Felix Morley: Democracy, Republics, & the General Will
Posted by Orrin Woodward on May 7, 2013
I have enjoyed reading several articles by Felix Morley. Although not knowing too much about him when I started reading, I can speak for his depth of thought on the subjects of society, state, liberty and freedom. After reading the first article, I searched for more and found this gem in Essays on Individualism.
Ideas have consequences and a LeaderShift cannot happen until more people educate themselves on the idea food necessary to maintain liberties and reduce the all-pervasive State down to a limited government again. The stakes are high as I believe Western Civilization hangs in the balance upon what today’s citizens do with their remaining liberties. Here is just a portion of Mr. Morley’s thinking.
Essentially, Society is the voluntary cooperative action of individuals in areas where the State is not concerned. But these areas are always subject to contraction if the State moves in to make cooperation compulsory. The rules of conduct laid down by Society and those laid down by the State are in both cases binding and in both cases find their philosophic justification in the theory of Social Contract. The essential difference is that the rules laid down by the State are legalized, with physical force behind them, whereas the rules of Society are primarily voluntary agreements and are better described as conventions. He who violates a social convention is likely to be ostracized, or excommunicated in the broad sense of the word. But he who violates a State law or edict is subject to imprisonment or even death.
On the moral scale, therefore, Society is a superior type of organization, since its authority is based on individual agreement rather than on external coercion. Morally speaking, it is reactionary rather than progressive whenever the State expands its authority at the expense of Society. Social security, federal aid to education, unemployment insurance, governmental handouts, subsidies, and interventions of every kind, not least so-called “mutual assistance” to allied governments-all these, however dolled up in a specious humanitarianism, are essentially reactionary measures, calculated to encroach on voluntary goodwill. Put arithmetically, the taxes I pay to support the expanding galaxy of governmental welfare measures diminish by just that much what I might contribute under the prompting of my own conscience through associations and in directions of my own choosing.
Rosseau’s fatal achievement was not only to establish the so-called “General Will” as a political dogma, but also to convince his followers that it is somehow in every respect superior to the individual will, which in any conflict of opinion, in any sort of undertaking, must give way. Clearly this theory, integrated with coercion, involves a most cynical view of human nature. It implies that no man can be trusted to “live a godly, righteous, and sober life,” no matter how needfully he may incline to divine promptings. On the contrary, he must be constantly and subserviently attentive to the orders of “Big Brother,” who by some perverted miracle and political hocus-pocus has come to embody a General Will.
John Milton, among the Protestants, stands out in this period for his affirmation that: “Our liberty … is a blessing we have received from God Himself. It is what we are born to. To lay this down at Caesar’s feet, which we derive not from him, which we are not beholden to him for, were an unworthy action, and a degrading of our very nature.” That thought profoundly influenced the formation of American government.
So it happened that the Social Contract ceased to be a self-denying ordinance and became instead a deceptively disguised instrument of oppression. We have not seen the end of it, for the “People’s Democracies” of the Soviet world are the direct and logical outgrowth of Rousseau’s conception of an unquestionable “General Will.” And the religious, but anti-Christian, fervor of modern Communism owes much more of its proselytizing strength to Rousseau than to Marx.
If the theory of the General Will had been voiced by itself, instead of being cleverly tied in with the valid conception of Social Contract, it would scarcely have survived, let alone prospered, as is the case. The major fallacy is too obvious. In the last analysis some ruler must interpret and promulgate what is assumed to be the General Will. The more sacrosanct this popular desire, the more authoritarian must be the power of those entrusted with its realization. A single, unified popular will implies a single, unified governmental purpose to make the will effective. This is the road to dictatorship; not to what Americans mean when they speak of democracy.