Hungarian Conservative

How Conservatism Can Make Democracy Work Again

Albert Bierstadt, A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie (1866). Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA
Hyper-democracy is already here, it will grow stronger, and we are only starting to understand its profound effects. Some of them will be detrimental, others will open up new opportunities. This might appear overwhelming and unprecedented to some, but in truth, that was the case with all great technological or political upheavals...

This article was published in Vol. 3 No. 2 of the print edition.

I. Democracy is in crisis. This can be witnessed, to some extent or another, in every democratic country. There is a widespread awareness of some symptoms, but much less so of the real causes of this crisis. Some point to the crumbling of mainstream media credibility, with a concurrent growing reach of conspiracy theories and fake news. Others indicate as culprits ‘woke’ ideologies sweeping academia and corporations. Others still blame so-called ‘populist’ politicians. All these, however, are mere symptoms of a much deeper problem.

Simply put, the problem is that the ‘representative’ component of representative democracy is dwindling away. Since all modern ‘democracies’ are actually founded on the idea of representative government, as representation withers, we are increasingly left with a version of direct democracy. That is a form of government far closer to the literal democracies, practised in Greek or Italian city-states and in some Swiss cantons, where for good or bad, all of the public, the demos, is directly involved in the decisions of governance.1

For centuries, it was a given that this type of government was feasible only in political entities small enough to assemble all citizens in the town square. However, recent technological developments have produced what are purported to be ‘virtual town squares’ that can simultaneously hold millions or even hundreds of millions of participants. This direct mass participation in public life is already impacting media and political practices, but we are far from witnessing its full effects.

Before looking into what has brought this about, and what it means for the future of government and society, it is worth bearing in mind why it was that the vast majority of political thinkers in history abhorred simple, direct democracy.2 It was primarily because of the immediate and unbalanced nature of direct democratic deliberations. Its very directness gives direct democracy an inherent tendency to be not only volatile and ferocious, but also very much prone to control by demagogues.3 The most famous and successful of such regimes, democratic Athens, systematically ostracized (exiled) many of its most prominent citizens—often successful generals such as Aristides and later Themistocles. At other times, in violent and capricious mood swings, it proceeded to executions, only to regret them soon after. Such was the case in 406 BC, when the democratic assembly executed six successful Athenian generals for purportedly not doing enough to save sailors from sunken ships after a battle; soon the assembly repented, and turned against those who had presented the execution motion; the latter had to flee the city.

The only serious modern attempt to install even a moderate version of a pure democracy was the French revolutionary constitution of 1793, which followed the ideas of the ‘insane Socrates’. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who wrote in his Social Contract that ‘the moment a people allows itself to be represented, it is no longer free: it no longer exists. The day you elect representatives is the day you lose your freedom.’4

The 1793 Constitution divided France into ‘cantons’, where all (male) citizens were supposed to participate in local assemblies that would regularly meet and vote to adopt or reject measures proposed by a body consisting of representatives from every canton, named the National Representation. In this way, the legislative power allegedly remained in the directly democratic cantonal assemblies of all citizens, while the National Representation was limited to being a meeting of messengers, with no independent authority. However, the 1793 Constitution was in fact never implemented, for the previous revolutionary governing body, the National Convention, suspended its implementation indefinitely, arguing that the ongoing revolutionary struggle made it impossible to immediately put it into force. After the revolutionary ‘reign of terror’ ended in 1794, the previous constitution was voided and replaced in 1795 by a new constitution with a restricted electorate. The disasters of the revolution were such that even the French did not repeat the experiment.

All modern regimes we colloquially term as ‘democracies’ were born as explicit attempts to balance out the natural tendencies of ‘simple’ democracy by means of a ‘mixed-government’ possessing some non-democratic characteristics. This idea of mixed government as the antidote to the excesses of democracy (as well as to other ‘simple’ forms of government) is an ancient one that can be found in authors from Polybius to Montesquieu, and it was the explicit goal of those who composed the American Constitution of 1787.5

‘What is emerging is a political reality where directness and immediacy are coupled with a high degree of effective anonymity’

As put by Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790): ‘When I hear the simplicity of contrivance aimed at and boasted of in any new political constitutions, I am at no loss to decide that the artificers are grossly ignorant of their trade or totally negligent of their duty. The simple governments are fundamentally defective, to say no worse of them.’ 6

Significantly, in modern governments, the democratic element is not only balanced by aristocratic and monarchic elements, but is rather transformed by the most significant change from ancient forms of government—the idea and practice of representation. The concept of representative government was not originally connected to democracy; indeed, it did not even originate in the idea of elections, but rather emerged out of the instrument of legal representation. Developing most significantly in medieval England, where the Parliament was also a court of justice, and thus assembling representatives from the various shire courts around the country it created, in the persons of the representatives, a degree of separation between popular will and the action of government—in the same way that legal representation separates the plaintiff or the accused from judicial proceedings. This separation enabled the representatives to become regularly involved in the business of government, and as Parliament’s activities accrued authority over various aspects of government, so did the representatives sitting in Parliament.7 However, that separation is now being whittled away, and with it the idea of representation.

II. Let us first look at the constitutional framework of representative democracies, in order to understand what has been whittled away. Despite great differences between them, we can see that all functioning democratic governments have some shared features, intended to counter the power of undiluted popular will. Two features stand out as most significant.

The first feature is the preservation of some non-democratic elements within the structure of government. These elements are those which make these constitutions ‘mixed’, instead of simple undiluted democracies. Such elements might be a head of state who is unelected or selected by electors rather than by direct suffrage; or an upper legislative house which consists of members who are unelected, or are elected according to a federative principle which weights votes unequally. Many countries, including the US, the UK, Japan, Canada, Germany, and Australia, mix some of these features in their government.8

The second and more significant feature is the very idea of representation that stood at the heart of representative government long before it was democratic. Representation has been a defining feature of English and British government for at least 700 years, since the time regular parliaments began to be held—and for most of this time, in England as elsewhere, those who elected the representatives were only a small fraction of the adult population. Nevertheless, from the very outset, the English held that the members of Parliament were representatives not only of those who voted for them, but of the whole population, both in the specific area which they represented and in the country as a whole. This notion was articulated innumerable times, from the Magna Carta in the thirteenth century, which asserted that no taxes shall be raised without the ‘common counsel of our kingdom’ understood to mean the kingdom’s Great Council that came to be known as Parliament; through Sir John Fortescue in the fifteenth century, who in his Praise of the Laws of England (c. 1470) stated that the English king cannot impose financial burdens on his subjects, or change or make new laws without the ‘assent of his whole realm expressed in his Parliament’ and to Sir Edward Coke, who in the seventeenth century, in the fourth volume of his Institutes of the Lawes of England (published 1644), described Parliament as consisting of ‘the King’s Majesty sitting there as in his royal politick capacity’ together with ‘the Lords spiritual, the Lords temporal, and the Commons representing the Commons of all the land’. The term often used to describe the manner by which those who were not included in the franchise were represented in politics, ‘virtual representation’, is gaining another, increasingly ironic meaning today.

Since the early nineteenth century, every expansion of the voting franchise, in English-speaking countries and beyond, made the principle of representation more democratic, as representatives were being elected by a growing share of the population. However, the increase in the democratic element was not seamless, and produced its first significant political crisis in the early twentieth century, with the very rapid expansion of the franchise throughout Europe, resulting from the equalizing momentum of the First World War, when countries resorted to mass conscription and the total mobilization of the population. Not only all adult males but soon also some women were given the right to vote in several European countries. In many cases, these countries had slight or no experience in mass democratic politics, and as a result, democratic governments collapsed in most European countries during the 1920s and 1930s. Significantly, democratic governments survived mostly in those countries—from Britain to the Netherlands to Denmark—that had a strong historical tradition of representative government and non-democratic checks, such as constitutional monarchy.9

The unintended result of the first wave of swift mass democratization was the emergence of totalitarian dictatorships, which brought about the unprecedented horrors of the Second World War throughout Europe, and left the eastern part of the continent trapped behind the communist ‘Iron Curtain’ for another two generations afterwards.

After the war came what we may term a golden age for representative democracy. Initially it blossomed in Western Europe, where the vivid memory of the horrific crimes perpetrated by wartime dictatorships and the continuing threat from the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War oriented public opinion in representative democracies toward moderation and prudence. Gradually the remaining dictatorships of Europe disbanded in the Iberian and Hellenic peninsulas during the 1970s, and in Eastern Europe in the 1990s.

Indeed, the general feeling of relief accompanying the fall of communism in Europe was followed by a widespread conceit that the Western democratic order had triumphed over communism not because of its conservative and moderate character, but because it expressed a set of universal liberal principles that were destined to triumph. This view was termed ‘the end of history’, meaning that liberal democracy was the final stage of man’s political development, and the immediate conclusion that followed was that democracies could now afford to be less constrained, without serious consequences. As a result, a whole array of critical theories, Butlerian speculations, LGBTQ+++ categories, identity politics and woke-speech were let loose in the 1990s, when democracy looked to so many like an inevitable outcome, something akin to the state of nature.10

III. But at the very same time that the purported ‘end of history’ arrived, a technological upheaval that had been gathering strength for some time reached a turning point and began to dramatically change things, upending the liberal eschatology. It is called the internet.

For centuries, the reach and immediacy of mass media have been steadily expanding. Printed books, newspapers, radio, cinema, broadcast and cable television, each successively casting a new grid of reach and immediacy that was far wider than before. Nevertheless, all of these were ultimately ‘media’, meaning an intermediary tool between the producers of information and those who consumed it. As such, they were still produced in the main ‘vertically’ by relatively small groups, who then distributed their products to a wider audience. Such structures could be, and for the most part were, controlled by governments, interest groups (like parties or trade unions), commercial corporations or some combination of these. Although mass media outlets vastly increased the reach and directness of popular opinion, they could still retain, and in some respects even fortify, the traditional structures of representative democracy. Thus, one could very well argue that the rise of stable, coherent political parties in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as an essential part of representative democracy, was intimately bound up with the rise of mass media, and that the visible current decline of parties derives from the crisis of traditional media.11

Therefore, just as the dust from the fall of the Berlin Wall was settling, a far greater upheaval was rapidly approaching. The system of interconnected computer networks we now call the internet had been active since the 1960s, but it was only around 1990 that it surpassed a technological threshold which allowed commercial involvement in its expansion. From that point on, the network rapidly extended into every house and eventually every electronic device as a two-way system, not only connecting between two or three endpoints (like a telephone conversation), but between all points at all times.

Few recognized at the time the epochal significance of this development. Some of those who realized even a fraction of it are now billionaires. For the new networking technology installed successively into personal computers, cell phones, smartphones, and social media apps, grew exponentially, eventually giving every connected individual the potential to immediately, directly, and constantly have their say publicly. The import of this is still hard for many to fully fathom, but in essence, it creates virtual town squares which are permanently active and encompass numbers that can be larger than the population of the largest country in the world.

Billions of people now find themselves in such town squares, increasingly resembling those of ancient, direct democracies, while the political institutions and traditions are still those of representative democracy (the impact of all this on dictatorships is an issue to be considered separately). As a result, a gulf can be seen widening between the public square and political institutions. Many of the newly active virtual citizens are starting to draw their own conclusions from these circumstances, and ask themselves: Who needs representation? Why cannot I represent myself? Although this process is still at its early stages, popping up in inchoate and partly submerged mutterings by activists or provocations by trolls, it is inevitable that such arguments will soon surface with full force and articulation.

The signs are clear for all to see. Without giving too much thought to the theoretical aspects, many are already asking themselves the relevant questions. They ask themselves, what good are representatives elected every two or four years, and then sent to the capital or even the local government, when I can now speak and act directly on any political question? Is my opinion right now on vaccination or gas prices not far more significant and relevant than those of some representative voted in several years ago, when some of these issues were not even on the horizon? Indeed, now that I can become informed about everything immediately, looking, say, to Wikipedia or the Vox site or my favourite Facebook pages, why is my opinion not at least as good as someone with years of expertise in medicine or politics?

I am not describing the future, I am describing the present. Such voices as are described above can be heard every day, in every country. They might still be the minority, but they are growing stronger, and they seem strongest among those with little or no first-hand experience of traditional politics with parties and public debate. This is a new form of politics, in which every public issue is increasingly subjected to a constant and capricious referendum. It is the very opposite of representative government, and it is even not the simple old direct democracy where at least every participant personally knew a significant portion of his fellow citizens. What is emerging is a political reality where directness and immediacy are coupled with a high degree of effective anonymity, in a self-amplifying whirl of recklessness that we might term hyper-democracy.12

IV. These developments are already impacting politics. The Brexit vote in Britain and the rise to power in France of the instantly-confected Macron party, the near election of Bernie Sanders as Democratic presidential candidate and the election of Trump as Republican candidate and president in 2016 in the US were in no small part early effects of the new political climate, enabling the bypassing of established structures of power in the established media and parties. Such political developments are often explained as ‘populism’, but this description is totally off the mark, since all politics is becoming structurally more ‘populist’, that is, more direct, because the means of political participation are now bypassing traditional political structures.

Already, online outfits are being offered as alternatives to old political processes. Proposals are on offer for replacing caucuses and canvassing to select candidates, indeed even the ballot box, with net alternatives. Younger candidates in the US and beyond tend more and more to explore the new virtual town square, and in Italy, there is even a significant political party that has been built for some years along these lines. Starting as a protest movement in 2009, the ‘Five Star’ turned into a party, which received the largest amount of votes in the 2018 general elections, and selected Giuseppe Conte to serve as prime minister between 2018 and 2021. The party’s decisions on the most important issues, such as joining a coalition or supporting the government budget, are taken after deliberations of all its members voting on a purpose-built electronic platform, aptly named ‘Rousseau’. Others will undoubtedly follow this path.

‘While voicing praise for democracy, liberals are […] eschewing democratic control in the interest of what is termed the “administrative state”’

There is however another, submerged aspect of this virtual populism—the immense and growing political influence of what may be described as the ‘app giants’, new-media companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, and so on. It is mostly submerged, because unlike the vocal and in-your-face explicit politics of figures like say Sanders and Trump, the app giants’ impact on politics is for the most part concealed. Their immediate reach into the phones, tablets, and computers of billions of individuals, and their mining of every bit of their personal data enables them to subtly steer opinions in matters ranging from preference in footwear to political choice. Granted, to date the app giants have been entirely flat-footed in their efforts to steer political opinions, often obtaining crude and self-defeating results. Several such efforts have backfired spectacularly, like the coordinated and arbitrary de-platforming of the Parler application by Apple, Google, and Amazon in 2021, or the exposing in 2022 of covert piloting and blacklisting of opinions practised by Twitter. One might reflect on the reasons for the crassness and incompetence evident in such attempts by app giants to control opinion. However, even efforts as blunt as these had an undoubted impact on the 2020 US elections (exactly how significant, we may never know), and with time and the refining of methods, such efforts might become far more efficient. It is therefore crucial for democratic countries to develop in the near future adequate tools that can oversee and restrain such efforts to covertly impact political opinion.

It is important to realize that the immense new power gained by the app giants is in equal measure as much a result as it is a cause of the hyper-democratic wave. For, if traditional intermediate institutions, like parties, academia, unions, and old-style news media had maintained anything like their former pubic roles, then they would remain significant obstacles to the brutal ebbs and flows of public opinion upon which app giants thrive. But in fact, most traditional institutions have abdicated to a large extent their old function as groupings remaining independent of prevailing fads, and are putting their efforts into chasing the swift twists of public opinion in a desperate effort to catch its coattails. Even many churches and professional associations are now little more than mouthpieces for the latest woke platitudes. Instead of counterbalancing the worst excesses of democracy, many such institutions have in fact become subservient to the app giants’ machinery, thus only reinforcing the vicious circle of unhindered hyper-democracy.

The term ‘demagogue’ literally means ‘people (demos) leader (gogos)’. It is often applied to individuals in the media or in politics, but the sad truth is that the greatest demagogues are now the app giants. From the outset, the very function of the app giants was to gain profits by steering public opinion. By the very nature of businesses who want consumers to buy new stuff, they always steer public opinion in an anti-traditionalist direction, since someone who conserves his old things does not spend money buying new things. However, that steering of opinions is increasingly moving from preferences in, say, brands of make-up or cars to preferences of policy or political candidates. Some of this spillover is probably unintentional, stemming from the overlap between commercial items that are intertwined with political policies (such as a preference for electric cars), but some of it is certainly driven by the predominantly woke political agenda of many staff and management in the app giants, such as the curious branding of feminists who insist that biological women are a real category as fascists and ‘TERFs’—trans-exclusionary radical feminists. It will be increasingly necessary for societies to find means to monitor and expose the demagogic machinery by which the app giants steer public opinion.

V. Liberals are fatally ill equipped to deal with these new challenges. The very theoretical foundation of liberalism is rational individual choice, which is assumed to lead individuals towards inevitably liberal views. Thus, when the public will in democracies consistently rejects such views, liberalism can only assume the public is irrational, and should be guided towards the ‘correct’ policies. For this reason, while voicing praise for democracy, liberals are ironically doubling down on expanding coercive government tools, eschewing democratic control in the interest of what is termed the ‘administrative state’. In order to confine the capability of democratic governments to reflect the will of the electors, more and more administrative agencies are created, managing growing sectors of the state according to purportedly technocratic principles—which are in fact liberal ones. However, this course only increases the ‘democratic deficit’ and the public frustration with governments which are thwarted by the administrative state in delivering on electoral promises. The manifest effect is an ever-growing public distrust in elected representatives, from all parties and in all branches of government. Even most of the left-leaning public is increasingly unwilling to go along with such imposition of liberal policies, and in both US and Europe, a backlash against the administrative state is visibly rising. Thus, liberal ideas are unable to address the challenges brought about by the rising hyper-democratic tide. But perhaps conservative ideas can do that.

It is seldom remembered that historically, while liberals were often wary of enlarging the franchise to the wider popular classes, especially poor rural populations and women, it was conservatives that in countries like Britain, Germany, and Italy, supported such an expansion. This was because both liberals and conservatives expected that the bulk of these populations was more religious and traditionalist than the elites, and thus that they would vote to support conservative policies more than liberal ones. These suspicions were to be proven right, and since the nineteenth century, conservatives have relied on traditionalist popular majorities to defeat the promoters of hare-brained liberal panaceas. Moreover, from political parties to the persistence of non-democratic elements within constitutions to the identification of historical national symbols with democracy, many of the institutions which enabled representative democracy to thrive were essentially conservative initiatives, and were intended to create a degree of mutual support and dependency between democratic government and traditional cultural values. As happened during previous waves of democratization, conservative principles can once again supply us with the counterbalances necessary to overcome the present upheavals, and to restore stability to both constitution and society.13

It appears inevitable that technological developments will promote the rise of hyper-democracy, and this means that whether we like this outcome or not, we should prepare for it. The full scope and ramifications of the challenges being brought about by hyper-democracy are only beginning to be perceived, and much more study and thought must go into this matter. Nevertheless, some initial considerations may already be formulated about how conservative values and ideas can counterbalance some of the recently emerging negative effects of hyper-democracy.

VI. Since the main problem posed by hyper-democracy is a capricious, unhindered popular will, the need is to find counterweights which do not draw their authority from that popular will, but from other sources. As noted, some such non-democratic counterweights already exist in many constitutions, and they should be preserved and even reinforced. Several other potential counterweights can be identified, but it will suffice here to point briefly to three: education, religion, and hierarchy.

First, education in conservative ideas. Many despair that anything significant can be done in this field, especially since the main engines of modern education, the colleges and universities, are the very heart of what we may call ‘Wokistan’. However, the current model of higher education is manifestly crumbling from the inside, both in content and structure. A change is therefore inevitable, and the question is only whether conservatives will seize this opportunity to set up new, perhaps old-new, ways and means of education. An education starting with the canon of great Western texts, an emphasis on national history and culture, and acquaintance with the great traditions of learning and thought, are just some of the elements that have largely disappeared from Western academia and should be restored. Indeed, the unbelievable ignorance and shallowness that the younger generations are currently being offered under the title of ‘education’ can also be an opportunity, for it means that there is a growing thirst for what conservatives can offer, first and foremost with great conservative texts and ideas. One example of this trend is the rise of the podcast, a format of conversation that may be one, two, or even three hours long, and whose growing popularity seems to go against everything we hear about the constant need for stimulation and the diminishing attention span of younger generations. A few months ago, I found out that there are not a few young people out there, willing to listen to me, speaking for more than one hour, on a seventeenth century thinker whom they had never heard of. There are many more such examples, with some podcasters drawing audiences numbering in the millions and tens of millions. That is a kind of programming that no mainstream newspaper or television station could have boasted of in the old media system. But a space for such programmes has now materialized, and there are serious numbers of people who are willing to listen to them. This example is only one aspect of what seems to be a growing thirst for an education in conservative ideas. Moreover, ideas like duty, loyalty, sacrifice, and restraint have disappeared from view for long enough, to now seem completely new and interesting for a younger generation, many among whom are willing to give them a fair hearing.

Second is religion. By its very nature, any religion is a set of divinely derived values and practices which run against unhindered popular will. It demands that we consider values and issues that have nothing to do with our will. In some countries, the public presence of religion is more established than in others: in Britain, the king or the queen is also head of the Church of England, all Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords, and each sitting of Parliament begins with a prayer. In the US, the place of religion is very different, and many Americans still believe that their Constitution establishes a so-called ‘wall of separation’ between church and state, while in fact the opposite is true, and American states are declared free to establish their own public religious practices. In other countries, we might find other variations of religious presence in the public square, from formal establishment in Israel to the widespread support for the presence of the crucifix in public school classes in Italy. The common principle is that conservatives can and should work to enhance the public prominence of religion in their societies.14

Third is hierarchy. Our democratic era has produced not only an equalization of rights, but also a more problematic trend towards equalization of ideas and of values. Indeed, in many countries, equality is now viewed as the supreme value. But equality of ideas and values is of course nonsensical, leading to trivialization and eventually to relativism. Such equalization means treating texts like the Bible or Shakespeare as equivalent to some recent essay by a postmodern author valued first and foremost for their gender or place of birth. Similarly, current trends identifying so-called ‘micro-aggressions’ and requiring ‘sensitivity’ training in the workplace are the direct result of this equalization of values. Such attitudes often appear merely comical to those with some experience of the real world, but they are having dire effects on young people who do not know any better. Probably the most problematic effect of this equalization of values is the systematic erosion of parental authority in the family. There are now manifold socio-cultural factors working together to undermine parental authority, from schools to social apps to gender clinics, where the uniform message hammered home is that parents are misguided ignoramuses at best, and bigoted oppressors at worst. To counter such destructive trends, it is necessary first and foremost to restore the conviction that real hierarchies exist, and that they are beneficial.


Hyper-democracy is already here, it will grow stronger, and we are only starting to understand its profound effects. Some of them will be detrimental, others will open up new opportunities. This might appear overwhelming and unprecedented to some, but in truth, that was the case with all great technological or political upheavals. Those cultures and societies that coped better than others with such upheavals did so out of a conservative conviction that traditional institutions can be reformed to meet new challenges in a way that would preserve their substance while adapting to new circumstances. We may follow their lead by identifying traditional values and instruments that can be deployed to adapt representative government to the hyper-democratic challenge, with Burke’s words in mind: ‘a state to preserve, as well as a state to reform’.15


1 In ancient Greece, Athens is the most famous case, but more than fifty other city-states had a democratic form of government for part of their history, including Corinth and Megara. In northern and central Italy during the late Middle Ages, many city communes, among them Florence, Parma, Ferrara, Padua, Lucca, Siena, and Mantua established in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries governments in which the supreme body was an assembly of all citizens, often named Arengo, although these cities gradually came to be ruled by an aristocracy that controlled communal institutions. Swiss Landsgemeinde cantonal assemblies are attested at least since the thirteenth century. While most cantons have discontinued this institution with time, in the cantons of Glarus and Appenzell, the sovereign political body is to this day the yearly assembly, which all adult citizens of the canton can attend—indeed some 50 per cent are estimated to actually participate.

2 As for critics of direct democracy, Plato, Aristotle, and Polybius are only three notable examples among many ancient authors. Montesquieu, the authors of The Federalist Papers—Hamilton, Jay, and Madison—as well as Tocqueville, are some notable examples among modern authors.

3 In fact, if we look at direct democracy as practised to this day in small communities, as in village societies in Africa or in the rural valleys of Switzerland, its operation is not particularly volatile or ferocious, but for the most part sedate and cautious, especially if it forms part of some larger political community. Rather the negative aspects ascribed to direct democracy seem to emerge when set in a more urban, enterprising, and expanding social environment.

4 The term ‘insane Socrates’ is from Edmund Burke, ‘Letter to a Member of the National Assembly’ (1791); Rousseau is quoted from his Of the Social Contract (1762), Book III, Sec. 15.

5 See for example The Federalist 40: ‘The Powers of the Convention to Form a Mixed Government Examined and Sustained’.

6 Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (November 1790), in Edmund Burke, The Works of Edmund Burke, 3 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1860), 1:481–83, 488–91,, acccessed 13 January 2023.

7 In many other countries, representative institutions such as the General Estates of France or the Cortes of Aragón, also emerged in the Middle Ages. But these remained circumscribed in their authority or sporadic in their meetings, so that they never achieved the general and sustained authority that became the defining feature of the English Parliament. See for example, J. R. Maddicott, The Origins of the English Parliament 924–1327 (2010), especially chapter 4, 157–232.

8 It might be worth noting that for some decades there has been growing pressure to discard these non-democratic elements, such as an unelected upper house or the Electoral College, at least in the UK and US. But to date they have for the most part remained in place.

9 In most cases, democracy has collapsed as a consequence of a series of revolutionary attempts by the radical left to gain control of government, which then brought about a counter-revolutionary drive by military or authoritarian political groups (or by a combination of the two). This was the scenario in Russia, Hungary, Italy, Germany, and Spain, as well as in other countries.

10 The eminent example is, of course, Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (1992).

11 In classic and early modern political thought, parties were regarded with suspicion and even hostility. The American Founding Fathers, for example, found no place for parties in the constitution. The first important thinker to propose a positive and constructive role for political parties was Edmund Burke in his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770), and one can draw a direct line between his ideas and activities in response to the French Revolution and the creation in the early nineteenth century of the Conservative Party (1834)—the most successful political party in history. By the early twentieth century, political parties had become an accepted component of representative democracies, but in the early twenty-first century, parties are visibly weakening, being replaced in many countries by loose protest movements or personal vehicles for some political leader with no coherent set of ideas or policies.

12 The abuses of social media under cover of anonymity are patent. Many manage to avoid the consequences of their voicing of abusive and false comments that they would never dare to utter under their own names, as well as to the incitement to or even planning of illegal and violent actions. For some examples, see and The UK government has been considering for some time legislation to prevent anonymous social media accounts, but nothing has been done as yet. See

13 It has been mentioned above that the theoretical basis for the beneficial role of parties was laid out by Edmund Burke. Later on in Britain, it was the conservative leader Benjamin Disraeli who secured the passing of the 1867 Reform Act, which greatly expanded the electorate. Similarly, it was the conservative Republican administration of President U. S. Grant, which in 1870 passed the 15th Amendment to the American Constitution ensuring that Blacks could not be denied the right to vote on the basis of ‘race’ or ‘colour’. In Italy, the centre-right Catholic Popular Party of 1919–1926 and its post-Second World War offspring, the Christian Democrats, who ruled the country uninterruptedly between 1946–1994, both had as their symbol a crusader shield with a red-on-white cross, upon which was inscribed the word ‘Libertas’, historically identified with the independence of medieval Italian republics, often with papal backing, against foreign dominance.

14 To some, such a course seems counter to an inevitable historical trend in the West towards secularization. However, in truth, there is nothing inevitable about it, and in every society religious observance as well as its public display fluctuate. The USA supplied an eminent example in the 1950s, with church membership rising noticeably through the decade, President Eisenhower himself being baptized in the White House in 1953, as well as with legislative initiatives in Congress, resulting among other things in the 1954 addition to the Pledge of Allegiance (dating from 1885) of the words ‘under God’, and in 1956 the official adoption of ‘In God we trust’ as the motto of the US.

15 Edmund Burke, ‘Letter to a Noble Lord’ (1796).

Related articles:

Reviewing a Conservative Classic–Reflections on the Revolution in France by Burke
‘Keeping the Ship Afloat’: Attila Károly Molnár’s Who Would Conserve What?
‘Not a Work of Philosophy, But of Dogmatics’: A Review of Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism
Hyper-democracy is already here, it will grow stronger, and we are only starting to understand its profound effects. Some of them will be detrimental, others will open up new opportunities. This might appear overwhelming and unprecedented to some, but in truth, that was the case with all great technological or political upheavals...