03 March 2012

How to Kill Democracy

I've heard quite a few times that we can't get rid of democracy, because we can't get the votes.

Now, I'm not in any great hurry to get rid of democracy. It's not ideal, but it sort of works, and when it goes things could get messy.

However, if you wanted to do away with democracy, it wouldn't be all that difficult. I identified the method back before it was my aim.

The introduction of postal and electronic voting makes elections enormously easy to sabotage. I ranted about the danger, back in 2005, and then gradually lost interest in the subject once I ceased to care who actually won any given election. And the main safety margin is that nobody really cares who wins enough to cheat.

But cheating and getting away with it is hard — messing things up enough that nobody knows for sure who ought to have won is much easier, just as it is easier to take down a website than to take control of it.

And what would happen, if you did successfully DOS an election?  It would be pretty spectacular. The nearest we've seen was the 2000 US presidential election. That stirred up a lot of trouble, but it eventually more or less settled down. That was not what I have in mind though — there was no obvious large-scale fraud then, rather the problem was that the election was so close that the ordinary minor deceptions and inaccuracies made the difference.

In a near dead-heat like that, it will be accepted that you just can't be sure. But experts have identified a number of local elections in various counties in the US where it can't be determined who should have won, because of problems with the voting machines. Still, those involve cases where there is no evidence of determined large-scale deliberate fraud.

If we had a general election in Britain, and it emerged that, because of fraud, it wasn't clear who won, or that it was very close, I don't know what would happen. We don't have the same extreme respect for the judiciary, or even the clear formal rules, that allowed the US Supreme Court to settle Florida 2000.

I suspect that in the event, the parties and the civil service would sew it up as best they could, and the business of government would go on. But in the process it would have lost the legitimacy of democracy.

That is why it was a mistake for me to stop paying attention to voting when I stopped caring who won. Because, the way I look at democracy now, it is the impression that the government represents a popular choice that is important: the actual influence of popular will on government is both minor and mostly harmful. But it is the impression that is endangered by unreliable voting systems, so they constitute a bigger risk to the system as I see it than as a democrat would look at it.

Britain is still on paper votes, so it is only through postal votes that the system is vulnerable at the moment, and that only to a quite large-scale attack. But if the system is changed in the direction of networked or electronic voting, then we know what we have to do if we decide to get rid of democracy.


Devin Finbarr said...

I don't really see how this would be constructive. First off, the problem is not just democracy, it is as moldbug calls it, the "modern structure" - an unholy mix of mass irrational mobocracy, the thievery of thousands of political factions, and the anarcho-tyranny of unaccountable bureaucracies and agencies.

A DOS attack would hurt the legitimacy of elections in the short term. But I think that an attack that does not kill only makes a system stronger. The bureaucracies would gain power, new election rules would be in place, politicians and media figures would arouse popular sentiment against the attackers and make calls to protect our democracy. Those responsible for the attack would most likely be found and jailed.

I think the only hope of curbing democracy is via Moldbug's "True Election" idea. It is not that unusual for a population to recognize that democracy is failed and to hand over the car keys to a strong leader. A key question is the extent to which the dictator should maintain the trappings of the old system (as Augustus did when he named himself "first citizen" rather than dictator). There are perils both ways. If you too explicitly declare yourself as an enemy of democracy, a movement might rise against you, as they did against Caesar. But it also limits the ability to really purge the poisonous parts of the old system. You risk repeating the mistakes of the progressive movement - trying to eliminate democracy without eliminating democracy, and ending up with the worst of both bureaucracy and democracy.

It is possible to image a candidate in a "true election" who runs on a platform of anti-political parties, anti-partisan politics, anti-congress, anti-bureaucracy. The candidate would run against wall st robber barons, unaccountable bureaucracy, an incompetent congress, and All of these are terms with low favoribility ratings. The candidate would not use the word democracy at all - neither to condemn nor praise it. The candidate would use praise for words like, "republic", "rule of law", "liberty".

When in power the leader would not eliminate Congress or elections. He would rather strip them of their power. He could create a new "Chief Executive" position (temporarily filled by the president) with complete power to manage the civil service - including firing anyone down the lowest line worker. The a new "board of trustees" would be setup to appoint the "Chief Executive". The trustees would have a non-democratic election method, ideally a method like I describe here or here. The trustees would also approve all administrative rulings (which now are the meat of all laws) and would have the power block or modify the implementation of any bill. Finally, presidential and congressional elections would be reformed to eliminate the partisan venom. Methods of doing so could include lottery-elections, banning all party affiliation, banning campaigning altogether, limiting the election season to three weeks of managed interviews (so you know, make the process of becoming president like the process of becoming a fortune 500 ceo). The end result is a figurehead, defanged, depoliticized president and congress, with government actually run in neocamerelist lines by an executive and a board of oversight.

sconzey said...

This wasn't the post I thought it was going to be. I've been thinking about how to *actually kill* a democracy recently. Not transform a democracy, not reform a democracy, but actually cause the large-scale collapse of a country with a modern democratic government. Kick out the supports and let it collapse under the weight of it's own internal contradictions.

But that's for another post.

Finbarr: Moldbug's writing on the "True Election" is a little confused. On the one hand he has recently been arguing that is the only way to reform a democracy, on the other, in his early posts, he wrote that there was such a thing as right-wing populism, but that it was Hitler. I generally agree with the second stance.