When people come together to vote for parliament or to serve on a jury – rather similar exercises – we feel good about each other. But if we see them come together as a lynch mob, we are revolted. We are revolted because people following the herd instinct are behaving more like animals than human beings. Most of us are very worried about the crowds behind the gillets jaunes in France. People have there taken to the streets not just to protest against government but to try to bend the government to do its will. That is a plain denial of parliamentary democracy. That kind of government can only work if the overwhelming majority of people accept the decision of a majority. But ever since 1789, the French have claimed the right to take to the streets to stop government taking a course they do not like. The result is that France has not been able to push through unpopular reforms in the same way that Germany and England did. And the result of this triumph of the people is that the people are a lot worse off. That in turn leads to the gillets jaunes and to the President’s not being able to implement the reforms for which he was elected. And so the cycle goes on – until one morning the French get up and see a scowling Madame LePen brandishing a stock whip on her new tricoleur dais. She will have achieved the final vindication of the crowd – the acquisition of real power by real force.
The Bagehot column in The Economist this week is headed ‘The roar of the crowd.’ It begins: ‘The great achievement of parliamentary democracy is to take politics off the streets.’ Well, the English achieved that – but not the French. The article goes on to refer to street protests being invoked to express ‘the will of the people.’ That bullshit phrase is or should be as alien to the English as it is to us. It is dangerous nonsense advanced by people over the water like Rousseau – one of most poisonous men who ever lived – Robespierre, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler.
The article also refers to social media –the worst misnomer ever – as ‘virtual crowds online.’ It quotes an 1895 book The Crowd; A Study of the Popular Mind as saying of crowds that they show ‘impulsiveness, irritability, incapacity to reason, the absence of judgment of the critical spirit, the exaggeration of sentiments’ and says that the crowd debases the ordinary person – ‘isolated he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian.’ That is because he has handed over the keys to his own humanity. All this is just as spot-on for social media as it is to those whom Farage whipped up against Muslims, or those for whom Trump did the same, or those who marched last night in favour of Brexit and did so to a ghastly drum-beat that made them look so much like the English fascists from the 1930’s.
For our system to work, people have to show at least some restraint and toleration. At least two forces are in my view at work in Australia working against us and in favour of the herd instinct of the crowd. One is social media. The other is the Murdoch press. The first is obvious. As to the second, a New Zealand observer said there were two reasons for the immoderate restraint and toleration of their government to a crisis of hate – the leadership and empathy of the leader of their government, and the absence of the Murdoch press. In Australia, Sky News after dark regularly parades Pauline Hanson while Bolt and others defends her and while in The Australian columnists attack Muslims as jihadis in something like a frenzy. And it was just a matter of time before they spitefully turned on the New Zealand Prime Minister and the ‘Muslimist Aljazeera’ – and of course those middle class pinkos at Fairfax and the ABC.
The people behind social media and the Murdoch press are wont to preach about freedom of speech. The sad truth is that they go to the gutter for the same reason – for profit.
Two more points. The current disaster in England started when they went and tested ‘the will of the people’ and got an equivocal answer – yes, leave, but on what terms? – with a majority too slim to permit a simple solution to a difficult problem to be found and implemented. Now we have the awful and degrading spectacle of parliament behaving worse than the crowd. And people who got where they are on a vote from the people are with a straight face saying that it would be wrong to ask the people again now that everyone knows what lies were told and who has been the worst behaved. Indeed, their Prime Minister says a second vote would be a ‘betrayal of democracy.’ Some say an election would be better – when both major parties are hopelessly splintered and there is no reason at all to think that a reconfigured group of those responsible for the present mess might do better.
The real betrayal of democracy has taken place in America. Trump appealed to the crowd to reject the ‘elites’ – people who know what they are doing. Neither he nor almost everyone in his government has any idea about governing. But his betrayal is more elemental. A President is elected, as Lincoln said ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.’ Trump could not care less about the people. He is only interested in that ghastly minority that is called his ‘base.’ And since he thinks his base wants him to abandon affordable health care, he will try to kill it. And to hell with the people.
It’s not just that the policies of people like Farage, Hanson and Trump are revolting – it’s the people they get to work with them that are also revolting.
It looks like the hour of the crowd is with us again and it may never have looked worse.
But Trump bends history to his will. May simply bends under the will of others.
The Weekend Australian, 30-31 March, 2019. Mr G Sheridan
It is an interesting view of the strong man. Amazingly, the editorial was even sillier.