Totalitarian Leadership

In America radicalism sought to empower the ordinary people; conservatism sought to restrict power to the higher classes. In France, however, these differences were more irregular. Despite the difficult relations between the aristocratic tendencies of conservatism and the democratic aspirations of radicalism in the American revolution, Jefferson had succeeded in establishing Rights which ensure in a very practical way that government remains accountable to common sense understanding because they serve to prevent any prolonged limitation of free speech either directly, by the creation of unjust laws, or indirectly, by the unlawful use of force. The French Declaration of Rights however accomplishes neither of these landmark achievements, despite Jefferson's attempt to persuade French radicals to at least uphold the right to trial by jury. Consequently rights to trial by jury and self defence have never been consistently upheld either in France or Europe generally. Both historical and philosophical differences help to explain this. French aristocrats lost the battle of Agincourt because they refused to arm commoners.

Rights to jury trial and to bear arms helped to empower commoners for many centuries in England even before the American revolution, which consequently can be viewed not just as the first, but the third or even fifth British revolution. Reaffirmed for protestants through the 1688 Bill of Rights, these freedoms were further developed in British colonial self government. While craft skills were widely developed among the British population, certainly in regard to arms manufacture, the French population had less experience of both politics and technology, which tended to be confined to the manufacture of toys for the aristocracy. Consequently while common sense lay at the heart of British philosophy, in Europe it was held in lower esteem. These differences were accentuated with advances in industry. After the reformation the separation of faith and reason upheld in the British scientific revolution engendered further support for religious freedom among the people. In Europe this separation was not so clear, certainly in philosophy, which had failed to break with the purely abstract, 'dialectical' methods of scholasticism.

European radicalism attempted to emulate the empiricist approach of British philosophy but in an abstract, professorial manner, and largely divorced from the experience and judgement of the people in politics and technology. French philosophy followed Descartes, whose concept of self evident truth had a quasi-religious, merely contemplative, scholastic connotation. Self evident truth in British philosophy related to the experience of craft industry and the judgement of the common people, and could be posed independently of theological doctrine. John Adams confided in a letter to Jefferson he believed the French had never understood common sense. For Americans sovereignty must ultimately lie in the common sense judgement of the people. French radical leaders were reluctant to fully recognise this fundamental component of democratic government, and tended to rely instead on the judgement of specialists and experts.

Common sense in European intellectual circles tended merely to denote the viewpoint of the lower classes, largely devoid of organised, independent thought and prey to the prejudices and cultural imperatives decreed by their superiors, including the clergy. The relatively low esteem in which common sense was held in France lies at the root of totalitarian ideology, because it tends to engender the development of extremist, elitist tendencies among the radical intelligentsia in the difficult process of transition from monarchy to democracy as a means of exerting control over the masses. These difficulties find expression in distinct and opposing doctrines of constitutional law. Whereas in the American Bill of Rights the ultimate sovereignty of common sense is guaranteed by the right to trial by jury, in the French Declaration of Rights this democratic principle is supplanted by an abstraction: the 'general will,' a vague, indeterminate conception reflecting the confused, unresolved state of European philosophy. The formulation that freedom of speech must conform to the 'general will' in a constitution that does not guarantee trial by jury implies the parameters of free speech will be determined by those who have the decisive say in what the 'general will' should be. Although both doctrines incorporate deference to the separation of powers therefore, the French doctrine is more vulnerable to control from the top, and with this, unaccountable forms of power. These tendencies are also apparent in the autocratic approach taken by French radical leaders to freedom of worship. Jefferson regarded the establishment of this right as his greatest achievement. French radicalism however sought to 'dechristianise' the people by imposing atheist worship of reason, and later by Robespierre's Machiavellian attempt to invent a state religion to ensure popular obedience. The general will for Robespierre would have a divine component. These puritanical inclinations found expression in imprisonment of the chief exponent of common sense - Thomas Paine. After such extremism had worn out public patience more pragmatic arrangements were adopted, leading eventually to a corrupt dependence on militarism and Napoleon's dictatorship. There were other factors at work in the defeat of French radicalism, but our main purpose here is to affirm the truth of John Adam's observation that common sense had not been understood in France, because it is from this root that totalitarian ideology later developed. Babeuf's 'conspiracy of equals' followed the defeat of the Jacobin dictatorship. He maintained that 'democracy according to the French revolution' demanded the imposition of a dictatorship in order to destroy conservative resistance. At bottom this resort to force as panacea has been the essential formula of all leftist revolutionary theory since, including Marxism.

Common sense realism is widely acknowledged as the most viable basis for scientific method. No social theory since the American revolution however has upheld a clear grasp of its principles. French revolutionary defeat led to relative isolation of American radicalism, and its loss of influence in Europe. America in consequence developed on a more conservative foundation than envisaged by Jefferson and Paine, while European radicalism evolved on philosophically confused premises. The belief that socialism is superior to capitalism before the conditions for testing this contention have even been stated reflects this confusion, in that it does not distinguish the self evident from that which can be derived from it.

Consideration of these historical antecedents concerning radicalism and conservatism can help explain the present dilemmas of electoral reform and also indicate ways to resolve them. One reason to suspect the sincerity of Labour electoral reforms is that a resort to fraud corresponds to what these antecedents might lead us to expect. The problems confronting the Left are not merely tactical in nature, and cannot be solved by merely tactical methods. The hopes of socialism centred on the conviction that it would prove economically superior to capitalism. But such hopes were founded on unproven, merely speculative claims about the expected economic performance of socialism, not the self evident truths of common sense. The Left since Jefferson has failed to distinguish between on the one hand the tasks of constructing a political order in which different macroeconomic systems could be tested upon a non partisan foundation, and on the other the assumption that one such variant - socialism - would prove superior. Once Left leaders recognised these hopes would not be realised, they could either conduct thoroughgoing, open debate at advanced levels of theory to develop the best alternative strategy, or lie. The sudden nature of the collapse of communism - taking even the CIA by surprise - indicates they chose the latter option. There is, for example, no evidence of serious, open discussion of the fundamental changes undertaken by Gorbachev before their implementation, mainly because most Left leaders since Lenin have been self selecting members of a conspiratorial elite. The practice of open discussion in Soviet publications aimed at the level of the politically advanced was supplanted long ago by what Lenin termed 'economistic' methods - the production of simplistic propaganda without polemical content aimed from a rather condescending height at the level of the 'masses.' Presupposed, as shown, by longstanding aristocratic tendencies among the European radical intelligentsia, this approach is based on the view that workers are driven by blind economic forces and are not organically suited to understanding political strategy. New Labour's obsession with 'spin' conforms to the economist tradition, as also the 'third way' itself, since it is founded on the claim by its author, Anthony Giddens, that progress is determined by who controls the 'authoritative resources of power' - basically, the mass media. New Labour assumes, unlike Lenin or Jefferson but very much like Machiavelli and Goebbels, greater faith in the control of information than the pursuit of truth through conscious understanding.

Eurosceptics accordingly maintain Left strategists prefer to keep the public in the dark as to their real purpose, since this involves subverting Parliament by a transnational bureaucracy. As Iain Duncan Smith has alleged, 'the unstated but certain policy of the Labour Party is to break up the UK into bite size morsels that can more easily be digested by the European super state.' Devolution and unelected but still funded regional assemblies fulfil this purpose. The European constitution can trace its ideological genesis to the French revolution: it accordingly does not contain either rights to jury trial or to bear arms. The Europhile intelligentsia tend to assume they know what is best for the public in divining what the general will should be in regard to what macroeconomic system should be adopted. Government by bureaucracy, not parliament, serves this purpose. In that sense the Left does not seek to construct a non-partisan participatory democracy but instead to rig electoral reforms to suit their factional interests. Just as Left policy on a global scale was not to openly debate its strategy when socialism proved wanting but instead to pursue the tactics of stealth, then so also its affinity for participatory democracy is necessarily limited even though, ironically, thereby also in the long run self defeating. That dilemma is what now confronts the Left: having failed to be honest with the public, its activist base has declined, making the tactics of deception increasingly futile, leading to even further decline in voter turnout.

Having necessarily abandoned Marxist faith in the inevitable superiority of socialist economics, it is Machiavellian tenets which at bottom remain predominant even today in Left strategy, from the use of 'spin' to near blatant electoral fraud. The failure of Left leaders to address problems of falling voter turnout in a non-partisan way is best understood in this context. Socialism has never properly incorporated common sense realist methods of political strategy and analysis, but as Jefferson stated, the whole art of politics consists in being honest with the people: for common sense the best policies are based on honest premises. Despite his sympathies for French radicalism he rejected its extremist, Machiavellian methods. Robespierre by contrast explicitly upheld them.

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