Liberal Democracy’s Great Weakness: It Does Not Make The Blood Run Hot
One of the great miscalculations of enlightened modernity was the false assumption that man is a rational creature. We certainly are capable of being rational at times, but we are not inherently so. We live by our mythologies and are driven by our emotions. We can be petty, and short-sighted, and often will act on impulse or from biased motivations that are against the coldly logical and reasoned self-interests. This was in truth the most fundamental flaw of the Enlightenment, the architects of which being highly intelligent and well-educated individuals for the most part having made the tremendous error in assuming this also applied to the human populace at large.
It has been fashionable in the mainstream media these days to ponder if the established liberal international order is in crisis. Spoiler alert: it is. In no small part this is because of the fact the fact that human beings for the most part do see themselves as atomized individuals but instead long to see themselves as part of something bigger than themselves and their own sad little existences. Such things give meaning to a world that otherwise seems meaningless, and enhances life to something more than an endless quest to simply fill one’s belly and rest one’s head then repeat the process ad nauseam until death. Capitalism, liberal democracy and free trade are all wonderful things, I do not dispute this, but they hardly make the blood run hot.
The ugly truth is that no one is going to throw themselves on top of a grenade for the sake of liberal democracy precisely because the modern order fails to meet this very fundamental and basic need for belief. As much as the Second World War has been mythologized into a war to save democracy the reality at the time was much different. For all Churchill’s admittedly eloquent speeches painted the struggle as one between light and darkness, the initial motives for France and Britain to old fashioned ones of strategic realism; France feared a militarily confident Germany (with good reason having twice been invaded by one in the last hundred years) while Britain was simply continuing its age old policy of preventing any one power from dominating the Continent. The millions of young men from Australia and New Zealand and my own country of Canada who crossed oceans to fight and die on the beaches of Normandy did so with little conception that it was for democracy and liberal capitalism, the call they had answered was a far older one of God, King and Country. America quite literally had to be dragged into the war following the attack on Pearl Harbour.
As for the Cold War, thank god that Communism came to being first in Russia thus tainting it as something seen as inherently “other” and foreign to the Western world. As it was American GIs fought only fought half-heartedly in Korea and Vietnam and most certainly not out of some belief in a sacred mission to spread McDonald’s and Wal-Marts across the globe. Say what one will of Stalin (and indeed there is undeniably much to say), but millions of men went to their deaths screaming his name as their comrades dug up factories wholesale behind them and loaded them onto to trains to transport east so the fight against the enemy could continue. Fanatical loyalists of the Third Reich, some of them old men and boys, continued to fight in the ruins of Berlin even as Soviet artillery could be heard in every quarter of the city.
For this is the truly dangerous thing; when people are not given good ideals to believe in they go seeking bad ones. Where do you think the appeal of ISIS amongst the second and third generations of Muslim youth born and raised in the West comes from? To them Islamic State offers a compelling alternative to the empty and hollow narrative of modern western life that has come to revolve around the pointless goal of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. The emergence of the Alt-Right can be also be held up as another example of this, many of its adherents also being angry young men who’ve created a faux-mythology to replace the void left by the destruction of the West’s old one by the forces of progress.
The most ancient and enduring institutions of the world, whether they are the Crown or the Cross, are those that have addressed this fundamental element of human nature that desires to give reverence and revel in mystacism instead of being contemplating philosophy and logic. This was forgotten by the proponents of the modern Enlightenment Consensus and now the jackels stand at the door as the termites undermine the foundations from within. The original architects of the Enlightenment chafed at the notion that there was a God greater than them that could command their allegiance, so they created one of their own in His stead and called it reason. That false god now lies on its death bed, but the true one lives on. Recognizing that is the first step on a long path to righting this horrible mess we find ourselves in.