Roger Scruton (yes, Roger Scruton – he’s not always rhapsodizing about the joys of fox hunting) makes a good point.
The danger that democracy will degenerate into a tyranny of the majority was clearly expressed by Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill. Both of them recognised, however, that democracy is not some kind of new departure which repudiates all that had gone before, but a system of government built upon a specific legal inheritance. Barnett & Hilton rightly refer to the rule of law and individual rights as the first of their principles of democratic government. These were historical achievements of the European legal and judicial systems. They preceded democracy and have not been replicated everywhere. Until they are in place, the introduction of elections may merely let the majority loose upon whatever minority provokes its indignation.
There you go. The rule of law and individual rights are not an automatic or inherent part of democracy; they preceded it and have not been replicated everywhere – to put it mildly. Unless and until they are in place, democracy can simply let the majority impose a theocracy on everyone; unless and until they are in place, democracy can simply let the majority take away the rights of – a majority, to wit, women, as well as various minorities, to wit, various ethnic groups, heretics, infidels, gays, weirdos, nonconformists – you name it.
I don’t agree with all of what Scruters says next though.
The crucial point in all this is to recognise secular government as the sine qua non of democracy, and theocracy as its natural opponent. And secular government depends upon finding some other focus of communal identity and solidarity than religious faith…Our political culture is a culture of the home and the homeland, rather than the faith and the faithful. We are brought up – or were brought up until recently – on a conception of national history and national identity which promoted mutual trust and solidarity between neighbours…That kind of territorial patriotism has suffered erosion…from a culture of repudiation among intellectuals who, for a variety of reasons, not all of them bad, have tried to discard national loyalty and to replace it with the cosmopolitan ideals of the Enlightenment. The problem, as I see it, is that cosmopolitan ideals are the property of an elite and will never be shared by the mass of human kind.
I like the first sentence of that, but not the rest of it. Especially the last sentence. Why? Why will cosmopolitan ideals never be shared by the mass of human kind? How does he know, and why is it true? I don’t see it. He could be right, but it seems to me far from obvious that cosmopolitan ideals are inherently (as opposed to contingently) the property of an elite. And I don’t trust appeals to communal identity and solidarity. I see why they are appealing (and that appeal is probably why Scruton thinks cosmopolitan ideals are the property of an elite), but I don’t think that appeal should be trusted, or encouraged, or fetishized. No, I prefer Simon Blackburn’s take.
And as far as toasting some particular subset of humanity goes, I also wish people were not keen on separating themselves from others, keen on difference and symbols of tribalism. I don’t warm to badges of allegiance, flags, ostentatious signs of apartness, because I do not think they are good for the world.
Ditto. I can see that they promote solidarity and the like, but they do that at the cost of the opposite of solidarity toward everyone else, and that is too high a price to pay. Way too high. I think cosmopolitanism, however lukewarm it may be, is preferable to the hot bonds of solidarity plus hatred.
If you want to take a look at some hatred, you could check out Nick Cohen’s new website which has (in solitary splendour for the moment) his New Statesman article on anti-Semitism on the left. And what do you know – someone (anonymous, of course) obligingly ambled by and dropped a richly anti-semitic comment. As if to help Nick make his point. So helpful.
The either/or polarity between believing in an orchestrated worldwide conspiracy or disclaiming any possibility that bands of Jews act together in their shared ethnic interests is a strawman dichotomy. Everybody knows that Jewish power and influence are vastly disproportionate to their numbers in Britain and the USA, that they hold leadership positions in influential areas of public life, and that they frequently try to suppress criticism of their concerted actions by squealing about ‘antisemitism’. That does *not* make you an ‘antisemite’, only a realist about evolutionary psychology. You may still think that only Jews should be allowed to criticise other Jews in semi-privacy, but not much of the rest of the world is impressed by this double standard any longer. Jews are a rich, powerful little ethnic group which, like any other, acts to preserve itself and further its material interests, and can be devious in so doing. Big friggin’ deal, tell us something we couldn’t have guessed.
And so on. Staggering, isn’t it.
I think cosmopolitan ideals are all we can possibly hope for, the only possible alternative to this kind of dreck. They’d better not be the property of an elite.