I had thought that the mobs demonstrating during ‘days of rage’ on our streets were largely made up of Bolsheviks. No doubt many are. Together with the driven ideologues, are the touchingly naïve, who believe that everything can be free and that someone else will pay for it: ‘useful idiots’ as Lenin characterised them.
When I actually found myself caught up in one such demonstration, in effect –and however unwillingly- becoming part of it, the mob reminded me, not so much of the Bolsheviks of 1917, as the sans culottes of 1789, such was their venom and anger. I definitely heard shouts of ‘property is theft’ though I may have imagined the cries of ‘la guillotine’!
When the Greeks invented democracy they never intended that it should apply to everyone. For Aristotle, decision making needed to be reserved for the valentior pars –those with judgement.
This preoccupation has always been evident in our own slow progress towards universal suffrage. There were property qualifications and other provisions to ensure that the vote was restricted to those with a ‘stake’ in the future of the country.
Now that we do have universal suffrage, our preoccupation needs to be -not with the exclusion of those without a stake, but rather to ensure that they do have a stake.
In this respect our retreat from a property-owning democracy should alarm us. A growing proportion of our population are coming into that category described as the ‘just about managing’. Many cannot lay their hands to a spare fifty quid at the end of the month. Rather than savings, so many have mounting debts.
The danger to democracy, and which ancient Greece foresaw, is that those who have nothing, will be prepared to risk everything.
When some new political messiah comes on stage like a rock-star and promising the earth, including the ‘aspiration’ of writing off all your debts, why not take a punt on him, if you have nothing to lose?
The mobs demonstrating in Whitehall, purporting to speak for the survivors of Grenfell tower, the underpaid public sector workers, or whomsoever else, should serve as an warning to those of us who believe in free enterprise, that we need to put the issue of how we extend the benefits that flow from growth and free markets at the very top of our priorities. To too great an extent the description of ‘two nations’ still applies.