2016 August 20 Saturday
Turning Away From Democracy

Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk think the decline in support for democracy in Western countries does not bode well for the continued existence of liberal societies.

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.”

Elite indifference or contempt for the non-elite manifests partly in a step away from democracy. After all, in a democracy it is conceivable that the majority could elect leaders who won't do elite bidding.

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.

Jonathan Haidt gave the American Psychological Association APA Convention Keynote 2016 how American society is splitting into two hostile factions which are moving apart and reducing their exposure to and understanding of each other.

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?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2016 August 20 04:36 PM 

Glengarry said at August 21, 2016 3:16 AM:

The elites would prefer to wring out the white middle classes rather than leaving such an asset untouched, but I think the net result will be some sort of breakup. At some point, the middle class will have had enough. What are the various options then?

Splitting into separate societies, like dissolving Czechoslovakia, would be the most peaceful approach, but that would mean blacks and hispanics having to work for themselves and is entirely against how modern society is ruled.

The second option is South Africa, with a dwindling white minority that does not act in it own interest (except to flee the country).

The third option is civil war. Not impossible, but it still seems far off. If we start seeing "white no-go zones", things are heating up. National Guard called on to suppress white dissent again ... Anyway, while Americans are hotheads, it seems more likely we will see civil war(s) in Europe before that. The countries are smaller and the threats more explicit.

Finally, could Trump turn things around? Such a process would be fiercely resisted by the Cathedral, and it seems unlikely that it would take just eight years. But it could be a beginning.

Brett Bellmore said at August 23, 2016 3:02 AM:

The problem with splitting up, is that it's not an east-west, or north-south, divide. It's more of an urban center vs everywhere else divide. How does the aggregate split up from the cement?

The Revolutionary war saw the losing side migrate to Canada over a period of time. (Yes, there were Americans on the British side.) But can you see whole cities moving? And would that really solve the problem? There's something about city life that turns people into Democrats. The high population density, perhaps. Repopulate the cities in Republican areas with Republicans, and in a generation or two they'd be Democrats again.

Engineer-Poet said at August 23, 2016 1:02 PM:

The urban welfare hordes are not viable on their own.  They are obligate parasites so long as they remain in the USA.  They and their patrons must and will fight any attempt to disengage from them, the former for their goodies, the latter for the political power they get from the vote-farm.

Brett Bellmore said at August 24, 2016 2:57 AM:

The thing is, they're not genetically determined to be parasites. Culturally, maybe, and their fairly recent ancestors were not living a parasitical lifestyle. This implies that their children, too, can be productive citizens, if removed from the situation that created this dependence. Of course, turning people into parasites works with entropy, trying to make them productive, against it. So it won't be easy.

The really tough thing is going to be breaking the feedback loop: The Democratic party relies on getting insanely high percentages of the urban vote, to compensate for how badly they do everywhere else. (There are numerous urban precincts where they get 100% of the vote!) To that end they've cultivated dependence, to assure loyalty. They buy the loyalty from people who can't support themselves, with the dole, and render them immune to appeals from anybody else by telling them that anybody else would take the dole away, and leave them to starve.

It's such an effective tactic that it's been a couple generations since Republicans made any serious effort to appeal to the urban poor. Trump is attempting right now to break this cycle by pointing out to them that they've lived under Democratic governance for 70 years or more, and their conditions are horrifying as a result. It's a sound argument, but sound arguments don't work on people who aren't listening. I'll be surprised if he succeeds.

In the end, I think Jefferson was right, in his concern that the US remain primarily rural. Cities poison the mind.

James Bowery said at September 6, 2016 9:01 PM:

I managed to get the following critique of the notion that we have a rough approximation of "democracy" -- representative or not -- past the "moderators" in response to a TED talk. "A step away from democracy" presumes proximity to "democracy".


According to this Gallup history of polls, the first I found after searching for a minute, 50 years ago the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 started the long-term trend of increasing immigration and, at that time, 7% of the population supported this. This tiny minority remained a tiny minority and held sway for decades, including the Reagan amnesty of 1986 which was supposed to bring an end to illegal immigration and resulted only in its increase. It was only circa 2000 that the tiny minority, broke 10%. It has been increasing since then to, now, 20% to 25%. If you have other data conflicting with this, please present it.


It is simply impossible to violate the will of 90% of the people on a strategic policy for decades on end and not be guilty of attacking the foundation of civilization. We can argue about cause and effect of various social phenomena until we're blue in the face precisely because of the lack of experimental controls confounding correlation and causation. Reasonable men may and must differ on these things. What reasonable men may and must _not_ differ on are fundamental principles like experiment over argument and the consent of human subjects in those experiments. If the central government arrogates to itself, from locales, the power of social policy, it not only impoverishes the social sciences by conducting only one experiment, it also requires everyone to fight for control of what is, in essence, a theocracy over everyone else. Immigration policy becomes a strategic weapon in this war for theocratic supremacy:

Elect a new people and you've won the argument.

Everyone must now submit to your experiment. However noble your experiment might be in intent or even in theoretic merit, the violation of consent and lack of diversity is a crime against humanity.

If after this you _now_ achieve "consent", is it any different from "consent" of a woman who may be pregnant after rape?

Big Bill said at October 5, 2016 6:06 AM:

Wow! What a video. Not even the pretence of being "one people". I am not only never going to consult a psychologist, I am never going to answer any pollster's question ever again.

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