copyright © 2016 The Brynmill Press Ltd
Alexander Boot, Democracy as a Neocon Trick
RoperPenberthy Publishing, 336 pp. paperback 978 1 903905 85 2 £12.99
This is a remarkable book, worth attention, which it will be very surprising if it gets from the British establishment. Unread dismissal is the more likely fate.
The thesisin this reviewers words, not the authorsis that the central Enlightenment ideas in epistemology, economics, politics and logic are implicitly or explicitly hostile to religion and in particular both to Christianity and the forms of nationhood in which Christianity had a founding stake. They constitute an attack on what used to be known as Christendom.
The American Declaration of Independence is a declaration of war as much against Christendom as against the British crown. The war has been won by the Enlightenment; the Church still survives in the West, though in a diminished and feeble condition, but there is no longer even in the Church any understanding of the role of the Church in safeguarding Christian society within Christendom. Mr Boot gives some reasons for thinking that this development is not goodif the word good is useable in the age of domination of the language by the post-Enlightened.
Boots position is clear and simple but may be hard to grasp, because contemporary readers will not believe their eyes and will substitute some other sense. For instance there is a short preface by the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, about which the best one can say is that it is well-meaning. Dr Nazir-Ali doesnt grasp the central theme of the book. [Boot] is right to see equality as a spiritual value, equality before God, and then its authentic social working out in terms of dignity, freedom and opportunity. (p. 9) In other words, Boot is near enough to political correctness to be taken notice of. On my reading he is not devoted to equality at all, but to Christendom. This is so far from political correctness that a sort of block arises even in a mind so unsecular as Dr Nazir-Alis.
Democracy as a Neocon Trick is wide-ranging and detailed in comment on polities stretching from the Athens of Cleisthenes by way of the Roman and Holy Roman Empires to the modern West, and will stand or fall by the convincingness of judgements of a number of particular societies. Mr Boot is also wide-ranging in Western philosophy from Plato and Aristotle onwards, and especially the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Locke is a sort of patron anti-saint.
The book would, I think, have been better to be rather more scholarly and less insistently polemical. Mr Boots opponents, especially the Neocons, are reviled, and his gift for the memorable phrase is not always a blessing. His Neocons are usually calculating and either insincere or stupid, and generally a bad lot. No doubt Mr Boot is often right, but as it seems to this less intent observer, what we see here is an important movement of the human mind, now so well-established that it has a position that used to be occupied by the Church, and it commands the sincere devotion of some honest people. This may even make the Enlightenment aberration easier to oppose if we concentrate on the beliefs and their consequences. As to scholarship, time and again I wanted to check something or follow it up in an author referred to, but Boot has deliberately avoided detailed references. (I have the same regret about the Penguin edition of Lawrence Stones The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 15001800.) Similarly, in a book of the size and range of Democracy as a Neocon Trick, there are judgements one has to disagree with, and others that need expansion. For instance I think Mr Boot is just wrong about the supposed tendency of Protestantism to encourage private judgement. Calvinists are said to be encouraged to use their own judgement to doubt everything and dispense with the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity. (p.192) On the contrary, Protestants are at least as insistent on orthodoxy of doctrine as the Church of Rome and the Eastern and Coptic churches. The character in Pilgrims Progress who trusts his own judgement is called Ignorance. On this subject there is a good discussion in the classical Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (Penguin edition pp.211 ff.), a book Mr Boot does not mention. And the spiritual genesis of Protestantism is said to date from the sixteenth century (p.211). Why then was the emphasis of the generation of Cranmer so much on returning to the pure doctrine of the early centuries, and the authority of the Church Fathers as second only to that of Scripture?
Mr Boot is of Russian birth and upbringing, and fled the Soviet Union in the same decade as the unlawful exiling of Solzhenitsyn (whose name, surprisingly, does not appear in the index). The book is very interesting on post-Soviet Russia, but too compressed. Boot says nothing, for instance, about the justice, or otherwise, of Russias reincorporation of the Crimea, or the comparatively effective intervention in Syria.
It is not as perfection that Democracy as a Neocon Trick is worth reading, but as a real exercise in freedom of thought, and a challenge to rethink some things that in the contemporary media are not far from absolute presuppositions, such as, that it is worth going to war to impose democracy on unwilling nations.
There are direct applications for the British in the twenty-first [as measured in Christendom] century. We have democratic legitimacya phrase used extensively and unironically, for instance, in Bernard Connollys devastating account of EU economic policy The Rotten Heart of Europe. Yet The United Kingdom is our commonly used name. Well, it cant be both. Kingdoms are not democratic. The motto accompanying the Queens head on the coinage is d.g. (= by the gift of God) and by law the monarch has to be titular head of the Church of England. Neither a monarch by divine right nor an established church is compatible with the equality demanded by democracy.
And before we even get to the Neocons, what does conservatism mean in our time and place? Dr James Alexander, who is extraordinarily good at defining terms as general as marriage by way of distinguishing necessary elements, has recently applied his method to a revised definition of conservatism (A Dialectical Definition of Conservatism, Philosophy, December 2015, pp. 118): but the result does not fit our present [2016 A.D.] Conservative government at all. Whatever conservatism means, it surely cannot mean simply the ideals, values and doctrines of the American and French Revolutions which we hear all the time from Cabinet ministers? (The Bishops too favour liberté, égalité, fraternité [freedom, equality, solidarity in their terminology] (See my Lenten Compleynte to the English Bishops on this website.).) The Conservative treasure-hunt for British Values would not have been necessary in the days of Christendom. There are many strange inscriptions on our war memorials but I have not seen They died for British Values.
In several earlier columns on this website (for instance a review of Daniel Hannans How we Invented Freedom and why it Matters, column 103) we have wondered where a British conservative should go to find conservatism. If there are any left they could start with Democracy as a Neocon Trick. Ian Robinson