Progressive Democracy: the ideology of the modern predatory state

Abstract

The state must expend resources to credibly threaten the use of force, and the actual use of force is more costly than just exercising the threat. A population that views itself as prey to a predatory state will resist the state’s demands and will not produce much that the state can appropriate. The predatory state will be more successful if it can convince its citizens that the state’s activities are in the public interest, which will enhance voluntary compliance with the state’s mandates and lessen the need for the state to invest resources in overt coercion. The ideology of “Progressive Democracy” encourages citizens to cooperate with the state, and legitimizes the state’s predatory activities. The ideology of Progressivism justifies the imposition of costs on some for the benefit of others. The ideology of democracy implies that when a democratic government does this, it is acting in the public interest.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Locke’s idea was quite literally revolutionary, according to Bailyn (1967), who explains that pamphleteers who agitated for the American Revolution in 1776 made frequent reference to Locke’s ideas to support their cause. Bailyn says that while most Americans at the time probably did not read Locke, they would have been familiar with Locke’s name because of those pamphleteers.

  2. 2.

    McCloskey (2006) and Pinker (2018) make powerful arguments and present good evidence on the contribution of Enlightenment ideas to human prosperity and general well-being.

  3. 3.

    Survey data for this and other questions in the World Values Survey are found at www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSOnline.jsp, accessed December 27, 2018. The responses cited here are from Wave 6, the most recent one available, which questioned those surveyed from 2010 to 2016.

  4. 4.

    Holcombe (2002) explains this idea in more detail, examining the constitutional history of the United States. Things are less clear-cut in European democracies that do not have the same explicit founding documents. Congleton (2011) gives a good discussion of the evolution of constitutional ideas and liberal democracy in European governments.

  5. 5.

    While this is a translation from the French original, it is interesting to note that it refers to people as a singular rather than plural concept, further reinforcing Rousseau’s idea that a general will exists that encompasses all citizens.

  6. 6.

    Forceful criticism of this framework of hypothetical agreement is presented by Yeager (1985, 2001).

  7. 7.

    Buchanan (1975, pp. 175–176) does criticize Rawls for speculating on the outcomes that would emerge from the process Rawls recommends.

  8. 8.

    As previously noted, Buchanan and Tullock (1962, ch. 6) refer to this as expected external costs.

  9. 9.

    A few members of the economic elite can offer sufficient funds to parties and candidates such that their political actions can make a difference. It is interesting to see the way in which the political elite objects to this conclusion, arguing that the influence of money on politics is pernicious, even as they devote much of their own time to fund-raising. Politicians argue that citizens should become more engaged in the political process, because they realize that higher voter turnout legitimizes their political power, but when citizens who actually can make a difference get involved, those same politicians object strenuously to their engagement. Note, however, that if the members of the economic elite donate to their political campaigns, the donations are readily accepted.

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Correspondence to Randall G. Holcombe.

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Holcombe, R.G. Progressive Democracy: the ideology of the modern predatory state. Public Choice 182, 287–301 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-019-00637-z

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Keywords

  • Democracy
  • Progressivism
  • Predatory state
  • Contractarianism
  • Political ideology
  • Politics as exchange