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The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life Hardcover – August 3, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Kenneth Minogue is Emeritus Professor of political science at the London School of Economics. He has written books on liberalism, nationalism, the idea of a university, the logic of ideology, and, more recently, on democracy and the moral life. He has reviewed in many places, and has been a columnist for the Times, the Times Higher Education Supplement, and other outlets.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594033811
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594033810
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #755,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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96 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
There have been many books over time that have pointed out blemishes within the idea or reality of "democracy" (I use quotes as a way of pointing out that "democracy" has long ceased to mean the process of majority voting and has fast become a stand-in synonym for anything speakers want to say is politically good.)Democracy in America (Penguin Classics) pointed to the potentiality for taking egalitarianism too far. American Democrat and Other Political Writings pointed to democracy's susceptibility to demagoguery. Democracy: The God that Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order points to democracy's potential to erode individual liberty.

This book takes cues from all three to argue, essentially, that democracy is largely responsible for expanding the state, ironically, in the name of "freedom." Why is this ironic? Because the more we allow the state to do or insist that it does in order to "liberate", the more we give it power over us and the more we become less free. In a similar irony, the more we ask the government to do in the name of altruism, the more interest-group-politics result, where we all end up vying for a piece of the government pie at the expense of others.

Another major theme in this book is the idea that democracy is increasingly legislating morality and in so doing, transforming the moral (individual judgment) to the politico-moral (substituting individual judgment with law).
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43 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Baird on November 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
All your life you have been told that democracy is the pinnacle of political perfection but in practice it doesn't seem to come up with sensible, timely or efficient solutions to the problems of life. You may also be angry with the trivial nature of political debate, and you probably find it aggravating that politicians should stick their noses into what was once a person's private business. But somehow you can't articulate this overall sense of unease. Well this book will come as a revelation to you.

Kenneth Minogue has brilliantly deconstructed the way that modern democracies have assumed for themselves the moral judgements that individuals once decided for themselves. Take obesity. Getting fat is surely one of the ultimate personal decisions, but no, it is apparently a `health' issue now, and is properly the concern of the whole of society. This is because the populace has surrendered to the State the obligation to take care of the nation's health, and since obesity is a major factor in the expense that the health provider must pay, the state now requires us all to be slim. Successfully elected politicians praise the electorate for their good sense in electing them to office, and then privately despair at the non "politically correct" views held by those same voters on the matters of multiculturalism, capital punishment or sex.

With the State taking over more and more of the obligations that private citizens used to consider were their own concern, (and levying high rates of tax to fund them), then this leaves those same citizens free to spend the rest of their incomes on personal pleasures, secure in the knowledge that their education, health and pensions are taken care of. While all this sounds like some Utopia, it is actually more of a "Brave New World".
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Samuel J. Sharp on March 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Servile Mind" is a critical, at times scathing, look at how western democracy has shifted from a political form characterized by near universal suffrage to a social process in which governments strive to reform every part of our daily lives (e.g. "democratizing the workplace"). For Minogue, this transformation is extremely troubling and reflects the modern westerner's preference for comfort over freedom. "The essence of the servile mind is the readiness to accept external direction in exchange for being relieved of the burden of a set of virtues such as thrift, self-control, prudence, and indeed civility itself" (337).

The problems with the "politico-moral" world run much deeper though than just ceding individual freedom to the state. The necessity, and therefore also the quality, of individual moral reasoning has vanished in favor of an abstract, elite-imposed, top-down code of behavior. One of many paradoxes then is that democracy, which loudly broadcasts its hope of erasing or at least blurring class distinctions, actually entrenches a supra-capitalist class of professors, bureaucrats, NGO officials, and others who strain to "provide a pain-free experience of life" by designing an unattainably perfect version of society.

Minogue's writing style is logical, methodical, and extremely blunt. He has little patience for footnotes and even less for political correctness. He is unflinchingly conservative and unapologetic for the disdain he expresses toward the perceived weakness in the modern western character. This is a unique book with forceful arguments that deserve consideration, regardless of whether you agree with its conclusions. Readers with a good background in political philosophy will enjoy wrestling with the ideas and problems Minogue sets out.
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