Politics, Review, Top Stories

‘Against Democracy’—A Review

A Review of Against Democracy by Jason Brennan. Princeton University Press (September 2016) 304 pages. 

Many voters can find democracy exasperating, particularly when watching the TV on the
night of an election which hasn’t gone their way. But most would still likely endorse Winston Churchill’s observation that “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” (Unlike most of the quotes attributed to Churchill he actually said this, in the House of Commons on November 11th, 1947, but he didn’t claim it was original to him.) Few citizens in a democracy want to delimit or do away with their democratic institutions entirely, and most are genuinely grateful that they do not live in an undemocratic state.

Georgetown professor Jason Brennan dissents from this prevailing view. In Against Democracy, he argues in an engaging and witty fashion that we would, in fact, be better off ditching (or at least seriously curtailing) democracy. The book pre-dates the Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, so Brennan’s argument was not produced by frustration with either of these. Nevertheless, he reports in the introduction to the second addition that he received a lot more support in their wake.

Brennan’s argument

Before we look at how well Brennan’s argument holds up, it’s important to be clear on what his argument actually is. Like many critics of democracy, Brennan argues that the electorate is not qualified to make the complex decisions required of governments. However, he makes a more specific point. In his view, subjecting an individual to the decisions of an incompetent voter (or voters) is a form of oppression, no different to forcing someone to seek medical treatment from an incompetent doctor or to be represented in court by an incompetent lawyer. “When some citizens are morally unreasonable, ignorant, or incompetent about politics,” he writes, “this justifies not permitting them to hold political authority over others.”

Brennan is a libertarian, although he sets out to make a non-ideological argument. He acknowledges that democracy has symbolic value, but says that this symbolic value doesn’t justify the oppression which comes with it. According to Brennan, telling someone that they’re not allowed to vote just because they’re a citizen shouldn’t be any different to telling them that they’re not allowed to drive on the road because they can’t pass a driving test.

Brennan places citizens into three categories—Hobbits, Hooligans, and Vulcans. Hobbits are uninformed about politics and indifferent to them. The average non-voter in a Western democracy is a Hobbit. Hooligans are interested in politics, but follow it in the same way that a person follows a team sport. They are strongly partisan, frequently uninformed, and prone to cognitive bias. They barrack for team Republican or team Labour in the same way someone barracks for the New York Yankees or Manchester United. They can repeat the arguments in favour of their preferred party or ideology, but limit their sources of news to those which confirm their own views and have only a limited understanding of the position of the other side. A conservative Hooligan could not give an explanation of the arguments in favour of socialism that a socialist would recognise, nor could a socialist Hooligan give a cogent argument in favour of capitalism. In most democracies, he writes, the average voter is a Hooligan. Vulcans, by contrast, are the ideal democratic citizens—they inform themselves, seek out opposing views, and consider issues with as little cognitive bias as possible (nobody could be completely free from it). While we all like to think of ourselves as Vulcans, Brennan argues that they are actually rare. In general, when the apolitical become interested in politics, they go from Hobbits to Hooligans.

These categories do not conform to any one political ideology, and people in all three categories can be found in different camps. Brennan uses his own libertarianism as an example. A libertarian Hobbit would be someone who is uninterested in politics but has a general opinion that the government should leave them alone. A libertarian Hooligan would spend their time reading Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard and arguing passionately with non-libertarians on the Internet. And a libertarian Vulcan would be someone who has come to libertarian views after careful consideration of the evidence, and continues to read the works of socialist and traditional conservative writers with an open mind, and may reconsider his views in light of new evidence.

Brennan writes a lot about voter ignorance and cognitive bias, both of which, he argues, are much worse than we think. If you’re reading this article, chances are you are interested in and follow politics. And as we tend to spend time with people whose backgrounds and interests are similar to ours, there’s a good chance that your family, friends and co-workers are more informed about politics than average. According to Brennan, this means you probably underestimate how many of our fellow citizens are completely uninformed or actively misinformed about basic political questions. He cites some statistics from Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter by Ilya Somin. In the 2010 midterm elections in the United States, only 34 percent of voters knew that the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was enacted under President Bush, not President Obama. Only 39 percent knew that defence was the largest category of spending in the federal budget. These are fairly easy questions with straight answers, too—respondents were not asked for their views on trade policy, carbon emissions, dealing with ISIS, or anything else requiring expert knowledge.

A sizeable minority of the electorate is staggeringly ignorant of basic questions. They cannot find their own country on a globe, they don’t know who the United States fought in the Second World War, and don’t know which politicians and which parties advocate for which policies. If they do vote, they’re quite likely to vote in ways which an informed voter would find completely bizarre, such as supporting Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders over other Democratic and Republican politicians because they believe they would enact similar policies. Based on an American National Election Studies survey, Brennan estimates that the electorate falls into four quartiles—the top 25 percent of voters are well-informed, the next 25 percent are badly-informed, the next 25 percent are know-nothings, and the last 25 percent are systematically misinformed. His work examines the American electorate, but similar studies could be conducted in other democracies. According to Brennan, attempting to educate these uninformed or misinformed citizens is futile, as they face no real consequences for their ignorance. If I don’t go to the trouble to learn that traffic in my country travels on the left-hand side of the road, I’ll get run over. But I can cheerfully vote at random at every election for my entire life and be no worse off.

It gets worse. Voters are not just uninformed or misinformed; even when they do have access to the right information they can still come to the wrong conclusions because they are misled by motivated reasoning and cognitive bias. There has been abundant and fruitful research suggesting that, when making decisions, we often adjust the evidence to fit our conclusions rather than adjusting our conclusions to fit the evidence.

Brennan cites several studies in support of this position. In one of these, conducted by Geoffrey Cohen, two groups of voters were presented with two policies on welfare, and asked which they supported.1 The first group was told that one policy came from the Democratic Party and the other the Republican Party. In the second group, the parties were switched, so that the policy associated with the Democratic Party in the first group was now associated with the Republican Party and vice versa. In both groups, self-identified Democrats were more likely to support the Democratic policy and self-identified Republicans were more likely to support the Republican policy, regardless of what the policies actually recommended.

In another experiment carried out by Dan Kahan and colleagues, subjects were divided into four groups.2 People in the first two groups were asked to interpret a study on whether a new skin cream was effective in treating a rash. The study was fictional, but they weren’t told this. One group was given a set of numbers suggesting the cream is effective, and another was given identical numbers suggesting it is not. In both groups, people with good numeracy skills generally interpreted the data correctly. The third and fourth groups were given identical numbers but in a different fictional study, which purported to examine the link between laws permitting the concealed carry of firearms and crime rates. One set of numbers suggested that concealed carry reduced crime, the other suggested it increased it. Self-identified liberal Democrats, even those with good numeracy, were far more likely to interpret the data correctly when the numbers suggested an increase in crime than when they suggested a reduction in crime, even though the actual problem was the same in both cases. And for self-identified conservative Republicans, the opposite held true—even those who were brilliant at maths often got their sums completely wrong when the numbers suggested that concealed carry increased crime rates.

Brennan’s proposed alternative to democracy is epistocracy. Derived from the Greek epistēmē, meaning knowledge, it is government by the knowledgeable. Brennan puts forward five models for how an epistocracy could work in practice:

  • Restricted suffrage: People need to earn the right to vote, either by passing an exam or meeting certain qualifications.
  • Plural voting: Everyone gets one vote, but some get more. This idea has been proposed before, particularly in fiction. In The Curious Republic of Gondour, Mark Twain described a society in which people could get additional votes for achieving higher levels of education and owning property. “To offer to ‘limit’ the suffrage might have made instant trouble; the offer to “enlarge” it had a pleasant aspect” he wrote—this would probably make plural voting more palatable to the electorate than restricted suffrage. The plural vote is also at the centre of the 1953 novel In The Wet by English-Australian author Nevil Shute. Set 30 years in the future (in 1983), Shute presents a world where Australia and Canada have adopted the “multiple vote.” In this model, each voter gets a single vote by default, but can get up to five more through military service, education, raising a family, living overseas, or being an official in a Christian Church. The final vote—the seventh vote—is personally awarded by the Queen for heroism. Britain has failed to adopt the multiple vote, and so has fallen into ruinous socialism. The novel, and the proposal for granting extra votes, reflects Shute’s own conservative views.
  • Enfranchisement lottery: Each election cycle, a group of citizens is selected at random and put through an intensive program to turn them into voters and have them participate in non-partisan decision-making forums.
  • Epistocratic veto: We keep democratic institutions, but allow their decisions to be overridden by some sort of council selected through qualification. The episotcratic council cannot initiate policy on its own.
  • Weighted voting/government by simulated oracle: Voters can vote on their preferences, and some sort of AI then develops policies which will deliver on those preferences, mimicking how voters would vote if they were perfectly informed.

Brennan pre-empts some of his critics’ objections. Faced with the argument that all those who are subject to the power of the government should have an equal say in elections, he points out that we already exclude about a fifth of the population from voting because we don’t believe they have the capacity to meaningfully participate—these are the under-18s. And in doing so, we exclude many 16- and 17-year-olds who have a better understanding of public policy than many adults. The right to vote is, in Brennan’s view, fundamentally different to other political rights such as the right to freedom of speech and religion as it has an impact on others.

Brennan also argues that we should not judge epistocracy the way we judge unjust measures to restrict suffrage used in the past. Just because we once restricted or excluded people from voting because they were black or female, doesn’t mean we should completely reject any restrictions now. There are just and unjust reasons for excluding someone from participating in public affairs, just as there are just and unjust reasons for prohibiting someone from doing anything. Brennan accepts that any epistocratic measures would favour some demographic groups over others. In the United States, for example, there’s reasonable evidence that the average wealthy, middle-aged, white man is significantly more likely to have a better understanding of topics like economics and foreign affairs than the average young, poor, black woman. So, epistocracy would see the power of wealthy, middle-aged white men increase at the expense of young, poor, black women.

Brennan agrees that this is inevitable, but says we should view it in the same way as we view other inequalities. White people from well-off backgrounds are far more likely to become lawyers and doctors than black people from poor backgrounds. The solution is not to relax the requirements to enter these professions, but rather to work over time on reducing the inequalities which lead to this imbalance in the first place. Brennan argues that epistocracy could be better for poor minorities in the long run, as it would reduce the political power of the poor and uneducated white voters who are more likely to favour policies which disadvantage minorities (such as tough policing and lengthy prison terms). 

There are three significant problems with Brennan’s argument which he doesn’t address sufficiently in the book—looking at existing epistocratic institutions, making episotcracy work in practice, and explaining democracy’s success.

Looking at existing epistocratic institutions

In a 2018 interview with Sean Illing on Vox, Brennan denied that there had ever been an epistocracy in practice. But over the past two centuries, many democracies had institutions explicitly intended to give more power to better-informed citizens. For example, the Canadian provinces retained some property qualifications for voting until they were abolished between 1876 (British Columbia) and 1948 (Quebec). Some U.S. states appointed senators until 1913. Prior to 1911, the House of Lords had substantial power to veto legislation in the United Kingdom. Oxford and Cambridge Universities had their own seats in the British Parliament until 1950. In the Vox interview, Brennan acknowledges this, but says it was “…a stupid idea. It pains me to say this as an educator, but it turns out that university education has very little impact on how much people know. In general, college-educated people know more than non-college-educated people, but it’s not the college that’s making the difference.” But he still accepts that people with tertiary education are better-informed, so in practice, giving them more power is an epistocratic measure.

Brennan may respond that these historical restrictions were based on property ownership rather than merit, but he also claims that the wealthy are usually better-informed. It should be possible to assess the effect of these institutions in practice to see if they led to better or worse policy outcomes. 

Even today, different democratic countries have institutions which are more or less democratic and more or less epistocratic. Take three English-speaking democracies—Australia, the United States, and Canada. Australia has an elected senate, no bill of rights, and compulsory voting. Many more low-information voters cast ballots than in the other two countries, they can elect all their legislators, and the legislation passed by those legislators is subject to only a very limited veto by the courts. The United States and Canada have much lower voter turnout, and the American constitutional Bill of Rights and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms give courts much more power to strike down legislation made by the elected legislatures—a limited epistocratic veto. The United States has an elected senate, too, and puts many more questions to popular vote than Australia does. But Canada does not, and bills passed by its house of commons are subject to review by an appointed senate. But there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Canada is a much better-run country, or that Australia suffers from the effects of unrestrained democracy. 

Making epistocracy work in practice

A second objection is the practical one—how do we decide who gets to vote, or who gets more votes, or who gets to veto the majority? One option is to have an exam. Deciding what should go into the exam would be a huge challenge, but in the Vox interview, Brennan proposes an interesting solution—everyone could vote on what the exam should contain. He admits this is a paradox, but argues that “voters know in the abstract what they ought to know; they just don’t actually know the things they think they should.” In Against Democracy, he uses the example of his young son, who knows in the abstract what qualities would make a good wife but isn’t mature enough to decide who he should marry. But once major political parties knew what was on the exam, they could coach their potential supporters to the point they could pass it.

Otherwise we would be left enfranchising people based on their experience and qualifications, but as Brennan himself admits, these are not reliable measures of how well-informed someone is about public policy. Any such system would risk giving the vote (or the extra votes) to a college graduate with limited life experience and unrealistic ideas over a small business owner with less formal education but more practical knowledge of how the world works.

Not only that, it’s not clear how solid Brennan’s central argument—that well-informed people have systemically different policy preferences, and those preferences are better—actually is. Brennan extensively cites the work of political scientist Scott Althaus, who concluded from studying voter surveys that better-informed voters generally support free market solutions and free trade, favour progressive views on homosexuality and abortion, reject a harsh or punitive criminal justice policy, and oppose a hawkish foreign policy. But Althaus himself cautions against using this data to make assumptions about the policies which all voters would prefer if they were better-informed, and likewise, assuming that those policies must be better. “There is no statistical magic that can tell us what the American public would really want if it only knew better” he wrote in an email to writer Jesse Singal. “These simulations do not and cannot tell us what the American people really want.”

Ilya Somin, whom Brennan also quotes with approval, wrote a generally positive review of Against Democracy, but cautioned that these practical problems would probably be fatal to Brennan’s proposed solutions. “Ironically, the main flaw of epistocracy may be that we don’t have the knowledge to make it work” he wrote. Somin, like Brennan, is a libertarian, and he speaks from a libertarian distrust of elaborate or complex government solutions. Epistocracy in any form would require such a solution.

Explaining democracy’s success

Finally, there’s the obvious objection that, whatever is wrong with it in the abstract, modern Western democracy is hugely successful in practice. Democracies are generally richer and better at protecting human rights than non-democracies, and their residents are healthier. Compared to people in the undemocratic past, or residents of countries with authoritarian governments, the citizens of Western democracies have it made. This is the Democratic Paradox—we can prove beyond a doubt that many voters are misinformed and biased, but also prove beyond a doubt that the governments they have elected over the past two centuries have generally produced good outcomes.

Brennan does address this, but not in great detail. He suggests that the success of Western democracies may be in spite of rather than because of democracy, or because democracy itself is limited. Political parties reduce the burdens on voters and concentrate policy-making in the hands of politicians, officials, and civil servants, who are all generally better-informed than the voting public. The influence of money on politics delivers disproportionate power to a wealthy and well educated minority. The democratic will is thwarted by bureaucracy; Sir Humphrey Appleby-type figures who are able to control politics from behind the scenes.

Still, this doesn’t explain why we should get rid of or constrain democracy. When asked about democracy’s success in the Vox interview, Brennan responds, “That’s a very good question. I like to say I’m a fan of democracy, and I’m also a fan of Iron Maiden, but I think Iron Maiden has quite a few albums that are terrible—and I think democracy is kind of like this. It’s great, it’s the best system we have so far, but we shouldn’t accept that it can’t be improved.”

But this is a fundamentally different position to the one he takes in the book.

Conclusion

For these reasons, I’m not persuaded by Brennan’s overall argument. Still, it’s important to challenge the assumption of democratic right to rule, like any other exercise of power. We shouldn’t simply accept it, any more than we would uncritically accept the divine right of kings. Against Democracy is an interesting and engaging read. But, in the end, I will put up with occasional exasperation on election night.

 

Adam Wakeling is an Australian lawyer and writer whose work has explored Australian political, social and military history. His most recent book, Stern Justice: The Forgotten Story of Australia, Japan and the Pacific War Crimes Trials, was published by Penguin in 2018.

References:

1 Geoffrey Cohen ‘Party over policy: The Dominating Impact of Group Influence on Political BeliefsJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003, 85(5), 808–822.
2 Dan M. Kahan, Cantrell Dawson, Ellen Peters & Paul Slovic ‘Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-GovernmentBehavioural Public Policy 2017, vol. 1, issue 1, pp 54-86.

Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash

Comments

  1. The only thing I would keep of democracy is the ability to remove an oppressive official by election, rather than pitchforks and torches. Nothing else is necessary. Yes, even the poor and the stupid know wickedness when they experience it. They would be free to initiate the call to election, and all would vote.

    I don’t see any “complex decisions required of governments.” Complexity is handled in the private sector.

  2. A good review.

    I get the impression from Brennan’s writings on Bleeding Heart Libertarians that his critique of democracy is made knowing that there is little chance of actually changing anything, but is meant more as an exercise in critical thinking.

    One question that always strikes me is that presumably the hooligans and hobbits are probably evenly weighted between the two parties and might thus cancel each other out.

  3. Brennan is a libertarian […] Brennan’s proposed alternative to democracy is epistocracy.

    I sense disturbance in the Force.

    Libertarians (classical liberals) do not have to be anarchists, but they do have to be minarchists, i.e. that the only proper role of government is to organise defence against enemies, external or internal.

    Brennan’s proposal doesn’t seem to address this, but rather advocate for a govt. of any size. I might be mistaken re this, but if I’m not, then Brennan the libertarian is advocating for a decidedly unlibertarian system.

  4. Sure. If you’re familiar with the Rothbardian / Hoppean idea of private governments, that’s what I’m referring to. What neither of them paid adequate attention to, in my opinion, is the role of religion in creating the moral framework in the first place. They proceed with political theory assuming a long, spontaneous development of morality has already occurred, led by saints and sages to whom the people volunteered their devotion and obedience.

    Once the distinction between good and evil is well established, and the moral code shared by the natural aristocracy and the working people alike, you have the proper conditions for a Rothbardian / Hoppean order. That is, wicked people will find the space in which they are able to operate keeps shrinking, until they are dwelling on the fringes of society, and preying on each other more than the righteous. This occurs from enforcement of the boundaries, by the aristocrats, and by the people themselves, when they get angry enough to form a posse.

    If one starts from the premise that a state is necessarily a space for the coexistence of good and evil, a coexistence managed and negotiated by a monopolist of government, then it seems to me human nature indicates that in due course the wicked will capture the monopolist of government. Or at any rate, a contest of this sort will ensue, shattering repeatedly the peace and safety of the people.

    I don’t know if I am explaining it very well. I appreciate the sincerity of your question. By all means, probe some more.

  5. “Only 39 percent knew that defence was the largest category of spending in the federal budget”.

    This is a factual error. It excludes mandatory spending. Social security and other welfare spending, should be one category, and were significantly higher than defence spending. Medicare and medicaid, should also be one category, and were higher. Tricksy accountancy on the part of Congress, shouldn’t be used to obscure the truth.

    “Voters are not just uninformed or misinformed; even when they do have access to the right information they can still come to the wrong conclusions because they are misled by motivated reasoning and cognitive bias.”

    True. But studies show that the only difference between a less well-educated and highly cognitive voter, and someone less so, is that the former is capable of finding more reasons to support their “motivated reasoning and cognitive bias” when confronted with a particular piece of evidence, on any given subject.

  6. The problem with this whole argument, it that it ignores the cognitive biases of the superordinate class. The best example of this relates to immigration. Immigration is great for a country’s GDP, but it terrible for anyone living in the bottom 50% of the population. First, it depresses the value of labour, and the alternative of a minimum wage is proven to kill jobs, in all but a few cities which just happen to have a large embedded high-value industry in place.

    Second, there is the smug assertion that Americans wouldn’t want those jobs- when time and again, we’ve seen Americans queue up for jobs at meat and poultry packing plants. Third, there is the fact that even a minor restriction in the flow of a commodity, in this case labour, can cause the value of the commodity to increase significantly- if this tendency accounted for much of the institutional resistance to Elon Musk’s EV’s, why isn’t it also true for labour?

    But the most damning indictment of the West’s mainly liberal superordinate class is that they just don’t get that exposure to a too high proportion of people from an alien culture can be harmful- for both the home population, and the migrants. The US and the UK in particular, are very open and inclusive when it comes to matters of race, but the key factor which makes this possible is a common ethos and a common culture. Like most natural psychological liberals I have a very high trait openness to new experiences- I love foreign travel, culture and foods. Bu this tendency is not something that can be learned or taught.

    For those born into more difficult circumstances, ingroup preference and loyalty is a requirement for happy and mentally healthy living- the comfort of the familiar and a community of like-minded individuals are a source of spiritual nourishment. It’s why migrant communities tend to self-segregate into their own communities, because they have exactly the same psychological coping needs as psychological or social conservatives.

    So, a psychological liberal will always have their view of the economic benefits of migration, coloured by the fact that they will always see the thought of having all those vibrant and diverse cultures on their doorstep as an incredibly positive thing. They will think that others can simply ‘learn’ to be like them, when these mechanisms are irrevocably programmed into us during early childhood. They simply don’t understand the psychological harm they are doing to their own, less fortunate citizens. But they do understand the dangers, when the total level of foreign-born citizens reaches around 14%, because, historically, that is when, combined with an economic downturn, populism always begins to kick in.

    So the real reason why voting shouldn’t be restricted or weighted towards certain segments of the population, is because they are cognitively incapable of putting themselves in the shoes of others. They don’t understand ordinary people. They never will. A far better route would be to establish panels of technocratic experts subservient to the needs of the democracy. This service should be unpaid (beyond a bare minimum), to prevent the formation of a self-interested bureaucracy, but could be recompensed by either educational write-offs or tax relief. The panels would also need to possess a requirement for viewpoint diversity, as the most healthy academic disciplines are always the ones which comprise at least one conservative for every five liberals, ready to push back against liberal assumptions.

    So in the analogy given, the Vulcans should indeed take a more active role, but one which is essentially subordinate to the needs of democracy. The mainly conservative Hobbits should largely be left to their own devices, content in their knowledge that politics is usually not the answer. Meanwhile, the mainly Leftist Hooligans, so convinced of Governments power to change the world for the better, should learn to accept the occasional Hobbit uprising with a certain degree of grace. Usually when they rise up, it is either because they want to curtail the size, scope and power of Government, or because the liberals have gone so far in misunderstanding them, that they’re just being plain mean.

  7. Sure. All civilizations begin in spontaneous order, when common law emerges. The people obey and enforce these laws spontaneously, because they emerged from experience. When disputes are resolved well, by the judgment of the wise heads in a community, the judgment becomes a precedent that is recalled and reused again, and again. This is how common law accumulates gradually.

    If the general well being of a community takes an upward trajectory on account of applied wisdom, this acts as a strong incentive to widen the sphere of the moral code through spontaneous emulation. Neighboring communities begin to borrow from each other the consequential wisdom of each others’ saints and sages. The trust level rises, the division of labor expands, and pretty soon a market emerges, i.e. cooperation and exchange between complete strangers. There is an implicit acceptance of a moral code, and a mutual agreement to reject crime. The conditions for civilization become ripe. (The archaeological findings indicate the first permanent markets may have emerged around pilgrimage sites.)

    All this occurs without a monopolist of religion. That is, an ecclesiastical community claiming exclusive title to moral judgment. The first few centuries of Christianity, for example, saw vibrant competition of ideas in the church formations. It is only after the Roman empire made Christianity its official religion, and really only after the fanatical, violent monopolization of religion by Theodosius that the Catholic church attained its position. It took many more centuries for the ecclesiastical fraternity to become corrupted so thoroughly as to become egregiously oppressive to the people, and this did not occur uniformly, nor synchronously. (Life never goes like that.)

    The marriage of church and state occurred in Egypt, too, long before Rome and Byzantium. It happened in Buddhist India, too. This is human nature. The wicked will always try to capture and monopolize power, once a civilization has accumulated capital, thereby making organized, sustained plundering of the market a viable business model. The question arises, what are the righteous to do, when a Theodosius type figure arises? It’s a tough one! It’s no easy thing for the righteous to outdo the wicked in violence. This may well be the reason why we have not yet overcome the cyclical nature of this thing----the spontaneous order, the capital accumulation, the high civilization, followed by the monopoly, the tyranny and the inevitable crash.

    All civilizations are theocracies essentially, insofar as they are birthed by religion. How do we achieve sustained civilization? How do we overcome the cyclical nature of it? How do we keep good and evil separated? I am a lot better at asking the questions than answering them, what can I tell ya. :slight_smile:

  8. I wonder why they came here then, if the locals were so terrible. In my experience, the WASP are the fairest, most inclusive and open minded people on the planet. It’s their country, their common law, their civilization. Except for the Africans, they did not force anyone to come here.

    Stop the goddamned hating, I say. Or, go home.

  9. Agree 100%. I live in a diverse neighborhood but have worked and gone to weddings, funerals, and retirements in the “ghetto” (as my students call it…). I dont know it as intimitely as Isaiah, but I am familiar with everything he refers to. Racism exists across races and ethnicities and only someone in an all white and/or upper class/academic community would say that Blacks dont.commit hate crimes against Whites. Happens fairly frequently. It robs Blacks of agency to imagine they are incapable of the same sins as everyone else.

  10. Quite right. It is the white people with the least real life experience of “diversity” who romanticize it.

    It is new immigrants with historical grievances against Christian civilization who have assiduously cultivated coalitions with blacks, coached them in this stuff, and run the DIE industry today. Its a deep reservoir of hatred, and antagonism.

    The black ethnos in America is Christian. Left to their own devices they would not have come up with any of this hate philosophy, not in a million years. Thomas Sowell tells this story of a power outage that occurred in NYC when he was growing up in Harlem. The point he was making was, it never occurred to anyone to run out and loot the stores, and whatnot. People often left their front doors unlocked in his housing project. It may be hard for many to believe, even NYC used to be a high trust sort of place.

    The old America, it seems to me, was better in every respect than what the “revolution” of the '60s has given us.

  11. Again 100% agreed. The other evil thing that has been committed against the Black community - particularly the most vulnerable - is to encourage them to destroy the family through monetary rewards. Over generations, it has now resulted in a decimation of the community: boys grow up without fathers or even father figures–except for gangs and the church (the church is very central), or, if the boys are lucky, with strong coaches or mentors. Often, however, the lure of gangs, or even just the trickle-down effect of their ethos (casual and meaningless violence), is too much for the most righteous single mother, the most benign fatherly minister. The overall culture targeted to them is also a sort of caricature of macho American men, with an obsession with flashy material objects and women as objects. Thus the boys lust after expensive sneakers, name brand clothes and cars, and women-as-sluts. This clashes with the religious and righteous Christian ethos, sometimes in the same person. (Not infrequently, families have, say, a father who is a minister and a mother who is, say, a drug user, and children who range between the two). As to girls, it’s also horrible, as they think the noblest thing is being an object and getting pregnant, and have no role modeling for men in their traditional roles; they have a contempt for men, and very low expectations for them, so that the most obvious missives are constantly sent out to women to respect themselves and not stay with a man who ‘plays’ etc.

    All this is a direct result of incentivizing single motherhood, incentivizing unemployment and/or gaming the system, disincentivizing men of their responsibilities, and, above all, teaching men and women that they are helpless against a giant system, that no matter what they do or how they act, they will always be beaten down by the vague ‘white man’ (so what’s the point in trying? is the logical conclusion). All targeted toward African Americans in the most evil way, simply to make them dependent on the political party and vote for them, or else, just as evil, caring purely and solely for the egos of those passing the laws, writing the books, going on TV - so they can feel good about themselves, that they are saviors, and can virtue signal to upper class/intelligentsia And the upper class Blacks who buy into this are every bit as obtuse about ‘ghetto’ culture as upper class whites. (I’m never saying Blacks don’t ever suffer from egregious or mild racism, I should note here.)

    The only way forward, to my mind, is for Blacks to empower themselves to act for themselves, unreliant on a government that wants to keep them helpless, taking care of themselves and building themselves back up. This already happens in the inner city communities–there are thousands of unsung heroes, women and men who quietly work on the ground to help and build their community. This needs to be expanded and normalized, as opposed to stifled and undiscussed. The community leaders and doers say this all the time. They need, in short, to be treated as human beings with agency, as opposed to semi-dependent, helpless subservient humans in constant need of help from whites and the government.

    Sorry for the semi-rant. I feel deeply about this because I see day in and day out, the results of the disastrous ‘well-meaning’ policies and cultural machinations.

  12. Personally, I think if you take all of the issues discussed in the various QC threads holistically, the reason for such a viewpoint becomes evident. The 1619 Project. The removal of great literature from curricula. Ditto with great works of art. Ditto with Western philosophers. Some politicians arguing for open borders. Scholars being fired for exercising free speech. Microaggressions. Deplatforming. Oikophobia. Books not being published because they are not ideologically “correct.” The patriarchy. White privilege. Intersectionality. I could go on.

    While I’m not sure exactly what is meant in this context by “Western Civilization,” and I don’t know if it is in danger of total destruction, I do believe that many fundamental Western values are under attack. At the risk of appearing to know more than I do, it seems to me that many of the QC (and broader) discussions focus too heavily on narrow issues that, in actuality, are not independent. Each of them contributes to the erosion of the overall concept many refer to as Western Civilization. And, because of the complexity, interdependence and potentially unintended or unanticipated consequences, each necessarily becomes a narrowly focused battle, ultimately contributing to the concern for “Western Civilization” as we know it. Perhaps an overreaction but, erosion is just as tangible as gradual progress.

    Just a thought from someone who has no formal expertise in any of these subjects.

  13. I found your arguments to be convincing, in general. I usually argue on the basis that all of the more successful OECD countries have between 15% and 20% of their workforces allocated to the public sector, and it doesn’t seem to harm their prosperity. The exception are the Scandinavians, who are currently in the process of scaling back their public sector employment, because they have realised that their current levels are unsustainable.

    Where I would perhaps differ, is in my evaluation of how Government needs to change to meet the needs of the 21st century. With the exception of a few very good technocratic institutions such as the National Weather Service, many parts of Government are archaic, bureaucratic, unaccountable, prone to imposing unworkable regulations on ordinary citizens and small businesses, and corrupt. A good example of this is Art Therapy and the fiasco of state licensing boards. In this instance, the State in question decided that people needed to gain a PhD in Art Therapy before being allowed to practice.

    Whilst high standards might be a good aspiration, this should be left to the market to decide. By restricting those who can practice in a crude form of rent-seeking wage control, Government has either ensured that 90% of families will be unable to afford Art Therapy for their kids, or burdened the taxpayer with yet another example of needlessly expensive commissioning. Industries flourish when more people can afford them. Bare minimal certification might be an idea- which effectively amounts to one bureaucrat asking for details of where an individual trained, and checking with the institution to ensure that they passed- but anything beyond that is superfluous.

    My view is that Government could become so much more efficient and useful, if it effectively self-limited it’s ability to interfere in other peoples lives, backed off on the rent-seeking, and instead devoted itself to providing services that the market is not incentivised to provide. A Government role is to serve the people after all, not to rule them, beyond the very limited goal of ensuring that citizens don’t inflict injury on each other, or steal property. There are some regulations which are needed, where the lack of which is proven to lead to lose of life, injury, or health risks brought about by negative externalities- but these are few and far between, when examining the total mass of regulation.

    “Regulation is the disease of which it pretends it’s own cure.” Niall Ferguson.

    The proof comes with the fact that people who operate in low regulatory environments are usually more moral in the way they conduct their business. The imposition of an overly burdensome regulatory framework, inspires a kind of legalistic thinking which encourages people to be smug in the fact they have all their legal bases covered, even as they commit appallingly immoral acts. Rule following is what allowed the worst atrocities in numerous regimes throughout history- it provides a pale substitute for the types of reciprocity and trust which humans are built to thrive upon.

  14. The problem here is that Kurt seems to think that all companies are huge bureaucratic mega corporations that are forever looking for ways to harm society.

    Most companies are private companies, held by one to 10 shareholders. It is these companies that hire most of the employees and generate much of the wealth. Making these sort of companies conform to some touchy freely crap would be expensive and stupid. Already they have massive compliance issues with governments thinking that companies have nothing better to do than to deal with endless regulations and tax issues. They don’t need some completely uncommercial government wankers telling them to run their businesses for the public good.

    Sorry Kurt, but it’s a total flop.

    All well and good if the international standards association develops a standard for lefty companies to serve society. Companies can then volunteer for such a standard and get certified, as they do for the quality standards such as ISO 9001. But the only forcing we should do is to force any politician who suggests making B corps compulsory into retirement, with no pension e scorn and hatred of all the public.

  15. “They were created by people to serve a specific purpose; the rules governing them were invented, not discovered.”

    They were created to incentivize the free flow of capital. They have created the wealthiest most prosperous nations the world has ever known. As I said I don’t know what works best but I know what has worked.

    “…in the long run of the aggregate of decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if often mistaken, is less likely to do harm than the centralized decisions of government; and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster.”

    John Cowperthwaite Financial Secretary Hong Kong 1961-1971.

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