Can Democracy Survive?
It’s a portrait of a dystopia. Paramilitaries on tanks…tear gassing journalists…arresting unarmed people at gunpoint…declaring martial law….across an entire town…in peacetime…for killing an unarmed teenager…in the first place…with a President seemingly powerless to stop it.
That scene, of course, isn’t just Pakistan, Nigeria, or Cambodia today. It’s Ferguson, Missouri, the United States of America.
What the fuck?
Here’s what’s really going on. Constitutional Democracy itself is broken. Not just “in America”; but across the world. As an idea. Because it has few defenders left. And so the thugs and men with guns have simply stormed in, and…taken it away.
And that’s a shame. Because Constitutional Democracy—sorry, nerds, not Tinder, Uber, and Soylent—is one of humanity’s truly great accomplishments.
But the truth is that it began to end long ago. Over the last decade, Americans have lost the bulk of their basic rights. The right to free assembly, privacy, fair trial, speech, search, at a minimum. These simply no longer exist—though the Constitution nominally “guarantees” them, they are ignored and violated on a daily basis as part of everyday life.
That’s a small crack in a bigger collapse: the collapse of Constitutional Democracy.
America, of course, was once considered a great country. Not merely for its economic accomplishments; or its feats of engineering. But because it single-handedly created humanity’s greatest invention to date. A new kind of society. A Constitutional Democracy.
But the world’s most “successful” countries today are no longer Constitutional Democracies. They are one-party autocracies; they are de facto plutocracies; they are chest-beating oligarchies; they are something else entirely. Whatever America has become; a system for which we yet do not have a name.
Let’s call them Dismocracies, for now. For many of today’s regimes pretend to appear Democracies. To gain access to the world markets, to gain legitimacy in the world’s eyes, to gain favorable terms of trade. But they are precisely the negation of Constitutional Democracy. They are sophisticated social machines which funnel prosperity from the bottom, to the top.
What makes Dismocracies different? In these new regimes, people do not enjoy rights. The rich enjoy privileges; the poor bear burdens. Why? Because “growth” must be achieved at any cost—even if it means, paradoxically enough, impoverishing people.
The state does not truly govern—it merely manages society like a kind of giant investment fund. It is a kind of praetorship, which funnels funds to the private sector—from people. What, in turn, does the private sector “invest” in? Mechanisms of human repression. Private prisons, militaries, schools, hospitals, energy, information.
All the things, in short, that Constitutional Democracies guarantee as rights. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…remember? Except in a Dismocracy, you do not have the right to any of these. You must purchase them. As privileges. If you can afford them…you must pay…through the nose…often to monopolists…in partnership with the very state that should exist to rein them in.
Life in Dismocracies is “dis”. It is dismal. It is disastrous. It is dystopian. It is short, nasty, bleak, hard, and depressing. And so it should concern us all to watch the world turning away from democracy.
None of us who claim to still be civilized people should want, or respect, Dismocracy. But that number, I fear, is shrinking every day.
Can Democracy survive? I don’t know. I confess: I don’t grow more hopeful by the day.
For the greatest ally of Dismocracy is the person who believes that Democracy is merely a trip to the megamall. In other words, the servant who believes he is the master; and so becomes less than the fool. The pawn.