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The first step in the function of any group is structure. From structure comes security and that always requires strength (dictatorship) to build a hierarchy. Mankind learned in ancient Japan that total freedom is only possible within complete dictatorship. If one accepts the “walls,” then individualism is unbound. This is where dictatorship (conservatism) fails, as the individual is never trusted to make his/her social/political decisions.
The next phase of civilization is communal effort. These two phases remain eternally locked in conflict. The temptation to return to dictatorship, however benevolent, is a result of our animalism, greed, survival instincts, mortal selfishness and lack of social courage. Another way to look at this struggle is that it is between conservatives (structured individuals) and liberals (communalism). With conservatives you know what to expect; with liberals the outcome is uncertain and depends on your involvement — a messy, tedious and time consuming process.
Populism is the first phase of a political awakening within a group. It is never democracy. Populism is also a means to cycle forward and backward between the above struggles. Populism can be a tool for both fanatics (political and religious — Libya, Arab Spring) and progressives.
Pure democracy is the pinnacle of group function. It’s where the citizen accepts the social responsibility of participation in discourse, service and defense. The greater level of individual participation, the smaller the role of government. While a relatively new country, the U.S. is now the oldest continuous form of government. We are currently in an intense period of social, economic and cultural change where conservatism mixed with religion is reemerging. “In times of dislocation and discontent, we cleave to some remembered (or, more likely, imagined) past, some durable myths or a set of simple solutions that tide us over until reality has finished having its way,” T.S. Purdum.
Problem: We don’t have unlimited time, resources or a monopoly on global economic power any longer. To meet these challenges, we will have to have the social courage to cast off the security of the old and be willing to fail at the new.