Yesterday, Thursday, 15th Nov 2012 saw the first ballots for Police and Crime Commissioners in England (PCCs), what Daniel Hannan insists in calling elected sheriffs. The turnout was pitiful; at least one polling station saw not a single voter.
I am very much in favour of this innovation, brought in by our coalition government for which I have no enthusiasm whatsoever. Locally elected sheriffs are entirely consonant with the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity, the idea that all political decisions should be made as close to the people they affect as possible. When local electorates choose to pass up the opportunity to make decisions which affect them and their neighbours, we are in a very bad place.
We can blame the non-voters, individuals who are too lazy to think about the issues. I, for one, believe them to be culpable, to a degree. We can also blame the political establishment (or political class) for the existence of such indifference. British politics has been horribly debased over the decades in which I have had a vote. Brits are cynical about the candidates in any election. Characteristically, the main parties are seen as being pretty much the same as each other; and, indeed, their electoral calculations outweigh any fundamental principles. An enormous swathe of the electorate votes on the narrowest self-interest. So we have the disastrous situation in which the electorate corrupts the political class and vice versa. How do we break out of this vicious circle? In my view, we have to start with the political class. Can we expect it to reform itself? Too much to hope, I think. What is required is for an assault upon the political institutions by principled individuals.
Utter despair, you might think. Where are such individuals to be found? Well, they do exist. They are nourished by ideas, ideas founded upon the best traditions of Western Thought: Locke, Burke and Adam Smith. Happily for us, these traditions are maintained not just in libraries but also in a regiment of institutions dedicated not just to their maintenance but also to their development. America is on a downward spiral, judging by recent political events. And yet, America is the home of many magnificent organisations (all privately funded) dedicated to the concept of Liberty. Among these organisations are: The Ludwig von Mises Institute, The Cato Institute, The American Enterprise Institute and The Acton Institute. We have in the UK the Cobden Centre and the Adam Smith Institute. Heroic individuals in the USA are too numerous to mention. We have our own Toby Baxendale, Eammon Butler, Daniel Hannan and Steve Baker. In Ireland there is Gerard Casey. All these people and the bodies to which they are affiliated are profoundly committed to the power of ideas.
Lest you should think that ideas, being insubstantial, are feeble, think for a moment about the twentieth century, in which ideas killed more people than bullets, than atom bombs!
My hope is that the ideas of classical Liberalism and its progeny, with far more substantial intellectual foundations than Mein Kampf, Das Kapital and The Thoughts of Chairman Mao will prevail.
This is not to ignore the barriers that face us. One of the most formidable is The Media. Newspaper and broadcast journalists (among the most powerful of opinion makers) are, for the most part lazy, complacent and in thrall to the political class. Our ideas-driven, principled individuals need to target (to invade) the bastions of bien pensant media institutions. This may take a generation or more. Perhaps it will take a yet deeper plunge into financial chaos to wake people up.
The highest barrier is ourselves. The framers of the American Constitution recognised that the blueprint which they had devised required a moral citizenry – not that every citizen should be a saint but that every day and political decisions should be made in the light of moral imperatives. The decline of Christianity in Europe has meant that every day and political decisions are typically made according to individual and apparently utilitarian lights. Fortunately for all of us, Christianity has declined far less sharply in America than in Europe. Christianity is growing apace in Africa. Korean Christian missionaries are evangelising China. Korea is 50% Christian.
What if China, as well as becoming the world’s dominant economy in the next generation (as a result of adopting western free-market policies) were to become a “moral” democracy?