Democracy Is Obsolete
Democracy is obsolete. This is not to say we should get rid of it. We shouldn’t. My fountain pen is obsolete; I love it dearly, and it still writes perfectly well. But like the pen, democracy needs some pretty extensive supplements in the modern world.
Democracy is obsolete because it has manifestly failed to protect us from assaults on our liberties. Here I do not mean that democracy has delivered high taxes. If anything, democracy delivers taxes that are far too low in proportion to the spending that it simultaneously demands. That’s a problem, but it’s not the one I’m talking about.
Democracy is obsolete because it has done nothing to stop the growth of surveillance in the digital era. This assault on our liberties has proceeded faster in the last decade than ever before. It has happened faster than election cycles can take into account. And even in the occasional moments when we get a choice of leaders, those leaders have failed us. Elected on a platform of hope and change — whatever that meant — the Obama administration has only extended the Bush legacy of spying on civilians, and a Romney administration would clearly expand it still further.
Notably, it’s not even the “administration” that does it. It’s a shadowy, unaccountable, unknowable, faceless, classified bureaucracy. Why have our politicians escaped accountability for their actions? I don’t know, but clearly democracy has failed to deliver in this respect.
The democratic choice is an irrelevant one when confronted by facts like these: The NSA has dossiers on nearly every U.S. citizen. Your cellphone may be used as a roving bug to spy on you. The National Counter “Terrorism” Center is collecting vast amounts of data, and no one is saying publicly how or what is being collected, how it will be used, or what safeguards will exist to protect the innocent. Facial recognition software, CCTV, cell phone records, and social media are all in the process of merging in to one unified system that will keep tabs on virtually everyone, almost all of the time. If you are an anarchist, a Muslim, or in any other way possibly or conceivably a threat — in the mind of the paranoid architects of the system — then you may expect some extra-special treatment.
In short: We condemned East Germany for a lot less than what we are doing to ourselves, right this moment. Whoever you vote for in November, that fact will not change.
What’s democracy doing to stop it? Some officials are speaking out, it’s true. Senators Ron Wyden and Rand Paul in particular deserve credit — but what they are doing is not enough. Not nearly enough. If you’re counting on democracy, consider this: It won’t matter who you vote for, because we will never be so lucky as to elect a Senate full of Wydens and Pauls. It’s never going to happen.
Why not? Like any surveillance state, our own has made it illegal to disseminate much vital information about itself. Yet this information is precisely what citizens need to know to make informed choices. What we need is not democracy, but a supplement — civil disobedience.
What we need is a citizen ethos that says something like this: It’s okay to spy on our own government. More than okay. It is supremely virtuous. Let’s turn the old slogan around. If you see something — something that violates rights — say something. Expose the secret government that holds us in its panopticon.
Increasingly, a government of, by, and for the people requires more than democracy. It may require that some of us break the laws. The laws exist for a reason, and that reason is liberty. If the laws destroy liberty, then they deserve to be broken.