03 April 2011

Practical Matters

Clarifications from Aretae and Whyiamnot show, I think, that we are all seeking the same things. The "rules" that Aretae wishes to preserve are not political rules but the rules of private property and economic freedom that actually benefit non-politicians, while Why emphasises that he supports voting not as a right, but as a practical method for ensuring better government, and argues that the vote should be taken away from state dependents (and he says he is not a reactionary!)

But perhaps I am not a reactionary. The aim of this theoretical discussion is not to form a movement that will overthrow David Cameron and install an absolute monarchy, either of Stuarts or of Battenburgs. Our tangled old democracy has its benefits (not least that the random shocks of technological change, which I mentioned recently, are less likely to tear it apart).

Its resistance to shocks, however, is also a resistance to improvement. Why wishes to restrict the franchise, but I can find no example of that ever happening: though there is usually opposition to any given extension of the franchise, once it is won, it is won for ever*. There are many other ratchets operating. Even what we are left with today would be worth preserving, if it could be preserved — but our societies contain an ever higher proportion of people with no expectation of working, ever more entrenched tax-eating agglomerations with diminishing value to anyone, ever more expensive government.

It can't be turned round. Thatcher got rid of the miners and the steelworkers, but only because new, stronger public-sector bodies were taking their place. The teachers and the social workers and the environmental consultants and the privatisation IPO advisers didn't need the miners, so they let them go, but the total payroll never went down.

What we have is not too bad, but it cannot stop getting worse, — Why clearly scores a point when he turns my "realistically oppose progressivism" demand back on reactionaries — the question my theoretical pieces are addressing is what we do next.

When is "next"? I haven't the foggiest. Democracy has lasted a hundred years in Britain, somewhat less across Western Europe, and rather more in the United States. As the quality of government has gone down, the quality of life has gone up, improvements in technology and private organisation disguising the increasing damage done by the state.

I don't rule out a total collapse in the near future, from hyperinflation, terrorism, or some black swan, but it's not what I expect. My guess (and it really is no more than that) is that democracy can struggle on another 50-100 years, with decreasing growth rates and more bumps along the road. China could either collapse or join the club, eventually becoming an old democracy of sorts, probably a bit more corrupt and nastier than what we have now.

But it's not going to get better, and someday it's going to have to be renewed. Most likely it will go back round the cycle of a young democracy, waves of Jacobin terror and fascism, until some new establishment can bring things under control behind the facade of a re-established limited** democracy.

But I think a wrong turn was taken in 17th century England and 18th century France, and I expect a similar choice will be presented again in the 21st century. Someone will force order onto the chaos of a disintegrated state, and will then either consolidate personal power or hand it over to some revived or newly-designed constituent assembly. I am hoping for the former.



My blogging is not keeping pace with Aretae or Devin Finbarr, and there are recent points from both to be responded to, with luck later today.



* In comments at his place, Why suggests the Test and Corporation acts as reductions in the franchise. I believe they were restrictions on holding office rather than on voting.

** That analogy to our recent monarchy discussions may be a better terminology than my "old versus new democracy". Old democracy is limited democracy, New democracy is absolute democracy. The only point of confusion is that the limitation is probably not explicit or legalistic, but only practical. An absolute democracy can have a constitution tightly circumscribing its powers, and a limited democracy can have theoretically complete power but work through a practically unreformable civil service or military with independent views.

1 comment:

whyiamnot said...

In form, the Test and Corporation Acts were restrictions on holding office. In practice (and in intention), they were also restrictions on the franchise. In those days most constituencies were boroughs, where the electorate was determined by the borough charter. The most common form was that some selection of borough officers (mayor, councillors, aldermen) would be the only ones able to vote. By preventing them from being able to hold offices, the Test and Corporation Acts were attempts to restrict the voting rights of many Dissenters - as was the later Occasional Conformity Act.

Another example would be the removal of voting rights from former Confederates in the southern USA during Reconstruction. Interestingly, like the Test and Corporation Acts, this was done in the aftermath of a civil war. Perhaps it takes such an extraordinary event to make it possible to restrict the franchise, and it cannot happen in normal circumstances.