08 October 2010

Book: The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life

Just published: Kenneth Minogue, "The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life" (Encounter Books, August 2010):


Publisher's description: "One of the grim comedies of the twentieth century was the fate of miserable victims of communist regimes who climbed walls, swam rivers, dodged bullets, and found other desperate ways to achieve liberty in the West at the same time as intellectuals in the West sentimentally proclaimed that these very regimes were the wave of the future. A similar tragicomedy is being played out in our century: as the victims of despotism and backwardness from third world nations pour into Western states, the same ivory tower intellectuals assert that Western life is a nightmare of inequality and oppression. In The Servile Mind [...], Kenneth Minogue explores the intelligentsia's love affair with social perfection and reveals how that idealistic dream is destroying exactly what has made the inventive Western world irresistible to the peoples of foreign lands. The Servile Mind looks at how Western morality has evolved into mere 'politico-moral' posturing about admired ethical causes – from solving world poverty and creating peace to curing climate change. Today, merely making the correct noises and parading one's essential decency by having the correct opinions has become a substitute for individual moral actions. Instead, Minogue posits, we ask that our government carry the burden of solving our social – and especially moral – problems for us. The sad and frightening irony is that as we allow the state to determine our moral order and inner convictions, the more we need to be told how to behave and what to think."

Excerpt: "I am of two minds about democracy, and so is everybody else. We all agree that it is the sovereign remedy for corruption, tyranny, war, and poverty in the Third World. We would certainly tolerate no different system in our own states. Yet most people are disenchanted with the way it works. One reason is that our rulers now manage so much of our lives that they cannot help but do it badly. They have overreached themselves. Blunder follows blunder [...]. The point, however, is that our rulers have no business telling us how to live. [...] We should never doubt that nationalizing the moral life is the first step toward totalitarianism."

Review: "Can democracy survive in a nation of slaves? Aristotle thought not. But what if the slaves don't recognize their servile condition? Kenneth Minogue explores the many ways in which the citizens of the modern West have thoughtlessly exchanged independence of mind and body for government promises of security and harmony. The result is a topsy-turvy democracy where the rulers hold the people to account for their incorrect behavior and attitudes." (John O'Sullivan, Radio Free Europe)

Kenneth Minogue is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics.

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