When I was in gov’t school as a child I absorbed some kind of hyper-Whig theory of history… We live now at the pinnacle and culmination of civilization. The only reason to learn about the past is to learn about those hopeless neanderthals who believed the earth was flat, believed flies came from old rags, thought slavery was great, were racists and sexists and listened to Glenn Miller.
Of course, there was never any hint that our own age might have superstitions and unreasoned prejudices of its own.
Eventually putting away childish things, I learned that the view of the past I absorbed wasn’t very charitable to say the least. For example, it is a myth that the earth being flat was generally accepted in the Middle Ages.
But more relevantly, I have learned that our own age has superstitions as well. Hayek usefully defined superstition as thinking you understand something that you really don’t. He held up Keynesianism and Marxism as chief superstitions of the 20th century. In the case of Marxism and its appalling body count we have a modern superstition as terrible or worse than the ones of our forebears.
In a delightful lecture at the recent Austrian Scholars Conference, Gerard Casey from Dublin put his finger on another modern superstition. He first reiterates the point we are familiar with from Hoppe:
In the arena of governmental justification, democracy is the only game in town, for if there is a fundamental article of faith in the contemporary world, it is not that God is dead or that soccer is the beautiful game; it is, rather, that democracy is a good thing. So entrenched, so widespread, so accepted is this belief that to call it into question is to invite bafflement, bewilderment, bemusement and, when it becomes apparent that one is not joking, dismay, disbelief, and derision.
But Casey has a twist on the critique of democracy. He points out that though they are logically separate issues, the modern defense of democracy is bound up with the notion of political representation. Take representation down and the justification for the democratic state comes tumbling down with it:
…if representation cannot be satisfactorily explicated, then representative or indirect democracy, the last remaining contender for the justification of political governance (in the sense of a division of mankind into rulers and ruled) finds itself in no more tenable a position than any of its discredited competitors.
His lecture is available today on Mises.org as the Mises Daily: The Indefensibility of Political Representation. Fans of Hoppe’s great Democracy: The God That Failed should not miss this.
So here is my personal list of modern superstitions, with one more courtesy of Professor Casey:
- Political Representation