Eli Dourado’s piece at The Umlaut on ‘What the Neoreaction Doesn’t Understand about Democracy’ has already accumulated a mass of (to this blog) telling criticism in its comment thread, plus a full-length critique by Henry Dampier. The tone of the discussion has been encouraging, and the grounds proposed by Dourado upon which democracy is asked to defend itself (government incontinence and rampant redistributionism) is doubly so. Based on this (rather odd) research paper, the conclusion is that ‘non-democracies’ are at least as messed up as democracies on the indicators that matter to the economic right.
From the perspective of Outside in, the central problem with this line of argument is the assumption that ‘Neoreaction’ can be aligned with the grotesquely aggregated category of ‘non-democracy’. (Although, this is of course how things will look from a default commitment to democratic normality.) The Neoreactionary critique is in fact directed at demotic government, a regime class that includes democracy, authoritarian populism, and socialist ‘people’s republics’. The reliable signature of this class is that its members legitimate themselves through democracy, however their various levels of democracy are gauged by social scientific analysis. North Korea self-identifies as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (and to a formalist, this is of ineliminable significance). Since it is the principle of democratic legitimation that NRx denounces, its models are restricted to a far more compact class than ‘non-democracies’ — namely, to non-demotic states: with absolute monarchies and colonial regimes as the purest historical examples, supplemented by restricted-franchise commercial republics (17-18th century United Provinces and United Kingdom*), (still virtual) Joint-Stock Republics, and demotically-compromised Confucian Autocracies, plus rightist military juntas (since Pinochet cannot reasonably be excluded). As soon as regimes of such types are statistically amalgamated with socialist / populist dictatorships, the theoretical chaos is irredeemable.
Furthermore, and even more crucially, main-current Neoreaction does not argue for ‘non-democracy’ over democracy, but for Exit over Voice. It does not expect some governmental magic from ‘non-democracies’ (except on its — admittedly wide — theoretically incoherent fringes). Effective government requires non-demotic control, resulting from (apolitical) selection pressure. The identification of the state with the corporate institution is directed to the fact that businesses work when they can be bankrupted. The attraction of the ‘dictatorial’ CEO is a twin-product of demotic desensitization and competitive hyper-sensitization. The reason to free the ‘monarch’ from the voice of the people is to lock him into undistracted compliance with the Outside.
Approaching his conclusion, Dourado suggests:
Of course, Mulligan et al. also provide some limited ammunition for the neoreaction. That nondemocracies have essentially the same social and economic policies as democracies undercuts a key tenet of the demotist religion: that formal (and equal) voice is an important channel by which policies come to reflect the will of the people. If nondemocracies have many of the same policies, then it is clear that democracy is not necessary to implement the will of the people on some policy issues, at least.
This is, of course, completely upside down as far as NRx is concerned. The demotic sensitivity of ‘non-democracies’ — far from being a point in their favor — is the factor that exposes this category in all of its radical and theoretically-unusable bogosity. The only appeal of ‘non-democracy’ is immunity to corruption through demotic pressure. Dictatorial populism can be expected to be even more distant from the principles of Neoreactionary government than democracy, because its comparative efficiency at representing a coherent ‘popular will’ digs it even faster and deeper into ruin. It is administrative action in the name of the people that is deplored.
If Dourado were saying non-demotic government is simply something you can never have, then it is an argument that at least addresses NRx in a way that makes sense. The same cannot be said about the ‘debate’ as it yet exists.
* My description of Hannoverian England as a ‘commerical republic’ can be attributed to an anti-Jacobite tic.
ADDED: Meta-reaction. (ED seems not to see any deep connection between propertarian and Exit-based models of governance, which is at least a little thoughtless. Property is defined by an effective right to free disposal, making it equivalent to an Exit-option on its current instantiation. On these grounds, there is no difference between my definition of the principal Neoreaction governance criterion and Dampier’s, except for variation of emphasis.)
ADDED: Some interesting comments from Eli’s Neoreactionary phase (dug up by Blogospheroid).