May 28, 2013

René Guénon On The Illusion of Democracy


Below is an excerpt from René Guénon's 1927 book called, "The Crisis of the Modern World." Translated by Marco Pallis, Arthur Osborne, and Richard C. Nicholson. Sophia Perennis: Hillsdale, New York. 2004. Pg. 73-75.
"The most decisive argument against democracy can be summed up in a few words: the higher cannot proceed from the lower, because the greater cannot proceed from the lesser; this is an absolute mathematical certainty that nothing can gainsay. And it should be remarked that this same argument, applied to a different order of things, can also be invoked against materialism; there is nothing fortuitous in this, for these two attitudes are much more closely linked than might at first sight appear. It is abundantly clear that the people cannot confer a power that they do not themselves possess; true power can only come from above, and this is why---be it said in passing---it can be legitimized only by the sanction of something standing above the social order, that is to say by a spiritual authority, for otherwise it is a mere counterfeit of power, unjustifiable through lack of any principle, and in which there can be nothing but disorder and confusion. This reversal of the true hierarchical order begins when the temporal power seeks to make itself independent of the spiritual authority, and then even to subordinate the latter by claiming to make it serve political ends. This is an initial usurpation that opens up the way to all the others; thus it could be shown, for example, that the French monarchy was itself working unconsciously, from the fourteenth century onward, to prepare the Revolution that was to overthrow it; it may be that we shall have the opportunity some day to expound this point of view adequately, but for the moment we can only refer briefly to it in passing.

If the word 'democracy' is defined as the government of the people by themselves, it expresses an absolute impossibility and cannot even have a mere de facto existence---in our time or in any other. One must guard against being misled by words: it is contradictory to say that the same persons can be at the same time rulers and ruled, because, to use Aristotelian terminology, the same being cannot be 'in act' and 'in potency' at the same time and in the same relationship. The relationship of ruler and ruled necessitates the presence of two terms: there can be no ruled if there are not also rulers, even though these be illegitimate and have no other title to power than their own pretensions; but the great ability of those who are in control in the modern world lies in making the people believe that they are governing themselves; and the people are the more inclined to believe this as they are flattered by it, and as, in any case, they are incapable of sufficient reflection to see its impossibility. It was to create this illusion that 'universal suffrage' was invented: the law is supposed to be made by the opinion of the majority, but what is overlooked is that this opinion is something that can very easily be guided and modified; it is always possible, by means of suitable suggestions, to arouse, as may be desired, currents moving in this or that direction. We cannot recall who it was who first spoke of 'manufacturing opinion,' but this expression is very apt, although it must be added that it is not always those who are in apparent control who really have the necessary means at their disposal. This last remark should make it clear why it is that the incompetence of most prominent politicians seems to have only a very relative importance; but since we are not undertaking here to unmask the working of what might be called the 'machine of government', we will do no more than point out that this incompetence itself serves the purpose of keeping up the illusion of which we have been speaking: indeed, it is a necessary condition if the politicians in question are to appear to issue from the majority, for it makes them in its likeness, inasmuch as the majority, on whatever question it may be called on to give its opinion, is always composed of the incompetent, whose number is vastly greater than that of the men who can give an opinion based on full knowledge."