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The Threat of Authoritarian Liberalism

I am now a member of the Washington elite circles I scorned in my youth. My early hostility did not stem from partisan ideology, but rather from a tacit social understanding that lowly academics from state universities (i.e. not elite Ivies) like me would never be listened to, much less embraced. Both the following story and my burgeoning Beltway comeuppance contain a kernel of wisdom that informs a new way of thinking about the current populist moment.

It was May 2015, the third iteration of a course I was teaching on “21st Century Dictatorships” at the University of South Carolina. The course explored the varieties, strengths, and weaknesses of continuous and categorical measures of democracy—such as those employed by Freedom House, Polity, the Geddes typology, and others. It was substantively so full of dark material—repression, violence, assassinations, coups, poverty, and censorship—that I had become fond of making the final class an open conversation about the future.

I hoped to end that particular semester with an imaginative spark—my grand theory of ‘authoritarian liberalism.’ This theory—more of an interesting thought—rounded out the curriculum. I began by drawing a long horizontal line with arrows at both ends. ‘Democracy’ and the number ten were written under the left end; ‘Autocracy’ and a negative ten were written under the right. A zero was placed squarely in the middle.

Then I spoke briefly of probability theory and the centripetal forces of technological integration. I drew some bell curves, some more lines, and more arrows. From one side of the room I explained that democracies, on average, are becoming more authoritarian. As evidence, I cited central banks, unelected judges, the swelling surveillance state, and concentrated power in the executive. I walked to the other side of the room and from there asserted that autocracies are, on average, becoming more liberal. I reminded the students of Chinese ascension into the World Trade Organization, the widespread (ab)use of elections, and the media savvy of Russia’s RT.

The logical conclusion, assuming this trend continued, was that there would be a convergence of all government types in the middle, at ‘zero,’ which I called ‘authoritarian liberalism.’ For points of reference, I noted that (at the time) countries like RussiaVenezuelaJordan, and Singapore resided closest to this center zero-point already.

“What does that mean?!” a student barked eagerly from the back of my classroom. “Is this really happening?” asked a voice from the front row. I felt a tinge of unease as I turned to interpret meaning from the board I had covered with frantic scribbles. My words would command the undivided attention of all forty students.

“With a normal distribution,” I began, “a mean of zero, and very low variance—rather than the current bimodal distribution—effective global governance would be possible for the first time in world history.” At that point I felt the piercing focus of eighty eyes—on the board, back to me—and then mutterings followed by more questions.

Taken aback by the level of interest, I hastily countered that “the world would probably be more peaceful with a global government, but if—and this is a big if—my prediction is correct, your children will not live in a democracy…and their children will likely not have a national identity.” I’m pretty sure I then added, “And that would kind of suck” (a technical phrase used by political scientists to indicate the undesirability of this-or-that outcome). We talked about it for a full hour, ended the class, and then moved on with our everyday lives.

This idea stayed in my head, but I did not bring it up in classes anymore. Since then, the UK voted for Brexit, there was an attempted coup in Turkey followed by a massive crackdown, Orban began talking about “illiberal democracy,” and populist parties rose in Poland and Germany. In the US there were police shootings, riots and reprisal killings of officers, and the Russians instrumentalized social media to interfere in an election characterized by unprecedented levels of populist rhetoric from both mainstream camps.

Johns Hopkins published Democracy in Decline? and Authoritarianism Goes Global. A corpus of books with similar themes rained upon us. It was as if a reality based on my forecast was constructing itself. Not only did it have prima facie validity, it had predictive power. To this day, I receive emails from students in that class saying that conversation inspired their current work.

So, is the 21st century the death knell for democracy? It might be. It might not. The only certainties are that change is inevitable and no one knows the future until it is too late. Perhaps I am aging, and this is a Get Off My Lawn moment, but in the current technological and political atmosphere one cannot help but get the sense that the future knocked, entered, and is now wrecking the place.

To understand the generalized aporia of the populist moment, a good place to start is by accepting that conceptions of democracy change over time. The Founding Fathers abhorred direct mob rule and created an elite republic. As representation expanded, the republic became known as a representative democracy. Then a republican democracy, or sometimes a democratic republic. Then a liberal democracy. Then…well, the concept is now a dumpster fire of emotionally charged nouns and adjectives.

This evolution of meaning fits into a theory of authoritarian liberalism well. If regime types really are converging, it should be common to hear frequent, robust, and heated debates over exactly how to distinguish between historically loaded terms like democracy, republic, authoritarianism, and liberalism.

Modern democracy is best understood as rules-based institutional checks and balances that allow participation and contestation among a large portion of society. America’s original republic was white, male, and wealthy. It featured contestation among elites representing the 13 states, but participation was severely limited. The Constitution contains rules for changing the rules, allowing institutional evolution and expanding participation. There is nothing inherent about our institutions that require them to be ‘democratic.’

When elites decided to broaden participation, many did so out of altruistic impetus and moral imperative. But a more granular explanation would be that elites expanded participation in search for comparative advantages within contested elections. This is not an argument to restrict the vote, so bear with me.

In 2016, Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels published Democracy for Realists, a thoroughly empirical rebuke of the ‘folk theory’ of democracy; the belief that individual voter policy preferences are somehow transmitted through votes into representatives that enact those government policies. The reality is more like the opposite; elites have policy preferences that they signal to voters who, in turn, adopt them.

In simpler terms, most people prefer and vote for the policies and representatives they are told to by elites, not because they have reasoned that it is a superior choice. Issues are far too complex for voters to think through every proposed policy. They look for shortcuts; things and people that sound, look, and feel familiar.

Imagine a ‘menu’ of proposed policies in Netflix or Google search form. There is just too much there to have an informed opinion on everything. At the end of the day you have to make a choice, click on a link, and vote for a representative or a policy if you want to participate.

Participation, or voting, would be almost purely random if it were not for elite identity cues that drive voters’ decision-making. Humans are innately attracted to ‘sameness,’ and technology is a tool with which elites send signals to voters. Think, for example, of Roosevelt’s fireside radio chats or consider the YouTube addresses and Twitter feeds of modern presidents.

But technology is also the people’s tool for contesting elite signals and creating new ones. One may recall television coverage of the Vietnam War, but today there are so many interactive, immediate, and global technological outlets that conspiracy factions, hacker collectives, protest groups, journalists, contrarians, and others now compete with political elites on a more level technological footing. And indeed, like me, they often end up becoming the elite signalers they initially claimed to despise. This is a wholly unrecognized problem, and it midwifes two further, related problems.

Problem 1: Technology has disrupted the process of ‘elite socialization.’ The old institutional model is incapable of assimilating proportionately larger numbers of elite signalers into the elite political classes. Perceptions of ‘democracy’ decline and populism spreads as technology creates more and more ‘un-socialized’ global elites, better known as ‘political outsiders.’

Liberalism—in the classical sense of the term—is best described as a system of individual rights. The root word ‘liber,’ as related to ‘liberty,’ means ‘freedom.’ New technologies have liberated individuals in a way that is forcing elite republics to rethink how to maintain order. Before the current era of mass global interconnectivity, the response of elites to increased technology-driven liberty (telephones, trains, cars, etc.) in democracies was to expand participation and compete for votes. In autocracies, the impulse has historically been to restrict and repress.

That time is long gone. Thanks to the internet, things are now complexly interconnected all the way down to the individual level of analysis. This is what I referred to in class years ago as “the centripetal force of technological integration.”

Technological liberation of the masses touches far more than voter preferences. Social media unshackles individuals from the collective action problem in a way that does not acknowledge sovereign borders. The wide-ranging impacts of technological change always outpace incremental institutional change.

Existing democratic institutions are just not fit, flexible, or strong enough to cope with the impulses of ideologues, unfiltered and low-cost information campaigns, or the seductive nature of conspiracy theories. The future did knock, it unchained the people, and now elites must figure out how to reimpose order.

Problem 2: Technology has distorted traditional processes of ‘mass-socialization.’ Technological freedom creates vacuums in democracies that, absent institutional innovation, are filled by authoritarianism. In dictatorships the vacuums are now filled with incremental liberalism.

A world of roving bandits (including intellectual bandits like populists and conspiracy theorists) critically damages economic output, or what Mancur Olson referred to as the “encompassing interest.” Restricting elite circles and imposing authoritarianism is an easy way out that looks more and more like the way out. Indeed, this is what drives the current trend of ‘personalized’ power in China, Russia, Venezuela, and Egypt.

In autocracies there is already a monopoly on power, so all dictators have to do is build institutions that will grant and govern limited individual rights—liberalism—yet conserve strict maintenance of their spread and activity. This idea forms the basis of China’s censorship regime and its new ‘social credit rating’ system.

In democracies, elites have choices. They can kill the democratic republic in the name of order— as populists would do—or unite to defend and modernize the system that created their collective power. The people do have some say, but understandably the choices have not been all that great as of late.

Absent new institutional frameworks to manage the political assault of modern technology, it is likely that elites and identity groups in democracies will continue pushing their followers to use the rules-based system against itself by voting for increasingly idiosyncratic populist agendas.

In Federalist 51 James Madison warned that “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” This is a guiding principle best suited for democracies, but if the current system is to be saved it is up to elites to work together on a larger project of expanding their own ranks, whilst retaining their own ambitions, and accounting for larger technological and demographic change.

If elites choose to roll in the mud with populists and authoritarians, then God help us all. As a new (maybe still aspiring?) member of the elite classes, I hope to offer constructive ideas that will help ensure that my children enjoy the liberty and democracy that allowed me to climb the ladder.


Clay R. Fuller is a Jeane Kirkpatrick Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute where he studies authoritarian regimes. You can follow him on Twitter @clayrfuller


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  1. OtherWay says

    I fully understand the elite’s fear of populism. But I don’t understand this author’s fear of it.
    The author overstates the negative aspects of technology, when in fact all things are probably closer to neutral (bad and good). The good aspect of recent internet technology is it force’s the governing elite to be mildly more in touch with the will of the people (i.e. populist). I view a more representative government as a better thing. I fully understand the elite’s concern that most people are idiots and therefore only the governing class should make the real decisions. I share that fear of the general populations stupidity. On the other hand, I am also tired of the governing class’ arrogance. I this point I would rather have idiots making decisions about my life – than either politicians or career bureaucrats. Stupid beats corrupt in my accounting system.

    • Andy says

      I don’t see the author’s statements about technology as negative. As I interpret the author’s statements about technology, it is changing the world, and those changes can be destructive, in as much as a hatchling destroys and abandons the shell from which it’s breaking free.

      Most people who embrace “change” are talking about only the changes they choose and can control, with results they can predict, but genuine change does not happen that way.

      Technology is changing the world. It’s equal parts destructive and creative.

    • Steve says

      “I share that fear of the general populations stupidity.”

      I fear the deep stupidity of the elites far more. Never in history have so many otherwise intelligent people believed so much that is strictly impossible.

      • OtherWay says

        It is not the stupidity of the governing elite you should fear. It is their intelligence, and most importantly their overrated sense of their own intelligence and the arrogance that grows from having it. Perhaps the entire history of human misery can be traced in some way to smart people – whose lack of humility allowed them to believe they should force their ideas on everybody else.

    • Gina says

      You prompt the recollection of William F. Buckley – he said he’d rather be governed by the first 200 names in the Boston phone book than the entire esteemed faculty of Harvard. I agree with you (and with Buckley).

      • It would be interesting to see what government would be like if it was run by the first 200 names in the phone book. I imagine it wouldn’t be much different than it is today, given that the institutional makeup of every country remained the same.

        • Peter Wilson says

          If you want to see an example of such a government, have a look at Canada’s current government. Not an original idea among the lot, working strictly within an ideologized conceptual space, unable to deal with situations that don’t fit into that space. Not a pretty site.

    • They should fear. If the system collapses sufficiently, which they are helping it to do, they will lose control of the reins and we will turn on and eat any elites that can’t book tickets out of the country.

  2. Aaron says

    I would advise the author to look to Hobbes’s Leviathan as a clearer expression of the theoretical underpinnings of authoritarian liberalism. It’s not a new idea. It was superceded by a much better idea: Lockean liberalism that insisted on a grounding of individual rights in the right to property.

    It always amazes me that a lack of knowledge of the western cannon of political thought can lead people to believe in the novelty of ideas that have already been through the ringer many times and rejected for good reason.

    • Thanks for the comment! I appreciate the suggestion, but I have read Hobbes. And Locke. And many others. This is not advocating belief or novelty, apologies if that is the way it came across. I agree, the idea is not something new – but for those that are not steeped in Western thought, or how it could apply in the modern global economy, I thought it was an interesting way of approaching it – using the more positivist, evidence-based scientific approach of modern political science, as compared to the qualitative and normative approach of classical, modern, and postmodern political theory – which is more in the field of philosophy, although both fields inform each other.

      On it not being new, many other political thinkers, most prominently Carl Schmitt, advocated for “authoritarian liberalism.” This 2000 word piece is not intended to summarize or replace the Western cannon, but merely to serve as a warning that bad ideas are on the march again, now powered by new technologies in a more globalized world. I think I addressed that technology is on balance “good” – in that it can be used to contest elite views and it frees people from collective action problems – and “bad” in that anything that is good can also be used for “bad.”

      In my mind, if we are aware of the trend, we can work to create or reform institutions that can guide the world back to the Lockean ideal. IMHO.

      • Aaron says

        Thanks for your thoughtful response. I would only point out that it is exactly the positivistic approach to political knowledge that is largely responsible for creating the illusion that somehow the deep moral questions have already been answered, leaving nothing but the more scientific administration of society as the central problem, a problem best resolved by reforming institutions and instituting more efficient power centers. Where you see the need for reform and creativity, I see the need to return to the very normative questions first posed by the likes of Plato and Aristotle, not assuming that we have somehow ‘progressed’ beyond the need to ask them and admit there may be no positivistic or scientific solution to enduring political problems.

        PS: one of my pet peeves is when people use the term postmodern political theory. Postmodernism is a vacuous and anti intellectual herd mentality, a religion that is blind to it religiosity. Postmodern thinkers think say things about politics but they are utterly incapable of political thought.

  3. Allen Pogue says

    Interesting, but the author does not clearly address the particular authoritarianism being put forward by those who argue that personal freedom is the opponent of equality. I suspect this is not a coincidence. “Your authoritarianism is not as good as my authoritarianism.”

    I also agree with the comments regarding the originality of your predictions. That was a good idea and you should give yourself credit for it but there were certainly others at the time predicting much the same thing. Many of us were expecting something like the current era to unfold. I have expected for a long time that globalization could only be maintained through authoritarianism, and that is exactly what we are seeing.

    • Thank you for the comment! Yes, it was not coincidence. I have written a LOT about regime typologies (autocratic and democratic) and was purposefully trying to avoid that route. Much like debates of the definition of “democracy” – authoritarian typology debates typically degenerate into non-productive discussions. This was my attempt to start a larger discussion.

      Apologies if it comes off as if I thought this idea was mine and mine alone. It is surely not. While of course, Hobbes and Locke loom large in the background, much of the thinking about this came from my discovery of Carl Schmitt and his writings as I did research for an analysis of modern Dubai titled “Capitalism without Democracy” in which I explored the sustainability and specific approaches of post-cold war authoritarian governments maintaining market economies. I wrote about this also in my dissertation, where I identified authoritarian leaders using corruption (specifically embezzlement) to survive the longest in office and authoritarian regimes (treated as different from the leader) using economic institutions such as special economic zones (SEZs) and sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) to survive the longest in the post-cold war global economy – using empirical evidence to back up claims (although admittedly not ideal data, but is what we have right now).

  4. derek says

    The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson describes this dynamic.

    A couple things. I would redefine the terms.

    A world of roving bandits could also describe the EU and European Central Bank dealing with the southern European countries when their vendor finance scheme collapsed.

    It could also refer to the regulatory state in Western nations. I am right now dealing with a bunch of regulatory changes whose net effect will be to drive most of my industry underground. No hyperbole here. In one Canadian province of 50% of the construction industry was non compliant, meaning no taxes, fees, safety procedures, building codes due to the extreme regulatory environment.

    I suspect that most of the so called populist or illiberal movements are where the reality that people face in their lives by mistake comes into democratic expression. The mistake of brexit was they asked the question. Same with Trump, how dare he say things that are beyond the pale. Ontario just experienced the same thing.

    I would describe it as Green Zone administration. What is called mob rule in indistinguishable from people wanting to knock the wall down. To much unaccountable power. It is almost like Western bureaucracies read the nomenklatura handbook as a how to.

    • Steve says

      Derek, this is kind of off topic, but I am just really glad to see someone who recognizes the Eurozone for what it is. While I generally identify on the right side of the political spectrum, I am consistently disappointed with conservatives lionizing Germany as some paragon of economic virtue. Financial repression that exports excess savings resulting in massive bubbles and subsequent economic depression in much of Europe doesn’t strike me as brilliant public policy.

  5. The thesis that the internet has liberated individuals that peddle conspiracy theories which will lead to authoritarian liberalism in individual countries that, in turn, will coalesce and make global governance more likely and nations disappear, is the elite signaling that if the plebes continue communicating the wrong thoughts by social media, nations will be further weakened and you will be ruled by something like a global EU, so stop it and let the current global system of supranational institutions with their bureaucracies of un-elected experts continue doing their job.

    It’s the same old end-of-history, there-is-no alternative, elite propaganda.

    • Thank you for the comment! I’m sorry that you feel this is some sort of conspiratorial elite propaganda. If it is, that is news to me. Anyhow, I would counter that there is a competition of ideas going on – which by the way, is fundamental to a free society – and this is one of my many contribution. I use this in my classes to challenge students to think differently about global politics and especially to try and inspire them to want to learn more and get involved. My bias is towards encouraging them to think about politics in evidence-based ways before making moral or philosophical judgements.

      This brief story and analysis is based upon evidence-based trends in the measurement of democracy and autocracy that have been going on for almost two decades now. So, if it is “elite propaganda” as you say, it is based upon decades of empirical political science.

      There is no determinism here. It is nowhere near inevitable that authoritarian liberalism will be the outcome. In fact, it is my personal hope that this is not the outcome. Apologies if that did not come through clearly.

      The internet not only frees people to spread conspiracy theories, it also frees them to organize against authoritarians, not to mention it is a huge driver of education, commerce, and wealth creation.

  6. Hello, and thanks for participating in the comment thread. Few contributors do so.

    You say that your measurement of democracy is evidence based and yet you characterize China as becoming more democratic (less autocratic, more liberal) by becoming a member of the WTO. Exporting under the rules of a US-dominated trade system is being more democratic? And why do you sometimes use “liberal” in place of “democratic” in your democratic-autocratic scale? You also say that states become more authoritarian by having central banks when many had no choice since they were pretty much imposed on poor and indebted countries by the US-dominated IMF. How is WTO=democratic while central bank=authoritarian evidence based when they are both institutions of American global hegemony and many countries have no choice but to play by their rules?

    Again, thanks for responding to comments. The ability to do so is indeed one of the great benefits of the internet.

    • Hello, you’re welcome, and thank you for engaging. And yes, the internet is a great thing! I did not mean to disparage the internet. As I say, I think that political institutions never keep pace with technological change. I have no idea how to fix or change that, but recognizing it as a problem can help focus thinking.

      So, for evidence, I’m referring to the proliferation of democracy measurements out there. POLITY is the one I used in class. One particular score in this dataset ranges from 10 to -10, but often times scholars normalize it to go from 0-100. Freedom house has one that goes from 1-7, or, again can be transformed to 0-100. One Earth Future has one. V-dem has many different measure, and on and on. There is a sort of cottage industry out there for democracy measures.

      These measures have contributed to a large body of books and analysis on “the death of democracy”, the “crisis of democracy”, “democratic decline” etc. etc.

      I think they are very alarmist and somewhat off the mark. I think something else, more nuanced, and global in nature, is going on.

      To specifically answer your questions, the terms, as I say, are “a dumpster fire of emotionally charged nouns and adjectives” making them difficult to even have a discussion about.

      I tried to separate “liberal” as a more property-rights-based economic term and democracy as a representation of political participation and contestation. The WTO does not make China “less-autocratic” but it does encourage it to respect some forms of property rights. Central banks are not directly accountable to participation and contestation (democracy). To my knowledge, elites created and joined the WTO and IMF of their own free will. I think assigning the terms “democratic” or “authoritarian” to international institutions like those – especially those with weighted voting systems – is a different, and unanswered, question.

  7. X. Citoyen says

    I see an abstraction salad that might constitute an analysis. You talk of realism, but without referring to anything concrete. Take your two problems, elite and mass socialization. What’s the institutional model, for example, and how has tech (and what tech) disrupted it?

    Second, there’s a contradiction in asserting, on the one hand, that the people take their cues from the elite and, on the other, that the people have chosen poorly of late. Well, which is it? Does the elite tell the people what to do or do the people chose their own champions despite what the elite tells them? Or is the bandit elite telling them what to do? If so, you’ve got at least two elites, not one and some outsiders, unless outsiders can tell people what to do without being elites. You’ve sent me swirling into the widening gyre of interpretation.

    • Bill says

      I had the same thought. To use the theme du jour: Do the people take their cues form the elite? (vote Clinton) or do they make a conscious choice which you view as poor (Trump) because you took your cues from the elite? I took the opinion clause of “chose poorly of late” to simply be the author’s bias toward current politics slipping into the discussion but not part of the overall thesis.

      Now, using the core of the thesis as I understand it the question I would pose about the 2016 US Presidential election, Brexit, etc is this: Were the results a consequence of the bandit elite suggested by X.Citoyen, or a revolt against the elite sparked by things like the elite discounting a segment of the voting population (ala not even bothering to campaign in the Rust Belt because “they’re ours”)?

      • X. Citoyen says

        Following on the point about political bias causing the misreading of elite failures, we could compare the defeat of the long-time conservative party in the province of Alberta to the defeat of the long-time liberal party in the province of Ontario (both in Canada). In both cases, decades of corruption and mismanagement brought down the ruling parties. No one in the media then or since has characterized the left-wing party’s victory over the conservative party in Alberta as an ominous seizure of power by radicals, even though the population now thinks exactly that. According to the media, it’s a predictable reaction that has righted the world. The recent victory of a conservative party over a liberal one in Ontario, however, is being attributed the ominous rise of populism. The difference has nothing to do with the facts, and everything to do with the bias of the perceiver.

      • Clay Fuller says

        Clinton was a poor choice. I didn’t choose the picture for this article. Also, this is not solely about the United States. Or the West.

  8. Morgan says

    So first of all, if you support the system that allowed you to climb the ladder, you’re effectively disadvantaging your children’s exclusive ability to be place at the top of the ladder. I’m not saying you’ll choose the latter, but elites don’t really have an incentive to support social or economic mobility, as it will always mean a chance for them or their children to be push out of their positions.

    Second of all, the Internet has in some ways unchained the people, but the answer is only to find some new chains. It’s not to find a way to live without the chains. You have people like Peterson literally praising the idea of metaphorical slavery (which is the same as the chains you describe) as a necessity for order. I find it embarrassing that we’re so pathetic we have to chain ourselves up to allow ourselves to live happily and productively.

    • Thanks for the comment! Very interesting points. I cannot predict the future, but IMHO upward mobility supports general prosperity. I argue here for larger elite classes, which would mean, in relative terms, staying in elite classes in not a zero-sum game.

      I’m not familiar with Peterson, but I’ll read anything twice. I’m sorry if it was not clear, but I’m not arguing to put chains on the internet. However, the internet could benefit from increased civility and constructive discourse. There is no need for chains to do that. In fact, chains would likely make it worse and more violent. With larger elite classes, I think the signals of a need for more civility and constructive discourse will increase, thereby negating a need for “chains.” However, I could be wrong.

  9. Thanks for the comment! I like the term “abstraction salad.” The problem is that elite and mass socialization processes are different in every country and time period. To cut through the variation, in looking for general trends, I made an abstraction salad. In the US, much like our party system, the socialization model is very informal and diverse – which is generally a good thing, but it still needs bumper rails at time to deal with disruptive technologies. In China the process is more formal and narrow. Of course, culture plays a role in there.

    The internet is the tech. It grants people a lot of freedom. That is a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing, just like any tool, such as, say, a hammer.

    Second, the answer obviously is both. They influence each other in a circular relationship. It’s an endogenous relationship. It should be kept, my point is that political elites need to expand their circles in sheer numbers. This can be done with institutions. I have more coming on this.

    • X. Citoyen says

      I hope you’ll like the definition too. A garden salad is a mixture of vegetables of the kind, and in the proportions, that the salad-maker finds pleasing. It’s a success if it matches the tastes of other salad connoisseurs. An abstraction salad is mixture of concepts of the kind, and in relations to one another, that the abstraction-salad-maker thinks best represent his intuitions about the world. Like a garden salad, an abstraction salad appeals to others on an intuitive level only—we see or think we see something like that going on. But none of this can be judged true or false without concrete referents.

      Abstractions in a political analysis need to be real entities or representative generalizations about them, and the relations and processes in the analysis have to be causal and logical. Take the process of socialization, which can be active or passive, and then work back to entities. Families, churches, neighborhoods, schools, and the other institutions of civil society socialize people, and they work so to greater and lesser extents. People can also be socialized by state programs, which may or may not include schools. And as Tocqueville observed, the latter tends to crowd out and undermine the former. None of this is especially controversial; it’s just a description of socialization plus a conventional claim about the tension between civil society and the state.

      Let’s introduce masses and elites. If your analysis is borrowed from Burnham’s “Machiavellians,” then the elites are those who run all the institutions (except, perhaps, families) and the masses are the member-followers. As long as you stick to the institutional level with the elite-mass dichotomy, there’s no big problem. But you soon get in the weeds when you start talking about “the elite,” as though they all shared a general cast of mind from the lowest neighborhood watch leaders to the CEOs of multinationals to a president of the United States. That’s obviously not the normal case because their interests conflict and they often and openly work against one another. Churches and states do not agree on all matters, for example, and even gov’ts within the state have conflicting interests. As before, none of this is especially controversial. It’s the iron law of oligarchy for large democracies like the U.S., plus the observation that all groups of more than one person have conflicting interests.

      This brings me back to your analysis. One of your main claims is that the internet has disrupted the mass and elite socialization processes. I can agree at the abstraction-salad level because it’s true in some open-ended sense of the word disruption and because I read “elites” and “masses” in the institutional senses of those terms. In other words, I can see how the internet can disrupt any given elite-mass relationship by increasing the reach of other would-be elites. Before the internet, I had access to a family doctor. After the internet, I have access to every quack with a website–which holds for all other institutions as well. But this has nothing to do with the socialization of elites–we’ve always had quacks, cranks, and outsiders. It has to do with the collapse in the cost of dissemination (i.e., publication and distribution). Any would-be elite can start a website and seek a following.

      A different problem arises with your claims that the internet disrupts mass socialization and that the disruption is leading to authoritarianism. To the first, I don’t know what you could mean by mass socialization, and I fail to see how the internet disrupts socialization in a way that has any but indirect political implications. To the second, there is no vacuum into which authoritarians assert themselves on the facts you seem to be alluding to. If the internet bandits have replaced the elite opinion-makers, then the new leader rides on the back of this new bandit elite. But there’s no necessary connection between (what the Machiavellians called) the circulation of elites and authoritarianism. You have to show one of two more things: Either the new elite’s champion happens to be an authoritarian in this particular case or the fragmentation in authority caused by the internet is so severe that only some type of authoritarianism can take its place.

      I wouldn’t put money on either hypothesis. I don’t see the alleged authoritarianism of any significant populist leader in the West, and I don’t see how the disruption of the internet isn’t cancelled out by its unifying forces. It is easier to spread lies, yes, but it is also easier to expose them. The internet exposes me to quacks, but genuine health information may well expose my doctor as a quack. In fact, I tend to think the internet has done more political good than harm because politicians appear to be afraid of it (as evidenced by their stated desire to censor it). In a liberal democracy, that fear can only be a good thing.

      • Clay Fuller says

        Thanks for the elaboration. I’m not a philosopher, I’m a social scientist. I understand and agree with your points. This was not intended to bash the internet and especially not advocating for limiting speech. It was intended to apply to the entire world, not just the US or just the West. – very unfortunate choice of picture that I had no say in.

        The level of abstraction is high because of the high level of variation among elites and masses that you refer to. The internet is a good thing. But it also has negative externalities that current democratic institutions are wholly unprepared to manage.

        • X. Citoyen says

          I can agree that the internet is a major change, though I wouldn’t pretend to know what it’s doing and whether it will be good or bad. And I think you’re right to put it at the center of your analysis.

          I do appreciate your attempt to grasp its influence on politics, and I appreciate your responses. I do hope my philosophers’s zeal hasn’t abraded too much.

          • Your comments are much appreciated. Through your comments I have learned some new things about my thinking and my writing. Best wishes.

  10. @Clay R Fuller

    “I think assigning the terms “democratic” or “authoritarian” to international institutions like those – especially those with weighted voting systems – is a different, and unanswered, question.”

    I think that Brazil and its allies collapsing the Doha round of the WTO; world-wide opprobrium of the IMF and its imposition of privatization, anti-labor, and austerity schemes on its poor, indebted clients; the panicked spectacle of the financial elite during the 2008 crash; the IMF’s own admission that it only caused the poor to get poorer; Brexit; the election of Trump; and much of the internet conspiracy theories; mean that the question is being answered: the global world order and its institutions are definitely not democratic.

    I think the rejection of global status quo explains contemporary national politics much more than where on the democratic-authoritarian scale each country is headed, because it does not matter. As several heads of state have complained, they are at the mercy of the bond-holders. That is, the democratization of individual countries is heavily dependent on the democratization of powerful global institutions, if not on their total destruction.

  11. My general reaction to the article is that you are overreacting to a distorted view of what you call populism. We seem to have different views of the word, but I’ll run with a definition of any popular groundswell against the ruling elites.

    Recent history, considering the French revolution, communism, and fascism do give justifiable cause for concern for the potential for the frightening destructive power that can ensue. But is that what we are facing now?

    You have a very negative view of the current situation as in, “A world of roving bandits (including intellectual bandits like populists and conspiracy theorists) critically damages economic output …”. Considering Peterson, Farage, and Trump, are they bandits or conspiracy theorists? Evidence strongly suggests that Britain and the US have strengthened their economies under the influence of the latter two.

    “They can kill the democratic republic in the name of order— as populists would do—”

    In the case of BREXIT it is clearly an attempt to withdraw from the increasing antidemocratic authoritarianism if the EU, and Trump was elected to “drain the swamp” – an increasingly undemocratic swamp.

    You say, “increasingly idiosyncratic populist agendas”, but I see a moderately unified conservative reaction to authoritarian globalism, and can see no globalism (or Euroism) that can be anything other than authoritarian.

    It’s not just the anglosphere who are rebelling. The most dedicated proponents of this populism are Eastern European countries who experienced Soviet totalitarianism, and within a generation of their escape face a return under the EU. All they ask is to be left to live their lives as they wish.

    Traditional cultures, which can span national boundaries are the result of millennial experimentation – of the trial and error of social evolution. The destructive experiments I listed were the products of intellectual elites, and as such were doomed to failure as are the present experiments of the EU and globalist agendas.

    “I hope to offer constructive ideas that will help ensure that my children enjoy the liberty and democracy that allowed me to climb the ladder.”

    I’m quite confident that democracy, with all its failings but also its inbuilt checks against authoritarianism, will prevail. I also believe that technology can help by improving our mechanisms for decision-making, and improving our assessment of merit with global, anonymised assessment systems that can replace the race to the bottom our current education systems are engaged in.

    An inescapable emergent property of free networks is that they restrain hierarchies. The EU in its death throes is trying to fetter the internet by attacking traditional fair use conventions. They will ultimately fail.

    Now that the fundamental assumption of the significance of the greenhouse effect has been challenged and destroyed, the UN affiliated globalists are failing in their attempt to tax the essence of life – CO2. Though this spectre still haunts the corridors of power, globalism has lost this chance for a universal tax and is in retreat. And this populist movement is starting to look seriously at our education systems. I feel hope for the future.

    • Andrija Stupar says

      “In the case of BREXIT it is clearly an attempt to withdraw from the increasing antidemocratic authoritarianism if the EU”

      The EU has actually become MORE democratic as time went on, not less. The EU parliament didn’t use to be directly elected. For a long time after it was, it was essentially just a talking shop. Now it has some clout (not enough – it should have more). Appointment of the Commission used to be a purely behind-closed-doors affair for the Council – now it is written into the treaties that the Council must take into account the result of the elections for the European Parliament when suggesting a candidate. The “Spitzenkandidat” process has made candidates for Commission President throw their name into the open months ahead of an election, making the process more transparent (and making it harder for the Council to ignore the election results).

      The reason that the EU has a “democratic deficit” is because the governments of the member states don’t want to give up their power at the EU level. The UK government was no different in this respect.

      The Brexit vote was “clearly” mostly about two things:

      1) The “losers of globalization”, people who have been screwed by the way the economy has developed in the past 20+ years, showing a middle finger to the system. A protest vote.

      2) Immigration.

      Other motivations, I think, were far tertiary when it came to most of the electorate.

  12. Kessler says

    I think you are describing solutions, rather then problems. A problem with any system, dominated with a small, uniform elite, is that it creates an intellectual and ideological bubble. Many countries have gleefully marched to their own destruction, because the ruling elite has latched onto a wrong set of ideas, with nobody to challenge them.

    The information technology produces political outsiders, who are not in intellectual bubble and thus, can have different perspective and ideas. If they can reach through technology, to millions of people, theoretically, they can expand the list of available ideas. This could be good, if all ideas offered by the elites are unpopular among the people. The mistrust in the wisdom of crowds is often unjustified – collectively, people often know more, then a small group of experts.

    There would be various fringe views, conspiracy theorists or those who would peddle unacceptable ideas, but if the shopping list of ideas is expanded, it’s more likely that better ones would be chosen.

    • Thank you for your comment. For some background, I study modern authoritarian political institutions – legislatures, judiciaries, elections, media, etc. Authoritarian governments are, by definition, an ideological bubble. Not a good way to govern and typically ends in disaster.

      My favorite line in this piece is the “dumpster fire” comment related to concepts. Choosing terms for this piece was incredibly difficult and “political outsider” was not one that I was ever fully comfortable with, but, alas, I had to choose something because “un-socialized” was even worse.

      I fully agree – the more ideas the better. Crowds are wise. But technology is a force for good, evil, transparency, and is also a cloak. I don’t have the answers. I suggest that enlarging elite circles with people that have differing ideas may be a good place to start.

  13. Peter says

    In 2015, A. Merkel overnight decided to ignore the EU law and accept 900 000 Syrian refugees without checking their documents. (It became clear quickly that more than half of them were not from Syria and were often just economic migrants, including some very undesirable people). Almost all the governing elite, the two big Churches, and the leading media applauded (and do so even today). A poll in Germany conducted at the time had the following results: 80 percent believed that accepting the Syrian refugees was a moral obligation. But 88% also said that Merkel’s move will encourage more people to come. So the »stupid« public showed more knowledge and farsightedness in this “complex” matter than the »clever« self-admiring elite.

    Anyone expressing doubts about the immigration policies is ostracized. The leader of the Evangelical Church in Germany labeled members of the populist parliamentary party AFD as the Dark People. This was repeated many times. So the elite have no intention whatsoever to expand the ranks with people that have even a slightly different opinion. That a populist party will emerge in such conditions is no wonder.

    It is the same in the leftist academia in all the West, just see the reactions to Jordan Peterson. I would love to hear how the author proposes to widen the elite circle.

    The ability to legally avoid paying taxes is one sure sign of membership in the elite of the super-rich. How will one expand membership in this club?

    Do the populists signify authoritarianism? As far as I know, there are no political prisoners in Poland or Hungary, and there were none in Italy under Berlusconi. But justice is quick and harsh for populists in Europe accused of hate speech. In practice, the problems with populists in Europe IMHO are: willfully ignoring environmental issues, admiration of strong foreign leaders, and in some cases corruption.

    Let us not forget WWI and what the elites with their noble codes of »Honor«, »Bravery«, »National Pride« did to Europe and the rest of the world: Generals covered in medals showing their superior breeding and willpower by driving millions into senseless death by machine guns. German government transporting Lenin to Russia and helping him launch the Bolshevik revolution…

    Switzerland has a direct democracy involving all its voters on many issues and it works pretty well. The referendums are a check to the power of the elites. And my friends in Switzerland say that even there elites are often not based on merit.

  14. Ian says

    I just want to share a flaw about me, because I think it is interesting. As soon as I read the word “elite”, my blood started boiling. And although I did get through the article, I look back and notice that I couldn’t read and think about what I was reading. I was instead searching for something that would let me make a new enemy.

    I’m clearly not a good addition to democratic societies.

  15. Andrew_W says

    As I see it the difference between how the world was 500 or 2000 years ago and how the world is today can almost entirely be attributed to science and technology. That may appear an obvious and superficial observation but not if you look at the cascade of effects that have wrought change not just to levels of wealth but also to the basics of how we think:
    Humans today are far more proficient in abstract thinking than they were 100 years ago – unscaled IQ’s have increased by 30 points.
    Greater wealth has reduced resistance to government investment in egalitarian policies in health, education and social welfare with the result that government spending as a proportion of GDP has increased from ~15% to 40-50% in most western nations.
    The world has become smaller with the result that people in what were isolated communities and societies can now see the world from an international perspective through their TV’s and Internet (interestingly, though Americans do see this international perspective they’re less exposed to it due to living in a bigger domestic pond).

    So what are the implications of all this? I think in terms of democracy as a form of majority rules it has and will continue to increase in strength. Todays representative democratic systems and technology are channeling us, the world over, towards far more uniformity, but is simultaneously increasingly allowing greater cultural diversity within borders with less demand for the uniformity demanded of past more conservative generations in western countries.

    There is the perception that free speech is under attack, but it has always been under attack. I agree with Jonathan Haidt that the current illiberal left crusades against diversity of speech such as that too common in many universities will fizzle out, that it’s a product of recent changes in perceptions recognizing the advantages of the acceptance of greater social diversity, an over-swing of the pendulum that isn’t sustainable in the longer term.

  16. Gregory Bogosian says

    Why should we care? I am not an elite. I don’t inform public opinion. What do I care if changes in communications technology lead to the current generation of taste makers and their doctrines being replaced by a new generation of taste makers with different doctrines? What are you afraid of? Andrew Anglin and his fans disbanding the federal government and forging the White American Reich? Just give me an example of how current elites being undermined can be a problem.

  17. Clay R. Fuller says

    I’m not convinced you should care. But…

    Uncertainty frequently leads to misperceptions and conflict. War and economic decline are more likely during transitional periods. Sorry, thought that was implied. Those affect everyone.

    You’re correct, change is a constant, and it is frequently a good thing, but institutions must evolve as well to accommodate demographic and technological change, assuming one likes democracy and political stability. Which I understand not everyone does.

    • Gregory Bogosian says

      “I’m not convinced you should care.” You can’t really mean that. If you are not convinced that I should care then why did you bother taking time out of your life to write this piece and respond to me?

        • Gregory Bogosian says

          That is not a question. It isn’t even a sentence. It has no verb.

  18. Bill says

    Where politics and change theory intersect. It seems simply explained by the common thread of all change theory models — resistance. The elite are those most resistant to change as it puts their way of life in jeopardy. No different than middle managers resisting change in business processes due to fear of layoffs/more work/etc.

    • Clay Fuller says

      Thanks for the comment! I’m not resistant to change. To the contrary I suggest that change is a good thing.

  19. Morti says

    That’s yet another voice saying how democracy is evolving into some kind of oligarchic authoritarianism. Patrick Deneen’s “Why liberalism failed” is a nice book (although far from perfect) that tries to look for the seed of liberalism’s demise in itself.

    Yet another approach I found in Yuval Harari’s book “Homo deus” where he said that algorithms are becoming so sophisticated that they are even now better than us in knowing what we want and what’s good for us and in such case democracy becomes totally pointless. Computers and machines will manage the society much more efficiently than we’ve ever done it.

    And yet we find the geopolitical approach which sees the source of the problem in the fact that America is struggling to stay in the dominant position while authoritarian powers are becoming increasingly assertive.

    One could find even more of that and all point to our authoritarian future. It doesn’t even matter whether we vote for the left or the right, whether mainstream politicians or populists are elected. Time to say good bye and let go.

  20. Stuart Clark says

    “Since then, the UK voted for Brexit, there was an attempted coup in Turkey followed by a massive crackdown, Orban began talking about “illiberal democracy,” and populist parties rose in Poland and Germany.”

    By lumping Brexit in with these other events, you imply that Brexit is an example of the increased authoritarianism referred to in your article. I don’t know how the media report Brexit on your side of the pond, but as a Brit, I think this is ludicrous. I would argue that the complete opposite is in fact the case. Fed up with the authoritarianism of the EU (an organisation, by the way, that America would never in a million years vote to join) as it tends towards the centre of your bell curve, the British people decided that they’d had enough. This is entirely unsurprising as the British, unlike their European neighbours, have for many centuries rejected and fought against authoritarian and extreme political parties. The far right in the UK, unlike in France or Germany for example, has never had much political success in the UK. The British also don’t like being dictated to by people, as in the EU’s case, that they can’t remove from office.

    Now, should the Marxist (and inevitably totalitarian) Corbyn get into power, I would have no issue with you lumping that event in with your other examples. For that would be a truly terrifying event, and very out of character for the British.

    • Clayrfuller says

      Thank you for the comment. Yes, you make a valid point. This is why I deliberately tried to stay away from particulars and in an “abstraction salad” as one commenter pointed out. Perhaps that was not the best choice, but I was not trying to advance a particular argument here – which I realize is sort of odd. This is why I told the story from class, because as a liberal arts teacher it is my job to teach students how to think, not what to think. So, in my writing I frequently pose ideas that (hopefully) deliberately causes the reader to question their own line of thinking – and mine of course. I don’t have all the answers.

      Probably not WSJ or NYT material, but hey, that’s what the internet is for.

  21. Ad Francis says

    Mr. Fuller: Thank you for writing a thought-provoking article, and thank you for your infinite patience in engaging humbly with so many condescending and belligerent comments. (Personally, I figured it was safe to assume you’ve read Locke and Hobbes, considering your profession.) For the most part, I have found the comment section on Quillette to be respectful and enlightening. I hope it stays that way.

  22. Constantin Draghici says

    All forms of governance are all converging towards one form of government which would be adapted to, and make possible world governance. This is half way between democracy and autocracy. It is unclear whether world governance would become possible or more likely due to the resulting familiarity or acclimatization of all nations with this new sort of governance, or because some resulting conditions might favor such an outcome. This is left in the air as it is just a peripheral setting for the core argument.
    Mr. Fuller moves to the heart of the matter: Populist parties and movements across the Western world are challenging the assumed cultural and political hegemony of an increasingly illiberal political left. Obviosuly he is not putting it this way – but it must be the phenomenon he is observing. Thee general point is the rise of “populist rhetoric” from two “mainstream camps”. What mainstream camps? The rhetoric that denounces arrogant autocratic gestures of admittedly democratically elected representatives could be characterized fairly as “populist” in the sense that most citizens would agree (as part of a common struggle against a privileged elite). However, the author seems to prefer the darker description of populism that imports vague ideas popular with the stupid and the unwashed. You will see why I am stating this. Mr. Fuller says: “the future … is now wrecking the place” and the “aporia” of the populist movement (which movement?) is the never ending struggle between abhorrent direct mob rule and an elite republic. The future is always wrecking something and the aporia in question has been with us since the beginning of time. From here, Mr. Fueller essentially subscribes to the idea that democracy has always been just an appearance of real suffrage as most people are simply following an elite leader or another in the absence of a truly formed opinion and mostly based on character sameness. My guess is that the failure of the established political parties to inspire confidence and elicit the same blind loyalty as before is ascribed by Mr. Fueller to the ascendance in politics of outside “populist” challengers (like Orban, what he describes as “populist parties” in Poland and Germany, and the police shootings in the US which seem to me more like a studious effort to stay away from naming Donald Trump), characterized by “unprecedented levels of populist rhetoric”.
    The rising populist elites communicate ‘cues’ to uninformed mobs and these “cues” act like pheromones in the sense that the irrational mob is programmed to follow with little or no reasoning involved in the process. Or maybe its like a form of mass hypnotism?
    The Internet and technology creates a Babel Tower of such elite “cues” in direct contradiction with each other. How could they contradict each other if the rational faculty was not somehow engaged in forming a preference is the point Mr. Fueller skates away from. His argument is basically that too many emerging challengers create a cacophony of cues coming from all directions, which is another way to say that we are awash in too much information and disinformation depending on how one looks at it.
    He further argues that our political institutions were meant to handle a limited (finite) number of elite signalers that were somehow “socialized”. I suspect that means that they could be sorted out in large classes with predominantly similar interests and objectives. The emerging chaos of unlimited contenders leave large clouds of pheromone like “clues”, are not “socialized” – meaning that they do not fit the predetermined categories, and are “political outsiders”.
    This whole argument rests on this offensive in my view idea that these challengers are attractive/populist not by way of ideas and criticism of the established ruling elites, but by smell and a vaguely defined “sameness” (like whatever unites the “deplorables” and Donald Trump in the Leftist psyche). I don’t like it at all.
    The argument continues thus: existing democratic institutions are not strong enough to counter the unfiltered low-cost campaigns of ideologues. Really? From my perspective they seem incapable to muzzle criticism but the game is to express the same idea in different terms. You see, the problem is not that the modern liberal state is incapable of dissecting and unmasking noxious ideologies by having less access to mass communications. The real problem was that the “unsocialized” challengers did not have a platform before, and now they do. The challenge is not how to counter their ideas, not at all. The challenge is how to silence and de-platform (which is now screamed by our intellectual ‘elites’ nearly on all university campuses. The term Mr. Fueller choses to describe it is self explanatory: “Now elites must figure out how to re-impose order”. I argue that the choice of word “impose” in this context is like an all revealing slip of tongue. Problem #2 posits the thesis that technological freedom creates vacuums both in democracies and dictatorships and fills them up with the opposing view point. One would have thought that this is the emergence of counterargument in a previously sanitized marketplace of ideas. It’s like the medication that is good only so far and after the magical zero line it turns to poison. Rows of “Intellectual bandits like populists and conspiracy theorists” get both freedom of expression and a cheap platform for their ideas. In autocracies – only the good guys take advantage of such platforms. In democracies only the roving bad ones? In any event, Mr Fuller has found a way to separate the wheat from the chaff and that is to estimate the degree of “socialization” the “cues” leaving emerging leaders possess. He wants to isolate and de-platform the un-socialized emerging elites that are nothing but roaming bandits. How? Mr. Fueller proposes the “more like THE way out is restricting elite circles and imposing authoritarianism. Hellooo?
    He goes on to say that autocracies have it easy in de-platforming the roving bandits while granting “limited” individual rights with a great example being China’s censorship regime and the new “social credit rating”. No kidding! The choice in democracies is either to “kill the democratic order” or some nebulous uniting “to defend and modernize their collective power”.
    I bet Mr. Fuller is a believer in gun control. I am saying this because he does the same anthropomorphism when it comes to technology: technology is guilty of a political assault, not people using it. The solution, therefore, is to create “new institutional frameworks to manage modern technology”. This is an euphemism for upgrading the state monopoly on violence to also a monopoly on the use of platforms such as Youtube and Facebook and to make them equivalent with “violence”.
    It is embarrassing to see someone building this argument to go on and quote James Madison and then bathe in moral satisfaction for generously offering in exchange an expansion of elite ranks (why not use the term ‘enhanced inclusivity’) that would not compromise retaining their own ‘ambitions”. The choice of rolling in the mud with populists and authoritarians is an euphemism for the idea of having to defeat them in argument. “God help us all” if they chose to do so because the unwashed masses follow pheromones and not ideas, just like bandits follow the gun. This is the most remarkable remaking of the gun control ‘argument’ into a call for deplatforming “un-socialized outsiders” to the ruling political elites. Who said that the American Enterprise

    I do have a question: Was this first published in the New Left Review?

    • Clayrfuller says

      Very interesting analysis. Thank you for pointing out a few very reasonable criticisms of my commentary and some other quite confusing ones. The answer to your question is no. What is the “new left review”? I guess I’ll google it on the internet, that thing everyone here seems to think I’m against. I do research, data collection, and teaching most of the time, and go fishing in most of my free time. I rarely spend my days reading and commenting on other people’s commentary. This, that you are reading, my comments and this piece, is a hobby I have recently picked up out of curiosity. I chose this venue because my gut told me to. I read on the internet, you know that thing, that free thinkers preferred this place, but perhaps I was wrong? Perhaps it would have been better received somewhere else, with fewer philosopher kings, but that doesn’t matter. I am a proud and responsible owner of a number of guns and do not wish to restrict that right. I’m not quite sure how you pulled that out of the piece, but I am frequently amazed at what people pull out of writing. In my experience it typically has something to do with one’s own insecurities. Anyways, thanks for reading!

      I do have a few suggestions: Smile more. Go outside every once in a while. Talk to people you disagree with.


    • Yes, and espionage never happens. Intelligence agencies don’t exist. Social media is not a tool. The internet only has positive effects.

      In most sports there is a penalty called “interference.” It can be committed with the intention of a specific outcome or by accident while trying to achieve some other unrelated goal. Either way, it is still interference. That’s all I said.

      I enjoy colorful language. In my native Texas we have many uses for cow dung.

      Thanks for your comment and for reading the article. I hope you have a nice weekend.

  23. Hermes says

    “Since then, the UK voted for Brexit, there was an attempted coup in Turkey followed by a massive crackdown, Orban began talking about “illiberal democracy,” and populist parties rose in Poland and Germany.”

    Excuse me, but as a British citizen who voted to leave the EU in 2016, I resent and challenge the inclusion of ‘Brexit’ in this supposed list of anti-democratic tendencies. Whatever you think about the EU and Britain’s place within it, the majority of the British population has chosen to leave the EU on a democratic vote. They did so precisely because they want more democracy, not less; because the EU represents overweening authoritarian power, and national sovereignty is a more appealig alternative.

    I’m disappointed to see Quillette reproducing the thoughtless leftist consensus that ‘Brexit’ was somehow ‘reactionary’, racist, etc. That is a propaganda line. People voted in 2016 to reclaim national sovereignty and to underline, not to undermine, their democratic rights.

    • Hi Hermes. Thank you for the comment. It was not my intention to characterize Brexit as an anti-democratic exercise. I meant it to represent an example of how “order” is changing throughout the West. Perhaps I could have been clearer about that.

      While I appreciate your passion, I’m disappointed at the thoughtlessness, and frankly, arrogant hubris, of so many Quillette readers. Some have been very fair and thoughtful, but if you read through this thread – just like all the comments on my writing at the conservative leaning think tank I work at – readers seem to sway back and forth from accusing me of being some elitist conservative to your accusation of being some sort of leftist sjw. Which is it? I can’t be both. Or can I?

      In any case, thank you for taking the time to read. The piece was intended to be thought provoking, so, I guess I succeeded there.

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