Slaves to Democracy

By Gottfried, Paul | The American Conservative, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Slaves to Democracy


Gottfried, Paul, The American Conservative


Slaves to Democracy The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life, Kenneth Minogue, Encounter, 374 pages

Kenneth Minogue is a distinguished figure for serious stuents of political thought. A longtime professor (now emeritus) at the London School of Economics, president of the Mont Pèlerin Society, and the author of provocative works on nationalism, ideology, and egalitarian democracy, Minogue is one of the most illustrious representatives of what survives of the European classical liberal tradition. A disciple of Michael Oakeshott and an incisive critic of public administration, Minogue has been open about expressing his views ever since he left his native New Zealand, first for Australia and then for England. He is for whatever social democrats are against - bourgeois culture, free-market economics, and as strict a separation as possible between the administrative state and civil society.

In The Servile Mind, Minogue makes clear where he stands. He does not view the democratic experiment as it has gone forward in his lifetime - he was born in 1930- as favorable to freedom. He believes our current politics are driven by a popular demand, fed by intellectuals and politicians, for the imposition of ever greater equality. This demand for "fairness" or "social justice" nurtures the soft totalitarianism of political correctness and redistributionist policies.

A major problem of democratic welfare states, according to Minogue, is that they turn citizens into slaves. They produce what he considers "servile minds" that fit into what Hilaire Belloc a hundred years ago described as the "servile state." Modern states manipulate and transform onetime members of families and communities into fragmented subjects addicted to state control. In the name of equality, political authorities reshape the moral development of increasingly isolated individuals.

Minogue clearly does not set out to praise democracy in its contemporary form as humanity's greatest blessing. Nor does he wish to inflict our late modern regime on the entire world. He would agree with a judgment that Milton Friedman expressed in a Liberty Fund interview shortly before his death, that economic and civil freedom usually suffer with the advance of political freedom. By extending the franchise too far and by making too many human arrangements subject to "what the people want" or "what they think is just," we destroy our economic liberties and right of free association. Minogue, who gives his work the suggestive subtitle How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life.

He is in favor of well-ordered freedom but not necessarily the democracy to which liberty is often tendentiously linked. Minogue is more sober in his judgments about democratic regime than were two of his heroes in Austrian economics, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. These otherwise astute economists generally assumed that democracy was the only form of government that protects economic and civic freedoms. When Hayek noted that the match didn't work out as well as expected, he attributed this failure to not having the right kind of democracy. If only democratic countries would take the model of Swiss republicanism at its best, then our freedoms, according to Hayek, would be secure.

Minogue, by contrast, does not cherry-pick his examples. He deals with democracy as it has developed most widely over the last century. The colonization of the family by state functionaries and public educators, government inroads into our earnings and business enterprises, and the state-sponsored cult of victim groups are for Minogue the predictable outcomes of modern democratic rule. They are the states attempts to satisfy the demand that government itself incites for greater equality of condition.

This process began, we are told, with a change in the size of the electorate, the ultimate effect of which was to turn "democracy as denoting a kind of political arrangement" into democracy as a "moral, social and political ideal. …

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