The Suffrage of the Insufferable

One of the merits of Christianity at its best is that it reconciles the infinite greatness of man with his infinite littleness. On the one hand man is created in the image of God, and each and every individual is unique as an object of God’s love and concern; on the other, he is as nothing by comparison with his maker.

If you take away the second consideration, what you get is unlimited self-conceit. The infinite greatness of man, unconstrained by his infinite littleness, gives rise to people with rights but no duties who in effect worship themselves and become metaphysically egotistical. The existential equality before God gives way to a demand for sublunary equality in all respects: an inflammatory demand that in practice can never be satisfied and results in permanent resentment, even by those who, to all external appearances, are among the most fortunate people who ever lived. It is, alas, easier to brook no superiors than to feel one has no inferiors, which is perhaps why we are inclined to think those people rich who have more money than we, but seldom conclude that we are rich because there are many people poorer than we. That is why President Hollande was able to say, in the belief that he was speaking the plain truth, that he did not like the rich. What he meant was that he did not like those richer than he; for, like most of us, he has no vocation for genuine poverty. 

These were thoughts that occurred to me as I read Democracy as a Neocon Trick by my good friend Alexander Boot, a bracing attack on the shallow notion that democracy as defined by the holding of periodic elections based upon universal manhood (and, increasingly, adolescent) suffrage is the source of all liberty and political virtue, and that no other exists or has ever existed.

Unlike the author, I am not a believing Christian; but unlike many democratic enragés, I am prepared to accept that our civilization is largely Christian in inspiration, and that it is difficult (though not impossible) to maintain a proper balance between human self-respect and a proper modesty without a certain kind of religious belief. For many people it is probably impossible; and even many outwardly religious people use their belief to secure purely secular ends by egotistical means.

One of the problems of modern society is the difficulty many people now have with accepting and obeying rules that they neither made themselves nor can they deduce from any of their own, self-chosen first principles, chief amongst which is the democratic one that a cat may look at a king. That is why, if you take the risk of asking a person who is behaving in a mildly antisocial way to desist, he will suddenly turn moral philosopher and demand an incontrovertible proof that he should not behave in that way.

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