Roger Scruton reflects on government by consent in his chapter on “the planning fallacy” in The Uses of Pessimism:

This kind of control from below (which is what we mean, or ought to mean, by democracy) is not easily achieved, and was achieved in Europe only at the end of a long and painful process of nation-building. The nation-state offered its members a common loyalty, a way of envisaging their togetherness, which made the prospect of electing and ejecting their representatives intelligible to the ordinary citizen. Thanks to national loyalty citizens were able to set religion, family and personal networks in the background of politics, and make common cause with strangers in the election of their government. They were able to acquire that strange habit–unknown in most of the world–of regarding people whom they intensely disliked and would never vote for as nevertheless entitled to govern them.

Scruton is contrasting this with the “democratic deficit” of the European project, and I agree with his comments on that. I would add that the habit he describes here is not only a “strange habit,” but it must and does strike many people of all cultures as a counter-intuitive way to organize one’s polity. Setting “religion, family and personal networks in the background of politics” goes against natural instincts to protect pre-political loyalties from the demands of a larger political community. Nation-building exercises over the last twenty years have collided with this reality time and again, and yet sometimes it seems as if Westerners are only vaguely aware of it.

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