Is Democracy Nationalist?

An essay from the New Zealand New Right:

Both Alain De Benoist and Tomislav Sunic have written on democracy and Carl Schmitt’s interpretation of the concept. Both agree that, by Schmitt’s definition, democracy is, surprisingly enough, not anti-nationalist. According to Schmitt, democracy is not elections, and is not liberal parliamentarism and all the associated liberal freedoms: freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, speech, association, and so on. A distinction is to be drawn between democracy on one hand and liberalism on the other (Schmitt made that distinction, most famously, in his Crisis of parliamentary democracy (1923)).

Democracy is, in Schmitt’s view, a statement of identity. The simple definition of democracy is the rule of the majority. That definition, says Schmitt, implies that the members of that majority are identical to one another in some way, that is, that they hold some property in common, whether it be race, religion, ethnicity, or some quality – Britishness, Australian-ness. Democracy requires a homogeneity. And the sharing of that property, which leads to homogeneity, means that the sharers are politically equal.

As an example of democracy, Schmitt gives the examples of the ancient Greek city states of Athens and Sparta. Members of Spartan or Athenian democracy were equal to one another in possessing the virtue of a Spartan or Athenian citizenship. But a group within that democracy – the slave caste – were unequal, not possessing full political rights. So, at the root of democracy is the equality of equals (who make up the democratic majority) and the inequality of unequals (who make up the democratic minority).

Schmitt gives, as another example, the British Empire: did the 300 million citizens of the Empire possess the same rights, i.e., were they as equal, as Britons? Clearly, no: the citizens of the United Kingdom possessed political rights denied to others in the Commonwealth. Schmitt also cites Australia, and in particular, the application of the White Australia policy. Immigrants who were not white were to be excluded from Australian democracy, and all the benefits of Australian citizenship that come from being one of the majority, the ‘equal equals’.

It may seem, from the last example, that when Schmitt talks of homogeneity, he is talking of a racial homogeneity. But this is not necessarily the case. Some of the member nations of the British Commonwealth – Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa – were white, and yet not sharing the same rights as Britons. Likewise, it is uncertain whether or not the distinction between ‘slave’ and ‘citizen’ in the ancient world was a racial one – whether or not the Spartans were white and the Helots were non-white. And, on Schmitt’s definition, one could construct the idea of an Islamic democracy, where all the equal citizens are alike in that they are Muslim. One can also point out that the Jewish democracy – Israel – has members who are alike in their Jewishness (but not their race). (And, like a true, Schmittian democracy, Israel denies certain political rights to non-citizens – in particular, the non-Jewish Arab citizens, and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories).

Schmitt’s notion of democratic equality stands in contrast to that of the liberal – for the liberal believes that all people, whether members of a democracy or no, are equal by virtue of being adult persons. Liberalism believes in a radical egalitarianism. In a truly liberal world, all distinctions between citizens and non-citizens in democracies, or equals and unequals, would be abolished. So, rightfully understood, democracy is the enemy of liberalism: the concept of ‘liberal democracy’ contains two contradictory creeds – liberalism and democracy – which threaten to tear it apart. Hence, ‘The crisis of parliamentary democracy’.

If we are to take Schmitt’s definition of democracy on board, we can see that immigration – massive non-white immigration – threatens American democracy. In fact, American democracy, in the past fifty years, has suffered two blows. The first was desegregation of Afro-Americans in the 1950s and 1960s; the other was massive Hispanic immigration from the 1990s onwards. Before the desegregation period, America could be said to be a democracy in Schmitt’s sense: its citizens – of European descent – were equal, its Afro-Americans unequal, denied full political rights of American citizenship. But, after de-segregation, America moved towards a liberal (non-democratic) equality: Americans and Afro-Americans were equal simply on the basis of their being adult persons. Now the same, anti-democratic process is occurring with the apportioning of political rights to the massive numbers of Hispanic immigrants, legal or illegal.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Democracy, Nationalism. Bookmark the permalink.