Thinking the unthinkable
Re-thinking democracy, from the superb Radish.
Something’s in the air — or maybe it’s in the water supply, but either way, recently we’ve seen a remarkable rise in attitudes and ideas that are frankly anti-democratic, or at least profoundly skeptical of popular government. This is a good thing, of course. These ideas, you see, whether they’re based on history, biology, or esoteric philosophy, form the core of reactionary thought — the essence of the Dark Enlightenment.Lots of great links at the OP.
Unsurprisingly, Mencius Moldbug (that ancient neocameralist red dragon) was the first to identify the trend, in ‘Democraphobia goes (slightly) viral.’ (‘Democraphobia’ being progressive libertarian Will Wilkinson’s dismissive term.) He points us in the direction of Patri Friedman’s ‘Beyond Folk Activism’ (2009), in which Friedman remarks that while “democracy is the current industry standard political system,” it is “ill-suited for a libertarian state” and has “substantial systemic flaws”; for example, “democracy is a flawed method for choosing” among ideas, “because politicians respond to incentives too.” All right, so he’s not quite ready to bring back colonial rule, but it’s a start. (See also ‘The Old View.’)
Then there’s Peter Thiel’s ‘The Education of a Libertarian’ (2009), in which he confesses “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” and identifies “the great task for libertarians”: “to find an escape from politics in all its forms — from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called ‘social democracy’.” (See also ‘Your Suffrage Isn’t in Danger. Your Other Rights Are.’)
Well, you know those crazy libertarians: they just hate us for our freedoms — no, wait, that’s Muslims or something. Libertarians hate us for our democracy. Also, they’re a bunch of racists. Michael Lind’s response in the ultra-progressive Salon (2011) is typical enough:
Libertarianism really is incompatible with democracy. Most libertarians have made it clear which of the two they prefer. The only question that remains to be settled is why anyone should pay attention to libertarians.Apparently, the alternative to democracy is autocracy, which is the same as tyranny. Aristotle wept. But this is not really about libertarianism — Carlyle’s “anarchy plus a street-constable.” (Though I refer the reader to Frank Karsten and Hans-Hermann Hoppe anyway.) Consider Angelo M. Codevilla’s ‘America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution’ (2010):
The ruling class’s appetite for deference, power, and perks grows. The country class disrespects its rulers, wants to curtail their power and reduce their perks. The ruling class wears on its sleeve the view that the rest of Americans are racist, greedy, and above all stupid. The country class is ever more convinced that our rulers are corrupt, malevolent, and inept. The rulers want the ruled to shut up and obey. The ruled want self-governance. The clash between the two is about which side’s vision of itself and of the other is right and which is wrong. Because each side — especially the ruling class — embodies its views on the issues, concessions by one side to another on any issue tend to discredit that side’s view of itself. One side or the other will prevail. The clash is as sure and momentous as its outcome is unpredictable....Something has gone wrong with our political processes, on a global scale. But what? It’s obviously subtle — we haven’t been on the receiving end of a bunch of jack-booted fascists or their communist equivalents organizing putsches. But we’ve somehow slid into a developed-world global-scale quasi-police state, with drone strikes and extraordinary rendition and unquestioned but insane austerity policies being rammed down our throats, government services being outsourced, peaceful protesters being pepper-sprayed, tased, or even killed, police spying on political dissidents becoming normal, and so on. What’s happening?
Here’s a hypothesis: Representative democracy is what’s happening. Unfortunately, democracy is broken. There’s a hidden failure mode, we’ve landed in it, and we probably won’t be able to vote ourselves out of it.