Friday, July 25th, 2014

Is Democracy Dangerous?

December 14, 2010 by  
Filed under All Posts

In a review of The Servile Mind:  How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life by Kenneth Minogue (amazon) Mark Blitz restates the classic paleo position on culture via Minogue:

Minogue is a distinguished professor emeritus of political science at the London School of Economics. In his case, one may actually say distinguished without choking on ironic bile, not least because he laments a world in which the deference has disappeared that “distinguished” should call to mind. He is clearly a conservative whose conservatism owes much to Michael Oakeshott and Edmund Burke. He is not a friend of the effect of abstract and universalistic arguments in political life. He is not an enemy of religion, or unconcerned with it. He mentions economic vitality, but it is not his chief concern. His conservatism is not libertarian, or even focused on natural rights. He worries that we are losing, or have already lost, the attachments and respect for attachments that guide common sense.

But there is an important omission.  Blitz:

One gap in Minogue’s discussion is his distance from the importance of natural rights. The virtue of an argument that clarifies the presence of natural rights is that it shows the preference for freedom to be more than a prejudice because it gives it a reasonable basis. Natural rights describe an inalienable authority that each can recognize in himself because of his own unavoidable power to reflect, prefer, and choose. This authority can be occluded, and it is difficult to convert it to concrete liberty to, say, possess property or vote. Still, individual natural authority, or freedom, is not a variable possibility that one can wish away but a universal power among human beings that they can notice in themselves.

The existence of individual natural rights is not the whole truth about human happiness and choice. Still, the need to execute one’s equal rights in a regime of effective, limited government gives rise to the responsibility and deliberation that Minogue admires when he invokes the moral life. One can, of course, take demands disguised as rights too far, and this is properly one of Minogue’s concerns. Yet it is also true that a natural ground for rights provides a standard that allows us to understand them correctly as the basis of our own self-reliance rather than as rewards we exact from others.