One of the most pervasive myths of the modern age is that democracy is something that requires very little effort. Our democracy and our freedoms will survive whether we are politically active or not, the sages of the economic order assure us — in fact, if we don’t really feel like it, we need not even bother with the minimal level of participation implied by voting. Human beings naturally want freedom and democracy. We will always overcome the worst among us, though we will rarely have to break a sweat doing so. Indeed, the most important thing is personal fulfillment. Society will go on, as it always has.
This myth is powerful. Some of the country’s most high-profile political commentators have openly argued over the past year that politics is unimportant, that Canadians shouldn’t vote, and even, in one extreme case, that they probably shouldn’t be allowed to vote. These are serious arguments in the papers today. I am being selective, but I am not being deceptive. There are columnists arguing that we should not have democracy in this country, and there are editors agreeing that this is a perspective worth sharing with their readership.
To say that the Harper regime is spearheading this democratic crisis is to miss the point. They are simply the opportunistic filth which have lied, defrauded, and cheated their way to the top of the heap. Barring major political and social change, if it hadn’t been Harper’s Conservatives, it would probably have been some other political force.
They say you get the government you deserve, not necessarily the one you vote for. This is very true. In Canada, as in many other Western countries, political power is now held by generations who have been raised in peace and prosperity, and who have come to believe that democracy is something that comes easily and cheaply, something that is simply the natural state of affairs, something which will go on without us while we concern ourselves with styles and gadgets and entertainment. Hence we need not worry about a right ignored here, a law broken there, an illegal secret police unit here, an election fraud scheme there.
This is actually precisely the opposite of the truth. Democracies are rare, fleeting miracles which require constant attention from all their members. Among other animals with complex societies, there is nothing which could be plausibly described as an analogue to democracy. Instead, almost without exception, they form societies in which a few large dominant individuals lord it over the rest. Your own body works this way, too: with the exception of the elite neurons, you consist of trillions of cells who are expected to live only for the good of the collective, and die for the good of the collective — immediately, obediently, and on demand, through a process called apoptosis — when they grow too old, too damaged, or too dangerous. Cells are independent life forms, the descendants of bacteria, turned selfless collectivists in a manner the Stalins and Kim Jong Ils of the world could only dream of.
This is how the vast majority of human societies operate, too, once they get beyond the level of small mobile bands where people are free to come and go and so there is little sense of permanent hierarchy. Almost all states, in almost all of political history, have been rigidly totalitarian states in which leaders control the life and death of their subjects and defend that power in the most preposterous terms, usually by proclaiming themselves either the direct descendants of the gods, or in fact gods themselves.
Through great effort and sacrifice, some societies have developed in which these natural traditions are no longer followed. But the idea that this situation can persist as some sort of natural phenomenon is horribly misguided. Evolution doesn’t work that way. At least in the short term, it is much easier and more efficient to organize society as a rigidly authoritarian collective. Those are the sorts of societies which will tend to emerge if enough people decide that politics is something not worth worrying about. At that point, whether the dictatorship which emerges is a “communist” one or a “fascist” one or a “Conservative” one or a “Liberal” one really only depends on which particular group of cynical opportunists has the easiest route to power and, if there’s potential competition, which moves to seize it the soonest and most ruthlessly.
And if that’s what’s easier in the short term, than that’s what will happen, barring some constant effort by those of us capable of thinking about greater things. Evolution doesn’t care about the long term. The dodo bird is extinct because losing the power of flight seemed like a good idea when there were no predators around. Had dodos been intelligent, their Fraser Institutes and free-market politicians would have been confidently assuring their followers that there was no scientific basis for the idea that predators would ever reappear or that wings would ever be needed again, and eagerly promoting the benefits of their new wing-free, low-tax paradise.
This is, I will admit, not a hopeful message. The United States stands on the edge of a precipice. So does most of Europe, where Greek democracy was ended this fall and the fates of more countries may follow. Canadians have so far remained absurdly content about their position in an increasingly unstable world, so supremely overconfident that our export-based nation will thrive in a world where all the importers are going bankrupt that we have failed to notice the fifth column cheerfully tearing apart our social democracy from within, and now from above.
Do you think I’m exaggerating? In the past year or so, the Government of Canada has declared it will not enforce the Canada Health Act (the new health “deal”), that it is happy to let the provinces decide whether federal politicians should be democratically elected or simply appointed, Soviet Union-style (the Senate reform “debate”), that it does not have to follow the law (the election fraud case), that it is exempt from the Constitution (the Abdelrazik case), and that it is not answerable to the courts (the Wheat Board case). This government has outlawed strikes, blown the national budget buying the better part of $100 billion in shiny new toys for the military, and expanded spy agency and police powers to the point that they can now freely monitor what emails we send and what Internet sites we visit without even so much as a warrant.
And so far, they have only held a majority in Parliament for one year. We are at their mercy, and they have only just got started with us.Tweet