T’was a time when the persuasion at work in democratic publics operated in quotidian interactions along tie networks. Change took longer, yes, but there was relatively little chance of large-scale social disruption.
The suffragette and civil rights movements, for all the good they did, shattered this. Yes, they were necessary, because of structural democratic problems; without the franchise, the persuasive bar was set much higher, and it was evidently unfair, compromising democratic systems at the point of legitimacy. However, their success gave rise to clear understandings of the efficacy of activism and protest, which have become ever easier as technology evolves. Today there are vanishingly few without the franchise (basically, illegal immigrants and felons) and yet activism and protest are more prevalent than ever.
The persuasion at work in our democratic publics now relies on, in the first instance, public disruption and the fear of even more intensely disruptive mobilization and its consequences, for its effectiveness. In short, all of politics has become terrorism. Every demographic group is a terrorist group. Every voting bloc is a terrorist bloc.
This is the problem with our system—the rapidity and low barrier to public action that modern media and transportation offer have enabled a politics of terrorism (of public disruption and its significant threat) that is now the foundation of what remains of democracy. This is playing out on our college campuses, in our communities, in our places of employment, and in our national elections, as well as in other nations.
Democracy is dead as we have known it; it was killed by telecommunications, mechanically-enabled transportation, and the success of the suffragette and civil rights movements. Democracy can’t survive under conditions of terrorism, yet terrorism can no longer be defeated without destroying the fundamental contemporary principle of democracy.
Popular sovereignty is thus dead. As a technology for sublimating the riot and social darwinism, it has expired; the riot and social darwinism have returned anyway, and thus democracy will fade away as everyone realizes that it serves no useful purpose any longer.