According to Foa and Mounk, these numbers do not reflect growing indifference to liberal democracy, but growing opposition. In the surveys, young people increasingly express openness to authoritarianism—especially young people who are rich. An astonishing 35 percent of wealthy young Americans say it would be “a ‘good’ thing for the army to take over” the country! This is a profound change from prior generations, in which “affluent citizens were much more likely than people of lower income groups to defend democratic institutions.”
The Foa and Mounk paper in the Journal Of Democracy looks at Pew World Value Surveys data. It is entitled Democratic Disconnect:
How much importance do citizens of developed countries ascribe to
living in a democracy? Among older generations, the devotion to democracy
is about as fervent and widespread as one might expect: In
the United States, for example, people born during the interwar period
consider democratic governance an almost sacred value. When asked
to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how “essential” it is for them “to live in a
democracy,” 72 percent of those born before World War II check “10,”
the highest value. So do 55 percent of the same cohort in the Netherlands.
But, as Figure 1 shows, the millennial generation (those born
since 1980) has grown much more indifferent. Only one in three Dutch
millennials accords maximal importance to living in a democracy; in the
United States, that number is slightly lower, around 30 percent.1
I am guessing that an authoritarian regime in America would not appreciably increase the legitimacy of the government. One problem is that there is no longer a single shared moral code and set of assumptions about what is sacred.
Many fundamental forces are deepening the split between the people who identify with the two main political parties in the United States. Not just the liberals but also the conservatives now have their own news sources. Immigration increases diversity which decreases shared identity. Migration of people to live with like minds reduces exposure to other views. Improved use and effectiveness of negative advertising makes people on each side view those on the other side in a negative light.
The increasing ideological purity of academia makes academics cheerleaders of on side of the split against the other. Increasing education of the cognitive elite and their shared experiences separate from the cognitively less able make them view the world with different values and with less sense of shared community with the less cognitively able (and the resulting condescension increases resentment by lower class whites in particular).
Similarly, the end of the military draft and reduction in the size of the US military eliminated military service as a source of shared experience, at least for men. Also, the decline of community service organizations (Kiwanis, Lyons, Rotary, etc) eliminates a place where people across a community interact and work together.
I do not see how Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again. What could reverse the trend toward deeper partisan divisions, declining trust in major institutions, and even declining support for rights including freedom of speech for those with different views? In the last couple of years the safe space movement in colleges has reached an absurd level with no end in sight.
My reaction to all this is that perhaps we need to split societies up into separate societies of those who are similar in their moral sensibilities and tribal loyalties. Got any other ideas?