Let me take you back to seventeenth century
England. Here we are, in the year 1647, to be exact. The Civil War between King and Parliament is over, with a victory for the latter, except that it was a victory that was no victory. The laws of the land have been flattened, the constitution wrecked. We are in a political vacuum into which all sorts of ideas are drawn. One idea is universal manhood suffrage.
Now we are in Putney, the headquarters of the New Model Army, rapidly turning into the power brokers of the nation. These are the men who defeated the king in battle. Now some of them, the most radical, want a political reward for their efforts. A series of debates are held concerning the future shape of the constitution.
The grandees, headed by Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton, his son-in-law, are shocked by a one man one vote suggestion. So far as Ireton is concerned this is not next door to anarchy; it is anarchy. No man, as he put it, has a right to a share in disposing of the affairs of the kingdom if he does not have a permanent fixed interest in the kingdom. That is to say, if he does not have any property. Voting, in such circumstances, would lead to chaos.
Where do I stand in the debate? To begin with, as a woman, I don’t count. Even the most radical of the Levellers did not consider the prospect of universal suffrage. But notwithstanding this, and taking on a manly guise, I am on the side of Ireton. A rapid extension of the suffrage at this stage in
England’s history would have been disastrous. It would indeed have resulted in anarchy, urged on by the demagoguery of the age.
Now we are back in the present day. To suggest that democracy might equal anarchy is a rarefied and heterodox opinion. There is no place now for the likes of Henry Ireton. But he was quite right: in certain circumstances mass suffrage is disastrous; mass suffrage can lead to the destruction of a nation, given into the hands of ruthless demagogues. Mass suffrage turned the Eden of Rhodesia into the Hades of Zimbabwe.
Now I’m in really dangerous territory. Racist, fascist, imperialist, the cry rises. How could anyone suggest that a white minority government was better than black majority rule? But the suggestion has been made, and not just by me. “It would have been better if whites had continued to rule because the money would have continued to come”, said one man, “It was better under
Rhodesia. Then we could get jobs. Things were cheaper in stores. Now we have no money, no food.”
Oh, an unregenerate old white racist, you might conclude, nostalgic for a vanished past. Nostalgic, certainly, but this ‘racist’ happens to be black, one of many yearning for a nation competently managed by a tiny white elite rather than destroyed and oppressed by a tiny black elite. For years now the modern Levellers have been at work, levelling
Zimbabwe to the dust.
My thoughts here were brought on by a piece in Taki’s Magazine (Thanks, Calvin!) Headed One Man, One Vote, One Catastrophe, it’s by Hannes Wessels, born a white Rhodesian and transformed into a displaced Zimbabwean. For some that will be enough to discount what he has to say, those who are generally blind to uncomfortable facts. I’m guessing that these will be white liberals in the main, rather than the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, like the man quoted above, suffering under black ‘majority’ rule. Actually, and paradoxically, the real racists are those who weigh such questions in terms of colour. It’s alright to be oppressed just so long as the oppressors have the same complexion as the oppressed.
Wessels points out that Ian Smith, the one and only prime minister of independent
Rhodesia, tried to tell the world that universal suffrage at that stage in the country’s history was the door to disaster. Instead he called, like a modern Henry Ireton, for a qualified franchise based on merit not race. Democracy could not be rushed in a place with no concept of the practice, where the majority had no understanding of the complexities involved. Political maturity takes time.
But the world would not listen. Urged on by one brutal black dictator after another, with no sense of the irony involved, the world condemned
Rhodesia and Smith; the BBC condemned him in its uniquely unreflective way. Unable to withstand the pressure, Smith gave way. The result was the flawed 1980 election, which brought Robert Mugabe and a coterie of criminal gangsters, masquerading as ‘freedom fighters,’ to power. They have been there ever since, displacing whites and brutalising blacks. Rhodesia died but so, too, did Zimbabwe, a protracted and painful process.
Wessels article is not simply a reflection on past disasters. It contains a warning;
Now many Americans and Europeans are having to confront the same paradigm. As the demographic winds of change blow stronger, the number of illiterates and itinerants grows at an alarming rate. Those that contribute the least to the common good seem set to seize and retain power at the expense of the minority that contributes the most. All this is thanks to the seemingly sacrosanct principle of “one man, one vote.” But just as in
Rhodesia, that minority dares not voice its displeasure at this development for fear of being condemned to the special dungeons reserved for those committing the cardinal sin of “racism.” And they can be sure of this punishment because of the mainstream media, which so cunningly manipulates the minds of the millions of simpletons who have the vote and therefore the power to elect those who will serve their destructive purpose.
Let me bring Henry Ireton back to life. There he is, looking over the sad wreckage of
Zimbabwe, looking at the anarchy brought on by ‘democracy.’ There he is, sadly nodding, seeing his past fears given present form. He might very well meet murder on the way; he wears a masque like Mugabe.
Thank you for pointing out what our liberalised elite refuses to see: that not every nation is at the same place as relates to suffrage.ReplyDelete
One of James Callaghan's last acts was to promise Mugabe Zimbabwe, which was why the election was rushed into, and why the planned power-share between Ian Smith and Abel Muzerewe was hushed up. I hope there is an autopsy into the 1980 election soon - it's long overdue.
Thanks, Joe. Yes I quite agree.Delete
Were the masses ever meant to be our equals?ReplyDelete
There have to be elites but some elites are more equal than other elites. :-)Delete
Western politicians have displayed an unerring instinct for preferring black tyrants in Africa. The cost in innocent lives has been one of the great obscenities of the post-WW2 period.ReplyDelete
Ah, Calvin, still something that's not fully understood. The crimes that can be laid at the gates of misguided liberalism are immense.Delete
A most interesting take on the efficacy of democracy. Indeed those who take are far more influential than those who give, in fact forced to. Also the majority often than not are wrong headed in their thinking as bad unintended consequences frequently trump that which is intended.ReplyDelete
Indeed so, Antisthenes. The road to hell etc. etc.Delete
An excellent post, Ana.ReplyDelete
It does befuddle me, however, why it is that democracy can be used to install dictatorships. Is it just that the voters are naive? It has happened so many times that there must be common attributes. It would be interesting if people more knowledgeable than me could elucidate on this.
How does democracy get mis/handled in order to create dictatorship?
Thanks, Seymour. Now there's a question! The simple answer is that democracy is much more than about voting. It requires a mature civic culture. I remember in a debate someone put the point that democracy means that the minority have to obey the decision of the majority. My response was, no; democracy means that the majority should always be mindful of the rights of the minority. It's the rule of law above all. Mugabe and the other tyrants have no concept of this. For them power and the monopoly of power is all.Delete
Looks like time for one of my favourite quotes;Delete
“The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting.” - Bukowski
Ana, another thing a democracy requires to succeed, to which no one is admitting (publicly, at least) are almost all gone, are informed (and involved) voters.Delete
Here in the States, at least, our schools are producing many illiterate citizens. Despite our having free (to the public) K-12 "education", newspapers regularly write to the 6th grade reading comprehension level, and the US military has had to switch to using the equivalent of graphic novels (aka "comic books") to show recruits how to use modern weapons.
When I look at the "Federalist Papers" (which were publicly posted to inform the former British subjects about the thoughts behind the proposed republic's constitution), I am amazed at the high level of literacy that was considered perfectly normal for farmers and tradesmen in 18th Century America. Many 21st Century COLLEGE graduates can't read that well.
I wonder if that is one of the major reasons so many of the African countries have fared so badly - their voters have little education, and less understanding about the political process (and is the US headed the same way?).
@CWB, a good one!Delete
@CB, oh, the Federalist Papers stun we with their brilliance. Sadly I think we are in a degenerate age, your country and mine, an age of mediocrity and dumbing down. We may dumb ourselves down into extinction.
For centuries western powers have installed and tolerated totalitarian despots in third world countries for favorable economic concessions. If they were to encourage democratic governments then the populace would realize that they were getting sold out to foreign interests and revolt.ReplyDelete
It's a fair point, Anthony, though the paradox is that Mugabe is the result of 'democracy'.Delete
Well we wound up with Obama?ReplyDelete