The paradox of democracy

Yesterday I read this interesting argument in the Otago Daily Times:

…  the great paradox which lies at democracy’s heart: that individual liberty can only be preserved by acquiescing to decisions arrived at collectively; by recognising our neighbours’ right to overrule our personal priorities we simultaneously reaffirm our right to persuade sufficient of them to adopt our personal priorities as their own.

It is an extraordinarily generous social and political concession — and utterly incompatible with the narcissism of our age. The proper functioning of democracy is predicated on an electorate whose core priorities are shared rather than contested. The moment one fraction of the electorate believes its interests and ideals to be fundamentally threatened by the designs of another fraction — as happened in the years before the outbreak of the American Civil War, and which appears to be happening again in the US today — the generosity and tolerance upon which democratic institutions depend swiftly evaporates.

Today Paul Kelly has this argument:

The sense of a community of shared values is disintegrating. The most fundamental norms, ­accepted for centuries, are now falling apart as disputes erupt about family, education, gender, sexuality, marriage, tradition, patriotism, life and death.

The decline in our civic virtue is undisguised, respect for institutional authority has eroded, the idea of a common community purpose is undermined, trust is in ­retreat but the most important singular development is the transformed notion of the individual — the obsession about individual autonomy in every aspect of life: love, work, race, sex, culture and death. Put harshly but not inaccurately, it is narcissism presented as self-realisation and human rights.

The idea that our democracy is founded on core moral truths about human nature has collapsed — or is collapsing. Donald Trump’s election as President was driven by fear the American dream had been cancelled and by alarm that elites led a separate life and used power for their self-­interest. But the deeper source was a feeling that the moral foundations of the country were eroding.

I think these arguments are correct. I am uncomfortable that Paul Kelly links his argument to the apparent decline in Christianity. I think there is a decline of belief in the benefits of liberalism in general – where organised religion plays a part but isn’t the whole story.

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40 Responses to The paradox of democracy

  1. stackja

    Don’t believe in God? Will believe in anything!

  2. Roger

    Historically and philosophically liberal democracy wouldn’t exist without Christianity.

    Presently the question is can it continue to exist without Christianity?

    I refer you to ‘Inventing the Individual’ by Larry Siedentop.

  3. stackja

    Liberty Quote
    The circus in Copenhagen and “climategate” fed scepticism.

    — Julia Gillard

    I can agree with that!

  4. Pyrmonter

    So we were more liberal a century ago? When, in the aftermath of the Great War, barriers to trade, investment, migration, internal and external, fedterred across the West? When in the name of “progressive” politics, governments sanctioned cartelisation and race bars? The world’s a sorry place, and liberalism is less prevalent than in the sunnny days immediately following the collapse of the Cold War; but many of the matters of which Kelly complains – the economic emancipation of women and the removal of repressive measures against the alphabet population – are admirable manifestations of the very liberalism that may now be in eclipse.

  5. Kurt

    So after 40 years of the Left deconstructing civilization we are finally reaching the point of not having much left to deconstruct.

    Oh, and it turns out that endless ‘diversity’ isn’t really ‘strength’ after all.

  6. RobK

    If Christianity is distilled down to the Ten Commandments as a code of behavior and that is accepted as a common value as indicated in the first block quote of the post, I don’t see that faith in Christ per se is essential. Some kind of abstract “God” undoubtedly helps but I don’t see why an atheist or agnostic couldn’t live by the Ten Commandments and a democratic society remains functional by that. I do believe that a social fabric exists which becomes erroded by centralist control. I see this most recently in my community with the volunteer bushfire brigade being undermined by tax dollars via a state run bureaucracy. Community interdependence becomes non-essential and common values evaporate as the responsibility is lifted from the individual’s immediate concern.

  7. Habib

    Exactly what’s happening here; the perpetrators of the myth of “increasing wealth disparity” are actually responsible for most of the fracture. Who were fringe loons a bare couple of decades ago are the new ruling class, determined to inflict every one of the inane ideas, demented prejudices, venal coveting, delusional foresight and narcissistic self belief on every other poor bastard, and they use government to do so. Government in a liberal democracy shoud mostly be a vehicle to keep a bag on these fucknobs, but they’ve worked it out that it’s an easy passage to wealth, power and privilige, without merit, intellect and ability.

    We’ve got a shitload more grounds to kick off than the North and South.

  8. 2dogs

    Democracy’s flaw is its misplaced faith in Voice. If shared values are not there, Voice is useless; and if there are shared values, those values could be wrong anyway. But Exit succeeds, because people will learn from their own mistakes, even though they can’t be dissuaded from making them.

  9. DM OF WA

    ” I am uncomfortable that Paul Kelly links his argument to the apparent decline in Christianity”

    That means you are part of the problem.

  10. Ray

    I am an atheist myself but am more than happy to acknowledge the significant role played by Judeo-christian beliefs in the making of liberal democracies across the West.

    Of course, there is much for which we can criticize the established churches, such as the stagnation of learning during the dark ages and the repression of civil liberties as well as countless wars. However, our legal code, morality and system of natural justice all owe much to the Judeo-christian belief systems we inherited from our ancestors. For this we should be duly appreciative.

    It is to be expected that the regressive left which ties itself up in knots with regard to all the institutions which played a part in the success of our society, will target the established churches. However, it is disappointing that members of the right will be so caught up with their personal ideologies that they can so easily ignore the historical role played by the churches in the growth of western civilization.

  11. incoherent rambler

    Come on. It’s Paul Kelly. The time spent considering the value of one of his arguments can better spent.

  12. Fat Tony

    I think these arguments are correct. I am uncomfortable that Paul Kelly links his argument to the apparent decline in Christianity. I think there is a decline of belief in the benefits of liberalism in general – where organised religion plays a part but isn’t the whole story.

    Go and ask ordinary people what are the benefits of liberalism in general, then ask the same people the benefits of Christianity.

    I would imagine that one question will get you the thousand yard stare and the other question will get you a reasonable response.

  13. Marcus Classis

    And so we return to the collapse of the Social Contract.

    Pyrmonter asks:

    So we were more liberal a century ago? When, in the aftermath of the Great War, barriers to trade, investment, migration, internal and external, fedterred across the West? When in the name of “progressive” politics, governments sanctioned cartelisation and race bars?

    Good questions. The answers includes that we were, and we were not.

    So we were more liberal a century ago?

    First define ‘liberal’. We were certainly less ‘progressive’ and more Christian and more conservative, which meant that the Social Contract was stronger and society far more cohesive.

    When, in the aftermath of the Great War, barriers to trade, investment, migration, internal and external, fedterred across the West?

    This is conflating very different things. The spread of dirigisme after 1919 was the continuation of wartime emergency expedients into the post-war world, when international trade was down a third on what it was in 1913, and when the globalised international world of 1913 had completely collapsed. And in terms of migration, English, Irish, Scots, Canadians etc etc could all migrate to each other’s nations entirely without government interference or even formal permission, so in that one way it was actually more free than now. On top of that, “Australia controlled who came here, and the terms under which they came” and if the Australian population did not want any illiterate unwashed goat-humping mohammedan slaughtermonkeys from third-world crudholes, then none came in. I do not see a downside there.

    When in the name of “progressive” politics, governments sanctioned cartelisation and race bars?

    Racism and crony capitalism are permanent features of the so-called ‘progressives’, who are of course nothing more than racist totalitarians. True, they leveraged off the very normal human desire for the company of like people. Humans naturally segregate themselves and always have done.

    The ‘progressive’ racist totalitarians are the ones who have been busy wrecking the strong Social Contract we used to have, in order to divide us into interest groups to be bought and sold, the better to get their totalitarian freak on. The ‘narcissism of our age’ is an artifact of this wrecking.

    The ruination of the ‘core moral truths about human nature’ has been very deliberate and continues apace. See their ABC’s 40-year crusade on behalf of NAMBLA-style homosexual p3ddophilia and all their efforts to normalise every possible perversion no matter how vile (homo ‘marriage’ is merely one minor example) and tear down all moral institutions (the Church/ Cardinal Pell, for another example from their ABC) for the proof.

  14. A Lurker

    The morals and ethics of Christianity is one of the foundations of our civilization and society.

    The family is another foundation.
    Freedom of speech is another foundation.
    The sovereignty of the nation state is another foundation.
    The free market is another foundation.
    The scientific principle is another foundation.
    The rule of law is another foundation.

    Take any of those foundations away and the structure of our societies trembles and is uncertain.
    Attack or weaken all of them, and our civilization falls.

  15. jupes

    Donald Trump’s election as President was driven by fear the American dream had been cancelled and by alarm that elites led a separate life and used power for their self-­interest. But the deeper source was a feeling that the moral foundations of the country were eroding.

    For once Kelly gets it right. On the other hand, Kelly thinks the election of Trump was a bad thing.

    So as usual, Kelly is all over the place. How he is still employed is a mystery.

  16. jupes

    Oh, and it turns out that endless ‘diversity’ isn’t really ‘strength’ after all.

    Only in the age of stupid could something so obvious be rejected by almost all of the ‘elite’ in our society.

    Talk about the Emperor’s New Clothes.

  17. Burnt Stump

    Of course, there is much for which we can criticize the established churches, such as the stagnation of learning during the dark ages and the repression of civil liberties as well as countless wars.

    Rodney Stark, a Protestant scholar torpedoes the myth of the “dark ages” in his book “Bearing False Witness, Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History”. The Dark Ages are a myth created by enlightenment thinkers and protestant’s waging a cold war against the Catholic church. Many advances were made during this period.

    Christian’s commenced science as they believed in an orderly , structured world: “You, however, ordered all things by measure, number and weight”.

  18. Rabz

    Paul “is wrong (again)” Kelly.

    Great work , Squire.

  19. Robber Baron

    When governments can tax, not only the living generations, but through debt the generation that can not yet vote and it now it seems the generation that is not yet born, I think we have a problem with “democracy.”

    Either government power is reformed (reduced) or we can stop pretending we live in a democracy.

  20. Leo G

    The sense of a community of shared values is disintegrating. The most fundamental norms, ­accepted for centuries, are now falling apart as disputes erupt …
    The decline in our civic virtue is undisguised, respect for institutional authority has eroded, the idea of a common community purpose is undermined, trust is in ­retreat …
    The idea that our democracy is founded on core moral truths about human nature has collapsed — or is collapsing.

    Kelly says the reality is staring us in the face, but fails to recognise the moral shift has been from absolutism to relativism. It’s as if, like the moral relativist, he’s unable to make a moral judgement.
    At least in one important instance he can still link a notion of human dignity with objective moral truths. He knows we shouldn’t discard a person just because they have become troublesome.

  21. H B Bear

    So after 40 years of the Left deconstructing civilization we are finally reaching the point of not having much left to deconstruct.

    This.

  22. Jannie

    Kelly has been opining about the breakdown in trust between the “elites” and the great unwashed for a while now, he was very unhappy about the rise of Trump and the inability of the establishment to stop him.

    Kelly shows some awareness that elites like him have lost their authority, but he seems unaware that he is actually part of the problem he bemoans.

  23. J.H.

    Degrade the Christian fundamentals of our Western society and the humanity and compassion is replaced by base human behaviors…. Democracy isn’t the moderating force. Christian ethics are.

  24. struth

    Western civilization is a Christian civilization.
    A Judeo Christian civilization. .
    A Christian civilization from the time the bible was translated for the common man.
    It’s laws are based on Christianity.
    Deal with it.

  25. Jo Smyth

    All you have to do is watch the unchallenged, left wing, indoctrination techniques of our National Broadcaster to see how the country is in decline.

  26. What RobK
    #2435808, posted on July 8, 2017 at 5:09 pm Said. Spot on.

  27. struth

    I would have thought that the first sentence was wrong and therefore the following argument built on it is flawed.
    Our freedom comes from a constitution based on christian values a few leaders put together.
    Democracy is the product of those values, not the other way around.

  28. rickw

    The family is another foundation.
    Freedom of speech is another foundation.
    The sovereignty of the nation state is another foundation.
    The free market is another foundation.
    The scientific principle is another foundation.
    The rule of law is another foundation.

    Notice what The Left has been attacking?

    They’re not stupid, they understand what makes The West work, possibly better than our brain dead politicians who are so easily enlisted to attack these foundations on false moral grounds.

  29. faceache

    T0 Ray at 5.45

    May I suggest a good read mate. It is “How the Catholic Church built Western Civilisation” by Thomas E Woods.
    There are a lot of misconceptions about the Church’s treatment of things scientific. For example Galiieo was supported by about half of the Jesuits and lambasted by the other half. It was all very political and the Pope at the time, being a good mate of Galileos (and agreeing with his theories) decided to defuse the argument by banishing him to Tuscany. Tough penalty eh?
    It is interesting that when Cassini wanted to look into the work of Kepler he had to go to a Cathedral/Monastery to access their observatory.
    If there was a Dark Ages ( and I don’t think there was) it was the Church that kept the lights on.
    And the old chestnut about all those wars caused by religion has been debunked many times. Maybe 10% had some religious causes or reasons. Lepanto and Venice come to mind!
    The propaganda about the Catholic Church bears the hall marks of the current left.
    A little reading of some of the papal Encyclicals would change a lot of prejudiced minds. For example “Rerum Novarum” by Pope Leo XIII, on “Capital and Labour”, 1891. And many more.

  30. struth

    The left like to deflect the Christian west notion by saying we were born out of Greece and the Roman empire.

    What twaddle.

    Technology and latching hold of democracy from Greeks is way too simplistic.

    Our western world uses what we conceive to be good ideas from any civilisation.
    These civilisations were well and truly gone before the west existed.

    Our western civilisation started from the very time the bible was translated for the common man and he was allowed to own it.
    That’s when it really took off anyway.
    There were of course a lot of other events preceding that helped to bring about the west.
    But the west is Christian.
    The west won’t be the west without it.

    As this godless shit hole is starting to find out.

  31. stackja

    Study finds the nonreligious can be more close-minded than the religious
    New research indicates that religious believers can be better at perceiving and integrating different perspectives than atheists in Western Europe.

    “The main message of the study is that closed-mindedness is not necessarily found only among the religious,” the study’s corresponding author, Filip Uzarevic of the Catholic University of Louvain, told PsyPost.

    Atheists tended to show greater intolerance of contradiction, meaning when they were presented with two seemingly contradictory statements they rated one as very true and the other as very false. They also showed less propensity to be able to imagine arguments contrary to their own position and find them somewhat convincing.

  32. Roger

    Some kind of abstract “God” undoubtedly helps but I don’t see why an atheist or agnostic couldn’t live by the Ten Commandments and a democratic society remains functional by that.

    This is known in Christian teaching as the doctrine of natural law.

    The natural law – basically the moral content of the second table of the 10 Commandments – can be apprehended by the non-believer who can live according to it at least as regards moral acts directed to others (respect for elders, respect for human life, do not steal, do not lie, do not commit adultery, etc.), even though he lacks faith and thus does not please God. One could argue that all successful human societies (successful in terms of perpetuating themselves and their culture in the face of internal and external threats)), regardless of their religious basis (e.g. Hinu India, Buddhist/Shinto Japan, Taoist China, etc.), have been governed by the natural law, which has provided them with social stability.

  33. truth

    All of those elements of life that Paul Kelly and many of us see as in decline are suffering the impact of one major social revolution….Gramsci’s Long March of the Left through the Institutions….no accident , and massively facilitated by the MSM Left like Paul Kelly .

    How and whether that impact can be rolled back is the key ..

    PK opines on these matters but is pretty hypocritical when it comes to solutions considering his own role in suppressing any of the social[ist] engineering behind it all.

    Almost all of the attitudes that underpin a civil society are developed within decently-functioning families whether Christian or not.

    Many non-Christian families still operate according to and instil in their children…the core Christian values.

    But the bedrock institution of civilization…marriage and the mum and dad family… has been under assault from the Left for many decades…cast as an old-fashioned defunct institution…’just a piece of paper’ in the 70s and now as the must have prize for ANY two people[ maybe three or more later as has been signalled].

    With the undermining of the family and the barracking for that by the media…come many other impacts and influences on un-nurtured minds…and almost all the impacts are from the Left because they have captured all the institutions including the one that enables and nourishes their lies and propaganda and indoctrination….the MSM …especially television.

    Education…both curriculum and method..has been in the death grip of LW academics ..bureaucrats and teachers over the last four decades and more…. and now we’re reaping the whirlwind…yet Kelly gives all credit on education to the Left.

    Gender and sexuality have become a minefield for young people and a rich area for influence and indoctrination for the Left, who are always coming for our children one way or another.

    Patriotism is a concept that’s always been hated by the Left who favour internationalism and are always ready to sell out our sovereignty and control over our own lives to dysfunctional international bodies run by despots and dictators.

    Traditions are always under attack depending whether the Left finds them fashionable or a good look for THEM at any particular time eg Anzac Day ..from trash[70s] to treasure[now]…for the moment…

    Australia is a huge embarrassment to the Left…always has been…which is why their cultural cringe tells them that if we differ from the international zeitgeist it must always be Australia that’s wrong—especially on climate change and border security….doesn’t matter how many times Australia has proven right…the premise must always be that we are wrong.

    And so all of our children …and all of us must swallow the CAGW hoax hook line and sinker…must never ask questions …never posit alternative views…..never baulk at the unprecedented shifts of money from poor to rich that the CAGW beast demands for its sustenance…especially a politician , for whom genuflection at the altar of CAGW is compulsory …or a coup will surely ensue.

    Now the Left’s CAGW beast demands that Australia commit suicide….economically and socially …by embracing energy insecurity and de-industrialization with all the deprivation and turmoil that will bring….on every front.

    The narcissism is all on the Left…in the people who will do literally anything…lie…indoctrinate…propagandize…destroy our children…coups..treason…anything to get control over our lives.

    Paul Kelly would of course sneer at all that…as the Left does.

  34. Rococo Liberal

    Government in a liberal democracy shoud mostly be a vehicle to keep a bag on these fucknobs, but they’ve worked it out that it’s an easy passage to wealth, power and privilige, without merit, intellect and ability.

    + 1 for that brilliant summary.

    I’m noticing more and more people in the upper middle class are being seduced by the phony noblesse oblige and chivalry that the ”fucknobs” are pushing.

  35. Epictetus

    Western civilisation is a continuation of Greek and Roman civilisation . Our laws and moral codes came from this source. Christian morality, such as it is, was largely taken from Stoic ethics. The common moral decencies, seen across different societies, derive from our nature as human beings. They don’t come from the edicts of a god, they come from human reason.

  36. Philippa Martyr

    Western civilisation is a continuation of Greek and Roman civilisation . Our laws and moral codes came from this source. Christian morality, such as it is, was largely taken from Stoic ethics. The common moral decencies, seen across different societies, derive from our nature as human beings. They don’t come from the edicts of a god, they come from human reason.

    Lolz. Whatever.

    Just last weekend I was down in Hobart, telling my fellow believers not to alienate the well-intentioned but misguided friendly atheists who struggle to accept that Christianity did any good whatsoever.

    How topical!

  37. Roger

    Western civilisation is a continuation of Greek and Roman civilisation

    Epictetus,

    Read Siedentop’s book, referenced at the beginning of the comments, to see why this cannot be said without some major qualifications.

  38. IDefender of the faith

    Both go on about narcissism. As if it’s new. It ain’t. Society shows no sign whatever of elevating individual rights. On the contrary, firms of socialism are everywhere – notably in the tendency of those who can get near the wheels of power to divert resources. Whether it’s the extraordinary influence of paid lobbies in the US, the union influence in Australian left politics, the exaggerated personal claims of individuals like Abbott or Corbyn, our age has developed perversity in what is tolerated in public life.
    Kelly, sadly, is bemoaning the influence of the institutions of the Catholic Church more than anything else.

  39. Rococo Liberal

    Western civilisation is a continuation of Greek and Roman civilisation

    You forgot the medieval warm period

  40. bollux

    Wasn’t Kevin Rudd a church going Christian?

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