Martin Gurri update

1. In a recent talk, he says,

The question has been posed at this conference whether we are witnessing the rise of authoritarian or fascist governments. Among the old democracies at least, I believe the opposite is closer to the truth. Democratic governments are terrified of the public’s unhappiness. They know that heroic actions are expected of them, but also that every initiative will be savaged and every failure amplified. Their behavior is the opposite of authoritarian. It’s a drift to dysfunction: to paralysis.

Look at the Republicans on Obamacare.

Other provocative passages:

Rhetorical aggression defines the political web. By embracing Trump in significant numbers, the public has signaled that it is willing to impose the untrammeled relations of social media on the fragile forms of American democracy.

Information, it turned out, has authority in proportion to its scarcity – the more there is, the less people believe.

I recommend the whole thing.

2. Read his account of the controversy over allowing a representative of a far-right German party to speak at the conference.

3. I continue to recommend The Revolt of the Public more often than any other book. But I also recommend my review of it. Near the end of my very long review, I wrote,

The dominant strategy of the outsiders is to focus on the negative, exposing and denouncing the failures, imperfections, and corruption of the insiders. On the left, this means heaping blame on the institutions of capitalism and free markets. On the right, this means heaping blame on the institutions of government. Neither side will propose, much less implement, an effective reform agenda.

I could have included academia and professional media as institutions disparaged by the outsider right.

Maybe a publisher would want to produce a print version of the book, with my review as an introduction.

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6 Responses to Martin Gurri update

  1. Jeff R. says:

    By embracing Trump in significant numbers, the public has signaled that it is willing to impose the untrammeled relations of social media on the fragile forms of American democracy.

    I do not believe that is the case. I think Gurri’s missed the boat on applying his own thesis in this regard. Political party elites, even the ones that are on your side, represent your interests, etc., are nonetheless still elites and are still the subject of the public’s ire for all the reasons Gurri has described. Political parties are just one more traditional institution run by a hierarchical elite that the public are in revolt against. Trump merely represented an alternative to the traditional Republican candidates, whose poor record in recent years has turned their own base against them. Hence his popularity; hence why Bernie Sanders was nearly able to pull off the same kind of insurgency on the left.

  2. Lord says:

    And who worked to create and promote that unhappiness for political ends? Those same elites whose such brilliant plans to address them are nearly universally despised and rejected, and ones who doing anything is preferred to doing the right thing.

  3. Handle says:

    It’s nuts that Gurri’s book hasn’t been picked up yet by a publisher for a print version. I have some quibbles, but overall it’s a solid work that provides a new and useful perspective to think about the evolution of recent events.

  4. Handle says:

    One big question related to both Gurri’s work and Levin’s defense of institutions is what holds insiders accountable for performance, quality, competence, and integrity when there are powerful incetives to deviate from the institution’s stated goals and purposes for the benefit of the material and ideological interests of the insiders?

    Well, “outsider critics” is one thing, but that sets up an obvious conflict, and in the usual nature of things that leads to escalation and probing for real degree of commitment and “red lines” and so forth.

    If Insiders perceive that there are lines beyond which outsiders will not go, that also leave insiders secure in their positions, then that is a sure recipe for insiders gradually loosening their standards until they slide into outright abuse of the institution’s capital and influence, directing it increasingly towards personal advantages.

    This is like those Hollywood scenes in which a shaky victim is trying to scare a mugger with a gun, but the mugger knows she can’t bring herself to pull the trigger. “What are you gonna do, blow up this institution? Ha, we both know you don’t have it in you.”

    There is just no way to preserve discipline without people being a little bit scared of the consequences of transgression, and so those consequences always have to remain on the table. Levin seems to be saying, “take these options off the table,” but I think that will just delay the eventual reimposition of discipline and make it even more disruptive.

  5. Tom G says:

    Here’s a quibble with your review and history of the 1968 election: “In the election of 1968, voters turned to a less-than-charismatic insider, Richard Nixon. ”

    The Democrat was also not so charismatic, HH Humphrey, but there WAS another candidate who got electoral college votes — the racist ex-Dem Gov George Wallace.

    Wallace split the Dem vote and allowed the Reps to get Nixon elected; tho Nixon did get 55% of the vote (and won CA; lost Texas).

    You also say Nixon did not win the Vietnam war — but he did, in 1973 Paris Peace. Altho the N. Vietnamese then violated that agreement and attacked in 1975, with the majority Dems in Congress against using military to help our losing S. Viet ally. Nixon won the war – the Dems lost the Peace. By being unwilling to fight more.

    These views are still important in the various US axes of differences.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      According to wikipedia, Nixon got 43.4%, Humphrey got 42.7%, and Wallace got 13.5%, carrying 5 states (Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas).

      If the United States had continued to provide large amounts of support to the South Vietnamese government, and if the North Vietnamese government had stopped fighting and not started up again, then Nixon might have won the war. However, neither of those things was terribly likely, the latter less likely than the former. You seem to have an almost left-wing faith in North Vietnamese respect for treaties.

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