But with the triumph of democracy the old man was finally banished to the limbo of discredited things. Montesquieu’s advice was quite forgotten. He said that in a democracy “nothing kept the standard of morals so high as that young men should venerate the old. Both profit by it, the young because they respect the old, and the old because they are confirmed in their respect for themselves” (for the respect of the young is an assistance to the self-respect of the aged).
Democracy has forgotten this advice, because it no longer believes in tradition and believes too much in progress. Old men are the natural upholders of tradition, and we must confess that an enthusiastic faith in the value of what we call progress is not commonly their failing. For this very reason their influence would be a most wholesome corrective to the system, or rather to the attitude of mind, which despises the past and sees in every change a step in the path of progress. But democracy will not allow that it needs a corrective, and the old man, to it, is only an enemy. The old man upholds tradition and has no enthusiasm for progress, but beyond this he appeals for respect, first for himself, then for religion, for glory, for his country and for the history of his nation. Democracy is indifferent to the sentiment of respect, or rather it lives in constant fear that the sentiment may be applied elsewhere.
Then what does democracy want for itself?
Not respect, but adoration, passion, devotion. We all like to see our own sentiments as to ourselves repeated in the minds of others. The crowd never respects, it loves, it yields to passion, enthusiasm, fanaticism. It never respects even that which it loves.
It is quite natural that the masses should not care for old men. The masses are young. How aptly does Horace’s description of the young man apply to the people!
Imberbis juvenis, tandem custode remoto Gaudet equis, canibusque et aprici gramine campi; Cereus in vitium flecti, monitoribus asper, Utilium tardus provisor, prodigus \E6ris, Sublimis, cupidusque et amata relinquere pernix.
“Once free from the control of his tutors, the young man thinks of nothing but horses, dogs and the Campus Martius, impressionable as wax to every temptation, impatient of correction, unthrifty, extravagant, presumptuous and light of love.”
At all events respect has no meaning for the crowd, and when it rules, we cannot from its example learn the lessons of respect. Democracy has no love for the old; and it is interesting to note that the word gerontocracy to which the ancients attached the most honourable meaning is now only a term of ridicule, and is applied only to a government which, because it is in the hands of old men, is therefore grotesque.
– Emile Faguet