Basic references on democratic failure

I'm working on the new edition of my Seasteading book. The beginning of the "Why?" chapter:

While we hope that some readers will immediately see the appeal of seasteading, we expect others to be mystified as to why anyone would want to go live on a floating platform in the ocean. Until you understand "Why" we believe this to be the best path towards a better future, the details of "How" are likely to be of little interest. Thus we will attempt to answer the following basic questions:

1. Why should we seek to create new societies at all? What’s wrong with the ones we have? Do they really need more than a little incremental reform?
2. Why seastead - is the ocean really the best place for these experiments?
3. Why settle the ocean using the particular approach recommended here?

However, our treatment of them will vary widely:

1. This we will mainly punt on, as the mission of chronicling and diagnosing the general problems with democratic politics is too broad for us, too distant from our core message, and well covered by others.

Given that I'm punting on this, what is a good basic set of references to argue that the current pinnacle of societal organization (modern democracy) has serious systemic flaws? Presumably many such references will be libertarian, but if possible I'd like some ideological diversity. The first two books that come to mind are Bryan Caplan's MRV and my dad's MoF. But that's far from a complete set. Thoughts on more?

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You might mention White

You might mention White Man's Burden and The Bottom Billion in conjunction with the argument that better governence induced by competition would help solve alot of the third world's problems.

Full discolosure: I've only listened to the econlib podcasts with the authors of these books, I haven't read them.

In the same vein, there is De Soto's Mystery of Capital (which I have read).

On the side of actually critiquing the best governments currently in existence, public choice stuff is probably where to look, but I can't think of anything relevant that I have read beyond MRV. It seems I get most of my public choice econ second hand. In any case, I suspect Olson, Buchanan, and Tullock are the guys to reference, but I don't know how accessible their work is.

Mystery of Capital also

Mystery of Capital also makes the point that institutions matter, which is a good thing to demonstrate since I'm claiming that we urgently need a new meta-system for generating institutions.

Some places to look

It's not directly on point, but Flynn's "As We Go Marching" gives a fairly strong framework for how economic uncertainty makes democracy give way to Fascism

Plato's Republic is always on point.

There is an infinite pile of Marxist critiques of democracy (though none, that I'm aware of, by Marx -- Marx usually regarded democracy as the revolutionary route out of Hegelian monarchy, and the only form of state able to "wither away" into proletarian society). This also gets tricky because many Marxists use the word "democracy" to mean rather more than the system of political organization -- they mean a particular arrangement of political sentiments, not just a constitutional order.

I have a recollection of Lenin having a fairly good critique of democracy (in The Renegade Kautsky, perhaps? My memory of Lenin is weak.); that might be worth a look. My recollection of the argument was that prolaterian parties (and non-communist trade unions) would adopt reformist rather than revolutionary goals, capitulating to the bourgeoisie in exchange for small and ultimately meaningless concessions and leading to a self-perpetuating dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in which the more the exploitative classes controlled, the more effectively they could buy or extort the lower, exploited classes votes and so expand the exploitation.

It seems to me that critiques generally have fallen into two categories; one (Kaplan, Plato) is that the people are unfit to rule; the other (Flynn, Lenin) is that democracy contains feedback loops that generate and exacerbate crises and inequality. The former critique seems theoretically incomplete to me (the political direction of a democracy is an emergent property, not necessarily bounded by the wisdom of its members). The latter critique is more theoretically sensible, but has to defeat the practical fact of existing stable democracies.

To keep piling on the

To keep piling on the non-Libertarian critiques of democracy (in the unlikely event that folks here care about such non-lib thinking) -- Now that I've dredged my memory for critiques from the extreme left, there's still the extreme right.

The fascist critique of democracy is hard to pin down, probably because fascist movements have been fond of (real or fabricated) "democratic legitimacy". Flynn touches on it (as does Hayek) -- that democracy is unable to produce a government with the stability and authority to properly carry out a national plan. Plato is probably in this category as well.

(But for primary sources for modern fascist anti-democratic thought you'd probably have to pile into Hegel, which is nobody's idea of fun. Is there a decently accessible modern restatement of Hegel? Aristotle:Ayn Rand::Hegel:???)

For a monarchist critique of democracy, I suppose you can fall back on Hoppe, although even Hoppe seems to fall back on pseudo-"democratic legitimacy" arguments. But Hoppe at least occasionally has a different <i>kind</i> of critique of democracy than most others -- that the State depends on the widely-held view that it is legitimate, and that democracy is too good at manufacturing this sentiment of legitimacy. But Hoppe doesn't really convince: Anyone who would buy Hoppe's argument probably already agrees with you.

(Cicero has a decent argument for monarchy over democracy, put into the mouth of Scipio in <i>De Re Publica</i>, but that like Hegel is probably not something you or your target audience wants to spend much time on.)

Theocratic arguments against democracy are easier to find but I don't know jack about them. Sayyid Qutb's <i>Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq</i> may be on point -- I have heard it characterized as saying that a sort of dictatorial anarchism is required for true religious piety. Simiarly, there is almost certainly some terribly readable and cogent Christian-theocratic critique of democracy from the Tractarians/Oxford Movement folks -- Chesterton or someone like that -- but somone who actually knows that stuff would have to find it.

Well, Democracy The God that

Well, Democracy The God that Failed by Hans Hermann Hoppe comes to mind ! It's a great book, and the ideas he develops are very relevant to seasteading. In particular,

- he strongly insists on the principle of communities sharing sets of rules mutually agreed upon

- on the evils of the geographical monopoly of law

- he believes secessionism to be the best way to achieve anarcho-capitalism (as opposed to Rothbard for example or DDF afaik)

Thanks, that sounds very

Thanks, that sounds very interesting.


IMHO, the first chapter needs to address the "is it safe?" question, or at least acknowledge the major points and explain that they'll be addressed in later chapters, or the reader will stop reading. Many people don't feel safe on the open seas. Medical emergencies, storms, pirates, security of food and water supplies must be addressed as surmountable before people will consider the idolisim of why to join.

I personally also wonder about the "comforts of home" and access to trade and consumer goods, but that could be left to a later chapter and doesn't have to be addressed up front in order to continue reading.


Weird. I guess these people

Weird. I guess these people don't go on cruises? They are my favorite example to make it clear that everything we want to do is possible - it's being done by 10 million people every year! We're just going to make it cheaper and more spacious.

Instead of punting and

Instead of punting and referencing, why not give a short summary of the various critiques, with references for further reading if readers are curious?

Another source

Maybe look in the writings of Faree Zakaria on the topic of illiberal democracies and how they have been multiplying lately.

And don't forget the

And don't forget the Hirschman classic, "Exit, Voice, and Loyalty," which gets to the heart of what makes seasteading valuable politically.

Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles

Jesus Huerta de Soto's book on the history of banking is very good for demonstrating the weakness inherent in mixing ANY form of central government and fractional-reserve banking.

And, +1 on Hoppe.


Jeffrey Friedman seems to be making an argument quite similar to Bryan Caplan, though as a political scientist he focuses on the defects of democracy rather than the benefits of capitalism. I point out some good stuff from him here.

Bertrand de Jouvenel thought democracy had exacerbated the problems it was created to solve. I reviewed his "On Power" here.

As a Stirnerite I am partial to the critique in Ego. Other critiques from early European anarchists like Proudhon were used by the proto-fascist Cercle Proudhon, which included de Jouvenel.

There is a very weak but successful argument against democracy in Herodotus' "histories". It is most likely just the author or some other Greek putting words in Persian mouths to explain how they wound up with an inferior political system.

Check out Mencius Moldbug's

Check out Mencius Moldbug's Against Political Freedom. Moldbug's blog provides a systematic critique of the modern democratic state, it might be very worthwhile to check it out.


A pro-democracy anti-capitalist blog here.