Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Conformity Hippies and the Dictatorship of Servility

In this day, Obama is seen by many to be a genius, in part due to his careers in quango money-grubbing, getting money from corporations to do good for the poor; and his genius is further demonstrated in that his father is a Black African. Obama has a Harvard law degree, and he can talk and talk and talk, if only with a tele-prompter, saying leftist clich├ęs with some flair. Obviously, that impressed too many people. Obama is our president, on the strength of public gullibility and a willingness to conform to the demands of their peers in the pursuit of coolness, i.e. electing a "Black" president, regardless of who he might be, so long as he is a Leftist, i.e. an "authentic" Black.

Obama is Black, but he's also see-through thin. America elected to the presidency a talking store mannequin. Democracy produced for us a dictatorship of conformity and servility. We elected a figure because he looks good in a suit, and many of those who doubted his abilities fell into line with the time's fad and voted for him too. Who wants to show up at the dance in last year's fashions? Hard to get laid doing that. As is, we're all getting screwed now, though not as pleasantly as so many had hoped.

Below is some of an excerpted essay from a book that looks promising. We might see Obama voters in it. We might see ourselves, and find clarity about ourselves, and clarity too about the transparencies of Obama and his groupies.

Morals & the servile mind

by Kenneth Minogue

On the diminishing moral life of our democratic age.

Life is a better teacher of virtue than politicians, and most sensible governments in the past left moral faults to the churches. But democratic citizenship in the twenty-first century means receiving a stream of improving “messages” from politicians. Some may forgive these intrusions because they are so well intentioned. Who would defend prejudice, debt, or excessive drinking? The point, however, is that our rulers have no business telling us how to live. They are tiresome enough in their exercise of authority—they are intolerable when they mount the pulpit. Nor should we be in any doubt that nationalizing the moral life is the first step towards totalitarianism.

We might perhaps be more tolerant of rulers turning preachers if they were moral giants. But what citizen looks at the government today thinking how wise and virtuous it is? Public respect for politicians has long been declining, even as the population at large has been seduced into demanding political solutions to social problems. To demand help from officials we rather despise argues for a notable lack of logic in the demos. The statesmen of eras past have been replaced by a set of barely competent social workers eager to take over the risks of our everyday life. The electorates of earlier times would have responded to politicians seeking to bribe us with such promises with derision. Today, the demos votes for them.

Our rulers, then, increasingly deliberate on our behalf, and decide for us what is the right thing to do. The philosopher Socrates argued that the most important activity of a human being was reflecting on how one ought to live. Most people are not philosophers, but they cannot avoid encountering moral issues. The evident problem with democracy today is that the state is pre-empting—or “crowding out,” as the economists say—our moral judgments. Nor does the state limit itself to mere principle. It instructs us on highly specific activities, ranging from health provision to sexual practices. Yet decisions about how we live are what we mean by “freedom,” and freedom is incompatible with a moralizing state. That is why I am provoked to ask the question: can the moral life survive democracy?


It is this element of dehumanization that has produced what I am calling “the servile mind.” The charge of servility or slavishness is a serious one. It emerges from the Classical view that slaves lacked the capacity for self-movement and had to be animated by the superior class of masters. They were creatures of impulse and passion rather than of reason. Aristotle thought that some people were “natural slaves.” In our democratic world, by contrast, we recognize at least some element of the “master” (which means, of course, self-managing autonomy) in everyone. Indeed, in our entirely justified hatred of slavery, we sometimes think that the passion for freedom is a constitutive drive of all human beings. Such a judgment can hardly survive the most elementary inspection of history. The experience of both traditional societies and totalitarian states in the twentieth century suggests that many people are, in most circumstances, happy to sink themselves in some collective enterprise that guides their lives and guarantees them security. It is the emergence of freedom rather than the extent of servility that needs explanation.

Servility is not an easy idea with which to operate, and it should be clear that the world we live in, being human, cannot be fully captured in ideal structures. But in understanding Western life, it is difficult to avoid contrasting courage and freedom on the one hand with servility and submission on the other. We think of freedom as being able to do what we merely want to do, but this is a condition cherished no less by the slave than by the master. When the cat’s away, the mice will play! Here is the illusion that freedom is merely having a lot of options available. What freedom actually means is the capacity not only to choose but also to face the consequences of one’s choice. To accept employment, to marry, to join a cause, to sustain a family, and so on, all involve responsibilities, and it is in the capacity to sustain self-chosen responsibilities, the steadiness to face up to the risks and inevitable ennui inseparable from a settled life, that we exhibit our freedom. And its essence is that each individual life is determined by this set of chosen commitments and virtues (whatever they may be) rather than by some set of external determinants or regulations. Independence of mind requires thinking one’s own thoughts: poor things many of them may be, but they are our own, and we have found some reasons for thinking them.

The problem about identifying servility in our modern Western societies results from the assumption that freedom and independence are admirable, and their opposites not. Hence the strong human tendency to trade off freedom for some other condition of things—money, security, approval—must take on the appearance of a virtue. A further problem with servility is that its opposite might seem to be a swaggering parade of one’s own independence, but this is just as likely to be a cover for a servile spirit. Since the essence of servility is dependence of mind, independence is compatible with situational caution....

The real opposite of servility is individualism, as it has long been understood in European thought. But the very word “individuality” itself is often confused with egoistic self-interest and the pursuit of mere impulse. [...]

[S]ervility is also evident in the state’s concern to protect any set of people from prejudice, offense, or danger to self-esteem. Immigrants in earlier times did not need, and many would have regarded as demeaning, the current apparatus designed to protect supposedly vulnerable people. Courage and resilience did for these people what the state now does for their successors. Such legislation, in protecting people from victimhood is, paradoxically, simultaneously an education in how to be a victim.

To legislate opinion is itself to create a servile relationship. Codification of this kind destroys the freedom to respond to each other (within the law) as we choose.


The European societies that became democracies in the course of the last two centuries understood themselves as associations of self-moving individuals. Rich and poor alike made their own arrangements within a civil society containing a large and increasing range of associations: social, charitable, religious, mutually supportive, unionized. These associations expressed that capacity for spontaneous institutional creativity which so impressed visitors to Europe, and especially to Anglophone countries. The crucial mark of independence was the ability to generate the resources needed for life without dependence on governmental subsidy, and it constituted “respectability.” No doubt it was sometimes easier for the rich to sustain such independence, but moral character was the crucial point. The respectable poor in the nineteenth century recognized themselves, and were recognized by others, as having a proud sense of their independence.

The major change from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is thus one in our very conception of society itself. In Europe, and even to some extent in the United States, it has become less an association of independent self-moving individuals than an association of vulnerable people whose needs must be met and sufferings mitigated by the power of the state. The idea of “vulnerability” has become such a cannibal of meanings that it has now acquired a remarkable range. The victims of crime were evidently vulnerable; in modern usage, however, the perpetrators of crime have also become vulnerable. The reason underlying this remarkable semantic development is that “society itself” has failed in its duty to instill decency and integrity in those who have turned to violence and crime. Here we have the most direct possible challenge to the basic idea of moral agency.

It is considerations of this sort that lead me to assimilate the moral order of Western societies in some degree to that of the slaves of the ancient world. We must today as citizens accommodate ourselves to increasing regulation and dependence on authority even to the point of falling in with the correct opinions. The moral world of the classical individualist emerged from the coherence of self-chosen commitments. His basic duty was to his own conception of himself. Contemporary moral life by contrast is marked by a greater involvement of external elements. It is not only that states regulate ever wider areas of life so that even family life becomes subject to demands for compliance. It is also that we have learned to pick up signals about respectable opinion from the responses of others—a feature of modern life that the sociologist David Riesman (in The Lonely Crowd) called “other directed.”

“Democracy” is central to this change in our condition not because it “causes” the change, but because most changes in our moral and political sentiments will sooner or later be recommended and justified as some form of democracy. What causes what in social life is so complicated that we can hardly be sure of any particular connection; we only ever grasp parts of it. Technology and economic enterprise, the secularization of life, changing opinions, new moral tastes—many such things are implicated in these changes. But the drive to equalize the conditions of a population, to institute something called “social justice,” to make society a model of “inclusion”—all such things will eventually be advanced as an element of “democracy.” Household democracy is men and women equally sharing the burdens of running the household. It may also involve granting children a vote on family matters. Educational democracy consists in switching resources to the pupils currently less capable of getting good results. No remnants of hereditary constitutions are safe from this homogenizing steamroller: Democratization is the most dramatic of all the corruptions of constitutionality in which separation and balance are to be replaced by a single ideal believed to solve all problems. The moral life can no more be isolated from this drive than anything else. It too must be democratized. And the result is to destroy individual agency.


Excerpted from: http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Morals---the-servile-mind-5318

This article has been excerpted from The Servile Mind, by Kenneth Minogue (Encounter Books, August 2010).

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