Against the Masses: Varieties of Anti-Democratic Thought since the French Revolution

Against the Masses: Varieties of Anti-Democratic Thought since the French Revolution

Against the Masses: Varieties of Anti-Democratic Thought since the French Revolution

Against the Masses: Varieties of Anti-Democratic Thought since the French Revolution

Synopsis

In this lively and provocative book, the author provides the first systematic and detailed analysis of the anti-democratic tradition in Western thought. His approach is both thematic and historical. The author highlights the fatalism and pessimism of anti-democratic thinkers and argues that they fail to understand the adaptability of democracy and its ability to co-exist with traditional and elitist values. At the same time, the author also acknowledges that some of the predictions and observations of anti-Democratic thinkers have been confirmed by history.

Excerpt

Those who insisted on the paradoxical consequences of democracy were all opposed, in varying degrees, to the rationalistic and 'enlightened' mode of thought that reached its apogee in the eighteenth century. Whereas Marxists have always assumed that Enlightenment liberals, being bourgeois, were the 'objective' enemies of popular self-determination, the truth is precisely the opposite. Liberalism and democracy are linked, not just empirically but logically. This connection was not lost on the romantic conservatives who, in the wake of the French Revolution, took it upon themselves to expose the depravity of liberal egalitarianism.

The Enlightenment was both cause and effect of the process known as modernity. Within the more advanced parts of Europe, customary models of authority were progressively undermined by the commercialization of land, labour, and capital; the growth of the market economy; great scientific discoveries, such as the Copernican system; and the Protestant Reformation, which destroyed the corporate unity of the Catholic ecumene. the break with ancient traditions and customs, as the binding forces of society, engendered the search for new principles of moral unity. By the time of the Renaissance, artists and thinkers were already beginning to cast off old mental habits. As the authority of orthodox religious dogma declined, faith in the explanatory and creative potential of human reason grew. With the 'scientific revolution' of the late seventeenth century, the so-called 'Age of Reason' had well and truly commenced. the fashionable thinkers of the period were more divided in their opinions than is commonly supposed: some, like Holbach, were atheists; most were not. Many considered natural rights to be self-evident truths; others, notably Hume, dismissed them as metaphysical nonsense. Nevertheless, all were united in their hostility to 'superstition' and intolerance. Unlike its Latinate cousin, 'illumination', enlightenment carries no suggestion of the occult or the supernatural. Only the faculty of reason aided by sense perception—not mystical inner light or the worship of tradition or the dictates of divine authority, whether made known by direct revelation or recorded in sacred texts—only that faculty could provide answers to the great questions which had occupied humanity since the dawn of history.

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