Classic Essays

Democracy is a Kind of Death, part 6

by William Gayley Simpson

WE TURN now to study the claims of the French revolutionists. These claims they undertook so to establish on abstract, innate, imprescriptible right that the zealot minds that follow them are rendered nearly impervious to evidence that their theories have failed in practice and are contradicted by the record of human experience. In disregard of all reason and all evidence to the contrary, they only reply that men are born equal and born free, and that any social arrangement that denies their equality or takes away their freedom is necessarily and unalterably wrong. Their ideas may be false, and founded ultimately on nothing deeper or more solid than vanity, but that has not prevented their spread until they have unbalanced men’s sense of values all over the Earth and have unhinged the hallowed and proved institutions by which men of all ages have made their societies secure.

Probably, the man most responsible for the spread of the idea that men are born free and equal was Rousseau. Lord Acton went so far as to declare that Rousseau produced more effect with his pen than Aristotle, or Cicero, or St. Augustine, or St. Thomas Aquinas, or any other man who ever lived. This may be overstatement, but I am inclined to think that the swollen idea of the worth and importance of the ordinary man, which is fast reducing our whole modern world to chaos, is not due so much to Jesus, as is commonly thought, but rather to Rousseau.

To me, Rousseau is disgusting and contemptible. But here I wish to deal not with the man but with his teaching. I must begin by repudiating completely the entire foundation on which his claims rest. It is nothing but a cobweb tissue of romantic fiction. I recognize no abstract or imprescriptible rights. As a distinguished biologist has said, men are born unequal20 and they remain so; and he might well have added, they are born conditioned, and they must remain conditioned, limited both from within and from without. “No man shall escape from what is within himself,” from what he has inherited from his ancestors; and no man can be a part of human society without accepting and fulfilling certain responsibilities and duties. Moreover, there is no evidence that any man has ever enjoyed any rights except when, individually or in combination with others, he has developed some kind of power sufficient to compel respect. Religions, political systems and moral ideals struggle for dominance like other things. That is, under their battle flags groups of men struggle for dominance. And if in the end they acquire rights, it means only that under the standard of certain ideas as a rallying point, they have developed a power to compel other men to yield them what they have demanded. The cries for liberty and equality are to be understood in precisely the same way, or they will not be understood at all.

Let us look into each of these ideas — first, that of liberty. Whose face is it that we may discern behind the cry for freedom? What kind of man? What does he want to be free from? And what free to do?

As we have just seen, no man can escape from the limits imposed by his own heredity: he cannot do more than he has the capacity to do, nor in the long run act contrary to his nature. A hack horse cannot win a race, nor can a race horse be made safe for grandma to drive to town. Neither, if a man is to enjoy any social life at all, can he escape the give-and-take and the acceptance of obligations that life with his fellows imposes.

It must be pointed out, too, that freedom in any true and deep sense is something that very few men can know. Only those rare souls who have won an inner transcendence over outer circumstances are truly free, only saints and seers and real philosophers. And these have commonly felt themselves to be free at all times, and in all places, and even (incredible as it may seem) under all circumstances. Thoreau knew himself free in jail. And there have been souls who have given evidence of their essential freedom even amidst the flames that were consuming their bodies. Yet even these are not free to do or not to do, after the fancy of the ordinary prater about liberty. Without raising the question of the freedom of the will, we must remind ourselves that it is precisely men of the loftiest spirit and supreme creative powers who are least “free to do what they feel like.” For them, life has no meaning and grows stale in their mouths, except as they live for something, something rare and lofty and beyond themselves. Their bent, their mission, their destiny, their need to lift the life of mankind, is the sternest, most exacting and unrelenting master, and gives them the most straitened, narrowest, and steepest path to follow — in an inner sense (it might even be said) under pain of death. They are the slaves of their quest. Yet — such is their nature, so beyond the understanding of the ordinary man — they would not have it otherwise. Inwardly, day and night, they are on their knees before their vision of the truth or beauty that drives them on.

Theirs, as I conceive it, is the only real liberty — the liberty of the man who is most completely possessed by what he is. And they wait on no man and on no government to give it to them. They win it. They take it. And no man, nor all men put together, can take it away from them.

Needless to say, it is not liberty of this kind that people mean when they clamour for freedom. It comes only at a price that they are unwilling to pay, higher than they have it in them to pay. Very few men can give their all for anything. To the eye of the ordinary mortal, such a liberty is too fantastic and intangible, of too dubious a reality or value, to entice him to any such complete devotion of himself. He passes it by in favor of a liberty that will promise more and cost less.

Probably, the object behind most of the clamor for liberty is political rights — the right to vote, the right to believe what one pleases, the right freely to express one’s opinion. Let us therefore look into this belief of the common man that these “civil liberties” are a jewel of great price. Let us see what enjoyment of these rights amounts to, what it has led to, and what are the prospects it holds for the future.

The ballot represents such a comminution of political power, even to its vanishing point, that I can but hold it in contempt. In view of the control of the political machines by Wall Street or by some similar clique with interests quite contrary to the good of the country as a whole, and because, as a result of the total electoral process, the men put up for office are usually so mediocre that no man of wisdom and character would care to be “represented” by any one of them, I have gradually come to feel that voting is about as useful as casting a chip into a puddle. Disraeli spoke of “that fatal drollery called representative government.” Certainly, to give people the idea that they are free because they have the ballot is nothing less than a fraud. Rather is the feeling of freedom thus engendered a means by which their essential slavery is hid from their eyes and the more securely fastened upon them. Behind this camouflage, a Plutocracy — one of the nastiest and basest of all forms of government — has been able to make the people its unwitting accomplice in their own degradation and in the most wanton and unprecedented exploitation of the natural resources upon which our entire future as a nation depends.

Nor do I feel differently about the right to “unlimited freedom of thought and discussion” that democracy stands for. But as background for what I want to say in reply, let me at this point interject a few observations.

The ever-increasing domination of our modern life by Science has created an obsession with the rational that has thrown our life quite out of balance. I surely do not need to argue here that I hold thought very important, but everlasting intellectual ferment and agitation is certainly not the end of human existence, nor is it of itself even a sign of a people’s health and vitality. I strongly suspect that endless and absolutely free-ranging debate and discussion only reflect uncertainty and insecurity deep in a people’s soul. It betrays weakness, division, and inner shakiness. Sound instinct and promise of destiny in a people always shows itself in unity and solidarity, and — let us remember this as absolutely fundamental — in a relentless drive toward what will ensure its survival, its close-knit growth, and the prolonged flowering of its own unique genius. And blessed will any people be which has leaders who clearly recognize that the surest means to such a state is racial homogeneity — likeness, compatibility, harmony, in all its constituent parts. Only by this can it acquire that thoroughly integrated unity, the seamless rock-hard solidarity and substance, that will enable it, in an hour of crisis, to stand up under the steady ruthless pounding of a powerful outside foe. And only by this, too, will it come to be filled in its domestic life with that sure faith in itself, that tranquillity of mind and heart, and that joy in existence, which are necessary for the richest pollination of its genius.

In prehistoric times, as my readers will doubtless recall, we found that the requisite homogeneity frequently came about in areas of natural isolation, such as islands, peninsulas, or closed river valleys: one thinks at once of Britain, Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Here the geographical situation tended toward the exclusion of the alien. But no people became a great people without that homogeneity on which the achievement of greatness seems invariably to depend. Where Nature did not provide it by herself, it had to be achieved by human intervention and arrangement. To achieve it, the Chinese built their Great Wall, 20 to 30 feet high, 15 to 20 feet wide, and nearly fifteen hundred miles long! long enough to reach from the Atlantic to the Mississippi! And in the fifth century B.C., under the leadership of the religious reformer Ezra, the old Hebrews began to undertake to accomplish under the threat of death what the Prophets had undertaken in vain to accomplish by exhortation and invective. Mixed marriages with gentiles were ruthlessly broken up; and through all the centuries since then the orthodox Jewish community has treated as a leper, indeed has treated as dead, any Jew who married a gentile. Even to this day, in the state of Israel, marriage between Jew and gentile is not legally possible. In the case of a country like the United States, if the original stock and its values are to survive, then all aliens, such as Negroes, Jews, and Orientals, will have to be put out and kept out. Immigration will have to be strictly limited to stocks most closely related, by blood and by tradition, to the stocks by which the country was originally founded. And then, among a people of like instincts and values, and under the impress of religious and moral teaching as largely as possible unified, the questions of gravest importance would be largely a matter about which there was general and prevailing agreement.

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Source: Which Way, Western Man?

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