25 June 2007

History is not inevitable

My thanks to Stanley Kurtz at The Corner at NRO for a link to an article by Azar Gat at RealClearPolitics, The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers.

There is a crucial and critical flaw in the view of Left and Right about the 'inevitability' of history and a shift towards democracy. Azar Gat points out this flaw by pointing out that the wars of the 20th century were neither foreordained to turn out the way they did nor can the maxims of democracies promoting stability be put forth as a viable conception of governmental attitudes. A glaring fault of 20th century economic theory to respond to Marxist theories, was to put forth that capitalism, due to efficiencies of marketplace, would serve as a basis for democracy. This is AFTER two world wars had pointed out just the opposite:

But the reasons for the triumph of democracy, especially over its nondemocratic capitalist rivals of the two world wars, Germany and Japan, were more contingent than is usually assumed. Authoritarian capitalist states, today exemplified by China and Russia, may represent a viable alternative path to modernity, which in turn suggests that there is nothing inevitable about liberal democracy's ultimate victory -- or future dominance.
Germany, in 1914 had capitalism as its economic basis, and yet that basis *supported*, and fully, the authoritarian regime of the Kaiser. The spread of socialism did temper that, somewhat, but that did not change the attitude of the Nation nor did it give rise to a people who saw anything wrong with a Germany as driving force controlling European affairs. Mr. Gat then goes into some depth on World War II and points to some telling issues on authoritarian capitalism and the dedication within Germany during that conflict:
Nor did the totalitarian capitalist regimes lose World War II because their democratic opponents held a moral high ground that inspired greater exertion from their people, as the historian Richard Overy and others have claimed. During the 1930s and early 1940s, fascism and Nazism were exciting new ideologies that generated massive popular enthusiasm, whereas democracy stood on the ideological defensive, appearing old and dispirited. If anything, the fascist regimes proved more inspiring in wartime than their democratic adversaries, and the battlefield performance of their militaries is widely judged to have been superior.
One of the most telling parts of why World War II turned out as it did is that the German State control over capitalism was inefficient and a bit short sighted. An example of this is that the German regime saw no need to invest in new aircraft designs after 1939, as they were certain that they did not NEED better aircraft. When re-investment into design did re-start, it happened at many different design bureaus, each competing for scarce resources and limited factory production time. Germany, itself, did not move to a three-shift industrial basis until 1943, and then only under the duress of need to keep equipment supplies up for its military as it had used the two-shift basis to ensure that there was domestic accord during wartime. What one gets from looking at that situation and the pre-war research status of Germany, even without its Jewish scientists, is very frightening due to the lax attitude of the Western powers during that same era. Even more basic, however, is that these were capitalist societies at war and capitalism did not lead to democracy and fully supported in WWII an authoritarian Nation as it did in WWI.
The outcome of warfare and State power is contingent upon many aspects, and getting logistics, supplies and ensuring that there is enough advancement of production to meet that of opposition advances is critical. Actual reasons for Germany being unable to sustain production are due more to lack of industrial capacity and vulnerability to having critical supply components cut off for wartime production. In that realm, trade and transport capacity as the basis for logistical supplies are key, and the reliance of Germany upon oceanic supply lines allowed superior naval forces to stalemate its supply lines in WWI and to interdict them in WWII. That is *also* a contingent basis phenomena as before WWI Germany had sought out a strategic ally to remedy the oceanic supply lines and give it a thoroughly land-line basis with minimal exposure to seaborne attack. That ally was the Ottoman Empire.

In one of the forgotten portions of history, there is one element that has been almost absolutely forgotten for strategic supply of Germany during WWI. It is forgotten because it was forestalled by the war and played no part in it because it had not been completed, but it was being built. This was a movement to get an insured overland capacity from Baghdad to Berlin: The Baghdad Railroad. That had been blocked in 1911 by Great Britain, and the movement to complete it stagnated and then halted, so that by the time war arrived in 1914 it would play little to no part in the actual supply of German industrial capacity. Nothing foreordained an assassination of an Arch Duke by factional separatist in 1914, although the building to war had been a common thread of thought for many years leading up to that point in time. Nor was it foreordained that Germany would not complete the portions already in work and expand its war plans on contingent basis so that a swift delivery of arms and material down it to seize Mesopotamian oil resources from British and Persian interests. That is *not* something that capitalism would drive against and, indeed, with the support of the German government, would be seen as a necessity to sooner, or later, actually secure those resources.

The fighting stalemate and loss of industrial capacity in Germany, with those resources, would not have happened as quickly with that railroad built, and the entry of the US would not be an assured thing either: US oil needs, if minimally met by German controlled fields, would preclude the US from wanting to actually join the war. By having British control of those fields, and having resource needs met by Arab and Persian output, the US saw no need to side with Germany. Additionally the isolationist President Wilson, in our world, put forth a very limited war plan so that ALL of the enemies of the Anglo-French alliance did not need to be targeted.

With any consequential petroleum resources held by Germany and threat to take more of same, plus a stalemate in the Euoropean theater, President Wilson would be forced to put the economic needs of the US aside and join the Allies or to fully fight *all* of the Allies of Germany. There would even be the case made that supporting Germany so as to *influence* it and its allies was in the US interest for the long-term spread of democracy and liberalization of those regimes. That was a case hard to put forth with Germany relatively isolated, but a Germany with more resources and active in the Middle East then puts Germany combat expertise in support of the Ottoman Empire.

World War I was not foreordained to be the US coming in to save the Alliance bacon and then fouling up its handling of the Middle East for 90 years thereafter. With one relatively simple shift in outlook, one that the Kaiser could easily have taken umbrage to, the entire geo-strategic basis for World War I would have changed and harshly. If the Aussies had problems at Gallipoli with Ottoman Turks there, imagine the problems they would have with Germany supported Ottoman troops with more modern weapons and tactics. And securing victory against the Ottomans by the British from the south would have to be concentrated on attempting to regain natural resources and be faced with German troops attempting to isolate Persia and threaten Arabian oil supplies and other Middle Eastern natural resources. Not to speak of the Suez Canal.

That is because Germany was a *capitalist* Nation that could use the productive capabilities of capitalism to reinforce itself for Imperial means. A world of one relatively modest and simple shift, with the Schlieffen Plan then expanded by later strategists and *reworked* by them would then have yielded a truly horrific war with NO assured outcome to it in any way, shape or form. And a heavily isolationist America would see problems supporting *either* side in that conflict and German intimidation would have been much more telling against a weak President Wilson who had seen no need to actively respond to earlier intimidation against Germany until after the Lusitania had been sunk. A true German-Ottoman Middle Eastern Campaign would have been lethal to decisiveness to Woodrow Wilson who would attempt to appease the tyrants, oppose intervention and even try to use his good offices to ameliorate the conflict... which the British and French would then see as stalling while their production resource *base* was being threatened with OVERLAND interdiction that could not be addressed due to Ottoman and German reinforced fortifications along the Dardanelles that would be necessary to secure that limited waterway. As it was the cost was high in ships and men to attempt to do that with the minimal Ottoman fortifications of that era.

That 'inevitability of history' and ability of 'liberal democracy' to win, is based more on production capacity and strength and commitment to utilizing it, than is the actual forms of liberal democracy to win adherents. Here Mr. Gat has a very salient view on what the outcome of world without the US as a coherent Nation would have been:
Throughout the twentieth century, the United States' power consistently surpassed that of the next two strongest states combined, and this decisively tilted the global balance of power in favor of whichever side Washington was on. If any factor gave the liberal democracies their edge, it was above all the existence of the United States rather than any inherent advantage. In fact, had it not been for the United States, liberal democracy may well have lost the great struggles of the twentieth century. This is a sobering thought that is often overlooked in studies of the spread of democracy in the twentieth century, and it makes the world today appear much more contingent and tenuous than linear theories of development suggest. If it were not for the U.S. factor, the judgment of later generations on liberal democracy would probably have echoed the negative verdict on democracy's performance, issued by the fourth-century-BC Greeks, in the wake of Athens' defeat in the Peloponnesian War.
This was a prime worry amongst the Founding Generation and democracy, to this day, has not won through because of superiority of system, but due to superiority of resources and ability to utilize them. It was a highly and hotly argued point during the period of 1783-87, that the track record for liberal democracy was not only not good, but had inherent flaws and weaknesses in it that made it more liable to deterioration and final movement to tyranny as the unchecked sway of public opinion would come to dominate any forum of government. The ability of government to bestow gifts and favoritism, influence debate and pander to the public makes democracy a highly unstable system of government.

The success of liberal democracy may be in the absence of other viable forms of government, not due to inherent stability and structural superiority. That is brought up by Mr. Gat and is highly worth thinking about:
Because the totalitarian capitalist great powers, Germany and Japan, were crushed in war, and these countries were subsequently threatened by Soviet power, they lent themselves to a sweeping restructuring and democratization. Consequently, smaller countries that chose capitalism over communism had no rival political and economic model to emulate and no powerful international players to turn to other than the liberal democratic camp. These small and medium-sized countries' eventual democratization probably had as much to do with the overwhelming influence of the Western liberal hegemony as with internal processes. Presently, Singapore is the only example of a country with a truly developed economy that still maintains a semiauthoritarian regime, and even it is likely to change under the influence of the liberal order within which it operates. But are Singapore-like great powers that prove resistant to the influence of this order possible?
By the polarizing influence of the Cold War, two systems were pushed hard as viable alternatives, not due to their inherent superiority as government types, but due to their economic capacity imbued in the two superpowers. From this the victory in the Cold War is not one of moral superiority of one government type over another, but the actual economic power of the two Nations involved and their ability to retain economic coherence. Moderate and small size Nations that embrace liberal democracy that succeed, as Nations, may have more to do with that underlying success in the social order of their cultures rather than the liberating influence of democracy. For every Taiwan, South Korea and India, there are Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, Argentina, and Sudan that have shown that democracy, as a process, is not all that is necessary to succeed, nor that capitalism mixed in does much to help democracy out.

If capitalism is the great 'securer of liberty' then why are so many Nations with it having problems keeping to democratic and liberal ways? That simplistic view of Marx and many on the Right today, that economics guides society, has problems demonstrating that as an underlying fact without having to add in factors of culture, society and underlying legal structure. Similarly if democracy is the great 'cure all' for societal ills, then why are so many democratic governments so unstable and prone to overthrow and upheaval? For larger Nations inertia and size of population does play a role, also, and that must be taken into consideration when approaching this as a concept. Mr. Gat does bring this up within the modern context of Russia and China, and to any who have looked at where either of these Nations are, today, the underlying premise of the last 60 years that Nations will 'evolve' towards democracy because it is a 'superior system' are having problems in showing that. I have looked at China and the actual underpinnings of its growth are on bad debt, poor to no repayment, crony capitalism and working and environmental conditions that look more 19th century than 21st century.

Thus, on the actual ability of Nations to 'evolve' towards democracy, Mr. Gat puts forth the following:
It is widely contended that economic and social development create pressures for democratization that an authoritarian state structure cannot contain. There is also the view that "closed societies" may be able to excel in mass manufacturing but not in the advanced stages of the information economy. The jury on these issues is still out, because the data set is incomplete. Imperial and Nazi Germany stood at the forefront of the advanced scientific and manufacturing economies of their times, but some would argue that their success no longer applies because the information economy is much more diversified. Nondemocratic Singapore has a highly successful information economy, but Singapore is a city-state, not a big country. It will take a long time before China reaches the stage when the possibility of an authoritarian state with an advanced capitalist economy can be tested. All that can be said at the moment is that there is nothing in the historical record to suggest that a transition to democracy by today's authoritarian capitalist powers is inevitable, whereas there is a great deal to suggest that such powers have far greater economic and military potential than their communist predecessors did.
This is an ideological blind spot of Western thought in the post-20th century era, and one that is now hitting the entire foundation of the modern Nation State very hard. In the era of hard-hearted diplomacy, the underlying foundation of international affairs was:
“Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”
- Lord Palmerston
With that being the case, the older views of societies being represented by their government and having that government reflect much in the way of that society is one that becomes an issue. The Cold War stasis may have imposed an artificial choice upon Nations that pushed them into roles based on superpower alignment and *not* upon government as representative of societal outlook. To those who grew up in the latter half of the 20th century, that sounds like an archaic, parochial and even heavily discriminatory statement. That is exactly what it is and with good reason. It is biased and discriminatory because Nation States ARE that way by design. The entire Nation State system is one of differentiating populations by self-adherence and having common government, even if it is authoritarian, dictatorial, repressive and genocidal.

From this viewpoint, the United States is the safeguard of liberal democracy by its ability to hold its own democracy together. Mr. Gat does close out on the hopeful note that the US will most likely remain the foremost economic power globally, even if China realizes its potential as current forecasters are wont to forecast. What is not addressed directly, and only peripherally by Mr. Gat, is the actual essence that for the US to have such capability it must remain in its current state of affairs and not decline nor change overmuch in its outlook and internal coherence. History is, however, a contingent basis phenomena that plays upon things done and undone, both great and small, playing out from the level of individuals to that of Nation States. Small changes in perspective within a known and given scope, while seemingly trivial at the time, say the Kaiser taking a disliking to the British concept of oversight in the area of Mesopotamia, and continuing to extend rail coverage so as to exploit other resources and build a means to get troops and supplies to that region quickly. That is not a major change and, in actuality, rather trivial for the era involved, and yet the ramifications of *not* doing that led to the world we are in today.

That said the actual basis of democracy is citizen exercise of the franchise right in voting and the disturbing long term trends in the US have been evident for over 3 decades. The years of Presidential Elections typically see higher participation than in the mid-term elections for Representatives and 1/3 of the Senate.




The above taken from US Census datasets.

America is no longer a majoritarian ruled Nation. On the Presidential year a bit over 58% of the population came out to vote, which means the actual selective group that voted the current Administration back into office was 53% of 58%, or about 31%. Even worse is the more representative seats in the House and 1/3 of the Senate that see a selective body size for the United States of less than 25% of the population as a whole. This is not the signs of a healthy democracy nor, indeed, OF a democracy at all. The much vaunted two-party system has significantly degraded the turn out of the population so that those interested enough to vote on a Presidential year is about the same as those willing to show up for the less interesting mid-terms.... of 1966. In 40 years 14% of the US population has moved from utilizing their franchise right to not doing so during Presidential elections, and a very similar 12% have declined to do so over that same period for the Mid-Terms. The United States has moved from bare majoritarian rule to minoritarian rule over that same time span, so that even a 'landslide' is unlikely to represent half of the voting eligible population.

During the Founding Generation there were views on what good government was and was not. In from Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 26 on 22 DEC 1787 we see the following when speaking about the improbability of the government to continue on with standing armies when not needed, but the general point is well taken:
Schemes to subvert the liberties of a great community require time to mature them for execution. An army, so large as seriously to menace those liberties, could only be formed by progressive augmentations; which would suppose not merely a temporary combination between the legislature and executive, but a continued conspiracy for a series of time. Is it probable that such a combination would exist at all? Is it probable that it would be persevered in, and transmitted along through all the successive variations in a representative body, which biennial elections would naturally produce in both houses? Is it presumable that every man the instant he took his seat in the national Senate or House of Representatives would commence a traitor to his constituents and to his country? Can it be supposed that there would not be found one man discerning enough to detect so atrocious a conspiracy, or bold or honest enough to apprise his constituents of their danger? If such presumptions can fairly be made, there ought at once to be an end of all delegated authority. The people should resolve to recall all the powers they have heretofore parted with out of their own hands, and to divide themselves into as many States as there are counties in order that they may be able to manage their own concerns in person.
Is a minoritarian selected government good government by this standard? The backstops to prevent this, which Hamilton mentions earlier, are that the State Governments would serve as check and balance against the Federal Government. Thus, legislatures in the States would act as bodies to ensure good Federal Government is achieved and no State denied of its rights and protections under the Constitution. Unfortunately those have been undermined and the actual basis for the Congress changed since the founding, as I discussed in the introduction to another article looking at this, with this lengthy excerpt:
In 1909 the US had called for an International Opium Conference to start to limit the opium trade This had been spurred on by American missionaries in the Far East that had seen the social havoc of opium in China and the social decay of it there along with disrupting the counter-insurgency work of the Philippines by the US. The Hague Convention of 1912 would lead to international agreements on limiting or eliminating the opium trade. This Conference would lead to the very first legislation in the US to curb drugs: Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. This law was the very first in US history in which Congress tried to decide what an individual could or could not ingest in the way of drugs. This was done due to that missionary zeal and the feeling that such drugs were ruining the Nation as a whole. And it is hard to see where opium in cough syrup was a great help to much of anyone, since it hid tuberculosis. The use of it by mothers on children was a problem and should have been restricted by the States. This feeling by the prohibitionists to outlaw such was one that ran strongly religious communities, which saw the overseas use of such drugs and worked to marginalize or eliminate them for use in the US. Still, it was under Treaty obligations that the Harrison Act was promulgated, to uphold the US signing on to the 1912 Hague Convention. The far reaching effects of this are felt to this day with organized crime and Narco-terrorism rife in those areas that grow plants that lead to making narcotics and makes it such a profitable business in the criminal realm to this day. For the first time a social movement to limit the rights of Citizens had gained a foothold in America after the Civil War.

Also started in 1909 was Amendment XVI to the
US Constitution that would allow Congress to collect income tax. Prior to that the US used a system of property taxes and tariffs to generate income, but the first was seen as being unwieldy and the movement to income tax was pushed by a view that the wealthy were not paying their share of the burden in the Nation. While it has done that, it has also been broadened to include such things as tips, wagers on bets, and even finding something of value and selling it. All of that now falls within the power first given to Congress once this Amendment was ratified in 1913. Until that point in time taxes were levied via apportionment to the States via the census so that it would fall equally upon all in the Union. Also in this era was the Clayton Antitrust Act that would further limit monopoly power and cover problems with business sales and mergers that would unduly concentrate market power as an extension of the Sherman Antitrust Act. These were aimed at reducing the power of wealthy individuals, but also put power in the hands of Congress to apportion taxation as it saw fit upon income. While this may have made collecting taxes 'easier' the question of if such would actually lead to a 'fairer' assessment of taxes is still debated. With the ability of wealthy individuals to get loopholes and tax havens and other means to gain income outside of the income routes, the burden of this has fallen to the working class, by and large, although the wealthiest still do pay the largest amount in taxes. In the modern era the movement back to a more 'flat tax' which removes all loopholes is one that continues to be seen as more fair, even if graduated by income, as it removes the power of lobbyists to unduly influence legislation on behalf of the wealthy.

In 1911 the movement for the direct election of Senators by the public was put into what would become Amendment XVII which would also be ratified in 1913. Here the ill was seen as bribery and corruption at the State level to gain Senate seats, and these problems continued on for decades. Some States ran referenda to elect Senators and the election date was also regularized to that of the General Election. Still, the ability to 'wheel and deal' at the State level to gain Senate seats was seen as a major problem by the majority, and this Amendment was made to allow for direct selection by popular vote. This also changed the balance of power so that both Houses of Congress were now in hands of direct election instead of by dispersing power to the States and the People for the Senate and House respectively. The concentration of power in Washington via those that could win and continue to win these elections changed the turnover rate in the Senate and removed a major role for the States to play in the Federal system of governance. Previously that had been a check on Federal power via the States and a limit to the People so that more moderate voices could be heard in the Senate.

Also in 1911 came
Public Law 62-5 which would permanently set the size of the House at 435 members and allow voting portion to float while keeping a set House size. With the enactment of this law in 1913, the modern Congress type would be set and the difficulties of it would take time to manifest. The first and most important of these is that as the population increased, the amount of diversity in the House remained the same. Seats would shift from State to State, instead of having States grow in their number of seats over time. Although gerrymandering or 'non-compact districts' had always been a problem, they were seen as amenable to the fact that more would be created over time. Re-draw the districts every decade and you get a different mix of communities. In a set system, the redraws come at a much lower rate and only happen due to internal shifts in proportion of population, not absolute size. With that comes House seats that become 'safe' election after election and often for decades at a time with a single member for that seat.

Finally, in 1919 would come Amendment XVIII for the Prohibition of Alcohol, and while that would be repealed, it pointed to how far social ills were seen as needing a National remedy instead of via local control. Taken as a whole, these Amendments and Public Law would greatly change the nature of representative democracy within the Republic of the United States and start a major power shift towards Washington. With that would also come the money of wealthy individuals to start influencing this new form of Government and change the outlook of the Federal system itself in that doing. Lobbying this more constant government set-up would entrench power and money over time and give affluence access to the National Government.
In that short span of time the US Federal Government went from one with State check and balances against over-reach to one in which the States became secondary players to direct elective capability of the general population. By further diluting representation via the shifting to a fixed House size, as the population increased the voice of each individual would become less important over time. By the time the late 1930's rolled around the power and influence of the Federal Government would be waxing, and hard, to try and keep up with those self-same authoritarian capitalist societies that were seen as having worked their way out of the Depression, while liberal democracies were still trying to cope with those problems.

The solution given by the election of FDR was to increase Federal Government power by putting forth various programs to change the labor outlook of the Nation. First was to remove older workers from the workforce, via the Social Security System, so as to allow younger workers greater access to it. That temporary fix for a limited time has continued on indefinitely, until the changes in lifespan due to increasing technological capability have put the very basis for it at risk: Federal Government will be devoted entirely to this 'entitlement' and have no funds left for anything else by 2050. Before that, there will come a time when there will not be sufficient funds to actually run the government and either the government itself will have to be cut back more and more until it ceases to exist, or taxation will need to be increased, over time, until more and more of the money earned is taken and given to the older, retired generations.

Generations. Plural. Increasing lifespan has put this worker-based payoff to the retired as a lethal pill to the Republic as the number of retirees decrease the number of workers to support them over time. This has been known as a problem since the early 1980's, but this form of government that has been created has proven absolutely incapable of dealing with a structural threat that was created in the 1930's. Which was a temporary way to increase those working so as to get out of the Depression. And as the older generation votes out of proportion with the younger cohorts, the political power has shifted with it. Those feeling disenfranchised are increasingly the young and middle aged, working generations who are needing to continue on supporting older Americans who utilize Social Security as a means to retire with two or more DECADES of active retirement ahead of them. In the 1930's the life expectancy was only a few years beyond the retirement age, not decades.

In theory, 'older and wiser heads' should have self-limited this so as to ensure that a healthy means of sustaining the Republic was achieved. Yet it is those older Representatives and Senators, who have held seats for decades, that have utilized that Government transfer payment system to ensure that older individuals now get disproportionate benefit from that transfer system and vote to continue it onwards. While decreasing taxation helps to build the economy, the demographic shift is far harder and faster than economic expansion, even in the best of years. When there are times of limited growth, or 'recession', then the demographics move faster than the economic expansion can handle them. The global economy has not seen a 'depression' or actual shrinking in economies on a global scale since the 1930's.

It is exactly this marginalization of the franchise right that was worrying to one of those that stood as an Anti-Federalist, as those who saw problems with the Constitution were named. He was John Lansing, from New York, who had this to say at the New York ratifying convention for the Constitution on 24 JUN 1788:
It is further objected to this amendment, that it will restrain the people from choosing those who are most deserving of their suffrages, and will thus be an abridgment of their rights. I cannot suppose this last inference naturally follows. The rights of the people will be best supported by checking, at a certain point, the current of popular favor, and preventing the establishment of an influence which may leave to elections little more than the form of freedom. The Constitution of this state says, that no man shall hold the office of sheriff or coroner beyond a certain period. Does any one imagine that the rights of the people are infringed by this provision? The gentlemen, in their reasoning on the subject of corruption, seem to set aside experience, and to consider the Americans as exempt from the common vices and frailties of human nature. It is unnecessary to particularize the numerous ways in which public bodies are accessible to corruption. The poison always finds a channel, and never wants an object. Scruples would be impertinent, arguments would be in vain, checks would be useless, if we were certain our rulers would be good men; but for the virtuous government is not instituted: its object is to restrain and punish vice; and all free constitutions are formed with two views——to deter the governed from crime, and the governors from tyranny.
Uninhibited government duration of individuals in office was seen as a major problem at the State level when the Constitution was created. With 'the establishment of an influence which may leave to elections little more than the form of freedom' has come the movement of those elected to be done by minorities within the population and moved by minoritarian agenda that purports to be good for the whole of the people but that cannot GET the whole of the people to turn out for them. Those that put forth that this disenfranchisement is a reflection of the voting whole need to demonstrate that by having an agenda that can, in actuality, get a majority of the voting population to vote for it... or even, in Congressional Mid-Terms, to even SHOW UP at the ballot box.

If agendas by the two party system are so good for the Republic, then why do they not strike more fervor in the population and get folks off their butts to come out and vote for them? That can, apparently, only be done in Presidential election years and, even with that, the slide has been ever downwards since the early 1960's and that steepest decline then points to a marginalization of a large and important segment of the US population that has been so turned off by the type of politics seen that they are and remain unconvinced, over time, that the franchise actually has meaning in America.

Democracy, at its basis for representative government, requires majoritarian participation and approval to have meaning. That 70% figure of the 1964 election was worrying *then* for it put forth that even after a Presidential ASSASSINATION there was 30% of the American people that did not see any reason to vote for a President. And that was from a President that was greatly mourned, there was a part of the population that could not be moved enough to recognize the simple act of voting would or could make a difference. In 1964. The disaffection with Americans for their political parties and those put forth to represent them has only increased since then.

Those are extremely worrying and trendlines for the Nation that is supposed to be the great supporter and, if this historical analysis is correct on the actual reasons for democracy and liberal views of liberty and freedom being correct, an overall concern of actually retaining a concept of such simple things as democracy actually being a force for empowerment of the individual over the long haul. If we now cannot convince more than 61% of the people to come and vote for a PRESIDENT, as seen in all of the elections starting in 1976, then what is the basis for any optimism on this concept of 'majority rule' by 'consent of the governed'? When 40% of the people do not show up, that IS the majority rule: to NOT vote for ANY party or individual for ANY position in government.

That is not sheer laziness or inertia.

It is a vote of 'no confidence' by staying home and withholding the franchise support of the government in all particulars. The 'inertia' part comes in on the Mid-Terms when an additional 13% just don't care enough about representative democracy to vote for a representative to do this thing known as REPRESENT THEM. That is what representative democracy means. Voting for an individual to represent YOU. There is an absolute majority in the Mid-Terms that have voted for NO representative government for the United States and that is, exactly, what we have gotten: Government that no longer represents the Will of the People.

What it does represent is the will of the ideologues and partisans in politics. And even *they* cannot get a significant plurality to claim representative government, so that 'majority rule' now is down to less than 25%. Compare that to the NSDAP in 1932 during a National election that saw 80% of the voters turn out and won 33% of the vote for just over 26% of National representation. That was enough to swing the tide of power and the 1933 election with 88% of the people showing up at the polls would see it garner nearly 44% of the vote or nearly 39% of the entire voting age population. Yes, the NAZI Party did better in a multiparty system, getting votes in their off-year, 1932, by a couple of percent BETTER than either party in the US does today and they did far better in 1933 for actual percent of the population than the US did in the last Presidential election.

And the US has a two-party system, which, in theory, should make it far *easier* to get substantive plurality of the population to get out and vote for it.

What is that about the superiority of the two party representative democracy to that of the multiparty system that voted the NAZI party to power?

How about that Senate trying to pass laws that don't go through conference and that they want to restrict debate on? Such a lovely democracy we have! Almost as good as that of Weimar Germany in 1932.

Almost as good.

Thank you to the Right and the Left for getting us this system. Apparently you can't do as well as the Nazis did, but I know you sure are trying to, aren't you?

8 comments:

Beto_Ochoa said...

I told a co-worker today that this is a brief moment in the sun and a golden age when clean water flows from a tap, you flush your waste easily and the lights are on every night. Our tenure here has been so brief in the aspect of all that has past and it cannot last. Perhaps it would transition into the next genisis without too much destruction if our elected leader were truly noble and incorruptable but they're not and it wont. Gold of the future, coins? Scrip? Nope. Motorcycles, guns and ammo.

A Jacksonian said...

"The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves." - Sarah Connor remembering the words of Kyle Reese

And we only get ONE chance to do it right.

Welcome to the 21st century.

Harrison said...

a jacksonian, I lament as well the state of affairs that the political system, electorate and the once time-honoured traditions of pluralist politics and demagoguery-free deliberation has degenerated into.

During the inter-war years, the sentiment of dolchstosselegende, or the "stab in the back" was easily exploited and amplified by the NSDAP - that Germany only lost the Great War in 1918 because the Weimar Republic acceded to that demand, thereby constituting a betrayal of the highest order: snatching "imminent" victory right under the noses of the Army. This myth of betrayal gradually became one of the more prominent cornerstones of the NSDAP programme as well as that of the Communists and Socialists.

In the years leading up to that momentous victory at the polls, both the Left and the Right constantly sought to undermine the Weimar Republic. They shared that common goal: to destabilise the government, render the political center powerless and ultimately precipitate the collapse of the Republic. Galvanising the masses behind that myth of betrayal (while conveniently papering over the disastrous miscalculations of the Generals themselves during the Great War), the Nazis were able to decisively grasp such a huge majority of the votes.

Yet in the post-war decades that ensued, when the extra-parliamentary tactics employed by the extreme Left and Right became indistinguishable, with both ends of the spectrum seeking to undermine the faith of the public in the governing center, the peoples of Western Europe responded by huddling towards the center, recognising and condemning the extreme parties for their regression into violence and eventual irrelevance.

It must have been eerily reminiscent of 1933 that Western Europeans saw in the mirror: the precedent set by the Nazis that shook the populations to the core - that ideological extremism and blind partisanship could only end up destroying the fragile vestiges of democracy and government.

So it seems prudent to suggest that the the US is seemingly beginning to learn this lesson: that the Left and the Right have descended into such blatant demagoguery, acrimonious disregard and the vicious cycle of partisanship, clientelism and witch-hunting; that both ends of the spectrum have betrayed the American people and served not the national interest but themselves and their vested objectives; that there is, tragically, no representative worth voting for at the elections.

a jacksonian, you are right that this is not sheer laziness or inertia. Neither the Left nor the Right have descended into the type of extra-parliamentary behaviour that was typical of extreme left- and right-wing organisations in Western Europe in the '70s and '80s, but they seem to be tempting fate and toeing the line. The Right and definitely the Left have betrayed the people - perhaps this will be the galvanising force necessary to convince citizens to discredit these partisan hacks that roam the halls of Congress, and eventually carve out a center that is worth supporting and voting for.

A Jacksonian said...

Harrison - You have put together the best summation of this situation that I have read!

We are *exactly* at that point where the US is going to find out *if* there is a majority that wants to *have* a Nation. As a Nation we have clear guidance from the Founding Generation on what representative democracy *means* and why it is important to adhere to it so as to have a robust outlook of the Nation. Parties were a fine 18th and 19th century construct and served well all the way into the mass media era of the 1950's. The implications of the 1909-19 decisions for National Government was already restricting viewpoints and outlook and the supremacy of the mass-media era of 1955-2004 crystallized the stasis of the Cold War politics in the two parties. The flaws of that era of politics are now entirely the *basis* for the two parties.

The Cold War is over, and yet the arguments of it still drop like ice cubes from the mouths of the two parties. America has advanced, but her politics is mired in asinine questions of an era of stasis and divisiveness. And as that happened neither party saw reason or *want* to have inclusive democracy: they had their power elite and wanted that to continue forever onwards.

As I have said before and say again: put two dots on opposite sides of a piece of paper, connect them by a line, label one side 'Left' and the other 'Right', then cut out a large hole in the paper going through that line between them and shift the paper away from that hole. Between the Left and Right there is a mathematical 'center' that bears no relationship to the *real* Center. The argument of governing 'towards the center' is a lie as taking the middle of two ideologies no longer coincides with the center of the American People.

The American Revolution, like so many others, looks to be faltering and failing. It is but one Revolution and has lasted well and long. Now we can look to Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, Washington, Lansing, 'Brutus', 'Federal Farmer' and many others and put forward: democracy *must* be representative of the majority of the People, not JUST the voters. I decry the state of affairs not as a conspiratorialist, but as a Free Man who does not like the way democracy is heading in my Nation. It does not take a conspiracy to get to this point, just willful blindness, vested interests and unwillingness to understand that to have a Nation one must support it as a Nation.

The trendlines for Iraq are good and headed upwards.

The trendlines for the US are bad and headed downwards.

Now the American Revolution truly gets tested. Do we mean what we say or don't we? If we don't, then we have set the example of what NOT to do. Let us hope the American People can learn from this... and change those trendlines back to democracy, and away from tryannical ideologues.

lesly said...

A Jacksonian, great post. I would go further and say that the ruse is up. We know free trade isn't a catalyst for democratic ideals as trade liberals once believed, but neo-liberals continue promoting the myth for the interests of our economic elites.

Where we part company is this statement: "The trendlines for Iraq are good and headed upwards." Northern Iraq, perhaps, but lasting revolution must start from within, and Iraq's fate is a symptom of our own trendlines.

A Jacksonian said...

lesly - Thank you for dropping by!

To me it is the Right, that lovely monobloc on the other side of the Left, that promotes this strange idea of transnational capitalism as a boon for mankind... rather than a boon for business. That is the Fonte link on the sidebar on the Transnational Left and Right.

Iraq, is a hefty mosaic at this point in time, and trying to pin down anything while that mosaic is in flux is difficult. Trying to understand that mosaic view requires more than north-south views or even the Kurd/Arab view. The factors now playing themselves out in Iraq I looked at in my Peace in the Middle East article for extremely broad overview, and in my Faultlines of the Middle East article, along with the Unreal 'Realists' article and the ever chilling Post-Warism article for how the West has failed in a situation so similar to this for decades that our inability to name it and consider it bode ill for Western thought.

That mosaic article is telling, however, of something different happening in Iraq at this point in time than has had happened there for 4,000 years, which is in my Creating an Army article. Going from absolute tyranny, with little living memory of *any* other system of government inside Iraq to where we are today, which is a highly transitory government set-up that has not shaken itself out yet, is one of the first glimmers of hope in Iraq for something better for at least 60 years and more like 1,500 years. To decry that it *is* transitory would be to put the US in 1783-87 into that exact same boat. A Nation *can* come out of this, but actually finding out if there is a Nation THERE is the test of the present.

The hopeful signs are in the Awakening Movement which has become, within bounds, a secular/technocratic government movement amongst the Sunni Arabs and is spreading from Anbar to surrounding provinces. If this sounds familiar, it is because it is the outlook the Kurds have had for some time, although from their own ethnic viewpoint, of course. This does not mean that it will succeed or that it can come to terms for long-term accord within Iraq, but to have ANY trendline upwards, no matter how frail, is a *start*... not an end.

Let us hope that America can find a way to renew democracy and be in the *middle* and not heading towards an *end*.

That is the way I see it... even with the complexities involved, there is motion there... deep motion in a part of the world that has never seen it before. Now we shall see if we have the heart to try to help it... and back up our fine words about all men being created equal with actual work to help another Nation step from the shadow of a tyrant. If we can't *try* then we are not worth our fine words and are damned for speaking them with a hollow tone.

whiskey_199 said...

A Jacksonian --

Excellent article as always. Love the name, nice take on "A Square" I take it? From "Adventures in Flatland?"

However following the link to "Management of Savagery" and your argument for empowering individuals to use force against terrorists, I would counter-argue that we are not done with Nation States, and are seeing the beginnings of another Jacksonian Revolt.

The Senate Insiders and DC bigwigs including Bush thought they could as Lindsay Graham said "push back" on the American People and found out otherwise.

To solve the problem of Al Qaeda and other terror groups within the Ummah is conceptually very simple though terrifying. One however I think sadly we will get to (which is why I would prefer to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan, as long as possible, to forestall that).

I don't think we will get a "stab in the back" moment. And yes History is not inevitable. However, I do think that Bush, having thrown in his lot with the Dems, won't object to a surrender in Iraq and Afghanistan (Maxine Waters and the CBC demand it there as well saying "we've lost" and comparing it explicitly to Iraq). As a practical matter we can't hold Afghanistan if we run away from Iraq. Given a fragile air bridge as the only way to supply Afghanistan and it being surrounded by Iran and Pakistan on three sides.

In turn this white flag of surrender (about 3-4 K casualties to push us out of both countries, Iraq and Afghanistan) plus "hands of Iran" will put a giant "nuke me" sign on several US cities. Which WILL happen.

Now, what will the average joe, enraged, and seeing a direct and mortal threat to his life and his family's life think? He'll probably have friends and family that died in several dead US cities.

Well he'll think the most logical thing in the world. "This wouldn't happen if the Muslims were all dead." And do his best to make it so. Since we have the nukes to do it.

There is this great scene in Silverado. Linda Hunt tells Kevin Kline that the evil Sheriff (played by Brian Dennehy) can't threaten her if he's dead. Kline being a former gunfighter had simply put the possibility behind him since he didn't like killing. But Hunt reminded him and so he kills the Sheriff.

Average people are very likely to have that inner conversation. "They can't hurt us if they are dead."

I do not think an aroused populace will submit to the endless terror and destabilization that AQ or other groups propose. Since they are all Muslim the reaction of simply killing all Muslims which is technically achievable is sadly and horrifically inevitable once we lose cities.

In 1939 the War Office was horrified at the suggestion of bombing munitions factories in the Black Forest. Private property and all that. By 1942 Britain was sending waves of bombers on fire-bombing night raids after the Blitz.

Sadly in my opinion GWB's move to posture at the Wahabbist Mosque only makes this more inevitable. Like Lindsay Graham promising to "push back."

A Jacksonian said...

Whiskey - My thanks!

The modern Nation State does, indeed, have a role play in counter-terrorism work, but we have also seen the inability of the government to connect between the various INTs of the Intelligence Community, and such things as counter-narcotics, gray market goods smuggling, and even to find and crack down on the person-to-person financial networks like the Black Market Peso Exchange or even the hawalas from the Middle East. I went over that in this article, and the actual ability of the US Government to get down to that level of tracking and enforcement is highly suspect. We do not give the Armed Forces that scope of power, either, for fear of the power that comes with it... yet the ability to go after these networks and take them down is a vital concern to the Nation State in the 21st century.

A large part of Nation State mobilization and awareness is actually calling crimes by their names, so that we can have good scope and purview upon them. When terrorism goes after US Commerce it is no longer *just* terrorism: it is Piracy. Those commerce powers to enforce Treaties is well understood and addresses entire organizations and their supporters that act as Pirates. As these organizations are highly wide spread, dispersed and with few and capable individuals constantly recruiting, finding funding and starting operations, the ability of the Nation's currently scoped law enforcement, treasury, commerce, and military powers is not up to this job. To get them there is at least a decade of restructuring the Federal Government with no guarantee of success.

As an example, in taking down "The French Connection" was drug trafficking to the US stopped or even hindered? It was not, as it dispersed via multi-channels and addressed massive single operation movement of drugs and goods to become a multi-source, multi-operation affair that would and does continue to vex the US to this day. The same of gray market and black market goods arriving in the US. Multiple sting operations has put zero dent in this, as there is always a rich set of players to start up their own organizations. Terrorism has now passed into that state, also, with distributed adherents of terror concepts now being able to 'spin up' via the vested knowledge, background and multi-source suppliers of the Transnational Terrorism Internetwork.

What is needed is a tool to go after that entire network and start eroding it and harrying it and pulling it down piece by piece. The regular armed forces have their hands full with simply getting a couple of impoverished Nations up and running in a more or less orderly fashion. They also do not have the depth, breadth or scope of contacts available in the commercial world and are prohibited from using many such sources. The American People, however, are *not* so restricted as we are the source of businesses and we have thousands to tens of thousands of individuals involed in that as their daily lives. Here skill and knowledge of person-to-person networks trumps Nation State power due to Metcalf's Law of Networking. Private indivduals and companies must *utilize* their networks to do business and, thusly, have better scope and breadth of the actual problem than the government does. The National Government of the Nation State *still* has a part to play and a huge one... but it is not the fine tool to carve out the cancer while leaving the good tissue behind.

This is an attempt to engage people as individuals before the Flaming Terrible Swift Sword of the Republic is seen in its full might, bringing the cleansing flames with it. As a Citizen it is my duty to forestall that so that we may be held in respect by other Nations and that we may have a clear conscience for ourselves that all other avenues were exhausted. For if it comes to the Day of the Sword, it will strike first outwardly... then inwardly to start that process against those who tried to bring the Nation down by demeaning it. To be a Citizen I must fight against that Day.

And show a path so that We the People may trust ourselves to succeed, and have the naysayers come to the point of 'put up, or shut up'. I hope I can survive to see THAT day.