makes them extreme­ly suc­cess­ful. The high­er up the chain of author­i­ty one goes, the more of this type can be found. We may even­tu­al­ly grasp what they are doing to us, but there is usu­al­ly no way of undo­ing the dam­age they inflict, of expos­ing them, or of bring­ing them to jus­tice. The meth­ods they use have always worked, and rarely fail, unless in com­pe­ti­tion with oth­ers using the same tech­niques more effi­cient­ly.

A per­son may, alter­na­tive­ly, rise in pres­tige and wealth through the use of tal­ent with­in a frame­work of hon­ourable behav­iour. In fact, it is absolute­ly essen­tial that some peo­ple do so, or noth­ing would func­tion at all. Schemers and manip­u­la­tors expend all their ener­gy in destroy­ing oth­er peo­ple, with lit­tle time over to accom­plish use­ful tasks. Large orga­ni­za­tions, which have usu­al­ly come into being to effect some prac­ti­cal pur­pose, can be expect­ed to have a pro­duc­tive core of com­pe­tent peo­ple doing their work well, expect­ing to be judged by the val­ue of their work, and seek­ing noth­ing more than recog­ni­tion and remu­ner­a­tion appro­pri­ate to their con­tri­bu­tion. Weav­ing among them, dodg­ing light-foot­ed from one betray­al or sub­ver­sion to anoth­er, are the schemers and manip­u­la­tors. These usu­al­ly wind up at the top of the orga­ni­za­tion.

Some­times, manip­u­la­tors are so effec­tive that they can actu­al­ly cre­ate an orga­ni­za­tion whose only pur­pose is to advance their own ambi­tions, and is com­prised entire­ly of manip­u­la­tors, sub­sidiary manip­u­la­tors, enforcers, hang­ers-on, and cadres of cult drones who do the mun­dane work. Rather than being a use­ful orga­ni­za­tion that has been cor­rupt­ed and bent to the pur­pos­es of the manip­u­la­tor, it is an act of manip­u­la­tion and fraud embod­ied in an orga­ni­za­tion. Pyra­mid schemes, most ide­o­log­i­cal move­ments, and many reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions fall into this cat­e­go­ry. The Church of Sci­en­tol­ogy is a per­fect exam­ple.

Once again, we should look to dic­ta­tor­ships to see this per­son­al­i­ty type at its most active. Dic­ta­tors are usu­al­ly both dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ties, capa­ble of elic­it­ing auto­mat­ic obe­di­ence through sub­con­scious cues, and socio­path­ic per­son­al­i­ties, who will cheer­ful­ly employ any decep­tion, betray any trust, or destroy any inno­cent per­son to fur­ther their ends. In a dic­ta­tor­ship, the socio­path­ic per­son­al­i­ty tends to be the most suc­cess­ful. Dom­i­nance skills are more wide­ly dis­trib­uted in the pop­u­la­tion. A ris­ing dom­i­nant is bound to encounter, on his trip up the lad­der, a num­ber of peo­ple who are just as good at giv­ing orders. On the upper rungs up the lad­der, you can expect com­plete obliv­i­ous­ness to human suf­fer­ing. Prob­a­bly the clear­est, most undi­lut­ed exam­ple in his­to­ry of a pure socio­path­ic per­son­al­i­ty would be Mao Zedong, who not only mur­dered more peo­ple and cre­at­ed more suf­fer­ing than any­one in human his­to­ry, but who lit­er­al­ly would have killed every human being on Earth if it had been with­in his pow­er. Mao lit­er­al­ly believe that he him­self, and he alone, was the only thing that mat­tered in the entire uni­verse.

The vio­lence and suf­fer­ing of the world was not cre­at­ed by some essen­tial “human nature”, but it has been shaped to a great degree by the sym­bi­ot­ic inter­ac­tion of vio­lent, psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly dom­i­nant, and socio­path­ic per­son­al­i­ties. These per­son­al­i­ty types, even put togeth­er, con­sti­tute no more than a small minor­i­ty of the human com­mu­ni­ty. But the more rea­son­able major­i­ty has been very slow to devel­op the tech­niques of con­tain­ment, dif­fu­sion, and resis­tance, nec­es­sary to pre­vent them from form­ing elites and aris­toc­ra­cies. Human his­to­ry has been dom­i­nat­ed by orga­ni­za­tions that have been cre­at­ed by vio­lent, dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ties, and sociopaths to serve the pur­pos­es of these minori­ties. The sur­vival of par­tic­u­lar human beings with­in the frame­work of these orga­ni­za­tions has usu­al­ly been a mat­ter of pure luck. For thou­sands of years, ordi­nary human beings have strug­gled to sur­vive, while suc­cess­ful elites have ruled over them, expro­pri­at­ed their pos­ses­sions, and expend­ed their lives in wars.

But the sto­ry of the human race is not just a cat­a­log of vic­to­ries for the strong and ruth­less. There are dra­mat­ic dif­fer­ences between dif­fer­ent human com­mu­ni­ties in the degree to which they are under the thumb of aris­toc­ra­cies. As well as the hor­ri­fy­ing record of war, slav­ery, and human tor­ment, there has also been a slow, painful strug­gle to cre­ate alter­na­tive insti­tu­tions that respect human life and dig­ni­ty.

For this strug­gle to suc­ceed, it is essen­tial that we learn to expand the con­cept of “we”. In demo­c­ra­t­ic the­o­ry, this is called “inclu­sive­ness”. The grad­ual expan­sion of inclu­sive­ness in human insti­tu­tions is the tale that the demo­c­ra­t­ic his­to­ri­an gets the most plea­sure from telling. Strug­gles over the exten­sion or con­trac­tion of the fran­chise are the dra­ma in the demo­c­ra­t­ic nar­ra­tive. We know that peo­ple are capa­ble of treat­ing each oth­er as equals, because in every soci­ety, some peo­ple per­ceive each oth­er as equals. We can doc­u­ment the intel­lec­tu­al and emo­tion­al steps by which peo­ple learn to see larg­er and larg­er groups of peo­ple as their equals, and to treat them so. Each step that is tak­en suc­cess­ful­ly gives us a tem­plate for the next. At some point, among most nor­mal human beings, the blind­ing rev­e­la­tion that “’we” means “every­body” takes place. When it is grasped emo­tion­al­ly, as well as intel­lec­tu­al­ly, peo­ple begin to suc­cess­ful­ly resist the depre­da­tions of the vio­lent, the psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly dom­i­nant, and the ruth­less schemers. They grasp that there is no such thing as aris­toc­ra­cy, only peo­ple who claim aris­toc­ra­cy. They learn that they should obey moral rea­son, not the voic­es and ges­tures of men. They learn to for­mu­late laws that apply equal­ly and fair­ly to every­body. They learn to con­struct polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions that respect human rights, and eco­nom­ic insti­tu­tions that pro­duce goods and ser­vices with­out exploita­tion.

Now of course, we have no place on Earth where this job is even close to com­plete. But despite the bru­tal hor­rors that have char­ac­ter­ized the human sto­ry, objec­tive obser­va­tion shows that there has been a sig­nif­i­cant improve­ment in the world. A num­ber of places have been able to secure a state of affairs that is some­times called “civ­il soci­ety”. This term has had a vari­ety of con­tra­dic­to­ry usages in the past, and I’m not entire­ly com­fort­able with it’s use. But I think that most pro­gres­sive­ly-mind­ed peo­ple in the world are now using it to mean a soci­ety that has achieved a cer­tain degree of depend­able rea­son­able­ness, and a soci­ety that has a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of inde­pen­dent insti­tu­tions that can pre­vent the sub­mis­sion of the soci­ety to out­right tyran­ny. In such a “civ­il soci­ety”, the prin­ci­ple insti­tu­tions are intend­ed for log­i­cal, prac­ti­cal, and desir­able pur­pos­es. They are vul­ner­a­ble to being infil­trat­ed and cor­rupt­ed by socio­path­ic per­son­al­i­ties, but they were not cre­at­ed by them. The pop­u­la­tion that par­tic­i­pates in them is more inclu­sive and egal­i­tar­i­an in its atti­tudes than most human soci­eties have been in the past. These soci­eties have polit­i­cal struc­tures that are capa­ble of solv­ing major prob­lems by peace­ful means, if their cit­i­zens put their mind to it.

The achieve­ment of civ­il soci­eties in this sense has been a very slow and painful strug­gle, and at the moment, only a minor­i­ty of human beings are lucky enough to live in them. The major­i­ty still live under out­right tyran­ny, or in soci­eties in which civ­il and demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions are a sham, or too cor­rupt­ed to be effec­tive. But the minor­i­ty of func­tion­ing civ­il soci­eties demon­strate to human beings every­where that improved con­di­tions are pos­si­ble. The rel­a­tive suc­cess of such soci­eties by mate­r­i­al mea­sures has at least exposed one of the loud­est lies of total­i­tar­i­an ide­olo­gies: the claim that tyran­ny is more “effi­cient” than democ­ra­cy. This notion was once so wide­ly believed that a major­i­ty of intel­lec­tu­als, even in demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­tries, sub­scribed to it. Now even the most iso­lat­ed peas­ant knows that it’s a crock.

The exist­ing civ­il soci­eties should be cham­pi­oned, not as utopias or sta­t­ic mod­els, but as encour­ag­ing signs on the way to a real civ­i­liza­tion. Their cit­i­zens may not have achieved civ­i­liza­tion yet, but they have tools at their dis­pos­al with which they have a chance to do so.

How­ev­er, greater intel­lec­tu­al clar­i­ty is nec­es­sary for us to pro­ceed in that direc­tion. At present, we are crip­pled by an intel­lec­tu­al frame­work that was designed by var­i­ous aris­to­crat­ic elites of the past to enable their pre­da­tions. With­in that frame­work, the con­cept of “democ­ra­cy” is thought of as an “ide­ol­o­gy”. I would like to pro­pose that democ­ra­cy is not an ide­ol­o­gy, and that it is a pro­found mis­un­der­stand­ing to think of it as one.

Democ­ra­cy is one of the tools employed by nor­mal — that is to say, not socio­path­ic, dom­i­nant, or vio­lent — peo­ple, to cre­ate a civ­il soci­ety, and lim­it the pow­er and scope of the sociopaths, mega­lo­ma­ni­acs, and brutes. That’s why it is char­ac­ter­ized by attempts to cre­ate “checks and bal­ances”, divi­sions of pow­er, gov­ern­ment by con­sent and rep­re­sen­ta­tion, mech­a­nisms of over­sight and recall, tem­po­rary offices, and sub­mis­sion of lead­ers to law. Democ­ra­cy as a process is still crude. Almost every aspect of it cries out for redesign and refine­ment. And this pro­ce­dur­al aspect is only one of the ele­ments nec­es­sary for the cre­ation of a decent civ­i­liza­tion. Con­nect­ed with it are a pletho­ra of asso­ci­at­ed cus­toms and atti­tudes that must work in con­junc­tion with the polit­i­cal ele­ments. All of these things togeth­er con­sti­tute the frame­work of ideas that I mean by the term “demo­c­ra­t­ic thought”.

But these ideas are not lodged in any holy text, revealed from super­nat­ur­al sources, or issued as procla­ma­tions by a guru or a super­hu­man leader. They are cre­at­ed by the free inter­change of opin­ion, and the accu­mu­la­tion of expe­ri­ence. The expe­ri­ence we have is of being exploit­ed, cheat­ed, bul­lied, mur­dered, and cowed with fear, then slow­ly devis­ing safe­guards against these assaults, test­ing them by expe­ri­ence, and fit­ting them togeth­er. The process has been slow and incre­men­tal. It is only now that we are start­ing to dis­cern larg­er, abstract pat­terns in it, and it is only now that we are in a posi­tion to start dis­cussing the entire issue coher­ent­ly.

Ide­ol­o­gy is a dif­fer­ent type of tool. An ide­ol­o­gy is cre­at­ed by socio­path­ic and dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ties for their par­tic­u­lar, self­ish pur­pos­es. It is an intel­lec­tu­al resource for prac­tic­ing fraud. It jus­ti­fies crimes, explains betray­als and rever­sals, and impress­es ini­ti­ates. The more baro­que­ly com­plex it is, the more use­ful it is to its pro­mot­ers. An ide­ol­o­gy like Marx­ism or Con­ser­vatism, for exam­ple, con­tains such a polypho­ny of absur­di­ties that it can glibly jus­ti­fy any action, appear to explain any event, and appeal to any human weak­ness or cor­rup­tion. This is why such “isms” con­tin­ue to be pro­mot­ed by those who wish to com­mit crimes on a grand scale. How­ev­er, their par­tic­u­lar “philo­soph­i­cal” con­tent is not very impor­tant. Those who use such an ide­ol­o­gy are not bound by its con­tent, and will just as hap­pi­ly use any oth­er gob­bledy­gook to accom­plish the same ends. Peo­ple like the cur­rent gang of brutes who have tak­en over the Amer­i­can exec­u­tive, for exam­ple, are the psy­cho­log­i­cal and moral equiv­a­lent of Lenin’s entourage. They find it con­ve­nient to employ dif­fer­ent buzz­words and dif­fer­ent-sound­ing slo­gans, but they are intent on com­mit­ting the same crimes. It’s a mis­take to think that the ide­ol­o­gy is what cre­ates the crime. The socio­path­ic and dom­i­nant per­son­al­i­ty cre­ates the crime — the ide­ol­o­gy is mere­ly a tool to that end.

This is why demo­c­ra­t­ic thought must nev­er be dis­cussed as if it was an “ide­ol­o­gy”. It is as dif­fer­ent con­cep­tu­al­ly from ide­ol­o­gy as sci­ence and med­i­cine are from witch­craft. It exists for an entire­ly dif­fer­ent pur­pose, and it is found­ed in a fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent world view.

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