A Critique of Democracy (75 Books – XII)

Is “anything and everything” too broad of a topic for a web log? I suppose that’s what my blog name implies, but after writing mostly about animation and the occasional novel or graphic novel for a couple years, I’ve felt odd writing about works of history in the last month, and now I’m branching out even further.

Well, I’ll consider starting a second blog or something if people complain.

Anway, the twelfth book of the year is the rarest thing of all for me to cover: a new release. Michael Anissimov published his e-book A Critique of Democracy: A Guide for Neoreactionaries only about a week ago. Since I’ve already finished books on the Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns, and an e-book collection of Sir Robert Filmer’s works, it seemed on-topic enough to take a detour from The Guns of August.

The book is short (about seventy printed pages), and offers an overview of some of the basic arguments against democratic government. Anissimov maintains an even tone throughout and frequently refers to other authors and scholars, including several who wouldn’t agree with his own position, so the book reads more like a good textbook than a work of polemics. For example, though the enthusiasm for democratic government began in the Enlightenment, he doesn’t take a dogmatic stance on that movement as a whole. He writes, “The Enlightenment was an experiment. Some parts of that experiment did well, like the Scientific Method, others not so well, like democratic government.”

When I say that the arguments are “basic,” I do mean fundamental – the first full chapter, for example, covers the evolution of leadership and hierarchy, starting with apes and then early civilisations. Other arguments address problems like cognitive biases, time preference, and the “tragedy of the commons.” Interestingly, many of these aren’t exclusively, or even noticeably, right-wing. The chapters “Incentives in Democracy” and “Wealth Issues (Gini coefficient)” address issues also raised by libertarians, with the former specifically drawing largely from Hans-Hermann Hoppe. For example, this passage sounds as if it could have come from the Mises Institute:

The proposal for private rather than public government, at its core, is extremely simple: for something to be properly valued and taken care of it, it must be owned. That includes government. If we want a government that is properly taken care of for the long-term, it must be owned by someone. That means no democracy. Does this mean we’re sacrificing our “freedom”? No, because I don’t define freedom as being able to cast one meaningless vote among millions in an election.

Furthermore, many of the other problems he raises, like factionalism, are even admitted by republicans, and the author includes supporting quotations from men like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton – hardly reactionary monarchists. The main difference, at least within this work, between Anissimov and the more thoughtful of libertarians or classical liberals (like Jefferson and Hamilton) is that the latter consider these problems soluble, or at least something than can be mitigated, and not sufficient to reject republicanism outright.

Most of the book consists of negative arguments regarding democracy’s problems, and only one chapter at the end of the book discusses alternatives to democratic government; since the goal here isn’t to present a comprehensive argument for a particular position so much as to serve as a stepping-stone away from simply assuming democracy as the only legitimate government, that’s fine. Noticeably missing, for the most part, is a discussion of moral arguments. Many people support republicanism not because it functions well, but because they only consider demotist governments legitimate. He addresses this indirectly in the chapter “Anti-Democratic Philsophy,” where he points out that Americans’ faith in democracy is, to a large extent, one they’re indoctrinated into. While a discussion of legitimacy could fill a large book on its own and there’s not much consensus on the point, it’s so fundamental that it would have deserved a chapter to itself.

One final question is who the audience for the book is. Those already familiar with anti-democratic literature will likely pick up a few things, but again, it’s clearly intended as a gateway to convince those new to the topic that this is an intellectual avenue worth pursuing. However, while $6.99 isn’t exactly a small fortune, I don’t see many people paying that unless they’ve already begun moving in that direction. Admittedly, this isn’t exactly aimed towards a mass audience, but I suspect that its purpose would have been better served by making it cheap or free, then referring to another, more thorough work as a second step. In any case, this is a minor problem and I do think the material is worth the price of  admission. You can find it on Lulu.com and Amazon, and the author provides his own chapter-by-chapter overview in this blog post.

Up next, I’ll get back to Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, and possibly another detour into graphic novels.

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