The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life Review

The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life
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There have been many books over time that have pointed out blemishes within the idea or reality of "democracy" (I use quotes as a way of pointing out that "democracy" has long ceased to mean the process of majority voting and has fast become a stand-in synonym for anything speakers want to say is politically good.)Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) pointed to the potentiality for taking egalitarianism too far. American Democrat and Other Political Writings pointed to democracy's susceptibility to demagoguery. Democracy: The God that Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order points to democracy's potential to erode individual liberty.
This book takes cues from all three to argue, essentially, that democracy is largely responsible for expanding the state, ironically, in the name of "freedom." Why is this ironic? Because the more we allow the state to do or insist that it does in order to "liberate", the more we give it power over us and the more we become less free. In a similar irony, the more we ask the government to do in the name of altruism, the more interest-group-politics result, where we all end up vying for a piece of the government pie at the expense of others.
Another major theme in this book is the idea that democracy is increasingly legislating morality and in so doing, transforming the moral (individual judgment) to the politico-moral (substituting individual judgment with law). Thus, we no longer have to, or get to, think for ourselves about whether an act is right or wrong; we can simply ask whether it is legal or not. We no longer have to use persuasion to convince others not to engage in x act for moral reasons; we can simply lobby the legislators to change their mind for us.
Lastly, in arguments similar to Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse and other works of communitarian theory, our democratic tendency is to focus so much on rights that we forger their corollary: duties. But this work is not arguing for communitarianism per se: it simply suggests that when we focus only on rights, responsibility erodes, and when responsibility erodes, government steps in to impose responsibility from withot, and when that happens - again, an irony - freedom is truly lost. Thus, focusing on rights without responsibilities often ends with dependency on a nanny state to keep order, rather than individuals keeping their own order.
All in all, a thought provoking read. Not quite libertarian, not quite communitarian, but one might say that the book is very conservative (in the vein of Michael Oakeshott). A good read for those unsure about our current tendency to beatify anything and everything deemed "democratic."

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