The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in a Free Society is the best titled book since War and Peace if the job of a title is to sum up the contents of the book. The author Ryszard Legutko is an intellectual not prone to intellectualism or pandering to anti-intellectualism, because he suffered under socialism in Poland, resisted successfully, only to find that the Western democracies, while greatly preferable, had disturbing similarities to the old communist regime.
He did not like this possibility, hoping to have found a better social order than the European Union delivered. For Legutko, the totalitarian temptations of the West were disappointing. Gadfly that any public philosopher must be, Legutko kept thinking anyway and suggests that at least one form of liberal democracy is prone to a totalitarian temptation.
As an aside, I saw the same in Mongolia where with wonder I saw no purge of the monsters that murdered and pillaged, but merely their children taking on the language of liberal democracy and being accepted. They did not have to change much at all. If that was a curiosity to me, it was rightly traumatic to a man who is both brilliant and had suffered under such a regime like Ryszard Legutko.
The values that liberate the individual to do what he wishes are prioritized, even if the results are dreadful. They endure even if the outcomes are so bad that if the trajectory had been known ahead of time, they would have been rejected. We cannot go back, because there is the Dark Age, Theocracy, or Bad Stuff.
The fact that modern liberal democracy has filled the ocean with plastic, increased suicide where dominant (that is a stat about which reporting can rarely lie), and made us anxious and depressed does not matter. We are siding with history and have more bread and much better circuses having dispensed with elephants as the arc of history demanded.
It should not need to be said again, but “no.”
He prefers, of the options, liberal democracy, but not liberal democracy that has fallen for the totalitarian temptation. This is the temptation to think the arc of history points to just our preferred solutions and impose them, without regard to the minority or the past, on everyone else. What could go wrong?
The survivors of communism know: having survived Marxist delusions, they have no desire to succumb to a decadent version of liberal democracy. This version says “yes” to the totalitarian temptation and refuses the exemption that an earlier age gave the Amish: everyone must be a modern now.
Surely one can imagine that a different set of policies or ideas might be rationally preferable to some other than those now favored by the European (and much of the American) ruling class. Outside of politics, where liberal democracy allows the rest to vote, no dissent is allowed. You make the movies that are “wholesome” as the new consensus describes, share the opinions of now. The saints of our era, about whom no human dare speak ill, are those who pioneer the consensus. All their sins are washed away in the the blood of legal abortions.
EU forbid one vote for Brexit, since the better class will stall for another vote or simply refuse to listen.
This is the totalitarian temptation of liberal democracy put crudely, as Legutko never would do, because he is a careful writer. There is more, much more, he says.
Read the book.
This is a five part series on this fascinating text: 1,