Orwell Watch: Democracy Being Linked to Socialism

Those who remember the sorry saga of the Iraq war no doubt recall the numerous, shifting explanations of why the US attacked an unprovoked invasion of a country that had no ability to mount an attack on the US. Once the canard of “weapons of mass destruction” was dismissed, one of the next set of bogus explanations was that Osama bin Laden was in cahoots with Sadaam Hussein. That was implausible on its face; bin Laden had tried to destabilize Iraq, and various leaks from intelligence sources disputed the Administration lies party line (see here and here for example). Bush eventually ‘fessed up that there was no connection between Iraq and al Quaeda.

But there was no risk in denying the myth at that point. Indeed, it turns out that our brains are wired so badly that mentioning two ideas as being connected, whether to claim they are linked or to deny it, serves to reinforce the belief that they ARE connected. Call it “the lady doth protest too much” effect. A 2007 Washington Post article explains:

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flier to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views and labeled them either “true” or “false.” Among those identified as false were statements such as “The side effects are worse than the flu” and “Only older people need flu vaccine.”

When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

Younger people did better at first, but three days later they made as many errors as older people did after 30 minutes. Most troubling was that people of all ages now felt that the source of their false beliefs was the respected CDC.

The psychological insights yielded by the research, which has been confirmed in a number of peer-reviewed laboratory experiments, have broad implications for public policy. The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.

Even worse, when an erroneous belief is confronted frontally, people still cling to it if it supports an outcome to which they are attached. For instance, surveys found that Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to believe in a Saddam-Osama connection, even after Bush had repudiated it. An article in Sociological Inquiry describes how survey participants who had believed in a Saddam-Osama connection responded when presented with information that the relationship did not exist, including the 2005 climbdown by Bush himself:

Picture 74

Notice: only 1/6 changed their minds, with the vast majority merely denying that they had ever held the incorrect belief. Only 2% of the total engaged in “Bayseian updating” meaning absorbing the new information and rethinking their position.

This is a long winded into, but it serves to establish two points:

1. Per the CDC example, it isn’t hard to implant beliefs, particularly when they are perceived to come from authoritative sources

2. Once someone is attached to a belief (or to something that the belief bolsters) it is hard to dislodge

Yves here. So the latest troubling sighting is efforts to turn “democracy” into a suspect word. While it may seem loopy to raise this as a concern, “liberal” was not all that long ago seen in the US as a positive, or at worst, descriptive term. Now “liberal” is so discredited that The Position Formerly Known As Liberal has either crept with its tail between its legs to the center, but still maintains that it is liberal, or is now called “progressive”, but that too is rapidly losing positive brand association, since pretty much everyone has figured out that Progressive = The Position Formerly Known As Liberal. So don’t kid yourself that even cherished concepts like “democracy” are immune to reimaging.

From the Salt Lake Tribune (hat tip reader bubaroth):

Some Utah County parents are calling on the Alpine School District to stop spreading “false educational ideas.” First and foremost, the parents say, the district needs to clamp down on its use of the D-word: “democracy.”…

Alpine’s mission statement is “Educating all students to ensure the future of our democracy.”

But this nation is a republic, not a democracy, said Oak Norton, a Highland father of five and the founder of Utah’s Republic. The Constitution guarantees every state a “republican form of government.” “Karl Marx said, ‘Democracy is the road to socialism,’ ” Norton said. A true democracy, he said, relies solely on majority rule and inevitably devolves into anarchy, which then sprouts socialist dictators.

Yves here. Um, the Weimar Republic descended into fascism, the first French Republic led to the First Empire under Napoleon…but never mind. See Saddam hearts Osama 2.0 in the little Karl Marx quote? Whoever is the evil genius behind the smear campaign on democracy knows the psychological tricks.

And why are some people so tetchy pedantic about the use of the word “democracy”? Because they see it as linked to The Position Formerly Known As Liberal. In other words, they’ll attack the idea of democracy if that’s what it takes to defeat those (what, gay lovin’? abortionists? godless?) progressives:

Jowers said he received some of the same criticism about the D-word as chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Strengthening Utah’s Democracy.

“There seems to be a segment of the population who is worried not just about being technically precise on these words … but somehow interprets a move to democracy as some type of a progressive movement that needs to be stopped,” [Kirk] Jowers [director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics] said. “For the most part, when people talk about strengthening democracy, they’re talking about getting more people in the United States involved in our politics and government and more nations in the world being subject to elections instead of dictators.”

Yves here. While this so far looks to be an isolated event, struggles over cultural norms are often fought via the public education system, so this bears monitoring.

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  1. Francois T

    This Norton dude is the kind of fruitcake who is trying to inject a banana flavor to this republic.

  2. Alexandra Hamilton

    Well, democracy may be a prerequisity to socialism, but to say that democracy leads to is idiotic.
    If that were true, then the US of A should be a socialist state by now. It seems to me that just the opposite has happened and is happening: Capitalism is alive and well.
    US a republic, I think not. The power is in the hands of a few families so while they don’t call themselves royality, they act like same.


    1. Gary Anderson

      But Alexandra, capitalism is not alive and well. Crony fascist capitalism which puts the international TBTF banks first at the expense of the middle class is alive and well. Fascism is a corporate socialism, and we have it with military industrial companies, and with the TBTF banks being bailed out by taxpayers to the tune of trillions, through .50 percent interest borrowing and purchasing of taxpayer born treasuries paying 3.9 percent. This is theft. And this is not capitalism. As my website states, banks are abusing the world and the very sovereignty of the United States is in question with the advent of this crony international fascism.

      1. Alexandra Hamilton

        I admit that calling it “crony fascist capitalism” makes it sound more dramatic and does point out the issues more clearly than just calling it ‘capitalism’.
        However I prefer to stick to the marxist definition of the term. So for me capitalism contains these attributes already. Capitalism is always facist, it is always crony, it is always feudal.

  3. attempter

    In that case, for once, it’s the fascist who’s struggling against massive inertia. Americans overwhelmingly consider “democracy” and “republic” to be synonyms, and have positive if ignorant conceptions of both. Few things make people in general roll their eyes more than wonks who nitpick over “democracy” vs. “republic”.

    (As a poli sci type myself who’s often gone on about how “we don’t have democracy; this thing was set up as a ‘republic’ to strangle real democracy in the cradle” and so on, I can attest that people don’t care much about that terminology. They think the terms are interchangeable. By now even I don’t bother with that argument anymore.)

    The “liberal” who sought to dodge his well-earned opprobrium simply by changing his name to “progessive” (ain’t that just like them – the problem’s never with their feckless, incoherent ideas, their sellout policies, and their general cowardice, but always just with their messaging) was also struggling against the current of both massive inertia and of common sense.

    As for that study, it confirmed what common sense always knew: When you’re attacked, in most cases the best defense is not to defend but to counterattack. Or better yet, always remain on the attack yourself. Anybody who follows modern politics knows that who’s “right” almost never matters at all. It’s who’s aggressive, who’s self-confident, who sounds like he believes he’s right.

    (Again, that’s why modern “liberals” were always doomed to be gradual, terminal losers – their congenital propensity toward appeasement and self-negotiating downward radiate weakness, lack of belief in their own alleged ideas, and general lack of character. What can explain the unilateral mass cave-in on single-payer other than complete spiritual collapse? And now that pathetic tale finally enters endgame, as the liberal leadership are now simply astroturfing for the coming fascism, trying to round up the liberal equivalent of teabaggers on its behalf. The health racketeering bill was a great triumph for a few professional traitors, and a milestone in the liquidation of the movement, since how long can even a liberal teabagger remain that blind to the fact that he’s now a Bush supporter, a Republican, in everything of substance, in everything but name?)

  4. alex black

    Yeah, it’s been a slow economic day, so let’s start a political food fight.

    I’ll just add de Tocqueville’s observation on democracies – they last until the public realizes it can feed at the public trough.

    In time they’ll get the banksters’ fat snouts out of it, but at this point, 51% of Americans pay no income tax, but receive the same benefits of those who do. So soon they’ll go at it, full force. Down we go….

    1. Skippy

      Everyone pays tax be it at the register or the IRS, tax or consumerism which will it be.

    2. sam hamster

      A wealthy tax payer uses far more services and draws far more heavily on the U.S. infrastructure, ditto head.

      1. alex black

        Yeah, people without a valid argument always resort to name calling. I hadn’t realized that de Tocqueville was a ditto head. I learn something new every day.

  5. jbmoore61

    “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe.”
    –Albert Einstein

    He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.
    –Winston Churchill

    God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board.
    –Mark Twain

    “My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.”
    —Rep. Hank Johnson

    Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
    –Mark Twain

  6. Jojo

    Liberals and Atheists Smarter? Intelligent People Have Values Novel in Human Evolutionary History, Study Finds

    ScienceDaily (Feb. 24, 2010) — More intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history. Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence, a new study finds.

    The study, published in the March 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Social Psychology Quarterly, advances a new theory to explain why people form particular preferences and values. The theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years.”

    “Evolutionarily novel” preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess. In contrast, those that our ancestors had for millions of years are “evolutionarily familiar.”


    1. jbmoore61

      Psychology is a social “soft” science that is more similar to economics than to a natural science. The article itself is likely biased and likely suspect. How is one measuring intelligence? Aren’t critical thinking and having an open mind that questions aspects of intelligence? Besides, the people with truly novel ideas tend to get killed – Jesus, Socrates, Archimedes, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. Jesus and Socrates were killed by the State after a trial about their philosophies. Also, atheism as an aspect of Chinese rule is destroying Buddhism in Tibet. How is that being tolerant, liberal, and intelligent? Buddhism serves to educate and guide people into observing themselves and their world. It fosters literacy and inquisitiveness. It is more philosophy than religion, yet it is a danger to the Chinese State. Until education caught up with the religions, most religions served as repositories of literacy and knowledge. Monks and priests had to be able to read, write, copy, and interpret scriptures, and other books. Without the monks and scribes, we would have little knowledge of the Greeks and Romans because nothing would have been preserved. Public education has only been around 100 years or so. Universal literacy is something new in human history. Culture proceeds faster than human evolution, and evolutionary psychology is something of an oxymoron at best because it attempts to define the adaptation of human thought and behavior to changing social and environmental parameters. But people’s thoughts and beliefs are remarkably inflexible if reasoning, debate, and honest inquiry are not nourished.

      1. Jojo

        @jbmoore61 – I am not at all clear on what points you are trying to make through your post. Perhaps you could distill it further?

        @Swedish Lex – Excellent article. Thanks.

        From your article and buttressing the one I posted:

        “A study released in February using survey data and IQ tests from British teenagers found that the teens with higher intelligence scores were more likely to be atheists.

        Todd Shackelford, an evolutionary psychologist at Florida Atlantic University, has reviewed 40 studies on religious and intelligence going back 100 years. He says all but two of them suggested that more educated people tended to be less religious.”


  7. Jeff65

    This is a much older issue than many believe. It was the primary driver of the debates on the Constitution during the convention.

    Taken from http://cyberjournal.org/authors/fresia/

    Fresia: Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts
    He was a Harvard graduate and a merchant with a considerable estate. In reference to the political unrest at the time of the Convention, he complained that “The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy.”

    Or how about the dude on your 10 dollar bill, Alexander Hamilton.

    Fresia: His statement at the Convention concerning the relationship between government, the rich, and the poor deserves to be quoted at length because it represents what was then a very common attitude among elites:

    “All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the Second….Can a democratic assembly who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy….It is admitted that you cannot have a good executive upon a democratic plan.”

    The often praised “checks and balances” are against the pure democracy of the House of Representatives. Your history textbook doesn’t put it that way though.

    1. Dave of Maryland

      The Constitution those men set up provided for a Senate which was selected by the various state assemblies. Not popularly elected. (Why have two houses if the same method determines the membership of both?) These same state assemblies also selected/elected the President, with the loser becoming the Vice President. Which gives a great deal of power to individual state legislators, something they all currently lack.

      This system was abandoned before states came to realize they had rights they should defend. Or perhaps it was just too tedious. The original system put teeth in impeachment, since the VP could become President by forcing his removal. It also made recall of senators a real possibility, as they would answer directly to their state legislatures, as in, “What have you done for our state lately?” Since state legislatures determined both the composition of the Senate, as well as the President himself, Senators would have near-equal standing to the President.

      Such a system also limits the independence of the Federal government, since both the Senate, and the President, were ultimately responsible directly to the individual statehouses. The system we have now makes the Federal government independent of the states. Which might be a great mistake. States have long been told that they can’t back out of the Union, on the one hand, but on the other, must accept the dictates of Washington. These propositions should not both be true. State Attorneys General should not have to flail away in court to get Washington’s attention. Individual states should have the right to recall their Senators. As if they were ambassadors. Which, as I think of it, might be a better name for the place: The House of Ambassadors.

      One of the great puzzles about the US government is why such an outstanding system, one that linked & interconnected both the people as well as the individual states, was scrapped so early on.

      Save for its first few decades, it might be said of American democracy, as it has been said of other systems, that it had the novelty of never having been tried.

      1. charcad

        It seems to me the most useful innovation now would be to reserve half of the U.S. Senate seats for the state governors. And for the other 50% of Senate seats set a prerequisite of prior election to and completion of a full term as a state governor.

        This will provide robust adult supervision for both House and President while ensuring these politicians’ feet are firmly rooted in their state constituencies.

        A side benefit of this is preventing any more Obamas or Palins from appearing on the national scene.

      2. Dave of Maryland

        The solution we’re looking for might just be the repeal of the 12th Amendment – direct election of the Prez – and the 17th – direct election of Senators. In reading about the 17th, I learned that some states sometimes had no Senators in Washington because they were so busy fighting about it. Is that a bad thing?

        1. Dave of Maryland

          Charcad is thinking of the French system, where the local mayor is also a Deputy at the national assembly. (Deputy-Maire) One could imagine a US system where mayors were also Representatives. Vertical integration.

          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            That sounds sensible. What about something around 435 mayoral districts and 435 Congressional districts? Each mayoral district has to have at least 5 Congressmen represnting a portion of it.

            Maybe there would be certain accomidations made for New York City where having a single mayor makes sense.

            Abolishing the Senate is a no-brainer. It was only included to make sure the small states would sign on and pressure Virginia and Massachusetts to go along when they realized there was no one with whitch to start up a separate country.

      3. jest

        I must say, the last thing we need right now is to give the Senate more power.

        The current situation makes vastly more sense because it represents the will of the majority far better. Giving low population states such as Wyoming or Nebraska as much clout as California or Texas seems like a bad idea.

        The recent Senate temper tantrums (Stupak, Bunning, etc.) simply reiterate the problem.

  8. buythetickettaketheride

    I make no claim regarding the veracity/merit of anything else on this site, but this post reminded me of Umberto Eco’s 1995 description of the foundations/features of fascism:


    Not sure if Yves or others have commented on it before, but at the very least the combination of Newspeak and selective populism seems relevant.

    In truth, we have a number of propagandists on the national stage who are acting in concert but for disparate reasons:

    1) Fascists parading as patriots.
    2) Politicians attempting to harness voters’ disillusionment.
    3) Quasi-celebrities whose personal message must rise to the tenor of the current discourse in order to be broadcast.

    Unfortunately the very criticality which allows people to understand all this almost always leads to the belief that we are on a one-way road to serious social upheaval.

    Honestly I was hoping that Obama would use every ounce of his charismatic appeal to calm the fervor, but this is indeed likely impossible. Something organic has to happen, probably inspired by an event.

    1. craazyman

      Fascism is a word that gets used too much, and without nuance. All previous forms of fascism have been essentially beligerent, racist, tribal phenomenon — Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan — in essence, the human condition distilled and magnified.

      In America we may be belligerent, but the cultural superego is definitively not racist and not tribal. It is the opposite, in fact, in that Hegelian sort of dialectic that always works the channel of history.

      Racism and tribalism are forms of the drive to “oneness” that underlies all of nature and all of thought, like the drive for a unified field theory, and the need to reduce all mathematics to a single omnipotent equation, or to reduce a poem to the sparest expression possible.

      These energies in the U.S. coalesce around one thing — money — the metaphor for primal life force which, under traditional fascism, generally constellates in the idea of the family unit, sort of like the Trinity, which stands as the “self” of the people at large.

      We can ask where these forces manifest in the American cultural landscape. And it’s not hard to find the answer: in the possession of wealth alone. We can also see this as a reaction against centuries of tribal fascism and the other forms of tribal consciousness.

      Our cultural super-ego constellates around money alone, which is why, in my view, the Wall Street lobby is so impervious. In effect, it is more than a result of tenacious political influence that does this, it’s consciousness itself.

      Breaking this lock will require a re-assertion of the value of the individual sans money — as was the case with civil rights, the union movement, etc. It will have to be a grass roots phenomenon. I don’t think the issue is so much whether it will appear, but when and in what form.

  9. Vinny

    Indeed, the human brain seems to be naturally prone to manipulation, and human memory has been proven to be unreliable and changing. Some of us like to think our brains are these wonderful truth-seeking tools, when in fact they are merely organs of survival, best fitted to keep our fragile bodies from being crushed by stronger predators. Not trusting our own perceptions and understanding of the world is a good first step toward the truth.


    1. charcad


      All 120 of the study participants had previously visited Disneyland. Following appropriate media prompting 33% (about 40) of the participants subsequently remembered meeting a costumed Bugs Bunny during their visit. Even though Bugs Bunnies are never found at Disneyworld because he’s a Warner Brothers character.

    2. Swedish Lex

      I would support that. Plus the fact humans are group/herd/tribal animals whose “thinking” largely is a function of the dynamics of the group. So much for individualism and free choice.

      Our “evolved” brains see patterns where there are none, including faces on Mars, virgin Marys on toasts and the end of existence because a “analysis” of some current events seem to resemble ramblings in very old texts about the end of time.

      So, for someone with the capability to manipulate, it is too tempting not to. No real efficient vaccine against that although a society based on division of power and checks and balances is the least bad solution thus far.

      1. Alexandra Hamilton

        Oh, the patterns you have mentioned are patterns in reality. We just sometimes ascribe meanings to them, then on further inspection cannot be supported by facts.
        The ‘face’ on Mars is a good example. The pattern really exists, but it is a natural phenomenon and the work of extraterestrials as some have said.

  10. Panayotis

    Opinions and beliefs ate not the same. Opinions are the outcomes of rationally reasoned information and beliefs are the outcome of habitually reasoned information.Opinion reversals to beliefs is to be expected if norms are dominated by the habit metric and not by the rationality metric. Sometimes habitual behavior is viewed as irrational although is not the inverse of rational but only para(side) logical, collateral to rationality.

  11. kevin de bruxelles

    I think that guy in Utah is correct and that given the popular definitions of both democracy and socialism that indeed democracy does/should lead to socialism. It is obvious to anyone that if the people have a real vote they are going to vote themselves a middle class lifestyle. This is certainly the case in Europe. The problem in America is that it is now a sham democracy and in fact socialist institutions are being dismantled one by one leading to a constant increase in the US Gini index numbers.

    The problem politically is that the right are allowed to tee off on socialism without ever being held to account. Public schools, public libraries, police forces, and public military are all forms of socialism. Paradoxically, private property rights are inconceivable without public/socialist security forces enforcing these rights. In the end, historically, the concept of a middle class is also inconceivable without socialism.

    So instead of running away from the word socialism people on the left should both embrace it and call out the hypocrisy of those attacking socialism. What political debates in America really come down to at the end of the day is the right labelling as patriotism their security-socialism primarily helping the rich whiile calling anything that helps the middle class socialism. While all this is going on the left just basically flounders around debating whether they are liberals or progressives.

    A good example of the tactics the left should adopt is found on the thread linked to below. The blog is a right-leaning and pro-military. A guy left-leaning guy named Dave K. came in and deployed the right wing’s hatred-of-socialism rhetoric at the military. An example:

    At least they are not uneducated federal welfare queens, sitting on military bases and sucking the teat of the US taxpayer, while getting everything they point at for free.

    “I want a salary, free clothes, free meals, free lodging, free healthcare, and a free retirement plan, because I’m an American HERO!!”

    “Waah! Waah! Support the troops! Socialism is bad for everyone else but me!! Waah! Waah!”

    The entitlement culture at its best.


    Heads were exploding! If the right want to give up socialism then fine, let them start by disbanding the US military.

    1. Skippy

      Ohh my should I dip my toe in that vat of tar or what:

      Dave K.
      “I am thinking nice bluster as I sit hear in the Pentagon wasting a little time today because for some reason my calendar isn’t very full. You see, I talk to military people of all ranks every day and I suspect that it is you who have never met a member of the Armed Forces.”

      “Government is not the solution to our problem;
      government is the problem.” — Ronald Reagan.

      And the Pentagon is a very, very, very large part of the government.

      Also, why are you wasting my taxpayer dollars by surfing on the web when you should be working, you welfare queen?


      Skippy…thanks for the link, better than little britain with a beer chaser

    2. Swedish Lex

      Our European democracies have also managed endorse policies that over time have caused the plundering of natural resources, excessive pollution, over-heating of the planet and otherwise unsustainable and unbalanced economies. Despite our improved knowledge about the fact that we are on the wrong path, we continue down it nevertheless and the procession has been arranged in a “democratic” fashion.
      Most of the millions of the decisions of made in our democracies appear to make sense, perhaps, when analysed in isolation and achieve undisputable legitimacy when they are adopted in accordance with the 51/49 dictatorship, irrespective of how damaging they can be when viewed through the big picture lens.
      I suspect that future generations will look back and consider that we were the captives of our notions that society would lack legitimacy, and hence risk a sudden downfall, unless organised “democratically”. Much like Louis XV and XVI were locked in the patterns of their day and, despite attempts to reform, failed to prevent 1789.
      Different European leaders are attempting to include cross-generational considerations into policy-making, trying to break with the (still) prevailing “we happen to inhabit the planet and can hence wreck it” attitude. We have in my view however not yet at all grasped the extent of change that would have to take place in order for society to become sustainable over time. The first thing to go in order to achieve that would, in my view, be our idea of what “democracy” is.

      Enjoy your Geuze or whatever you are having.

        1. Neil D

          On the other hand, I’ve been reading GW’s posts for some time and not found them to be compelling analysis. I am entitled to form an opinion over time. They are an interesting perspective on the facts, but not “factuality” in an of themselves.

          I guess the curious part is the recent nature of these concerns. We liberals have been complaining about corporate hacks for years to no avail. Suddenly, when the conservatives lose power, there is a conspiracy to do all kinds of curious things to us. It really seems self-serving.

  12. RueTheDay

    The words democracy and republic are both vague terms that indicate a form of government where the ultimate power is vested in the people. (Republic is from the Latin, res publica, “thing of the public”; Democracy is from the Greek, demos kratos “power in the people”.)

    By themselves, the words mean pretty much the same thing, which is really very little. Many people associate democracy with direct democracy and republicanism with representative government, but those are both special cases of the terms. Likewise, neither form of government strictly requires a constitution or separation of powers. Effectively, it’s impossible to describe a government like the one in modern day America with a single word.

    1. Kevin de Bruxelles

      I agree the terms have no precise agreed upon definition. To me though universal adult suffrage is one condition that needs to be met before a country can be considered a democracy. Although half the adult American population were extended the vote in 1920, in fact the US did not really become a democracy until 1965 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act along with the 24th Amendment.

      1. charcad

        Democracies only last until the moment a 51% majority discovers a means by which they can vote themselves money from the public treasury.

        1. HRS

          “Democracies only last until the moment a 51% majority discovers a means by which they can vote themselves money from the public treasury.”

          Oh,I see, every country that has universal health care is not a democracy. Of course that is every industrialized nation on earth. Which then means there are no democracies on Earth. Oh noes,the horror of this opression.

          Of course, maybe, just maybe, universal healthcare has nothing to do with how we choose our government and you sir are only against democracy when you lose. Hence making you a sore loser.

          1. charcad

            “The wicked flee when no one purses but the righteous are bold as lions.” Proverbs 28:1

            Gee whiz, I wasn’t even thinking of single payer health care (which you didn’t get here in the USA). But I do thank you for bringing this up, and then attempting to cover it up with the usual gaseous blast of partisan mendacity.

        2. Kevin de Bruxelles


          I see it a little differently (as you might imagine!). A democracy can ONLY survive if 51% of the people realize they CAN vote to maintain a middle class society. In other words instead of voting themselves money directly they instead vote to reinforce the instruments that create a middle class society; public pre-schools, schools and universities; public health care systems, a public military; public sanitary systems, public transportation system, public retirement system, etc. These instruments are investments and create the conditions for social stability and economic growth. Think of California in the 50’s to mid 60’s or any northern European country.

          Where democracy falls into oligarchy is when the people are conned into voting to destroy these instruments of middle class life; or the choices are so limited that there really is no choice; or the people just don’t bother to vote at all. Then society divides back into three classes; a small and powerful wealthy elite, a small middle class of security-related and technological auxiliaries, with the leftovers evolving into a huge teeming mass of powerless peasants.

          One other way democracy can go wrong is, even with the best of intentions, by creating a subgroup dependant on living off of government handouts. This creates a class permanently locked out of middle class life due to the dysfunctional culture that arises from dependency. We see this today on both the lowest and highest levels of US society.

        3. Chris

          I think you meant to say “Democrats” only last until the moment a 51% majority discovers a means by which they can vote themselves money from the public treasury.

    2. KFritz

      Horsefeathers. Democracy is government by the people. The people vote. The majority prevails. In small groupings, for instance the New England town meeting, the democracy can be ‘pure.’ In large, complex groupings this system becomes unwieldy. So democracy is delegated–the people elect representatives to vote for them–a republic.

      Conceptually a Republic is a subset of Democracy. In point of fact, in a set diagram, Democracy would be a large circle, the primary ‘set.’ Republic would be a very large circle/subset entirely within the primary set, Democracy. It would posit that it would occupy 99% of the primary circle/set.

      ‘This is a Republic, not a Democracy,’ is an intellectual canard. So is saying that the concepts aren’t clear.

      1. alex black

        So, if, say, a majority of men say that it’s okay to gang rape a woman, that’s cool with you? They outvoted her, 10 to 1…

        1. KFritz

          1) Geez, d’ya remember Steve Martin’s SNL skit?

          2) Juries vote.

          3) Just checked my remarks. Missed the part declaring Democracy perfect.

  13. Siggy

    Our contract for government, the Constitution specifies that our government shall take the form of a Federal Republic. To accomplish that end, democratic elections are to be held.

    The intent is to achieve a government that is by and for the people. The contract recognizes two economic classes, those who own and those who rent.

    The observation made by Rue the Day is apt. Our form of government cannot be fairly described by a single word.

    It would be nice if we could recapture the separation of church and state by eliminating the “under God” phrase from the pledge of allegiance. Eisenhower put that little beauty in play and the do gooders have been on a rip ever since.

    Now it would also be nice if the incumbant poltroons paid attention to the contract they accepted when they took their oaths of office. Their first obligation is represent the interests of the people who elected them. Mind you the Supreme Court has recently ruled that corporations are not people and are not bound by those election laws that apply to individuals.

    To the extent that our polity has become Orwellian in its discourse that has been the result of the socialist agenda that has been present since the inception of the country. it will always be a force within our society. The challenge is to achieve certain social protections within a construct that preserves the rights in property assumed in the Constitution.

    When one acknowledges that, one is led to the consideration to the understand that whatever the government might bestow upon the populus must come from either Taxes, Borrowing By the Government, or the debasement of the currency. Reinhart and Rogoff demonstrate that governments become vulnerable when the combined level of public and private debt becomes excessive. Their implicit moral is that you can’t borrow your way to prosperity.

    So, we might be well advised to drop the labels, liberal, conservative, etal and start talking about what it is that one should expect the government to do.

  14. Norman Morley

    Only in America can a person, with access to the web, wake up, drink a cup of hot beverage and laugh like the laughing Lady in the old amusement parks. Truly healthy, as it gets the juices flowing, setting the course of the day on a positive note. Thanks Yves, if I may be so informal.

  15. Dave of Maryland

    You just need to get out your Stress-O-Meters. As stress levels go up, eagerness for quick & dirty solutions goes up as well.

    What makes stress rise? Aside from transient events like planes crashing into buildings (isn’t that why we have male welfare, I mean, the Pentagon?), stress is caused by lack of money.

    Stress is reduced by lots of money. Lots & lots & lots of money. Which ideally should come from lots & lots of well-paying jobs. Jobs keep people busy, so they don’t notice the time passing. Jobs also generate taxes, which makes the government happy. But we ain’t rich, and we ain’t got no jobs & so the government has to abandon gold & print money cuz paper is cheap. So we got stress. (You were expecting, maybe, chocolate cherry doughnuts?)

    The role of government is not to redistribute the wealth upwards (it seems to do that well-enough on its own), but to keep the masses from rioting in the streets. Every now & then governments manage to bamboozle themselves & forget that.

    Can a bamboozled government be saved? Can ours?

  16. HRS

    I find the Democray is socialism phenom stange too Yves. I Went into Zero Hedge one day after the passing of healthcare and saw comments about how democracy (or to be specific republician government)does not work by people who clearly had a rightward bent. Was it not just a few years ago that democracy was good and it was American mission to spread it to promote lasting peace? Its ammazing that when conservatives lose in democracy they turn on it. If they win, well then, Democracy is the sacred voice of the people. Such cildish hypocracy would be funny if it were not so serious.

  17. the illuminati

    You know what word they really hate, is human. As in human rights. Because that’s the only civil concept that’s subject to external scrutiny. You can tie the word freedom into hilarious nonsensical knots and nobody minds but with human rights, try it and your sovereign peers nail you to the wall in the UN,



    and on and on. Nobody’s allowed to report that. When the committee made US officials look like fools Bush attacked the composition, it’s full of despots blah blah blah, so wily tribal elder Kofi Annan dissolved it and reorganized it and, ha ha fuck you, slipped in a mechanism for citizens to report on their government’s abuses. Imagine that, an independent institution to call bullshit on your phony free republic. Don’t tell all the idiots who mill around waving signs and flags because everybody knows the UN has terrible problems, terrible problems. So that is the story of why you hate the UN. And your rights.

  18. Gerald Muller

    The argument stating that the more you throw correct scientific arguments at the face of delusionary beliefs suddenly opens illuminating evidence on the fact that the more you explain why “global warming” is b.s., the more people believe it.
    Quite remarkable indeed.

    Democracy, as once Churchill noted is the worst political system with the exception of all others. Platon, a few years ago, wrote pointed remarks about democracy and its twin sister, demagogy (the US has given many examples of this deviance, notably the last presidential election. I pride myself on having said, amidst all the Obamania in Europe, that this guy seemed to me to be more a fraud than anything else. He was and still is the epitomy of a demagogue.

  19. Bookit

    I wish people who get hung up on the difference between “republic” and “democracy” would put the argument back in its historical context. Yes, it is true that most of the major founders wanted a republic because they wanted to strangle democracy in its crib. But that is precisely the opposite of what they got — in reality, democracy strangled the republic in its crib. The founders were simply wrong about what they could accomplish.

    A major reason the Federal Constitution was framed in the late 1780s was because elites thought the state constitutions formed between 1776 and 1780 were too democratic. The Federal Constitution was designed to INCREASE the power of the federal government because state-level democracy was seen as getting out of hand. Various debt relief schemes were resented, among other things. But this second attempt at a republic failed, as well. As early as the 1790s, ordinary Americans who wanted more democratic institutions — who wanted an end to property restrictions for voting, for example — organized “Democratic-Republican Clubs” to press their case. Jefferson and Madison tapped these clubs as a grassroots base and began to turn the country in a more democratic direction. By Andrew Jackson’s time, the transition was complete.

    What this nut in Utah is doing is reifying an abstract concept he has alienated from its historical context. “If only it hadn’t been for history, we could have had utopia.” He’s probably listening to ignoramuses like Glenn Beck and has never heard of serious historians such as Gordon Wood, Woody Holton, Sean Wilentz, or Daniel Walker Howe who have told this story (from different viewpoints) in rich detail. My feeling is that Frank Rich is broadly correct about the contemporary hard right, particularly the Tea Parties. They are overwhelmingly made up of white, middle-class types, many evangelical, who feel their country slipping away because it is. White evangelicals were all about democracy in the 19th century because they dominated the population. Now we are within a generation or so of a permanent white minority, so, like petulant schoolchildren, conservative whites want to pick up their marbles and go home. As far as I’m concerned, they lost their marbles a long time ago.

    1. Ray Hauser

      Interesting, but you lost some cred with saying evangelicals dominated the population in the 19th century. They didn’t, not even close.

  20. Bud

    “To accomplish that end, democratic elections are to be held.”

    WRT the federal government, the only “democratic elections” were for the House. Senators were typically appointed by their respective state legislatures and the President continues to be selected by electors, not directly by the people.

    Most of the fantasy that the US began as a “democracy” owes to Toqueville’s titling his book “Democracy in America”, but the French concept of democracy was nothing like the American.

    The question is not whether “democracy” leads to “socialism”, but rather whether government will gradually expand without limitation if allowed to systematically dispense special privileges in exchange for sacrifice of individual liberties.

    Yes, it will, regardless of what you prefer to call that process. The ultimate destination is serfdom. Enjoy the journey.

    1. HRS

      One could also agrue that unfettered capitalism will eventually lead to a society where there are only a few rich capital owners and everyone else works for them like serfs, only you are free to starve.

      If you think thats a ridiculous extreme, then you know just how I view your argument.

      1. Bud

        All extremes are ridiculous. They are also inevitable, if history is any guide. Why these extremes periodically occur is precisely because the majority of people fail to see they are even possible until after the fact. Enjoy the journey.

      2. Andrew Bissell

        The difference is that only one of these arguments has any historical evidence backing it up. And “free to starve” has been the essential condition of every human being ever born — since nature doesn’t hand us our sustenance on a silver platter, we must work for it, or get others to provide it for us, who must in turn work for it.

          1. HRS

            To be clear, are you saying that that we had or now have a purely socialist state or that we had or now have a purely capitalist state. I would say neither had existed. I would consider the Soviet Union not be a socialist state, of course that depends on your definition of socialism.

  21. tew


    Somehow I think you place yourself in the group of “more intelligent people”. Thus, you’ll quickly pick out several obvious ways less intelligent people will interpret the summary provided in that Science Daily article.

    One likely misunderstanding is to think that the “evolutionary novel preferences and values” are objectively better than the existing ones. Also, one may be tempted to further assume that such novel positions are exclusively “good” ones. In other words one could fail to consider the possibility that “good” novel ideas are scattered among many “bad” or “useless” one and that distinguishing the “good” from the “bad” may be possible only in hindsight. However, if the “good” ideas are a minority among all the novel ones that are in fashion at a given time, then we would actually expect that the majority of ideas espoused by so-called intellectuals or “progressives” are “bad” ones.

    Related to the above, it is not clear that the “liberal” beliefs such as “caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with” can be deployed as sustainable action even if all humans became “intelligent”.

    I’m sure you can find several other possible “conclusion traps” that one could fall into by reading this article.

    Perhaps the most obvious logical fallacy awaiting readers is “affirming the consequent”. Stated bluntly, those who hold “progressive” or “liberal” beliefs will take this article as evidence of their superior intelligence. In drawing that conclusion they will be exhibiting their lack of basic reasoning skills. That’s pretty funny!

  22. HRS

    Gee whiz, I wasn’t even thinking of single payer health care (which you didn’t get here in the USA). But I do thank you for bringing this up, and then attempting to cover it up with the usual gaseous blast of partisan mendacity.

    Universal healthcare not the same as single payer. Educate yourself, I made the same mistake when this whole thing started month ago but then I reasearched it, you might want to too, instead of just assuming.

    Oh I voted for Bush in 2004 only because I did not trust Kerry to make the hard decesions in Iraq. Having fought there, that was particularly important to me. No partisan here.

    But what were you referring to anyway. The stimulus, that too was done in most but not all industrialized countries.

    Again you dont agree with the elected government and now you say democracy does not work. Total sour grapes.

    1. HRS

      charcad says
      “Gee whiz, I wasn’t even thinking of single payer health care (which you didn’t get here in the USA). But I do thank you for bringing this up, and then attempting to cover it up with the usual gaseous blast of partisan mendacity.”

      Universal healthcare not the same as single payer. Educate yourself, I made the same mistake when this whole thing started month ago but then I reasearched it, you might want to too, instead of just assuming.

      Oh I voted for Bush in 2004 only because I did not trust Kerry to make the hard decesions in Iraq. Having fought there, that was particularly important to me. No partisan here.

      But what were you referring to anyway. The stimulus, that too was done in most but not all industrialized countries.

      Again you dont agree with the elected government and now you say democracy does not work. Total sour grapes.

  23. Hugh

    I am a progressive. Progressivism for me means living in a fact-based world and backing real solutions to real problems. Liberal I take to apply more to Democrats and Establishment types, as in Krugman is a liberal economist. Progressives are often independents. What alliances there were with Democrats have largely fallen apart. I just wrote in the last day or two a piece that sparked a good discussion on how progressives could best oppose and run against both Democrats and Republicans. Progressivism isn’t going away because the country’s problems aren’t.

  24. Hugh

    Swedish Lex: “The Daily Telegraph believes that David Patraeus would make a great President.”

    It’s a British newspaper for chrissakes. What do the Brits know about American politics? On top of that a conservative British newspaper likes a Republican-leaning general for US President. Why am I not surprised?

    1. Swedish Lex

      My surprise and disappointment lies in the fact that the Brits went into Iraq as Bush’s poodles but seem to have learnt exactly nothing from that disaster. How about NOT hoping that the next U.S. general with a lot of stars and who has not yet been accused of torture and who begins to brand himself (pre-campaign launch to test the waters enough to get more reliable poll numbers to convince the deep pockets to become early investors/supporters that could lead to excellent ROI should the horse win) through media as a wise “leader” (democracy – hello!) and patriot, will win.

  25. KFritz

    I’d like to see cross-cultural comparisons. Do all cultural and political groups have the same distribution of rational/irrational response to events and information?

  26. don

    We all, to one extent or another, perceive the truth or “fact” to be based on preconceived beliefs that we obtain by cultural conditioning, ideological bias, or what have you.

    One such bias is the flip side of what is under discussion here, namely that democracy equates capitalism, that you can’t have democracy without also having a capitalist economy (though the reverse isn’t necessarily the case – and here I am reminded of Milton Friedman’s axiom: that you can have capitalism without democracy but you can’t have democracy without capitalism, and that capitalism by necessity comes first).

    As an outcome of the economic crisis, we now witness massive State intervention in developed countries designed to support the global financial system (for the stated purpose of saving the system so as to save ourselves), and in an attempt to prop up consumer demand in the face of global overproduction and over capacity (which forms the basis for the evolution of finance capital). Out of this crisis we have greater consolidation in the big banks (fewer of them but also bigger, and thus all the more in need of being supported by the State), and along with this a much closer collaboration of the State with the market economy. This development points to State Capitalism if anything, but to many (especially of the LIbertarian view – who hold to some ideal though really non-existing notion that a “free” market is one nearly devoid of State intervention – which of course has really never existed), this is mistakenly thought of as socialism (implicitly equating socialism with Statism). One might argue that this brings these developed economies closer to the which functions in China, for instance. In such situations, governments are aimed primarily to benefit the (market) economy and thus in many cases doing so at the expense of political democracy (which differs entirely from an economy dictated by markets).

    So the real question becomes this: it is not so much whether government is too big or small, but for whose interests is it defending/advancing. The reaction (reactionary) to greater State intervention has raised such confusion that the US government (and the Obama administration), is seen undertaking an effort to create socialism. This reflects the extent to which biases lead to illusions of what is and is not taking place. Out of this, liberals thus get themselves all worked up over the Tea folks, while the Tea folks are all bend out of shape over the liberals. The result is that those who are largely excluded from the benefits of the globalization of the economy, busy themselves fighting each other rather than seeing what is really taking place: that the government is being used to benefit the privileged, at the expense of the excluded.

  27. Costard

    Agree wholeheartedly. It’s a travesty that we’ve allowed a fatuous, myopic and chronically unprincipled political philosophy to despoil the word “liberal”. They should never have been allowed to claim it.

  28. Sundog

    I have been carefully evaluating my position on this issue ever since God chose to elevate Sarah Palin to potential vice-president, and even more so after God spoke to Sarah Palin and instructed Sarah Palin to abandon Sarah Palin’s beloved Alaska in order that Sarah Palin appear more frequently on the God machines of our Blessed Republic blessed by Sarah Palin. America Bless God.

    I have Come to the Following conclusions Regarding the fate Of our Divinely Inspired Republic.

    First, women’s emancipation set our glorious Republic on the road to ruin. The place of woman is in the kitchen, not the voting booth.

    Second, Christendom and Western culture have long history of understanding that God’s just reward is well earned by means of slavery, debt servitude and serfdom. Explicitly re-instituting these practices can only reduce residual uncertainty among those unfortunately pre-disposed by ill breeding to experience anti-social impulses; elevate our standing in the eyes of God; and increase the wealth of our blessed leading families.

    Third, and most crucial, we must act now to recover the Founders’ vision that suffrage is rightful to white men of property and no other. The vision of our Founders could be simply realized by coining Gold Vote Tokens. Any male certified as white would be eligible to vote upon producing the actual fact of said token at the polling place. I propose Gold Vote Tokens be struck at the reasonably portable measure of 100 Troy ounces.

    Fourth, God makes clear that our drug problem not our drug problem. America Bless God. National security depends upon sending ever more money into the black hole of prohibition. In this way, God blesses our leading families and the leading families of Mexico and Afghanistan. Blessed we are.

  29. Kyle Morgan

    This is in line with the concept of ‘manufacturing consent’. When mainstream media are the only source of information it is easy for those who own it to ‘forge’ ideas that are going to be beneficial to them.

  30. Paul Tioxon

    The Texas test book controversy widely reported in the past few weeks, demonstrated the power of one man on the state elected position for education, to vote on the content of the curriculum, hence the text offered for school districts. In Texas, all of the districts, in this regard are under unified state level control. One of the conservative elements of the history books, was the virtual elimination of the Civil Rights movement as well as reducing the references to democracy, going as far as characterizing the US as Constitutional Republic. In interviews, the dentist and right wing activist said he was countering false views that the USA was a democracy, which was counter to what the founding father’s intentions.


    There is a lot of going back to the intentions of the founding fathers and constitutional research on the limits of congress and our federal government in general. This talk is on a nationwide basis, prevalent at Tea Party web sites, visible on their protest signage and audible in video interviews of the man on the street attending these protests.

    The reactionary politics of the right wing, seeking to turn back and erase all of the political and cultural gains from the leftwing ’60’s upheaval is a primary project of many elements of the oligarchic power elite in this country. From Jerry Falwell, to Pat Roberston and now THE MORMON Glenn Beck, heavily back by the Utah Huntsman chemical fortune, the MSM is being discredited and replaced by Christian broadcasters, the 700 club like political agitation, Roger Ailes psychological war tactics, and the general principles of Public Relations, as outlined by Edward Bernays, the father of PR, whose uncle, Sigmund Freud, influenced his treatise that the public’s opinion can manipulated through the subconscious introduction of ideas.

    The most recent investigation by Greenpeace uncovers the far reaching initiatives of Koch Industries(Forbes #1 Private Co. chemicals, oil, ashphalt) bankrolling the climate denial positions promulgated by various front organizations claiming to be grass roots bloggers, patriots etc. to the tune of $48.5 million since 1997. More than Exxon’s $8 million war chest to fund climate change denial.


    I would go on, but the right wing is so vast in its efforts, I write a book THE POWER OF CAPITAL IDEAS.

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