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The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  68 Ratings  ·  12 Reviews
One of the grim comedies of the twentieth century was the fate of miserable victims of communist regimes who climbed walls, swam rivers, dodged bullets, and found other desperate ways to achieve liberty in the West at the same time as intellectuals in the West sentimentally proclaimed that these very regimes were the wave of the future. A similar tragicomedy is being playe ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published August 3rd 2010 by Encounter Books (first published July 13th 2010)
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Jul 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Kenneth Minogue died the day after I finished this book. (Beware, Tom Wolfe, I just started your latest novel.) I know very little about the man, but if The Servile Mind is any indication, he was very perceptive, learned, and well-versed in human nature and political philosophy.

The book is in large part a critique of the ideological prejudices of our times, an ideology Minogue labels the politico-moral. But Minogue is not simply joining in our political and culture wars. Like the ancients, Mino
Buciu Petre
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a book for the times to come. The renowned professor of political philosophy Kenneth Minogue has provided a very insightful account of the underlaying changes in the moral paradigms of the Western social life in the last decades and he is concerned with a set of ideologies, founded on very simplistic and narrow premises, which he labeled „politico-moral”. They pretty much resemble the socialist and other radical universalistic doctrines of the last two centuries and, rather than dragging ...more
Nov 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, sociology
Not to Everybody’s Liking

The Servile Mind. How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life – the very title, at least its second part, will at first sight probably put off readers who are convinced of the blessings of modern democracy. Ironically, though, Kenneth Minogue’s last book is anything but a rejection of democracy and the freedom promised by this form of government; quite on the contrary, Minogue tries to alert his readers to the loss of liberty in the wake of modern western governments’ efforts to
Nick Imrie
Nov 09, 2017 marked it as did-not-finish
This book looked so interesting, judging by the back cover, so I'm rather annoyed with myself that I bounced right off it. The opening section contained so many sneering charicatures of left-wing thinking that I couldn't bear it. Probably partly because I'd just finished Scruton's How to Be a Conservative which is so very thoughtful and generous to the opposition.

Maybe I will try again later, but for now it must go back to the library.
Donna Anoskey
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: libertarian
Excellent ideas though a somewhat tedious read in sections.
Aaron Crofut
Jul 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
A misnamed book; perhaps a better title would be "The Misguided Mind: How the Drive For Equality Erodes the Moral Life."

A tough book to rate. Minogue tries to unwind the Gordian Knot of "social justice" in terms of both its philosophy and its impact. Social justice is not straight forward, and probably cannot be. He is able to boil it down to the basics: unless the world is perfectly equal, some people will have done better while others have done worse. People do not earn their positions in lif
Colm Gillis
Nov 15, 2016 rated it liked it
An exercise in schizophrenic writing which is often illogical, unempirical, but which at the same time contains flashes of genius. I read this book after reading another book of Minogue's called 'The Liberal Mind.' That was far more tightly argued than this book. The 'Servile Mind' is essentially about how the classical Western tradition of moral choice is continually being eroded by the encroachment of the State, a diminishing of moral responsibility, and by a dialogue which makes exaggerated c ...more
Jun 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
As much as I agree with the thesis of the volume: that the monistic striving of many in the West for societal perfection actually harms morality by turning everyone into "singletons" growing more comfortable with an overbearing government, I wish the author would organize his thoughts a bit more effectively. Too many times I get lost in his long, meandering paragraphs, and despite their profundity, they can ramble for a while before getting to the point. Sometimes rambling can be good, like Alla ...more
Scott Collingwood
Jan 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Most inspiring and enlightening, the purport of this book can be carried into any field and used with great effect. As might be expected from a work by a leading academic, much of it simply flows 'in one ear and out the other', but there are so many gems of cogent contemporary coherence that the general impression gained will guarantee a repeated reading of this book. Aside from that, Prof. Minogue's key points about individualism and moral agency are made so clearly and strongly and with such r ...more
Drew Bullock
Aug 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
Plodding, verbose, meandering. A case study in failing to distinguish the proximate genus. It's a great deal more indignation at finding the neighbor children on one's lawn than it is incisive commentary on the status quo in Western social and political culture. BOOOOOOOOOORING.
Eduardo Garcia-Gaspar
Jul 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: política
Buen libro, buenas ideas. Necesario para ver lados oscuros de la democracia
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Would have been an excellent book if his style had been more straight and to the point. Could have said the same thing and better in less pages.
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Political theorist who was Emeritus Professor of Political Science and Honorary Fellow at the London School of Economics.
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“My concern with democracy is highly specific. It begins in observing the remarkable fact that, while democracy means a government accountable to the electorate, our rulers now make us accountable to them. Most Western governments hate me smoking, or eating the wrong kind of food, or hunting foxes, or drinking too much, and these are merely the surface disapprovals, the ones that provoke legislation or public campaigns. We also borrow too much money for our personal pleasures, and many of us are very bad parents. Ministers of state have been known to instruct us in elementary matters, such as the importance of reading stories to our children. Again, many of us have unsound views about people of other races, cultures, or religions, and the distribution of our friends does not always correspond, as governments think that it ought, to the cultural diversity of our society. We must face up to the grim fact that the rulers we elect are losing patience with us.
No philosopher can contemplate this interesting situation without beginning to reflect on what it can mean. The gap between political realities and their public face is so great that the term “paradox” tends to crop up from sentence to sentence. Our rulers are theoretically “our” representatives, but they are busy turning us into the instruments of the projects they keep dreaming up. The business of governments, one might think, is to supply the framework of law within which we may pursue happiness on our own account. Instead, we are constantly being summoned to reform ourselves. Debt, intemperance, and incompetence in rearing our children are no doubt regrettable, but they are vices, and left alone, they will soon lead to the pain that corrects. Life is a better teacher of virtue than politicians, and most sensible governments in the past left moral faults to the churches. But democratic citizenship in the twenty-first century means receiving a stream of improving “messages” from politicians. Some may forgive these intrusions because they are so well intentioned. Who would defend prejudice, debt, or excessive drinking? The point, however, is that our rulers have no business telling us how to live. They are tiresome enough in their exercise of authority—they are intolerable when they mount the pulpit. Nor should we be in any doubt that nationalizing the moral life is the first step towards totalitarianism.
We might perhaps be more tolerant of rulers turning preachers if they were moral giants. But what citizen looks at the government today thinking how wise and virtuous it is? Public respect for politicians has long been declining, even as the population at large has been seduced into demanding political solutions to social problems. To demand help from officials we rather despise argues for a notable lack of logic in the demos. The statesmen of eras past have been replaced by a set of barely competent social workers eager to take over the risks of our everyday life. The electorates of earlier times would have responded to politicians seeking to bribe us with such promises with derision. Today, the demos votes for them.”
“However ignorant a person may be, he or she can always moralize. And it is the propensity to moralize that takes up most of the space for public discussion in contemporary democracy.” 2 likes
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