Minogue on Democracy

A follow up to my comments on Kenneth Minogue’s Alien Powers are some notes on his essay “Morals & the servile mind” (The New Criterion, June 2010). It’s an excerpt from his new book  The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life.

“I am in two minds about democracy,” he says, “and so is everybody else.” Democracy is not the answer, but it’s not the problem either. What are our expectations in political life? That is the real issue. Particularly interesting is his point about freedom:

[I]n our entirely justified hatred of slavery, we sometimes think that the passion for freedom is a constitutive drive of all human beings…. The experience of both traditional societies and totalitarian states in the twentieth century suggests that many people are, in most circumstances, happy to sink themselves in some collective enterprise that guides their lives and guarantees them security. It is the emergence of freedom rather than the extent of servility that needs explanation.

People confuse real liberty, which involves maturity and responsibility, with the meaningless “freedoms” of self-indulgence.  Democracy is only one component of our republic. While it may be the most prominent element, as De Tocqueville observed, it is not something that can operate in a vacuum. Minogue points out that there is a huge difference between popular participation as a method of government and democracy as an ideology of state control, which is ironically committed to curtailing self-rule as traditionally understood.

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