Author`s name Peter Baofu

Insurrection, Authoritarianism, and Liberal Democracy

The Capitol "insurrection" in the U.S. on January 6, 2021 reveals an "uncomfortable truth" about "liberal democracy," which is that it can be "authoritarian," so the distinction between "authoritarianism" and "liberal democracy" has been "falsely framed" in political discourse since the modern era. This unconventional view was first proposed in my 2007 book titled "The Rise of Authoritarian Liberal Democracy."

It is too simplistic to lay blame on pro-Trump protesters. Four days after the "insurrection," in an ABC News/Ipsos poll released on January 10, "56% of Americans think...[Trump] should be removed from office," but "43% say he should not." And 43% means more than 141 million Americans in 2020.  

Authoritarianism and Liberal Democratic Elites

The Capitol insurrection is only the "symptom" of a deeper problem in the U.S. political system. From its founding in 1776 to now, the U.S. has experienced "authoritarian" (intolerant and violent) acts against the "Others" in the political divide: Native Indian Removal, Black slavery, the Civil War, the forced Mexican cession (of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming), the annexation of Hawaii (after overthrowing the Hawaiian monarchy), the occupation of Pacific islands (like Guam, Midway, etc.), Jim Crow laws, the Monroe Doctrine (for political and military interventions in Latin America), the Wilmington 1898 coup, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, glass ceilings against minorities, Japanese American Internment Camps, the Red Scare (or McCarthyism), the Watergate Scandal, the Irangate Scandal, America's endless wars abroad, the 2000 Florida Recount Scandal, covert operations (revealed by Wikileaks), global mass surveillance (disclosed by Edward Snowden), recurrent hate crimes, the Trumpgate Scandal, and now the Capitol insurrection.

This long history of "authoritarian" liberal democracy has much to do with its "individualist" political culture which values "ruthless competition" in the quest for wealth and power. The Founding Fathers of the United States were aware of this danger and built a mechanism of "checks and balances" (among the three branches) in the U.S. Constitution to prevent one group from gaining absolute power. Unfortunately, this mechanism has often been broken, either because one group wins a "majority" (or "plurality") of votes but is then tempted into a "tyranny of the majority (or plurality)" at the expense of the minority, or because one group tries to win a "majority" (or "plurality") by "any means necessary" (like "stealing votes," "fabricating voter frauds," "sabotaging vote counts," etc.).

In other words, "individualist" political culture in liberal democracy has no shared "substantive" conception of the "common good" (other than the mere "procedural" allegiance to the "formality" of the "rule of law"), so the word "liberal" in political thought is "procedural" in spirit. Consequently, greed and corruption are pervasive in "liberal democracy," in spite of the "rule of law." This explains why many voters in liberal democracy are often disillusioned with "professional" politicians who come and go after a few years, without achieving much of anything for the "common good," while excelling in "political soundbites and promises." Just think how much the U.S. has messed up in handling the COVID-19 pandemic (with politicians laying blame on others), and Trump even said that he was "proud" of the highest number of U.S. COVID-19 cases in the world.

Authoritarianism and Liberal Democratic Non-Elites

Moreover, there are authoritarian "non-elites" in liberal democracy (not just "elites" in power). In the U.S., there are "radicals" (not just "moderates") in "leftist" political groups, with "ANTIFA" politics (vs. "MAGA" politics) as the most recent example, like "neo-Socialists," "Social Democrats," "left-wing anarchists," "radical feminists," "radical Black Lives Matter" activists, "radical LGBTQ" activists, "radical Me Too" activists, "radical Cancel Culture" activists, etc.

Surely, not all "radicals" are "violent." But an "authoritarian" can be "mentally violent" ("intolerant") to perceived opponents without being "physically violent." For instance, "radical Black Lives Matter" activists and "radical feminists" practice a "double standard" to criticize their favorite targets ("whites" and "men," respectively) but perceive those (in the latter) who criticize them as their "enemies" who need to be "cancelled," "expelled," "forced to resign," "prosecuted," "silenced," etc. in a highly "intolerant" ("politically correct") culture of our time. This has resulted in "reverse racism," "reverse sexism," and so on (as detailed in my 2002 book titled "The Future of Capitalism and Democracy" and in my 2004 book titled "Beyond Democracy to Post-Democracy").

Conclusion

In both cases (involving "elites" and "non-elites"), "liberal democracy" can be "authoritarian," so the dichotomy between "authoritarianism" and "liberal democracy" has been falsely framed in political discourse in the last hundreds of years. The Capitol insurrection is a wake-up call to those who have uncritically embraced this "conventional" wisdom (dichotomy) in political thought for so long.

The second impeachment of Trump on January 13 will perpetuate the vicious cycle of confrontational divisionism between the Left and the Right (as many Republicans are already fighting back in the 2nd impeachment trial currently in progress). The "alt-cons" under Trump will not last when he is gone, just as the "neo-cons" under Bush did not last when he was gone, but there will be "new"-cons in the future, so the vicious cycle continues.

In conclusion, both the Capitol "insurrection" and the subsequent "second impeachment" will not resolve one of the most fundamental problems in the U.S. political system, namely, its chronic "authoritarian" tendency as already seen in the last hundreds of years, both by the "Left" and the "Right," and by "elites" and "non-elites."

About the author:

Dr. Peter Baofu is an American author of 169 scholarly books (as of February 2021) to provide 135 visions (theories) of the human future in relation to the mind, nature, society, and culture -- and had been in 110 countries around the world (as of March 2020) for his global research on humanity.