The Palace of Crystal
A summary by Harry Davis
This book is all about democracy – about the potential of democracy to save the world from the scourge of war. Indeed, given the track record of any other way of organising society, it seems clear, almost uncontroversial, that the spread of genuine democracy offers the only hope of so doing.
You will say at once, ‘What about Iraq? What about Afghanistan? What about Suez, or the Bay of Pigs? Weren’t all these and many other wars and clandestine support for conflict instigated by democracies? Surely, in practice, as regards war democracies are as bad as any other form of society?’
To which I reply, ‘You may be right. But there is another possibility. Perhaps wars are started because modern democracies are not democratic enough!’ It is this possibility that is explored in Palace of Crystal.
When you read of the great hopes once placed on democracy back in the days when the United States of America was breaking from Britain and forming a new system, an attempt to form a government of the people, by the people, for the people, when you read of Tom Paine’s vision in Rights of Man of a low-key, representative government, where MPs were regarded simply as public servants, when there was a feeling that government, though necessary, was a necessary evil, and that the least we had of it, the better. Then compare that vision with what we’ve got in today’s democracies, where power has so shifted upwards to the very top, that in important ways when we vote, we elect a dictator, when you compare the power of our elected leader to that of the early ideal state of shared power in open, transparent government, you can’t help but be struck by how very far we have shifted away today from that early democratic model. The shocking thing is, the terrible danger is, that we do not appear to notice just how far power has slipped away from us, the people. We consider it perfectly justified that leaders take grand decisions of foreign policy, whether Britain should develop an atom bomb, for example, or go to war in Kosovo, or make treaties, all this done perfectly legitimately, behind closed doors sometimes, and then simply announced to our parliament.
What relevance has all this to do with abolishing war? The relevance is best illustrated by two contrasting quotes, one from a famous democrat, the other from a famous fascist. First, Tom Paine. ‘What inducement hath the farmer, while following the plough, to go to war with the farmer of another country?’ Now Herman Goering, spoken to his lawyer while awaiting trial at Nuremburg for crimes against humanity. ‘After all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along.’ Goering may have been right – he has history on his side – but certainly the more mature we make our democracy, the harder it will be to drag the people along.
What is the reason for our drift towards today’s acceptance of autocratic leadership? That is the major question explored in Palace of Crystal. What is the reason for our drift towards today’s autocratic leadership? My own view is that the fault lies with us, all of us. We find too much democracy, with its responsibility for involvement, uncomfortable. We want, we demand, charismatic leaders, those who display leadership qualities, in other words autocrats who will be guaranteed to pay scant notice to those who elect them. It is really something of a wonder that democracy was ever invented, so against the grain of our nature does it go. In our heads we know perfectly well that democracy, with its emphasis on equal rights, the rule of law, the importance of the individual citizen, is the best, most mature way of organising society, but in our hearts we long for superman. Well, superman does not exist, but those who think they are superman are everywhere to be found.