How might democracy disappear?

by on July 3, 2013 at 2:18 pm in History, Law, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

From my latest request for requests, anonymous asked:

It’s 2050. Democracy has ended in most countries, with a few exceptions. What happened?

Another reader, Dirk, asked:

If democracy ended in the USA, how do you think it would most likely play out?

Maybe you are thinking in terms of war or pandemic, but external conditions would have to be truly extreme to end democracy in the United States.   The poor military fortunes of the Confederacy in the South, during the Civil War, did not lead to non-democracy (for Whites, slanted source here).  Nor did siege by the Nazis make Great Britain less democratic, if anything the contrary.

If the Anglo democracies are to disappear, it will be because they will have voted themselves out of the idea, democratically of course.

As for many other parts of the world, my view is if you haven’t had democracy for one hundred years or more, it probably isn’t as stable as it may at first appear.

RPLong July 3, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I’m no Civil War buff, but wouldn’t we expect that democracy would have been more robust in the Confederacy than in the North? I thought that was their whole point in seceding. Did I drink the Southern kool-aid on this one? (Please, anyone, feel free to set me straight on this, or direct me to a reliable source that does.)

prior_approval July 3, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Well, the idea of a slave state as a democracy in modern terms should make one pause, right?

Doug July 3, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Why? The two are not mutually inconsistent. Just because democracy = good and slavery = bad doesn’t mean the two can’t coexist. Ancient Greece, the cradle of democracy, was a highly slave utilizing society. Democracy and universal sufferage are not one in the same. Otherwise you could say that the Western democracies were not so until women’s suffrage (up to 1989 in parts of Switzerland). That doesn’t pass the smell test.

Roy July 3, 2013 at 4:20 pm

It wasn’t just the Voting Rights Act that ended segregation in the US South, in fact the act postdated the desegregation imposed by the Federal government. As a native Texan, it would be very easy for me to imagine the bad old Texas with universal suffrage, whites have always outnumbered blacks in the state, there isn’t even a single black majority county.

It’s Georgia, but read “Praying for Sheetrock” if you want to see how even a black majority county can be run the old way with universal suffrage.

prior_approval July 4, 2013 at 6:42 am

‘Ancient Greece, the cradle of democracy, was a highly slave utilizing society’

Which is why I wrote ‘in modern terms’.

Limited suffrage and slavery are not the same thing, it must be noted. A slave holding society has fundamentally designated a group of people as property – and those designated as property are never a part of the demos, much less the polis.

byomtov July 4, 2013 at 10:17 am

By your logic a totalitarian country is a democracy if three people run it, and they make decisions by voting among themselves. More broadly, an oligarchy where the oligarchs use some kinda sorta voting procedures to make decisions is not a democracy.

The CSA was not a democracy in any meaningful sense. Here’s a clue: in SC and MS slaves were a majority of the population. They were more than 40% of the population in some others.

TallDave July 5, 2013 at 11:03 am

The 1850s aren’t quite “modern terms.” That’s why we had the slavery debate then and not now — today it doesn’t make any economic sense, but that was only starting to be true at the time of the Civil War, and slavery had been practiced for thousands of years up until then.

FC July 3, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Yes, you drank the kool-aid. The CSA was a democracy, and had a unicameral legislature, but central planning and military government were ultimately more prevalent than in the Union.

Bernard Guerrero July 3, 2013 at 3:01 pm

+1

Finch July 3, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Is that mostly because they lost? How would things have looked in the Union if they had been overrun?

Non-Southerner here, whose US history is somewhat lacking…

John Thacker July 3, 2013 at 6:02 pm

The CSA had less respect for state’s rights than the USA, as Gov. Zebulon Vance of NC could tell you. But part of that may well have been due to losing.

Ted Craig July 3, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Remember, there was a U.S. presidential election in 1864.

Chris July 3, 2013 at 4:45 pm

You have most definitely drank the kool-aid.

No, we shouldn’t expect democracy to be more robust in the Confederacy. The slave states did not secede because they wanted more democracy. They seceded because the slave plantation aristocratic elite wanted to preserve slavery and were upset that an explicitly abolitionist party had won the presidency. Figuring the balance of power between secessionists and unionists would only get worse, they decided to ignore the results of a national election by saying it didn’t apply to them. By leaving the Union now, the Confederates hoped to prevent the abolitionist Republican Party from building a southern wing through patronage and the acceptance over time since that would eventually normalize abolitionist thought in the South.

Those areas of the south where plantation aristocracy controlled the economy and society voted for secession. The areas of the south dominated by small freeholders (mainly the Appalachian area, some areas of Texas, and scattered areas elsewhere) all voted against secession. Much of the slave plantation holders had a very aristocratic view of democracy and hated the idea of the ordinary people being able to vote. The Deep South in particular had unfair electoral rules that made the large slaveholders far more politically dominant than their small number would otherwise be. During the war, over 100,000 white southerners fought for the Union, a number that would have been greater had Lincoln better access to those areas for recruiting purposes. Obviously, none of them saw their liberties threatened by staying inside the Union, but then again they also didn’t have slaves nor were their local economies dependent on them. Certainly the Confederate armies had a lot of men who didn’t own slaves, but they were mostly from areas whose local elites – the drivers and creators of opinion, and the people the other members of the community looked up to for leadership – had a vested interest in slavery. Where the local elites did not come from the plantation slavery caste, the ordinary white southerner was against the Confederacy. When General Burnside entered Knoxville, TN, he was greeted as a liberator. When General Sherman marched through George his honor guard was the 1st Alabama US Cavalry. And we all know West Virginians were so opposed to leaving the Union that they left Virginia.

During the war itself, almost every single thing Confederate apologists complained that Lincoln did (suspension of habeaus corpus, conscription, taxation, government regulation) the Confederate government did ealier, deeper, and in far greater scope. The Confederacy also immediately embraked on censorship, imprisoning political dissenters, and other acts of tyranny on the people in those aforementioned parts of their states that remained pro-Union even before Fort Sumter or First Bull Run/Manassas. It was never about giving southerners more freedom. It was all about protecting the institution of slavery.

Look Away by William C Davis gives a good overview of the domestic experience of life in the Confederacy and covers a lot of the anti-democratic measures the Confederacy took. There are also various books on Southern Unionists, like A South Divided by David Downing, that talk about how the Confederacy treated their own dissidents (and how large that group was).

RPLong July 3, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Thank you for the thorough reply!

anon July 4, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Nice response. I agree with your central argument. However, I think you don’t put enough emphasis on the non-economic factors behind support for the Confederacy by white southern commoners. Slavery was a system of racial control, and the prospect of a large free black population was unsettling to many non-slave-owning whites. Jim Crow proves this pretty clearly. I think that the differences in support for slavery across the Confederacy was probably due to the local population’s proximity to slaves. Proximity to slaves led to fear. It’s easy to support the Union when you live in a racially homogeneous community in the hills of Tennessee, or in the hills of Vermont for that matter.

I’m not saying that slavery wasn’t important for many local communities in the South, just that economics and elite opinion were not the only factors in play.

Benny Lava July 3, 2013 at 6:02 pm

You sure did. Abraham Lincoln was democratically elected, and then reelected. By contrast Jefferson Davis was never elected president. Succession from the union was never put to a popular vote or plebiscite, and slaves were a majority of the population in Mississippi. So yeah, a lot less democratic than the Union.

Steve Sailer July 3, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Democracy will never disappear as long as the ruling class can elect a new people.

The Solution
Bertolt Brecht

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writer’s Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

TallDave July 5, 2013 at 11:05 am

It’s funny how quickly “democracy” gets conflated with “individual rights.” The two are always in tension.

The best answer is yes, the Confederacy was in many ways more democratic than the Union, which emphasized individual rights over democracy. But that’s not a good thing!

affenkopf July 3, 2013 at 2:44 pm

I can do without democracy.I’m more worried about the erosion of liberty.

Chris S July 3, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Can you have liberty in a system without democracy?

And note that while I’d consider libertarian statements acceptable, anarchist ones would not be because a reasonable degree of security is required for liberty.

Ad Nauseum July 3, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I don’t see why not. While many would prefer democratically elected leaders, it is feasible that a monarch or group of oligarchs would allow personal liberty. Hong Kong under British rule may count as an example.

Mark Thorson July 3, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Dubai seemed to have a fairly nice government under the old king. Let’s hope his son does as well.

Mark Thorson July 3, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Oops! I meant Qatar.

Mark Thorson July 3, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Under the coming Google government, you will be arrested and liquidated. What did you think the purpose of Big Data was?

Dan Weber July 3, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I’ve scheduled a cron job to grab my liquified contents from Google Checkout on the day after, so all’s good.

The Original D July 4, 2013 at 1:23 pm

“Big Data is people! Big Data is people!”

Ted Craig July 3, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Here’s a scenario I’ll throw out there: people eventually give up on the idea of democracy in favor of rule by technocratic elites. I’m basing this scenario on twenty years of Ivy League educated presidents and a Supreme Court made up entirely of Ivy League graduates.

affenkopf July 3, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Counterpoint: The grip members from a small number of schools had on the top positions in politics has been much stronger for a much longer time in Britain.

FC July 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm

And they have succeeded in imposing unpopular laws ranging from currency controls to ending capital punishment to European integration to ASBOs.

Adrian Ratnapala July 3, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Anti-Social Behaviour Orders are not an example of top-down government. They are are populist tough-on-hoodies government.

Urso July 3, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Which is, notably, a monarchy.

ivvenalis July 4, 2013 at 1:04 am

Britain is less of a monarchy than Iran is a democracy. Literally, as in the Iranian elections have more meaningful effect on their respective government than the British monarch.

AC July 3, 2013 at 3:17 pm

If democracy is giving us technocracy already, why do we need to kick out democracy then?

Ted Craig July 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm

I’m thinking less of a kicking out and more of a just giving up.

And remember, I’m just throwing this out as a scenario, not as a prediction.

Dan Weber July 3, 2013 at 4:51 pm

We transition from an economy where most people work, into one in which most people relax. We have a productive class that keeps the robots operating and makes new ones.

This system of government is incompatible with democracy, because you cannot count on the idle class to take care of themselves much less run a country and decide how much to tax the productive class. And so democracy is suspended, and a Golden Age of people sitting at home playing Angry Birds 2050 begins.

. . . To be honest, this is more of the other way around: first get rid of democracy, and then you can have the new system, which sounds like something out of a Heinlein novel.

JW July 3, 2013 at 2:51 pm

I think one of the best examples of a democracy ending is Germany in the 1930’s. The Nazi party was democratically elected, but turned into a dictatorship using emergency powers and subsequently banning their political opposition. Then solidifying into a proper dictatorship.

For all the horrors of the Nazi regime, I think this lesson is actually one of the most important and least taught because it could be used as a blueprint again.

asdf July 3, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Indeed. It makes sense that we look at what modern examples we have of going from democracy to something else. Taking the Nazi’s in particular, its amazing how many things had to fall just the way they did for them to come to power.

It seems to me that the actual mechanisms of democracy (voting) will go on for as long as the US is a country (as another pointed out). Whether that voting makes a real difference in people’s lives is another question.

Tom West July 3, 2013 at 8:02 pm

its amazing how many things had to fall just the way they did for them to come to power.

Which leads to the question as to how often something potentially horrific is avoided in modern democracies simply because things *don’t* go right for the bad guys.

Rahul July 3, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Though, using Tyler’s metric Germany hadn’t had democracy for 100+ years.

Patrik July 4, 2013 at 5:28 am

True, and the fact that neither the so-called elites nor the common man cared much about the Weimar Republic contributed to the downfall of democracy and the rise of Nazism (and other extreme politics as communism). The increasingly turbulent and violent confrontations on the street between political factions made many yearn for stability and order.

Patrick L July 3, 2013 at 3:03 pm

You’re so pessimistic. What if something better comes along? Like if Futurachy somehow became popular. I know some science fiction stories in which some countries turns to direct democracy because of technological change (Everyone has a voting app on their phone and can vote anytime!) combined with some radical change like ‘Aliens exist so we’re all crazy now!’.

I’m not sure how that’d happen in the real world, but perhaps a kind technological feudal lord implements it and starts suggesting it as the way things aught to go. Like, “Reddit, but for reallife!” Democracy+ !

Andrew' July 3, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Or Funkocracy: One nation under a hella funky bass line.

The Original D July 4, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Bootsy Collins will be the next black president.

Tom Noir July 3, 2013 at 3:07 pm

I would expect the United States to remain a democracy, if in name only, for as long as it remains a political entity. Expect the trappings of democracy such as congress to remain even if power has been centralized. See: the late Roman Empire.

Tom Noir July 3, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Here’s an interesting thought: we are living now in the era that future generations will idealize and mythologize. This is the US at the apex of its power; a world leader militarily, economically and technologically. The future government of tomorrow’s USA, whether democratic or not, will strive to look like us, even if they are not actually much like us.

Roy July 3, 2013 at 4:28 pm

No I suspect they will look to the WWII and postwar era. Things like racism, segregation, and 50s sexual politics will look merely quaint in a few centuries. in all the ages since Rome people have admired the Romans of the Punic War, the rise of Caesar, and the age of Augustus most. If democracy fails in America it will either be the time of crisis or the tyrant who destroyed it, and his successors who will be idealized.

Unless we are doomed in our generation, we will be as forgotten as the time of the Gracchi.

Ed July 4, 2013 at 5:51 am

Though its dangerous to try to find exact historical parellels, the current period in the U.S. resembles mid second century BC Rome more than any other.

This is not a good thing. Incidentally, the Roman Republic ended long before Octavian was born. They were unable to hold regular elections for the magistrates in the 50s. Octavian’s claim to restore the Republic, which was widely accepted at the time, had a good deal of truth with it, his regime was the first time republican institutions had functioned for decades, albeir they were under supervision.

somethingblue July 3, 2013 at 4:31 pm

See, for that matter, the early Roman empire.

John B. July 3, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Maybe it’s already happened.

I suspect that formal “democracy” will continue, but it will just be an exercise in PR while real power will lie elsewhere and real policy decisions will be made by other means than representative democracy. As noted above, it’s hard not to think this has already happened. We nominally have two parties but the actual policies (as opposed to the rhetoric) are quite similar; we vote for candidates but the candidates all look much the same; policies which are very popular with the electorate don’t get enacted, they often don’t even get a respectful hearing (anti-immigration, anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action, pro-trade restrictions) while policies that are the favorites of a small bi-costal professional-class elite do get enacted (gay marriage, women in the military, medical ‘care’ for all). I’m not saying the popular will is right on the issues; I am saying that if we were living in an actual democracy those policies that have the support of more than 60% of the electorate would have been enacted.

Tom Noir July 3, 2013 at 3:21 pm

I disagree that the failure of political policies to always reflect opinion majorities represents a failure of democracy. Arguably the US government was envisioned from the beginning as one where the ‘rule of the people’ would not necessarily be the final word. The tyranny of the majority cannot go completely unchecked.

I would not be concerned until policies that have 80% of the support of the electorate are not enacted. And we also have to allow for the relatively slow response times of a large government.

mike July 3, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Well, more than 80% of the population is in favor of either reduced immigration or keeping the amount of immigration where it is now, and yet the only conversation being had by the political class is whether we should increase immigration by a huge amount or an insanely huge amount.

Andao July 4, 2013 at 3:33 am

The only conversation I’ve heard is against illegal immigration. 80%+ of people are against skilled immigrants moving to the US? That doesn’t smell right.

mike July 4, 2013 at 12:49 pm

80+% want the same or lower level of immigration, according to every poll I’ve seen.

Andao July 4, 2013 at 3:29 am

I think enhanced background checks for gun sales has over 80% support, and still hasn’t gone anywhere.

Mm July 4, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Not a proper comparison-no one doubts the constitutionality of regulating immigration. Our system of gov’t is a constitutionally limited democracy-the elites ignoring the will of the people on immigration is not the same as in gun control(at least for those who think there are “gun rights” enumerated in the constitution). A better example of loss of democracy is the Supreme Court rulings- especially on DOMA. Not only did they overturn popularly enacted laws(with strong majorities) but Kennedy 1)heaped insults on anyone who opposed his view 2) used the “living document” theory of constitutional law to justify his ruling- no one seriously believes the founders meant anything but a man & a women when discussing marriage and 3) the SC allows executive nullification of laws (prop 8);

Tom July 3, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Not to point any fingers, but there’s also a large, permanent, unelected bureaucracy that in practice decides a lot. What’s that knock on my door?

AKAHorace July 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I think that mass immigration and multiculturalism will make democracy popular (there will no longer be a real Demos). Multicultural states like Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji need to be undemocratic to function.

Andao July 4, 2013 at 3:34 am

USA is very multicultural and has a minority president. Your point is invalid.

Poinger July 4, 2013 at 10:06 am

The US is not all that multicultural. You can still manage perfectly well all over the country by being an English monolingual, no other language speaker can do so in the US. Spanish is chipping away at this sttus quo, and in the coming decade or so we will see real multiculturalism.

Gary Arndt July 3, 2013 at 3:20 pm

The Roman empire had all the trappings of a republic well after it had ceased being one in reality.

If the United States ceases to be a democracy, there will still be the trappings of democracy. There will be elections, but with limited choice between candidates with little difference, there will be restrictions on people from outside the system from threatening the status quo, lip service will be paid to the constitution but for all practical purposes most rights will be minimized.

The press will be more a mouthpiece for the status quo and will not challenge it.

In sum, it will be more of what we have right now.

MC July 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm

This is the correct answer.

DK July 4, 2013 at 8:21 pm

The tense is incorrect

CBBB July 3, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Exactly

y81 July 3, 2013 at 7:50 pm

That’s probably right, with the caveat that such systems of managed democracy are unstable. So long as there is a minimal level of free speech permitted, there will always be a reservoir of cynical disaffected people ready to challenge the status quo (they could be the Movement, they could be the Tea Party), and there is always a danger that some of the losers in the elite competitions for power will go outside the system and rally the disaffected.

CBBB July 4, 2013 at 2:18 am

This is probably why you now see these attempts to impose greater regulation of the internet. Also the trend towards great consolidation in the media world helps limit the effectivness of free speech. Hopefully I’m wrong but right now in many western countries (not just the US but they seem to be well out in front of the trend) you have major politica parties which say whatever in the election but once in office essentially all pursue the same sorts of policies (with different tweaks here and there – when it comes to foreign policy there usually is no difference). The actual policies are always designed to appease the wealthy backers of the parties and at the same time virtually all elite decision making positions are filled with people from the same tiny clique (such as Harvard/Yale/Princeton grads in the US).
Actual democracy is pretty weak just throw in a President without the scruples not to use the NSA apparatus to blackmail opponents and you’re basically there.

Bill July 4, 2013 at 12:46 pm

My state and local government is full of people from local universities, and arguably state and local government have more of an effect on my life than my national government (school districts, property taxes, parks and recreation, etc).

Myron July 4, 2013 at 5:56 am

There is an argument that the dominant form of government in the twentieth century was the rigged democracy, where sovereignty was held on paper by elected assemblies, which in practice only one party was allowed to participate in, the elections were rigged in favor of one party, or the elected officials had no meaningful levers of control over the executive.

albatross July 3, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I guess it depends on what you mean by democracy ending.

One plausible path to this, by at least one definition, is that we continue expanding the places where big decisions are made by people with no real input from the people. Think government bureaucracies or the courts or the Fed–there is ultimately some input by voters in all three places, but it’s fairly muted now, and you can imagine it being far more muted in the future. In that future, we’d still have elections, but they would have no effect on most things. The way the intelligence services and military have become increasingly too powerful for politicians to oversee or check is a guide to how this could happen over time–already, high-level intelligence officials can lie to congress with few or no consequences. Extrapolate that for another 37 years across many government agencies, and you can imagine congress and the president having only nominal control over a lot of what happens. In this future, elected national leaders are sort-of like royalty in our world–a few weird holdout countries may still have powerful hereditary royalty, but mostly it’s a ceremonial position with few powers or responsibilities.

Another plausible way to get to this place is to have single party rule, with the opposition parties too fragmented to ever challenge them. We almost have this now–the two parties differ on important issues, but on many important issues are indistinguishable, and election laws and procedures are set up to make it very hard for a third-party candidate to win an election. Suppose in another few years, the Republicans fragment into, say, libertarians and Christian conservatives and white nationalists, each a smallish fraction of the electorate, and the Democrats absorb the moderates and win every election. I suspect you can get situations and rules that make that stable, and there are countries where the same party has stayed in power for decades even without a lot of outright vote rigging. Then, the amount of democracy left in your country depends on how much democracy there is in who gets nominated. Get single-party rule plus nominations substantially controlled by the party elite, and you’ve kind-of eliminated democracy even if there’s an election every couple of years.

Another way to get to the same place: elected government could shrink massively in importance as people move to private solutions to various problems. If my day to day security is provided by the private security company my gated community employs, my kids go to a private school, etc., then most of my life may not be in reach of democratic elections. This would probably have to coexist with a widespread belief that most of our lives should be outside the realm of democratic elections. The election every four years of someone to oversee the national defense system and appoint the prosecutors and judges for the last-level-of-appeal court system is pretty attenuated democracy. I imagine this is most likely to happen if we see democratic processes go way off the rails in the next couple decades, so that people overwhelmingly come to think of it as a bad idea to have too much of it. (That’s more plausible than I like, actually.)

How else?

jmo July 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm

elected government could shrink massively in importance as people move to private solutions to various problems. If my day to day security is provided by the private security company my gated community employs,

Would the head of the home owners association be a dictator or would he be elected by the residents?

Roy July 3, 2013 at 4:32 pm

They are kind of awful, but David Weber’s Honor Harrington series has an excellent version of this decayed democracy in the Republic of Haven, while it quickly falls in an undisguised replay of the French Revolution, it is a great vision of what an Ancien Regime style post democratic tyranny would look like.

J July 3, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Civilization is founded on obtaining consent from males to not kill those in power. Since the natural state is (as is clear from Y-chromosome geography) males fighting to maintain territory against other male immigrants, any civilization that promotes immigration has nullified this primordial consent. Perhaps the Republican leadership is aware of this and, rather than fight the decline of civilization, is working to hasten its demise so we can get back to basics.

j r July 3, 2013 at 3:48 pm

“Primordial consent?”

This is hands down the best comment full of made up phrases that I have read today,

Willitts July 3, 2013 at 3:52 pm

You aptly describe in basic terms the biological reality of conflict. Unfortunately, we now live in the brave new world where invasions are launched from the uterus. Our enemies are exploiting the basic weakness of democracy – that numbers of voters matter. Where those numbers were once carrying weapons, they now carry ballots. Europe, Russia, and the US are being bred out of existence.

j r July 3, 2013 at 4:07 pm

What!? The biological reality is that we are all squatting tribesman defending our territories from anyone who isn’t recognizable as a at least a third cousin? That may be your reality, but some of us have evolved past that point. The idea that the U.S. can be “bred out of existence” implies that your conception of the U.S. is primarily a racial one. You may speak for yourself and you may speak for a significant portion of the population, but you certainly don’t speak for the majority of the population.

Willitts July 3, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Please spare us your WWE bout with a straw man. It should be obvious that men with weapons have been the primary means of radical political change for millennia.

Muslims are outbreeding ethnic Russians by a margin of 10 to 1 (with the latter having more abortions than live births).

Kosovo was invaded by uterus.

One-third of the voting population of California is Hispanic.

I can’t believe anyone is still denying that immigration and birth rates are inconsequential in American politics much less other parts of the world inundated by immigrants, particularly Muslims. Or haven’t you been reading the news for the past twenty years?

Roy July 3, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Aside from the fact that we are not a racial nation state with a myth of common ancestry. Btw if I am mistaken, please inform me so I can leave, because I assure you I wouldn’t qualify. I would suggest we are very close to a possible conversion to enslavement as untermenschen, through genetic manipulation. Science fiction clearly provides more horrifying possibilities than you realize.

mike July 3, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Any concept of the USA in which it somehow continued to exist even after being taken over by a completely different people is a concept that the USA is not a nation at all, just a geographical designation. Just lines on a map. It’s a brilliant thing to convince people of, if you want to destroy their nation.

Randy McDonald July 3, 2013 at 6:42 pm

“Muslims are outbreeding ethnic Russians by a margin of 10 to 1 (with the latter having more abortions than live births).”

No, they are not. What does that even mean? Looking at TFRs for Russia and Central Asia, or even for ethnic Russians and Muslims of various ethnicities, you don’t have anything like that ratio.

“Kosovo was invaded by uterus.”

Sigh. Kosovo was an Albanian-majority place a century ago. The thing that pushed Kosovo over from being Serb-majority to Albanian-majority, IMHO, was the post-1689 Serb migrations from the region to Hapsburg lands.

“One-third of the voting population of California is Hispanic.”

Inserting one accurate fact in a list of three doesn’t make the other two accurate.

Axa July 4, 2013 at 7:50 am

“One-third of the voting population of California is Hispanic.”

Up from 27% in 1850. So, where is your hispanic invasion? http://www.museumca.org/goldrush/curriculum/1stcalifornians/resourcesix.htm

mike July 4, 2013 at 12:52 pm

We have always been at war with Eastasia.

Erik July 4, 2013 at 9:17 am

“Any concept of the USA in which it somehow continued to exist even after being taken over by a completely different people is a concept that the USA is not a nation at all, just a geographical designation.”

Yes, a brilliantly orchestrated, planned, and executed 100-year invasion. But it’s better than that Irish, Italian, and Jewish invasion that came from 1850 – 1950.

Roy July 3, 2013 at 3:30 pm

The US and other Western European democratic cultures, France, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, etc… are weakened to the point where they cannot resist external pressure, military, economic, etc… The nondemocratic powers that be decide that what the popular will in the remaining democracies wants is more expensive than the cost of supporting a nondemocratic regime in those countries. When Democracy becomes inconvenient to an Imperial power it is dispensible, especially if the Imperial power doesn’t value democracy. All that is needed is an anti democratic elite in the the democracies.

The proof that the democratic will in another country is unimportant is the enthusiasm the military coup against Morsi has provoked in the West. Liberalism and Democracy are not the same thing.

Roy July 3, 2013 at 3:36 pm

My comment about Egypt should not be considered an endorsement of the Muslim Brotherhood, but if you recognize a fundamentalist Islamic state could be an expression of the popular will, and you are willing to stop it anyway, you aren’t all that committed to democracy as an end. Another example is if say a democratic regime, that unlike Hitler’s Germany remained democratic, decided that some minority were not human and should be exterminated to prevent them from contaminating the purity of the race, an outsider opposing this with force would be overturning the popular will and destroying a democracy.

Willitts July 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm

We didn’t permit popular elections in Korea or Vietnam precisely because we knew the outcome would be bad. Our foreign policy need not be blind and
stupid to the perils of free elections much less those that are rigged by our enemies.

As several others pointed out, we are a Republic and it was instituted as such for a reason. Our Constitution is loaded with checks, balances, and compromises that were based specifically on the realities of the 18th century – slavery, big vs small colonies, landed vs landless, threat of foreign powers, fear of centralized government, fear of standing armies, etc. Most citizens did not get to vote on our Constitution.

All we need is democracy and a totalitarian party to vote for.

Willitts July 3, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Without disputing your premise, the example you provide is wrong. Egypt never democratized and there is no military coup. Egypt’s government has been in the hands of the military since 1952, and the handoff of power to Mursi was eyewash.

Roy July 3, 2013 at 4:35 pm

That is teleological, it is eyewash because the military overthrew it. If the government had been less heavy handed right out of the gate, and if the west hadn’t gotten freaked out by the looming disaster in the Middle East, see Syria, it would have not been overthrown and after a decade or so, just like Iran, it would seem part if the natural order of things.

Willitts July 3, 2013 at 4:45 pm

No, it is reality because Egypt’s military wasn’t going to ever voluntarily give up power. Mursi was always serving at the pleasure of the military. Like all totalitarian regimes, when the pot begins to boil you have to let off a little steam. The Egyptian people never lost their esteem for the military,ad they looked to the military to act as a mediator and to keep violence from getting out of hand. Egypt isn’t and hasn’t been under threat of invasion lately; their military is for internal security.

Egypt’s military owns several enterprises. What makes you think they would hand over power so easily after 60 years? You drank too much media kool aid.

Roy July 3, 2013 at 5:01 pm

When the last military overt junta in Turkey ended in 1983, do you think the generals thought it was going to be the last one?

It just might have been. I could have said the same thing as you about France in the 1870s, or even in the 1930s, or even quite credibly in 1962, but, other than Petain, France’s last dictator was Louis Napoleon.

Peter July 4, 2013 at 2:03 am

Roy: I wouldn’t be surprised to see another Turkish military coup in the next decade.

Willitts July 4, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Egypt is not France.

Willitts July 3, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Samuel Huntington suggested in his book The Third Wave that democracy has fits and starts that don’t always take on the first attempt.

If we consider Japan, Germany and South Korea as successful transformations to democracy and Weimar Germany as a failure, it appears that a rapid transition to democracy must be done at gunpoint and the failure of democracy is often suicide.

Chris S July 3, 2013 at 3:35 pm

As my pedantic 11th grade political science teacher enjoyed pointing out:

The US is NOT a Democracy, but a Republic.

Urso July 3, 2013 at 4:02 pm

The Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court faced a backlash when, a couple years ago, she referred to the US as a democracy in a speech. She was denounced for this by certain folks who insisted that she retract this statement, admit she was wrong, and state that the US was, in fact, a Republic. There was actually a resolution introduced in the GA leg calling her out on this pedantry.

Quite ridiculous, of course, but I think one motivating factor behind this brouhaha is that the words “democracy” and “republic” happen to suggest the names of our two political parties. If I had to guess — and yes, Prof. Tabarrok, I would even place a bet! — I’d guess the members of the GA legislature who introduced that resolution were, in fact, Republicans.

Willitts July 3, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Not pedantic if the justice in question rules as if the state is a democracy instead of a republic.

A lot of public officials have forgotten this, and it isn’t pedantic to give them a stern reminder. For judges, especially, the law turns on the meaning of words.

Alistair July 3, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Is there not a West Wing episode where Bartlet, of all people, stresses the “Republic NOT a Democracy” thing.

It’s not pedantry. The distinction is important in terms of political philosophy and system of election.

MD July 4, 2013 at 1:41 am

That is a pretty useless pedantry. The United States has no king, so it is a republic. There is little use of direct democracy, but there are representatives who are selected via poplar vote by eligible citizens. A billionaire has more power, but in the voting booth, the billionaire’s vote is equal to mine. But the idea that republic and democracy each have one absolute meaning which is accepted by all and which are opposed to each other in all circumstances is silly.

dan in philly July 3, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Of course we don’t have a true democracy now, but I know what you mean.
A crisis occurs. The normal partasanship in Washington is unable to solve it. Internal problems (inflation?)are brought to a head when war threatens (who knows, maybe a dictator seizes power in Mexico and there is a prolonged gurilla war).
A charasmatic general secures the loyalty of his army to him personally, rather than the ineffective government. The rest is predictable

mike July 3, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Define “democracy”.

If three ghetto hood thugs put a gun to my head and demand that I give them my money, that’s robbery.

If three ghetto hood thugs outvote me 3-1 on whether I should give them my money, then put a gun to my head and demand it, that’s “democracy”.

When me and my community have certain shared values and norms, but another more numerous community far away has different values and norms, and therefore my community has to follow the values and norms of the other community far away, that’s “democracy”.

Democracy in America either began or ended with Lincoln’s war on the seceding states, depending on how you define it.

j r July 3, 2013 at 4:01 pm

And what’s it called when a bunch of wealthy white men take your money, squander it on foolish wars and unsustainable middle-class transfers, and then convince you that “ghetto thugs” are to blame?

As for Lincon’s war on the seceding states ending democracy, I guess that implies that the seceding states’ war on black slaves is perfectly democratic in your view.

asdf July 3, 2013 at 6:17 pm

“unsustainable middle-class transfers”

Huh? The mortgage interest tax deduction is a tax reduction, not a welfare benefit. The middle class pays more into government than it gets, making it a net contributor.

j r July 3, 2013 at 8:20 pm

I was thinking of two transfer programs in particular: social security and medicare. Those two also happen to constitute 60 percent of federal budget expenditures. Perhaps you think that they are sustainable, however.

Who is a net beneficiary and net contributor will always depend on how you do the accounting. For instance, I might grant that the poor are net beneficiaries, but then I might also think about the number of poor people sitting in prisons for non-violent drug offenses so that the prison industry can make a profit and so that residents of economically depressed rural towns can take a job as a corrections officer.

asdf July 4, 2013 at 1:08 am

“I was thinking of two transfer programs in particular: social security and medicare.”

They are funded by the middle class, and if there are shortfalls in the future they will still be funded by the (higher taxed) middle class.

Again, taking $X from someone and returning $X-$Y back in some benefit doesn’t make it a “middle class transfer”.

“Who is a net beneficiary and net contributor will always depend on how you do the accounting.”

Sure, but for reasonable people it isn’t that hard.

Mm July 4, 2013 at 4:07 pm

You were doing great up until the prison industry stuff- the idea that the war on drugs is to benefit private prison companies is tin foil hat stuff

The Anti-Gnostic July 3, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Well, that’s democracy too. But where would you rather live: a neighborhood where negro thugs have the majority vote, or middle-class whites have the majority vote?

The housing market and global immigration patterns are for the latter.

Dan in Philly July 3, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Yes, that’s democracy. The state still has a monopoly of force, and if the people vote to kill you, then they can quite legally do so, assuming you are part of a community and have accepted the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

It stinks knowing that people can legally kill you or rob you, but there’s no state I am aware of where that is not true. The only cases where that’s not true are technically lawless, and if you’re strong it’s great to live in such a society. For the less strong, not so much.

mike July 3, 2013 at 4:10 pm

“assuming you are part of a community and have accepted the rights and responsibilities of citizenship”

Yeah, that’s kind of the problem. I’m not in any kind of “community” with people from New York City or Southern California or Detroit, and yet for some reason I’m deemed to have “accepted” the “responsibilities” those degenerates want to impose on me.

Chris S July 3, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Do you repudiate the “rights” as well? I never thought I’d say this but… there’s the door.

Of course if you went to another country, you’d have to either actually accept the rights and responsibilities explicitly as part of naturalization, or stay a non-citizen. And then you
be in some sort of “community” with other people you didn’t choose, like Torontians or Milanese or whoever was “over there” from your “right here”.

The solution is to devolve formal societies such as countries to very low granuarity, such as about 200-300, to form cohesive tribes.

Dan in Philly July 3, 2013 at 4:24 pm

you ancesters made that choice for you, my friend. You can always renounce if you don’t like it.

mike July 3, 2013 at 4:30 pm

My ancestors never chose to give up their sovereignty to New Yorkers and Californians. They had it imposed on them. So stop getting offended when I don’t consider it legitimate.

Chris S July 3, 2013 at 4:36 pm

mike, I guess you could also try to convince the rest of your state’s population to secede. Then you would not have to move.

I’m not offended, just not sure that your indigence matches reality.

Dan in Philly July 3, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Your ancesters allowed the New Yorkers and Californians to seize soverignty, so it’s their fault.

mike July 3, 2013 at 8:33 pm

I see, so “choice” = “you didn’t keep it from happening”. I guess rape doesn’t exist in your world, then.

Chris S July 3, 2013 at 8:49 pm

How do you define choice in an ongoing game with no period = 1? Do we conduct a plebiscite of all graduating high school seniors and ask them what states they think should remain in the Union?

You don’t get a choice in what country you’re born any more than you can choose your family. Can you request a new brother at age 18 if you don’t like the one you’ve got?

MD July 4, 2013 at 1:51 am

Poor mike! What a nightmare! Have you considered euthanasia? Some say it is the coward’s way out, but as one of these Californians you so fear and loath, I totally support your right to do that.

Simple Machine July 3, 2013 at 3:46 pm

At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? — Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! — All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
-Abraham Lincoln

Simple Machine July 3, 2013 at 3:48 pm

So lincoln agrees, for a little less sage agreement…
So this is how democracy dies, to thunderous applause – Natalie Portman

albatross July 3, 2013 at 3:47 pm

A more “traditional” way for democracy to disappear would involve some kind of military coup. But increasingly, that won’t have to be mostly human soldiers, but rather robots of various kinds.

After the horrible recession of 2025 precipitated by the ultimate end of Moore’s law, both national and state governments had big cutbacks. By then, most of the policing and fighting of wars were done by robots, mostly from two different companies. In the tight budgets of those times, there was a great deal of consolodation, with police and military personnel and bureaucrats laid off and replaced with robots, operated and maintained by contractors.

By 2033, command of most of the government ultimately resided in possession of a small number of cryptographic keys. A small group of people gained control of those keys, and took command of the mechanisms of government, with little fanfare. At first, their existence was a secret, and in fact, discussions of robots ignoring orders were widely seen as urban legends or conspiracy theories. But the president and cabinet and much of Congress soon came to understand that certain orders would not be obeyed, and others would be carried out regardless of their wishes, as did mayors and governors. Most of the elected officials went along with this–occasionally when one didn’t, they were either ignored or had odd accidents. Attempts to build up private or alternative government robot forces under different control were uniformly stamped out, using as much violence as needed. Otherwise, the standard of living in the US remained extremely high, things went okay, the country was well defended and had little crime (one thing the ruling junta cared deeply about was having plenty of military and police robots and excellent surveillance). Most people just didn’t pay much attention–those who did mostly left the country. More rarely they tried to lead various ineffectual resistance movements, or started effective ones and got wiped out. A couple really spectacular and memorable accidents of media figures ensured that not too much of this came out in public early on. Anyway, the whole story was not very telegenic–nobody knew who the ruling junta was, what they looked like, where they lived, or even how many there were or how they made decisions.

The election of 2040 was held as normal, but people were already beginning to understand what had happened, and there was little enthusiasm for electing someone who would have no actual power over much of anything. By 2048, turnout was less than 5% of eligible voters, and most people didn’t even know the name of the president.

mike July 3, 2013 at 6:08 pm

This is brilliant. Did you just come up with it off the cuff?

gnome July 3, 2013 at 9:57 pm

I enjoyed that. plausible? Yes

It made me ask: What will be the motivations of robots? Or will they just do what they do without agenda?

Owen July 4, 2013 at 5:23 am

Nicely done. +1

albatross July 5, 2013 at 10:27 am

Thanks for the compliments! This was off the cuff, but I’ve been kicking around what a coup might look like in a robot-heavy world for awhile now. Someday in the future, key rollover may be equivalent to regime change.

Tom Noir July 3, 2013 at 3:48 pm

I had no idea it was so fashionable to be cynical about democracy. What does THAT say about the future of democracy??

Urso July 3, 2013 at 4:37 pm

The blogosphere tends to be an incredibly pessimistic place, where things are grim and getting grimmer every day.

Jeff B July 3, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I could see democracy faltering when/if there are significant additions made in human longevity. Imagine a future where a wealthy elite have access to technology that extends quality life to 250+ years. You would have a class of “olds” that would be able to further concentrate wealth and power, but which would make up a small minority of the population. In this future, the risk of allowing an underclass of ‘youngs’ (with life expectancy similar to today) to challenge your position of power (the same power which enables extended life) would be high.

dirk July 3, 2013 at 3:54 pm

My guess would have been:

Huge protests caused in response to massive unemployment (because automation turns out to actually make most people unemployable despite theory to the contrary) which are ended by martial law and other emergency powers which never manage to go out of style a la the war on terror. The constitution isn’t changed but becomes utterly ignored over time. Executive (or maybe congressional) power eventually dominates the other two branches of power. For a long time there is democracy in name but not in principle. People still vote but what the government does is increasingly detached from popular will. Finally, with popular will posing no threat to power due to draconian laws which prevent people from protesting without being decimated by drones, the “power” decides to draft a new constitution to formalize their unlimited power. Nobody really cares when this happens because nothing will have changed on the surface.

I don’t expect this to happen but think it is the most likely scenario for democracy ending in the US if it does in the next century.

Roy July 3, 2013 at 4:54 pm

I don’t see why they would bother with a new constitution, however the old one might still be useful if the system collapses. The actual text of the 1977 Soviet Constitution turned out to be a very important document when it collapsed, though no one involved could have realized it.

Rochelle July 3, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Wait, sorry, Britain was more democratic while under siege by Nazi Germany than before? There were no elections in Britain during ww2 and it was arguably one of the most controlled societies in the world outside of the USSR! How is MORE democratic than Britain before? Afterwards is another story, I guess, though it’s important to remember even though it was voted on, it resulted in the phrase “the British Disease”

Millian July 3, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Yep. Almost all the work of democratising Britain was done by the Great Depression. A few small points like plural voting for university graduates and business-owners continued, but they did not cause major deviations from democratic outcomes.

Taeyoung July 5, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Yeah, the long Parliament in UK during WW2 is really a counterexample. No elections, just MPs and Peers shuffling chairs, implementing massive wartime control over the economy, rationing, censorship, conscription — the usual stuff of democracy. If the Nazis *hadn’t* been defeated — if the war had just ground on for years and years — would democracy have been restored in the interim? Who knows? My guess is that the the UK would have had a nasty communist insurrection before they got around to restoring elections.

ohwilleke July 3, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Democracy is functionally necessary to bring about popular acceptance of the validity of changes in state policies by states. If technological change declines as science provides a more complete description of the world, and economic upheaval declines as technological change ceases to fuel Shumpeter-esque revolution in the means of production, a more stable set of laws that work may emerge and this may make democratic consent less necessary.

If the emerging parliamentary-capitalist-international federalism model of governance continues its trends to expand, e.g. via the E.U. and Chinese hegemony, the prospects of an international war free international regime is not unthinkable, reducing the need for democratic guidance in military affairs and war making.

Countries with unstable governments that are marginally democratic in the developing and third worlds might voluntarily consent to return to a state of colonial rule from more established and stable post-democratic countries in the interest of better public policy and less correction leading to greater economic prosperity as a result. The few holdouts from the consensus international system (like North Korea and Iran) might collapse.

Edward Burke July 3, 2013 at 4:05 pm

The advent of social media does NOT make direct democracy look compelling or desirable: we’d have to hold elections and votes every day or every other day (elections on even-numbered days, referenda on odd-numbered days), and boy wouldn’t that be fun.

So what’re the prospects for representative democracy? Can’t speak to parliamentary arrangements, but it’s hard to judge how much longer constitutional democracies like ours can endure: ours Constitution was drafted in the late 18th century, and to hear the pendulum swinging of late, it might as well have been drafted in Sumerian before or after the Flood: SCOTUS decrees on “what the Constitution means” for the 21st century are not necessarily becoming more credible or acceptable. A “Constitutional crisis” could plausibly erupt any decade now.

Which leads here: in August 2001, the Amer. Bar Assn. convention in Chicago convened a panel that dealt with imposition of martial law in the US following a terrorist attack (the ABA scenario called for two separate attacks using biological weapons, understood to more likely spread panic). Academic exercise or policy advisory, the scenario pointed up that much political power would devolve from the Federal govt. to state governors and state legislatures and state National Guard units, depending on the extent of an initial attack and the threat or success of further attacks. Protracted reliance on martial law could change the political dynamics of how American democracy is perceived and exercised but in ways I would not dare try to predict.

I put no stock in neo-secessionist schemes, of whatever promise.

Yancey Ward July 3, 2013 at 4:26 pm

At some point, a government in the US will be popularly elected that is viewed as illegitimate by the elite classes in financial realm and the mass media. Protests and demonstrations will take place in the large coastal cities that go on for weeks, basically causing economic paralysis, at which point the military steps in, removes the President and Congress from power and calls for new elections in 9 months or so, during which certain participants will be banned.

Roy July 3, 2013 at 4:38 pm

+1

Of course the elite classes also needs to include the military and civil servants for this to happen. I doubt when the time came that would be much of an obstacle.

8 July 3, 2013 at 5:43 pm

How would there be paralysis if the rent seekers are cut off?

Chris S July 3, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Will the military come back in a year if the newly elected government proves inadequate or distasteful?

Yancey Ward July 4, 2013 at 10:31 am

Of course.

Millian July 3, 2013 at 4:26 pm

It would have to be a very significant military defeat for democratic countries. The exceptional countries which retained public votes would perhaps include Switzerland, Sweden and some of the African archipelagoes. I’m afraid your precious “Anglo democracies” are too enamoured of their own morality and importance in the world to stay neutral in such a conflict.

Becky Hargrove July 3, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Direct democracy only works when people use skills sets in the same timeline. Representative democracy only works for infrastructure.
http://monetaryequivalence.blogspot.com/2013/06/knowledge-use-as-direct-democracy.html

Peter July 3, 2013 at 4:35 pm

I’m sorry, but hasn’t this already happened? The situation is as follows:

i) The American electorate is not informed about what its government is actually doing in the electorate’s name, in terms of foreign policy at least. In the event that American votes discover some of what’s going on, and then object to it, they are powerless to really change the situation, because the only electable parties are indistinguishable on most of the controversial foreign policy questions.

ii) Special interests have a much greater say than the electorate does, on almost every important issue.

iii) The American media works its overwhelming influence to make true democracy impossible (do I have to spell this one out?)

iv) Americans face a significant challenge when it comes to democracy, in that they are shamelessly and ceaselessly indoctrinated, from a very young age, by a statist religion that can really only be compared to Juche for its pervasiveness and appeal.

America is not a democracy. Yes, votes are counted to determine who your congressman is, etc. But it means very little at this point in your history, unfortunately. China has a “bottom up” democracy too. Does anyone believe it’s really worthy of the name? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China

America is no different. Votes have become a mere ritual panacea for civil unrest at this point.

CBBB July 4, 2013 at 7:35 am

Yeah it’s already basically occurred I don’t understand why many here believe it will require some major crises or war, the change occurred relatively slowly because the elites wanted it. The only crisis that was required to create a big leap forward was 9/11 which happened over a decade ago and yet can still today be used as a cudgel. Everything is now in place for the implemntation of a complete totalitarian state all that is neccessary is the right President.

Walt G July 3, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Technology may make government less important and power shifts to other institutions or devolves to individuals.
Precedents include the Church fading while nation-states rose.

Bill July 3, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I think the better question, particularly as it applies elsewhere in the world, is

How might democracy emerge.

What are the preconditions, what are the challenges to change.

If you look at recent experiments in democracy, what you see is single party governance, or

A blocking minority unwilling to compromise.

Hmm. Blocking minority. Maybe we shouldn’t just look elsewhere.

Mort Dubois July 3, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Not one person has mentioned religion so far. It’s not hard to imagine some new sect sweeping the country – this has happened before. The trappings of democracy can be maintained for quite a long time without true representative government. If a substantial majority of the population align on a single system of values, the rights of the minority will quickly be discarded. This can happen faster or slower, we’re seeing a version of this in Turkey right now.

mike July 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm

To the extent that the whole pantheon of 60s hippie bullshit can be classified as a religion, this is approximately what has happened.

Willitts July 4, 2013 at 1:00 am

Except for the Unitarian Universalist Church and drum circles dabbling in some quasi-religious drugged up philosophizing, those 60s cults have vanished.

To the contrary I think that Mormonism will grow in the US and Catholicism will dwindle. Evangelical Christianity is, as we speak, sweeping through Asia. On the whole, though, America will become less “religious” in the next 50 year’s. I could be wrong though; my faith grew late in life.

mike July 4, 2013 at 1:25 am

No I meant the whole belief system about “civil rights” for gays and women and blacks, and big government technocratic interventionism, environmentalism, etc. not just things that actually claim to be religion

crs July 3, 2013 at 5:18 pm

It would start with a “well-intentioned” Nudge in which democracy is implicitly the opt out. As long as there are diverse beliefs, democracy is safe. But I worry that in attempt to openly examine and perfect ourselves that it will be given up when the choice comes.

8 July 3, 2013 at 5:40 pm

US did not have universal suffrage until the 1960s nor truly fiat currency until the 1970s. I would bet against either existing in their current form by 2050.

jon livesey July 3, 2013 at 6:01 pm

“Nor did siege by the Nazis make Great Britain less democratic, if anything the contrary”

At the risk of being pedantic, Germany did not besiege the UK. It was the other way round. The UK established a complete naval blockade against Germany that deprived it of needed supplies, particularly oil. Germany never managed to establish a naval blockade of the UK because the convoy system was so successful. Over the course of the War only one convoy in ten was attacked and of the ones that were attacked the loss rate was about ten percent. The result was that U-Boats only succeeded in sinking 3500 merchant ships for the loss of 780 U-Boats, or about four merchant ships per U-Boat lost. That was not anywhere close to threatening to cut off the UK from its imports.

In fact, for the duration of the War the UK economy imported and consumed three times as much oil annually as did Germany. The UK imported enough oil to power the World’s then biggest Navy and Air Force, plus a fully mechanized Army, while Germany’s large surface ship were idled for lack of fuel, its Air Force had fuel rationing, and its Army in Russia depended on horse-drawn transportation, all for lack of fuel.

In addition, Germany saw widespread malnutrition and adulteration of food, while in the UK public health improved, and life expectancy rose slightly. Democracy was certainly strengthened in the UK in the course of the War, but it was mainly due to public perception that Democracy in the UK was far more successful in fighting the War than dictatorship was in Germany.

Alistair July 3, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Actually….

The U-boat campaign came close. Not razor-close, but closer than you imply.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Atlantic

Towards the end of the war, UK food stockpiles were run down to provide enough shipping surplus for the invasion of Europe.

James July 3, 2013 at 8:54 pm
Alan July 3, 2013 at 10:52 pm

I don’t think democracy will end in the USA in my lifetime but it is not a remote or far-fetched possibility. It already has heavily armed (para-military) police, a culture in which the world’s highest rate of incarceration is widely accepted and very extensive surveillance. All that is missing is a popular demagogue and a slightly more compliant Supreme Court. Could a popularly-elected President with a totalitarian mindset erode democracy to the point where elections and liberty become a pointless sham? (Spare me the ritual denunciations of whichever Presidents you happen to dislike.) I doubt it, but I don’t think the possibility should be dismissed.

Meta-comment: does this thread set a record for the number of commenters expressing doubt and asking questions? Both are rare events on MR.

ivvenalis July 4, 2013 at 1:00 am

Most likely failure mode is ethnic balkanization, followed by a king stepping in to end the chaos. This is just as likely to result in partition and smaller, ethnically homogenous democracies though. They probably won’t have universal suffrage–I know a lot of moderns think that’s a necessary feature, but I wouldn’t say so. I think it’s obvious that universal suffrage is a terrible idea, but I wouldn’t call that the failure of “democracy”.

mulp July 4, 2013 at 2:30 am

Watching the Nature episode on the Bald Eagle, I realized that is how democracy can die.

The estimates are of hundreds of thousands of Bald Eagles at the US founding, and it was so iconic and grand it became a symbol of the USA.

By 1900, the number left in the lower 48 was in the thousands from extermination efforts due to a lack of understanding of their prey, and relentless logging. However in Alaska, they were plentiful, but circa 1917 a bounty was placed on them as vermin and within a decade 125,000 had been killed for the bounty. In the lower 48, the claim was they went after a farmer’s chickens, but in Alaska that was certainly not the reason.

Then post WWII, DDT caused the several thousand nesting pairs to crash to 400 when Congress finally acted and limited the use of DDT in the US to just those limited applications when no better and cheaper pesticide existed. And lots of pesticides were cheaper and more effective than DDT which by the 60s could only kill most bugs by smothering them in DDT dust.

Now Bald Eagle populations are continuing to rise and they are off the endangered species list.

I see that as the course of republican government – flourishing famously like the eagle, but with some seeing a flaw to fix so concerted efforts are made to exterminate the flaw, the Bald Eagle which was anti-America, until a small number of people see the direction current policies are heading and they rally the people to act and change directions.

These course corrections leave behind new institutions and traditions which are now seen as deeply flawed, the EPA for example. And for the republic, the 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th amendments. Those changed citizenship in major ways and in ways that many people consider wrong. Originally citizenship meant being granted the right to vote, hold office, and teach, which was limited to a subset of society, though in the US north of Virginia came be any WASP with or without property of the age of maturity. But then closed borders were unimaginable,

But once citizenship changed to some granted when born to male and female and any color, then citizenship had nothing to do with democracy, although the 15th amendment was intended to be about promoting a more perfect democracy.

The core of the conflict leading to the Civil War was over who could be a citizen and thus part of republican government. That conflict is still not settled in the US, and some are working to restrict who can participate in republican government.

Egypt has changed its government because the republican government created a year plus ago reached a point where it was no longer republican, so the people have risen up. But most Egyptians were satisfied with Morsi, so one can argue the republican action was undemocratic.

Myron July 4, 2013 at 6:21 am

Arguably representative institutions and then democracy arose in the first place because it was convenient for the elites. The kings summoned assemblies of the people they wanted to tax (the commons) or could raise levies (the lords). Membership was determined by the degree to which you could be useful to the king. Over thime the assemblies became more dominant and less consultative, and in some cases could do away with the monarachy altogether. Democracy was a by-product of the age when wars were won by vast armies of volunteers or conscripts from the general population.

Attempts to establish democratic or even representaive instutions against the elites, such as the French and Russian revolutions, never went well. Advances in technology and changes in the nature of warfare makes these instuttions less convenient for the elites, though as there are workarounds they are not abolished outright.

Andrew Swift July 4, 2013 at 8:23 am

Re: democracy disappeared — where did it go?

To my mind the only likely scenario, in the US, is that the country evolves to a point where what our future selves call democracy is unrecognizable to our current selves.

This could happen via changes in taxes, surveillance, limits on who can vote, various types of intellectual “chilling effects”, political correctness, gun control, and I could go on.

Imagine how our world would look to a spectator from the fifties. You need permits for all kinds of stuff that you didn’t used to need, there are lots of places you can’t go, things you can’t say etc.

Maybe democracy is already gone.

R Richard Schweitzer July 4, 2013 at 10:26 am

This misconception comes from regarding Democracy as a “Condition.”

“Democracy is a process, not a condition.” Ken Minogue in “The Servile Mind”

Where the process is applied for a specific objective (or for any teleology) it can end at that attainment (real or imagined).

Examine the use that has been made of the process in the various levels of the social orders that make up the polity of the U S. It has been a process for (among other things) achieving compatibility amongst differing objectives, rather than attaining some single objective.

Prakash July 5, 2013 at 8:29 am

A pandemic occuring , radically changing every aspect of life.

Nathan W July 8, 2013 at 10:31 pm

What`s democracy? Majority rules? Differentiated rights and obligations for everyone?

endorendil July 10, 2013 at 10:34 am

Rome lost its democracy through fear of instability, internal rebellion and external enemies. But the citizens didn’t stop voting, and their representatives didn’t stop representing. It just became a sideshow to the way real power was wielded.
Many current states are nominally democracies or republics, with elections, public discussion and some such, without practically being democratic.
Personally, I think the US stopped being democratic when the parties stopped being vaguely defined groups, where you could find pearls on either side amongst the dung, and became fairly ideologically consistent. Since only two parties can’t hope to capture any kind of subtleties in a voter’s actual intent, it became more or less impossible to interpret voting results, so they became meaningless. Voters started to vote more and more on the basis of a couple of issues, essentially removing all choice from the process. It’s not a democracy if the voting process can’t express the desire of the voters to their representatives.
It’s unfair to tar the UK with the same brush as the US. These are profoundly different systems.

Robert D July 12, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Hi all,
Well I know this website is geared more towards an American perspective but if you want to see how democracy dies there’s no need to wait till 2050, it’s happened right here in Ireland as well as Portugal, Spain, Italy and Cyprus. Though all these countries are nominally democracies it’s the dreaded trokia of the Euopean Commission, the ECB and the IMF which calls the shots. And unfortunately the shots they are calling is to make sure our creaking banking system is shored up at any price.
To give a few examples the Irish government has been told by the trokia to cut back spending severely though we are in the midst of a depression (as an Irish public servant my actual nominal wages have been cut by around 15% in the last few years, at least I have a job though unlike so many others here) while raising taxes sharply. The killing point is though that it still insists on our government paying back in full all the bondholders in our defunct banks.
Look at what happened a few years ago in Italy, whatever you think of Silvio Berlusconi he was the democratically elected prime minister, at least he was until the ECB lost confidence in him to implement the cuts they wanted to see. So bye bye Berlusconi and in came the new prime minister Mario Monti. Here’s the thing though, Monti was never elected to any public office before in his life , he was basically given the job by the ECB in order to inflict savage economic austerity on the Italian populace.
Just two more quick examples, when the then Greek prime minster George Pampandrou had the absolutley outrageous scandalous idea of putting the terms of the trokia bailout to the Greek populace in a referendum (I mean letting the people decide, what was he thinking) Angela Merkel personally intervened in order to get him ousted and the referendum idea scrapped.
Finally look at Cyprus which was ordered to basically rob their citizens bank accounts, at least that idea shook the financial markets so much it was dropped.
As an Irish citizen I cannot honestly describe my country as a democracy, our politicans may be allowed to decide on second tier issues but the major decisions are governed by the European Central Bank and the same goes for all those other countries I mentioned. One Irish economist summed it up perfectly, Ireland is now a bank-ocracy.

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