The Legitimacy Crisis and the Coming Calamity
Posted November 19, 2021
Those were glorious days in 1989 when governments all over Eastern Europe were tumbling and being replaced. States were seceding from the old Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall was torn down by the people. Citizens were raiding offices of the secret police and destroying records. Political prisoners were being freed.
Those days were especially great for those of us in the United States because we didn’t have to be there experiencing it. We could watch it all on TV! And it made for magnificent theater. It was a movie except it was real. And we all congratulated ourselves in those days: their system is dying, while our system is doing just great. Freedom triumphs over tyranny.
And yet, it was only a few months later, sometime in 1990, when my mind began to wander. True, the states that collapsed had systems called socialism and they were ruled by a single party. The government lost legitimacy. That much was clear.
As David Hume said in the 18th century, governments ultimately hold power only due to the complicity of the citizenry. A government that loses that cannot hold power for long. Eventually it will find itself issuing edicts to which no one listens. Power devolves into illusion. The mighty are suddenly reduced to people just like you and me.
As that event showed, it can happen much more quickly than anyone really imagines. The Hume rule applies not just to totalitarian states but to democratic ones, and states that are evolving from one to the other.
Democracy and Dictatorship
The question I kept asking myself at the time (and I don’t recall ever writing about) was: what are the conditions under which something like this could happen in Western democracies? The whole idea of democracy is to institutionalize and schedule change in governments thus civilizing the revolutionary impulse. Revolutions are costly and often bloody; they are certainly disruptive to normal life. Best to have elections instead.
Does the existence of democracy somehow insulate the ruling class from being overthrown by the angry masses? Does our Constitution mean that nothing remotely like what happened in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can ever happen here? If so, that is both good and bad. The good part is that we are spared the costs of revolutionary upheaval. The bad part is that democracies can thereby develop an entrenched deep state that imagines itself to be impregnable from mass pressure. That can be corrupting.
And that’s where things have stood for the better part of 30 years, with a ruling elite growing ever more entrenched and ever more despotic in both quiet and aggressive ways. Clearly in 2020, they decided to push their luck all the way. They used all their power to shut down our lives in the hope of causing some kind of great reset.
They Went Too Far
I wonder if they thought it would be easy. Maybe. But it has not been easy. They not only closed and nearly destroyed institutions on which we rely for the good life: churches, schools, business, and even took over our homes by telling us how many people we can have inside. They willfully ignored all laws and liberties on which we’ve depended for the whole of our lives. They made an enormous mess of it, and then topped it off by not even achieving the ostensible goal of disease mitigation.
It’s almost like the elites forgot that they were dealing with actual human beings with lives. We were nothing but data in their models. They moved us around as if we were mere digits and expected outcomes in real life to mirror what they were seeing on their computer screens. Sounds crazy, but they seemed to lack awareness that we all have volition, dreams, hopes, and determination to achieve them regardless of the obstacles.
Sometime in 2021, there seemed to be an emerging awareness that something had gone very wrong. Drug deaths, demoralization, public anger, ruined lives and businesses were very obvious. The economic carnage — economics is the ultimate reality-based enterprise — was everywhere, especially the rise of inflation and massive government debt.
How does a ruling class deal with that? Admit they made a mistake? No way. They had gone this far. The best approach, they must have decided, was to double down as if to show people who is boss. Thus the vaccine mandate. Roll up the sleeve. Get the jab. Take the shot. What’s in this stuff? Doesn’t matter: just trust the elites.
The whole thing was just too much. The courts have even started to work again, invoking things like the Constitution (“it’s in the drawer around here somewhere”). The regulatory agencies have decided that they cannot actually completely ignore the courts. So even the Department of Labor has backed down. The deep state blinked. Very interesting.
Now I’m looking at this absolute meltdown in popularity of the Biden administration. It goes step by step down down down. The split in approval and disapproval is 13%. When Trump lost reelection, the split was 6%. And this is what people are willing to tell pollsters! They are defying every expectation to go along.
What is doing this? It’s a whole series of events. The Afghanistan fiasco alerted the public to the incompetence. The jab mandate has been a disaster. The unfolding economic crises (inflation, shortages, declining wages, disappearing workers) plus a health crisis — actually a crisis in everything! — further eroded support.
A rule of thumb I've always used is that at least one third of the public believes in something/anything no matter how crazy or insane. You name it, one third believes it. Biden's approval rating is moving close to that one third mark. When it hits 33%, you can assume that the regime has lost all legitimacy.
It’s not only about those polls. It’s about the protest music and art now flooding YouTube. It’s the marches. It’s the rallies. It’s the school-board meetings. It’s my inbox being flooded daily. It’s the Twitter accounts blowing up. It’s all the new applications like Telegram and Signal that are taking over from legacy businesses. It’s everything and it feels like revolution.
What Happens Now?
We are now experiencing a trajectory of history of which we have no prior experience, a previously prosperous and stable democracy facing a complete loss in public confidence in government, public health, media, and experts in general. They went too far. Something has to give way soon to protect us from chaos.