02 January 2010

A positive agenda for anti-democratic thought

In my book "Anti-Democratic Thought" I first laid out what I like to call "a positive agenda for anti-democratic thought":

In a historical and cross-cultural perspective the fact cannot be denied that most democracies failed. Many formerly democratic countries do not have a democratic government now. Many countries have never known democracy. Only western democracies for a short while – maybe to be dated from the fall of Soviet communism to the rise of radical Islam – believed themselves invincible. It may therefore seem expedient to think about political alternatives once more and to study threats to democracy from within and without as well as common modes of failure of democracy across times and cultures.

Will people's disillusion with democratic practices (such as the impact money has on campaigning), mass politics, and the equal inconsequence of everyone's vote ultimately terminate democracy?

I do not believe that all political systems have been tried yet. Our world is changing rapidly. Will the technological innovations of recent decades, and those to come, make possible political forms that never existed (nor could be imagined) in history – or will we have to fall back, post democracy, into the abyss of authoritarian despotism, as envisaged by Plato and Aristotle?

Oswald Spengler said that money would finally lose its value, its meaning, and politics would reclaim its rightful place.

That is the challenge of our time: reclaiming politics.

My book marks the beginning of a daring new debate. It is not satisfied with studying the historical dimensions of anti-democratic thought – as were so many of our predecessors –, but wishes to study its future too.

The (re-)introduction that opens the volume approaches anti-democratic thought from an angle different from that of earlier authors. Rather than focusing on discourse analysis and similarities in the arguments advanced by various strands of anti-democratic thought, the focus here lies on anti-egalitarianism and the underlying causes that led individuals to thinking and taking up arguments against democracy in the first place.

These reasons have not changed.

Exceptional men and women still are dissatisfied with democracy and the rule of everyone-else over the individual and unwilling to accept at face value the old tendentious and partisan adage that, despite its admitted shortcomings, no better political system is imaginable.

There are many difficulties in trying to make valid statements about anti-democratic thought. That should not stop us. We have to navigate the difficulty that anti-democratic thinkers may contradict each other. So too do democratic thinkers. Anti-democratic thought as much as democracy theory is not a coherent body of work. We need to understand the context in which anti-democratic thought arose and arises. Anti-democratic thought resulting from support for alternative political systems should be kept separate from anti-democratic thought directed against more fundamental principles of democracy, such as equality.

Anti-democratic thought can be – must be – re-invented as a positive project for the twenty-first century. In doing so, we need to avoid making claims that are obviously wrong. To distinguish ourselves from earlier polemical attacks on democracy, we need to phrase each word, each sentence, our whole argument carefully and in a manner that is simple and straightforward and cannot easily be refuted. We need to submit anti-democratic polemics, plays and novels to academic study and turn what we find into scientific knowledge and political resources.

Much nineteenth- and early twentieth-century anti-democratic thought suffered from unfamiliarity with the practical workings of democracy. Criticism was often unsophisticated, repetitive and superficial. It will be the challenge of twenty-first-century anti-democratic thought to criticize democracy, with hindsight, in a more sophisticated manner, to develop and formulate more subtle expressions of anti-democratic thought, to move away from cheap stereotypes and become as analytical and diverse as pro-democratic thought. Different traditions and strands of anti-democratic thought must be allowed to compete freely with each other and with democracy. Intellectuals need to lose the unjustified prejudice in favour of democracy – now just as unjustified as the largely prejudicial anti-democratic thought two-hundred years ago.

We need to confront those who call "anti-democratic" everything they don't like about democracy, and whatever kind of social and political thought they do not understand or approve of, by giving anti-democratic thought clearer contours and new substance.

Anti-democratic thought is no longer to be treated as an inconsequential appendage to democracy theory. University and college courses on "Democracy and Its Critics", may their teachers be in favour or critical of democracy, will benefit from the serious discussion of anti-democratic thought on offer in my book, more than from any apology of democracy.

For more on the history and background of anti-democratic thought and why to study anti-democratic thought and think anti-democratically today, see my chapter "Re-Introducing Anti-Democratic Thought", which is available here:



  1. Mr. Kofmel,

    Earlier you posted a comment on my post about how American culture glorifies Democracy regardless of how Democracy behaves. You suggested I take a look at your website, anti-democracy.com. I did, and it looks like you're doing some fascinating work. I'll be looking back at your blog from time to time.


    Mitchell Powell.

  2. Dear Mr Powell,

    The blog has now been archived at http://anti-democracy-agenda.blogspot.com

    If you're interested to join a Google+ circle on anti-democratic thought and practice, check out my profile here:

    Future posts on the subject will be made by me on Google+. Drop an e-mail if you would like to join the circle.

    Best wishes,

    Erich Kofmel

  3. Anonymous06 June, 2013

    I should say, I know of one particular anti-democratic thinker that I found to be very impressive: Othmar Spann. You shouldn't miss out on him, even though academia these days tries to blot him out of existence.