What happens when consent is replaced by government force and coercion? Laws lose legitimacy. News sources are reduced to pure propaganda. Political disagreement turns to bloodshed and murder. It is as if society's cement has instead been replaced by strongmen trying to squeeze humanity's discrete blocks together with sheer muscle... (Image source: iStock)
Western authorities cannot expect to maintain long-term legitimacy if their populations judge governing institutions as irredeemably marred by corruption and political leaders as indifferent, if not downright hostile, to ordinary citizens' wants and needs.
Across the West, there is a sharp divergence between the needs of normal citizens and the worldview articulated and pushed by their "representatives" in government. Faith in the institutions staffed by those "representatives" is plummeting. Shouldn't this disconnect be setting off alarm bells from D.C. to Brussels? Are we not approaching a Rubicon where the West's future survival is at stake?
With regard to nearly every contentious issue, the fissure separating the expressed preferences of ordinary citizens and those of their governments is expanding.
Last month the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to renew the EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate infrastructure for another year, despite near unanimous rejection from European citizens responding to a months-long public consultation on the use of mandatory digital health passports.
For decades, both European and American citizens have expressed overwhelming opposition to illegal immigration, yet leaders have done little on either side of the Atlantic to stem the persistent problem. As inflation and social unrest rise in Europe, nearly 60% of EU citizens are "not ready" to defend Ukraine's sovereignty against Russia's invasion if doing so necessarily triggers higher fuel and food costs. Still, Germany and France have warned their populations to "prepare for a total cut-off of Russian gas."
Likewise, the World Economic Forum just released a position paper arguing that "protecting democracy" requires Westerners to endure much higher gas and oil prices. Without bountiful supplies of hydrocarbon energy, however, some analysts argue that global famine and Western economic collapse become inevitable.
A Monmouth University poll released on July 5 reveals that 57% of Americans believe that U.S. federal government actions over the last six months have directly hurt their families. In that same poll, Monmouth compiles the 22 most important priorities of the American people. Neither Russia's war in Ukraine nor Congress's January 6 Committee hearings appear anywhere on the list; instead, the top four issues all deal with skyrocketing inflation and economic uncertainty. That said, the U.S. House recently passed the "Federal Reserve Racial and Economic Equity Act" that would require the Federal Reserve to pursue "woke" socialism over financial growth, and President Joe Biden and a willing Congress have already spent more on the Ukraine conflict than the U.S. did during the first five years of war in Afghanistan. Recent polling shows a whopping 78% of American voters judge the United States to be on the wrong track today, jumping 27 points since Biden assumed office. And nearly 40% of Americans now believe the U.S. government is "not sound at all."
Institutional confidence is cratering.
A new Gallup poll documents a precipitous drop in Americans' confidence across 16 major institutions, including historic lows for confidence in newspapers, the criminal justice system, big business, police, and all three branches of the federal government. The survey's results represent the lowest overall institutional confidence ever recorded in its decades-long survey history, and not a single institution reflected an increase in confidence over last year's measures. Only 7% of Americans have a "Great deal / Quite a lot" of confidence in Congress, while only 11% feel similarly about television news.
Only adding to Westerners' perception of widespread institutional corruption, an investigation by the British Medical Journal recently documented pervasive conflicts of interest within Western drug and health regulatory agencies whose budgets are funded primarily by monetary gifts from major pharmaceutical companies, the very industry players whose products the government agencies are charged with regulating.
Westerners increasingly do not trust their governments or their major news media to report accurate and reliable information. They increasingly view government actors as perpetuating two standards of justice and economic security — one for those at the very top of society's pyramid of wealth and power, and one for everyone else. And as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's early forced retirement shows, public tolerance for turning a blind eye to the propagation of this dual and conflicting set of realities is rapidly waning.
Surely this situation is untenable. Surely Western authorities cannot expect to maintain long-term legitimacy if their populations judge governing institutions as irredeemably marred by corruption and political leaders as indifferent, if not downright hostile, to ordinary citizens' wants and needs. It has become fashionable for Western politicians to divide up the global chessboard between virtuous "democracies" struggling for world peace and threatening "dictatorships" causing hardship and chaos. Whatever the West's "democracies" are today, however, they are not bastions for representing honestly their peoples' most dire concerns, nor are they above doling out to their citizenries hefty portions of hardship and chaos.
Institutions can be broadly categorized as those that are created and maintained through human cooperation and consent and those that require force and coercion to endure. In a "democratic" society, cooperation and consent are the principal building blocks, as well as tools, for fashioning strong institutions capable of surviving unknown threats and unexpected emergencies. Representative governments are formed reflecting the democratic votes of citizens and the public's general will.
When representative bodies create laws that reflect the public's preferences, citizens generally respect the criminal codes and regulations that restrict their freedoms. When the news media are judged to produce truthful information, they are relied upon as a worthy check against unjust government power. When people who represent a minority viewpoint in society are nonetheless permitted to express their thoughts, seek change, and accrue power, then a multitude of groups with conflicting points of view can coexist without factionalism necessarily leading to political violence.
Voluntary cooperation creates remarkably powerful institutions because individual citizens have a personal stake in their continued existence. Discrete blocks of humanity are hermetically cemented together, so that civilization can rise to towering heights.
What happens when consent is replaced by government force and coercion? Laws lose legitimacy. News sources are reduced to pure propaganda. Political disagreement turns to bloodshed and murder. It is as if society's cement has instead been replaced by strongmen trying to squeeze humanity's discrete blocks together with sheer muscle, straining and sweating under the pressure of keeping everything being held up from collapsing on those doing the heavy lifting.
The Soviet Union may have lasted 70 years, but its institutions were built with disintegrating bricks and soupy mortar and held together by a series of obstinate strongmen. That was the most important lesson of its collapse.
For civilizations to prosper, the people must never be ignored. For Western leaders to have missed that monumental lesson, or even worse, for them to ignore that enduring truth today, they put nothing less than the future of Western Civilization at risk.
JB Shurk writes about politics and society.