An ideological movement is a collection of people many of whom could hardly bake a cake, fix a car, sustain a friendship or a marriage, or even do a quadratic equation, yet they believe they know how to rule the world. The university, in which it is possible to combine theoretical pretension with comprehensive ineptitude, has become the natural habitat of the ideological enthusiast. A kind of adventure playground, carefully insulated from reality in order to prevent absent-minded professors from bumping into things as they explore transcendental realms, has become the institutional base for civilizational self-hatred.
To be conservative in politics is to take one’s bearings not from the latest bright idea about how to make a better world, but by looking carefully at what the past reveals both about the kind of people we are and the problems that concern us. As we get older, we often become conservative in our habits, in our family practices, and in our recognition of the richness of our civilization, but this evolution of our character into a set of habits in no way blocks adventurousness. The old no less than the young may be found starting new enterprises, sailing around the world, and solving arcane academic questions. But it is in the ordinary business of life that we find our excitement, not in foolish collective dreams of political perfection.
Politics: A Very Short Introduction (c. 1995), Minogue, Oxford University Press (reprint 2000), ISBN 0192853880
Politics is the activity by which the framework of human life is sustained; it is not life itself.
In a despotic government, the ultimate principle of order issues from the inclinations of the despot himself. Yet despotism is not a system in which justice is entirely meaningless: it has generally prevailed in highly traditional societies where custom is king and the prevailing terms of justice are accepted as part of the natural order of things. Each person fits into a divinely recognized scheme. Dynasties rise and fall according to what the Chinese used to call 'the mandate of heaven', but life for the peasant changes little. Everything depends on the wisdom of the ruler.
Europeans have sometimes been beguiled by a despotism that comes concealed in the seductive form of an ideal – as it did in the cases of Hitler and Stalin. This fact may remind us that the possibility of despotism is remote neither in space nor in time.
The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life
The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life (c. 2010), Minogue, Encounter Books, ISBN 1594036519
My concern with democracy is highly specific. It begins in observing the remarkable fact that, while democracy means a government accountable to the electorate, our rulers now make us accountable to them. Most Western governments hate me smoking, or eating the wrong kind of food, or hunting foxes, or drinking too much, and these are merely the surface disapprovals, the ones that provoke legislation or public campaigns. We also borrow too much money for our personal pleasures, and many of us are very bad parents. Ministers of state have been known to instruct us in elementary matters, such as the importance of reading stories to our children. Again, many of us have unsound views about people of other races, cultures, or religions, and the distribution of our friends does not always correspond, as governments think that it ought, to the cultural diversity of our society. We must face up to the grim fact that the rulers we elect are losing patience with us.
Our rulers are theoretically 'our' representatives, but they are busy turning us into the instruments of the projects they keep dreaming up. The business of governments, one might think, is to supply the framework of law within which we may pursue happiness on our own account. Instead, we are constantly being summoned to reform ourselves. Debt, intemperance, and incompetence in rearing our children are no doubt regrettable, but they are vices, and left alone, they will soon lead to the pain that corrects. Life is a better teacher of virtue than politicians, and most sensible governments in the past left moral faults to the churches. But democratic citizenship in the twenty-first century means receiving a stream of improving 'messages' from politicians. Some may forgive these intrusions because they are so well intentioned. Who would defend prejudice, debt, or excessive drinking? The point, however, is that our rulers have no business telling us how to live. They are tiresome enough in their exercise of authority -- they are intolerable when they mount the pulpit. Nor should we be in any doubt that nationalizing the moral life is the first step towards totalitarianism.
We might perhaps be more tolerant of rulers turning preachers if they were moral giants. But what citizen looks at the government today thinking how wise and virtuous it is? Public respect for politicians has long been declining, even as the population at large has been seduced into responding to each new problem by demanding that the government should act. That we should be constantly demanding that an institution we rather despise should solve large problems argues a notable lack of logic in the demos. The statesmen of times past have been replaced by a set of barely competent social workers eager to help 'ordinary people' solve daily problems in their lives. This strange aspiration is a very large change in public life. The electorates of earlier times would have responded with derision to politicians seeking power in order to solve our problems. Today, the demos votes for them.
Introduction, p. 3
The evident problem with democracy today is that the state is pre-empting – or 'crowding out', as the economists say – our moral judgments. Rulers are adding moral judgments to the expanding schedule of powers they exercise. Nor does the state deal merely with principles. It is actually telling its subjects to do very specific things. Yet decisions about how we live are what we mean by 'freedom,' and freedom is incompatible with a moralizing state. That is why I am provoked to ask the question: can the moral life survive democracy?
Introduction p. 3-4
For it is a conspicuous feature of democracy, as it evolves from generation to generation, that it leads people increasingly to take up public positions on the private affairs of others. Wherever people discover that money is being spent, either privately or by public officials, they commonly develop opinions on how it ought to be spent. In a state increasingly managed right down to small details of conduct, each person thus becomes his own fantasy despot, disposing of others and their resources as he or she thinks desirable. And this tendency itself results from another feature of the moral revolution. Democracy demands, or at least seems to demand, that its subjects should have opinions on most matters of public discussion. But public policy is a complicated matter and few intelligent comments can be made without a great deal of time being spent on the detail. On the other hand, every public policy may be judged in terms of its desirability. However ignorant a person may be, he or she can always moralize. And it is the propensity to moralize that takes up most of the space for public discussion in contemporary society.
He was Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics from 1984 to 1995, and became widely known there as a central figure in a group of prominent conservative political philosophers and commentators that included Maurice Cranston, Elie Kedourie and Bill Letwin. He sat on the board of the Centre for Policy Studies (1983-2009), and from 1991 to 1993 was chairman of the Euro-sceptic Bruges Group.