We’re Living Through the Collapse of Liberal Democracy
The Real Reason Why Britain and America Are Collapsing — And Why it Matters
One of my commenters said, the other day, speaking about a collapsing America and Britain, something incredibly prescient and important. “There is no more Yugoslavia.” Why do I think that’s so important for you to grasp?
You might not know it, but we’re living through momentous times. I don’t just mean climate change — but for a different, though related, reason entirely. We are living at the tail end of the single greatest series of social experiments in human history.
And now the results — which human beings have craved and fought wars over and lacked for millennia, since the dawn of civilization — have finally come in.
We are beginning to have indisputable proof of an age old question, one of the most ancient of all time. How should human beings live together? What is the most successful and desirable form of political economy? What actually yields eudaimonia — lives well lived? And what only leads to dysdaimonia, meaning lives badly lived, meaning anger and rage and despair and distrust, which culminate, ultimately, in the hatred and brutality of social collapse?
Let me take a moment — stay with me now — to note just how elusive the answer to this question has been. Take a turbo-charged one paragraph whistlestop tour through history with me.
How many forms of political order have human beings tried? Through the centuries, there have been many. In the beginning at the dawn of civilisation there was a empire, suffused with a kind of democracy — think of Rome. Empires fell, and gave way to Dark Ages. In them, some people became “noble,” their blood pure, and others were “serfs.” Feudalism, meaning serfdom and peasantry — and nobility and monarchy — was the dominant forms of political economy until the Age of Revolutions, around the 1850s or so. The Age of Revolutions began with the French abolishing feudalism — and culminated in the Russian Revolution.
That brings us to the 20th century. You might not know it, but the 20th century was the Age of Grand Experiments. How were human beings to live together? Still, after all those millennia of strife and conflict, of bloody theocracy and revolution…nobody knew. But in the 20th century, something was different: nations were determined to try to find out.
So the 20th century saw four Grand Social Experiments in different forms of political order, one after the other. The first was Soviet communism. The second, following it, was German fascism. The third was American and British liberal democracy. And the last and final one was European and Canadian social democracy.
What results did those Grand Social Experiments yield? Well, we know about two of them. They failed disastrously. German fascism ended in World War, holocaust, atrocity, and Germany’s own ruin — not in eudaimonia. It was the first to fail, and the shortest lived. That left three forms of political order still testing these grand experiments of how people could and should best live together: communism, liberal democracy, and social democracy.
By the late 80s, Soviet communism, too, had failed. Its track record was pretty disastrous, too. It hadn’t caused World War — but it had led to everything from famine to totalitarianism. By 1990s or so, the Berlin Wall finally fell, as stifled East Germans sought freer, more prosperous lives. That set in motion the chain reaction of Soviet collapse.
Now, American pundits predicted at this time — the mid 90s or so — what was then called “the end of history.” Every nation was to become a liberal democracy. That was the telos, the endpoint, of an “evolution” of forms of political order — the apex of a hierarchy. That was because, quite naturally, looking around, American pundits only saw one surviving form of political order — their own. They saw European and Canadian social democracy as fads, aberrations, cute toylike things — certainly not deserving of serious respect, consideration, understanding.
The Soviet Union was therefore expected to become like…America. A liberal democracy. Instead, it splintered into warring tribes and factions at its edges. Yugoslavia became the Balkans became a genocidal war between ancient tribes with old grudges and hatreds. Russia, meanwhile, didn’t become a democracy — it became what it is today, an authoritarian state pretending to be a democracy, a counterfeit democracy, a source of global tension, its people still brutally repressed, its politics a laughable spectacle.
I bring all that up for a reason. What are we living through today? The implosion of liberal democracy — the third form of political order.
If you had to point to two rich nations with serious, serious problems, which ones would you choose? On the evidence, you’d have to point a finger at America and Britain. Brits can’t get food, blood tests, and even beer the way a modern nation’s accustomed to right about now. Raw sewage is being dumped in rivers because Britain can’t chemicals to treat water. Meanwhile, America’s descended into a kind of dystopia that’s renowned the world over. Texas has placed bounties on women’s heads…turning any man who wants to be into a vigilante…while Trumpism firmly believes that Trump won the election, but it was “stolen” from him, and the attempted coup of Jan 6th was perfectly justified, if not a tourist event.
And that’s barely scratching the surface. The fact, which anyone can observe, is that Britain and America are collapsing. Just the same way that the Soviet Union collapsed before them. In fact, the very same forms of pathology now afflict them, too — the weird doublespeak, meaning the way that Brits aren’t allowed to say “Brexit did this to us,” or Americans can’t criticise “capitalism.” The weird ignorance that plagues these societies, too — they seem to have no idea that they don’t have to live this way, fighting bitterly for medicine, healthcare, retirement, a little bit of money. The way intellectuals — cloying for power and money — normalize all this, and shrug happily. The way corrupt politicians stand in the way of any kind of reckoning, let alone progress.
America and Britain are collapsing. That’s not my opinion. It is an empirical fact. If we look at any social indicator, it’s plummeting — and it’s going to keep doing so. Literally any one, from trust to real income to optimism to confidence to income to health. These are societies whose standards of living are falling off a cliff. Britain’s plunge has been more sudden, while America’s been in free-fall for decades at this point, to the point where a kid in West Virginia now has the same life expectancy as a kid in Bangladesh.
This is what a collapsing society is. Prolonged, catastrophic declines in standards of living point to badly, fatally broken structures and institutions. Which structures are broken? Society’s structure itself — the middle class in America, once vaunted and famous, is now one giant underclass, bitterly fighting each other for tiny amounts of money with which to pay off the interest on debts (“medical debt,” “student debt,” “credit card debt,”) whose principal haunts them beyond the grave. Americans are paupers now — and nations of paupers tend to end the same way that Weimar Germany did: they turn to fascism.
Structural collapse becomes institutional and normative collapse: as a society’s middle class falls into poverty, it chooses demagogues, who legitimize not just norms of hate, violence, and brutality, but a whole rule of law and government based on them, too. That’s Trumpism, and it hasn’t gone anywhere. The shocking implosion of America’s middle class around 2010 predicted all this. This is what a collapsing society is — and Britain, growing rapidly poorer by the day thanks to Brexit, cardboard cutouts of food replacing actual food at the supermarkets — how Soviet is that — is following America’s footsteps, right behind it. (And if you’re going to nitpick about the chart above, and say “But the UK’s place on the Social Progress Index has stayed flat!” Rest assured that over the next decade, it will repeat America’s performance as real living standards plummet thanks to Brexit.)
Now, you have some sense of that: America and Britain are badly, badly broken societies. You probably even have a sense that nobody can “fix” them. You are right. But now I want you to understand why your intuition is correct — the profound lesson it already senses.
We are living through the implosion of liberal democracy. Remember the Grand Experiments of the 20th century? The different forms of social order? First fascism failed. Then communism failed. That left two forms of social order still being tested: liberal democracy, and social democracy.
Today, we’re living through the collapse of liberal democracy. The third form of political order that the 20th century’s Grand Experiments were testing is now failing. Another way to put that is that the Grand Experiment in liberal democracy is now yielding results, and they’re bad. Liberal democracy does not work.
It ends up collapsing, just like Soviet communism before it. It is not a form of political order that endures. It doesn’t survive. Like all failed forms of political order, it extinguishes itself, ending not in eudaimonia, but in dysdaimonia, lived badly lived, living standards falling catastrophically, meaning, in practice, hatred, violence, stupidity, brutality, cruelty, and chaos — which is exactly where Britain and America are today.
That’s a lot to take in, to really understand. Feel free to reread the last paragraph or two so you really get it. The 20th century’s Grand Experiment in liberal democracy is now yielding results. The results are a failure. Liberal democracy did not work, just like communism and fascism before it. It might have worked a little better, but that’s not saying much. Liberal democracy is ending in self-destruction and collapse, just like communism and fascism, too.
Let me pause for a moment. There are only really a handful of liberal democracies on earth — and America and Britain are their chief exemplars. What does liberal democracy mean? Broadly, it means that public goods are to be privatized. Because nobody deserves anything from the social surplus as an inherent, constitutional human right. They might deserve the right to carry guns, sure — but a portion of the social surplus, meaning healthcare, retirement, income, a place to live, etcetera, as constitutional rights? Forget it. Everyone is to “stand on their own two feet,” and not be a “liability.” Society is to be ruled by competition, the more intense and brutal the better, which is the machine that winnows the wheat — the talented, ruthless, cunning, amoral, indifferent — from the chaff. Even the average person is better off this way, because all those Nietzschean ubermen are the smartest and cleverest and most productive, who lift up everyone’s living standards, with wondrous “innovations” and ideas and creations.
Again, take a moment to really understand the linkages in all those disparate ideas. How they add up to a whole paradigm, a whole praxis, known as “liberal democracy.” Why? Because…
We now understand that all that is false. If it were true, any of it, then American and British living standards wouldn’t be falling so catastrophically. They wouldn’t have been falling for decades now. They would have kept on rising. The whole causal chain which liberal democracy’s Grand Experiment was based on — individualism, greed, selfishness, hyper-competition, leading to productivity and innovation, leading to rising living standards for all, fuelling political stability and happiness and trust — we now know the whole theory is false.
Know. This isn’t politics anymore. Now we’re in the realm of knowledge, of facts, of empiricism. Politics is about beliefs. I believe this form of political order works, because it leads to eudaimonia. People have believed many such things — in feudalism, theocracy, communism, fascism. Intelligent people, thoughtful people — they know. Because there is something to know. It’s not a political belief that feudalism or fascism don’t work as forms of political order — it is a fact which we know, the lesson earned with blood and tears and tragedy.
And now we are learning the same thing about liberal democracy. We are beginning to know. The answer to a very great question. The outcome of a Grand Experiment. We are not in the realm of casual “politics” anymore, meaning political beliefs. We are now in the realm of knowledge about political economies, which is a very different thing. Now we know that liberal democracy doesn’t work, either, right alongside fascism and communism.
Interestingly, we also know that liberal democracy appears to decay into fascism. The widespread poverty and implosive living conditions it produces, in the end, as the rich get richer, and the middle becomes an underclass, ignite the atomic bomb of fascism right in the heart of a society.
That is an old theory, by the way, championed by thinkers from Adorno to Baudrillard, resting on a Marxian foundation. Before now, though, it was in the realm of debate. You could be a “leftist” and believe liberal democracy wouldn’t work — or you could just as easily be a liberal democrat, and believe in it, anyways. Both were positions an intelligent person could take, because we didn’t have knowledge about the subject yet, just theory. One theory said liberal democracy would lead to eudaimonia, and the critical one said it wouldn’t. Who was right? Nobody knew, yet.
Now we do know.And knowing that liberal democracy leads to collapse — just like communism and fascism before it — is an incredibly momentous thing to know. It isn’t something that’s taught at schools and universities yet, but it will be. It will be one of the central facts of the 21st century, something every college freshman is taught, because, again, now it isn’t in the realm of theory or debate anymore, but in the same realm as “communism fails” or “fascism fails.”
Why is knowing that liberal democracy is a failure so momentous? Because it only leaves one form of political order.
Remember, the 20th century saw four Grand Experiments. Now we know — know — that two have failed, fascism and communism, and the third, liberal democracy, is collapsing just like the other two, before our very eyes. That only leaves one Grand Experiment. The one in social democracy?
How’s that one doing? Ah, now we come, at last, to something good. That experiment is a runaway success. An empirical, factual success. Canada and Europe enjoy living standards which rise, year after year, and that fuels political stability, cultural expansiveness, and social solidarity. People aren’t at each other throats like they are in America and Britain, or were in communist Russia or fascist Germany — because they’re too busy living eudaemonically, their lives improving year by year, which staves off the anger, fear, despair, and rage which coalesce into the hatred, brutality, and cruelty which culminate in social collapse.
That, though, is a topic for another essay. In this one, I think every educated and thoughtful person should know. There were four Grand Experiments in the 20th century. Two failed, and everyone knows that — communism and fascism. But now the third one is failing too — liberal democracy, and that’s why America and Britain are imploding. It’s also why nobody appears able to fix them: their fundamental forms of political-economic order are not fixable.
The age of Grand Experiments in Social Order is coming to a close. And it’s yielding surprising — perhaps shocking, at least to American and British pundits and thinkers — results. Liberal democracy, like so many attempts at ordering society before it, is a failure, too. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t yield eudaimonia — it yields dysdaimonia, lives badly lived, and all that anger, rage, despair, ends in chaos, brutality, hate, and worse. Liberal democracy ends in collapse and implosion, which is what Britain and America are experiencing right about now.
Remember my commenters words? Now I hope you understand how profound they really were.
There is no more Yugoslavia.
Where does that leave Britain and America? Like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany before them. On a path that’s immovable — because not a force in the world can teach a collapsing society much of anything — yet ends in certain ruin.