Is Democracy Bankrupt

May 19, 2017


Is democracy bankrupt?  This is evident for an increasing number of thinking Frenchmen, and soon will be what I believe you call altruism with them.  Do not attach too much importance to the electoral storm of 1924.  Educated opinion, which is what we are concerned with, was astounded by it, as was popular opinion also.  Anxious, though not really fearful, for their “rights,” a million civil servants succeeded in upsetting four million electors; and , the mischief done, men begin to ask one another with concern how to be rid of a regime which could allow of such upheaval.


But we must come to an agreement about the terms we use, for it is a controversial matter.  I can call democracy the government of goodness and beauty.  I can say that democracy is identical with demophily.  I can assert that it is a government designed and carried on for the good of the people.  Strictly, the word democracy means government by the people; or, more accurately, the regime which gives control  of the State to the most numerous-that is, to the least cultured; that is, to the less well informed; that  is, to those least able to choose and act with freedom and discernment.  The mediocrity of such a government must be obvious before even it is tried.  But France has made the experiment, and Frenchmen are becoming less and less satisfied with it.


They need only to look at some historical landmarks. We had in 1789 a national monarchy which governed in the most general interests of the country and whose foundation and strength depended on numerous powerful and well-instructed middle classes, the nurseries of civil servants, of political and judicial counselors.  Nearly all Ministers of State came from their ranks, the remainder being supplied by the high and low Catholic clergy, the so-called noble class supplying chiefly the higher ranks of the services, but not exclusively.  This regime exhibited certain titular and fiscal inequalities.   It was to get rid of them that we have this equalitarian revolution, the democratic evolution.  What have we gained by it?  Some small, fleeting advances which were on the way to fulfillment in the simple course of time-small holdings have increased in the last thirty years much less than has been said-and we have lost tremendously.


A seafaring folk will understand our first catastrophe-the destruction of our navy.  Before the Revolution Great Britain considered us as competitors and possible revivals at sea.  After the tragedy which Waterloo decided the most ambitious of the French had to content themselves with second place. We now occupy fifth.  We have a fine colonial empire, but no ships to guard it!  On the Continent the years 1792, 1814, 1815, 1870, 1914 stand for invasions no equally menacing yet humiliating and destructive, whatever the result was.  Does it no seem to you that five invasions in five quarter–centuries is a good deal for one nation?  No such misfortune has, it would seem, happened to Great Britain since the year of our lord 1066.  My friend Jacques Bainville points out in his “History of France” that the Germans, masters of Paris in 1814, calculated that nine centuries had elapsed since their eagles had flown over the heights of Montmartre.  This appearance of the foreigner-or, as the Greeks were wont to say, the barbarian-on what our revolutionaries called “the sacred soil of the motherland” shows the disparity between what these last have promised and what the regime they invented has achieved.


In home affairs the same illusions.  In 1785 we had the densest and most numerous population, taken absolutely, of all continental and even insular European States.  Our birth rate had declined and our population has steadily decreased for nearly a century; its decline dates from 1831.  The rural population is thinning, and if the towns increase out of measure, neither the quantity of our production nor the quality of our method of production has improved in the democratic period.  Par passu, with the spread of democratic ideas, and especially since the Third Republic, our economic apparatus has depreciated because our economic life began to lose its vitality for want of guidance from above and initiative from below.  The professional classes, especially in the provinces and the whole professional organization both town and country, were razed by the revolutionary movement; their partial building up again, undertaken after the storm, remained far below our needs.  I do not wish to speak abroad of the increase in crime, not of the lowered morals, nor of the various educational and judicial crises-subjects too painful, but which must be hinted at to explain the happy but expensive reaction which is taking place in the French mind.


This reaction has arisen in the intellectual classes-the academic, literary, philosophic, and scientific worlds. It flows from the work of the best French minds of the nineteenth century, whether Catholic or anti-Catholic, Maistre, Bonald, Balzac, Veuillot, Le Paly, Auguste Comte, and Maurice Barres have taken part in this movement.  Today it is spreading throughout the country.  The Frenchman is beginning to consider what he has lost in Europe and what is wrong in his own house.  A walk through Paris of Versailles reminds him that most of their reputation as a nation, her authority, her prestige, come from the relics of what he used to call old France and which relevels herself daily, young, fresh, and new in the esteem of the entire world.  The Frenchman feels that he is first and foremost and inheritor.  An inheritor of what and of who?  Not of the democratic age, which was right in brilliant talent and generous impulse, but which has left so few finished monuments or lasting works. We are the inheritors of the old regime.


And if the inheritance has decreased or has been increasing too slowly we are beginning to get some idea of the causes.  They may be reduced to two:                              

  1. We have lacked authority, stability, moral and material order in the State; and this through the fault of democracy.Whether parliamentary, plebiscitary, imperialist, or republican, the democratic State is based altogether on popular election; which is as much as to say that it walks upside down.And the head changes so frequently that it has no opportunity of applying the few just ideas that come to tit in the uncomfortable position.

  2. We have lacked the necessary public, social, and civil liberty-freedom of religion, of the family, of the commune, of the province, of profession, of handicraft-because the natural tendency of democracy is to make all political life an affair between the individual and the State. Anglo-Saxon wisdom has in all times happily reserved this freedom, or at least curtailed it only very gradually.The tidal wave of logic has been so strong with us as to sweep away house and home.This is one of the principal causes of depopulation; birds no longer come if destroy the nest.

This double cause of national and social weakness is bound up for us with the history of democracy.  Our foreign policy has been poor because of the inadequacy by their training of those who hold high office-as admitted by the Socialist member Marcel Sembat; and we have not had that economic and moral stability which should correspond with the resources of the race and its territory, for hand in hand with the political impotence of democracy there goes the tremendous force of dissolution according to law.  On this point and Englishman of the last century mad a singularly luminous and prophetic remark.  It was after Waterloo.  The victorious Prussians were all for dismembering us.  But Lord Castlereagh said: “Leave them to themselves; France is already sufficiently enfeebled by her regime.” And this regime formulates and sums up the blind destructive equalitarianism of democracy.  Who can wonder that we have had enough of it?


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