Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Lusting After A Philosopher King

Martin Gurri, author of The Revolt of the Public, recently discussed the elites' desire for a dictatorship over the messiness of democracy in his article, "Democracy and dictatorship in a nihilistic age." He observes that "[t]he concept of an enlightened dictatorship, with just-so repression, is a fantasy for the op-ed section of the New York Times," and cites to a 2009 op-ed by Thomas L. Friedman in particular who pined for an autocracy akin to that of China. After explaining the problems with modern dictatorships, Gurri goes on to observe: 
For all the received wisdom in the op-ed pages of the New York Times, it isn’t specifically democracy that is broken – or dictatorship either.  It’s the monstrous machinery of modern government as a whole.  The crisis of authority, I mean to say, is structural rather than ideological, and implicates models and ideals of governance inherited from the industrial age:  top-down, steeply hierarchical, staffed by accredited experts, worshipful of “data” and “science,” disdainful of the ignorant masses, and yet, at bottom, a utopian enterprise. 
This describes, with equal accuracy, the government system of China and that of the United States. 
If my thesis is correct, the paralysis and frustration that weigh so heavily on our moment will not be surmounted until political institutions align more closely with social practice.  In the digital age, this can only mean a flattening of government structures.  That’s what the nihilist impulse has sought to do, however blindly.  The public, wielding a Donald Trump or a Jeremy Corbyn in hand, aims to batter the ruling institutions down to eye level, just to see what happens next. 
Dictatorship today rests comfortably within the top-down, we-talk-you-listen model of modern government.  To align it more closely with the public would violate its guiding principle – and, in practice, impede or even endanger one-man rule. 
Democracy, however, can have no principled objection to bringing power down from the heights, closer to the public.  It’s remoteness that requires an explanation.  Democracy was organized differently before the distancing reforms of the twentieth century.  It can re-form again. ...
He then provides a couple of examples of states attempting just that.

Although he uses different language, and approaches the issue from a different direction, it is notable that what Gurri is describing is a society that has become too complex and costly, that is demanding to simplify per Tainter's thesis in The Collapse of Complex Societies. The problem is that the elite are too invested in the status quo. They like "the top-down, we-talk-you-listen model of modern government." Especially its perquisites.

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