The Chronic Crisis of American Democracy
Benjamin Studebaker

The Way is Shut

Published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2023
ISBN 9783031282096

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American democracy is in crisis. The economic system is slowly subjecting Americans of nearly all income levels and backgrounds to enormous amounts of stress. The United States lacks the state capacity required to alleviate this stress, and politicians increasingly find that if they promise to solve economic problems, they are likely to disappoint voters. Instead, they encourage voters to blame each other.

The crisis cannot be solved, the economy cannot be set right, and democracy cannot be saved. But American democracy cannot be killed, either. Americans can’t imagine any compelling alternative political systems. And so, American democracy continues on, in a deeply unsatisfying way. Americans invent ever-more elaborate coping mechanisms in a desperate bid to go on. But it becomes increasingly clear that the way is shut. The American political system was made by those who are dead, and the dead keep it.

Benjamin Studebaker speaks to Pierre d’Alancaisez about the runaway effects of globalisation, the false hope industry, cultural non-politics, and the very unlikely get-out scenarios.

Benjamin Studebaker is a political theorist whose work focuses on notions of legitimacy. He hosts the podcasts Political Theory 101.

Benjamin’s obstacle avoidance roadmap for the third way, or why the para-party won’t save us:

  1. The primary system drags American politicians into culture war issues, and it also makes it difficult to establish new competitive parties.
  2. Changing the electoral system would allow new competitive parties to form, but it would also make it difficult for new parties to secure enough seats to pass economic reforms.
  3. A para-party could run handpicked candidates in both parties’ primaries at the same time, but this would be expensive. A resur- gent labor movement could fund a para-party, but the labor movement is in bad shape, and the Biden administration is not delivering the help it promised.
  4. We could fund a para-party with the help of class traitor oligarchs, but even if we can find some, they will face accusations of demagoguery and Caesarism.
  5. If the fourth faction nonetheless starts to succeed, it needs to find economic policies it can implement at the state and local levels to build credibility and maintain electoral momentum, even though the economic influence of states and localities is limited.
  6. If the fourth faction cannot find economic policies it can imple- ment, it will need to maintain voter interest without regressing back into cultural politics.
  7. As it grows, the fourth faction will need to secure the loyalty of its politicians through some form of party discipline.
  8. If the fourth faction achieves enough power to move forward with substantial economic reforms, it will need to secure the cooperation of other countries with very different political systems.
  9. In the face of obstacles to a multilateral strategy, the fourth faction may need to pursue—or to credibly threaten to pursue—a unilat- eral strategy. But committing to unilateralism, even as a Plan B, makes it difficult to win elections, because unilateralism has severe economic consequences.
  10. A unilateral strategy can be pursued in response to a major foreign policy crisis, but this entails taking on board the risks associated with that foreign policy crisis, and those risks may be too severe to countenance.