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The Worst 36 Hours For Democracy Since the 1930s, America on Dictatorship’s Brink, and Civilizational Risk

The Worst 36 Hours For Democracy Since the 1930s, America on Dictatorship’s Brink, and Civilizational Risk

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Today we’re going to discuss…

The Worst 36 Hours For Democracy Since the 1930s

The Supreme Court. The debate. Media. France. The far right. So much happened in the space of 36 hours that its felt, at times, overwhelming, even to me.

Let me put the message up front.

That was the worst 36 hours for democracy since the 1930s.

It’s that bad. Much, much worse than most people, even good-hearted souls on democracy’s side, fully grasp.

Not in the full span of a human lifetime have we seen democracy rocked around the world like it’s been in the last 36 hours. And now it hangs by a thread, in two of it’s standard-bearers, America and France.

Remember when we discussed how worldwide, democracy’s now imploding? Not hyperbole, just (the brutal reality of) statistics. It’s at just 20% of the world, at a rate of up to 10% a decade. That’s where we…


But now?

The worst case scenario’s coming true. And I don’t mean that lightly. Let’s begin with America.

America’s on the Brink of Dictatorship 

America’s now on the brink—right on the glittering edge—of becoming a true dictatorship. 

That’s thanks to the Supreme Court, which issued a decision that’ll go down in history with Dred Scott and Korematsu as one of the darkest days in American history. The Dred Scott decision effectively finished off America’s chances at a proper post civil war Reconstruction, ruling that black people weren’t citizens, and therefore just basically still property. Korematsu did much the same for Asians. This one? Arguably, it goes even further.

By now, you know the thrust. The President is to enjoy “absolute immunity.” There are some conditions in American legalese, but they don’t really matter, because the immunity is “presumptive,” and so nobody much can investigate much of anything, not other branches of government, and so in the real world, for all intents and purposes, it’s what it sounds like, absolute.

But what does that mean? The obvious example is one many have raised so far: the President, for example, can order Seal Team Six to just go out and assassinate his opponent.

But it’s much, much worse than that. 

The President can now get away with any criminal act that an average citizen can’t. Again, you know that much, but the point in situations like these is to understand by way of imagining.

If you’ve only ever lived in a democracy—even a limited and flawed one, like America—it’s hard to fully imagine the abuses of power that ensue when judiciaries make decisions like this.

So let me enlighten you, having both a) studied and b) lived it.

When heads of state are given absolute power by judiciaries, many of the following things begin to happen.

Not just Seal Team Six assassinating opponents—which isn’t exactly the stuff of fiction, after all, death squads did indeed roam many of the countries where America itself installed “Presidents” who were really dictators, but more…prosaic forms of violence. Opponents disappear, Russia style. Critics vanish. Or maybe they’re “re-educated” into line. 

Violence becomes a norm, and it’s net effect is to keep people in line. Today’s dictators are even more skilled at this than yesterday’s. Yesterday’s would do it with loud, extreme violence—today, we see that mostly in Arab style dictatorships. It’s more effective, autocrats have learned, to keep it mysterious. Did that person really just…disappear? “Fall out of a window”? I’d better keep quiet, then, because of course, it could happen to me too. 

The haze of responsibility absolves the autocrat, thus sending the message in an even more chilling way.

So what is violence becoming a norm? It’s the loss of all basic freedoms, beginning with the most basic one of all, which is bodily autonomy. What autocrats and dictators do is to crack down, above all, on the body. Where it can go. What a mouth can say. Whom it can say it to. What a mind is allowed to believe, think feel. And so this isn’t some sort of threat that’s really just about Purge-level violence, but the real and imminent danger of what Umberto Eco called “eternal fascism.”

But all that’s barely a beginning, too. What else do dictators do with absolute powers, like immunity, and hold on, because I didn’t put a key point very well, which is this: absolute immunity is an absolute power, and in a democracy, nobody has an absolute power, of any kind, whatsoever, because it means, conversely, that rights no longer exist. Got that? Mull it over if you need to. 

Dictators and autocrats, given absolute powers like immunity, also do things which seem almost funny, like ordering the Treasury or Central Bank to pay them and their cronies directly. Ordering Interior Departments to build their palaces. Directing or reforming militaries to be their personal, politicized special security forces—that was the birth of the SS, by the way.

And all of that, too, is incredibly dangerous. It’s how societies get looted, and end up far poorer. It’s how martial law comes to be imposed, in an almost hidden manner.

So what’s really going on here? Fascism is dangerous not because it “breaks” the law, but because it becomes the law. 

In the early 1930s, Hitler was given absolute powers, by a demoralized legislature, and an establishment more afraid of the left. History teaches us how that particular choice ended, and it’s why modern constitutions are very clear about the limits of executive power.

Hitler, meanwhile, didn’t then “break” the law. He became the law. Specifically, the Nuremberg Laws, which imposed segregation, then ghettoization, then death, upon the Jews, and other hated social groups.

This is the true danger of fascism. It subsumes the rule of law. Perverts it. Takes it, and, in modern parlance, we’d say, “weaponizes” it, but that’s not a very good word—imagine the law being used as an instrument of the very opposite that it is in a democracy. 

What does the rule of law do in a democracy? It guarantees universal rights. Their aim is the ideals of peace, justice, equality, truth, life, happiness. In a fascist regime, the rule of law removes and eviscerates universal rights, just as under the Nazis. “Rights” no longer exist—they’re just privileges, doled out by the autocrat, to those he favors, usually given on the basis of purity of blood and faith, forms of what Foucault called “biopower,” or political favor. 

The fascist regime is what Baudrillard called a “simulation” of a democracy—something that looks like a democracy, even aspires to be seen as one, but is in fact, at it’s core, something very much removed from it, its polar opposite. 

This is what’s happening in America. 

Interestingly, this decision gives Presidents even more power than kings or emperors. Those were bound, often, by pre-modern codes of justice. No, a king or emperor didn’t enjoy “absolute immunity”—what special privileges they had were often intensely conflicted by nobles, and agreements like Magna Carta reached. In ancient Rome, even the emperor was bound by law. Think about the way that succession was very much a matter of law. 

That’s how far-reaching and extreme this decision, and in that way, a President will now enjoy powers that ancient kings and emperors could only have dreamt of.

And that brings America to the very cusp of dictatorship.

France, Europe, and the Death of Humanist and Universalist Democracy

If America was the birthplace of modern democracy, then France was the birthplace of contemporary democracy. “Modern” here doesn’t mean America was some kind of ideal, of course it was segregated, after it institutionalized slavery—it just means it was the first constitutional democracy. And “contemporary” means…

France is the birthplace of something truly remarkable in human history, something so special that we Anglos don’t really fully appreciate it, because we’re not taught about it. It created the paradigm that came after America’s invention of modern democracy, which was universalist, secular, humanist democracy.

And now all of that’s on the line.

How important are those things? They are some of the greatest breakthroughs there ever were in human history, in human organization, and in human thought. Democracy in France was to be universal—truly for all, the old notion of social classes formally abolished, which is a step further than America went. It was to be humanist, and so advanced notions like dignity itself were enshrined and given legal protection, which is several steps further than America went. 

And it was to be secular, in the existentialist way, which is one of the most beautiful ideas in history—not just “the separation of church and state,” but something much, much deeper. Existentialism: we’re all mortal, afraid, alone, powerless. And so the point of politics in this system wasn’t just to stop you imposing your religion on me, but that society wasn’t to add to any of our already crushing existential burdens—it was something that was to support us in these great challenges of life, hence, for example, France’s famed retirement system, or any number of other public goods it’s renowned for, versus America’s now widely-seen-as predatory-capitalist model.

All of that is on the brink of being lost in France. It’s easy to say, and it’s correct, in a way—how perverse that the nation which became the world’s symbol of resisting the Nazis is now turning to the far right. But much, much more than that is at stake here. Centuries of progress, not just for it, but for all of us, are. We have much to learn from France’s beautiful and elegant paradigms, and we haven’t learned much yet, especially as Anglos, and yet now, they may themselves not survive this implosion, which is precisely what France’s wisest minds understand and lament and are warning furiously of.

The most modern paradigms of thought when it comes to democracy and freedom—not procedurally, as in “rounds of voting” or what have you, but in the truest sense, philosophically, intellectually, socially, creatively—are on the brink of being lost, perhaps for good. And that is a crushing loss for our civilization.

So where does all that leave us? In a profoundly perilous place. The worst 36 hours for democracy since the 1930s. America, on the brink of dictatorship. France, giving up countless breakthroughs in political and social thought. The world’s two great standard bearers of democracy, on the cusp of something terrible, dark, and grave. 

The Civilizational Risk of Democratic Implosion

That setback isn’t one to take lightly. In it, we’re watching the worst case scenario come true. One of the macro trends I discuss with you is: Democratic Implosion. I gave you the numbers above, and we’ve discussed them often. Just 20% of the world, redlined, declining at 10% a decade. That number? If America and France go the way they are, will cause an even further, faster implosion. America becoming an autocracy, giving up democracy’s ghost, and France becoming what political scientists call a “flawed democracy,” meaning, not quite a full one anymore.

And if that happens, it brings democracy’s numbers even lower. At what point do we understand a civilizational emergency presents itself to us? At 15%? 10%? We are almost there. But there is too late. As it was last time the world entered a period of madness like this, the 1930s. 

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