Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Legitimacy of the Government On Thin Ice

Writers as diverse as Martin Gurri and William Lind have written that the greatest crises facing governments around the world is their legitimacy. Fourth generational warfare, Lind writes, is based on destroying government legitimacy. The fifth wave of media, according to Gurri, has granted citizens unparalleled access to information showing how dysfunctional governments are, and brought governments' legitimacy into question. 

Of course, hand-in-hand with that is the growing distance between the metropolitan elites and the common citizens. Not just a growing distance, but an active disdain of the commoner by the elites, who are, themselves, acting increasingly as a single tribe. It should not be surprising, though, since this disdain of the elites for the commoner is one of the earmarks of a civilization in decline according to Oswald Spengler.

With that in mind, it is interesting to see the plethora of articles that have been penned in recent days on these very topics, mostly as a result to the reaction to the Brexit vote or FBI Director James Comey's announcement that the FBI would not be recommending an indictment against Hillary Clinton just days after her husband, Bill Clinton, met privately with Comey's boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Just a selection of headlines related to Comey's decision regarding Hillary Clinton:
Hobbs' piece is probably the most damning. He writes:
But the fact that no prosecution is pending this day is so not because Clinton was right or has been vindicated, but because the Washington elites in both major political parties protect their own. Generally, I am not prone to conspiracy theories, but I do not find it coincidental that last week, former President Bill Clinton just happened to force a meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch — in private — on an airport tarmac in Arizona only days before Lynch's employee, James Comey, announces his recommendation that no charges should be pursued. Or that on the same day that Comey announces his decision, that his big boss — President Obama — just happens to be campaigning with Clinton in Charlotte, North Carolina.
 It is the damage this does to the rule-of-law, or perception of the rule of law, that is dangerous. Greenwald writes:
[A] system that accords treatment based on who someone is, rather than what they’ve done, is the opposite of one conducted under the rule of law. It is, instead, one of systemic privilege. As Thomas Jefferson put it in a 1784 letter to George Washington, the ultimate foundation of any constitutional order is “the denial of every preeminence.” ...
But the hollow men (and women) that form the ruling elite are so convinced that they merit power and authority, that they have forgotten the crucial role of legitimacy; and their willful ignorance of, and lack of concern for, the populace is breading discontent and rebellion. Kurt Schlicter, for instance, writes at Town Hall:
There used to be a social contract requiring that our government treat us all equally within the scope of the Constitution and defend us, and in return we would recognize the legitimacy of its laws and defend it when in need. But that contract has been breached. We are not all equal before the law. Our constitutional rights are not being upheld. We are not being defended – hell, we normals get blamed every time some Seventh Century savage goes on a kill spree. Yet we’re still supposed to keep going along as if everything is cool, obeying the law, subsidizing the elite with our taxes, taking their abuse. We’ve been evicted by the landlord but he still wants us to pay him rent. 
Now it seems we actually have a new social contract – do what we say and don’t resist, and in return we’ll abuse you, lie about you, take your money, and look down upon you in contempt. What a bargain! 
It’s not a social contract anymore – American society today is a suicide pact we never agreed to and yet we’re expected to go first. 
I say “No.” 
We owe them nothing - not respect, not loyalty, not obedience. Nothing.
Others have noted the threat to legitimacy. Uri Friedman, writing for The Atlantic, observes that trust in government is collapsing all around the world. Noah Millman, writing last week in The Week, discusses how democracy rests on the consent of the governed, but that the Republic party has lost the consent and goodwill of the majority of Republican voters, resulting in open revolt against the party. (I would suggest that much the same explains the popularity of Bernie Sanders on the left wing of the political spectrum). And at the Daily Beast, Joel Kotkin writes about why he believes that there is a revolt brewing against the elites.

The problem is that the emperor has no clothes, and it has become apparent to most everyone. What Eliot Cohen writes in the American Interest about the transnational elites in London applies just as much to the elite in any other "world city":
The larger phenomenon here, however, is a crisis not of ignorant masses, but of elites who have failed. All societies, except perhaps the Greek city-states of antiquity, are led by elites or, as the great sociologist Digby Baltzell described them, establishments. As long as they provide their societies with some consequential benefit (prosperity, success in war, or political leadership), can absorb talented non-elite members, and display virtues that the rest of society values (public service, self-sacrifice, or military courage) they deserve to hang on and do. 
The elites of London, like those of this country and large parts of the Western world, appear in many ways to have failed those tests. The crash of 2008 crystallized a view of the financial class in particular as reckless, self-dealing manipulators. As Joel Kotkin among others has pointed out, by virtue of how our education systems have evolved, elite youth increasingly marry one another, and the prosperous can (and do) give their children every leg up—which poorer parents cannot hope to match. Meanwhile, the political and intellectual elites deserve, and receive, very little credit for patriotism or courage, because they do not exhibit much. As manifested on campuses in Great Britain as here, they increasingly show themselves intolerant of dissenting opinions, and inclined to bully because they have forgotten (or never learned) how to argue.
The forgoing comments are a harbinger of what is to come. As the perceived legitimacy of the government declines, more people will be willing to disobey the law and challenge the system, and governments (i.e., the elites) will turn to other tools (propaganda and force) to maintain their power.

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