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Bedtime for Democracy: A Dialectic of Resentment


12036523_10153725279532287_4578663768194735472_nBranko Malić
21st Century Wire

Seems like these days the most democratically-distributed opinion is that democracy is not such a good idea. And no one is quite as eager as professed ‘democrats’ to point this out.

“Indeed, any extreme is liable to produce a violent reaction (…) so from an extreme of liberty one is likely to get, in the individual and in the political community, a reaction to an extreme of subjection. (…) And if that is so, we should expect tyranny to result from democracy, the most savage subjection from the excess of liberty.”

– Plato, Politeia (564 a – b)

For years now, Westerners have been living in democratic societies in which this quite unreliable mode of political control is taken to mean everything to all people. Hence, being undemocratic is tantamount to being criminal – because the government of equals is sacrosanct, and considered as built upon moral principle on the same level of “Thy shall not kill!” commandment.

Yet, there’s nothing intrinsically morally binding in democracy, as much as there’s no such thing as ‘government of equals.’

People fall into this illusion because of an assumption that political life and – even more so – the legal system are the ultimate playgrounds of good and evil, whereas they most certainly are not. There were, and there are, authoritarian regimes which on average, weigh upon the shoulders of far better men than those inhabiting so-called ‘developed’ nations and modern democracies.

To add insult to injury, people leading the actual contemporary democracies don’t actually suffer challenge to their power. The ideal about which we are speaking of is a fig leaf – and rather a small one – concealing something called oligarchy.

In this sense, I never had illusions about actual democracies. But, as a political atheist, I also never believed in the ideal of democracy which is properly an object of political theology: the thought that relies upon premise that man and society can be essentially, revolutionary, transformed.

When observing the acts of masses of humanity, I find it obvious that “people’s will” is often far better suited to organize a lynching party rather than to rule itself. But this doesn’t in the least fill me with resentment towards my fellow men. Sometimes anger, sometimes sorrow – most often resignation – but never resentment. However bad they can get, the moment you feel yourself as somehow morally superior, I bet you dime to a dollar that one of them will surprise you and put you to shame by act of selflessness. And then, one is obliged to remember that everything he says about human beings, he also says about himself. That said…

The Democratic Man can have none of this. Either you are damned, or you are the Saint.

The Democratic Man

gods_platoSo, not to fool the reader, I don’t consider people to be equal. I find the will to preserve any human life sacred, but I also find that not everyone can be everything, as The Democratic Man proposes, never really acting upon this impossible presumption. If a radical (and this means consequent) militarist rightist will dream of shooting his enemy, rest assured that radical leftist secretly dreams of commanding the firing squad.

The personal note was needed to portray someone who is undemocratic, but utterly harmless to democracy.

The dangerous man, however, is the true believer in democracy; the real villain and enemy of democracy is the one who evangelises and worships it, and at one moment begins to lose his faith. Or gets radicalized in it.

In both my country and abroad, this type of people is more and more prominent on both sides of the Left/Right political spectrum.

More and more, one can notice how ultra-liberal opinion makers are starting to realize that “democracy is not such a good idea”, and that “referenda are not for xenophobes, homophobes and whatever-o-phobes”. In Europe, the crucial political event which emboldened those voices of resentment was BREXIT.

In USA, however, and to an extent all across the Western world, this was reinforced by “mass shooting” spectacles, especially the Orlando and Dallas Shootings. These events were portrayed as all things to all people – across the entire political spectrum on condition that they have one common personal trait. This trait, which is at the moment the strongest motivating force behind the “will of the people”, is resentment.

Western democracies are filled with resentful democratic men and women, all slowly but surely realizing that their democracy cannot really punish their enemies sufficiently.

Namely, resentment is not an act of anger over injustice. It is a will to enact vengeance.

At best, people want to punish professional politicians by voting for extravagant outsiders. But as blood is spilled – albeit only virtual blood – the stakes are progressively being raised.

‘Right’ leaning people in the West want to punish the Muslims and those providing them with special minority status, while defenders of LGTB community… (etc.) want to finally do away with those ‘gun possessing freaks’ and, presumably, “Jesus freaks”. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter is now categorized by some a “terrorist organization,” while its adherents considered themselves finally vindicated in their assumption that USA is a land of armed and dangerous men. And so on, and so forth.

The Dialectic of Resentment

When we have two opposites colliding, but none of them gets annihilated by the other, chances are, they are not opposites at all. Namely, opposites can exist only upon some foundation, i.e. being healthy or sick can be predicated to subject of ‘body’. In the case of the political dialectics we are talking about, the subject holding the opposites together is precisely resentment. That way they’ll never annihilate each other: they are only two opposed manifestations of one and the same substantial desire.

If we are to define its object, then it is surprisingly easy: both “liberals” and “conservatives” resent what they quite sincerely cherish the most, namely their opponent’s liberty.

There’s nothing contradictory in this. If we define liberty in legalistic terms – and modern democracies do presuppose that their ‘freedoms’ mean exclusively being subjected to the legal system – as enjoyment of certain rights and duties, then the explosion of liberties of one individual will inevitably clash with those of another.

This is the historical resolution of the Age of Modernity. Many liberties need to become one common liberty in order for society to function. And this is possible only by revoking them as individual liberties. The argument that what doesn’t harm someone cannot be oppressive applies only at the level of individual human beings. At the level of societal groups, regulated by legal system, everything can harm someone. And, as it seems now, everyone now wants to be absolutely unharmed by everybody else. Thus bringing about the state where everyone’s freedom harms everyone else’s freedom.

This was Plato’s great insight in the nature of democracy and democratic man – the democracy doesn’t get destroyed by some authoritarian attack from the outside, but by it’s very own totalitarian nature. Never mind now that historical Athens’ democracy, which executed its beloved teacher Socrates, was quite a different beast from what we have now. His insight that what democracy calls liberty is nothing but the lowest common denominator serving to make all people numerically equal still applies. More importantly, his approach of defining the political system (politeia) by analyzing the type of person prevailing in it is, for all intents and purposes, is nowadays being demonstrated before our eyes.

Namely, Plato deems the democratic man quite a loveable being and democracy the most appealing method of government in the short term. Yet, as it develops its intrinsic possibilities, progressively strengthening the liberties of people, this image starts to dissolve and its dark core breaks the surface (one might argue that is exactly what we are seeing today, most notably in the developed, progressive democracies).

The liberty of democratic man is in fact freedom to indulge his desires at will and in so doing being protected by law. However, desires or passions, taken in themselves, do not have an intrinsic limit; the only thing one can foresee about their development is that they will multiply with increase of indulgence. And it is only a matter of time when one group of self-indulgent individuals will clash with other group of self-indulgent individuals, and demand their liberties to be revoked.

However, there’s more. Besides the range of desires – ranging from beer to crystal-meth consumption, or the God given right to enjoy S&M while exercising the right to marriage and raising children – there’s still one unique desire in human beings.

Birth of tyranny from the sleep of reason

The desire which brings the tyranny to power is popular resentment, i.e. mutual resentment – between leaders and lower strata of society. Its function is not to ensure some others’ liberty, but to eradicate the liberty of someone else. There’s a certain kind of man that makes a true tyrant, and he (or she) has one master passion:

“The sort that wakes while rest of the soul, the rational, gentle and dominant part, slumbers, but the beastly and savage part, replete with food and wine, gambols and, repelling sleep, endeavours to sally forth and satisfy its own instincts. You are aware that in such case there is nothing it will not venture to undertake as being released from all sense of shame and all reason. It does not shrink from attempting to lie with a mother in fancy or with anyone else, man, god or brute. It is ready for any foul deed of blood; it abstains from no food, and, in a word, falls short of no extreme of folly.“ (Plato, Politeia 571 c – e)

It is, therefore, what we now, seemingly following Freud but in fact rather his more successful nephew Eddie Bernays (image, right), call ‘unconscious’ – the chaos of the sleeping psyche.

The struggle against ‘reason’ or ‘intellect’, in its Platonic sense of power which can be energized by the discovery of truth trough making correct inferences, is one of the hallmarks of our age. At this historical moment we can see the fruits of its victory. The liberty to affirm one’s own ego, epitomized in the liberty to choose “identification” regardless of inborn and inherited conditions of individual, is just a fancy mask hiding the absolute will to drink, fornicate and, ultimately, kill. Because the only natural limit to indulgence, when mind and its baggage of higher purposes are kicked out of the game – is death.

So, the democratic will unto tyranny which, in my opinion, we are observing now in the dialectics of resentment is in fact a will unto death – a suicidal drive for revenge on one’s own reflection in the mirror.

For example, how else to explain the mental blind spots in people, including those who identify themselves as ‘Right’ and ‘Conservative’, who just can’t figure out that the phenomenon of “Islamic terrorism” is being hatched, groomed and delivered by their own rulers? Moreover, how can we explain to someone who reads Kur’an and finds a plethora of incriminating passages, that this is precisely the method of “radical” Islam, i.e. heretical movements that rejected the legitimate Tradition of interpretation, the necessary foundation of every civilization-building religion which Islam – whether you like it or not – is? How to penetrate the thick heads with the fact that not a single one of historical Muslim empires functioned upon this principle and instead kept the praxis of summarily executing those hinting to go down, what we now call, “radical” path?

The reason, as it seems, is an inability to face the grim fact that what we now call ‘democracy’ is just as self-indulgent, nihilistic and in need of tyranny as any ‘terrorist’ mentality. The nihilism is a metaphysical mentality which denies the existence of any transcendent principle. As there is only one ultimate Nothing, there is only one ultimate nihilism. In the darkness of void all cows are black, and no black cows lives matter.

For contemporary champions of democracy, therefore, the ultimate liberty will by neccessity be tyranny – a centralized power that indulges every conceivable desire and stifles all opposition that could cause resentment. And it does so arbitrarily, because no firm principles exist. There’s no essential difference between that which ‘triggers’ snowflake far western Social Justice Warriors and lunatic Middle Eastern head-hunters – because their common ground is that there’s essentially no limits to their resentment.

Namely, you cannot conceive two limitless things, because they would limit each other. Therefore they are one and the same.

Being without mind means to be without the ability to set a limit to one’s own liberties. As those liberties obviously run in a collision course with one another – even in the consciousness of a single person – there’s a need for outside authority to cater to all of them at once.

One could make a prediction about a possible future tyranny where some central power would impose “order out of chaos”, but is it really necessary to play prophet?

The present constellation of power already caters to the whole spectrum of resentment, not least by a steady stream of controlled terror and its media representation. Therefore, we can just as well sit back and observe Plato proven right while democracy, by democratic means, gives birth to tyranny. And what is the most disgusting thing about it is that it is all brought about by that sacrosanct “will of the people”, hell-bent on vengeance, its ire provoked mainly by virtual, and heavily edited moving images rotating in the news cycle.

So, this could very well be bedtime for democracy. Because what we see displayed on omnipresent screens more and more starts to resemble a dream of a violent orgy developing into orgiastic violence. And all those voices of fear, sympathy or anger, more and more resembling almost indistinct sounds, but ever louder and still cheering for more.

So I think we can safely assume that by noticing that at this late hour it is a bedtime for democracy, we are witnessing a waking hour of tyranny.

A democratic one, of course.

Author Branko Malić is a Croatian author and owner of Kali Tribune, with the background in classical philosophy. He’s focused on philosophy, media, culture and deep politics analysis.

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