The lunatics are taking over the asylum
The masses must be respected, for they are the masters now
The people are on the march. Betrayed by their rulers, they demand the right to determine their fate themselves. Their chastened leaders quail before them, and embark on a process of competitive abdication. Recall of erring MPs, open primaries, electoral reform and parliamentary oversight will no longer be sufficient. Nothing less than direct democracy will meet the needs of the hour. Are our destinies to be decided by people's petitions, continual referendums, citizens' juries, perpetual push-button voting or all of these and more?
Beyond the political class, the great and the good have politely concurred with the prevailing mood. It is time to trust the citizenry, they murmur. They should beware. The current eruption of mass revolt extends far beyond politics. It threatens to engulf most of the many and varied elites that have for so long called the shots in societies like our own.
The media, for example, may have fomented the current mutiny, but they have as much to fear as any from the tiger they have been riding. Their audiences are crumbling as readers and viewers turn away from expert discourse. They believe their own efforts are as worthy as those of professionals, and they would rather air them than attend to the guidance of their betters.
The nation now looks to amateurs rather than artistes for its entertainmentsIncreasingly, everywhere, the default attitude is 'I could do that'. Everyone knows they could run a bank better than the disgraced bankers, or their child's school better than its useless head. Doctors have come to expect patients to arrive at their surgeries armed with web printouts detailing the diagnoses and prescriptions they will be required to rubber-stamp.
The nation now looks to amateurs rather than artistes for its most successful prime-time entertainments. In the past, TV talent shows were at least judged by panels of experts; now their audiences insist they must themselves cast the die by phoning in their votes.
For several generations, we have called our society democratic. It has not been. The masses merely acquired limited rights of accountability over the complex priesthood that continued to control their lives. Now, they have decided that this priesthood does not deserve its privileges, and they want to usurp its power. Because the principle of democracy is sacrosanct, this demand is irresistible.
Often, of course, the people do indeed know as well as those who lord it over them. The supposedly superior classes have not made such a good fist of running the financial system, invading other people's countries or enforcing our own country's borders. Would mass decision-making have produced worse results? And if people want to bring back capital punishment, how can a democrat object?
Britain's Got Talent is at least as entertaining as was Sunday Night at the London Palladium. These days, a patient can quickly become more knowledgeable about an unusual disease than her harassed GP. Those who paid heed to financial advisers in recent years are likely to be the worse off for it.
All the same, determining the extent of quantitative easing by a nationwide push-button vote might not be ideal. Restocking the National Gallery in accordance with popular tastes would cause some qualms. Not everyone would feel confident if Bono were placed in sole charge of overseas development.
Whether or not the masses are wiser than the privileged, they are certainly no more virtuous. Many of those deploring MPs' misdemeanours would happily pad an insurance claim or pay a builder in cash to avoid VAT.
No matter. The people are not accountable. They do not have to be reasonable, consistent or fair. Yet they must henceforth be respected. For they are the masters now. ·
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