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Our Post-Democratic Future?

Mary Harrington on why democracy is probably doomed (it's not why you think)
Our Post-Democratic Future?

Here's a really interesting and provocative essay from the always interesting, always provocative Mary Harrington. She's responding to criticism from National Review that she is too sympathetic to an authoritarian, undemocratic future. Harrington says that simply pointing out that this seems to be where we in the West are headed does not make her sympathetic to this fate. (I get this a fair bit too: if you tell people that the facts and logic lead in a direction they don't want to go, they will accuse you of wanting the Bad Thing to happen.)

Harrington says that liberal democracy arose out of the confluence of widespread literacy (and the cast of mind formed by "deep reading" -- that is, reading that disciples on into attentiveness and rationality) and Christianity. In the West, Christianity is in steep decline, and online culture creates a very different kind of reader, one given more towards impulse. She writes:

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If “deep reading” produced democracy as its governing political form, what can we expect to see associated with its networked digital successor? As Garfinkle sees it, this would probably be toward “a less abstract, re-personalized form of social and political authority concentrated in a ‘great’ authoritarian leader”.

We may already be seeing this borne out. On this side of the pond, research by the think tank UK Onward revealed support for democratic norms falling with every generation, but then plunging sharply among those under 44. Notably, Onward’s data also show that after an authoritarian spike across the board, that coincided with Covid, every demographic has returned to more or less their previous dislike of strongman leadership — again, except those under 44.

And these trends are not just observable in Britain. Most young Western people are more authoritarian than their elders. Nor is this purely a case of young Right-wingers agitating for less immigration; young Left-wingers are also willing to steamroller democracy.

UK Onward identified always-online culture as a key factor in the longing for strongman politics. This would account for the inflection point around my generation (early 40s). I was 18 when my household went online; every generation younger than me has grown up in an increasingly digital culture. And if post-literacy is the technological and cultural water we all swim in now, this accounts for a number of emerging cultural and political phenomena.

It goes some way, for example, toward explaining declining youth support for the print-era ideal of “freedom of speech”, and in parallel the increasing youth support for censorship.

Read it all. Again, Harrington's core claim is not that it's the Left or the Right that's leading democracy to its demise, but rather the radical change in technology, and the kind of minds online technology forms and rewards. I've written here with alarm recently about Eric Kaufmann's findings about how the young have little interest in liberal democracy, with its prizing of free speech. They prefer what James Poulos calls the "Pink Police State": an authoritarian state that prevents victim classes from having their feelings hurt, while making comfort widely available. If Harrington is right, democracy will fade away in a most democratic manner: because most people in Western polities no longer want it. She says she prefers liberal democracy, but what she, a mum in early middle age, wants does not matter when you're dealing with these vast historical forces.

Mary Harrington is such an interesting thinker. Check out this Triggernometry podcast with her:

Comments

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Zenos Alexandrovitch
Zenos Alexandrovitch
The AmCon Discord Diaspora is one such "Pink Police State" where the moderator defends homosexuals, including to the point of attacking survivors of child sex abuse. The moderator bans implying "Don't argue against child sex abuse, it's offensive to me because of homosexuality." She supports child rape - and that's the AmCon unofficial community.
schedule 3 weeks ago
    ROBERT GRANO
    ROBERT GRANO
    I have no interest in joining it, especially if a lot of the old Disqus crowd has relocated there, but who's moderating it?
    schedule 3 weeks ago
      Zenos Alexandrovitch
      Zenos Alexandrovitch
      Her Discord name is Fox&Crow although she uses a different name on the AmCon server.
      schedule 2 weeks ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    This is a barefaced lie. And it's inappropriate to spam Rod's blog with whining about another site.
    schedule 3 weeks ago
      Zenos Alexandrovitch
      Zenos Alexandrovitch
      You are the liar. And you say, "Don't believe your lying eyes."
      schedule 2 weeks ago
        JON FRAZIER
        JON FRAZIER
        The poster spammed a brazen Qanon lie about Biden-- OK, we all say harsh things about politicians, but this one was far beyond the pale. And when warned the poster insulted the moderator with more Qanon bilge.
        Rod has banned people for that sort of thing too.
        schedule 2 weeks ago
          Zenos Alexandrovitch
          Zenos Alexandrovitch
          So, you claim that the Biden Diary, which is confirmed by the FBI as being legit is a QAnon lie. Furthermore, you deny the existence of the Hunter Biden laptop wherein Hunter calls Joe "Pedo Pete" as a nickname. You have your boomer head so far up your ass, that you lie and slander, calling me QAnon, when I have nothing to do with that crazy conspiracy theory, you lying bastard.
          schedule 2 weeks ago
Giuseppe Scalas
Giuseppe Scalas
In past years I wrote many times that I am regretful of the fact that the great Italian philosopher, Emanuele Severino, never achieved a wider audience in the English-speaking world.
His metaphysical writings would hardly be popular among the masses, but his critique of the nihilism of the West is easily accessible to the lay reader and is of a tremendous foresight.

To give an idea of his thinking, I copy here a translation via DeepL from the blurb of a recent reprint of his 1988 work "The Doom of Technology"
---
"The Doom of Technology," which appeared in 1988 at Rizzoli, is republished. The distinctive purpose of the Western tradition is to shape the world in its image, and the chief instrument for achieving this result is technology. The individual conflicting forces within this tradition--Christianity, humanism, the Enlightenment, philosophical learning, capitalism, democracy, communism, scientific thought--have used and are using technology to make their own aims prevail over those of the antagonists. But theirs is an illusion. Transformed from a means to an end, technology has gained dominance over the contemporary world. Emanuele Severino pulls the strings of a reflection that has always constituted one of the cornerstones of his thought and that constitutes for readers an indispensable key to the interpretation of the great themes of today: telematics, mass communications, globalization, capitalism of the third millennium. These themes take on an unprecedented depth and appear to us for what they are: the fullest expression of the nihilism of the West."
---
Let me also add that another key concept in Severino is that technology has replaced faith and the Church as the Means of Salvation. The explanatory power of this idea is huge.
schedule 3 weeks ago
JON FRAZIER
JON FRAZIER
The danger of the future is not a strongman-- for the simple reason no one can agree who that should be or by what principle they should rule. The danger in the US at least is anarchy.
schedule 3 weeks ago
    Giuseppe Scalas
    Giuseppe Scalas
    Anarcho-tyranny is maybe a better word for what the West is at risk of. Since I'm becoming lazy, let me share a link with a good description of the concept.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Managerial_state#Anarchy_and_tyranny
    schedule 3 weeks ago
      JON FRAZIER
      JON FRAZIER
      I don't agree that "anarcho-tyranny' is anything but a boogeyman of certain propagandists (No, I don't mean you Giuseppe!) I mean old-fashioned anarchy: a failed or far too weak regime unable to maintain even a semblance of order. And in the US that would mean our deep libertarian (small "l") cultural tendencies would run amok.
      schedule 3 weeks ago
        Giuseppe Scalas
        Giuseppe Scalas
        It might well be propaganda, but at the end of the day, when you replace politics with management, that's what you might easily get. We have a very vivid and recent example: in the Warsaw Pact countries, the Communist Party - the managerial class - only enforced ideological conformity and made sure that the ruling elites led reasonably comfortable lives. The rest of the society was either run by different mafia-like organizations or left to its own, very insufficient, devices. You get soaring crime rates on one side and frenzied persecution of ideological enemies on the other.
        Of course, this is not necessarily a feature of Communism. China has a managerial state without anarchy (as far as one can perceive). But the Chinese have 3000 years of experience at that.
        schedule 3 weeks ago
          JON FRAZIER
          JON FRAZIER
          Crime is not synonym for anarchy (though crime is rife in anarchy). You mention mafias, but that's organized crime not street crime-- it comes with its own rules and rational (if depraved) behaviors.
          schedule 2 weeks ago
Mark W Kimpel
Mark W Kimpel
I wonder if the problem is that social media is promoting the sort of unhealthy democracy that Plato warned against. He was for an aristocratic government, which to me seems like the republic that our founders envisioned. They did not trust the mob to do the "deep-reading" that the essayist promotes. Our aristocracy, those with what I would call a classical education as envisioned by Plato, has been in steep decline for at least 50 years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato%27s_five_regimes#:~:text=His%20life%20has%20no%20order,can%20eventually%20lead%20to%20tyranny.
schedule 3 weeks ago
    Giuseppe Scalas
    Giuseppe Scalas
    I think that, again, the changing variable here is technology (in a broad sense - the stock market is a "technology" even when it's run with pencils and scraps of paper). It has set the elites free from their bond with land and work. They decoupled the material sources of wealth with the need of being physically present.
    That's why people in mining are on average more conservative than people in software. They have to deal with realities, not with abstractions.
    And that's what, ultimately, classical education is about: learning about fellow humans.
    schedule 3 weeks ago
      Eusebius Pamphilus
      Eusebius Pamphilus
      Well said! Thanks Giuseppe!
      schedule 2 weeks ago
Mark W Kimpel
Mark W Kimpel
I'll be the contrarian here. Perhaps the issue has been too much democracy, fueled by social media, which has devolved into paralyzing polarization and populism. Our founding fathers envisioned a republic, where a class of citizens well schooled in the classics and humanism would be elected and lead (bold face "lead"!). Perhaps Plato had it right: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato%27s_five_regimes#:~:text=His%20life%20has%20no%20order,can%20eventually%20lead%20to%20tyranny.
schedule 3 weeks ago