Quotable (#225)


As the forces of reaction outpace movements predicated on the ideal of progress, and as traditional norms of political competition are tossed aside, it’s clear that the internet and social media have succeeded in doing what many feared and some hoped they would. They have disrupted and destroyed institutional constraints on what can be said, when and where it can be said and who can say it. …

Gutenberg 2.0 (undeniably?).

Quotable (#198)

Jamelle Bouie on the dominion of tribalism:

Everyone agrees that American politics is more partisan and more polarized than it’s ever been. But not everyone grasps why that’s important. It’s not just Congress and the ability of our institutions to make progress and accomplish their goals. It’s also our elections. […] he folk theory of American democracy is that citizens deliberate on the issues and choose a candidate. That is false. The truth, as political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels describe in Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, is that voters are tribalistic. Their political allegiances come first, and their positions and beliefs follow. We’ve seen this with Donald Trump. Support for free trade is a longstanding belief within the GOP, but Trump is a major opponent, slamming most of the trade deals of the past 30 years. You would think that this would depress his support among Republican voters. It didn’t. Instead, those voters changed their views of trade. Their beliefs followed their affiliations, not the other way around.

Bouie clearly doesn’t see this as a fundamental critique of democracy (which is amusing).

Sexual Politics

Via Nate Silver, the electoral implications of hypothetical solely-male and solely-female electorates in the US (2016):



Given the absence of a realistic geo-political segregation option, continuing tension can be safely anticipated. (There still has to be a way to break the place up that makes more sense, such as starting with the places that don’t change color when gender-flipped.)

Quotable (#189)

Agamben (2006):

Because they require constant reference to a state of exception, measures of security work towards a growing depoliticization of society. In the long run they are irreconcilable with democracy.

(Feature, not bug.)

Also this (previously):

In short, discipline wants to produce order, security wants to regulate disorder. Since measures of security can only function within a context of freedom of traffic, trade, and individual initiative, Foucault can show that the development of security accompanies the ideas of liberalism.

In combination, these two sentences provide almost everything political philosophy needs.

Quotable (#180)

Michael Ignatieff on the political contradictions of democratic globalism:

I do think that there’s a real disconnect between an international cosmopolitan discourse about rights — the rights of migrants, the rights of refugees — versus the way in which ordinary people in most democracies see this question. […] For ordinary people, a citizen’s relation to a stranger is a gift relationship, not a rights relationship. They think it’s up to the citizen to decide who gets in. It’s up to the citizen who decides what the boundaries of a political community are. […] That’s what democracy means to them. That’s what democracy promises them: control of borders and the handing out of discretionary gifts to those they decide belong in the community. […] There are a lot of Brexiters who think a decent country is generous to strangers, is compassionate to strangers. But that’s the language of the gift. That’s not a language of rights.

Quotable (#168)

Ed(gelord) West:

… most online petitions are idiotic and encourage people to act without any reflection on subjects they mostly know little about. Only we’re supposed to take them seriously, rather than treat them as communal hysteria, because of democracy. It’s almost considered a truism that democracy is a good thing, and that anyone who disagrees is an extremist, but too much democracy leads to poor decision making.

In fact there is robust data suggesting that non-democratic states can be better for economic growth and development, with Ben Southwood of the Adam Smith Institute summarising that ‘the evidence seems to suggest that insofar as we can help countries to develop, the key institutions we should be supporting are markets, property rights and the rule of law, and considerably less significance should be accorded to democratisation.’ There is also research pointing out that less voting means better governance, so that in a democracy it might be best to limit the amount of direct decision-making, or have a mixed system, like the House of Lords. […] Part of the reason, as Isabel Hardman pointed out recently, may be that good government goes unrewarded, and so there are few incentives for politicians to consider the long term rather than tomorrow’s headlines. And now the internet allows us to become truly democratic in a way Athens was, with the people making decisions rather than politicians – and I suggest we should avoid it like the plague. Democratic Athens only lasted two generations before its hot-headed population led it to disastrous war and decline.

Quotable (#162)

The Left-Liberal agony:

There’s more to a democracy than just the holy scripture of the constitution — there are also sacred numbers: election results. Together, words and numbers mold a country’s politics. In this process, the constitution is the constant while election represent a dynamic element. In the near future, this could also present a problem in several places: Election results are expected to deliver the wrong numbers. In Austria, a right-wing populist might get elected president. This could also happen in the United States. Germany’s AfD and France’s Front National have also attracted strong minority followings. A right-wing populist brush fire has become conceivable.

It wasn’t so very long ago that regime legitimation through popular will seemed like a great idea to just about everybody. Now it’s looking disturbingly like a blank check, in the hands of an unpredictable maniac.

(On the Outer Right, of course, the historical diagnosis is quite straightforward: Democracy first destroys the people, and then falls prey to them. The Ancients would have found it odd that anybody could imagine this to be a new idea.)