Democracy in America is dead, according to Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel.So, is he right?
No, not in the anthropological, Alexander-de-Toqueville sense. The PayPal co-founder means it literally.
"It's not clear we're living in anything resembling a democracy," he told a crowd Tuesday at George Mason University. "We're living in a republic that's modified by a judicial system, that's been largely superseded by these agencies that drive the decision-making."
"Calling our society a democracy is very misleading," Thiel went on. "We're not a republic; we're not a constitutional republic. We live in a state that's dominated by these technocratic agencies."
The real picture is much more complicated. Take the growing concentration of executive authority. As Vox's Dylan Matthews explains, it's a rational reaction to other institutions' chronic inability to govern. The White House couldn't allow the government to default on its debt in 2011, no matter what happened in Congress.Two examples of "other factors" given oddly dovetail, though: the lobbying by powerful corporate interests, and the revolving door between business and government -- to whit, those same agencies being mentioned as 'wagging the dog.' I'm not sure that really qualifies as "other factors" -- it sounds to me like "further evidence."
They knew that, if push came to shove, they had to have a way out … Obama would have shredded the debt ceiling. Republicans would have said it was an unprecedented executive power grab, and Democrats would have told them to calm down, it's not that bad. They're both right: Obama would have been claiming new powers, but that wouldn't have involved some kind of epic descent into tyranny.
The point is not that executive power grabs could never lead to tyranny but that executive power grabs rarely happen in a vacuum. Of course agencies have an incentive to expand their jurisdictions. But the idea that the entire dog of government (or the country, even) is being wagged by the tail of agencies is a little far-fetched when we know there are so many other factors that play a role in decision-making.
It's an interesting critique. I'm not sure where it leaves us, though. If he's right that Washington is no longer adding value, presumably at some point its power will begin to wither. That point has not yet been reached.