June 17, 2016

Francis Fukuyama

Blue Army: Persons of Interest

Francis Fukuyama:
From the days of Aristotle … thinkers have believed that stable democracy rests on a broad middle class and that societies with extremes of wealth and poverty are susceptible either to
  • oligarchic domination or
  • populist revolution.
(Foreign Affairs)

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859):
Democracy, carried to its furthest limits, is … prejudicial to the art of government; and for this reason it is better adapted to a people already versed in the conduct of administration than to a nation which is uninitiated in public affairs.
(Democracy in America, 1835, Bantam, 2011, p 256)

Francis Fukuyama


Those countries in which democracy preceded modern state building have had much greater problems achieving high-quality governance than those that inherited modern states from absolutist times.
(p 30)

The United States is trapped in a bad equilibrium.
Because Americans historically distrust government, they typically aren't willing to delegate to the government authority to make decisions in the manner of other democratic societies.
Instead, Congress mandates complex rules that reduce the government's autonomy and make decisions slow and expensive.
The government then doesn't perform well, which confirms people's original distrust.
Under these circumstances, they are reluctant to pay higher taxes, which they feel the government will waste.
But while resources are not the only, or even the main, source of government inefficiency, without them the government won't function properly.
Hence distrust of government becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
(pp 503-4)

[W]hile democracy does provide an important check on elite power, it frequently fails to perform as advertised.
Elite insiders typically have superior access to resources and information, which they use to protect themselves.
Ordinary voters will not get angry at them for stealing their money if they don't know that this is happening in the first place.
Cognitive rigidities may also prevent social groups from mobilizing in their own self-interest.
In the United States, many working-class voters support candidates promising to lower taxes on the wealth, despite the fact that this hurts their own economic situations.
They do so in the belief that such policies will spur economic growth that will eventually trickle down to them, or else make government deficits self-financing.
The theory has proved remarkably tenacious in the face of considerable evidence that it is not true.
(p 465)

There is … a long-standing tension between rule of law and democratic accountability.
For rule of law to exist, it must be binding on all citizens, including democratic majorities.
In many democracies, major parties are content to violate the rights of individuals and minorities, and find legal rules to be inconvenient obstacles to their goals. …
Moreover, laws are administered by the human beings who operate the judicial branches of government.
These individuals have their own beliefs and opinions that may not correspond to the desires of the broader public.
Judicial activism can be as much of a danger as weak or politically compliant judiciaries. …

Finally … efforts to increase levels of democratic participation and transparency can actually decrease the democratic representativeness of the system as a whole.
The great mass of individuals living in democracy are not able by background or temperament to make complex public policy decisions, and when they are asked to do so repeatedly the process is often taken over by well organized interest groups that can manipulate the process to serve their narrow purposes.
Excessive transparency can undermine deliberation.
(p 534)

If there has been a single problem facing contemporary democracies [it is] their failure to provide … what people want from government:
  • personal security
  • shared economic growth, and
  • [the] quality basic public services like education, health, and infrastructure that are needed to achieve individual opportunity.
(p 546)

(Political Order and Political Decay, 2014)


It is hard to imagine a more disastrous presidency than that of George W Bush.
It was bad enough that he launched an unnecessary war and undermined the standing of the United States throughout the world in his first term.
But in the waning days of his administration, he is presiding over a collapse of the American financial system and broader economy that will have consequences for years to come.

(The Right Choice?, The American Conservative, 3 November 2008)


Today leaders of democracies do not lead their countries to war for other than serious national causes, and must hesitate before taking such grave decisions for they know their polities will not permit them to behave recklessly.
When they do … they are severely punished.
(p 261)

(The End of History, 2006)

June 1, 2016

Alexis de Tocqueville

Blue Army: Persons of Interest


Alexis Clérel (1805–59)


[All] the particular circumstances which tend to make the state of a democratic community agitated and precarious … lead private persons more and more to sacrifice their rights to their tranquillity.
(p 842)

The nations of our day cannot prevent conditions of equality from spreading in their midst.
But it depends on themselves whether equality is to lead to
  • servitude or freedom,
  • knowledge or barbarism,
  • prosperity or wretchedness. …

In the United States the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own. …
The fact that the political laws of Americans are such that the majority rules the community with sovereign sway, materially increases the power which the majority naturally exercises over the mind [of the individual.]
For nothing is more customary in man than to recognize superior wisdom in the person of his oppressor.
(p 520

In the United States, where the poor rule, the rich have always some reason to dread the abuses of their power.
(p 288, emphasis added)

[It] is easy to perceive that the wealthy members of the community entertain a hearty distaste to the democratic institutions of their country.
The populace is at once the object
  • of their scorn and
  • of their fears.
(p 207)

I know of no country … where the love of money has taken a stronger hold on the affections of men, and where the profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property.
(p 57)

In no country in the world do the citizens make such exertions for the common weal; and I am acquainted with no people which has established
  • schools as numerous and as efficacious,
  • places of public worship better suited to the wants of the inhabitants, or
  • roads kept in better repair.
(p 102)

In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States.
Whilst the English seem disposed carefully to retain the bloody traces of the dark ages in the penal legislation, the Americans have almost expunged capital punishment from their codes.
(p 694)

The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom.
(p 48)

[However, religions] ought to confine themselves within their own precincts; for in seeking to extend their power beyond religious matters, they incur a risk of not being believed at all.
The circle within which they seek to bound the human intellect ought therefore to be carefully traced, and beyond its verge the mind should be left in entire freedom to its own guidance.
(p 532)

[Patriotism] and religion are the only two motives in the world which can permanently direct the whole of a body politic to one end.
(p 104)

The English … rarely abuse the right of association [through resort to violence,] because they have long been accustomed to exercise it.
In France the passion for war is so intense that there is no undertaking so mad, or so injurious to the welfare of the State, that a man does not consider himself honored in defending it, at the risk of his life.
(p 226)

It is in the general and permanent interest of mankind that men should not kill each other: but it may happen to be the peculiar and temporary interest of a people or a class to justify, or even to honor, homicide.
(p 765)


Materialism

It should … be the unceasing object of the legislators of democracies, and of all the virtuous and enlightened men who live there, to raise the souls of their fellow-citizens, and keep them lifted up towards heaven. …
If amongst the opinions of a democratic people any of those pernicious theories exist which tend to inculcate that all perishes with the body, let men by whom such theories are professed be marked as the natural foes of such a people. …

The materialists are offensive to me in many respects; their doctrines I hold to be pernicious, and I am disgusted at their arrogance. …
Materialism is, amongst all nations, a dangerous disease of the human mind; ; but it is more especially to be dreaded amongst a democratic people, because it readily amalgamates with that vice which is most familiar to the heart under such circumstances.
Democracy encourages a taste for physical gratification: this taste, if it become excessive, soon disposes men to believe that all is matter only …
(p 668)

Most religions are only general, simple, and practical means of teaching men the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.
That is the greatest benefit which a democratic people derives from its belief, and hence belief is more necessary to such a people than to all others.
[Therefore, seek] not to supersede the old religious opinions of men by new ones; lest in the passage from one faith to another, the soul being left for a while stripped of all belief, the love of physical gratifications should grow upon it and fill it wholly.
(p 669)

(Democracy in America, 1835)