November 24 2010
Democracy and Values
One of the themes we have long stressed at IWF is personal responsibility over reliance on the nanny state. I haven't yet read Kenneth Minogue's new book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life, but I want to call your attention to a provocative review by Gerald Russello in City Journal.
Although the title suggest a sweeping indictment of democracy itself, Russello's review indicates that it's not so much democracy but what it has become over recent decades that erodes virtue:
Democracy is prone to corruption: the immense amount of regulation and bureaucracy it requires to function opens limitless opportunities for abuse. Further, democracy's inner workings compel it, paradoxically, to undemocratic results. The push for equality and ever more rights-two of its basic principles-requires a ruling class to govern competing claims; thus the rise of the undemocratic judiciary as the arbiter of many aspects of public life, and of bureaucracies that issue rules far removed from the democratic process. Should this trend continue, Minogue foresees widespread servility replacing the tradition of free government.
This new servility will be based not on oppression, but on the conviction that experts have eliminated any need for citizens to develop habits of self-control, self-government, or what used to be called the virtues....
A new class of therapists, experts, and administrators has assumed this moral role, telling citizens how and what they should feel. Whereas liberal philosophers such as John Rawls had once held up the "neutral state" as an ideal, the new class uses its power to make moral choices for the populace in areas formerly untouched by the state-and without determining whether these policies reflect the consent of the governed. Minogue notes the "remarkable fact that while democracy means a government accountable to the electorate, our rulers now make us accountable to them."
At the risk of being parochial, I see the questions raised here at ones that bubbled up in the midterm elections. The erosion of American values through big government was an important theme of the midterm elections. Minogue, the public intellectual from England, seems to be onto something that many Americans themselves know today. This is the real struggle, and it is being played out in so many arenas, from health care to school salad bars.