Democracy is not a sure preservative of liberty

Democracy is by no means a sure preservative of liberty; on
the contrary, we see today the democratic system of government
march steadily towards such an organised annihilation
of individual liberty as could not have been dreamed of in the
old aristocratic and monarchical systems. It may be that from
the more violent and brutal forms of despotic oppression which
were associated with those systems, democracy has indeed delivered
those nations which have been fortunate enough to achieve
liberal forms of government, and that is no doubt a great gain.
It revives now only in periods of revolution and excitement,
often in the form of mob tyranny or a savage revolutionary
or reactionary repression. But there is a deprivation of liberty
which is more respectable in appearance, more subtle and systematised,
more mild in its method because it has a greater
force at its back, but for that very reason more effective and
pervading. The tyranny of the majority has become a familiar
phrase and its deadening effects have been depicted with a great
The Peril of the World-State 509
force of resentment by certain of the modern intellectuals;1 but
what the future promises us is something more formidable still,
the tyranny of the whole, of the self-hypnotised mass over its
constituent groups and units.2
This is a very remarkable development, the more so as in
the origins of the democratic movement individual freedom was
the ideal which it set in front both in ancient and modern times.
The Greeks associated democracy with two main ideas, first,
an effective and personal share by each citizen in the actual
government, legislation, administration of the community, secondly,
a great freedom of individual temperament and action.
But neither of these characteristics can flourish in the modern
type of democracy, although in the United States of America
there was at one time a tendency to a certain extent in this
direction. In large States, the personal share of each citizen in the
government cannot be effective; he can only have an equal share
—illusory for the individual although effective in the mass—in
the periodical choice of his legislators and administrators. Even
if these have not practically to be elected from a class which is
not the whole or even the majority of the community, at present
almost everywhere the middle class, still these legislators and
administrators do not really represent their electors. The Power
they represent is another, a formless and bodiless entity, which
has taken the place of monarch and aristocracy, that impersonal
group-being which assumes some sort of outward form and
body and conscious action in the hugemechanism of the modern
State. Against this power the individual is much more helpless
than he was against old oppressions. When he feels its pressure
grinding him into its uniform moulds, he has no resource except
either an impotent anarchism or else a retreat, still to some
extent possible, into the freedom of his soul or the freedom of
his intellectual being.



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