Core: noun, the most important part of a thing, the essence; from the Latin cor, meaning heart.

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 Volume 1.15 This View’s Prose May 20, 2002 

    The Democratic Ideal    

But in spite of the superiority of the democratic idea — at least to the Western mind — we must admit that it is much harder to realise than the ideal of the absolute state. The despotic regime is the one that has succeeded, at least in the past. And even today, the vast and rapid advance of democracy should not blind us to the fact that the opposite ideal is still vigorous and that in some respects it is once more gaining ground at the expense of democracy.

The chief cause of this is not political but economic. As Mr. Leonard Woolf has pointed out, it is the problem of economic equality that is the real crux of democracy. You can give nominal political rights to every citizen without much difficulty, but when you attempt to put into practice the full programme of real democracy — that is to say, to give every citizen equal opportunities of happiness and an equal share in the good things of life — you are faced with a serious dilemma. Complete economic equality seems attainable only by state socialism, and any thorough-going system of socialism seems to involve, as in Russia, the omnipotence of the state and all the dangers of a return to despotism and the negation of individual rights which that implies.

The democratic ideal in its economic aspect is neither that of pure individualism nor that of pure state socialism; it is the ideal of a free co-operative economy in which every man has control over his own life and possesses an economic foundation for his social liberty. In other words, economic democracy means capitalism for all: it means an extension of the rights of property to every citizen rather than the abolition of private property in the interests of the state. It is inconsistent with the individualistic society in which a small number of very rich men control the lives of the great masses of their fellow citizens; but it is also inconsistent with the communist society in which the economic life of the individual is even more completely controlled by the machinery of an all-powerful state.

We must, in fact, recognise (and it is very seldom recognised) that the idea of equality is not necessarily or exclusively democratic. Pure democracy leads to equality, but so does pure despotism. And as a matter of fact, it is easier to attain the negative ideal of a dead level of equality in equal servitude than to achieve the positive ideal of equality in freedom and fulness of life.

But, as I have said, democracy is aristocracy for all; it is levelling up, not levelling down. The true democrat does not wish to attain equality by lowering the cultural standard of society and by reducing everyone to a drab uniformity of existence. He desires the richest and fullest life that is possible. In the communist Utopia, there is no room for a Wordsworth or a Beethoven. The artist, no less than the engineer or the bureauciat, is the servant of the economic machine, and his highest aim is to be a kind of publicity agent for the communist state. But in the democratic Utopia, the state would be the servant and not the absolute master of the human personality, and the development of individual genius would be encouraged as much as possible, for one Mozart adds more to the real wealth of society than a hundred millionaires or political organisers.

All that the democrat demands in the name of equality is that no man shall be debarred by economic or social privileges from developing his own genius or from enjoying the results of the genius of others.


Christopher Dawson (b. 1889)


from The Modern Dilemma (1932)
quoted in Return to Tradition: A Directive Anthology pp. 309f
ed. Francis Beauchesne Thornton


    The Defense of Liberty    
    What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling seacoasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.
    Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
    from Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois, September 11, 1858
Collected Works
Volume III p. 95

 Volume 1.15 This View’s Prose May 20, 2002 

The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”