The Precise Conditions under which Whiggery is Feasible
We've got a very narrow window here...
People who’ve followed my work for a while know that I am a monarchist in the real sense of the word. As a result of this, I correspondingly tend to believe that whiggery as a governing philosophy doesn’t work very well (and in the long run I’m right). However, I am willing to grant that there are times and places where systems with whiggish tendencies, or at least things approaching them, were relatively successful and socially stable. The reason is because these systems met some criteria that, however temporarily, enabled them to curtail democratic tendencies that always lead to social strife and ruin for a state.
Let me first explain how I’m using terms like “whiggery” and “whiggish” in relation to historical republicanism. Essentially, “whig” refers to Enlightenment-era republicanism, based upon a liberal foundation that sought to democratise political systems and separate religion from politics - two ends that pretty much always introduce or exacerbate disorder in a society. This type of republicanism differs from the classical kind which generally saw a restricted franchise and the prominence of a truly aristocratic (as opposed to merely oligarchic) stratum of society in the affairs of government.
Unlike whiggish republicanism, which has so far failed to produce truly long-lasting governments (and is in the process of failing to do so right now in the United States), classical republican systems, from ancient Rome to renaissance Venice, were quite capable of producing stable, long-lasting, and prosperous governments “despite” not extending liberal political liberties to most of their populations (and it should be noted that they didn’t actively oppress their populations either). Indeed, in the long history of these ancient and medieval republics, it can be observed that their stability over time tended to vary in direct proportion to the “popularness” that they exhibited. For instance, as the Roman Republic took on an increasingly popular charactre, it also saw increasing civil strife and disorder until it finally collapsed and was replaced by the much more stable imperial system. In the opposite direction, the Venetian republic originally exhibited an extensive democratic charactre, but took steps to curtail this and consequently removed much of the impetus for social and civil disorder, eventually lasting for a millennium.
Of course, it also helps a republic to last longer when it has the kind of population that is capable of sustaining it.
As I’ve been alluding to above, the main problem with popular government is that it is not really stable, and the more broadly democratic one becomes, the more unstable it generally is. Popular governments are prone to succumbing to the “oligarchy problem.” Such systems inevitably tend toward factionalism, and the more democratic the system, the more deeply the rifts in society are that this creates. Eventually, some faction will figure out how to game the system to give itself more or less permanent control over the levers of government, which results in oligarchic control (which is very different from genuine aristocracy). This is what The Powers That Be (using the Democratic Party as their exoteric face) are in the process of finishing here in the USA. The sort of oligarchies we see in communistic systems are thus the end point of democratic evolution and we should understand that democracy and communism are actually just two adjacent points on the leftward side of the governmental continuum.
Hence, for a whiggish or whiggish-adjacent state to hope to see long-term stability it must manifest within its social and constitutional system certain elements that were typically associated with classical, pre-Enlightenment republics. The United States were founded as a whiggish state but had several structural features which enabled it to be more successful than your typical liberal republic. It’s not coincidental that our Founders consciously appealed to the Roman and other ancient and medieval republics, which shunted them away from much of the overt democratising tendencies that were later to manifest in Revolutionary France.
I will readily grant that if you just have to have a republican system instead of a monarchical one, then you could do a lot worse than the American republic as it was originally founded. American conservatives (who are “classical” liberals) are in the position where they can look back and see that early American republicanism worked pretty well, yet not really understand why this was the case. They tend to assume - even in the face of much contrary historical evidence - that liberal republicanism is “natural” and “just works when you give people freedom.” But this is not the case. Instead, due to its propensity for factionalism and civil strife, it is a high energy transitional state that constantly tends towards collapsing on itself. Such systems require constant mitigation and ways for the system to “bleed off” excess energy to stave off inevitable doom. As a result, American conservatives also tend to not really understand exactly why the American republic failed and devolved into oligarchy in its later years, and why their efforts to “restore the republic” are destined for failure.
If a whiggish system hopes to survive for long, there are a number of structural elements that I will detail below which must be engineered, or in some cases arise organically, within the system. The early American constitutional system was a well-reasoned attempt at this and worked well for quite a while. However, it was ultimately subject to the same pressures as any other system. It was a valiant effort, but once extraconstitutional sociopolitical structures that were stabilising it went away (such as immigration controls that favoured culturally close European immigrants and the ability to “offload” excess demography into the frontier), the system decayed and continues to decay into oligarchy.
So what are these structural elements that can make whiggery feasible? I’ll give five of them below and we should note that each of these was present in the early American republic and contributed to its initial successes.
First, any whiggish system that hopes to be successful will necessarily provide for a strong executive. Divided power accelerates the rate at which factionalism spreads, creating social disunity and disorder, and this is especially the case when you have divisions among those who wield “hard power” in a society. As Homer observed in the Iliad, “A multitude of rulers is not a good thing. Let there be one ruler, one king.” Whether American president as Commander-in-Chief or Venetian doge leading the troops from the front, successful republican systems provided for a significant amount of control over the use of force to be centralised into the hands of one man.
Second, such a system must be of such a charactre that, while it will inevitably entail a broader base of political participation than a monarchical or truly aristocratic system might, it nevertheless restricts the franchise to those who actually have a stake in the system. Ideally, political involvement would be limited to those who display characteristics of belonging to the natural aristocracy (the northern Italian civic republics were good at this). Good proxies for this involve restricting the franchise to property owners, those who have served in the military or the militia, or some other way of dividing between givers and takers. If you want to try to stave off oligarchy, you must overtly restrict the system to those who help to form and maintain it, otherwise you’re just handing dynamite to people who want to demolish it and loot the rubble for themselves.
Third - and this is something that your typical American conservative “civic nationalist” type is going to have a lot of trouble accepting - your state must be ethnoculturally homogenous and as free from diversity as possible. It’s often said that “diversity plus proximity equals war,” and there is really no evidence from the testimony of history that this is not the case. Ethnic diversity, which properly means the presence of multiple deep culture systems abiding in the same area, is a massive engine for producing internal strife and overt factionalism. If a whiggish system allows immigration, then it must take steps to enforce (not merely encourage) the assimilation of foreign elements who are allowed to reside within it. Indeed, this applies to any system, whiggish or not. If this doesn’t happen, then your worst case scenario is the sort of ethnic conflict that we saw in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Even the best case scenario is the rise of overt ethnic system-gaming such as we see with things like critical race theory and other means by which ethnic minorities are used by oligarchs as proxies in intraelite conflicts. Homogenous societies are happy societies.
Fourth, for a whiggish system to work, it really, really helps to have a high IQ, low time preference population that is, or at least can be taught to be capable of long-term thinking and to approach matters from the perspective of educated introspection. Because of our experience with modern publik edukashun in America, we tend to be cynical when people talk about experts and having an educated population. Yet, this really shouldn’t be the case. Certainly it’s true that when American whiggery (as well as Anglosphere and European) was ran by men who could converse in Latin like native speakers, recall economic and political formulations as easily as they could their own birthdays, and call up obscure quotes from ancient Greek authors on the spot in a debate, we were better off. Now we’re stuck with morons who filter everything through the lens of Harry Potter and Star Wars, and it shows.
Lastly, for a whiggish governmental system to survive it must be ruthlessly devoted to enforcing social cohesion even beyond the measures discussed above. This must be done even if it violates so-called “democratic norms” or liberal principles. For example, it must avoid following a free trade policy and instead institute trade protectionism. While this doesn’t make the libertarian merchant class very happy, it does help to stave off the sort of widening economic disparities that typify and accelerate a nation’s decline during its secular stagnation and collapse phases. The purpose of the system should be nation first, over the particular needs of any individual or group of individuals, and that should be reflected in the way the system works to maintain internal social cohesion among all levels of society.
The problem, though, is that once these conditions are lost, they’re almost certainly lost permanently to that nation, unless a faction is able to get into control that is willing to do the drastic things necessary to bring them back. In the American situation, this will almost certainly not happen within our current demographic-structural cycle because American conservatism itself is so emasculated that it cannot even conceive of doing the things that would be necessary to bring back these favourable conditions. This is why there will not be any “restoration of the constitutional republic,” at least not this side of a secular collapse.
That’s not to say that this will be the case after this collapse and the next cycle starts. With collapses often come a good deal of “restructuring” because many of the impediments to a renewal are removed. Given our culture and history, I’d consider it to be highly unlikely that any American successor state(s) will adopt a monarchical form of government. But much of the accumulated drek of modern American “democracy” will at least be gone (hopefully). This might well allow for favourable conditions to arise that would provide a return to a more classically-centred type of republican system, one which hopefully learns from the mistakes of this cycle.
This, I think, is quite accurate. And in reading this I realized why democracy does not – and can not – work in Asia. People here have followed a dramatically different track of historical and sociocultural circumstances and have never had to evolve the set of thinking patterns that allow for the democracy you have described. It's always some form of monarchy or 'big man' despotism. No surprise then that democracy was dead on arrival nearly everywhere it's been tried.