I recently read an article published at Vox, a left wing media outlet, about a gathering of political scientists that happened earlier this month. Overwhelmingly, they warned that “American democracy” is failing. Here are some pertinent excerpts from the article, along with my commentary.
Bottom line up front: these factors lead to what we call Low Intensity Conflict.
On October 6, some of America’s top political scientists gathered at Yale University to answer these questions. And nearly everyone agreed: American democracy is eroding on multiple fronts — socially, culturally, and economically.
Nancy Bermeo, a politics professor at Princeton and Harvard, began her talk with a jarring reminder: Democracies don’t merely collapse… Democracies die because of deliberate decisions made by human beings.
Environmentalist icon and UCLA professor Jared Diamond made an observation in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed that societies can collapse for a number of reasons.
Here’s one that’s relevant to this discussion. Jared argues that decisions beneficial for elites in the short-term are bad for the people in the long-term, especially when decision makers are insulated from the consequences of their poor decisions. Diamond calls that a “blueprint for disaster”.
It’s important to note that both democrats and republicans, and at all echelons of political power, have contributed to the collapse (or erosion) of this society, whether you call it a democracy or a republic.
Furthermore, I’ve explained the erosion of U.S. society like this: America has become exponentially more difficult to govern since 1776, yet the ability of our elected officials to govern this complexity has not. That to me is a primary indicator that America will eventually fail, and possibly sooner than most anticipate.
Adam Przeworski, a democratic theorist at New York University, suggested that democratic erosion in America begins with a breakdown in what he calls the “class compromise.” His point is that democracies thrive so long as people believe they can improve their lot in life. This basic belief has been “an essential ingredient of Western civilization during the past 200 years,” he said.
But fewer and fewer Americans believe this is true… millions of Americans are deeply pessimistic about the future: 64 percent of people in Europe believe their children will be worse off than they were; the number is 60 percent in America.
[The social contract] only works if the system actually delivers on its promises. If it fails to do so, if it leads enough people to conclude that the alternative is less scary than the status quo, the system will implode from within.
Przeworski believes that American democracy isn’t collapsing so much as deteriorating. “Our divisions are not merely political but have deep roots in society,” he argues. The system has become too rigged and too unfair, and most people have no real faith in it.
Where does that leave us? Nowhere good, Przeworski says. The best he could say is that “our current crisis will continue for the foreseeable future.”
Timur Kuran, a professor of economics and politics at Duke University, argued that the real danger we face isn’t that we no longer trust the government but that we no longer trust each other.
Kuran calls it the problem of “intolerant communities,” and he says there are two such communities in America today: “identitarian” activists concerned with issues like racial/gender equality, and the “nativist” coalition, people suspicious of immigration and cultural change.
Let’s go back to the doctrine of Low Intensity Conflict (outlined in this blog post):
Low intensity conflict is a political-military confrontation between… groups below conventional war and above the routine, peaceful competition… It frequently involves protracted struggles of competing principles and ideologies. Low intensity conflict ranges from subversion to the use of armed force. It is waged by a combination of means, employing political, economic, informational, and military instruments. Low intensity conflicts are often localized, generally in the Third World, but contain regional and global security implications.
In other words, low intensity conflict is marked by politicized tribes and social bases who wage irregular, small-scale wars.
Last week we established that more Americans are moving either further to the political right or further to the left, so it’s no wonder that they feel that government isn’t working for them. All social bases in America have the expectation that government is a tool to advance their special interests. When reality doesn’t meet their expectations, these social bases become unhappy. In this case, the extreme bases – whether defined by race, class, or political ideology – are increasingly open to the use of violence to pursue their political objectives.
This is how civil wars, revolutions, and other domestic conflicts start.
Always Out Front,
P.S. If you’re concerned about where we’re headed as a country, whether on the near-end of the spectrum or the far end of the spectrum (social, political and economic instability; domestic conflict; or collapse of empire), and want to stay informed on what the headlines don’t cover, then I invite you to try us out. If you’re not happy within the first two weeks, I’ll refund your monthly or annual subscription cost – no questions asked. You can get access to our intelligence reporting and training area here.