Democratic Exhaustion

Is our democracy germinating the seeds of its own destruction?

Alexis de Toqueville warned, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” That day has come. It is not yet gone.

Democracy  in ancient Athens lasted about 250 years. We in the United States are at about that same point in our history today. In Europe, alas, democracy came but as a short, brief whimper in time. Now, post-Lisbon, it is gone…at a national scale and, very soon, at the local level, too.  EUro democracy – so ancien regime! In EUrope, the new aristocracy is already taking form, with power centered in Brussels and Strasbourg. In America, our own Washington, DC-centered aristocrat wannabees remain diffuse and riven by competing factions, but they are there and waiting.

What went wrong? I propose that the primary seed of our destruction lies in our own human nature. It is the “tragedy of the commons” writ large. The tragedy of the commons, formulated by ecologist Garrett Hardin in the 1960s, describes the dynamic whereby individuals and other animals, when confronted with limited resources, have a self-interest in expropriating the maximum amount of those resource for themselves while they can, thereby hastening the resource’s destruction. The tragedy of the commons is neatly summarized by Illinois’ de facto state motto, “where’s mine?” (with a respectful hat tip to Chicago Tribune editorialist John Kass).

I suspect that, deep down, many serious people in America’s contending factions (Left, conservative, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian) believe that we are now in the end game and that we are thus witnessing a mad, vicious scramble by traditional Democrat constituencies (e.g., public sector unions) to secure to themselves as much wealth and political power as possible before the inevitable financial collapse. The primal screams and vile demagoguery harmonized by the howling mobs of Wisconsin, Greece, France and Britain (or from our Commander in Chief, for that matter) are but the beginning of this process. Change can be ugly when people lose hope!

“Where’s mine?”

It still remains incredible for me to contemplate how we in the West, endowed with the richest standards of living every conceived in human history, still could not find satisfaction from living within our means. The wails and tribulations of the Left notwithstanding, all groups in America are living far better material standards of living than they did 25, 50 or 100 years ago or than the vast majority of our world enjoys today. How could we not find it within ourselves to be grateful for and respectful of what our forebears built and accumulated as their legacy for us. Indeed, our unparalleled wealth and quality of life appears only to have fueled resentment of “the other” in tandem with an exponential growth in our appetites and expectations. Thus have we now come to the point of destroying ourselves and our inheritors through impossible debt obligations, gained in our quest for ever more lucre and comfort gained on other peoples’ dimes.

“Where’s mine?”

So today, confronted with hard choices on whether to cut back on our expectations and regenerate the wealth that we have lost on one hand (the Paul Ryan plan) and a mad scramble to secure our own selfish claims upon the commons before its dissolution, our country confronts the fork in the road that, as Yogi Berra put it, must be taken.

Why do I suspect that earlier in our democracy, when government was not expected to fulfill everyone’s economic and social needs, a national belt-tightening to confront an existential crisis would hardly have been considered controversial. A split electorate today, unfortunately, does not bode well for constructive solutions. From my limited perspective, I suspect that 25% of our population seems committed to the conviction that the government’s largesse can continue forever and another 25% (public employee unions, Liberals, Democrat politicians) cynically manipulates events to amass all it can before the inevitable collapse.

“Where’s mine?”

I propose, however, that these manipulators on the Left and their followers are fundamentally mistaken in the following ways:

One is to believe that whatever political and financial power they accumulate in these days will translate into power and wealth in the future. I don’t think so. You can’t, for example, pay pensions on the back of a collapsed market economy. You can’t fund ObamaCare promises through foreign largesse. Princely union boss salaries will be worthless when union members inevitably catch on to their betrayal and they, too, ultimately depend upon a healthy private sector economy.

Two, we can never really predict the future.  Revolutions lead to unpredictable ends and often end-up eating their own. Anarchists and Democrats can try to collapse the system, perhaps, but nobody can know what will replace it.

Three, the real threat to our society today is not our debt but the destruction of our debt capacity. Debt capacity refers to our ability to absorb more debt in response to crises: for me, for example, debt capacity is represented by my home equity line of credit, to be drawn upon in emergencies. We can be guaranteed that our Western civilization will face serious crises that will threaten our very existence. With our home equity line exhausted, from whence will we find the capital resources to fund our survival? How will we build back from the rubble?

When FDR embarked on his wildly irresponsible debt-financed financial adventures, our country’s ability to absorb debt was still great by the time WWII arrived. We survived and, as a result, thrived. I am not so certain that we could do so today. Not to veer too far off path, but does anyone else get the sense that the ineffectual flounderings of the U.S. and our NATO allies in Libya, a misbegotten economic and military backwater of 6.5 million people, hardly reflect the actions of robust democracies?

I sense that our Western democracies have reached a point of exhaustion. Perhaps this reflects the natural lifespan of democracies. I hope not. The Ryan blueprint presents our 50:50 nation with an existential fork in the road. We shall soon discover the true strength of our national fiber. Will we tighten our belts, retrench and expand the national and global commons as we have in the past…or will we intensify our mad struggles to secure dwindling remnants thereof to ourselves? If the latter, then our democratic experiment will truly be at an end. And that would be a tragedy.

I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. … Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.

- John Adams

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Comments

  1. says

    The strength of evil is that it can destroy the lives of 10 people, that took 5 other people decades of their life to bring up, simply by corrupting 2 people within the 10. That is the power of evil. And it is the power which the Democrats have used in America for almost a century.

    They claim that if they can simply kill enough businesses and “evil corporations”, that they will be able to create self-sustaining utopia. Divine law itself prevents such. Whoever has heard the megalomaniac say that he will usher in paradise so long as that group of people gets slaughtered? They aren’t that rare.

    There are still people who believe that they can create life, simply by killing things. That they can create wealth, by stealing it from others and killing people’s economic well being. they really believe that. And hey, from their personal experience, it’s true. They have been able to put money in their bank accounts by stomping on the weak and defenseless in America. Just look at the bank accounts of the Democrats. Jefferson even had tens of thousands in his refrigerator. That’s how much money they have that the banks won’t hold and how much money they need to hide.

  2. says

    The strength of good is that it is the only path to creating better conditions for human mortality. Material possessions and an increase in the standard of living as well as more productivity and more inter-networking of individual talents, all are the direct results of what is Good.

    But this requires time. The power of creation is said to be given only unto the divine, God, and not mortals. The power to create what is, from what is not. But the power to destroy was indeed given to mortals. And it is mortals by which death and destruction come, not as popularly believed by the hand of God.

    However, the power of creation takes time. The power of destruction takes much less time. What was created using millions of years of mortal time, can be destroyed in a blink of an eye. What mortals created using centuries of work, the Left can destroy in decades.

    It is one thing to go down fighting like the Republic of Vietnam, faced with the full fury and malevolence of the Left. It is quite another thing to go down while yelling to the rooftops that there was no danger, that the Democrats were simply misunderstood, misguided, and just plain wrong. That this chaotic upheaval was inevitable or couldn’t be helped. That it was the work of God or human ignorance.

    It was no work of human ignorance. Creation and destruction both require knowledge and work. It doesn’t just happen like entropy.

  3. Charles Martel says

    I think Danny is correct, that we may have run our course. I told my son 10 years ago, when he was 16, that his generation was destined to fight a battle for the very existence of this country. But I never said whether I thought his generation would win. Now, I don’t think it can. The West seems to have lost its will, and so many of the children we didn’t abort are no better than trousered apes.

    I once hoped we were headed toward a second revolution, peaceful but inexorable, where we would overthrow our statist masters and reinvigorate constitutional government. Now I fear that the best we can expect is a civil war.

    It would be ironic that if there is a second American civil war, the secessionists win—even more ironic considering that the first was waged to end slavery among the seccesionists. The second will be to cast off an out-of-control federal government that has every intention of turning us into serfs—all the better to serve the imperial egos of NBOTUS and his limousine liberal enablers.

  4. jj says

    Point 1 to keep in mind is that Adams wasn’t an idoit and he said what he believed, thus the point everybody glosses over: we ain’t, in fact, a democracy – we’re a representative republic.  The concept of ‘democracy’ squarely equated with ‘mob rule’ in the minds of our Age of Enlightenment aristocrat founding fathers.  They pretty carefully restricted who could have a say, and were not the least impressed by that ‘one man, one vote’ stuff.

    They were also very uninterested in what went on in places that did not have a direct and immediate effect on us here in our own land.  We have spent the last 113 years moving away from the good advice Washington left behind in his farewell address (written for him by Hamilton), and we are now entangled in so many absurd commitments to defend and protect other people in whom we ought repose no interest whatever that if we had an army of 10,000,000 instead of one of 500,000 we still couldn’t keep half those commitments if we had to.

    As NATO’s total incompetence in the face of a bunch of backwoods sand-dune scarecrows plainly illustrates, mostly what we’ve accomplished by providing Europe with a military for 57 years they didn’t have to pay for has been to render them incapable of any sort of useful or reasonable military action – they’re helpless and useless.  We have spent God only knows how much of our treasure on this endeavor over the decades - for what?  The combined air forces of all of NATO cannot handle LIBYA unless we’re there to wet-nurse them and hold their useless, worthless, witless hands!  Is this a f—— joke?

    And we are broke, we are about an inch away from pissing away our own sovereignty inside what used to be our own country because we’ve been maintaining – for example - 37,000 troops in South Korea (with 11,000 artillery pieces sighted in on them, all they can do is die quick) instead of on our border with a third world mess rapidly becoming a narco-state.  (Or keeping tens of thousands more at, currently, 702 bases outside this country engaged in Christ-knows-what kind of BS.)  The country is sliding away beneath us like a sandcastle in a rising tide, and that, apparently, doesn’t signify.

    I think we’re done.  Broke, exhausted, and done.

  5. says

    Beverly Says: 
    April 14th, 2011 at 2:53 am
    Apocalypse: Deal Only Cuts $352 Million In Actual Spending
    —Ace
    “As I noted: The Democrats offered Boehner a crooked “deal” wherein they’d offer some smoke and mirrors only-in-accounting-world “cuts” and all Boehner had to do was say yes and the Democrats would play along and pretend they’d been beaten.
    “First Boehner announced he would not go along with such a deceit.
    “And then he did, with the Democrats and their allies in the media playing “the Republicans won” narrative, per the agreement, until the Democrats could contain their quiet victory no longer and began announcing it.
    “So there you go. We started this process, we thought, with $101 billion in cuts, which we only found out after the election was a promise to cut $61 billion.
    “Then Hal Rodgers — who must resign — had an opening bid of around $30 billion, which the Tea Party got angry about and forced him to push a supposed $61 billion cut, but the hand was tipped, it was clear we were not only not holding out for $61 billion, but if we had our druthers, we wouldn’t even start there, nevermind end there.
    “Then some Tea Party people and the Republican Study Group pushed to get it back up to $100 billion, but leadership, including Eric Cantor, voted that down, and some in our very own party used Democratic language in defending their precious spending, saying the cutters wanted to take a “meat axe” to the budget and hurt people who depend on government.
    “Then we started cutting every week, which turns out now to have been a scam, because we weren’t cutting spending, we were cutting future spending authority which wasn’t likely to be spent anyway. In essence, when I thought we were making progress, we were actually just giving the Democrats their way by funding government at the same level as usual.
    “Then we finally agreed on $38.5 billion. Later inspection checked more closely, and determined that most of that wasn’t really cuts at all, but accounting gimmicks, fake cuts, and that the real amount of cuts was around $14 billion.
    “Then someone noticed — actually, it’s closer to $8 billion.
    “And now the CBO looks at it.
    $352 million, with an m, in cuts. What the government spends in… oh, it’s like $6 billion a day, so $352 million is what the government spends in about an hour and twenty minutes.
    “That’s what we fought for in November–so that we could cut the 365 days of spending of 2010 into 354 days, twenty two hours, and forty minutes worth of spending.
    “Hal Rodgers has to go. Has to go. The party has to demand he resign from his post. There have to be consequences.
    “Someone has to pay.
    “The rest have to know they’re next. We can’t hang them all, but we can hang one of them. To encourage the others.
    “Biggest spending cut in history, huh?”

    (I cannot attest to whether this is 100% accurate in truth and factual detail, but it certainly paints an interesting picture. Oldflyer wrote here before that Boehner’s budget cuts were a victory and that we should support the GOP, meaning Boehner. I wrote differently on the GOP’s current leadership, specifically that they need to be purged.)

    Well, what now?

  6. says

    I believe I said a long time ago that I wanted to purge the bureaucrats in DC. It’s too late for that, even as many believed I was being extreme and impractical. No, I wasn’t being extreme or impractical. I was telling people what needed to be done, if they didn’t want to do something more crazy later on due to desperate circumstances.

    And now we are in desperate circumstances where you have to purge not only the bureaucrats, but also the politicians, the voters even, the UNION WORKERS, and so on and so forth and all of the Leftist alliance combined. Instead of fighting them piecemeal, they are now all together.

  7. says

    Danny Lemieux: In America, our own Washington, DC-centered aristocrat wannabees remain diffuse and riven by competing factions, but they are there and waiting.

    You could have said the very thing in 1811 or 1911.
     
    Danny Lemieux: I propose that the primary seed of our destruction lies in our own human nature. It is the “tragedy of the commons” writ large. 

    That’s usually a liberal concept, such as when referring to air and water pollution, people who dump their problems into the shared resources. It’s easy to see how it could be applied in a new way, though. If America’s wealth is seen as a non-renewable resource, then people might act to grab what they could.

    You seem to be overstating your case though. The world has been ending for a very long time. America nearly destroyed itself in the 1860′s, then was crippled by the Great Depression, among other calamities. Each generation has to remake itself, and each generation can start afresh. America still has a lot of potential, and there is no reason to despair.
     
    Adams: I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy.

    As jj pointed out above, Adams is comparing “simple democracy” with other forms of government, and looked to the balance of power to be a tentative, but important source of stability. Adams did consider republican government to be quite as capable of degenerating into tyranny as any other. 
     
    “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” — Sir Winston Churchill

  8. Danny Lemieux says

    Z rubs their chins before thoughfully expounding: That’s usually a liberal concept, such as when referring to air and water pollution, people who dump their problems into the shared resources. It’s easy to see how it could be applied in a new way, though. If America’s wealth is seen as a non-renewable resource, then people might act to grab what they could.


    You seem to be overstating your case though. The world has been ending for a very long time. America nearly destroyed itself in the 1860′s, then was crippled by the Great Depression, among other calamities. Each generation has to remake itself, and each generation can start afresh. America still has a lot of potential, and there is no reason to despair.

    Ta da! Here, Z and Pepe Lemieux come to a rare point of agreement. My essay was written as a warning, not a prophecy of doom. The solution to the “tragedy of the commons” is to expand the commons, which we have been able to do historically through technology and a capitalist economy (the two are linked). However, this requires investment capital. Today, investment capital is threatened by crushing debt and tax burdens. Plus, investment capital is not efficiently allocated through government agencies.

  9. says

    Adams did consider republican government to be quite as capable of degenerating into tyranny as any other.

    Given that Senators are elected by the popular vote, this isn’t the representative government the Founding Fathers meant to start.

    So yea, they’re talking about you, Z, and your Leftist/Democrat bosom buddies that are currently in the American political system, as it exists now.

    Btw, Z said that unions are democratic and that they deserve collective rights. Where was he again in talking about the oppression of democracies again?

  10. says

    Plus, investment capital is not efficiently allocated through government agencies.

    That’s cause most of it goes into the pockets of corrupt bastards. Just like at the UN and foreign aid scattered around the world.

  11. Charles Martel says

    How does a government worker “deserve” collective bargaining rights? All he does is show up for a free go at the public tit. Was there some sort of bravery or sacrifice involved in that showing up that “deserves” the reward of being able to coerce the taxpayer?

  12. says

    Charles Martel: How does a government worker “deserve” collective bargaining rights?

    In April 1968, Martin Luther King went to Memphis to lend support to striking government workers. He gave a speech to the union the night before his death.

    “The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers…

    “And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
    http://www.afscme.org/about/1549.cfm
     
     

  13. Danny Lemieux says

    I recognize Martin Luther King as a great American and especially a great Republican. However, that hardly means that I bestow infallibility upon his thoughts, words and deeds.

    That being said, I don’t see where in the quote you provided MLK says anything about collective bargaining rights.

  14. Charles Martel says

    I don’t get it. Zack now waves around MLK Jr. like some sort of talisman?

    Zack, can you ever answer a question without running to Mama Wiki or Dada Google for an answer? Are you that lacking in knowledge or intellectual confidence that you can’t essay and opinion without your ‘rents hovering in the background?

  15. says

    Danny Lemieux: I recognize Martin Luther King as a great American and especially a great Republican. However, that hardly means that I bestow infallibility upon his thoughts, words and deeds.

    No, he was certainly not infalliable. He did, however, answer Charles Martel’s question. King thought the answer important enough to risk his life for.
     
    Danny Lemieux: I don’t see where in the quote you provided MLK says anything about collective bargaining rights.

    “The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers…” — Martin Luther King Jr. 
     
    Charles Martel: {Zachriel} now waves around MLK Jr. like some sort of talisman?

    It was a direct response to your question. The claim is that unions exist because employers, including governments, have not always dealt fairly with their workers. Do you disagree with King?  
     

  16. says

    He did, however, answer Charles Martel’s question.

    Amazing, Martel. You have such powers that not even death can bar your way eh? To be able to speak to the long dead MLK junior, amazing skill at necromancy Martel. How ever did you get him to answer your question Mart? 
    Btw, what kind of cut is Z getting for being the middle man in interpreting what the dead say anyways? Is that like a job specially offered to Leftist drop outs from ideological academy?

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