One day, while working out in Freedom’s Fitness Center, I thought of a new way to illustrate our democracy’s health problems: look at it from the perspective of someone who wants our democracy to die. I wrote down my idea and then posted it in the gym.
How to Kill a Democracy Undetected
Do you hate democracy? Well, if you do, then the best way to kill a democracy is to do it without the country ever realizing its democracy has died. I think the greatest crime is the one committed without anyone ever realizing a crime has been committed: the thief who cooks the books to make the numbers look balanced even though they have stolen a million dollars, or the murderer who makes the kill look like an accident. What follows are some of the guidelines for how to kill a democracy undetected.
Most people assume democracies die by outside forces like an invading military. During the Cold War, three out of four democratic breakdowns were coups d’état. In 2013, President Mohammed Morsi was toppled by a military coup. In cases like this, democracy falls apart in grand fashion with the military taking over the government, the president being imprisoned or exiled, and the constitution suspended or thrown out. But this is not the best way to kill a democracy, at least not if you want it to stay dead.
If you want a democracy to stay dead, then you should kill it while allowing it to still think it is alive. To do this, you must convince the country that the greatest threat to its democracy comes from an outside force like another country, terrorists or the volatile world economy. This will help blind the country to the reality that the greatest threats to its democracy usually come from within its own borders or body.
Our history has warned that democracy is usually its own worst enemy.
Thomas Jefferson wrote:
The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.
John Adams wrote:
Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.
And Abraham Lincoln wrote:
As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.
It is crucial that history’s warnings are hidden from the people.
Convince the country that in order to defeat the outer threats to its democracy the people must temporarily sacrifice a little bit of liberty to protect the rest of liberty. If need be, raise the threat level in order to scare the people into giving up a portion of freedom. A real war or depression, or even just the threat of a war or depression, are good tactics. Then, once the people have given up that “small” portion of freedom, you have to change “temporary” to “permanent” by convincing the country that if the portion of freedom that was taken away was given back the crisis would return.
Do this with every outer threat the nation faces, real or imagined. Eventually, over the course of decades, those inches of democracy that are sacrificed will add up to a mile of liberty. Few will notice an inch at a time.
The main goal of principle two is to make the people more and more dependent on the government. The more dependent the people are on the government, the more easily their vote can be manipulated because people will be afraid to cast a vote that might threaten the resources that they are now dependent on the government for. The more you can manipulate the people’s vote through their dependency on the government, the less free they become.
Again, our history has unfortunately provided warnings. The fourth president James Madison wrote:
It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended from abroad.
Ronald Reagan said:
No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.
As always, it is vital that you hide history’s warnings from the people.
In order to kill a country’s democracy undetected you must continuously weaken the standard of what it means to be an “informed citizen.”
When a country first becomes a democracy it is okay to encourage citizens to have a comprehensive understanding of policy issues. But, as the government becomes more complex, it is necessary to convince the people that there are far too many issues for them to take the time to have an in-depth understanding of them all. Instead, the standard you have to meet to be considered an “informed citizen” is to read summaries. Next, subtly convince the majority of people that reading summaries would take too long. Then, convince the people that relying only on sound bites will qualify a person as an “informed citizen.” The next phase would be to foster a culture in which having an opinion is all that is necessary to be considered “informed.” In all things, continue making citizens think they are informed while informing them less and less. By doing this, the people will ignore history’s warnings.
It is okay if some people believe that freedom means “free to be dumb.” But you don’t want too many people to believe that it is okay to be ignorant about political issues. The ultimate goal is for people to be unaware of their ignorance. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.” You must keep the majority of people from ever approaching that doorstep. They must remain ignorant of their ignorance. This will also cause the citizenry to become more apathetic, which is just as good as ignorance as far as killing a democracy.
Even if the country ranks low in subjects like math, science and government you want the country to still rank high in confidence in its knowledge. The Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Where there is no knowledge, ignorance calls itself knowledge.” That is the goal. In order to kill a country’s democracy without that country realizing it you need the majority of people to mistake their ignorance for competence.
If people become aware of their ignorance, then they might become more open-minded. Open-mindedness might cause them to educate themselves instead of dogmatically standing by whatever a particular political party says.
When the electorate is ignorant then the politicians grow lax in their knowledge of issues because they realize the people are not informed enough to hold them accountable. This causes the people and the politicians to grow more ignorant together.
Unfortunately, history has again given many warnings concerning how dangerous ignorance is to a democracy.
Thomas Jefferson wrote:
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free…they want what never was and never will be.
Franklin Roosevelt said:
Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.
And James Madison wrote:
Only a well instructed people can remain permanently a free people.
Again, as always, you must keep the people from becoming aware of history’s warnings.
As you gradually change the country’s government away from democracy, it is important to continuously alter the definition of democracy so that the definition always defines the government as it currently is. By doing this, in the future (decades from now or centuries) the country will still think its government is a democracy even though, according to current standards, it would not be. But, at the same time, that government will be a democracy because it will meet that generation’s definition of democracy.
If you make this transition carefully then you could eventually phase out even the vote and future generations will still call their government a democracy.
If someone becomes aware of the definition of democracy changing and raises objections, then you could use the argument that each country should have a democracy that is unique to their culture. And, if the culture changes, then democracy must be slightly altered as well. Unlike the other principles, with this one it is good to use a warning from history, albeit slightly manipulated. Thomas Jefferson wrote:
If you do not change the constitution every thirty years you enslave the next generation.
Misinterpreting this warning should help convince people of the need to continuously “evolve” the government as the culture evolves.
For a democracy to be strong, it requires the people to believe in objective truth. Once the idea of objective reality is destroyed, then people think truth is determined by their opinion and authoritarianism can more easily control the people and destroy democracy.
The death of democracy should be slow. You might grow impatient and be tempted to kill a large portion of democracy all at once in order to speed the process, but you must resist. You cannot cut an arm or leg off and expect it to go unnoticed. You must pluck one hair at a time. To kill a democracy undetected, democracy must subtly die inch by inch at the fringes, decade after decade. Eventually, all those little deaths at the fringes will have eventually worked to the core of democracy, finally killing it.
Democracy must die subtly so that it is not talked about in the media because the little deaths do not register as news, always flying under the radar.
Again, history has warned us. James Madison wrote:
I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.
Again, the warnings of history should be kept from the people.
If you are a real go-getter in your pursuit of killing a country’s democracy undetected, then principle six is going to be the most difficult for you to follow even though it is the easiest.
Principle six is simple: do nothing.
Thomas Jefferson wrote:
The natural course of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.
In other words, all on its own a country’s democracy will subtly kill itself. No intentional help needed. Like Adam Smith’s invisible hand, there is an invisible hand that naturally pushes forward principles one, two, three, four and five.
Naturally, this invisible hand will cause the people of democracy to be blind to the reality that the greatest threats to their democracy come from within. Naturally, this invisible hand will cause governments to ask for little bits of freedom in order to fight outer threats. Naturally, the invisible hand will spread ignorance and apathy throughout the electorate. Naturally, the invisible hand will change the definition of democracy so that it defines whatever government the country currently has. Naturally, the invisible hand will destroy the belief in objective reality and truth. And naturally the invisible hand will kill democracy gradually because the invisible hand is patient.
The invisible hand is (I think) human nature. Human nature is a paradox because humans want to be free, but we fear freedom because we fear responsibility. Therefore, we are usually willing to give up a little freedom from time to time if it also means giving up a little responsibility.
If you become proactive about killing a democracy, then you might make a mistake that arouses the people’s awareness. The invisible hand does not need nor want your help. All you need to do is sit back, relax, watch the democracy gradually die, and keep your mouth shut. If you are alive when the last piece of democracy dies, then do not have a funeral for it. Instead, pretend as if democracy is still alive. The best thing for you to do when democracy finally dies would be for you to convince yourself that democracy is still alive.