A new dawn of the worst and most injurious
24 July 2019
Opinion: Dr Neal Curtis argues we are moving away from democracy to a new type of government, kakistocracy, that puts the worst of us at the top of the heap
Over the last 40 years, dominated as it has been by the dogma of neoliberalism, the world has built an economic system designed to move as much wealth as possible towards the top.
At the same time this has been matched by a dramatic fall in political accountability such that almost any error, misjudgment, deception or calamity, no matter how grave, is of little consequence to a political career or life of celebrity once out of office. The possession of such riches and the privilege of being beyond reproach is reason enough to argue we are moving away from democracy towards a new form of aristocracy, but the selection of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as the UK’s new Prime Minister suggests something quite different.
The term aristocracy comes from the Greek words aristos meaning best and krasis meaning rule. I would certainly question the assumption that those at the top in an aristocracy are the best, but the appointment of Boris Johnson suggests we have entered a new type of government; namely a kakistocracy, where the Greek words kakos and kakistos refer to a range of concepts that centre on the worst, the ugly and the most injurious.
This kakistocracy is not entirely new, however. It is a form of government that also includes the removal and denigration of experts in various specialised fields. This was an integral part of neoliberalism’s success, where professional specialists in areas such as health, education, and environment were replaced by managers schooled in new business models that were deemed uniformly applicable in a world where everything was subject to the pursuit of profit. Our social infrastructure and welfare has been greatly damaged as a result.
With the noxious blooming of our kakistocracy we now need to say our final goodbyes to the deeply outmoded idea that we live in a meritocracy, unless of course merit is now understood solely in terms of a self-serving, conniving, dissembling thirst for power.
But the ascendancy of Boris Johnson is of a different order of magnitude. It comes on the back of the election of Donald Trump as US President in 2016, a man who is clearly unfit for office and whose campaign appealed to and promotes the basest human appetites.
Undoubtedly the worst President in living memory, this self-confessed sexual predator and peddler of racism has managed to draw together an administration of miscreants and ignoramuses on a scale previously unimaginable. So many of those he surrounds himself with turn out to be criminals that the White House Rose Garden has taken on the odour of a fetid swamp. And even where his appointments somehow manage to stay on the right side of the law, he makes sure he follows the first kakistocratic rule whereby they should have absolutely no experience or knowledge relevant to their respective portfolios.
And, so, to Boris. Last month in The Guardian his former editor at The Daily Telegraph said: “There is room for debate about whether he is a scoundrel or mere rogue, but not so much about his moral bankruptcy, rooted in a contempt for truth”. Johnson is a man who refers to gay men as “bum boys”, black people as “pickaninnies”, Muslim women as looking like “bank robbers” and “letterboxes”; he has conspired to have a journalist beaten up; he was sacked from the shadow cabinet for lying about an affair; ran a Brexit campaign based on disinformation; was fired from his job at The Times for making up quotes; was deemed an embarrassment by civil servants during his brief stint as Foreign Secretary; and is widely regarded as having little grasp on any of the portfolios for which he has been responsible. It is no small surprise, then, that he is such an admirer of Trump.
This also leads to one other issue. With the noxious blooming of our kakistocracy we now need to say our final goodbyes to the deeply outmoded idea that we live in a meritocracy, unless of course merit is now understood solely in terms of a self-serving, conniving, dissembling thirst for power.
Dr Neal Curtis is Associate Professor of Media and Communication at the University of Auckland.
This article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the University of Auckland.
Used with permission from Newsroom A new dawn of the worst and most injurious on 24 July 2019.
Alison Sims | Research Communications Editor
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