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Foreign Affairs

Is America a Democracy, Republic, or Empire?

April 20th, 2011 // 7:09 am @

Some in Washington are fond of saying that certain nations don’t know how to do democracy.

Anytime a nation breaks away from totalitarian or authoritarian controls, these “experts” point out that the people aren’t “prepared” for democracy.

But this is hardly the point.

A nation where the people aren’t prepared for democracy–but where a strong leader is prepared for tyranny–is still better off as a democracy.

A nation where the people aren’t prepared for democracy but where an elite class is prepared for aristocracy is still better off as a democracy.

A nation where the people aren’t prepared for democracy but where a socialist or fundamentalist religious bureaucracy is prepared to rule is still better off as a democracy.

Whatever the people’s inadequacies, they will do better than the other, class-dominant forms of government.

Winston Churchill was right:

“Democracy is the worst form of government–except for all those others that have been tried.”

False Democracy

When I say “democracy,” I am of course not referring to a pure democracy where the masses make every decision; this has always turned to mob rule through history.

Of Artistotle’s various types and styles of democracy, this was the worst. The American founders considered this one of the least effective of free forms of government.

Nor do I mean a “socialist democracy” as proposed by Karl Marx, where the people elect leaders who then exert power over the finances and personal lives of all citizens.

Whether this type of government is called democracy (e.g. Social Democrats in many former Eastern European nations) in the Marxian sense or a republic (e.g. The People’s Republic of China, The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics–USSR, etc.), it amounts to the same oligarchic model of authoritarian rule.

Marx used the concept of democracy–he called it “the battle for democracy”–to argue for the working classes to rise up against the middle and upper classes and take back their power.

Ironically, he believed the masses incapable of such leadership, and felt that a small group of elites, the “vanguard”, would have to do the work of the masses for them.

This argument assumes an oligarchic view of the world, and the result of attempted Marxism has nearly always been dictatorial or oligarchic authoritarianism.

In this attitude Marx follows his mentor Hegel, who discounted any belief in the power or wisdom of the people as wild imaginings (see Mortimer Adler’s discussion on “Monarchy” in the Syntopicon).

The American founders disagreed entirely with this view.

A Democratic Republic

The type of democracy we need more of in the world is constitutional representative democracy, with:

A written constitution that separates the legislative, executive and judicial powers. Limits all with checks and balances, and leaves most of the governing power in the hands of the people and local and regional, rather than national, government institutions.

In such a government, the people have the power to elect their own representatives who participate at all levels. Then the people closely oversee the acts of government.

One other power of the people in a constitutional representative democratic republic is to either ratify or reject the original constitution.

Only the support of the people allows any constitution to be adopted (or amended) by a democratic society.

The American framers adopted Locke’s view that the legislative power was closest to the people and should have the sole power over the nation’s finances.

Thus in the U.S. Constitution, direct representatives of the people oversaw the money and had to answer directly to the people every two years.

Two Meanings of “Democracy”

There are two ways of understanding the term democracy. One is as a governmental form–which is how this article has used the word so far. The other is as a societal format.

There are four major types of societies:

  • A chaotic society with no rules, laws or government
  • A monarchical society where one man or woman has full power over all people and aspects of the society
  • An aristocratic society where a few people–an upper class–control the whole nation
  • A democratic society where the final say over the biggest issues in the nation comes from the regular people

As a societal form, democracy is by far the best system.Montesquieu, who was the source most quoted at the American Constitutional Convention, said:

“[Democracy exists] when the body of the people is possessed of the supreme power.”

In a good constitutional democracy, the constitution limits the majority from impinging upon the inalienable rights of a minority–or of anyone at all.

Indeed, if a monarchical or aristocratic society better protects the rights of the people than a democratic nation, it may well be a more just and free society.

History has shown, however, that over time the people are more likely to protect their rights than any royal family or elite class.

When the many are asked to analyze and ratify a good constitution, and then to protect the rights of all, it turns out they nearly always protect freedom and just society better than the one or the few.

It is very important to clarify the difference between these two types of democracy–governmental and societal.

For example, many of the historic Greek “democracies” were governmental democracies only. They called themselves democracies because the citizens had the final say on the governmental structure and elections–but only the upper class could be citizens.

Thus these nations were actually societal aristocracies, despite being political democracies.

Plato called the societal form of democracy the best system and the governmental format of democracy the worst.

Clearly, knowing the difference is vital.

Aristotle felt that there are actually six major types of societal forms.

A king who obeys the laws leads a monarchical society, while a king who thinks he is above the law rules a tyrannical society.

Likewise, government by the few can either have different laws for the elite class or the same laws for all people, making oligarchy or aristocracy.

In a society where the people are in charge, they can either rule by majority power (he called this democracy) or by wise laws, protected inalienable rights and widespread freedom (he called this “mixed” or, as it is often translated, “constitutional” society).

Like Plato, Aristotle considered the governmental form of democracy bad, but better than oligarchy or tyranny; and he believed the societal form of democracy (where the people as a mass generally rule the society) to be good.

Democracy or Republic?

The authors of The Federalist Papers tried to avoid this confusion about the different meanings of “democracy” simply by shortening the idea of a limited, constitutional, representative democracy to the term “republic.”

A breakdown of these pieces is enlightening:

  • Limited (unalienable rights for all are protected)
  • Constitutional (ratified by the people; the three major powers separated, checked and balanced)
  • Representative (the people elect their leaders, using different constituencies to elect different leaders for different governmental entities–like the Senate and the House)
  • Democracy (the people have the final say through elections and through the power to amend the constitution)

The framers required all state governments to be this type of republic, and additionally, for the national government to be federal (made up of sovereign states with their own power, delegating only a few specific powers to the national government).

When we read the writings of most of the American founders, it is helpful to keep this definition of “republic” in mind.

When they use the terms “republic” or “a republic” they usually mean a limited, constitutional, representative democracy like that of all the states.

When they say “the republic” they usually refer to the national-level government, which they established as a limited, constitutional, federal, representative democracy.

At times they shorten this to “federal democratic republic” or simply democratic republic.

Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson frequently used the term “representative democracy,” but most of the other founders preferred the word “republic.”

A Global Problem

In today’s world the term “republic” has almost as many meanings as “democracy.”

The term “democracy” sometimes has the societal connotation of the people overseeing the ratification of their constitution. It nearly always carries the societal democracy idea that the regular people matter, and the governmental democracy meaning that the regular people get to elect their leaders.

The good news is that freedom is spreading. Authoritarianism, by whatever name, depends on top-down control of information, and in the age of the Internet this is disappearing everywhere.

More nations will be seeking freedom, and dictators, totalitarians and authoritarians everywhere are ruling on borrowed time.

People want freedom, and they want democracy–the societal type, where the people matter. All of this is positive and, frankly, wonderful.

The problem is that as more nations seek freedom, they are tending to equate democracy with either the European or Asian versions (parliamentary democracy or an aristocracy of wealth).

The European parliamentary democracies are certainly an improvement over the authoritarian states many nations are seeking to put behind them, but they are inferior to the American model.

The same is true of the Asian aristocratic democracies.

Specifically, the parliamentary model of democracy gives far too much power to the legislative branch of government, with few separations, checks or balances.

The result is that there are hardly any limits to the powers of such governments. They simply do whatever the parliament wants, making it an Aristotelian oligarchy.

The people get to vote for their government officials, but the government can do whatever it chooses–and it is run by an upper class.

This is democratic government, but aristocratic society. The regular people in such a society become increasingly dependent on government and widespread prosperity and freedom decrease over time.

The Asian model is even worse. The governmental forms of democracy are in place, but in practice the very wealthy choose who wins elections, what policies the legislature adopts, and how the executive implements government programs.

The basic problem is that while the world equates freedom with democracy, it also equates democracy with only one piece of historical democracy–popular elections.

Nations that adopt the European model of parliamentary democracy or the Asian system of aristocratic democracy do not become societal democracies at all–but simply democratic aristocracies.

Democracy is spreading–if by democracy we mean popular elections; but aristocracy is winning the day.

Freedom–a truly widespread freedom where the regular people in a society have great opportunity and prosperity is common–remains rare around the world.

The Unpopular American Model

The obvious solution is to adopt the American model of democracy, as defined by leading minds in the American founding: limited, constitutional, representative, federal, and democratic in the societal sense where the regular people really do run the nation.

Unfortunately, this model is currently discredited in global circles and among the world’s regular people for at least three reasons:

1. The American elite is pursuing other models.

The left-leaning elite (openly and vocally) idealize the European system, while the American elite on the right prefers the Asian structure of leadership by wealth and corporate status.

If most of the intelligentsia in the United States aren’t seeking to bolster the American constitutional model, nor the elite U.S. schools that attract foreign students on the leadership track, it is no surprise that freedom-seekers in other nations aren’t encouraged in this direction.

2. The American bureaucracy around the world isn’t promoting societal democracy but rather simple political democracy–popular elections have become the entire de facto meaning of the term “democracy” in most official usage.

With nobody pushing for limited, constitutional, federal, representative democratic republics, we get what we promote: democratic elections in fundamentally class-oriented structures dominated by elite upper classes.

3. The American people aren’t all that actively involved as democratic leaders.

When the U.S. Constitution was written, nearly every citizen in America was part of a Town Council, with a voice and a vote in local government. With much pain and sacrifice America evolved to a system where every adult can be such a citizen, regardless of class status, religious views, gender, race or disability.

Every adult now has the opportunity to have a real say in governance. Unfortunately, we have over time dispensed with the Town Councils of all Adults and turned to a representative model even at the most local community and neighborhood level.

As Americans have ceased to participate each week in council and decision-making with all adults, we have lost some of the training and passion for democratic involvement and become more reliant on experts, the press and political parties.

Voting has become the one great action of our democratic involvement, a significant decrease in responsibility since early America.

We still take part in juries–but now even that power has been significantly reduced–especially since 1896.

In recent times popular issues like environmentalism and the tea parties have brought a marked increase of active participation by regular citizens in the national dialogue.

Barack Obama’s populist appeal brought a lot of youth into the discussion. The Internet and social media have also given more power to the voice of the masses.

When the people do more than just vote, when they are involved in the on-going dialogue on major issues and policy proposals, the society is more democratic–in the American founding model–and the outlook for freedom and prosperity brightens.

The Role of the People

Human nature being what it is, no people of any nation may be truly prepared for democracy.

But–human nature being what it is–they are more prepared to protect themselves from losses of freedom and opportunity than any other group.

Anti-democratic forces have usually argued that we need the best leaders in society, and that experts, elites and those with “breeding,” experience and means are most suited to be the best leaders.

But free democratic societies (especially those with the benefits of limited, constitutional, representative, and locally participative systems) have proven that the right leaders are better than the best leaders.

We don’t need leaders (as citizens or elected officials) who seem the most charismatically appealing nearly so much as we need those who will effectively stand for the right things.

And no group is more likely to elect such leaders than the regular people.

It is the role of the people, in any society that wants to be or remain free and prosperous, to be the overseers of their government.

If they fail in this duty, for whatever reason, freedom and widespread prosperity will decrease. If the people don’t protect their freedoms and opportunities, despite what Marx thought, nobody will.

No vanguard, party or group of elites or experts will do as much for the people as they can do for themselves. History is clear on this reality.

We can trust the people, in America and in any other nation, to promote widespread freedom and prosperity better than anyone else.

Two Challenges

With that said, we face at least two major problems that threaten the strength of our democratic republic right now in the United States.

First, only a nation of citizen-readers can maintain real freedom. We must deeply understand details like these:

  • The two meanings of democracy
  • The realities and nuances of ideas such as: limited, constitutional, federal, representative, locally participative, etc.
  • The differences between the typical European, Asian, early American and other models competing for support in the world
  • …And so on

In short, we must study the great classics and histories to be the kind of citizen-leaders we should be.

The people are better than any other group to lead us, as discussed above, but as a people we can know more, understand more, and become better leaders.

Second, we face the huge problem all great democratic powers have eventually faced: how to reconcile our democratic society at home with our imperialism abroad.

As George Friedman has argued, we now control a world empire larger than any in history, whether we want to or not.

Yet a spirit of democratic opportunity, entrepreneurial freedom, inclusive love of liberty, freedom from oppressive class systems, and promotion of widespread prosperity is diametrically opposed to the arrogant, selfish, self-elevating, superiority-complex of imperialism.

This very dichotomy has brought down some of the greatest free nations of history.

On some occasions this challenge turned the home nation into an empire, thus killing the free democratic republic (e.g. Rome).

Other nations lost their power in the world because the regular people of the nation did not reconcile their democratic beliefs with the cruelty of imperial dominance and force (e.g. Athens, ancient Israel).

At times the colonies of an empire used the powerful democratic ideals of the great power against them and broke away.

At times the citizens of the great power refused to support the government in quelling rebellions with which they basically agreed (e.g. Great Britain and its relations with America, India, and many other former colonies).

Many of the great freedom thinkers of history have argued against empire and for the type of democratic republic the American framers established–see for example Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristotle, the Bible, Plutarch, Tacitus, Augustine, Montaigne, Locke, Montesquieu, Gibbon, Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence, and Madison, among others.

The Federalist mentions empire or imperialism 53 times, and not one of the references is positive.

In contrast, the main purpose of the Federalist Papers was to make a case for a federal, democratic republic.

Those who believe in American exceptionalism (that the United States is an exception to many of the class-oriented patterns in the history of nations) now face their greatest challenge.

Will America peacefully and effectively pull back from imperialism and leave dozens of nations successfully (or haltingly) running themselves without U.S. power?

Will it set its best and brightest to figuring out how this can be done? Or to increasing the power of empire?

Empire and Freedom

Some argue that the United States cannot divest itself of empire without leaving the world in chaos.

This is precisely the argument nearly all upper classes, and slave owners, make to justify their unprincipled dominance over others.

The argument on its face is disrespectful to the people of the world.

Of course few people are truly prepared to run a democracy–leadership at all levels is challenging and at the national level it is downright overwhelming.

But, again–the people are more suited to oversee than any other group.

And without the freedom to fail, as Adam Smith put it, they never have the dynamic that impels great leaders to forge ahead against impossible odds. They will never fly unless the safety net is gone.

The people can survive and sometimes even flourish without elite rule, and the world can survive and flourish without American empire.

A wise transition is, of course, the sensible approach, but the arrogance of thinking that without our empire the world will collapse is downright selfish–unless one values stability above freedom.

How can we, whose freedom was purchased at the price of the lives, fortunes and sacred honor of our forebears, and defended by the blood of soldiers and patriots in the generations that followed, argue that the sacrifices and struggles that people around the world in our day might endure to achieve their own freedom and self- determination constitute too great a cost?

The shift will certainly bring major difficulties and problems, but freedom and self-government are worth it.

The struggles of a free people trying to establish effective institutions through trial, error, mistakes and problems are better than forced stability from Rome, Madrid, Beijing, or even London or Washington.

America can set the example, support the process, and help in significant ways–if we’ll simply get our own house in order.

Our military strength will not disappear if we remain involved in the world without imperial attitudes or behaviors. We can actively participate in world affairs without adopting either extreme of isolationism or imperialism.

Surely, if the world is as dependent on the U.S. as the imperial-minded claim, we should use our influence to pass on a legacy of ordered constitutional freedom and learning self-government over time rather than arrogant, elitist bureaucratic management backed by military might from afar.

If Washington becomes the imperial realm to the world, it will undoubtedly be the same to the American people. Freedom abroad and at home may literally be at stake.

The future will be significantly impacted by the answers to these two questions:

Will the American people resurrect a society of citizen readers actively involved in daily governance?

Will we choose our democratic values or our imperialistic attitudes as our primary guide for the 21st Century?

Who are we, really?

Today we are part democracy, part republic, and part empire.

Can we find a way to mesh all three, even though the first two are fundamentally opposed to the third?

Will the dawn of the 22nd Century witness an America free, prosperous, strong and open, or some other alternative?

If the United States chooses empire, can it possibly retain the best things about itself?

Without the Manifest Destiny proposed by the Founders, what alternate destiny awaits?

Above all, will the regular citizens–in American and elsewhere–be up to such leadership?

No elites will save us. It is up to the people.


odemille 133x195 custom Quantity. Quality. Method.Oliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

Category : Aristocracy &Blog &Citizenship &Constitution &Foreign Affairs &Generations &Government &History &Leadership &Liberty &Politics &Postmodernism &Statesmanship

What type of government does America have today?

March 26th, 2011 // 10:17 am @

“It’s a Republic; if you can keep it…”

Property Rights

  • Free democracies protect the property of all.
  • Socialist nations protect the property of none.
  • Monarchies consider all property the estate of the king.
  • Aristocracies have one set of property and investment laws for the very rich and a different one for the rest.*


  • Free democracies assess tax money fairly from all the people to cover vital, limited government roles.
  • Socialist societies take money from the rich and redistribute it to the poor.
  • Dictatorial monarchies take money from everyone and give it to the dictator.
  • Aristocracies take money from the middle and lower classes and give it to rich bankers, owners of big companies (“too big to fail”), and other powerful and wealthy special interests in bailouts and government contracts.*


  • In free democracies it is legal for the people to withhold information from the government (e.g. U.S. Fifth Amendment, right to remain silent, etc.) but illegal for the government to withhold information from or lie to the people.
  • In socialist societies, dictatorial monarchies, and aristocracies, it is legal for the government and government agents to lie to the people but illegal for the people to lie to the same government agents.*


  • In free democracies, the measure of success and the popular goal of the people is to be good and positively contribute to society.
  • In socialist societies, the measure of success and the popular goal of the people is to become government officials and receive the perks of office.
  • In dictatorial monarchies, the measure of success and the popular goal of the people is to please the monarch.
  • In aristocratic societies, the measure of success and the popular goal of the people is to obtain wealth and/or celebrity.*

Right to Bear Arms

  • In free democracies all the people hold the right to bear arms.
  • In socialist nations and monarchies, only government officials are allowed to have weapons.
  • In aristocratic societies only the wealthy and government officials are allowed to have many kinds of weapons.*


  • Free democracies open their borders to all, especially immigrants in great need.
  • Socialist and dictatorial monarchies build fences to keep people in.
  • Aristocracies build fences to keep people out, especially immigrants in great need.*
*The current United States

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odemille 133x195 custom Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of HistoryOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

Category : Aristocracy &Blog &Citizenship &Constitution &Culture &Economics &Foreign Affairs &Government &History &Liberty

Ten Important Trends

March 16th, 2011 // 10:42 am @

The obvious big trend right now is that oil prices threaten to reverse economic recovery across the globe.[i] The recent problems with nuclear power in Japan only promise to exacerbate the oil crisis. And the concern about a second mortgage bubble lingers.[ii] Food and other retail prices are increasing at alarming levels while unemployment rates remain high. In addition, some trends and current affairs promise to significantly influence the years ahead despite receiving little coverage in the nightly news. Here are ten such trends that every American should know about:

  1. “In the wake of the financial crisis, the United States is no longer the leader of the global economy, and no other nation has the political and economic leverage to replace it.”[iii] Increased international conflicts are ahead.
  2. The new e-media is revolutionizing communication and fueling actual revolutions from the Middle East to North Korea.[iv]
  3. The new media is also differentiated by both political views and class divisions,[v] meaning that people of different views hardly ever listen to each other. This is creating more divisiveness in society.
  4. In response to the rise of the Tea Parties, some top leaders of American foreign policy feel that Washington must find ways to promote a “liberal and cosmopolitan world order” and simultaneously “find some way to satisfy their angry domestic constituencies…”[vi] The disconnect between the American citizenry and elites continues to increase. So does the wage disparity between American elites and everyone else.[vii]
  5. The evidence suggests that “teams, not individuals, are the leading force behind entrepreneurial startups.”[viii] This has been a topic of debate for some time, and a new book (The Invention of Enterprise by Landes, Mokyr and Baumol[ix]) outlines the history of entrepreneurship from ancient to modern times.
  6. As Leah Farrall put it, “Al Qaeda is stronger today than when it carried out the 9/11 attacks. Accounts that contend that it is on the decline treat the central al Qaeda organization separately from its subsidiaries and overlooks its success in expanding its power and influence through them.”[x]
  7. One trend is outlined clearly by a new book title: Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.[xi]
  8. In contrast to popular wisdom, democracy and modernization are significantly increasing the influence of religion in many developing regions around the world.[xii]
  9. More people are using Facebook to connect more with their children—in one survey this included 64% of those surveyed.[xiii]
  10. While governments—at national, provincial/state and local levels—are increasingly strapped for cash and struggling to balance budgets and service looming debts, many multinational corporations “sit on enormous stockpiles of cash…”[xiv] This reality is giving strength to the argument in some circles that the future of governance should be put in the hands of corporations rather than outdated dependence on inefficient government.[xv]

[i] “The 2011 oil shock,” The Economist, March 5th, 2011.

[ii] Consider the ideas in “Bricks and slaughter,” The Economist, March 5th, 2011.

[iii] Ian Bremmer and Nouriel Roubini, “A G-Zero World,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.

[iv] See James Fallows, “Learning to Love the New Media” and Robert S. Boynton, “North Korea’s Digital Underground,” The Atlantic, April 201.

[v] Op. cit., Fallows.

[vi] See Walter Russell Mead, “The Tea Party and American Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.

[vii] See “Gaponomics,” The Economist, March 12th, 2011.

[viii] See Martin Ruef, The Entrepreneurial Group, 2011, Kauffman.

[ix] 2011, Kauffman.

[x] Leah Farrall, “How al Qaeda Works,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.

[xi] By Sherry Turkle, 2011, Basic Books.

[xii] See book reviews, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2011.

[xiii] Redbook, April 2011.

[xiv] See op. cit., Bremmer and Roubini.

[xv] See the following: Shell Scenarios; “Tata sauce,” The Economist, March 5th, 2011; Adam Segal, Advantage: How American Innovation Can Overcome the Asian Challenge, 2011, Council on Foreign Relations; and “Home truths,” The Economist, March 5th, 2011.

Category : Blog &Current Events &Economics &Entrepreneurship &Family &Foreign Affairs &Government &Independents &Information Age &Politics &Science

Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of History

February 14th, 2011 // 12:31 pm @

*Note: If you like this article, you’ll love Oliver’s latest book, FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.

I look at the young protesters who gathered in downtown Amman today, and the thousands who gathered in Egypt and Tunis, and my heart aches for them. So much human potential, but they have no idea how far behind they are—or maybe they do and that’s why they’re revolting.

“Egypt’s government has wasted the last 30 years—i.e., their whole lives—plying them with the soft bigotry of low expectations: ‘Be patient. Egypt moves at its own pace, like the Nile.’ Well, great. Singapore also moves at its own pace, like the Internet.” —Thomas L. Freidman

A World of Demonstrations

In the fall of 2010 I listened to a famous French author speaking as a guest on a television talk show. He expressed concern with the Tea Party in the United States and wondered how democracy could survive “such a thing.”

A few weeks later his own nation was shut down by rioting protestors—middle class managers and professionals burning cars in the streets and throwing homemade pop bottle firebombs.

I wondered if he had revised his worries about what he called Tea Party “extremism.” In the U.S. the peaceful demonstrations were much more civil and positive (and, as it turns out, effective) than their French counterparts.

In the last year we’ve witnessed demonstrations, protests, and even a few violent riots across the globe—from Greece to Ireland, Paris to Washington, Iran to Cairo, and beyond. It is interesting to see how the left and right in the U.S. have responded.

The left welcomed demonstrations against governments that were run by the privileged class in Iran, Greece, Ireland, Egypt, China and even France. Instead of feeling threatened by such uprisings, they tended to see them as the noble voice of humanity yearning for freedom from oppression.

In contrast, they saw marches and demonstrations from the American right as somehow dangerous to democracy. In such a view, protests are owned by the left and those on the right aren’t allowed to use such techniques—they are supposed to better behaved.

In contrast, the right tended to view recent right-leaning town meetings and D.C. demonstrations in the United States as progressive, while viewing the French, Irish, Greek and Middle East protests with critical eyes.

The old meaning of “conservative” was to simply want things to stay the same, and in world affairs many American conservatives seem to prove this definition.

An uprising in Iran or Egypt, as much as one might identify with the people’s desire for freedom, feels threatening and disturbing to many on the right.

The Cycles

The demonstrations and the diverse ways of viewing them is a natural result of a major shift we are experiencing in the world. Strauss and Howe called it “The Fourth Turning,” a great cyclical shift from an age of long-term peace and prosperity to a time of challenge and on-going crises.

We have experienced many such shifts in history (e.g. the American revolutionary era, the Civil War period, the era of Great Depression and World War II), but that doesn’t soften the blow of experiencing it firsthand in our generation.

Following the cycles of history, we have lived through the great catalyst (9/11) which brought on the new era of challenge, just like earlier generations faced their catalytic events (e.g. the Boston Tea Party, the election of Abraham Lincoln, or the Stock Market crash of 1929).

We are now living in a period of high stress and high conflict, just as our forefathers did in the tense periods of the 1770s, 1850s and 1930s. If the cycles hold true in our time, we can next expect some truly major crisis—the last three being the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first shots of the Civil War, and the fighting at Lexington and Concord.

These realities are part of our genetic and psychic history, even if we haven’t personally researched the trends and history books. We seem to “know” that challenges are ahead, and so we worry about the latest world and national news event.

“Will this ignite the fire?” “Will this change everything?” “Is this it—the start of major crisis?” Conservatives, liberals, independents—we nearly all ask these questions, if only subconsciously.

Conservatives tend to believe that major crisis will come from the “mismanagement of the left,” while liberals are inclined to think the problems will be caused by the extremism of the right.

Independents have a tendency to feel that our challenges will come from both Republicans and Democrats—either working together in the wrong ways or getting distracted from critical issues while fighting each other at precisely the wrong time.

Add to this strain the fact that we are simultaneously shifting from the industrial to the information age, and it becomes understandable that the pressure is building in many places in today’s world.

The shift from the agricultural age to the industrial age brought the Civil War, Bismarck’s Wars (known to many in Europe as the first great war—a generation before World War I), and the Asian upheaval as it shifted from the age of warlords to modern empires.

Today we have mostly forgotten how drastic such a change was, and how traumatically it impacted the world.

The Egypt Crisis

The bad news is: if the cycles and trends of history hold, we will likely relive such world-changing events in the decades ahead. As for Egypt, our reactions are telling us more about ourselves than about the Arab world.

Knee-jerk liberalism thrills at another people rising up against authoritarianism but worries that the extreme religious nature of some of the militants will bring the wrong outcomes.

Knee-jerk conservatism reinforces its view that the middle east is the world’s problem area, that we should just get out of that region (or get a lot more involved), and that stability is more important than things like freedom and opportunity for the Egyptian people.

Deep thinkers from all political views see that we now live in the age of demonstrations. The worldwide shift from decades of relative peace and prosperity to a time of recurring crises is putting pressure on people everywhere.

Some protest the reduction of government pensions and programs as nations try to figure out how to get their financial houses in order. Others demonstrate against governments that respond to major economic crises with increased spending, stimulus and government programs.

Still others riot against authoritarian governments that haven’t allowed the people a true democratic voice in the direction of their nation or society.

When we shift from an industrial era of peace and prosperity to an information-age epoch of crisis and challenge, people in all walks of life feel the pressure and anxiety of change. This manifests itself in relationship, organizational, financial and family stress, as well as cultural, class, religious, political and societal tensions. We are witnessing all of these in this generation.

Egypt may spark a major world crisis, and indeed many feel that the Egyptian challenge is the biggest foreign policy crisis of Obama’s presidency. As Thomas L. Friedman put it, on a more global scale:

“There is a huge storm coming, Israel. Get out of the way.”

President Bush’s supporters are using Egypt to bolster the view that Bush’s attempts to establish democracy in the Arab world was wise foresight, and Obama supporters hope that a re-democratized Egypt can stand as “beacon to the region.”

If the Egyptian uprising becomes the start of pan-Arabism led by the Muslim Brotherhood (or something like it), this will certainly bring significant changes to the Middle East and to international relations across the board.

On the other hand, a similar outcome could result from a totalitarian crackdown that extinguishes the will of the Egyptian people to fight for legitimate reform. The most likely result may be what has happened more often recently: the replacement of authoritarian government with a powerful oligarchy ruling the nation.

The American Crisis

How the United States responds to any of these scenarios, or whatever else may happen, will have a significant impact on world policy.

Add to this at least two concerns: Serious inflation is already a growing reality and increasing danger, and many are watching to see the impact on the price of oil on our economy.

If the cost of gasoline goes above $5 or $6 or, say, $9 per gallon in the U.S., what will happen to 9.6% unemployment, state and local governments that are already close to bankruptcy, and a reeling economy just barely emerging from the Great Recession?

If the Egypt Crisis doesn’t ignite a major world or American crisis, something else will. That’s the reality of our place in the cycles of history. Challenges are ahead for our nation.

This is true in any generation, but it is even more pronounced in the generations where we shift from an era of peace and prosperity to an epoch of crisis and challenge. As we also move into the information age, we have our work cut out for us.
Futurist Alvin Toffler wrote:

“A new civilization is emerging in our lives. This new civilization brings with it new family styles; changed ways of working, loving and living; a new economy; new political conflicts. Millions are already attuning their lives to the rhythms of tomorrow. Others, terrified of the future, are engaged in a desperate, futile flight into the past and are trying to restore the dying world that gave them birth. The dawn of this new civilization is the single most explosive fact of our lifetimes. It is the central event—the key to understanding the years immediately ahead.”

The good news is that in such times of challenge we have the opportunity to significantly improve the world in important ways.

The Revolutionary era brought us the Constitution and the implementation of free enterprise and a classless society, the Civil War ended slavery, and the World War II era brought us into the industrial age with increasing opportunity for social equity and individual prosperity.

Freedom, free enterprise, increased caring and more widespread economic opportunities are likely ahead if we as a society refocus on the principles that work. Liberals, conservatives and independents have a lot to teach each other in this process, and we all have a lot to learn.

The biggest danger is that the age of demonstrations will lead to an age of dominance by elites—in Egypt, in Europe, in Asia, and in North America. Unfortunately, popular demonstrations are most often followed by the increased power of one elite group or another.

Though this is the worst-case scenario, it is also a leading trend in our times. In contrast, only a society led by the people can truly be free, and only such a future can turn our challenging era into a truly better world.

Each of us must take responsibility for the future, rather than leaving the details to experts. Many citizens in Egypt are trying to do this—for good or ill.

In America, we need more regular citizens to be leaders so we can meet this generational challenge as our forefathers did theirs—leaving posterity with greater freedom and opportunity.


Oliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.


Category : Current Events &Featured &Foreign Affairs &Government &History &Liberty &Politics

The Big Crisis is Coming

December 2nd, 2010 // 4:00 am @

Note: If you like this article, you’ll love Oliver’s latest book, FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny, which addresses the future of American and what to do about it.

Click Here to Download a PDF of This Article

By 2020, the U.S. will be spending $1 trillion a year just to pay the interest on the national debt. Sometime between now and then the catastrophe will come. It will come with amazing swiftness.” -David Brooks, New York Times Columnist

A big crisis is coming. From the story of the boy who cried, “Wolf!” to the crime of calling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, our society has a pretty low tolerance for alarmists.

They’re irresponsible, sensational, not to be believed.

One sure way to be ejected from the “Inner Ring” is to promote theories of conspiracy, to predict disaster or to in any other way suggest that our Progressivist trajectory is gravely off-course.

But what about when there is a wolf? Well, sure; the idea that there really is a wolf has agitated the fevered minds of crackpots and fringies since–forever.

And their animated efforts to alert the world to the threats that supposedly imperil us, to “wake us up” (regardless of our disinterest or our criticism) is perhaps the best indication that there’s no merit in their warning–or so says popular opinion.

This makes it all the more curious, awkward and, dare we say, disturbing when a chorus of alarms is heard coming from the established intelligentsia, from the acknowledged “experts” and thought leaders–the most credible voices in The Great Conversation.

And this is exactly what is taking place right now.

History is, of course, full of cranks and doomsayers, and the wise learn to talk in moderated tones and look at the evidence with clinical objectivity.

And yet in our time even many of our most objective, credible, detached, understated, methodical and consistently rational thinkers are predicting significant difficulties ahead–often in dramatic and even sensational terms.

Twenty Quotes Every American Should Read Today

For example, consider the following thoughts from some of our most tempered and prudent authorities. I have arranged these in a Top 20 list of great quotes; all 20 are an important commentary on our modern world and the decade ahead.

1. Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal

I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it’s a subtext to our society. I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks.”

2. William Strauss & Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning

Wherever we’re headed, America is evolving in ways most of us don’t like or understand. Individually focused yet collectively adrift, we wonder if we’re headed toward a waterfall . . . a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one.”

3. David Brooks, The New York Times

Elections come and go, but the United States is still careening toward bankruptcy. By 2020, the U.S. will be spending $1 trillion a year just to pay the interest on the national debt. Sometime between now and then the catastrophe will come. It will come with amazing swiftness. The bond markets are with you until the second they are against you. When the psychology shifts and the fiscal crisis happens, the shock will be grievous: national humiliation, diminished power in the world, drastic cuts and spreading pain.”

4. Niall Ferguson, Newsweek

This is how empires decline. It begins with a debt explosion.”

5. Roger C. Altman & Richard N. Haas, Foreign Affairs

The U.S. government is incurring debt at a historically unprecedented and ultimately unsustainable rate… As the world’s biggest borrower and the issuer of the world’s reserve currency, the United States will not be allowed to spend ten years leveraging itself to these unprecedented levels. If U.S. leaders do not act to curb this debt addiction, then the global capital markets will do so for them, forcing a sharp and punitive adjustment in fiscal policy. The result will be an age of American austerity. No category of federal spending will be spared, including entitlements and defense. Taxes on individuals and businesses will be raised. Economic growth, both in the United States and around the world, will suffer. There will be profound consequences, not just for Americans’ standard of living but also for U.S. foreign policy and the coming era of international relations.”

6. Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Foreign Affairs

The Congressional Budget Office calculates that total government debt will reach 100 percent of GDP by 2023…”

7. Roger C. Altman & Richard N. Haas, Foreign Affairs

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff paper comes closer to the mark by projecting that federal debt could equal total GDP as soon as 2015. These levels approximate the relative indebtedness of Greece and Italy today. Leaving aside the period during and immediately after World War II, the United States has not been so indebted since recordkeeping began, in 1792… State and local governments also owe huge amounts, on the order of $3 trillion.”

8. Don Peck, The Atlantic

The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends, it will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults… It could cripple marriage as an institution in many communities… Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture and the character of our society for years come…The economy now sits in a hole 10 million jobs deep…[and] we need to produce roughly 1.5 million jobs a year–about 125,000 a month–just to keep from sinking deeper. Even if the economy were to immediately begin producing 600,000 jobs a month–more than double the pace of the mid-to-late 1990s, when job growth was strong–it would take roughly two years to dig ourselves out of the hole we’re in… But the U.S. hasn’t seen that pace of sustained employment growth in more than 30 years…”

9. Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything

We are awaiting the new global founding Fathers and Mothers who will frame an integral system of governance that will call us to our more encompassing future . . .”

10. Andreas Kluth, The Economist

And yet, who would be California’s ‘Founding Fathers’? Thomas Jefferson, absent from Philadelphia as a minister to France, called the 55 delegates chosen by the states ‘demi-gods’. These were men such as James Madison, deeply versed in Aristotle, Cicero, Locke and Montesquieu, who preferred the word ‘republic’ to ‘democracy’ for fear that the latter might evoke the chaos of ancient Athens… But can lay people be expected to assume the responsibilities of a Madison?”

11. Thomas Friedman, The New York Times

We are in a country in debt and in decline–not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline. Our political systems seem incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities.”

12. Larry King, Larry King Live

A recent CNN Opinion Research Poll [asked]: ‘Do you think the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses a threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary people?’ Fifty-six percent of Americans said yes.”

13. Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Foreign Affairs

In 2010, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of respondents thought the United States was in decline, and only 19 percent trusted the government to do what is right most of the time. In 1964, by contrast, three-quarters of the American public said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of the time.”

14. David Brooks, The New York Times

The essence of America is energy–the vibrancy of the market, the mobility of the people and the disruptive creativity of the entrepreneurs. This vibrancy grew up accidentally, out of a cocktail of religious fervor and material abundance, but it was nurtured by choice. It was nurtured by our founders, who created national capital markets to disrupt the ossifying grip of the agricultural landholders. It was nurtured by 19th-century Republicans to build the railroads and the land-grant colleges to weave free markets across great distances. It was nurtured by Progressives who broke the stultifying grip of the trusts…The task ahead is to save this country from stagnation and fiscal ruin. We know what it will take…The Democratic Party…does not seem to be up to that coming challenge (neither is the Republican Party).”

15. Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek

The world has shifted from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism . . . The distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance.”

16. Philip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles

We are entering a period, however, when very small numbers of persons, operating with the enormous power of modern computers, biogenetics, air transport, and even small nuclear weapons, can deal lethal blows to any society. Because the origin of these attacks can be effectively disguised, the fundamental bases of the State will change . . . We are entering a fearful time, a time that will call on all our resources, moral as well as intellectual and material.”

17. Thomas Friedman, The New York Times

I heard a phrase being bandied around here by non-Americans–about the United States–that I can honestly say I’ve never heard before: ‘political instability.’ [This] was a phrase normally reserved for countries like Russia or Iran or Honduras. But now, an American businessman remarked to me, ‘people ask me about political instability in the U.S. We’ve become unpredictable to the world’….We’re making people nervous.”

18. Joe Klein, Time

Many Americans also were confused and frustrated by the constant state of war since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But for every occasion they raised Afghanistan, they mentioned China 25 times…’The great fear is about American supremacy,’ said Anne Mariucci…’We all believed that if you followed the basic compact, worked hard and played by the rules, that we’d have the highest standard of living in the world. And we were always on the front edge of the next new technology–but we’re not anymore. We seem to be mired in mediocrity while China is steaming ahead.'”

19. Ken Kurson, Esquire

Today’s brutal economy and credit freeze should have most entrepreneurs running for cover, or at last signing up for the 99 weeks of unemployment our Congress has generously provided, courtesy of our kids and grandkids. Instead, many steel-stomached small business people are using this crisis as an opportunity to expand.”

20. Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave

There are powerful reasons for long-rang optimism, even if the transitional years immediately ahead are likely to be stormy and crisis ridden.”

One More Thing: The Rise of China

On the issue of China, Peggy Noonan said in The Wall Street Journal:

People are freshly aware of the real-world implications of a $1.6 trillion deficit, of a $14 trillion debt. It will rob American of its economic power, and eventually even of its ability to defend itself. Militaries cost money. And if other countries own our debt, don’t they in some new way own us? If China holds enough of your paper, does it also own some of your foreign policy? Do we want to find out?”

Also consider these quotes from my book FreedomShift:

Note that China, the second largest economy in the world, has huge savings (unlike the former Soviet Union or the current United States) and is a major buyer of U.S. debt. China has three of the world’s four largest banks, the two largest insurance companies and the second largest stock market. With all this, the Communist Party remains in control; it also remains firmly communistic in philosophy and is, if possible, increasingly totalitarian.”

China has a huge surplus of government and also private savings, and it wants to invest in the United States. Indeed it is our largest creditor now. Other nations may also be persuaded to keep supporting our spending habits. But one has to wonder why our philosophical opponent (communist China) wants to invest so much. Are its motives pure? What if they’re not? Is it a simple profit motive? What if it’s something more?”

And as Thomas Friedman said in the New York Times:

What does it mean when China’s communist business environment is more inviting to U.S. companies, more conducive to their growth, than the United States? When the regulations and taxes in the U.S. make doing business in China attractive? The U.S. now ranks #40 out of forty industrialized nations in appeal to business.”

As noted by Samuel P. Huntington and summarized by Richard K. Betts in Foreign Affairs:

Huntington also presents data showing China as the only major power that has been more violent than Muslim states.”

Columnist for The Atlantic (and 30-year expert living in Asia) James Fallows has argued that America can find ways to work with China so the 21st Century doesn’t become a time of big-power conflict, but few if any experts believe that the U.S. can ultimately keep competing with China unless we make major improvements at home.

It’s Coming

A big crisis is coming, and we need to prepare. I am an optimist, and I am convinced that the best years in America and the world are ahead of us.

I am also an idealist: I believe that we should clarify what we want for the world’s future and get to work creating it–however difficult the task.

As a realist I am convinced that unless certain things change very quickly (and perhaps no matter what we do) we are facing some major challenges ahead. Every generation faces its share of problems and gets to choose whether to be beaten down by them or to turn them into opportunities.

All of this said, my optimism still wins out. Our best is yet to come. And it will almost surely come as we face and overcome the major challenges ahead.

What are these challenges? I have no crystal ball, and my only certainty is that they will surely come–and probably very soon.

Many nations have been at a point with conditions similar to those we now face, and there is a preponderance of historical evidence that certain kinds of problems dominate in such circumstances.

The cycles and patterns of history indicate four major types of challenges for our situation.

Four Possible Catastrophes

Four possible catastrophes are suggested by historical analysis. Of course, any foray into prediction is based on educated guesses, and the one sure bet is that the future will present a number of surprises.

Along with the inevitable shocks that will no doubt disturb all forecasts, one or more of these great challenges is likely to come again soon.

These scenarios are a good indication of what we should expect during the next decade:

1. Major Economic Problems

The Great Recession does not qualify as a major economic collapse, though nearly all the experts are convinced that it came very close to becoming one. An economic depression of considerably greater magnitude may be ahead.

2. Health Pandemic

Modern nations are extremely concerned about this terrifying possibility. It is a telling foreshadow that insurance companies are taking this threat very seriously and preparing accordingly. Historically, the Black Plague was as devastating as any war–more than most; indeed, it reportedly killed a third of the population in many parts of Europe.

3. An Unexpected Major Crisis

Examples might include a major volcanic event, earthquakes, meteors, drastic environmental shifts or other so-called “acts of God.”

Of course, the unexpected can come at any point in the historical cycles, but in times like ours these randomly occurring disasters are especially devastating because coinciding with one or more of the other three challenges is so likely. In the age of WMDs, such catastrophes could be manmade–in all of history, there is no credible example of weapons being created and remaining unused.

4. Major War that Threatens the Homeland

The experts seem to think that few enemies in the world have the potential to challenge America in this way, but even if this is true the reality is that any of the other major crises would most likely be quickly followed by major warfare.

Things can change very quickly, as history has proven. We are at the point in history (following a major boom in the 90s and then 9/11, the longest war in U.S. history and the Great Recession crash) that we are weary of crisis.

We want the challenges to be over, and we are thus particularly vulnerable. It is at such points that the really big problems come–like Pearl Harbor after a roaring twenties boom ended by the stock market crash in 1929 and then twelve long years of crushing depression.

Turning Crisis to Opportunity

We’ve gotten a little soft after several generations of prosperity and entitlement. It’s time for us to cheer up, man up and turn our coming challenges into opportunities.

America’s biggest successes came in times of challenge: the Constitution came out of a time of war and economic downturn, slavery was ended in another era of war and economic depression, and the Greatest Generation stopped Hitler in a period of world war following the Great Depression.

The patterns of history suggest, and the intelligentsia from across the globe concur, that we are headed for another such time period; in fact, we may well be into it already.

The challenges won’t be identical, of course, but they will likely be similar. Realism says our generation will have as many challenges as any other, and optimism says we can turn the coming challenges into remaking America and the world in the best and most important ways.

Whether we succumb to the challenges ahead or turn them into America’s best years depends on the American people.

If we stand back and wait for our leaders to solve our problems, the crises ahead will almost certainly go very badly for America.

If we just pretend everything is fine (or that our leaders will fix everything without our help) until the crisis is fully upon us, we miss valuable preparation time.

If, on the other hand, we resurrect our identity as a nation of grassroots leaders, entrepreneurial thinkers and citizen-statesmen, we will use the coming difficulties to significantly improve the world we pass on to posterity.

Well, Chicken Little–it turns out that the sky is falling. Will we be prepared?

Category : Current Events &Economics &Featured &Foreign Affairs &Government &Leadership

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