It is hard to imagine many serious scholars have read Ryszard Legutko and became convinced in the fallacy of liberal democracy. Most read it because it provides insights into a worldview that is difficult for them to comprehend. Kind of like reading Mein Kampf. There is value in taking the time to understand different viewpoints even when they are morally abhorrent. And while Legutko is no Hitler, many of his views are difficult for a Western audience to stomach. His attacks on homosexuality were unsurprising. But it was completely unexpected for him to reject laws designed to protect against spousal abuse as a form of government intrusion.
The title of his book is not meant as a challenge for democracy. He literally rejects liberalism and democracy. The book does not make a case for a new form of governance. Instead he offers a critique devoid of possible solutions. There is a nihilism in the pages of this work. Legutko is a Polish intellectual who grew up during the Communist era. But he never embraced Communism either. There is an implicit frustration that the rejection of Communism became an acceptance of liberal democracy not as a logical conclusion but rather as a necessity or a default. He does not feel there was much of a political choice for Poland. They were steered toward a political direction when they should have taken the moment to determine their own fate.
Legutko draws many similarities between the social fabric of Communism and Democracy. He believes their values are different but believes the outcomes remain the same. He sees a culture develop where the individual has little choice due to social influence. He sees an ideology within democratic society that mirrors the Communist era. Of course, Legutko is not an anarcho-libertarian. Instead, it seems he simply wants the culture to impose his own value system upon society. His evident prejudice against homosexuals and women indicates he wants to impose an authoritarian culture where they have little opportunity for self-expression.
But this book is not important for what he says so much as the challenge to formulate a response. On the surface, his argument is simply absurd. His arguments are so deep in hypocrisy it becomes difficult to take them seriously. He is deeply offended in the intolerance of his own intolerance. His experience does not give him cause to reflect on his own intolerance but gives him cause for greater righteousness.
Democracy is described as totalitarian because social institutions become subsumed within its law. The family, the church and the workplace become subject to laws established through the democratic process. There is a lot to unpack in this brief summarization. He is right to believe democratic governance places institutions under the rule of law. But this is not so much a feature of democracy as it is of liberalism. The rule of law requires the supremacy of the law. If the family or the church have a greater claim to authority, the rule of law is undermined.
He implies traditional institutions are undermined through their subjection to the law. Yet it is not the preservation of institutions he cares much about. Rather he is focused on the traditional norms and values which once defined these institutions. Yet he fails to consider how the evolution of these norms have strengthened the institutions he considers threatened. For example, marriage is under threat because the law interferes with conflicts previously resolved between the husband and wife. Indeed, resolution for Legutko requires a patriarchal system where the husband uses a marriage to impose his will on the relationship. The government, he believes, interferes in this patriarchal relationship when it establishes laws to protect against spousal abuse.
This limited view of marriage fails to recognize the potential for the norms and values of institutions to evolve. Marriage in the West has gradually become an egalitarian relationship where the husband and wife are equal partners. Legutko believes this undermines the institution but he fails to recognize the institution is not fundamentally transformed. Instead, it is just the social norms that define the nature of the relationship. Indeed, the egalitarian norms have strengthened the institutions of marriage and the family.
Legutko attacks democracy as an ideology of intolerance. But it is the intolerance of his intolerance that he finds unacceptable. He despises the ethos of inclusivity. His challenge to democracy is to include his intolerance into its culture. Indeed, this leads us to the edge of the democracy paradox. Self-governance requires inclusive governance. The entire population must be welcomed into the process of governance. Yet not everyone will accept the invitation.
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