Culture

On the Folly of Perfectly Proportional Representation

A joint session of Congress listens to the State of the Union speech, January 12, 2016. (Reuters photo: Carlos Barria)
The New Class’s assault on Western democracy.

Sex has once again reared its distracting head in politics — this time in Australia, where I happen to be. But rest assured, gentle reader, that the occasion was both a very modest and a very representative one. Many similar but worse explosions have happened under your own, American, “equal opportunities” dispensation. It contains a moral for you as well.

Last week Australia’s former prime minister (and resident great man), John Howard, rashly answered a question about the unequal representation of women in Australia’s federal parliament after he had just presented a documentary about Australia’s earlier prime minister (and great man), Sir Robert Menzies.

Howard could have avoided the question and talked about Menzies at length. It was the prudent thing to do. But he answered the question — and he did so honestly — and thus deserves no sympathy. If he continues in this reckless vein, he’ll be using irony next and getting into all sorts of trouble. Here’s most of what he said:

I’m not sure you will ever have a 50–50 thing — because it’s a fact of society that the caring role, whatever people may say about it and whatever the causes are . . . women play a significantly greater part of filling the caring role in our communities, which inevitably will play some limits on their capacity.

It would be an exaggeration to say that the roof fell in. Rather, several columnists — mostly women — gently chided the elder statesman. What he said was true as a description of current social reality, they conceded, but Howard had been wrong or at least too complacent in that he had not forecast this would change or, worse, had apparently not minded whether it changed or not.

These criticisms, though mild, were delivered with (and from) the comfortable assurance of a reigning orthodoxy. It was seemingly common sense that if women constituted 50 percent of the population, then they should also constitute 50 percent of the federal parliament — otherwise, the parliament would not be “fully representative.” Howard himself had made plain that if women reached or exceeded that level as a result of natural changes in their preferences and ambitions, he would be perfectly content with the result. My guess is that he would also support special courses in educating women about how to get on in politics — how to chair a committee, how to speak in public, etc., etc. — insofar as these remain necessary in a world of women executives.

But that is not really the orthodoxy being advanced here. After all, if women do reach the 50 percent mark in parliament, there will be other “minority” groups whose members in parliament (and other official institutions) still fall below their estimated percentage of the population. If parliament or Congress should be representative of both sexes equally, should it not also be representative of minority and other social groups proportionally? And if so, surely we must go beyond merely encouraging women, racial minorities, sexual minorities, and other “disadvantaged” or “under-privileged” groups to enter politics. That would be “tokenism” at best. We must also arrange some form of reverse discrimination (though never using that phrase) — preferences, quotas, women-only selection committees, etc. — to ensure that the full range of social and national diversity is accommodated in formal politics.

That is already the case in such arenas as employment and education. And restructuring political representation along these lines is already proceeding in several European countries and in U.S. State Department policies. One U.S. ambassador lamented the fact that when democracy was restored in Central and Eastern Europe the voters sent fewer women to parliaments than before.

A parliament that is proportionally representative is an infallible sign of a totalitarian or authoritarian political system.

That should have tipped us all off to a few things. The first is that free democratic elections will never produce a parliament that is proportionally representative of all society’s groups (even if we could all agree on the vital prior question of which groups deserve representation). The voters are selecting MPs and congressmen on a completely different basis: Namely, do they agree with their broad range of opinions. And if voters in several hundred constituencies vote on that basis, how many women, gays, Asians, feminists, and so on emerge from the election into parliament will be purely accidental and unknowable in advance. A parliament that is proportionally representative is an infallible sign of a totalitarian or authoritarian political system.

Secondly, none of the ethnic, gender, or other groups has uniform, let alone monolithic, political opinions. Feminists might; women never. The same applies to all the other groups. Internally, they are diverse — which means that Conservative voters would be happy with a parliament composed 100 percent of Margaret Thatchers and Western feminists unhappy with the same result. But a convention has grown up that whenever women with conservative views emerge in leadership positions, such as the late Phyllis Schlafly, they are to be treated as honorary men who need not be consulted on “women’s issues,” or if consulted, ignored. Women’s opinions on social issues are not necessarily the opinions most women actually hold; they are a kind of philosophical essence representing the opinions women ought to hold by their nature. And never the twain shall meet.

Third, maybe for this reason, feminists and other such groups by and large exercise influence less through elections — which they often lose to honorary men, etc. — but through bodies either within or supported by state bureaucracies. Thus Phyllis Schlafly defeated every feminist organization in the nation over the Equal Rights Amendment, but almost all its provisions have since been mandated by bureaucracies and courts. And oddly enough, they all tend to reflect the same broadly leftist ideology.

Despite their serious philosophical drawbacks, we live every day under similar rules and regulation in our business and social life without noticing how odd they are. There is a creeping tendency to make our political system conform to this new orthodoxy of political representation. And except for a handful of political academics — notably, the Hudson Institute’s John Fonte — very few people have even noticed that there is a serious conflict between the liberal democracy we lived under until recently and the post-democracy that is gradually challenging it. Read Fonte for a full picture of this conflict. My interest here is to look at the ideological roots of the new system.

#share#It arises from two sources: authoritarian fascism and totalitarian Communism. The contribution of fascism was modest until recently but may now be growing in importance. Fascism was hostile in principle to liberal democracy because it declared a large range of issues closed to further discussion. Thus it needed an alternative system of representation that limited discussion and depended on something other than opinion. Its answers were “functional representation” and the corporate state — a sort of right-wing syndicalism in which unions and employers get together to advise governments on economic and industrial policies.

These were terrible ideas and, if implemented honestly (which they never were), they would prevent economic competition, retard change, restrict the input of ideas from outsiders, and in general make society duller and less successful. But variants of them tend to re-emerge when political and economic establishments want to override public opposition to their grand schemes. (See Thomas Friedman of the New York Times on China, etc.) The contempt and anger of the establishment Remainers in Britain in response to Brexit draw some of their force from these ideological impulses.

The New Class in Western society looks very like “Bolsheviks operating in a context of democracy.”

Communism’s contribution was deeper. After events like the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, the Soviet Union was on the backfoot ideologically. Western democracy was a far more powerful and appealing alternative to Marxism than it had been immediately after the Second World War. Moscow therefore had to invent its own alternative form of democracy — one that wasn’t based on diversity of opinion. After all, if Marxism was correct and the course of history was predictable, then there could be no basis for anti-Marxist opinions.

Say what you like about the ideologists of Marxism-Leninism, they weren’t stupid (or, if you wish to be pedantic, their stupidity was on a far higher plane than that of the rest of us). What they came up with was a brilliant concept — a system of democratic political representation in which different kinds of people expressed exactly the same opinion (very often the opinion that had been announced the previous week by the Politburo or Supreme Soviet). Since the Soviet Union had innumerable “national minorities” in its geographic sphere, they naturally thought in terms of ethnic diversity. But the cleverness of the concept lay in the fact that it could be extended indefinitely to any “group” that the Center wished to include.

Visitors to Moscow in its dying days were always invited to very fine ethno-cultural entertainments. But Anthony Daniels’s brilliant bon mot describing these events was also a description of the Soviet version of democracy: “Under communism all minorities dance.”

And, of course, they danced to Moscow’s tune.

That is the attraction of this extended version of ethno-cultural democracy to the leftist establishment, the New Class, various organized ethnic groups, and their main political champion, the Democratic party. It makes the narrow creed of a political sect look like the consensus of a nation.

That project was in its infancy in 1998 when I reviewed in The Weekly Standard the last book of Milovan Djilas, who had invented the phrase “The New Class” in the 1950s to describe the people who then ran Yugoslav Communism. It then seemed to me to describe a new ruling class, then emerging in the U.S., that was rooted less in popular elections than in the government bureaucracy and cultural institutions. So its occasional electoral reverses, such as the Republican victory in 1994, were only a minor inconvenience to it. Instead it advanced its power in three ways.

First — and most precariously, since this is the main arena of partisan politics — by extending the regulation of society by government.

Second, by transferring power within government from elected bodies like Congress to non-accountable ones such as the judiciary, federal agencies, and, more recently, international agencies under its sway.

And third, by imposing New Class moral and cultural values upon those elites and institutions that have until now been resistant to them. Thus, the armed forces find themselves beholden to feminists; private corporations must hire and fire in accordance with racial proportionalism rather than meritocratic selection; private cultural or religious institutions — the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts — must forswear traditional beliefs in matters involving God or gays; and on and on.

In short, the New Class in Western society looks very like “Bolsheviks operating in a context of democracy.”

And now they are turning their attention to the structure of democracy itself. Women-only short lists for parliament look like a small thing. But it’s a big change when “votes for women” morphs into votes for feminists.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Fight for Kavanaugh 

The cynics — or, perhaps more precisely, the realists — believed that the Democrats were playing for time in the hopes of finding another accusation against Brett Kavanaugh. The cynics were right. The New Yorker stooped to publish a shoddy story alleging that Kavanaugh exposed himself to a woman while he ... Read More
White House

What Is Hillary Clinton Thinking?

When Homer Simpson looks in the mirror, he sees ripped chest muscles and arms like the trunks of beech trees. When Hillary Clinton looks in the mirror, she sees America’s sweetheart. She thinks: America adores me. She thinks: America already chose me to be president once! She thinks: Everyone is comparing me ... Read More
White House

Trump Stands By ‘Fantastic’ Kavanaugh

President Trump was supportive of his nominee to the Supreme Court during a radio interview set to be broadcast on Monday morning, in which he characterized Brett Kavanaugh as a “fantastic, fantastic man” and called into question allegations of sexual assault. In the interview — recorded on Sunday, ... Read More