Is Our Belief in Equality & Democracy
Rational, Pragmatic, or Mystical?
Our present science lends little support to an inherent ‘dignity of man’ or to his ‘perfectibility.’ It is wholly possible that the science of the future will lead us away from democracy towards some form of aristocracy. The millennial expectations that [Walt] Whitman built upon science and democracy, we are now well aware rested upon insecure foundations... The perfection of nature, the natural goodness of man, ‘the great pride of man in himself’ offset with an emotional humanitarianism—these are the materials of a structure only slightly coloured with modernity.
The cheap anti-democrat of today will tell you solemnly that there is no equality in nature. He is right, but he does not see the logical addendum. There is no equality in nature; also there is no inequality in nature. Inequality, as much as equality, implies a standard of value. To read aristocracy into the anarchy of animals is just as sentimental as to read democracy into it.
G. K. Chesterton
[It is estimated that at the height of Father Coughlin’s popularity in the 1930s, the anti-capitalist, anti-Semitic, Masonry-obsessed firebrand radio priest attracted an audience of twenty million. Arnold Lunn interviewed him in the early 1940s and commented as follows:]
Father Coughlin began to inveigh against democracy. “Not that your British system is democratic. Nor is our American system.” Like many Americans, he unconsciously assumes as axiomatic the major premise—democracy is perfect, and the minor premise—America is not perfect, which leads to the conclusion that America is not democratic. It would be convenient if we could all agree on a universally recognized label for a system of government based on regular elections, adult suffrage and free speech. So long as we all make the same noise when we mean the same thing it does not much matter what noise we make, and if Father Coughlin wishes to reserve the word “democracy” for that perfect state which has never existed, and will never exist, on earth, he must persuade the world to adopt a new word to describe what has hitherto been described as “democracy.”
It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.
The difference between the dictatorships and the democracies is not so much one between the totalitarian and the non-totalitarian as between a Community-State that has made a deliberate breach with the old liberal tradition and is aggressively conscious of its totalitarian character, and a Community-State which has evolved gradually from the Liberal State without any violent cataclysm and which disguises its totalitarian character by a liberal ideology... We must remember that it was actually under democratic auspices that the totalitarian State made its first appearance nearly 150 years ago in France, and as that farseeing Liberal, de Tocqueville, pointed out more than a century ago in his study of democracy in America, the power of mass opinion exercises a more universal and irresistible tyranny over the individual mind in a democratic society than the most authoritarian dictatorships.
Christopher Dawson (from Beyond Politics, 1939)
Democracy is only one form of representative government, and liberalism in its historical sense was an insurance against rather than a guarantee for democracy. As late as 1866 Mr. Gladstone defended himself with great eloquence against the accusation that he was promoting democracy by his appeal to extend the suffrage. “You will exclaim that ‘this is democracy.’ I reply that it is nothing of the kind.”
I cannot understand any democrat not seeing the danger of so distant and indirect a system of government [as world government]. It is hard enough anywhere to get representatives to represent. It is hard enough to get a little town council to fulfil the wishes of a little town, even when the townsmen meet the town councillors every day in the street, and could kick them down the street if they liked. What the same town councillors would be like if they were ruling all their fellow-creatures from the North Pole or the New Jerusalem, is a vision of oriental despotism beyond the towering fancies of Tamberlane.
G. K. Chesterton
It’s a hoary superstition that democratically elected governments invariably function as instruments of the collective will.
Dorothy L. Sayers
Thoughts about Equality & Democracy
A democracy is a government in the hands of men of low birth, no property, and vulgar employment.
Democracy is a charming form of government, full of confusion and variety and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.
A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.
The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.
Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.
Alexis de Tocqueville
I have no respect for the passion of equality, which seems to me merely idealizing envy.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.
Since being able to turn a government out is almost the only advantage parliamentary democracy offers, one might as well enjoy it as often as possible.
Democracy arose from men’s thinking that if they are equal in any respect, they are equal absolutely.
To say that all people are equal is true in some senses, but it needs to be complemented by recognition of the complementary hierarchical principle within the universe.
Democracy means not “I’m as good as you are,” but “you’re as good as I am.”
In America everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors, since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors, for, from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine that all men are equal applies only upwards, not downwards.
Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.
George Bernard Shaw
Democracy means government by the uneducated, while aristocracy means government by the badly educated.
G. K. Chesterton
Democracy...while it lasts is more bloody than either [aristocracy or monarchy]. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.
John Adams (2nd President of the United States)
The danger of democracy is not anarchy; on the contrary, it is monotony.
G. K. Chesterton
It is a strange fact that freedom and equality, the two basic ideas of democracy, are to some extent contradictory. Logically considered, freedom and equality are mutually exclusive, just as society and the individual are mutually exclusive.
Our country’s founders cherished liberty, not democracy.
My political ideal is that of democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized. It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and respect from my fellows through no fault, and no merit, of my own.
There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man. Every other basis is a sort of sentimental confusion... The idea of the equality of men is in substance simply the idea of the importance of man.
G. K. Chesterton
There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.
That all men are equal is a proposition to which, at ordinary times, no sane individual has ever given his assent.
The majority never has the right on its side. Never I say! That is one of the social lies that a free, thinking man is bound to rebel against. Who makes up the majority in any given country? Is it the wise men or the fools? I think we must agree that the fools are in a terrible overwhelming majority, all the wide world over.
The mass of people, who are never quite right, are never quite wrong.
C. S. Lewis
Two cheers for democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism.
E. M. Forster
Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.
E. B. White
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The world of antiquity was quite at ease with the idea that all men were by no means equal in the sight of God.
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