This is an excerpt from something I wrote 18 years ago. I haven’t seen anything yet to change my mind.
The history of human civilization can be divided into three primary phases when considering the evolution of political institutions. The first of these involves an idea that might be described as “the divinity of kings.” In the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Babylon, and Rome, the head of state, or emperor, was assigned a god-like status by custom, tradition, law, theology, and popular folklore alike. The early Roman Christians were sent to the lions for the crime of “atheism” which, in the theology of the Roman state religion, meant denial of the divinity of the emperor. When Christianity went on to conquer Greco-Roman civilization, a new political theology evolved in the form of the “divine right of kings,” meaning that the king ruled, not as a god himself, but as an earthly appointee of a Divine Other who had been providentially chosen to rule in the political realm just as the Pope ruled in the religious realm. A principal achievement of the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the demolition of the notion of the divine right of kings. Beginning with the American and French Revolutions of the eighteenth century, a third political paradigm has come to dominate human political life.
This paradigm that is now nearly universal, at least in the advanced countries, is the paradigm of liberal democracy. It might be said that liberal democracy discards the “divine right of kings” for the “democratic right of the state.” Most people in the modern world recognize the illegitimacy of fascist, nazi, communist, monarchical, theocratic, aristocratic, or military forms of government. It is assumed by persons on all points of the political spectrum that a government is only legitimate if periodic elections are held, opposition parties are allowed to organize and something resembling a “free press” is permitted. For example, American political culture includes Christian fundamentalists, economic nationalists, and anti-immigrationists on the “far-right” and Marxists, radical feminists, and post-modernists on the “far-left.” Yet all of these parties claim the banner of “democracy.” Those who wish to censor speech that is deemed “hateful” or “obscene” do so under the guise of seemingly venerable democratic notions like “community standards,” majoritarian preference, or social equality. Likewise, those who champion “free speech” do so under the seemingly democratic principle of free exchange of ideas and beliefs. Those favoring racial quotas or preferences cite the allegedly democratic principle of equal opportunity while those opposed to such preferences claim individual responsibility and merit are essential to democracy. Both socialists and “free market” economists claim to be advocates of “economic democracy.”
The underlying presumption behind all of these points of view is that virtually any course of action that the state pursues is acceptable so long as the state meets a few bare minimum standards of democracy like “free elections,” “free speech” and so on. It is said that the state exists on the basis of a “social contract” and is a reflection of the “popular will.” For these reasons, it is widely believed that individuals have an obligation to comply with the decrees of the state, whether in the matter of the payment of taxes, military conscription, weapons confiscation, the prohibition of particular social or cultural practices, or whatever. This common notion is what is meant by the “democratic right of the state.” Behind the shield of “democracy,” the state may do what it wishes to its subjects, who in turn have no one to blame for their predicament but themselves as they comprise the state, an expression of “the general will.” The absurdity and illogic of this view ought to be obvious enough. Clearly, the dominant political paradigm of “democracy” is severely flawed. A new paradigm is sorely needed.