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Conrad Black: The changing democratic tide

As the great architects of modern democracy envisioned, the people are themselves democracy’s guardians. Sometimes, they need to pull the elites along with them

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A nun casts a ballot at a polling station during the snap election, in Rome, on Sept. 25.
A nun casts a ballot at a polling station during the snap election, in Rome, on Sept. 25. Photo by Remo Casilli/Reuters

There is now a clearly discernible international movement away from the fiscal indulgence of the faddish left and the collective self-blame of the majority across much of the democratic world. Following the overwhelming and almost bloodless victory of democratic free enterprise over international Marxism in the Cold War, there was a commendable absence of gloating in the West, but rather a gradually more absurd and complacent experimentation with an idealized political fantasy land. This has now finally proved to be a policy divertissement that our western democracies cannot afford. The hysteria about climate change, which was heavily reinforced by the spontaneous adherence to that cause of the debunked international left assaulting capitalism in disguise from a new angle in the name of defending the planet, has clearly overtaxed the electorates of western countries. Everybody is opposed to environmental pollution, but sane people are not prepared to endure severe reductions in their standards of living in order to finance a marginal reduction in carbon emissions, in pursuit of an environmental target whose utility remains a matter of considerable speculation, even if it were attainable.

Solar and wind energy have largely proven uneconomical and still require a base load of conventional generation to maintain the power grid when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. Electric cars are costly and would require vast new charging infrastructure, not to mention a much more robust electrical grid, in order to replace existing gas vehicles. Societies such as Canada and the United States that have ample traditional energy sources will be able to retreat quickly from our political over-commitment to the will-o’-the-wisp of renewable energy. But countries such as Germany, which shut down much of its nuclear and coal generating capacity to clamp its national lips around the gas pipe from Russia, is now, as former U.S. President Donald Trump and many others warned, paying for its energy vassalage to the Kremlin.

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As the great architects of modern democracy envisioned, the people are themselves democracy’s guardians, as in Abraham Lincoln’s invocation of “government of the people, by the people and for the people,” and Winston Churchill’s constant watchword (even in electoral defeat), “Trust the people.” In Britain, in Sweden, this week in Italy and in November in the United States, the people speak. They will not turn their pockets inside out for an elusive ecological objective and they will not continue to be insulted and even assaulted by grievance-seekers whose disaffection they do not believe is justified. In general, despite our imperfections, western democracy is the best and most successful government system the world has known and is one of the reasons why countless millions of people from other countries wish to relocate to democratic ones. The legacy of colonialism for the major European powers, and of slavery for the United States, are baneful, but the British, and probably the French, left their colonial territories in a far more developed condition than when they found them. And no people in the history of the world has been so successful in raising up a previously subjugated minority to a status of complete equality than has the United States with African-Americans.

The post-Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher era was one in which the political leadership of both the United States and the United Kingdom, and a number of their allies, thoroughly self-satisfied for understandable reasons, became comparatively receptive, as those who do not feel threatened often do, to vocal and then violent minorities bandying about group slanders and even blood libels against the majority and its forebears who created the society to which the aggrieved minorities came (voluntarily or otherwise). This is a cycle that repeats itself from time to time, and eventually the majority comes to resent the mismanagement of the lofty elites who do not suffer the immediate consequences of their own governmental errors. The elites, and especially the media and the academic and entertainment communities, disparage ”populism,” and try to defend their incumbency by abusing their quasi-monopoly of the media to denounce objectors as ingrates and extremists. This is why we have had Hillary Clinton comparing a Trump rally where the ex-president’s followers raised an arm with an extended index finger, in the sports celebration of being Number 1, with Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies, and otherwise distinguished filmmaker Ken Burns saying that the governor of Florida shipping around 50 illegal migrants who agreed to go to Martha’s Vineyard reminded him of the rise of Nazism. Intelligent people say stupid things and elites tend to favour democracy that consists of the people shutting up and doing what they are told.

This is also why much of the western media is now asserting that the prime minister-elect of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, is a semi-fascist. She is an unambiguous democrat, has been democratically elected, believes in Christianity, family and patriotism, and as one of her political rivals, former prime minister Matteo Renzi, unequivocally stated, “The idea that now there is a risk of fascism in Italy is absolutely fake news.” Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator from 1922 to 1943, was a socialist and an ostentatious atheist who popularized fascism by adopting the Roman fasces as a symbol of authority and marching on Rome to seize power. The charge of fascism is almost always made in contemporary political discourse by idiots who have no idea of what it is, and apply it to people who have no fascist tendencies whatsoever. This is the confusion of frightened people who have abused the privileged positions they no longer deserve to occupy (if they ever did).

Canada has relatively few problems with illegal immigration, as we are far from any country except the United States, from which almost no one ever flees. We do not have a revolutionary tradition and we historically respond to the same inspirations as other sophisticated democracies, but very mildly. In the tempestuous year of 1848, which saw the overthrow of the Orleans monarchy of France and drove the “Coachman of Europe,” the Habsburg Austrian Empire’s Chancellor Klemens von Metternich, from office and witnessed upheavals in many other parts of Europe, Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine peacefully achieved responsible and democratic government in all domestic matters for what are now Quebec and Ontario. When Britain elevated Thatcher and the U.S. elected Reagan, Canada elected Brian Mulroney, an effective but less radical leader. As immigration-related violence is commonplace across Europe and millions of unauthorized people flood across the southern border of the United States, Canada continues its mawkish and ineffectual official obsession with lamentations of the mistreatment of its Native peoples. We don’t normally accuse each other of being fascists, but the elevation of authentic but moderate conservative Pierre Poilievre as leader of the Opposition has been accompanied by preposterous allegations of his harshness. This is our equivalent of replacing Boris Johnson with Liz Truss, electing Meloni or sending U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi packing in November. Democracy usually works, and the people who govern have to be changed sometimes.

National Post

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