Tag Archives: Authoritarianism

Asymmetric belief in authority

Most people on the mainstream center-to-left spectrum have been successfully trained, to respond to the paralysis of this Congress, by parroting the names “Manchin and Sinema.” Supposedly Democrats are soundly for change—even in the US Senate 96% of them want to do something!—and all the responsibility for obstruction lies with the Evil Bobbsey Twins plus all the Republicans.

There are multiple reasons why this excuse is unsatisfactory, and I will note some others below. But first, I want to revisit something I have posted about here, before.

If you take them at their word (and in this regard I believe that we should) then Democratic elites genuinely believe that Mike Pence, alone, could via some sleight of hand with note cards have literally made Donald Trump the president for 2021-24. They may also profess that this act would have violated the rules, yet the degree of alarm in references to that prospect, combined with other patterns, convinces me: they really believe that one (lame duck) authority figure could have declared that down is up, and obliged the rest of society to stand on its head.

Yet these same Democrats profess that Senate President Harris and Senate Majority Leader Schumer are essentially powerless observers. Their hands are tied.

Say what you like, but this is an extremely asymmetric belief in authority.

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What if Ukraine submitted

I think there’s important value in thinking about an alternate scenario in which Ukraine simply conceded everything which Putin’s Russia demands.

In a sense this is farfetched. Ukraine has proved very united in fighting for its independence.

But I think the question is still important as a hypothetical. We didn’t know, beforehand, that would be the case. Many other governments were counting on Ukraine folding, in fact, maybe not willingly but folding nonetheless; had that happened, it’s fair to say that most would have accepted it as fait accompli without concern over Ukraine’s opinion. Plenty of governments still, even now, advocate Ukraine simply conceding (and their ranks may grow further).

More generally, why should it seem farfetched for Ukrainians to submit to an autocrat’s demands that they accept life without democracy, independence, rights, etc.—when so many people do so?

As far as I can tell, the main thing which makes voluntary submission by Ukraine seem unreasonable, to most center-left political opinion, is its separation from Russia by an international border. That border’s current streak of existence is just over 30 years; Russia (backed up by many other governments) now deny that said border is valid; ultimately, these are abstract things which we make up.

Is that the traditional liberal order’s only “firm” determiner for whether your claim to rights is valid, or whether you are obliged to submit when an authority figure says so? I have a strong, very uncomfortable feeling that it is.

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