The Caesar problem remains open

If I haven’t blogged until now about the midterm election, it’s because I find the state of the world too depressing. Go vote, obviously, if you’re eligible and haven’t yet. How many more chances will you have?

While I’m (to put it mildly) neither especially courageous nor useful as an infantryman, I would’ve been honored to give up my life for the Israel of Herzl and Ben-Gurion, or for the America of Franklin and Lincoln. Alas, the Israel of Herzl and Ben-Gurion officially ceased to exist last week, with the election of a coalition some of whose members officially endorse discrimination against Israeli Arab citizens, effectively nullifying Ben-Gurion’s founding declaration that the new state would ensure “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.” The America of Franklin and Lincoln might follow it into oblivion starting tonight, with the election of hundreds of candidates who acknowledge the legimitacy of elections only when their party wins.

The Roman Republic lasted until Caesar. Weimar Germany lasted until Hitler (no, the destroyer of democracy isn’t always literally Hitler, but in that instance it was). Hungary lasted until Orbán. America lasted until Trump. Israel lasted until Netanyahu. After two millennia, democracy still hasn’t solved this problem, and it’s always basically the same problem: one individual, one populist authoritarian, who uses the machinery of democracy to end democracy. How would one design a democracy to prevent this the next time around?

97 Responses to “The Caesar problem remains open”

  1. David Karger Says:

    I remember a science fiction novel Adiamante by L.E. Modessitt, that approached this by proposing a society in which anyone who assumed power for any reason (including critical/good/necessary ones) was later penalized, in proportion to the amount of power that they assumed.

  2. James Cross Says:

    Like the space federation in the original Day the Earth Stood Still, maybe we need robots to deal swiftly and impartially with any authoritarian, anti-democratic tendencies in people or groups. They would not be subject to review by humans.

    Sort of depressing, right?

  3. Michael Gogins Says:

    The only solution I can think of is the one proposed by French philosopher Simone Weil during World War II, when the Free French government asked her for advice on how France should live after the war.

    Weil proposed in her book “On the Need for Roots” that lying for the purpose of influencing an election should (a) be a felony with real jail time, and (b) be recognized by the people as a severe shame, a total loss of honor.

    In our world today, and not only in the United States, (b) is probably not an option.

    However, we need to think about whether (a) can be implemented in some way. Of course such a law would be open to its own forms of abuse, but I think such a law would basically be much better than what we have. Absent this law, however, the major social media could implement something like such a law privately by excluding those who lie on their platform for the purpose of influencing an election for, say, two election cycles. In order to fairly decide what is a lie, the platforms could refer to fact-checking platforms, or they could set up private courts to which all parties could appeal and that would have something like judges and juries.

    I do very much think that pervasive lying is our main problem and this has become a critical political problem only since the Internet and social media made it much, much easier to lie on a large scale and to motivate the users of social media to live in a bubble of lying.

  4. Ernest Prabhakar Says:

    As usual, the framing is the real problem. 🙂

    You can’t design “a” democracy that lives forever.
    If it did, it would have to tolerate ever-increasing toxicity.

    Democracies, like humans, need to periodically die and give birth to new ones.

    The real question is how to design a substrate that allows democracies to die without destroying the civilization people depend on, AND maximize the chance they get replaced by something better.

    Hard, but not impossible.

  5. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Israel was so fortunate to have founding politicians with wisdom, a quality as rare as hen’s teeth in today’s politicians worldwide.

    Voting machines have apparently malfunctioned iin many locations so likely more fuel for a rotten political environment.

    Nearing the end of my foray into pulp science fiction of the 20’s and 30’s and have the following observations concerning starships of that period.

    1) The crews smoked cigarettes…a lot of cigarettes
    2) The external communications center was often referred to as the telegraph office
    3) Engineers were near superhuman and could resolve any problem imaginable given a few hours with a slide rule
    4) Crew members remained chaste, even if marooned on a hostile planet for years, until a matrimony could be performed that would be recognized both legally and by the church (occasional smooch allowed)
    5)The vacuum of space was ideal for building new vacuum tubes to repair ship’s equipment
    6) The universe was absolutely brimming with bizarre intelligent life inimical to earthpeople but humans always prevailed

    All in all not a bad universe except for the cigarettes and the chaste part.

  6. DR Says:

    The best I can think of is to improve K-12 education to give kids a recent American immigrant’s appreciation for America.

    The problem with both political extremes now is they think they’re victims and they have no chance to make it. If they could see America through a recent immigrant’s eyes, they’d see nothing but opportunity to improve their lives regardless of identity, despite some unfairness. And that would solve everything.

    It is the truth. Why else does everyone want to move here?

    Once people stop thinking in categories, identity politics will be defeated. What we have now is identity politics on steroids, on both sides.

  7. Tak Loufer Says:

    I believe the modern german constitution (or basic law) was designed informed by the weimar experience, in some features such as extensive entrenchment clauses, the notion of constructive vote of no confidence, the election system for the chancellor that can always form a new gov post election w no obligation of any early elections then or ortherwise (president’s decision afaik), as well as removal of plebiscite. prob other features as well I’m not familir with.

    In general, I don’t believe there’s a formula to preserve democracy under sustained attack, but entrenchment, dispersal of key constitutional powers and ensuring continuity of effective governance in the meantime might give some decades to the electorate to realise its mistake w the populist, before giving them extensive power to shape their opinions or limit their vote.

  8. Topologist Guy Says:

    Hi Scott,

    I’m pretty sure that you’ve deleted my last two comments—yet, because this news story is so important, I’m going to try, one last time, to extract a definitive opinion from you.


    Notable quotes:

    In a March meeting, Laura Dehmlow, an FBI official, warned that the threat of subversive information on social media could undermine support for the U.S. government. Dehmlow, according to notes of the discussion attended by senior executives from Twitter and JPMorgan Chase, stressed that “we need a media infrastructure that is held accountable.”

    According to DHS meeting minutes from March, the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force this year includes 80 individuals focused on curbing “subversive data utilized to drive a wedge between the populace and the government.”

    [Homeland Security] plans to target “inaccurate information” on a wide range of topics, including “the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, racial justice, U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the nature of U.S. support to Ukraine.”

    “One could argue we’re in the business of critical infrastructure, and the most critical infrastructure is our cognitive infrastructure, so building that resilience to misinformation and disinformation, I think, is incredibly important.”

    A couple questions for you, Scott:

    1. Are you okay with the government and intelligence agencies monitoring “subversive” discourse and censoring ideas that undermine institutional authority?

    2. If you genuinely care so much about free speech, the constitution, the enlightenment, democracy, etc. etc., why have you ignored the revelation that Homeland Security and the FBI are censoring “subversive” ideas that could “undermine the government?”

    I remember the Arab Spring, when social media, facebook and twitter, was regarded as a force of democracy and a tool of freedom fighting protesters. Authoritarian regimes justified blocking the internet as a means to control dangerous, subversive discourse and “foreign disinformation.” Now the U.S. government and the Democratic Party has copied that entire chapter from the Hosni Mubarak playbook. Somehow, a free internet “threatens democracy” now, because it enables subversive criticism of the government, which, of course, is anti-democratic.

    If any geopolitical adversary of the US did this shit, we would call it censorship.

  9. Joe Says:

    Sounds to me like you’re guilty of the same thing that you’re accusing the other side of: that the election is not legitimate if the majority votes for Republicans. How is that not democracy?

  10. JimV Says:

    There might be a technological solution, except it could be abused: reliable lie-detectors (maybe based on MRI scans), which every candidate for office had to submit to, and which could disqualify sociopaths and other liars.

    Many improvements could be made to the USA constitution also. E.g., Wyoming should have less than half a senator, not two, national election by popular vote, restrict guns for private use to those types available in 1790, …

    For the first time today, my registration was checked by a laptop PC, and instead of signing in a book of registered people (with a copy of a previous signature of mine next to it for checking) I scrawled my name on the PC screen with a stylus. The guy in front of me simply dragged the stylus back and forth once. I miss the good old days of paper (not so good in other ways, granted), but maybe the poll workers don’t.

  11. fred Says:

    A democracy doesn’t fall because some evil genius decides one morning to make it fall (it’s a necessary but not sufficient condition).
    Its downfall becomes a possibility because a big enough portion of the population no longer understands and/or cares enough about democracy.

    And this is really a matter of basic education and/or extreme jadedness about the political institutions.

  12. Gadi Says:

    Anyone living in Israel, like me, would have long seen this coming. As much as the media loves giving leftists the illusions of majority and moral superiority, even the leftists saw this coming from miles away despite all the polls lies.

    First of all, it’s completely ridiculous that a prime minister that was already in power for over 12 years, now on his third streak, is somehow only now a danger to democracy.

    I find the fact that an Israeli Arab Knesset members call terrorists “shahids” and congratulated them for murdering Jews even more disturbing, but somehow the judges still allow them to be elected, just as disturbing as Ben Gvir’s various trolling provocations. And they are just that, provocations and trolling. He actually got a very strong grassroots support from traditionally leftists farming Kibbutzs that get chronically robbed by Arabs. (Any americans recognize a similarity here?)

    Leftism is what creates the problems Bibi voters choose him for. The disaster of Oslo. The disaster of the disengagement. The coalition with Arab parties more recently.

    More recently the Lebanese agreement which has been on the table of negotiations for very long but Yair Lapid decided to literally give up Israel territory and appease to the Lebanese, doing it without even a vote in the Knesset in what is literally an illegal Memshala action, with absolutely no mention of the illegality of it by any media, with a stooge for the Praklit Hamedina. Thought he could win voters this way. For the record, my very first vote was to Yair Lapid back in 2013. Nine years later I despise this man, and this is despite every single media in Israel kissing his ass. He’s just a dumb hollow pretty face. He also failed in the management of foreign office of Israel extremely badly, they had workers dispute with him because of his shear incompetence.

    As for corruption, the way Bibi’s trial is historically collapsing is probably what broke the dam. There are barely any mentions of it in the media, but the major case of Bezeq (the only corruption charge of all cases, all others are “hafarat emunim”) collapsed completely after it was based on a single witness that the defense managed to discredit and also changed his version. But the moment the trial stated going sour for the prosecution the media just stopped reporting on the trial. There’s even illegal spying by Pegasus, admitted by the police to have been illegal (no warrant, now they only claim that no evidence was used in the prosecution, right…) , on some persons of interest in one of the trials.

    At this point Bibi actually wants to see the trial run its course. I think the judges and the justice system in Israel are fair, I don’t want anyone to touch the judicial system, it’s the prosecution and police which need to see heads roll at this point. Purely for professional failures of this order of magnitude.

    “who acknowledge the legitimacy of elections only when their party wins.” – doesn’t this apply to democrats too with the Russia collusion narrative which turned out to be nothing?

    Populism is an amazing propaganda term. It literally describes the essence of democracy – someone who says he’s “of the people”. America was literally founded by the most populistic people in their time. Look at the definition, at the meaning of populism, at the essence of which actions are called populistic. There’s a scene in Truman’s show where he enters a travel agency which has all sorts of scary warnings about the dangers of traveling abroad. (it’s funny scene, watch if you want). If you’re in a democracy and they present the term “populism” as a bad thing, you should ask yourself what the hell is going on. If any of the founding fathers were alive today they would be called radical populists.

    I do agree about the dangers of democracy destroying itself. It’s like code and code has vulnerabilities and bugs. And the second most dangerous vulnerability of democracy is that it allows the politicians to backdoor themselves in by rigging elections.

    The first most dangerous vulnerability is of course the media. They can convince most people that bad is good and good is bad and that freedom is the ability to choose and that reality is relative and that a man is a woman. An insect has enough intelligence to distinguish and know male from female but the most intelligent species on the planet can become confused. That’s how strong they are. They can suppress millions of years of evolutionary instincts, common sense, intelligence, grounding in reality, biological facts. They can twist and distort an abstract concept like democracy for breakfast, and any attempts to reach the corrupted will be like talking in a different language because those concepts really do mean something else to them.

  13. fred Says:

    In the case of the US, the two parties are equally responsible for letting the average American lose faith in the institutions and opening the door to populism.

    An example:

    How is a democracy in 2022 supposed to be thriving when the people in charge of politics are octogenarians, clinging to power till the end, no matter what?! McConnell, Pelosi, Biden all have memories of V day in WW2… they make FDR, who died at 63, look like a kid in comparison.
    In a country of 350 millions, that’s the best we get?

    How about letting the next generation get a shot at it, so they can try new ideas fit for the time?

  14. Nick Drozd Says:

    DR #6

    > Once people stop thinking in categories, identity politics will be defeated. What we have now is identity politics on steroids, on both sides.

    This is not a “both sides” problem. The obvious difference between the two is that the fascist right is driven by a cult of personality around Trump. There is no “Trump of the Left”. Nothing even close. Nobody on the left has their own personal identity bound up with a beloved savior figure the way Republicans do.

    Maybe it’s just that the left hasn’t found the right person yet. Or maybe it’s that the same mix of desperation and primitive thinking that would cause someone to buy into a strongman savior naturally tends to lead to fascism.

    Anyway, who wants to take bets on the specific pretext that Republicans will use to impeach Biden? Will it be Hunter’s laptop? Something about inflation? The Russian invasion of Ukraine maybe? I can’t wait to find out!

  15. Scott Says:

    Joe #9:

      Sounds to me like you’re guilty of the same thing that you’re accusing the other side of: that the election is not legitimate if the majority votes for Republicans. How is that not democracy?

    Where did I ever say, or imply, that today’s elections would be “illegitimate” if Republicans won? Alas, when people run on a platform of destroying democracy and win, democracy gets destroyed either way: whether the system lets those people take power or not.

    That’s why I’m already thinking in terms of designing new, better democratic institutions after the current ones burn to the ground. Besides just ignoring the subject entirely and focusing on family and research, it’s the only way for me to stay optimistic in this miserable time.

  16. MaxM Says:

    I don’t want to live in a system where democracy is not in danger if I don’t vote, or vote wrong. Famous quotes that reflect this sentiment:

    “Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat,
    but it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it,
    democracy crumbles.” – Abbie Hoffman

    “Elections belong to the people. It is their decision. If they decide
    to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will
    just have to sit on their blisters.” – Abraham Lincoln

    Truly democratic system is not closed or final. It’s open-ended and always changing. Allowing people to make real choices is more important than having a system that lasts forever. We should cherish the danger and constant fight, not fear it.

    After abandoning what I interpret as an over-reaching goal, I think liberal democracies can be made more democratic and slightly more robust. Ask political scientists and economists who have been working with these issues both empirically and theoretically.

    Theoretically: Kenneth Arrow’s monograph “Social Choice and Individual Values” is a good place to start thinking electoral systems and social choice theory.

    Practically: My understanding is that most experts agree on following: Methods that increase citizen participation, including outside elections and voting. Adding more deliberative democracy is probably a good idea. Some changes in electoral systems are also important. (The US has some obvious failure points)

  17. Chris hayseed Says:

    > it’s always basically the same problem: one individual, one populist authoritarian, who uses the machinery of democracy to end democracy.

    Often one individual (say Mitt Romney ) standing up against an authoritarian can make a big difference.

    I like the formulation of this “Caesar problem” as an unsolved technical problem! In addition to the problem of how to ‘design democracy’, there’s the problem of implementing that design in the real world. I think we have made some progress since the time of Caesar on both problems, and am hopeful for the future

  18. SR Says:

    There’s something very Gödelian about this. Maybe something like the following holds– any sufficiently powerful system of government will not have the capability to affirm its own continuance. Indeed, maybe it’s no coincidence that Gödel came up with

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think the majority of election-deniers (even those running for office) are lying opportunists. They actually believe the 2020 election was insecure and do not have the discernment to figure out the truth. I’m not sure whether that’s better or worse.

    I think the even less comforting thing is that those “on my side” are equally capable of self-deception. I guess this should have been clear from the history of liberal academics whitewashing communist regimes throughout the 20th century. But for a topical example, see the comments on this recent Washington Post article– . Many of the commenters dig in and claim that Abrams’ election denial claims were valid while Trump’s were clearly not. To be clear, I don’t think the two cases are comparable in impact or dishonesty, but I think she was engaged in election denial all the same.

    Looking forward to a day when we see Rationalist candidates win both primaries, and the debates feature them arguing about regression coefficients to estimate the empirical effects of the minimum wage and gun restrictions 🙂

  19. Hyman Rosen Says:

    Democracy isn’t over when your side loses.

    Liberals keep campaigning on the basis of helping the dregs of society. Bail reform to help criminals. Letting crazed, stinking, drug-addled, probably dangerous bums occupy the streets of our cities. Refusing to enforce laws against illegal aliens and letting millions come over the border unchecked. Supporting literally insane beliefs about gender. Refusing to see crimes committed by their favored victim groups. Tearing down traditional beliefs.

    For the vast majority of people who have homes, are citizens, are law-abiding, are straight, and may have some belief in gods, liberals offer nothing but contempt and the back of their hand. Then the liberals lose and wail about how democracy is in danger.

    I say this even though I’m a Democrat and voted here in NYC straight down the Democratic line, because I hate Republicans more. My only satisfaction was voting “no” on the idiotically woke ballot proposals.

  20. DR Says:

    Nick Droid #14:
    I think we should move past that particular squabble (which extreme is worse). However, ofcourse the far right is worse. For one thing, they have this frequent need to try to overthrow the govt!

    I don’t think it matters that they have Trump to rally them. Remember he was pro-vaccine. They still went anti-vaxx.

    The 2 extremes feed off each other. In my opinion, sane people must try to strengthen the center. It is the centrists versus the lunatic fringes now.

  21. Scott Says:

    Hyman Rosen #19:

      Democracy isn’t over when your side loses.

    It didn’t used to be, no! Do you not see that it’s different when people who repeat that Trump won in 2020 are poised to take control of the machinery of elections, and enforce their cracked version of reality on all future elections? If you don’t see, there’s nothing I can say at this point to make you see.

    Yes, the fact that Democrats would sacrifice votes over transgender bathrooms or whatever when the stakes are literally the fate of civilization is its own smaller insanity, feeding into the monster insanity devouring the world. And it’s natural to be even angrier at “good guys who squabble among themselves and let the bad guys win” than at the actual bad guys themselves, but I do try to resist that temptation.

  22. Scott Says:

    SR #18:

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think the majority of election-deniers (even those running for office) are lying opportunists. They actually believe the 2020 election was insecure and do not have the discernment to figure out the truth. I’m not sure whether that’s better or worse.

    I can see how someone who imposes “isolated demands for rigor,” believes conspiracy theorists, and otherwise has poor discernment skills could get to “the 2020 election was so insecure that we have no way to know who would’ve won under fair conditions.”

    But how on earth do they get from there to ”Trump won”?? If he won, then by how much? What are the true electoral and popular vote tallies?

    It’s in their claim to certain knowledge, where under their own theory certain knowledge would be impossible, that the 2020 election-deniers reveal a bully’s contempt for truth, rather than mere ignorance and delusion.

  23. boconnor Says:

    Given the low quality of elected representatives perhaps it would be better to just sample the population and appoint people directly to the chamber(s) of the congress / parliament.

    Adjust the makeup of the cohort to align with the demographic profile of the population (age, race, sex) and you’d instantly have a more representative decision making group than the current cohort.

  24. mls Says:

    “America lasted until Trump”

    As I recall, the Supreme Court of the United States installed a President of the United States before Donald Trump ever thought of running for the Presidency. This also happened before September 11, 2001 when a terrorist action influenced the United States government to abandon its long-standing foreign policy of promoting democratic institutions (sure, the words were their for justifying the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but, the money went to anti-terrorism. The current rise of strongman dictatorships traces to September 11th.).

    The civil rights act of the 1960’s led to a shift of power because of fears over 501-c3 exemptions for religious institutions. The same American subculture who demand that a Catholic presidential candidate answer for his Catholicism sought political power to keep their churches segregated. Ironically, they found it through a moral position advocated by the Catholic church. The failed Bork nomination had shown the way. Train lawyers. Influence politics to gain judicial nominations. Use the historical argument of state’s rights to misconstrue the 10th amendment as saying that states determine what is and what is not a human right. Convince the electorate that the United States Supreme Court is disallowed from the typical judicial activity of making new law under common law principles.

    Congratulations to these people for actually knowing how Charles Houston attacked Plessy v. Ferguson. What is next, the repeal of child labor laws?

    I do not see Donald Trump’s hand in all of this.

  25. Ken Miller Says:

    Though there can be no foolproof system, you need a constitution that, as much as possible and in as many ways as possible, tries to guarantee one person, one voice (as opposed to, say, one dollar, one voice). Get the money out of politics, more or less completely. For example, give every voting-eligible citizen $200 in credits to dispense to the political causes of their choice, and do not allow any other spending on efforts to influence election outcomes. If you want to have a big influence, organize big numbers of people to put their $200 together behind the position you favor — there have to big numbers of people behind big influence, not just big numbers of dollars. Have strong guarantees against gerrymandering, and get rid of institutions like the Senate in which all votes are not equally represented. Strong inalienable guarantees of voting rights. Note that these are all things that people thought were implicit in the constitution but that the Supreme Court dismantled — getting rid of limits on money in politics for the most part, regarding money-spending as “speech”; dismantling the voting rights act in repeated rulings; deciding that gerrymandering didn’t violate any constitutional rights and it’s up to the political branch to decide (so that if, as in Wisconsin, one party gerrymanders itself into permanent state legislative power, that party is the only one with the power to stop that gerrymandering — brilliant!).

    Try to prevent large-scale propaganda operations: bring back a fairness doctrine that applies to media (of a certain size or bigger) broadly, not just a condition of licensing gov’t-owned airwaves.

    Can experiment with different voting systems that help allow other parties to exist besides two — ranked choice voting; voting for party slates, as in parliaments, rather than winner-take-all districts.

    But the main thing is a difficult-to-change (constitutional) set of rules that are really aimed at making the voice of each citizen equal. And the conundrum is, to do that, you have to disempower the powerful, who will have seats at the table in any process of writing the rules. And who generally will not acquiesce in their own disempowerment. So, in a system in which the powerful have outsize influence, you have to someone develop sufficient popular power to rewrite the rules in a way that more equally empowers each citizen. A tall order. Bottom-up politics is about organizing masses of people for their own self-interest. As opposed to that is all the ways the more powerful can confuse, deceive, manipulate, and bamboozle people (not saying there are no powerful or rich people who are positive forces; just that the opportunity for manipulation is there, and power tends to corrupt, and people tend to see things from the point of view of maintaining if not advancing their own current position even if they aren’t aware that’s what they’re doing). So how do you solve the Caesar problem? It is the long hard slog of organizing masses of people, in a self-reinforcing loop with educating them about their own condition and their own power. And when you get there, not just installing the leaders of your movement into power which then becomes corrupt again, but having a determination to enshrine institutions that help cement in political power coming from masses of people in a system in which each person has an equal voice.

  26. SR Says:

    Scott #22:
    If I had to steelman their claims, it would look something like: there is a possibility that the DNC (or the Clinton Foundation, George Soros, Antifa, or whatever bogeyman) clandestinely contacted a certain number of staunchly-Democratic poll-workers in swing states across the country, and instructed them to manipulate the vote tally if and only if Democrats appeared to be losing the election nationwide. Thus, a Democratic win after early appearances of a Republican advantage is evidence that such manipulation was *required* to cause Biden to win, and hence that Trump would have won in the absence of such shenanigans.

    I do agree with you that it’s ridiculous, but I believe it’s an accurate assessment of what some Republicans actually believe. I think the ideas of hypothesis testing, multiple comparisons, confirmation bias, Bayes’ theorem, Bertrand’s ballot theorem are accessible to relatively few, and most people are fine with believing a plausible hypothesis without considering alternatives. It is plausible to them as they believe liberal politicians are extremely intelligent and malicious people. I like the explanation of this attitude here by Sam Elder, a self-described political centrist and MIT PhD graduate

  27. JimV Says:

    There were many contestants for the Democrat presidential candidate. I preferred and supported Elizabeth Warren. Biden was voted as the best candidate in the primaries. In a democracy, you don’t or shouldn’t tell someone who has gotten the most votes to step aside. In my dumb opinion he has done a decent job, getting some necessary and important bills drafted and passed, and I like how he has handled the Ukraine crisis. He gets blame for the Afghanistan transition problem, because somehow people forget that Trump had a deal with the Taliban to leave months earlier (renegotiated to a later date by Biden; more was needed but not available from the Taliban), had made no preparations, and spent no time or energy preparing to brief and hand over ongoing affairs to the Biden administration–too busy planning his coup attempt. Biden also gets blamed for the inflation caused by global supply chains being disrupted by the pandemic, causing shortages which allowed companies to charge higher prices.

    Hindsight can always think of better ways to do things, but in real life we all resort to trial and error in new situations, which makes for lots of errors. That’s why experience is important in every job. As Niels Bohr said, an expert is someone who has already made every possible mistake in a field (once).

    Oh, and the Russian collusion was real and people were indicted for it. Read the Mueller Report (the whole report, not the one redacted by Barr), then believe your lying eyes instead of Fox News. Or see (Trump Russian affair). We all heard Trump say, “Russia, if you’re listening, please hack American emails and publish anything that might be construed to support my campaign”, or words to that effect. Trump got away with it because the Justice Department had a theory that you can’t indict a sitting crook if he is sitting in the Oval Office, behind the desk. Not so much a legal theory as a theory that said crook would fire them all.

    Anyway, that’s the news as I heard it, from various sources. I wish Trump had been a good president, but he has been a cheat and a crook his whole life and was so as president. Life-long Republicans in my family could see it. One thought Trump was being treated unfairly by the media until he watched the Trump-Biden debate. Then he said, “Trump attacked Biden’s son instead of Biden. He is a bad, evil man.” They hated Hillary Clinton, but couldn’t vote for Trump.

    None of which should need to rehashed once again, or will do any good to rehash, but it is so hard not to kick against the pricks (as the Bible says).

  28. Craig Says:

    There is no danger to democracy in the USA, at least none through MAGA. January 6 killed MAGA. Most Americans were disgusted by J6. “Danger to democracy” was simply an election strategy by the democrats. We shall see how well it worked hopefully tomorrow.

  29. Ryan Says:

    Scott #22

    > It’s in their claim to certain knowledge […] that the 2020 election-deniers reveal a bully’s contempt for truth, rather than mere ignorance and delusion.

    Very well put, thanks for all you do!

  30. Scott Says:

    Craig #28: For half my life (for I first heard from you in 2002 or 2003, I think), it’s been utterly fascinating to read your missives from a parallel universe—whether they’re solutions to P vs. NP, explanations of why quantum computing can’t work, or claims that “January 6 killed MAGA,” on the very night when an unrepentant MAGA is on the verge of taking Congress. Thank you! 😀

  31. Chill Scott! Says:

    Israel did not cease to exist or cease to be a democracy because of Netanyahu. Lapid losing, and Ben-Gvir in government is unfortunate, but it’s not the end of the world. Israel didn’t cease to exist just because Meretz and Balad went just under the threshold (and Balad is really as nasty as Hamas and Ben-Gvir). The “liberal” Ben-Gurion kept Arabs under *military rule* until 1966, and ordered some expulsions (e.g. at Lod and Ramla). I don’t think this government will last too long. It’s not good to see Lapid lose, but he is not going anywhere, I think he will be in the government again (in a center-left government, or a center-right government after Netanyahu, with a moderate like Nir Barkat or Yossi Cohen running Likud). Israel remains a democracy where Arabs can vote and there is affirmative action for Arabs. There is an Arab party in the government *right now* for the first time in Israel’s history!

    Likewise, America did not cease to be a democracy because of Trump. There are problems here, and unlike in Israel people deny the legitimacy of elections. Trump, no question, made that worse by refusing to concede. So did those on the left like Stacy Abrams. Still we’re very far from the end of democracy in America. We just had a democratic election and the woke party won big. Woke party vs Trump party. Wish we had a Yesh Atid in America…

  32. OhMyGoodness Says:

    A lot of good thoughts in the posts here. My view is that when you have high profile elections like Trump-Biden, Fetterman-Oz, Lake-Hobbs, Warnock-Walker etc., then it is an indictment of each of the parties themselves and their propensity to provide disturbingly poor quality candidates (in agreement with boconnor and DR). I agree with much of what Ken Miller wrote, that the vast sums of money involved in US politics have pernicious influence. Does anyone actually believe these are the best candidates to govern and to oversee the vast sums of money administered by US governments. I agree with Gadi’s comments about “populism”. I actually agreed with much of what everyone posted here (except JimV and James Cross :)).

    James Cross-I am not depressed by the thought of governance by AI. I don’t see how it could be worse then choosing between Trump and Biden. I am agnostic but still pray that we do not have a recap, in whole or in part, in 2024.

    The Trump endorsed candidates have not fared well and the state abortion rights referendums have passed handily so not sure of the source of the angst and “democracy is shot dead” claims from the left. The only solution to that must be a single party system.

  33. Danylo Yakymenko Says:

    I guess we should accept that a lot of humans, as a species of animals,
    1. love dictators
    2. don’t love abstract laws
    3. don’t respect the truth, but power


    Some people would argue that authoritarian regimes are more effective, because decisions can be made and implemented much faster. Also, less freedom means more predictability (“stability” is one of the cornerstones of authoritarian propaganda).

    The Russian example showed that the speed of decisions is not the same thing as their quality. And stability means no improvement of life, no evolution (so the only way to improve is to exploit the others — usually their neighbors).

    I think humans love dictators because of psychology. They want to be like them. To be strong, powerful, rich. To be able to crush their enemies. To do “whatever they want”. They associate their being with them. That’s why slaves vote for their masters (and the poor vote for billionaires). In this way they feel themselves as a part of something powerful.

    Of course, there are many other reasons why authoritarian regimes succeed (e.g. repressions and elimination of opposition; the advancement of instruments of control). But the free choosing of dictators is the saddest part. And I’m not sure how to deal with that.

  34. Richard Gaylord Says:

    scott: you write that”one individual, one populist authoritarian, who uses the machinery of democracy to end democracy. How would one design a democracy to prevent this the next time around?” the essense of a democracy is to allow individuals to choose their government (or to not choose by not voting). if they decide that they no longer want to live in a democracy, why should they not have that option? Thomas Jefferson (a believer in the rights of white males to choose their government and their freedom) wrote in the Declaration of Independence, of “a people’s right to “dissolve the political bands” which tie them together”.

  35. asdf Says:

    For a right wing populist to get traction, the craptaculists in charge first have to piss off the coutnry enough to buy what the populist is selling. So it’s not about beating back the populist but rather about beating back the craptaculists. The old (you can tell it is old because of the sexism) saying was “hard times make strong men, strong men make good times, good times make weak men, weak men make hard times”.

    Also, the post 9/11 wars created a cadre of violent extremists in the US:

    Also this:

  36. fumin Says:

    Coming from Taiwan, I am curious why you disapprove of Netanyahu? I am asking because to me Netanyahu’s story reads very much like the one about Taiwan’s first democratically elected president ShuiBien-Chen

    Although, I am an avid follower of Israeli politics due to Jewish friends, I know what I know about Isreal is as little as people outside Asia know about Taiwan. Thus, I will just briefly, from Taiwan’s point of view, why ShuiBien-Chen’s situation is similar to Netanyahu’s.

    The most frequent criticism of A-Bien (“A” is a prefix used by Taiwanese to affectionately call someone) is his hawkish stance against China. US president Bush calls him the “trouble maker” in East Asia for this reason. People also criticize him for winning his second term by allying with hardcore pro-independance factions. After he left office, he was contentiously indicted of corruption, and is still on parole now. Calling for his innocence is still a powerful rally cry for candidates in this coming major election (yes, besides Isreal and US, it’s also chaotic election time now in Taiwan, too). All these sound very similar to what Netanyahu is accused of in the news.

    However, besides news on the internet, which can be biased, it’s hard for me to hear first hand why people directly connected with Isreal disapprove of Netanyahu. Maybe your thoughts on Netanyahu can be of lessons to Taiwan, too.

  37. Barry Says:

    Maybe the stolen election meme wouldn’t be quite so strong if the Democrats hadn’t spent 4 years complaining about how Trump stole the election from Hilary. How it was the fault of the evil Ruskies, how Trump was a Putin asset, etc. Anything except face the facts that Hilary ignored midwest voters and got punished for it.

    It also wasn’t helped by all the stupid children that think they live in a direct democracy and treat the Election College as if it’s some strange recent aberration. You want democracy? Take a Civics course and learn how it really works instead of indulging in a bunch of fantasy drivel.

  38. Scott Says:

    Richard Gaylord #34: The problem, as I would’ve thought obvious, is that if the voters empower someone to end democracy just once, they and all future generations are thereby deprived of the opportunity to correct course, if the new regime proves to be hellish (which it always does). This is the problem that the founders of the US were rightly obsessed with (“a Republic if you can keep it” and all that). They built a self-correcting mechanism that managed to run more-or-less for ~250 years, extremely respectable in the annals of history, but it now looks clear that it won’t continue much beyond that.

  39. Scott Says:

    fumin #36: I didn’t think Netanyahu was evil 20 years ago. He was clearly a right-wing zealot, but also eloquent and brilliant when calling out antisemitism and double-standards against Israel.

    The problem in the past decade is that, in order to assemble a coalition that lets him stay in power, he’s more and more allied himself with the forces who want to turn Israel into the theocratic settler ethnostate that its detractors say it is, and renege on the original promise that Israel would be a science-loving liberal democracy with a special mandate to protect the world’s Jews from annihilation. Netanyahu’s breathtaking Trump-like corruption and abuse of his office is only a small part of this.

    I’m not nearly as familiar with Taiwan’s internal politics as I should be, but I wouldn’t have imagined the two cases as very similar at all. Certainly Taiwan’s continued courage in standing up to China is one of the last best hopes for liberal democracy in the world.

  40. Craig Says:

    Scott 30,

    I have been following politics since the 1980s. The Democrats did a similar strategy in the early 1990s when a former kkk leader ran for governor of Louisiana. That election was national news. They scared people into voting for his opponent, who was a scoundrel they say, telling them that Louisiana will become Nazi Germany if the former klan leader wins. That technique worked very well. It is the “nuclear option” when your candidate is weak, but your opponent is scary. It is all just politics. No big deal.

  41. Gerald Says:

    Scott #22

    > It’s in their claim to certain knowledge […] that the 2020 election-deniers reveal a bully’s contempt for truth, rather than mere ignorance and delusion.

    Yes, they probably don’t actually believe this, they just play by the rules set by the other side: “There is no truth, only power. Claim anything you want in order to bully your enemy into submission.” Now, who started this, where does this originate from? Where is this taught? Who are the academic scholars who teach these Cynical Theories in their lectures to thousands of students evey year? Are they voting republican? Maybe you do not need to look too far from your workplace to find deep contempt for truth.

  42. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Your expectations, as expressed in this post, seem mysteriously apocalyptic. Do you mind providing some insight as to why “it is clear it won’t last much beyond that”? What do you expect to happen and approximately when and do you have a general idea what will arise in its place? Is this connected with your current work with AI’s in any way (privy to an AI’s plan say)?

    I am not intending to challenge your expectations but your seemed certainty does pique intense curiosity.

  43. Christopher Says:

    > How would one design a democracy to prevent this the next time around?

    (Aside: I think it’s a bit early to say the American republic is over, but this question is still interesting.)

    I think the first question is “what does a research project to find a solution look like?”. There a lot of people with various ideas, but is there some way we can systemically analyze the problem?

    I feel like the best answer will be found in sociology, and also that it will be *extremely* complicated. People often like simple answers, but why is the universe obliged to make it’s mysteries simple?

    I feel like there will be a connection to computational complexity. Many societal processes are idealized as optimization processes, but even society can’t solve infeasible problems! Let’s make sure infeasible problems aren’t used as an intermediate step for feasible ones.

  44. Scott Says:

    NOTE: All comments positing election conspiracy theories will be ruthlessly left in moderation. Go post them on Gab or Parler or Truth Social. As with the “debates” over whether the moon landings were faked, vaccines cause autism, etc. etc., I’ve consistently found nothing here to engage my intellect, beyond psychological and sociological questions about how the conspiracists dug themselves into this particular epistemic hole. And if the American Republic is going to end, I want no one to be able to say that this comment section abetted it in even the tiniest way.

  45. Scott Says:

    OhMyGoodness #42:

      Your expectations, as expressed in this post, seem mysteriously apocalyptic. Do you mind providing some insight as to why “it is clear it won’t last much beyond that”?

    Happily (if that’s the right word). The central problem is that, after this election, even though (fortunately) MAGA forces did less well than many people expected, they’ll still have taken control of a lot of election machinery, including Secretary of State offices and (almost certainly) the House, which certifies presidential elections. And they’ve made it plain that they have no intention of ever certifying a Democratic victory again, regardless of the vote totals (which they dismiss as lies and conspiracy theories). This control over election machinery is precisely what they lacked in 2020, which is why the Republic managed to survive that assault, like the Weimar Republic survived the Beer Hall Putsch.

    So, explain it to me: how is this not setting us up for a Constitutional crisis, which ends either in acquiescence to one-party rule, a democracy on paper but no longer in reality, or in war? What’s the other way out of this?

  46. OhMyGoodness Says:

    I agree that if that did happen there would be a constitutional crisis. I pledged I would not challenge your expectations so lips sealed and fingers still.

    The story that you were in communication with an AI that intended to interfere in US elections but you couldn’t speak about because of your NDA would have been a fantastic conspiracy theory. It would be a conspiracy theory-right? 🙂

    On the bright side unlikely to have to listen today to Trump announce a 2024 run. I hope I never have to listen to it. The same goes for Biden however insofar as my ears are concerned.

  47. DR Says:

    Scott #45:
    Please blog about this (your comment #45) in a separate post, so more people will read it and share it.

    Not enough people seem to understand the consequences of MAGA election denying. That it is more serious than wokeness. This might be the crux of it.

    140 Republicans in Congress voted to overturn the previous election without evidence of fraud, and just based on Trump raising questions about fraud.

    People talking about this precisely and articulately are very few.

    Most regular journalists sound like they’re generating hyperbole because they’re not very smart. They don’t understand this deeply and therefore cannot articulate it convincingly like you have.

    This is now a problem of persuasion. (In response to your original post)

    Address the MAGAs on these topics :
    What will happen if MAGA gets more power? What will a weakened American democracy mean to them, the MAGAs? What will America look like? What will have been lost? (Michael Moore, of all people, made a good point on this – He said in 2016, they don’t care. But I think they’re not all so far gone.)

    Address the woke on these questions:
    How did the excesses of the far left send ever more MAGAs into the waiting arms of Trump?

    It has to be done without mocking any of them for corruption or for stupidity or anything else.

    What many voters voting Republicans think now is that a vote for a Dem is a vote for more wokeness. They don’t think beyond this. These are the people who might be persuaded if you could address their concerns. It is complicated…and someone needs to make that case to them.

  48. JimV Says:

    One of the arguments I heard for going to war with Iraq was that Saddam Hussein was a sociopath. Which he was, but I wondered why we had to go halfway around the world when every building on Wall Street has several. Where there is a hierarchy of power, there you will find them, trying to worm their way to the top.

    There have been sociopaths in the Democrat party, several in my lifetime, and probably still are. But right now, the Republican party is a much better place for them to flourish. Exhibit A: Trump’s latest malfeasance was to try to steal classified documents from the USA government; despite that he will probably be nominated by the Republican party to run for President again. (“But what about Hillary’s emails”–typical lame response.)

    HRC lost by a swing of about 80,000 votes totalled over three swing states, which she polled ahead in prior to Comey’s last minute email news bomb (while never mentioning the Trump investigation in process). She also was not a good campaigner, especially in the Midwest. Both can be true. (Trump told the workers at a Midwestern plant which was about to be sold that it wouldn’t happen if he were elected–now there’s a good campaigner. The plant was sold. He also told coal miners that their coal mines would be re-opened and the coal would be cleaned. What a great campaigner.)

    Reliable lie-detectors, people.

    On a minor note of optimism, along with Dr. Aaronson’s examples of democracy lapsing into authoritarian rule, there has also been the reverse, in Poland and Ukraine, and even briefly in Russia. Granted, it is a much harder feat.

    Meanwhile, the facts are that both Trump and Biden won the primary votes they needed to become major-party candidates (both without my vote). Why can’t we have better candidates? Maybe look around the next crowd you’re in to find out. (Of course, I could have done much more myself.)

  49. DR Says:

    Chill Scott #31:

    You say, “So did those on the left like Stacy Abrams.”

    Technically, you are correct. Stacey did make a comment to that effect, but SHE DID NOT FOLLOW IT UP WITH ANY ACTION, such as getting that election declared fraud officially in any way.

    I think she made a mistake with her original comment but she didn’t push that line of thinking.

    In fact, she conceded graciously today.

    This is the problem right here. Equating what Stacey did with what Trump did, in denying an election. The 2 incidents were not equally serious.

    To call them both equally serious gives Trump cover. You shouldn’t do that, as it hurts the country fundamentally.

  50. Chill Scott! Says:

    I agree, the two are not equal. No question that Stacey Abrams is less of a sore loser than Trump, and she conceded today. But my point is that while Trump is definitely the biggest sore loser, it’s not confined to one side of the political spectrum. It seems to be a deeper problem with the American system. You don’t have this in Israel, where neither Netanyahu nor Lapid is a sore loser.

  51. fred Says:

    It’s interesting how utterly unreliable most of the polls have been, once again.

    When you keep hearing for weeks that a red “tsunami” is coming and then it ends up more like a leaky faucet… that sort of failure actually feeds a tendency of the average (losing) voter to become skeptical of election results as well.

    Or on the positive side, maybe it’s a sign that people political views can’t be boxed in and that our democracy is still very much alive.

  52. OhMyGoodness Says:

    I saw a photo that was captioned “Weatherman Runs for Office”. I was shocked as thoughts of Chesa Boudin and Bill Ayers came to mind. I then realized he was a TV weatherman and then became acquainted with the current strange migration of TV meteorologists into politics. Crazy world.

  53. Ken Miller Says:

    Chill Scott! #31, #50: Stacy Abrams in the previous election said that the election was not fair or just because Kemp had done an extraordinary amount of voter suppression — suppressing the black vote in many ways. She did not claim that the vote count was fraudulent, that there was a conspiracy of fake ballots, rigged voting machines, or anything else. She made the accurate observation that his victory was strongly aided by Kemp abusing his sec’y of state office to suppress the black vote. That was not illegal (it should be illegal under the Constitution and under the Voting Rights Act, but the right-wing Supreme Court has neutered all of that), but it was unfair and unjust. As an act of protest, she refused to concede. But she never claimed, as Trump did, that there was any kind of fraud, election rigging, or conspiracy. Never claimed that she did not lose in the actual votes cast in the actual election. Completely different from what Trump & his minions are doing.

  54. DR Says:

    Fred #51 :
    “that sort of failure actually feeds a tendency of the average (losing) voter to become skeptical of election results as well.”

    Really? Why wouldn’t said voter instead just become skeptical about polls in the future? That seems reasonable. But skeptical of election results?

  55. gordianus Says:

    The Roman Republic lasted until Caesar. Weimar Germany lasted until Hitler (no, the destroyer of democracy isn’t always literally Hitler, but in that instance it was). Hungary lasted until Orbán. America lasted until Trump. Israel lasted until Netanyahu.

    The reason democracy can reasonably be said to have ended under Caesar in Rome and Hitler in Germany (as well as Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain, Putin in Russia, Maduro in Venezuela, the “Redeemers” in the post-Civil-War US South, etc.) is that these leaders, once they took power, ensured that they would stay in power by suspending fair elections (or rigging them, or making sure most of their opponents couldn’t vote). Trump tried to do this in 2020 but failed badly: his supporters rioting only slightly delayed the formal acceptance of the election results, and his allies in Congress couldn’t prevent this either (and if enough Republicans in Congress had voted not to recognize that Biden won, I expect the rest of the federal government wouldn’t have obeyed such a blatantly baselessly political decision). I’m less familiar with the situation in Israel, but none of the news I’ve seen suggests that Netanyahu’s coalition plans to suspend elections, stop Arab and left-wing Israeli citizens from voting, or anything similar.

  56. Scott Says:

    Gerald #41: After everything I’ve been through on this blog, I’d hope that, if nothing else, no one would ever accuse me of failing to point out the left also has its post-truth bullies—people who, like Trump or like O’Brien from 1984, delight in using their power to get those around them to agree that 2+2=5.

    But while those bullies can cause (and have caused) a great deal of misery within our little bubbles of academia and STEM nerdery, they don’t have national political power, and they’re not in imminent danger of ending democracy—except insofar as they provide outrage-fuel for the right’s bullies. That’s why it makes sense to call them out but call out the right’s bullies more, which is what I try to do.

  57. MaxM Says:

    They built a self-correcting mechanism that managed to run more-or-less for ~250 years, extremely respectable in the annals of history, but it now looks clear that it won’t continue much beyond that.

    It can’t be emphasized how much less there has been in the more-or-less.

    Yes, the institutions has continued, but system has taken huge breaks from already established rule of law and democracy. The civil war, and the Jim Crow era being the largest. US was legally and institutionally back on track less than 60 years ago.

    Constitutional crisis, or Victor Orban like strongman in the US would have to try hard to get into the top 3 bends in the system.

  58. Doron Says:

    Based on your observation, since there is a positive probability that a sociopath with authoritarian tendencies will be elected in any country (and their manipulative character may only improve their electability), it’s just a matter of time until all countries will be filled up with Netanyahus (devious demagogues) and Trumps (narcissistic demagogues).

    I think the solution to that is decentralization of power.
    1. First I would get rid of “head of state”. No president. No PM. Each executive (i.e., minister) will be serving a term that is proportional to the elected power it obtains (e.g., if a nominee receives 56% then he serves 56% of the total term) so that all parties will have representatives in the governments proportional to their elected power.
    2. Direct democracy. People will vote on issues that matter. Who is going to propose and write the bill? These can be representatives who are selected randomly proportional to their elected power.

    Other than that I think the media should transform to evidence based platform (i.e., wikipedia like articles, while focusing on recent events ) to mitigate what Netanyahu and Trump did which is dissecting the people into supporters and haters.

    Hope it makes sense

  59. fred Says:

    DR #54

    because in this case they’ve been conditioned for over a year to expect a huge victory by “trusty” media from all sides (left and right).

    The election itself is nothing but a special poll that’s supposed to have higher standards.

  60. fred Says:

    And if polls were somehow super accurate, people wouldn’t be as surprised by election results, and it’d be harder to claim that’s something fishy is going on (since results were predicted way in advance).

    And if polls are shitty, why even bother?

    So to improve trust in the system
    1) either improve polls drastically or just don’t bother. It’s the media’s fault to rely on them so much to create click bait and hysteria.
    2) fix the voting system so that results are known within 2 hours top.
    3) make voting mandatory (voting blank is always an option).

  61. SR Says:

    Scott #56: Is that a reference to the academic Twitter discourse from a while back on how 2 + 2 = 5 could be considered to be true under appropriate circumstances?

    As a last thought, I do fully agree with you that Democrats pose much less of a threat to our political system. But it was not lost on me that many prominent Democrats fairly recently endorsed packing the Supreme Court, scrapping the filibuster (without which Republicans would more easily be able to pass a nationwide abortion ban once they eventually control congress), and admitting DC and Puerto Rico as states because they will reliably vote Democratic. None of these arise to anywhere near the level of the brazen lies told by Trump, but they skeeve me out nonetheless.

  62. DR Says:

    SR #61:

    Yes, this back and forth of weakening democracy in order to strengthen it is not healthy. Both sides need to be called out on it. In both cases it comes from a feeling of their side being so victimized that they feel it is ok not to “play cricket” anymore.

    Someone like Trump sees an opportunity when this is going on. His being so off-the-charts self-obsessed and shameless exposed many weaknesses in the system.

    I’ve always thought the presidency ought to be less powerful. Executive orders for example. And presidential pardons. Maybe they shouldn’t exist. Many recent presidents have abused these powers in a selfish or partisan manner.

    Democrats generally tend to believe it is all about electing the right person and then giving them massive power. I disagree. As we saw with Trump…when such a terrible character comes along, you really want the person to have less power. And the system should anticipate such a person again.

  63. SR Says:

    DR #62: I agree with you on all counts. I think legislative gridlock and a less powerful executive branch are preferable to the possibility of the rollback of rights that most Americans (even Republicans) take for granted now, like abortion, gay marriage, and voting in democratic elections.

  64. PublicSchoolGrad Says:

    Instead of working on the problem of designing a Caesar-proof democracy, maybe we should be working on the problem of preventing such a Caesar from holding certain offices. Perhaps, in a sci-fi future, the psychological sciences would have advanced to such a state that individuals with the Caesar tendency would be identified easily and reliably. They would then be barred from holding positions of power.

    Of course, all notions of “innocence until proven guilty” would be out the window at this point

  65. Sandro Says:

    fred #11:

    Its downfall becomes a possibility because a big enough portion of the population no longer understands and/or cares enough about democracy.

    This is such an elitist opinion. Democracy dies when it stops serving its people. Democracy means nothing if people can’t satisfy their material needs, if they can’t put food on the table or ensure they get health care. If their vote doesn’t matter, if public opinion on issues don’t matter, then democracy is ostensibly already dead.

    Go ahead and compare public opinion over the last 20 years on issues like a public option for healthcare, or abortion, or any number of issues, and compare them to how Congress actually votes and tell me democracy wasn’t already long dead. Politics has long been serving itself and other elites at the expense of regular Americans. It’s frankly more surprising that someone like Trump, who routinely spat in the face of these elites, wasn’t elected sooner.

  66. Nick Drozd Says:

    Lots of finger-pointing about among Republicans right now, and various explanations for why they did worse than everyone (including me) expected. Is it because the Trump brand has become toxic? Is it because the candidates he pushed were a bunch of bozos and douchebags?

    Personally I think the biggest factor was abortion. These election results have made it undeniably clear that forced birth is not a mainstream policy, and only extremists want it. Normal people are not in favor of forced birth laws, and that seems unlikely to change.

    This is actually something that Trump himself well understood. He knew that overturning Roe would satiate the base and energize the opposition, and that would not be good for their electoral prospects. But the Republican ulama just had to have their way.

  67. DR Says:

    Sandro #65:
    You said : “Democracy means nothing if people can’t satisfy their material needs.”

    If you mean inequality in wealth in America, I don’t see that as a problem unless there is poverty (which is different).

    Did you mean poverty? That is a problem. Is it really a widespread problem in America – enough for 40 million to give up on democracy? And to be replaced with what system?

  68. manorba Says:

    Sandro #65 Says: … Trump, who routinely spat in the face of these elites…

    i must have missed that. did it happen while they were routinely dining together?

  69. Rich Peterson Says:

    DR 67: You are in my opinion, wrong that inequality of wealth is ok as long as there is no poverty. The freedom to have wealth, like most freedoms, needs to haveat least mild regulation or “hindering”, in the form of progressive taxation, since the otherwise at least a few of overly wealthy would tend to bribe the government to reduce taxation even more and conttrol elections through campaign financing, leading to a dangerous spiral of further inequality.

  70. Rich Peterson Says:

    A further danger to democracy is voting by mail. We can see already that a right wing journalist is glomming on to this opportunity: The Independent reported today on what Jesse Watters said on Foxnews and on some of the reaction on Twitter:

    “Big ‘get married to men so they can control your vote’ energy here,” one user[on Twitter] said…

    “During Wednesday night’s broadcast, the Fox News host[Jesse Watters] broke down a midterm elections exit poll that showed 68 per cent of unmarried women voted Democrat, while 56 per cent of married women voted for Republicans.
    “This makes sense when you think about how democratic policies are designed to keep women single,” he said during the segment. “But once women get married, they vote Republican. Married women, married men go for Republicans by double digits but single women and voters under 40 have been captured by Democrats.”
    Then, Watters came up with a solution to the single women epidemic: “We need these ladies to get married. It’s time to fall in love and just settle down. Guys, go put a ring on it.”
    Unsurprisingly, his joke didn’t go over well with single women, who won’t be taking dating advice from the man who once admitted to flattening his co-worker’s tires just to ask her out on a date.”

    A woman trapped in a marriage with a bully, or any person trapped in a bad family situation, will be freer to vote her opinion if she can go to a polling station and vote without her husband being able to see who she voted for. That’s not usually the case for voting by mail. That’s probably what Jesse Watters is observing.

  71. pete Says:

    I think abortion was a big factor in the lack of red wave. Another factor was the republicans going on about removing medicare or making people pay more for it. There’s a lot of voters who are over 60.

  72. JimV Says:

    “But what about the Democrats talking about stacking the Supreme Court? Isn’t that just as bad as anything the Republicans have done?”

    McConnell stacked the SC and other federal courts when he had control of the Senate by refusing to advise-and-consent to judicial candidates from Democrat presidents, such as (Republican) Garland under President Obama. Previously, under Democrat majorities, the working rule had been, the elected president gets his (or her) nominees as long as they are not totally partisan. That is how Clarence Thomas got appointed by a Democrat majority Senate, nominated by Republican President George H. W. Bush.

    The Constitution does not specify how many members the SC should have. Nine has been a convention, just as allowing Presidents to have their qualified nominees had been. With Republican-appointed SC judges disregarding previous precedents, which according to Republican Senator Collins they had pledged not to in order to get her vote [reliable lie-detectors, people *], Democrat Senators are being urged to fight back by a legal means. Those who object to that probably object to the Ukrainians fighting back against the Russian invasion on the grounds that war is bad. Which it is, but fighting back against oppression is not.

    Those are the facts as I lived through them, and can be easily checked on the Internet. There are things Democrat politicians have done or might do that I object to, but that is not one of them.

    * My concern about developing reliable lie-detector technology (on which MRI experiments have demonstrated some progress) is that dictators could use it to identify dissidents; however if everyone had to tell the truth on important matters, I still feel it could be a net plus.

  73. DR Says:

    I keep thinking about your main question in the post.
    Assuming it is a problem of persuasion and knowledge.

    What do election deniers need to hear so they don’t destroy the country…?

    I think they need someone like a standup comedian that they will listen to, explaining that election denying has consequences for them too. And explain how.

    How that will destroy THEIR lives. For example, America’s economic strength relies on the reputation around the world of its stability. Transfer of power needs to be smooth and certain.

    Democracy is just a theoretical thing to them. They can’t even know how it will affect them to weaken it.

    Just a thought.

    They have opportunities now to better themselves. Why destroy it? (Michael Moore’s insight in 2016 was they want to destroy it for everyone, in a fit of frustration).

    Unfairness and frustration are part of life. Can’t go on a rampage like this.

    Do they even know what they’re destroying for THEMSELVES? Maybe not.

  74. DR Says:

    Again, to the question posed in this blog…

    Further, maybe Biden could try and atleast act empathetic to the plight of people who vote Trump out of anger and frustration about their sense of hopelessness.

    Words would go a long way, even if part of a strategy. I’m thinking a Bill Clintonesque “I feel your pain.”, rather than mock them as stupid. (They were afterall educated in the public schools Biden supports! Why weren’t they taught about democracy?!). Maybe words do matter in a leader of govt!

    Biden’s pandering to the far left, even just words, ought to be kept in check too. Words matter!

  75. Tobias Maassen Says:

    As a German, I think the US has been historically fortunate in their Democracy.

    1)At no time ever has any Democracy lasted the same now 157 Years while most of the Population can vote.

    When the Athenians first ntried Democracy, it took only a few Years and they tried and failed to conquer Syracuse.
    The Roman Republic constitution was reformed every few years, Sometimes all men had to strike for the right to vote, sometimes the Peoples Tribune was made a figurehead, while hereditary senators chose the Consul. Then there has not been a Big democracy for over a Milennium. And even in “modern“ times, no Country has lasted this long, allthough the seem to trend longer.
    France had its first Republic in 1789, and lasted two years until the Terror Regime. They are now on their fifth try.
    Spain was a Dictatorship less than half a century ago.
    England might seem democratic, if you only look at the Parliament, but remember when the American colonies wanted to vote, the main argument against it was “Most of the townspeople here also cannot vote, so why should they?” This was true for way too long.
    Italy became Democratic for the first time after the American invasion.
    And even here in Germany, democracy only exists for maybe two lifetimes in total. the first attempt was the failed revolution in 48, there was a bit of sham voting in the imperial period, and then there were the 15 years of Weimar. That is not a long time, but then we now have more stable system, as long as most people continue to want It.

    2) Do not make the mistake of “Great Man History“. It is an oversimplification to say, Hitler destroyed Weimar. Most of the destruction happened before he was named Chancellor by vonPapen and by Hindenburg. Caesar did not destroy the Republic, it was already crumbling since Marius privatized the Army. Had Mark Anthony won against him, the result were the same.
    The Republican Party in the USA is trying to worsen america for a long time now. Nixon started the War on Drugs to silence Hippies, Blacks and other minorities. Ronald Reagan destroyed the tax system. George W Bush invaded another country because he wanted to top his Father and really remove Saddam. Donald Trump is not new, he is just in it for the spotlight.

    3)The american System has been so stable, it is overly rigid. In some people the constitution is venerated like only few texts in all history. It is considered perfect and infallible. I once saw a news clip of a Canidate proudly proclaiming he “loved” all amendements the same. They are all perfect. The pundits then argued, this is stupid, the 27th is less important. All of them did not seem to know, the word “Amendement” meens “Change”.
    Also no one mentioned the 21th.
    This makes some of the bad parts frozen in time, there is no chance to improve the mistakes they made back then, or what was necessary with their technology. There are quite some such flaws, including listless voting, the Electoral College, Internal security forces, Jury courts, the list goes on.

  76. WA Says:

    Is it relevant to point out that the end of the Roman republic was followed by a long and prosperous period of peace under the Roman empire? Although there are probably historians who argue that the dissolution of the republic was responsible in some way for the onset of the dark ages centuries later.

    Not advocating anything here, just trying to imagine the long term future we might expect if past behaviour is any indication.

  77. Doug Says:

    So if it does wind up De Santis who breaks democracy, will that mean Trump will have been Sulla?

  78. Aaron Denney Says:

    I don’t mean to be flippant, but it seems as if the Caesar problem was solved by Brutus. The ones that weren’t solved are the real problems, so this seems slightly misnamed.

    (Though Brutus doesn’t generalize, and many other names seem to be a touch more inflammatory…)

  79. Rahul Says:

    I think the problem is of how to tame democracy to not give you results distasteful to natural law or the conscience of food people.

    What if a democratic majority actually votes for distasteful outcomes, as it has in the past.

    Democracy is no guarantee of goodness

  80. Mike Tamillow Says:

    Have you read Plato’s Republic? 2500 years ago Socrates said that this is the fate of Democracy, it brings its own downfall as it impoverishes the same people it rules.

    I ran for class President in eighth grade. I could that the class was susceptible to a bribe (for a class sleepover). Democracy is mass bribery.

    Just look at our national debt, and the national debts across the world. Democracy has impoverished us all. Now it is just a matter of waiting until it all blows up.

    BTW, Rome was not really a democracy so I don’t think that fits the mold.

  81. mls Says:

    Tobias Maassen #75

    Thank you for your comment. Item 2 is much like the observation from my comment #24.

    Many who participate on this blog are well aware of classical logic with its mutually exclusive truth valuations. The general notion of dichotomy permeates or reasoning. In political circles it often takes the form of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” People from all sides of a question engage in this form of reasoning.

    With quantum reality, perhaps the universe is telling us that there is something wrong with this logic that leads us into a game without equilibrium. Yet, we must make decisions and cannot escape decidability in our logic.

    For what it is worth, I never vote Republican precisely because of how the Reagan administration skewed the tax system and introduced us to a “job creation class” expecting servitude.

  82. Doug S. Says:

    Julius Ceasar took power in what was basically a military coup – he marched his army into Rome and took over, because the Senate wanted to put him on trial for exceeding his authority as governor and fighting an unauthorized and illegal war. He was indeed popular and exploited that, but he ultimately took over through forve of arms.

  83. Doug Says:

    Oh no, Brutus totally generalized! Sic semper, you know.

  84. Henning Says:

    Scott, your anxiety is more than justified, and to see Bibi back in charge just when Israel becomes so much more important for a Jewish diaspora facing a new wave of antisemitism – it’s just extremely dispiriting.

    The good news is, the youth turn-out stalled the fascist take-over for now. And having been born and raised in Germany I don’t use this term lightly. MAGA is textbook fascism. Even back in the nineties the GOP was about voter suppression and manufactured culture wars, but as you point out, when a political movement openly disparages elections, that’s game over for democracy once they control all the levers of government.

    If you want to have a laugh at your enemies’ expense go and watch Nick Fuentes reaction to the midterms. This little Nazi lets it all hang out, calls for a dictatorship and hates on America for not buying what he is selling.

    The way forward to preserve the American republic is youth turn-out. It will be an uphill battle especially in states such as Texas, but I am more hopeful now that democracy will ultimately prevail, if young voters and activists keep it up.

    As a professor and prominent scientist your voice will continue to help. I hope you, too, took some respite from these midterm results.

    As has been pointed out before on this blog the post-WW2 German constitution tried to fortify the nascent republic against another fascist take-over. Some of those ideas have been mentioned before, but some of them would be very controversial for Americans.

    (1) The German constitution doesn’t recognize free speech absolutism e.g. denying the Holocaust can land you in jail in my birth country.

    (2) State media is under the control of an appointed board that is supposed to reflect all of society (churches, trade unions, parties etc.).

    (3) The core articles of the constitution that define basic human rights cannot be amended by any means.

    (4) The constitution enshrines a right to resist when democracy becomes threatened.

    Ultimately the latter is IMHO the biggest take-away. Democracy dies when people stop fighting for it.

  85. Elitist Says:

    Dear Scott,

    The Founding Fathers had their own solution to the Caesar problem, which was only to let affluent and successful people vote.

    This would solve a lot of problems in Israel where Lapid, Gantz, Labor, Meretz would have a convincing majority if only rich people voted.

    In the US, too, DeSantis would easily defeat Trump for the Republican nomination if only rich people could vote, and Trump would also likely lose in the general election.

    The best way not to have demogagues is not to let the masses vote. Wasn’t this a big reason the founding fathers did not want to enfranchise the common person? That was their solution.


  86. Elitist Says:

    Again, I think it’s important to note that the founding fathers explicitly OPPOSED enfranchising the common man, because they thought the common man would prefer someone like Trump or Netanyahu. They foresaw the Caesar problem and knew exactly how to solve it!

    “These were the kinds [of people] that thought that democracy was a dirty word. Even John Adams said stuff like that. He didn’t want poor people to vote, he didn’t want women to vote,” Wehrman says.

    Bruce Kuklick, a professor of American history emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, says the framers of the Constitution had a very different idea of democracy than Americans do today.

    “The founders didn’t want this sort of democracy at all. The Constitution is written so that citizenship rights are very, very limited,” he says. “They worried about democracy … It was a bad form of government because once you let everybody participate, then you’re likely to elect a demagogue. You’re likely to have people come to power who appeal to the frenzy of the masses. That idea is long gone.”

  87. Don P. Says:

    ” they’ll still have taken control of a lot of election machinery, including Secretary of State offices and (almost certainly) the House, which certifies presidential elections.” [Scott #45]

    Minor pedantry: the Congress (both Houses) that certifies the Presidential election of 2024 will be elected in 2024. So all of the House and 1/3 of the Senate will be newly elected then. (Also, if they can pass the Electoral Count Act in lame duck this year, some avenues of mischief will be closed off.)

  88. wereatheist Says:

    Henning #84

    You forgot to mention the 5%-Threshold for parties.
    If a party gets less than that quote, it won’t get any seats at all (in a Bundesland parliament or the Bundestag).

  89. Topologist Guy Says:

    Scott #56:

    “After everything I’ve been through on this blog, I’d hope that, if nothing else, no one would ever accuse me of failing to point out the left also has its post-truth bullies … But while those bullies can cause (and have caused) a great deal of misery within our little bubbles of academia and STEM nerdery, they don’t have national political power.”

    If I’m not wrong, you’re referencing the comment 171 affair here, and more generally, the whole discourse surrounding dating/sexism/harassment/incels/etc.?

    I’ve made no secret of my belief that the left is the greatest threat to democracy and individual freedoms in the west, and I’ve already opined at length here about the dangers of experimental mass-vaccination, my opposition to COVID mandates and lockdowns, and online censorship (including many comments you’ve left in moderation). For the sake of argument, though, I’m going to focus here on the left-wing discourse surrounding dating.

    I’m not a supporter of the incel “cause,” and I find much of their discourse sickening, although I’m also sympathetic to some of it. Nonetheless, I’m also aware of overwhelming hostility towards incels, and fearmongering about incels, largely without any basis in reality, from the progressive left in the US and the anglosphere. Your take, that this hostility towards incels and “shy nerdy guys” or whatever comes from a “small bubble” of progressive bullies in STEM academia—and not from politicians or institutional centers of power or the majority of Democrat voters—is categorically untrue.

    Case in point: “How can you defend sympathizing with these incels, these weird, creepy loners, who are despicable in so many ways?”

    Does that quote ring a bell? Was that Arthur Chu on twitter? Was that one of the woke idiots castigating you in the Shtetl-Optimized comment section?

    No, that was Piers Morgan, ex-CNN news anchor, on his cable TV program, watched by millions of Democrat boomers (it was his interview with Jordan Peterson if you’re curious to watch the whole thing). This is just one example. It’s not too hard to find clips of cable news personalities castigating “incels” in language reminiscent of the attacks directed towards you eight years ago. It’s not hard to find Hollywood celebrities attacking incels either (Olivia Wilde, just to pick one example).

    Contemptuous hatred of “incels,” once a favorite bullying tactic of woke progressives on twitter and reddit and the Shtetl-Optimized comment section, has been mainstreamed. It’s now a staple of progressive media personalities and journalists. Homeland Security and the FBI and countless “think tanks” that seek to “counter violent extremism” are publishing reports hyperventilating about the (in my opinion, nearly non-existent) terror threat posed by incels. Western governments and service providers have banished the online incel forums—now they’re all based in Switzerland or Iceland. The UK police are surveilling incels who post “sexist” comments, and teachers at state schools are being trained to identify “incel” threats. Incels and disaffected, sexist young men are now one of the canonical “subversive enemies” of the woke state, along with antivaxxers, election deniers, christian nationalists, neo-nazis, Russian spies and all the other monsters.

    I’d be willing to bet that if you polled Democrat boomers, the vast majority would have heard of “incels,” and a substantial portion would have a strong opinion about them (as they do with Trump supporters, unvaxxinated people, or any other group of monsters that cable news tells them to hate). After all, cable news has blamed them (likely erroneously) for three or four terrorist attacks or mass murders in the past couple years. The progressive media and western governments exploit terrorist attacks to further their political agenda and curtail civil liberties. Under the woke regime, incels—many sharing the grievances you expressed in comment 171–will be silenced and persecuted.

    Let’s return to your comment 171. You expressed how the social climate at university, and the whole discourse surrounding “creepy behavior,” “harassment,” and so on, filled you with shame and discouraged you from approaching women. You maintain that a small but vocal group of feminist/progressive bullies in “the bubble” of STEM academia perpetuated this shame, and attacked you for opening up about it. That may have been true when you attended university in the 90s, and even when the woke progressives attacked you in 2014, but now, that whole discourse has been mainstreamed. It’s now a staple of the mainstream left in the U.S. In 2014, feminist STEM bloggers castigated male nerds for “creepy behavior.” Now, prominent Hollywood celebrities and media personalities are scolding their colleagues and “men” in general for their perceived “creepy” behavior. The MeToo movement seized on the misandrist and repressive beliefs of feminist STEM bloggers and splashed them across social media and cable TV. Celebrities from Louis CK to Aziz Ansari accused of varying degrees of “creepy” behavior became a focal point in the culture war.

    Surely you wouldn’t dispute that the MeToo movement has profoundly transformed the American dating landscape and gender relations, not just in the “small bubble of STEM academia,” but nationally? Case in point: 25% of millenials in a recent poll believed that asking a woman for a drink “always or usually” implies sexual harassment. So that’s probably, what, half or more of young progressives? Certainly a nontrivial fraction of Democrat voters.

    Another statistic: some 30% of men under thirty are sexless this year. That’s like quadruple the figure from ten years ago. Surely you can’t maintain, then, that the discourse surrounding incels/creepiness/dating etc. is only relevant in the small bubble of CS academia? The MeToo movement had a profound impact on the dating culture across the nation, for millions of people, far beyond our little bubble of STEM nerds. There was a good article in The Atlantic a couple years back which discussed the “MeToo effect” on dating.

    Social norms surrounding dating are shifting. Behavior which used to be totally normal is now borderline creepy. Hitting on women in person is more taboo, in many social environments. Flirting at work is verboten at many companies. H.R. departments nationwide are more tyrannical than ever in policing the private lives of employees. These are profound—and profoundly important—cultural shifts, driven almost entirely by the political left. They’re a lot bigger than “bullies in STEM academia.” You interact with the bullies in STEM academia, not because they comprise the bulk of the repressive left, but because your life is in STEM academia. What you’re seeing is one small part of a repressive political ideology with nationwide power. If you were an accountant or an attorney or a student at medical school, you’d also be encountering woke bullies castigating you for your creepy behavior.

    I can’t help but notice the common thread of safetyism that runs through the left’s repressive attitudes about dating and sex and their fanatical attitudes about COVID-19. For almost a year my university was under a total lockdown. Students were prohibited from visiting each other’s dorms. Parties were banned. Many students were subjected to painful regular nasal probes for COVID. Vaccines, and boosters, were, of course, forced on students and faculty, even while they were under emegency use authorization. Tip lines were set up so students could snitch on each other for any number of infractions (illegal gatherings, not wearing their face mask, whatever). All this despite the vanishingly small risk COVID poses to young people.

    For almost a year, it was literally illegal for London residents to have sex with anyone outside their “household bubble.” Does that sound sane to you?

    My frustration is that you’re not grasping the bigger picture here. Hysteria about sexual harassment and creepy men, hysteria about COVID-19, condemnations of incels and anxivaxxers and election deniers and whoever the latest monster is, it’s all pushing us in the direction of social totalitarianism, towards a social credit system, towards a society where the bonds wrought by love and sex are replaced with loyalty to the government and the collective, where the government or “the system” polices every aspect of our lives, where spontaneity and life and joy and love are exstinguished. Perhaps that sounds overdramatic. But I can’t help but notice that every crisis is cynically exploited to push our society and our culture in that direction.

  90. Henning Says:

    wereatheist #88, Thanks! An important oversight im my non-exhaustive list, albeit not applicable to the US. IMHO Israel would really benefit from a larger hurdle such as 5%.

  91. wereatheist Says:

    Henning #90:

    IMHO Israel would really benefit from a larger hurdle such as 5%.

    Unfortunately, after the political spectrum has fragmentized, it will be very difficult to introduce a vote threshold for parliamentary representation. The eggs will not like becoming part of an omelette.

  92. mls Says:

    Topologist guy #89

    Really? The intrusiveness of human resource departments is the fault of the left? Credit agencies are gossip tabloids for businesses. Sure, they peg offenders. But, businesses often incorrectly report credit worthy individuals who are then tasked with cleaning up the mess. No meaningful penalty can be applied to the lying and irresponsible businessmen.

    Business is built upon intrusive “intelligence” about people’s private lives.

    I had an information technology career when the Internet had first been commercialized. Being self-taught, I started at the bottom. When I got my first “good” job, my employment contract included a “moral terpitude” clause. Such an expression does not have an unambiguous interpretation. Its application lies entirely with the employer. If what you do in your bedroom becomes public, your livelihood becomes at risk.

    Also, it was not the left that opened this floodgate.

    I awoke on September 11th, 2001 to a radio report of a plane crashing into New York’s World Trade Center. I turned on my television before the second tower had been attacked. Like many, I sat watching the news coverage throughout the day.

    By 11:00 CST, newsworthy information slowed to a trickle. The news agencies turned to interviews with what President George Bush Sr. once contemptuously called “talking heads” — loudmouths who never actually have to make the hard decisions.

    I watched as war hawk after war hawk called for the repeal of laws intended to curtail spying on American citizens by government officials. Since the mayor of my youth, Richard J. Daley of Chicago, had placed undercover Chicago police officers into the organizations of his politicalopponents, I had been well aware of what the talking heads were asking for on that day.

    By 2001, the Internet had become ubiquitous enough that businesses turned to Internet sites publishing arrest records. People who had established careers suddenly found themselves out of work because of youthful discretions that occurred during their college careers.

    Moral terpitude. Conservative politics. Bedroom naughties. No second chances. The “new Jim Crow.” 1984-ism.

    Don’t blame the left for this.

    By the way, I enjoyed your article. It made me laugh. I watched marriages dissolve when the Internet entered people’s homes. The technology itself is dehumanizing. The MeToo movement may be contributing to the issues discussed, but, before the World Trade Center attacks, the judicial nomination of Justice Clarence Thomas had been televised. When a respectable, professional woman, Anita Hill, had been demonized, husbands and children started asking wives and mothers if these things had been happening in workplaces. These women gave their families a dose of reality.

    It is easy for me to see how the issues discussed in that article arose from events uncorrelated with the unfortunate excesses of identity politics.

  93. Jt Gleason Says:

    While Moral Foundations Theory isn’t settled science, I do think it points to a truth about humans that enlightens this conversation. There is a particularly large segment of any population motivated by tribalism, fear, and disgust and they look to a strong leader to free them of their perceived problems. The entirety of people with antisocial personality disorders are in that group and people closer to the edges of that spectrum can be activated by the presence of such a leader. So the core of the problem is that to be anything called a democracy, you have to let them vote but if you do, such a leader arises over time that dismantles the system with near certainty.

    So what can we do? We should look to models of success and see what we can replicate in our system design. Nearly all hunter-gatherer societies are a hyper-egalitarian and most have specific rituals to quash this authoritarian trend. Humility is ultimately the true antidote to authoritarianism. You cannot see yourself as part of a group that is “better than all others” or “most pure” while being humble. As an example, the Ju’hoansi tribe has a ritual that after the first big hunt for a young male they mock the size of the kill and the skill of the hunter to “take them down a peg”. That’s a system we saw at scale in the aftermath of WW2 in Germany where they created an official “de-nazification” program to do the same thing. I think a key here is to do it at scale. Rome itself made this humiliation ritual as part of the Triumphs, but having this ritual only directed at the leader doesn’t do enough. Their followers need the same thing.

    For this part, I do have an idea for a ritual that could help. If before voting, you had to go into an auditorium and with a group recite a list of “Failures of the Country/Provence/City”, that could possibly drive humility in the voting population. Of course, the list would have to be actually true but if we are positing a de novo democracy, a solid start would keep things going if that worked.

    On the other side of this equation, namely “How do we stop an authoritarian leader from being elected?”, I think that likely only science could help. Caesar heard “You are not a god” whispered in his ear during every single Triumph he had and it did nothing. Nothing will make Trump care about another person. He simply doesn’t have the part of the brain the rest of us possess to have empathy. So maybe something like a psychiatric evaluation, brain scan, and other psychological tests, administered by a trusted group of psychologists/psychiatrists as a gate for candidacy could be a fix?

    It would basically have to be the 4th branch of government: Executive, Legislative, Judicial and Psychohistorical.

    Anyway, there wasn’t much in the way of concrete proposals posted so I wanted to toss in something specific and actionable with today’s technologies. We could do this, and I’m pretty certain it would make a meaningful difference. I bet we can think of other institutions that really could use the guiding hand of the Psychohistorical branch (*cough* Police *cough*). Figuring out checks and balances is left as an exercise for the reader.

    (side note, it’s funny to me that when your prompt was “How do we fix Democracy?” a bunch of super smart bois chimed in with “remove democracy”, I’m sure the Psychohistoric doctors would have a field day reviewing candidates internet comments)

  94. mls Says:

    Jt Gleason #93

    Thank you for your comment. At the time this thread had been the current instance, Science News had an article on the rise of democratic institutions among indigenous Americans with histories far longer than those of Western culture. I had thought to mention it.

    As you point out, reports include physical rituals in which “leaders” are reminded of who they serve.

    Being an Aristotelian brute, myself, I have actually visualized unacceptable policies of this sort to keep our judiciary humble. In contrast to some other comments, the people must serve democracy. Democracy fails when this is inverted by judges who decide that democracy serves crony capitalism. Adam Smith had observed that integrity among the common people would follow the example set by those with power and influence.

    If anyone has interest, the paper

    had been the only citation for further reading from the Science News article.

  95. Jean Hugues Robert Says:

    All decisions should be collective, ie democratic. No one should be given the power to decide without consulting everybody involved.

    This is impossible unless voting is automatized. That’s because there are way too many questions to answer, nobody can do that.

    Unless that nobody gets some help. Some major help.

    That is what would happen if you, me and everybody else could train his/her personal decision assistant, an AI power agent that I train to match what I prefer.

    The constitution of such a democracy would state : first, nobody can give up his/her power to vote on any issue in favor of anybody else much like nobody can declare himself/herself the slave of anybody else for whatever matter.

    Until such an AI becomes available the next best solution is “liquid democracy” based on vote recommandations that you subscribe to from people you trust on some topics.

  96. GMcK Says:

    Very late to the party, but anyway… The comments from SR #18, Christopher #43, and Doron #58 resonate with my perspective, which is to look at “democracy” and governments in general, rather that getting entrapped in day-to-day battles.

    Democracy in general is intrinsically fragile. When designing systems of government, it’s useful to consider them from the perspective of complexity theory for distributed systems, nonlinear dynamics, and evolutionary ecology. And because people are unpredictable, successive governments follow a random walk through an “adaptive landscape” of more or less stable configurations. For complexity reasons, primitive tribal and direct democracy both tend to evolve into hierarchical structures, which lead to politicians.

    These politicians fall into four archetypal classes; real individals are naturally a mix of all four: (1) Honest representatives who try to find the best compromise maximizing the wishes of all their constituents. (2) Partisan representatives who use their positions to advance the interests of the voters who elected them and their sponsors, at the expense of those from opposition parties. (3) Ideological representatives, who take their election as a mandate to promote their respective ideologiies, regardless of what those voters may think afterwards. They believe that they are elected to think for their constituents, not to represent what the constituents think. (4) Machiavellian sociopaths, who pursue power for its own sake. They recognize that “once you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.” Classes 2, 3, and 4 are all enemies of democracy; the more of them that are present in a government, the more likely it is to move towards autocracy.

    Fixing structural aspects of governance cannot affect the psychology of individual politicians; the danger of cascading random steps towards autocracy can never be fully eliminated. But there’s much researh on measures to reduce partisanship. Open primaries, preference voting, algorithmic redistricting, and nonpartisan election of judges can all reduce the influence of partisanship on the composition of legislative and judicial bodies.

    Autocrats are good in situations requiring quick decision making. It’s not for nothing that corporations have single CEOs, rather than being run by their executive boards. Even the Roman Republic provided for the election of a Dictator in time of war. To minimize the likelihood of control of a government being seized by a wannabe autocrat, eliminate the role of President, and ensure that the top of the executive hierarchy ends at a triumvirate or junta, or a Central Committee if you can prevent it from being dominated by its Chairman. There’s much business and economics research on the optimal size of committees for getting things done and maximizing stability, which seems to settle on five as the best number of members, with rotating administrative roles. Research on optimal durations of term limits is less conclusive.

    In the event that an autocracy does come into being, there’s no need to lose hope. Percolation theory in high dimensions shows that there’s effectively always a path out of any totalitarian cage. Keep in mind that non-hereditary autocracies are prone to succession struggles that provide interregnums where democracies can arise. Adolf Hitler promised a “thousand-year reich”, yet the Third Reich actually lasted for only 12 years. Democracies lost can be regained, as the example of South Korea shows. Having lost and regained democracy four times, France is now in its Fifth Republic. Never give up!

  97. Laurentius Zamoyski Says:

    But why accept the premise of a one-size, fits-all democratic order? Why put democratic systems on a pedestal? Why fall prey to false dichotomies and antinomies? The negation of democracy isn’t totalitarianism. There is something extremist about this Fukuyaman insistence, this article of unsubstantiated faith, that democracy is invariably preferable, the perfect form of government. This believe is rooted in a false anthropology and therefore a false understanding of both practical reality and the human good.

    I would suspect that democratic governance is inherently more vulnerable to populism by definition as pandering to base and corrupt desires is the bread and butter of democratic rule. Democratic republics attempt to modulate that by restricting the weight given to the democratic component and amortizing it through indirect representation (elected representatives) or unelected leadership (house of lords), and constitutions attempt to restrict the powers that rulers can exercise (though these are subject to reform). But political systems are animated by people and therefore only as good as the people breathing life into them. As such, while political systems may dampen certain bad effects, no system can ever prevent them absolutely. That’s why it’s a mistake to look for some form of government that can counteract or resist human vice absolutely. It doesn’t exist. There are better and worse forms, and more suitable and less suitable forms given prevailing social and cultural circumstances that impose limits on what is prudent, but people are not atoms and societies aren’t aggregates of atoms. Again, societies are only as good as its members, of which rulers are but a subset, and no system, and no psyop, can counteract, much less licitly, an absence of virtue. Crappy citizens make for crappy rulers and crappy societies. Of course, one function of law is to instruct and so it can play a role in reinforcing virtue, but it is hardly sufficient, and when leadership is corrupt, well, as they say, the fish rots from the head down.

    What we should aim for are two basic things: 1) a system of government that respects human nature and the kind of society that is entailed by human nature, and 2) prudential implementation of governance informed by this normative understanding. This means obeying the principle of subsidiary with prudent application. Neither homo sovieticus-style attempts at “remaking man” nor indulgence and celebration of bad behavior (to be distinguished from a permissive attitude toward certain evils where prohibition would result in still worse evils). We must also reject the liberal notion of freedom as the ability to do whatever you feel like (“do what thou wilt”) and return to the classical view of freedom as the ability to do what one ought (this does not contradict the notion of a certain liberality of institutions, mind you). We must also remember that the role of government is to safeguard the common good, a notion that both radical individualism and collectivism betray.

    My personal view is that in the US, republicanism is likely the prudent choice at the moment. There is simply too much historical baggage, too much dogmatic liberalism in the bones of too many American to realistically entertain, say, some form of monarchy in a near future (though practically speaking, we have had an imperial presidency for some time now). That does mean dictatorship isn’t possible. It just means the obstacles to overt dictatorship are more in number than they were, say, in Germany where there was no liberal democratic tradition. The same can be said of Russia and why naive attempts to transplant liberal democratic governance to the Russian Federation in the early 90s were doomed to fail. This is also why I think the hysteria about Orban or developments in Central Europe are absurd (and rather reflect the imperial anxieties of the US and others who have a commercial stake in the region). These are countries that do not share the historical liberal biases of Americans (e.g., Poland was, for centuries, effectively a nobles’ republic, but this republicanism was rooted in a Catholic worldview and not an Enlightenment view, which, incidentally, is heretical in that it involves a deformation and distortion of the Catholic view; there could not have been an Enlightenment in the Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish, etc. worlds in this way as the notion of “secularism” is foreign to those civilizations and only comprehensible as a truncation of the Christian distinction between religious and secular authority). And there truly is no single democratic form of government even in the West as any deeper understanding of the various cultures involved will reveal.

    So, I would say that the question you’ve posed is the wrong question. Liberal notions of freedom and the human good (and I might add the scientistic worldview, which, incidentally, exists in an inherent tension with the totalitarian tendencies of that worldview) are the bull in the china shop and we simply cannot continue to sweep the broken porcelain under the rug of cozy but vacuous platitudes. The death of liberalism as a philosophical stance is effectively a fait accompli, a train crash in slow motion, an idol in twilight. The question is: what should take its place? The loudest contenders in the US aren’t especially appealing. Our darkest days are still before us.

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