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Old December 30th, 2017, 08:50 AM   #1

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Crisis of Democracy


Crisis of Democracy

The Crisis of Democracy was authored by the Tri-Lateral Commission who were elite liberal intellectual internationals from the US, Europe, and Japan in the early 1970's. In it, they argued that there is an excess of Democracy and need to find ways of pushing back against the new wave of public opinion from the lower formerly disenfranchised classes. In their view (very similar to that of Socrates in The Republic) is that these lower classes are unfit to make rational decisions about society that will effect all of us (not just them) and therefore should be politically/socially disenfranchised because they are bound to make all sorts wrong decisions that any sensible person/society understands that the higher classes are best fit to make all of these decisions. In The Crisis of Democracy, they made an argument that there is becoming a serious problem with over-education amongst the populace that was newly occurring (in the early 1970's onward). Their reasoning was now that more people are getting Undergrad. level degrees, as well as Masters level, ect. that these lower classes that in truth do not possess the same high level intellect/education that the higher classes (i.e. the elite Liberal intellectuals and possibly some elite intellectuals on the right as well but that point is unclear in their writing)) and that the *lower classes* should in no way be given the false impression that they (even though they are becoming notably more educated) are as qualified to make serious decisions (i.e. engage in the political process) that the elites are (i.e. the Elites should be making the rules, so to speak). Thus, the "Crisis of Democracy" is that political activism is leading to too many people being involved in the political process and this needs to be pushed back against in order to maintain a more stable, healthy, productive system.

I would also highly recommend reading the Crisis of Democracy as well as it is in many ways a softer modern day parallel to the type of thinking seen in Plato's Republic. Here is a link to the Crisis of Democracy: http://trilateral.org/download/doc/crisis of democracy.pdf

What do you think? Do our modern societies tend to suffer from an "Excess in Democracy" or is there Too Little Democracy?
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Old December 30th, 2017, 10:48 AM   #2
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I agree. There's too much democracy. Society is shaped like a pyramid for a reason, but society indulges everyone's ambition to be at the top of that pyramid.

College degrees are too plentiful and too easy to obtain. Curriculum has been dumbed down so that more people can pass college classes. The belief that every child will go to college has disincentivised secondary schools from giving students basic life skills. "They'll get that in college" has replaced a usefull secondary education. Universities, on the other hand, still assume their students already have basic skills, so universities don't teach basic skills either. Basic skills therefore fall through the cracks. Our society is over educated and underskilled. We are creating adults who know enough to be dangerous but not enough to be genuinely smart.

The problem I have with the Socratic view of rule by the elites, is that the elites have not done a good job running things either. We are unable to produce leaders who see beyond their own narrow personal interests.
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Old December 30th, 2017, 11:38 AM   #3
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I was brought up to believe in democracy. I agreed with Churchill that with all its flaws, it was better than any other. Now I'm not so sure, living in the US and trying to make sense of what is happening. That's all I'll say on that to avoid the politics. So what is a better model?

China? Singapore? These are authoritarian one party states that seem to deliver what most people want from government. They get things done that have improved the living standard substantially over the past 40-50 years. The Singapore bureaucracy is efficient and largely free of corruption. Can this be sustained or exported? Would I trust a one party system to remain efficient and free of corruption? Probably not. I think I'll just have to wait and hope the checks and balances in the US constitution and free elections work.

BTW Singapore allows opposition parties, but they don't get many votes.

Last edited by stevev; December 30th, 2017 at 11:54 AM.
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Old December 30th, 2017, 12:49 PM   #4

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The link given in the OP gives a 404 error. Correct link: The Crisis of Democracy

The terms "elite liberal intellectual internationals" and "elite Liberal intellectuals" are used in the OP, but are not defined. Given that "Liberal" in its original meaning is distinct from modern "liberal" and that European understanding of the term is generally different from popular American usage, it would be good if the author of the OP defines their meaning. In fact the Trilateral Commission generally espouses an unabashedly neoliberal approach.

The binary choice offered in the OP ("Excess in Democracy" vs "Too Little Democracy") is an oversimplification. Perhaps examples of excess democracy and too little democracy would help, but care must be taken to avoid bringing contemporary politics into the discussion.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 04:49 AM   #5
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Since the 1970s, "liberal elites" have again attained control of most policy making and also of almost all important economic power. The document referenced in the OP is a bunch of academic gibberish, but the effects are to be seen in:

- The Powell Memorandum (1971) linking much popular opinion to a decline in free enterprise and as an attack upon business interests.

- The establishment of the Business Round Table, (1973) consisting of the CEOs of the largest industrial organizations to lobby effectively for their interests only.

- The neo liberalism of the US administrations from 1981 to 1993 that began the demolition of popular labor movements, and also the diminishment of the influence of working and of middle class interests.

- The essentially business oriented recent Supreme Court of the US which has favored elite industrial and financial interests over popular interests.

- The influence of corporate money, now effectively unlimited, in the working of legislative processes.

None of these are conspiracies. They are, in toto, a continuing historical process of shifting back to elites the economic power, and the political influence, that they had before the 1930s. All effects listed have come through established political practices and have been constitutional. It has not been revolutionary. Those with wealth naturally tend toward protecting it, and they have not been bashful about using their wealth to strengthen their power and influence.

All the state members of the Trilateral Commission were and are essentially oligarchies. Popular opinion can be accommodated in an oligarchy, and many important rights can be afforded and protected by law. However the official policies tend to favor those at the top. Popular discontent and economic disconnection are management problems for elites to address through political outlets. What a marginal population wants is of less importance so their input and participation is minimized.

If there is a "Crisis of Democracy," as understood in the referenced document from 1975, it doesn't have that much to do with the 21st century any longer. Democracy - as it has been sold - has mostly been a smoke screen to mask elite interests, and to defuse as much as possible the strongest opposition to them.

Last edited by pikeshot1600; January 3rd, 2018 at 06:07 AM.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 05:00 AM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by stevev View Post
I was brought up to believe in democracy. I agreed with Churchill that with all its flaws, it was better than any other. Now I'm not so sure, living in the US and trying to make sense of what is happening. That's all I'll say on that to avoid the politics. So what is a better model?

China? Singapore? These are authoritarian one party states that seem to deliver what most people want from government. They get things done that have improved the living standard substantially over the past 40-50 years. The Singapore bureaucracy is efficient and largely free of corruption. Can this be sustained or exported? Would I trust a one party system to remain efficient and free of corruption? Probably not. I think I'll just have to wait and hope the checks and balances in the US constitution and free elections work.

BTW Singapore allows opposition parties, but they don't get many votes.

But then what about Norway? Switzerland? Sweden? Denmark? The Netherlands? Austria? Canada? New Zealand? Germany? They are all democratic countries that do very well and much better than China when it comes to living standards and citizen rights. Just because the Anglo-American connection seems eager to rip apart what they've built in the past, doesn't mean it's democracies fault. Probably has more to do with specific politics in these countries.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 08:20 AM   #7

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Quote:
Originally Posted by bodhi View Post
But then what about Norway? Switzerland? Sweden? Denmark? The Netherlands? Austria? Canada? New Zealand? Germany? They are all democratic countries that do very well and much better than China when it comes to living standards and citizen rights. Just because the Anglo-American connection seems eager to rip apart what they've built in the past, doesn't mean it's democracies fault. Probably has more to do with specific politics in these countries.
What lessons can we take from these countries?

What policies might we adopt that these countries practice?
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 11:39 PM   #8

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Originally Posted by Menshevik View Post
What lessons can we take from these countries?

What policies might we adopt that these countries practice?
I guess the biggest differences are a) common vs. continental law and b) more or less laissez-faire capitalism vs. different versions of ordo liberalism/social free market economies and c) a stronger focus on individualism and personal responsibility vs. collectivism/solidarity and societal responsibility.

However, I think for the UK and even more so the US to adopt the policies that makes those countries successful it would need a major mentality change that I cannot see happening.
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Old January 4th, 2018, 09:32 AM   #9

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First, thanks for the link to the article, which I had not seen before. I read the part on the US (Samuel Huntington, a pretty heavy hitter, wrote it.

While reading it, something else I've been reading came to mind more than once:
Putnam's Bowling Alone.

Huntington's main thrust appeared to be that in the 1960s, citizen participation in politics rose dramatically as a result of several different factors and that's what he means as an "excess of democracy." Putnam's is that since the 1960s, citizen participation in group activities of all sorts--politics, civic organizations, public religious worship, organized sports leagues-- has fallen a lot. So we bowl alone because the bowling league or team (as seen in The Big Lebowski) has dissolved.

It seems to me that in the US today, we have an opposite problem: a very large percentage of the population just doesn't give a damn, while a small number of very vocal or quietly influential people have a disproportionate impact on public policy. I've even heard arguments for why "rational ignorance" about current affairs and political decisions is a smart stance for the ordinary voter. So if this is what is meant by "government by elites", then I agree that we have it.

However, I don't know how to square the idea of "government by elites" with the strong presidential campaigns of two populist candidates like Trump and Sanders, both of whose policy prescriptions were, to say the least, not supported by the "elites".
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Old January 4th, 2018, 10:37 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chlodio View Post
The problem I have with the Socratic view of rule by the elites, is that the elites have not done a good job running things either. We are unable to produce leaders who see beyond their own narrow personal interests.
Socrates was for the rule of the best, i.e. the wisest, those whose rational part of the soul dominates and controls the other two parts. Not every so-called elite is a Socratic elite. OTOH Socrates was himself too wise to fancy that "here below" there can ever be a political system free of degeneracy and decay, so he talks about ideal models of state, not about the establishment of an incorruptible/immovable system that would bring down heaven to earth.
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