The concluding pages of Politics in Plural Societies: A Theory of Democratic Instability (Rabushka and Shepsle, 1972) are interesting, and shed much light on recent American history. 

Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth A. Shepsle (1972), p. 217.

The reasons for the instability of democracy in what we today call “multicultural” societies is pretty obvious from even the most basic economic point of view:

  1. A set of wealth transfer programs expresses a basic set of values, but every culture and ethnicity has a different complexion of values (so do individuals, of course, which makes any forced wealth transfer scheme unstable even in a monoculture, but this problem is ramped up another notch in the plural society). When we force different groups to conform to a patterned set of wealth transfers and other ‘public goods,’ we compel folks to compromise on their values, with some people getting programs more in accord with their values than others. This breeds resentment and conflict and even violence.
  2. Disparate values also disenable cultural checks on the Tragedy of the Commons. If we see the public goods that a State attempts to provide as a commons, then the communal checks on abusing the common resource work less well when there are separate ethnic and other cultural communities. As a good Swede you may feel some compunction about mooching off the taxpayers, but add Finns and Muslim immigrants to the mix, and that moral check on over-use and over-access — the ‘over’ leading to instability, to draining the resource — may turn to a beggar-thy-neighbor approach, as separate groups aim to game the system by abuse. Further, in a democracy where the people set policy to some degree, there develops a beggar-thy-neighbor approach to rig the system in favor of each group at the expense of others. This of course leads to outrageous taxation and financial work-arounds, like central bank credit manipulation.
  3. Our naturally limited empathy becomes even more limited when we deal with different and hard-to-understand out-groups, and forcing us into collective solutions across cultural divides actually makes for more friction not less because of over-stressed empathy.

So, what to do? The authors’ final three options for culturally pluralistic societies are (a) reduced levels of public goods provision, leaving such goods to markets (laissez faire) [and non-political community action], (b) nation-building to create homogenous ethnic societies, and (c) finding enemies to fight against, thus uniting the populace by forcing in-group solidarity among disparate elements via upping the general fear level, finding commonality because of “existential threats.”

Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth A. Shepsle (1972), p. 216.

People generally do not want laissez faire because it means they have to provide value for value, and government constantly tempts them to seek benefits at others’ expense. This is why we have welfare states, for wealth transfer systems promise magical solutions and allow folks to channel their greed in socially acceptable ways, farding it up as “social justice.”

Nation-building to achieve ethnic unity requires either genocide or partitioning down to possibly really low levels. The former is of course horrible and the latter has the same problem that laissez faire has: it removes temptation to gain at others’ expense. People demand to yield to temptation.

But there is more!

Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth A. Shepsle (1972), p. 217.

Finding enemies to fight has been of course the dominant route for America for the past century, and the success of World War II has stuck the country in the mythology of a unifying righteous war, with everybody still hating on the Nazis, despite no obvious widespread Nazi sympathies, for instance. But since WWII, however, the plausibility of constant warfare has become shakier and shakier, while attempts to focus on causes like “global warming” are marred by the transparency of the political interest, the obvious problem of the science being dubious, and the disturbing spectacle of lying scientists and lunatic religiosity among the political pushers. An extraterrestrial threat — either from comets and asteroids, on the one hand, or UFOs on the other — are apparently being worked on now in the Deep State. But in a global society all these options are difficult to achieve because they depend on creating a consensus where consensus is not rationally warranted. Hence the continual disinformation and psy-ops. Which can be seen in the recent pandemic menace. And all this helps explain why we have a warfare-welfare state in America, not just a welfare state.

If you cannot obtain stability in a large population via normal democratic methods, then we see attempts to use anti-democratic means, such as orchestrated protests and riots, all-or-nothing political machinations, the increase in Executive discretion, cultural totalitarianism (p.c.), policy making by judges, and the very existence of an administrative state and its secretive operations (Deep State).

Localizing democracy and promoting federalism in a general context of laissez faire is, to me, the most obviously humane solution. But people are greedy and angry and resentful, as well as well-programmed by deeply partisan and increasingly anti-educational schooling, so such options find few adherents. It is a pity that this “easy way out” comes at great enough cost that few people see any advance in such a “minimax.”

Of course, Rabushka and Shepsle wrote 50 years ago, and their insights did not win the day. What seems to be winning is a very different program: “multiculturalism.”

Today’s much-touted multiculturalism, as I see it, isn’t what it says it is, i.e., for multiple cultures co-existing. Instead, it is a political movement that uses a set of out-group cultures as an excuse to revolutionize the State and inflict an ideological monoculture, using techniques familiar from limited access societies of the distant past, and from more recent totalitarian states. 

A workable multiculturalism worthy of the name would decrease (not constantly increase) the general level of legal obligations and the amount of public goods provided, not requiring disparate individuals and groups to share resources with people of different values. The rule would be toleration, not compulsory “acceptance” and marginalization of all who resist.

This is very basic stuff. I did not need to read Rabushka and Shepsle to have a handle on it. Indeed, a number of years ago I wrote an essay on “The Comedy of the Commons,” and floated it by a few friends. It covered most of this. Or, I think it did. I cannot now find it!

The upshot of all this is not hard to understand. I have no problem with multiple churches in my neighborhood, or a vibrant pop music scene featuring music I’ve no interest in, or a variety of family structures, from nuclear families, single-parent families, clans, and chain marriages. The idea is I don’t have to contribute to your cause, and you don’t have to contribute to mine. That would be true, tolerant multiculturalism.

The doctrine that currently goes by the name, however, is a changeling creature designed to destroy diversity in the name of diversity.

Indeed, it is no shock to witness a de-stabilizing ideology leap to deeply anti-social attitudes: street violence on the one hand, and ingratitude to benefactors (the rich, who pay the bulk of the taxes) on the other.

To witness post-modernist multiculturalists embrace policies that are obviously de-stabilizing suggests not only that some deep quasi-religious, even chthonian impulse is in play — a societal death wish? — but also that the Rabushka-Shepsle treatise needs more attention from today’s sociologists, social psychologists, historians and Public Choice economists.