THE SMALLEST MINORITY: Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics
by Kevin D. Williamson
Gateway Editions, Washington DC
Hardcover: 256 pages
Reviewed by David James
Kevin D. Williamson’s book, The Smallest Minority, is an entirely reasonable critique of democracy’s shortcomings that just as entirely misses the point.
He criticises the mob rule element in democracies, but there is no sense in which, in reality, democracies reflect the will of the people. Anyone who thinks that is either a simpleton or has spent far too much time watching reality TV. There are even empirical studies proving that government policies are routinely the exact opposite of what the majority wants.
The point of democracy lies elsewhere. For one thing, it enables the people peaceably to rid itself of bad leaders. Throughout history, the people who rise to the top and acquire power tend to be those that want it most; and they are the ones that we can trust with power least. That is simply a rule of human society.
But only in democracy can you rid yourself of such illustrious detritus from time to time. In all the other systems they just have to be tolerated (or they get assassinated). True, the politicians being removed are usually not the most powerful actors; those are the corporate and moneyed interests behind the throne. But we should be grateful for small mercies.
The second point of democracy is that, at least in theory, it enables the rule of law, as opposed to rule by law. This is not possible in any other system because you cannot separate the powers. In China, for example, there is no meaningful difference between being charged with a crime and being convicted of that crime. In democracies, at least you stand some chance at justice.
Williamson mounts a wonder-fully entertaining critique of the inanities of social media and its descent into mob stupidity, although I was a little disappointed. Just when I had learned how terrible it is to be a white male – I want to thank feminists, LGBTQI, woke, whatever, for alerting me to my culpability – Williamson shows me that the whole thing is self-serving idiocy. True, I was still “unwoke” enough not to care, but I was coming around to the LGBTQI, anti-racist, anti-white point of view until Williamson came along.
I digress. There is much to like about this book, which is entertainingly and thoughtfully written. There are many memorable phrases, such as “what begins as a principle ends up as an enemies list” in modern politics. Or his description of modern political culture as a “strap-on dildo sitting there dead and plastic and inert where Western civilisation used to be.” Or his observation, especially pertinent in these days of social distancing and self-imposed quarantine that “groups do not think in any meaningful sense. People think – one at a time.”
He is very strong on how authoritarian instincts are activated within groups, addressing a perennial contradiction of democracy: that to protect tolerance you may have to be intolerant towards the intolerant. But this is fairly easily resolved. It is called the law.
Williamson’s account of the abolition of private life is likewise very much to the point. This is commented on too little.
Why, for example, should anyone be expected to have a public view on gender fluid marriage? Isn’t that view personal, just as what people get up to in their private lives is, well, private? Not any more, it seems. The university, the corporation, and social media have all been recruited to push these things into the public arena.
Williamson’s suspicion of sentimentality is endearing, including quoting novelist James Baldwin’s description of sentimentality as the “ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion [that] is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel”.
Where Williamson gets it glaringly wrong is underestimating the power of corporations, which, especially in the United States, buy and control political parties and promote “woke” politics to distract from their wickedness.
Williamson’s discussion of Dante’s and Milton’s Satan might have benefitted from a better understanding of that darkness.
Ochlocracy, government by the mob, has many problems. But these problems are dwarfed by the corporatocracy, which, in conjunction with the state and the bought-and-paid-for political parties, is the true power.