The thing is, Democracy will end.
At some point the current dominant expression of Democracy – Universal Franchise with mass political parties and redistributive taxation – will fail to deliver solutions to urgent problems: Climate; Migration;War; National Sovereignty – and it will be discarded for something else.
Like I said before, you must subscribe to Talking Politics. Its contemporary Political analysis in the best traditions of British academia – very high quality but accessible to the layman and easy on the ear.
En Passant, Runciman offers the observation that Trump is neither Hitler, nor Mussolini, but Berlusconi. To which I must differ. Trump is Nero. Trump, like Nero, would burn down Washington merely to build himself a larger Villa topped by a 35 metre tall Bronze Statue of himself, and would indeed overturn by decree any decision that he had come 2nd in any competition whatsoever and declare himself the winner as apparently Nero once did in an Olympic Rowing event in the Ancient Games – my source is Horrible Histories Series 4 Episode 8.
How Democracy Ends
What follows is my notes and interspersed commentary from Runciman’s talk. Apologies in advance to David for any errors of misinterpretation of his presentation.
Democracy has failed before – and though it has recovered, its collapsings have led to some terrible expressions of murderous, even genocidal, authoritarianism. When speaking of a crisis of Democracy, people commonly refer to how German Weimar Republic was thrown aside by the Nazis in the 1930’s, but there have been other awful usurpations inclusing a spate in the 1970’s when Spain, Portugal, Greece and Chile plus many nations in Africa and Asia reverted to Military or Authoritarian rule.
But Democracy can fail in other ways other than to be usurped by Fascists – Democracy could simply stagnate where the dominant forms of Democratic expression – voting, Parliament, competing Parties – endure, but they become ineffective at solving problems or providing representation.
Democracy can reach a stagnated state where dominant paradigms control the mind of the polity – e.g. Market Forces are the only legitimate way to adjudicate the best course of action – or where the forms of Democracy have been hollowed out or stripped of vitality – e.g by propaganda or partisan or Fake News dominating the media with a subsequent polarisation and hardening of positions, which can also be caused by individuals only consuming “news” or viewpoints which confirm their own biases. This last of course is the current problem beseiging our media through personalised and targeted news feeds such as through Facebook, Cambridge Analytica or by intentional consumer choice.
Runciman hypothesises that Democracies such as those of the Anglosphere or Japan could stagnate for a century or more in this hollowed-out or ineffective state while urgent problems remain unaddressed and the polity remains hypnotised and anaesthetised by a religious belief in Democratic forms and by propaganda, even of the type intentionally chosen by the power of Confirmation Bias
Runciman also observes that Democracy could be hollowed-out by being taken over by an Authoritarian or Demagogue. Military Dictatorships frequently hijack the power of Government while leaving the institutions of Democracy in place as a facade. These kinds of populist or authoritarian figures lead coups or popular seizures of power stating that it is necessary for them to take over to cleanse and renew the institutions of government and protect and restore true democracy on behalf of the people.
In this vein, Trump’s promise to ‘Drain The Swamp’ carries the rallying call of the Demagogue as he usurps the Democratic institutions of America, hollowing them out, rendering them as ineffective as possible, and seeking to run the nation as a Mafia Boss with the assistance of Concilliars appointed from his personal circle. For this allusion – Trump as Mafia Boss with Concilliars – I thank Sarah Churchwell from Talking Politics #123 – ‘America First’
Why We Will Not Repeat The 1930’s
Runciman spent the majority of his talk explaining why he believes that the Anglosphere and similar Democracies will not be superceded by Authoritarianism, Military Dictatorship or Religious or Racist Populism.
His basic point, which I found interesting though not totally persuasive, is that the societies of the modern Anglosphere and Europe are highly dissimilar in Demographic, Socio-Economic, and Crime and Violence-related metrics.
Simply put – we are different societies and are therefore far less suscptible to Fascism.
How Modern Western Democracies Differ From 1930’s Democracies
Runciman measures modern Democracies against the European Democracies of the 1930’s which succumbed to, or nearly (including the USA) succumbed to Fascism -again Sarah Churchwell is brilliant on this point – and finds that modern Democracies are much richer, much older and much less violent than our counterparts of the 1930’s. He marshalls convincing statistics and research to show how poverty and youth are linked to Fascism and also notes that 1930’s USA and Germany carried levels of Political Violence which are simply not seen in today’s democracies.
Runciman extrapolates from those statistics and demographic factors to conclude that current democracies are unlikely to fall prey to Fascism in the way that 1930’s Europe did.
Runciman brings a convincing case study in Greece, which has not fallen into Fascism in recent times despite huge falls in GDP, an economic depression deeper and longer than the Great Depression, and critically high levels of unemployment and the presence of a large, well-funded and alert Armed Forces (on alert against Turkey) and despite a recent history of Military Dictatorship in the 1960’s.
Runciman ascribes the survival of democracy in Greece, or more exactly the failure of Fascism to ignite in Greece, to the fact that Greece is demographically old. The foot-soldiers of Fascism are always young men. And Greece is full of older men. The Weimar Republic had a high population of young men who were also traumatised by the recent experience of World War 1. These became the muscle of the Nazi movement.
How Will Our Democracies End ?
Based on the above analysis and noting our Wealth, Age and low levels of political violence, Runciman argues that our Democracies, even though they may fail, are unlikely to fall prey to Fascism and is more likely to exhaust into ineffectiveness, unable to solve pressing problems such as Climate Change, simply rotating our governments and ruling parties in a futile grasping for a government that will finally have the answers.
Interestingly, Runciman feels that we are unlikely to lapse into War either, as the costs of a putative World War 3 are too great to contemplate, with Nuclear Holocaust being a likely outcome.
For What Its Worth
I think that Demagoguery is very likely in the USA and the other democracies of the Anglosphere. Personalities like Trump and Boris Johnson are pushing the USA and the UK in this direction and conservative political parties in the UK, USA and Australia are inciting public contempt for the courts, parliament, science and fact-based debate. Futhermore, conservative parties continue to accommodate the viewpoints of racist and anti-immigrant groups as they seek to extend their voter base.
In addition, Social Media and targeted news feeds are polarising debate even while debasing it with Fake News. Political paries are supporting this trend.
In the meantime Climate Change and the associated Migration Crisis is applying pressure to Western Societies which is both unrelenting and increasing.
The demand for solutions will accompany economic disruption, water shortages and an intolerable climate.
Its an open field for the Demagogues.
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