Democracy is not foreordained to survive forever, or even for very much longer.
In his book Capitalism Socialism and Democracy, economist Joseph Schumpeter surveyed a vast swathe of history and the prevailing political and governmental institutions, and he identified 4 conditions for democracy to flourish.
Condition 1: High Quality Politicians.
The first condition is that the human material of politics – the people who staff the party machines, are elected to serve in parliament, rise to cabinet office and high positions in the bureaucracies – should be of sufficiently high quality.
American democracy clearly flunks this first condition. Just look objectively at the low levels of integrity exhibited by James Comey or of probity by Adam Schiff or of fidelity by Mark Sanford. Or consider this tweet from Representative Eric Swalwell.
Swalwell’s childish, middle school playground level expression was condemned by observers (such as @jeffdeist) on twitter as “embarrassing”. When citizens find their democratic representatives embarrassing, we have gone beyond Schumpeter’s condition of high quality for the human material of politics.
And, as Patricia McCarthy observed about the current crop of Democratic candidates for President:
One thing was made clear: these are the most hate-filled and, at the same time, the most ignorant group of people ever to grace a stage.
Condition 2: Limited Government.
The second condition for the success of democracy is that the effective range of political decision should not be extended too far.
Here, Schumpeter refers to the nature of limited government It was a part of the concept of the Founding Fathers and the first (unamended) American Constitution. Article 1, Section 8 of the original document listed what government had the power to do. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton told citizens that if a power was not enumerated, the government had no authority to execute it. That smokescreen lasted until the second year of the Washington Administration, when the first US Bank was set up in violation of the list of enumerated powers. In other words, Madison and Hamilton lied. Or, more important, pieces of paper with words on them indicating that there is a limit to the size and scope of government are worthless. Government will grow and expand indefinitely in a democracy. Not only can democracy not stop this expansion, it feeds it. Seeking votes via promises of government handouts gets politicians elected and expands government.
Condition 3: Bureaucrats With A Strong Sense Of Duty.
As a third condition, Schumpeter declared that democratic government in modern industrial society must be able to command the services of a well-trained bureaucracy of good standing and tradition, endowed with a strong sense of duty and a no less strong esprit de corps.
There is no doubt that in America, we have a large government bureaucracy, or, rather, a large collection of large government bureaucracies. We are a bureaucratic state with a bureaucratic government. Do these bureaucracies have a strong sense of duty? No. Think of the EPA, whose duty should be to the welfare of the American people but is now viewed internally as some kind of “save the planet” mandate executed by limiting industry and construction and recreation in defiance of what people actually want. Or think of the CIA which appears to conduct wars abroad, wars within its own ranks, and wars with other government departments and personnel. Is there a strong esprit de corps? How can there be when internal political rivalries within the bureaucracy’s own ranks are pervasive and dominant? Bureaucrats often give the impression that they hate each other and hate the citizenry.
Condition 4: Democratic Self-Control.
The fourth set of conditions “may be summed up in the phrase Democratic Self-control”. In his definition, Schumpeter included:
- All groups that count in a nation are willing to accept any legislative measure on the statute book;
- The same groups must be willing to accept all executive orders issued by legally competent authorities;
- All electorates and legislative bodies must be on an intellectual and moral level high enough to be proof against the offerings of the crook and the crank.
- Politicians in the legislature must resist the temptation to embarrass the government each time they can do so.
We are currently consumed in a constant battle of the legislature and interest groups against presidential executive orders, immigration legislation, budgeting and military operations. Embarrassing the government is not only the full-time activity of the political opposition, but also of their media allies. The intellectual and moral level has sunk to what must be all-time lows.
Finally, says Schumpeter about democratic self-control, effective competition for leadership requires a large measure of tolerance for difference of opinion. Would anyone claim today that there is a large measure of tolerance for difference of opinion amongst American politicians. Analysis tells us that the partisan ideological divide is greater than ever. Partisan division does not tolerate difference of opinion. The political opponent is irredeemably wrong and quite possibly evil.
Schumpeter’s 4 conditions are all thoroughly violated. He predicted an inevitable descent towards authoritarian socialism. Democratic candidate debates, anyone?