(Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion, not that of any movement or organization.)

This post aims to show that, over the next decade, it is quite likely that most democratic Western countries will become fascist dictatorships - this is not a tail risk, but the most likely overall outcome. Politics is not a typical LessWrong topic, and for good reason:

  1. it tends to impair clear thinking;
  2. most well-known political issues are not neglected;
  3. most political "debates" are simply people yelling at each other online; neither saying anything new, nor even really trying to persuade the opposition.

However, like the COVID pandemic, it seems like this particular trend will be so impactful and so disruptive to ordinary Western life that it will be important to be aware of it, factor it into plans, and try our best to mitigate or work around the effects.

Introduction

First, what is fascism? It's common for every side in a debate to call the other side "fascists" or "Nazis", as we saw during (eg.) the Ukraine War. Lots of things that get called "fascist" online are in fact fairly ordinary, or even harmless. So, to be clear, Wikipedia defines "fascism" as:

a far-right, authoritarian, ultranationalist political ideology and movement, characterized by a dictatorial leader, centralized autocracy, militarism, forcible suppression of opposition, belief in a natural social hierarchy, subordination of individual interests for the perceived good of the nation and race, and strong regimentation of society and the economy

Informally, I might characterize "fascism" as:

a system of government where there are no meaningful elections; the state does not respect civil liberties or property rights; dissidents, political opposition, minorities, and intellectuals are persecuted; and where government has a strong ideology that is nationalist, populist, socially conservative, and hostile to minority groups.

(The last point is what separates fascism from, say, Stalinism. Stalinism is also very bad, but is not a major political force in 2023.) So by "fascism", I specifically mean a radical change in the basic form of government, not simply a state doing dumb things like making immigration hard or banning Bitcoin. Not all fascists are the same - eg. Mussolini's Italy was initially opposed to Nazi-style racism - but their movements, ideology, rhetoric, and leaders tend to share many common characteristics (see also eg. here). 

Fascism is very bad, and therefore, it would be really great if it were unlikely to happen in well-established democracies like the US. Unfortunately, as with AI risk, most arguments for that scenario being unlikely tend to resemble this comic from XKCD:

 

or this comic about AI risk:

The first argument goes, essentially, that things are basically fine now, and are unlikely to become bad immediately (next week or next month), so therefore we have nothing to worry about. The counterpoint, of course, is that if existing trends continue progressing - and there's no convincing reason why they must stop - the future a few decades from now will become very different from the present. The second argument is that the relevant scenario would be pretty weird by the standards of our current lives (as rich, educated Westerners living in 2023), so we should assume it's unlikely. However, our contemporary lives and civilization are themselves very weird historically (vs. the more typical peasant farming), and there's no fundamental reason why they have to keep on going forever. Indeed, them continuing forever is in some ways a contradiction, since current society relies on economic growth and innovation; we can't coherently forecast "everything stays the same, including the derivatives".

What do the derivatives look like, in terms of countries going fascist? Concepts like "fascism" and "democracy" are tricky to measure, and there are many different standards one could use. However, essentially all the widely used metrics now show a global decline in democracy, and a rapid growth in right-wing authoritarianism and illiberalism, which is sometimes called the "third wave of autocratization". Here is Freedom House's graph of "democracy under siege":

The Economist's Democracy Index shows a sharp decline over the last decade:

The V-Dem Institute's tracker shows that, after widespread growth in democracy during the 1980s and 90s, many more countries are now becoming autocratic than democratic, especially weighted by population:

Very poor areas like Mali and Sudan are prone to military coups, but in more established countries, fascism is usually established through a process of democratic backsliding under a populist leader. Essentially, the steps are:

  1. A charismatic figure emerges to lead a new populist movement, focusing on opposition to the existing political system and its "elites".
  2. Eventually, average people become dissatisfied with the existing democratic government or leader. Possible reasons range from corruption, to scandals, to economic decline, to a hostile press. As of 2023, most leaders of developed countries have poor approval ratings; opinions vary on whether this is because of changes in the media landscape, or whether society overall just sucks more than it used to.
  3. In the next election, ordinary people vote for the new populist movement and its leader, and they win democratically.
  4. Once in power, the new leadership uses state institutions to slowly, one piece at a time, give themselves electoral advantages. They gerrymander districts, take over the media, punish any opposition, and purge or abolish outside institutions or checks on their authority (courts, electoral commissions, local governments, etc.), until democracy is gone.

In a typical post-war, Western democracy, there will be different parties and ideologies, but the leadership of all parties form an elite that shares certain cultural norms. (Scott, Bret Devereaux, and Eliezer all discuss this; Eliezer portrays it as a bad thing, although perhaps he has changed his mind since 2008.) In populist authoritarianism, this group is replaced with a new elite, detached from existing institutions, that lacks interest in ideas like human rights and the rule of law. Hitler is the big example that everyone is familiar with, but he might not be the best one, as Weimar Germany was a strange place and the Nazis were unusual in many ways. Recent, more typical examples that Scott Alexander has written about include Modi in India, Erdogan in Turkey, and Orban in Hungary.

There's nothing inherently partisan about this backsliding process, and past decades have seen various left-wing populist authoritarians, like Huey Long in the US or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. However, current political trends strongly favor right-wing authoritarianism, national conservatism, or "cultural populism", which "claims that the true people are the native members of the nation-state, and outsiders can include immigrants, criminals, ethnic and religious minorities, and cosmopolitan elites. Cultural populism tends to emphasize religious traditionalism, law and order, sovereignty, and painting migrants as enemies" (from here). The number and strength of right-wing authoritarians now far outmatches left-wing ones.

The political extremism or bad behavior of populist leaders often shocks past politicians, the press, and civil society, and some assume they will be quickly voted out. However, political studies show that populists last much longer in office than traditional leaders do, and they rarely lose elections once in power:

Most educated elites dislike dictators, and many assume that in democracies, being pro-dictator is a fringe minority view. But in most countries, a large minority or even a majority of voters see dictatorship ("a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections") as a good form of government. This makes it possible for many authoritarians to win democratically, especially if they are seen as "the lesser of two evils". Here is a map I made of public opinion on dictatorship, based on World Values Survey data:

National Exceptionalism

I think many people acknowledge this overall trend, but since most of the newest fascist regimes have been small or poor, they still believe some countries are relatively safe. In essence, "fascism might happen in X, Y and Z, but that doesn't mean it will happen here; here is totally different than those other places. We're a true democracy, a solid democracy, and we don't wear those funny hats like the Xs and Ys do." However, most democracies now have large, extreme, and growing far-right movements, even those that were considered "immune" to fascism in the past. It used to be that all politics was local, but now that the Internet is widespread, political movements and messages can easily cross borders and be heard anywhere, globalizing trends. Educational polarization, the tendency for working-class voters to move en masse into right-wing nationalist parties while educated voters move left, is a common shift that has happened everywhere from Sweden to Brazil.

France, for example, is a very old, well-established and liberal democracy. It has had a far-right party (National Front/National Rally) since the 1970s, but voters of other parties came together in a "republican front", to keep them out of power and fight their extremism. However, this has broken down recently, with the far right becoming a large, growing, and mainstream party:

(data from here and here)

Laws might try to ban or limit fascist movements; but ultimately, any law or constitution is simply words on paper, institutions are made out of people, and guarantees of democracy mean nothing unless everyone with power believes in them. After WWII, for example, the new Italian constitution banned fascism and fascist parties. However, the old fascist party was quickly re-constituted as the "Italian Social Movement", under Giorgio Almirante, previously an official in Mussolini's government. Their successors, the Brothers of Italy, are now the largest party in Italy's legislature, under far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni:

Likewise, the banned far-right Vlaams Blok in Belgium was quickly reconstituted as "Vlaams Belang". In Germany, the post-war government and constitution tried to create a "defensive democracy" that would resist fascism, and until recently, there was no large far-right party in parliament. However, the far-right AfD has now hit a record high in polls, making them the second-largest party in Germany, even though AfD is under surveillance as a right-wing extremist movement and a regional leader was just arrested for using Nazi slogans. For now, AfD is under a "cordon sanitaire", and cannot enter government because all other parties refuse cooperation with them; but such cordons have historically broken down as the far-right gets more vote share, as recently happened with eg. the far-right Sweden Democrats (more details here):

Even countries that, for a long time, were known for being "immune" to fascism have quickly changed course. This 2017 article, for example, discusses the reasons why Spain didn't have large far-right parties, but Vox emerged as an electoral force a year later, and it is likely to be part of the government after July's elections. Likewise, Portugal was thought to be "immune", but the far-right party Chega now polls at a record high. Chile was, for a long time, known for its stability and moderate politics, but in 2021 44% of voters supported fascist Jose Antonio Kast, the son of a Nazi emigre family that held power under Pinochet. All countries have differences, and each one will have a unique story, whether it's Gyurcsany's speech in Hungary or a mysterious plane crash in Poland. However, it's now clear that this is a global trend which affects everyone everywhere, and that national quirks won't keep fascists at the door.

Only In America

In the United States, Donald Trump's efforts to overthrow democracy have been very well-documented, so I won't belabor them. As many point out, it is true that Trump failed, and that many of the dire predictions for his first term didn't come to pass. But what is less well-known is that:

  1. because of Biden's unpopularity, if the election were held again tomorrow, Biden would most likely lose. Biden won the tipping-point state, Wisconsin, by only half a percent in 2020, and both polls and favorability ratings show he has lost popularity since then;
  2. the House, Senate, and Electoral College all have biased maps that will let Republicans win a governing trifecta, even with a minority of the popular vote;
  3. two-thirds of Republican congressmen voted to overturn the election immediately after January 6th, and most of Trump's primary opponents strongly support his actions, so even if Trump has a heart attack tomorrow, many in the party would still be hostile to democracy;
  4. there have been waves of Republican retirements in the House and Senate during 2018 and 2022, so that many of the Trump-skeptical congressmen in office during his first term have been replaced by far-right radicals and Trump loyalists;
  5. most of the "adults in the room" during Trump's first term were fired or resigned, and Trump plans to fill their roles with new staff, loyal to his own vision;
  6. if elected to a second term, Trump has said he will use "Schedule F" to purge the non-partisan professional civil service, law enforcement, and the American military, and replace them with Trumpists who won't resist attempts to end democracy;
  7. if re-elected, Trump plans to withdraw the US from NATO and end the post-WWII policy of an American "nuclear umbrella", which will likely trigger a Chinese invasion of a now-defenseless Taiwan; global nuclear proliferation; and general, worldwide instability not seen since 1945.

Hence, it is fairly likely that Republicans will regain power in 2024, and very likely that they will sometime over the next decade, with much worse consequences than in 2001 or 2017.

America's political problems are sometimes described as "polarization", between one group of right-wing Trump supporters and another group of "woke" progressives. I'm not really a fan of "woke" ideas, but in democracies, they are made much less dangerous by being a movement run by small numbers of highly educated elites, who may influence various institutions but lack a solid electoral base. This is easier to see in Europe's multi-party systems, where the furthest-right parties (the dark blues and some gray) far outnumber the furthest-left parties (the darker red) in EU elections:

In the US, with just two parties, we have to make more guesses. However, the polling numbers we do have show that 24% of Americans would vote for Trumpist nationalism in a multi-party system, vs. only 8% who would vote for a "woke", left-wing AOC party. American conservatives far outnumber liberals, and "woke" policies like defunding the police and affirmative action are very unpopular even in left-wing areas, with the latter being defeated by huge margins in deep-blue California. Hence, even though there are both left-wing and right-wing radicals, it is vastly easier to imagine fascist dictatorship than a "woke" dictatorship, especially as the latter movement now seems to be in decline.

"Moderate" Fascism

In the West, the archetypal new dictator with a radical ideology is Hitler (with some also thinking of Stalin and Mao), so people often use those figures in historical analogies. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were all unusually terrible even by radical dictator standards; it's worth remembering that most fascists aren't Hitler, don't want to gas the Jews, and aren't interested in starting catastrophic world wars. However, you can be an 'ordinary' dictator who is less bad than Hitler, and still be very very bad. Eg., here is some of what happened under Spain's Francisco Franco:

At the end of the Spanish Civil War the executions of the "enemies of the state" continued (some 50,000 people were killed), including the extrajudicial (death squad) executions of members of the Spanish maquis (anti–Francoist guerrillas) and their supporters (los enlaces, "the links"); in the province of Córdoba 220 maquis and 160 enlaces were killed. Thousands of men and women were imprisoned after the civil war in Francoist concentration camps, approximately 367,000 to 500,000 prisoners were held in 50 camps or prisons. In 1933, before the war, the prisons of Spain contained some 12,000 prisoners, just seven years later, in 1940, just one year after the end of the civil war, 280,000 prisoners were held in more than 500 prisons throughout the country. The principal purpose of the Francoist concentration camps was to classify the prisoners of war from the defeated Spanish Republic; men and women who were classified as "unrecoverable", were put to death.

Chile's Pinochet was very bad:

The most prevalent forms of state-sponsored torture that Chilean prisoners endured were electric shocks, waterboarding, beatings, and sexual abuse. Another common mechanism of torture employed was "disappearing" those who were deemed to be potentially subversive because they adhered to leftist political doctrines. The tactic of "disappearing" the enemies of the Pinochet regime was systematically carried out during the first four years of military rule. The "disappeared" were held in secret, subjected to torture and were often never seen again. Both the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture (Valech Report) and the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation (Rettig Report) approximate that there were around 30,000 victims of human rights abuses in Chile, with 40,018 tortured and 2,279 executed.

More recently, Erdogan's Turkey has been very bad:

Some 160,000 people were detained for questioning, of which over 77,000 were formally arrested for alleged links to terror organizations, including Gulen’s network and outlawed Kurdish rebels. Those arrested include military personnel, police, journalists, lawmakers, judges and prosecutors.

According to Justice Ministry figures, close to 35,000 people put on trial for links to Gulen’s network have been convicted so far. Around 14,000 others were acquitted.

More than 130,000 people have been purged from the public service through emergency government decrees. Those dismissed include tens of thousands of teachers and close to 6,000 academics. Around 1,300 people were re-instated to jobs by a commission that was set up to review cases but 18,000 other appeals were rejected.

Other examples abound. Hence, simply "not being Hitler" does not imply that a dictatorship will be mild, or that most things will simply be "business as usual". Even if a regime is initially less extreme, many dictators will escalate their repression over time, as they solidify their power and remove liberals from high-ranking positions. This includes (eg.) communist China, which has always been authoritarian, but which has transitioned from "reform and opening up" to an intensely nationalist regime with heavy-handed repression, arbitrary seizure of businesses, and a genocide in Xinjiang

What About AI?

After the release of GPT-4, some will see AI risk as both more dire (involving total human extinction) and more imminent than fascism risk. Honestly, that's very reasonable. However, even in a world with shorter timelines, I think fascism is still a relevant consideration:

  • If we get a Jupiter Brain AI tomorrow, all bets are off the table, but few expect something that extreme. Sam Altman, the quintessential short-timeline accelerationist, is currently on an international tour meeting with heads of state, and is worried about the 2024 election. He wouldn't do that if he thought it would all be irrelevant next year.
  • AI policy, strategy, and governance involves working with government officials within the political system. This will be very different if the relevant officials are fascists, who are selected for loyalty rather than competence.
  • Right now, the core task an aligned AI needs to do is hard, but fairly straightforward and easy to explain: cooperate with existing states to stop anyone from building more powerful, unaligned AI (or superviruses, etc). Things look very different if the AI has to overthrow existing states, which is both significantly harder to do and much trickier to align. Most people, including most AI developers, will rightly be skeptical of a plan for "AI dictatorship" with no pre-existing legitimacy.
  • A fascist government will likely interfere with AI development itself, in the same way that the COVID pandemic was a non-AI issue that nonetheless affected AI engineers. This has already been seen in eg. China's crackdown on the tech industry.

Prediction Market

(ADDED) Since posting this, Chris Billington has created a Manifold prediction market on how likely this is. I agree with this as a statement of my views, and have bet "yes".

New to LessWrong?

New Comment
146 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:35 AM
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

I don't see support for the key claim of the article.

This post aims to show that, over the next decade, it is quite likely that most democratic Western countries will become fascist dictatorships - this is not a tail risk, but the most likely overall outcome.

How do we get to "most democratic Western countries"? Which ones should I expect to fall? What's a rough timeline for them falling?

I don't even see what parties are supposed to be those fascist dictatorships. The three main examples given of fascism are "Modi in India, Erdogan in Turkey, and Orban in Hungary".

But:

  1. Erdogan just narrowly won an election, one in which he was fully expected to step down if defeated. He has repeatedly lost important elections at the local level.
  2. Modi is a popular leader who is widely expected to win reelection, and yet opposition parties control a great many states. Indian democracy still functions, despite the many failures of the main opposition. 
  3. Hungary also still has elections and viable political opposition.

Other examples include:

  1. Trump, who has been president without significantly weakening American democracy and whose 3 appointed judges have proven willing to rule against him, particularly
... (read more)

Trump's appointed SCOTUS judges are indeed willing to rule against him and to uphold a coherent legal theory of democracy under the rule of law, which agree or disagree is clearly not equivalent to "whatever my side wants it gets". The same sadly cannot be said of his lower court judges, notably Aileen Cannon, whose presence on the bench in his home district drastically decreases the otherwise high likelihood of his being convicted and imprisoned for having obviously, self-confessedly committed serious crimes. Cannon is exactly the sort of lawless, toadying party hack that fascist dictators-in-making around the world love to appoint to the judiciary, and we should expect lots more of them to be appointed if Trump wins in 2024. This may prove to be the biggest single piece of damage to US democracy in the next decade.

7the gears to ascension8mo
I appreciate this because it focuses on the mechanistic process of inter-human communication that actually implements the patterns we're discussing. I feel like if this conversation is to continue usefully it probably should move towards precise mechanistic description, I'd be interested in a v2 of a post like this that taboos most names of organizational patterns and instead uses mechanistic descriptions. examples of words that I'd rather see as an expanded definition in most of the document (mentioning the name need not be forbidden, just don't use the name at length): fascism; authoritarianism; democracy (!); [far] right, left. also, every "will", "typically", "often" should ideally be cited. Without these refinements this is already a great doc, but it needs to be a high quality argument about a fraught topic. I write this already in agreement with the title thesis, but I also agree that OP isn't sufficiently verified evidence to be convincing to someone who doesn't already have an epistemic state that makes this a small update.
5xiann8mo
That is one example, but wouldn't we typically assume there is some worst example of judicial malpractice at any given time, even in a healthy democracy? If we begin to see a wave of openly partisan right or left-wing judgements, that would be a cause for concern, particularly if they overwhelm the ability of the supreme court to overrule. The recent dueling rulings over mifepristone was an example of this (both the original ruling and the reactive ruling), but it is again a single example so far. I actually think the more likely scenario then a fascistic backslide is a civil conflict or split between red & blue America, which would significantly destabilize global geopolitics by weakening American hegemony. The military leans conservative but not overwhelmingly, so if put under pressure individual battalions may pledge loyalty to either side in a conflict. However, even this I would say is low-probability because of the partisan geography of America; red & blue areas intermingle and do not form a coherent front like the north & south did in the Civil War.

Thanks for the response! Here are some comments:

 - India, Turkey, and Hungary are widely referred to as "hybrid regimes" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_regime), in which opposition still exists and there are still elections, but the state interferes with elections so as to virtually guarantee victory. In Turkey's case, there have been many elections, but Erdogan always wins through a combination of mass arrests, media censorship, and sending his most popular opponent to prison for "insulting public officials" (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-63977555). In India's case, Modi is no doubt very popular, but elections are likewise hardly fair when the main opponent is disqualified and sent to prison for "defamation" (insulting Modi). Rather than being voted out, hybrid regimes usually transition to full dictatorships, as has happened in (eg.) Russia, Belarus, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, etc.

 - Of course nothing is certain, but France's president is very powerful, and this article discusses in detail how Le Pen could manipulate the system to get a legislative supermajority and virtually unlimited power if elected: https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/04/20/france-electio... (read more)

In Turkey's case, there have been many elections, but Erdogan always wins through a combination of mass arrests, media censorship, and sending his most popular opponent to prison for "insulting public officials"

You do know that Ekrem Imamoglu was not actually sent to jail, right? He was one of the vice-presidential candidates in the May 2023 election.

Your claims here also ignore the fact that before the May 2023 elections, betting markets expected Erdogan to lose. On Betfair, for example, Erdogan winning the presidential elections was trading at 30c to 35c. Saying that "of course Erdogan would win, he censors his critics and puts them in jail" is a good example of 20/20 hindsight. Can you imagine betting markets giving Putin a 30% chance to win a presidential election in Russia?

It's also not true that Erdogan always wins elections in Turkey. Erdogan's party used to have a majority of seats in the parliament, and over time their share of the vote diminished to the extent that now they don't anymore. To remain in power, Erdogan was compelled to ally with a Turkish nationalist party that had previously been one of his political enemies, and it's only this alliance that has a majority of seats in the parliament now. This also led to noticeable policy shifts in Erdogan's government, most notably when it comes to their attitude towards the Kurds.

It seems to me that you're getting your information from biased sources and your knowledge of the political situation in Turkey is only superficial.

5Rand08mo
I wondered if there was a selection effect in your hybrid -> dictatorship statement (we don't talk much about people who lost power). But if I look at the hybrid regimes in 2012 here (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Economist_Democracy_Index), I do see a fair percentage that are listed as authoritarian in 2022. By contrast, only three countries (Singapore, Sri Lanka and Albania) have moved to Flawed Democracy. (2012 is, of course, a major outlier for Egypt, Libya and some other Arab Spring countries, but that doesn't affect the general trend much.)
5Rand08mo
It's worth looking at what happened in Ekrem İmamoğlu's case, which you've linked to. As of today, Ekrem İmamoğlu is the sitting mayor of Istanbul, awaiting pending multiple courts upholding the verdict in his trial. İmamoğlu endorsed the head of his party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, as a presidential candidate, with İmamoğlu to serve as vice-president (though ultimately there were 7 (!) people set to serve as VP, so I don't know how meaningful this is). Kılıçdaroğlu won 48% of the vote in the presidential election. I haven't seen a detailed postmortem on how Erdoğan beat the polls, but there was no "virtually guaranteeing victory" in this election.  Also importantly: Erdoğan took power in 2003! He was 49. It took him 20 years to bring Turkey to the state it's in, and I don't think he has another 20 in him. If you want to turn your country into a dictatorship, you have to be young: Putin was 47, Chavez 45. This isn't a quick process, and if your candidate for doing it is 75, they're not likely to succeed. This is part of why I don't see your "over the next decade" holding up.
2Ege Erdil8mo
Nitpick: Erdogan's party won the 2002 elections, and Erdogan became Prime Minister in 2003. I'm not sure where you got the year 2004 from, but it's not correct.
1Rand08mo
Typo, fixed. I believe I got his age right.
2TAG8mo
Also, the UK is heading towards a long period of centre-left government.
3Nathan Young8mo
A period, sure, I guess my median is 8 years?
2TAG8mo
Two to three terms. Blair 2.0, IOW.

This is a nitpick that doesn't really affect the overall message of the post (which I upvoted), but:

The Economist's Democracy Index shows a sharp decline over the last decade:

That chart has a cut y-axis; the decline looks much less sharp in a graph that shows the full range:

This box from Wikipedia also suggests that the overall average going from 5.55 to 5.3 isn't that significant, as the whole scale is used and everything between 4 and 6 is considered to be within the same category of regime:

+1.

I'm a big fan of extrapolating trendlines, and I think the current trendlines are concerning. But when evaluating the likelihood that "most democratic Western countries will become fascist dictatorships", I'd say these trends point firmly against this being "the most likely overall outcome" in the next 10 years. (While still increasing my worry about this as a tail-risk, a longer-term phenomena, and as a more localized phenomena.)

If we extrapolate the graphs linearly, we get:

  • If we wait 10 years, we will have 5 fewer "free" countries and 7 more "non-free" countries. (Out of 195 countries being tracked. Or: ~5-10% fewer "free" countries.)
  • If we wait 10 years, the average democracy index will fall from 5.3 to somewhere around 5.0-5.1.

That's really bad. But it would be inconsistent with a wide fascist turn in the West, which would cause bigger swings in those metrics.

(As far as I can tell, the third graph is supposed to indiciate the sign of the derivative of something like a democracy index, in each of many countries? Without looking into their criteria more, I don't know what it's supposed to say about the absolute size of changes, if anything.)

This also makes me confused about the... (read more)

In what sense is that a nitpick or something that doesn't affect the message? It's a substantial drag on the message, data that only supports the conclusion if you already have a prior that the conclusion is true.

I meant in the sense that there were quite a few different pieces of evidence presented in the post  (e.g. this was one index out of three mentioned), so just pointing out that one of them is weaker than implied doesn't affect the overall conclusion much.

7Raemon8mo
Fwiw I still don't think it makes sense to call that a nitpick. Seems like a good thing to point out. (I agree it's not, like, a knockdown argument against the whole thing. But I think of nitpicks as things that aren't relevant to the central point of the post)

Good point, but also according to Wikipedia "the index includes 167 countries and territories", so small changes in the average are plausibly meaningful.

Man, it is so bizarre living in a red tribe area, and absorbing red tribe perspectives, and then seeing a post like this, and being forced to try to bridge the gap between the two perspectives...

They live in a world where the authoritarian revolution already happened, and the 2020 election being 'obviously stolen' is the greatest indicator of such, and now that the blue elite learned they can get away with using social media censorship and shadowbanning to make any discussion of election security seem extremely low-status, we'll probably never have a real election again

And like, on the one hand, game theory tells me that I really ought to be immediately suspicious of election security that was thought up in the 18th century and not really updated since, especially given my job as someone who tries to secure linux servers and knows security is impossible. and yet on the other hand, even though i'd consider the lesswrong crowd to be far more sympathetic to the red tribe than most intellectual elites and definitely worth assuming good faith, even they reject Trump's complaints about election security as an attempt to manipulate the election itself, not anything to actually do with rea... (read more)

1Bezzi8mo
In the old days, you could have really blatant things like an official number of pro-dictator votes significantly higher than the number of citizens in the whole country (I'm not kidding, I can't find the reference right now but I'm pretty sure that it happened in some African dictatorship around 1920). For a more recent example, you could look at the 2020 Belarus election, for which we have photos of literally burnt ballots (I'm just reporting the link from the Wikipedia page).
1Bezzi7mo
Ok I found it. It was the 1927 Liberian election, where the president received 240,000 votes despite being around 15,000 people eligible to vote at all.
1Person7mo
Are you really doubting that 225 000 people flew to Liberia just to vote for him? Jokes aside, yes, it was historically way easier back then to sabotage or trick elections. Liberia is a special case, where the human rights abuses there which included suspicions of practicing slavery very nearly resulted in it being placed as a Polish protectorate (yes, Poland). Flow of information being slow and mostly conveyed through newspapers or newsreel at the theater really gave anyone in charge who had decent executive power a better hand in manipulating outcomes of elections. Right now, we have increased scrutiny making it way harder to successfully pull it out, which is why states that do it tend not to even bother trying to hide it (Belarus, Russia's referendums in Ukraine, Algeria, etc.)
-1localdeity8mo
Bringing it full circle, there was an incident where someone at Fox News put a caption below two pictures of Biden and Trump: "Wannabe dictator speaks at the White House after having his political rival arrested".  It was taken down and Fox apologized, but some conservatives are saying "Ha ha—no, really". Against that description, Washington Post says: "The Biden administration has maintained that it has no role in the federal Trump prosecution, with Attorney General Merrick Garland turning to a special counsel to avoid a conflict of interest." I looked for more, and Fortune says: Is that enough?  It may well be that Jack Smith is determined to uphold principles and keep his personal opinions out of his work, and might also be that his personal opinions are neutral, but neither of these will be particularly legible to the public.  (His Wikipedia page doesn't show anything obviously politically relevant from him, except that he married someone who produced a documentary about Michelle Obama.) Also, political bias isn't the only relevant dimension; if one in Garland's position were determined to get Trump taken down, one could pick a prosecutor who was politically neutral but "tough on crime", or even tough on that particular type of crime, not to mention personally disliking Trump.  And one might be able to use one's network to find a prosecutor whose private opinions were what one wanted; with a good network, one could probably even find a tough-on-crime Republican who disliked Trump but hadn't said so publicly. Well, what then?  Is there no way to prosecute someone like Trump without risking it looking like your side is inappropriately using the legal system against your opposition?  Well... maybe not.  I do think it'd be different if Trump were, say, caught on video (deepfakes aside—let's say there are plenty of witnesses) punching someone unprovoked.  But for a case like this—no one has been injured, precedent is murky, and it's easy for Trump to tell storie
1green_leaf8mo
Nobody arrested their political opponent (the politicians aren't the ones doing the arresting). Also, why not? Shouldn't it be more important if a crime was committed, rather than if someone is someone else's political opponent? Why should public figures have immunity from being arrested unless >80% of the population agrees?
-1localdeity8mo
Biden nominated Merrick Garland as attorney general, who chose Jack Smith, who is doing the prosecuting.  The separations here are not going to impress someone who thinks the Democrats are using the system to attack the enemy they hate. I wouldn't extend this to all public figures, just those who are serious candidates for an election for leader of the country.  The logic is similar to that which some have said underlies the justification for democracy: given an armed populace, voting is a less-bloody substitute for a violent revolution.  80% is a number I made up, but the point is that if there is any serious chance that arresting them leads to a violent revolution, then don't arrest them.
1green_leaf8mo
We can't withdraw from arresting criminals and putting them on trial because conspiracy theorists will invent a different story in their minds. Unless... ...Oh, so you meant like 5-10 people tops, in the country of 300M. I see. On the surface, it's a very consequentialistic reasoning. Why arrest one criminal, if it can cause a revolution? Of course, Trump has already been arrested, and the revolution hasn't happened, so this isn't the case here, apparently. There are also three other problems: 1. Local consequentialism - locally (both spatially and temporally) optimizing can have disastrous global effects. Today, we can't arrest an aspiring dictator. And so he, in 5 years, wins the election. Now he's in power, and we have the problem we hoped to avoid. If we arrested him, there would be localized violent disturbances, but his ascension to power would've been slower, if he ever became elected in the first place. (The general pattern is that the less you oppose evil to avoid undesirable externalities, the faster and the more power the evil gains.) 2. Incentivizing self-modification against your values - if we reward people willing to invent conspiracy theories in their heads by not arresting their ideological leader, they are, both consciously and subconsciously, motivated to do just that, because they know you will back down. 3. The peaceful evolution, enabled by democracy, only refers to the kind of enabling where gaining the power is lawful. If I'm elected because you are too scared to arrest me, that's a (non-violent) revolution, rather than a peaceful transition of power. Of course, you could say that doesn't matter because the goal here is to avoid violence. But that brings us back to the problems (1) and (2). Also, the violence (a bloody revolution is very unlikely) will happen in both branches of the future. The difference is that in the no-arrest one, you signaled that you will rather let evil win by inaction (and then be victimized) rather than arres
1localdeity8mo
I said "if Trump ends up in jail"; I meant as an outcome, like if that were his sentence; I would also count it if he were held in jail awaiting trial for months.  From what I've read, he hasn't spent a single night in jail and is still out giving speeches. Surely you're not saying that the point of arresting him is to prevent him from winning an election.  Surely you're not saying that. I believe we're discussing the merits of a general taboo against prosecuting presidential candidates unless the crime is particularly legible to the public. Do you think such a taboo is likely to increase or decrease the risk from dictators taking over?  Maybe you could claim that would-be dictators are more likely than good candidates to have committed crimes, and thus removing the taboo selects against dictatorial candidates; I guess that's possible.  On the other hand, if there is no such taboo, then a dictator who has already been elected is more likely to appoint cronies who will prosecute his political opponents for whatever might stick to them—even if they don't stick, the prosecution itself can be damaging and onerous.  The second thing seems bigger to me.  The U.S. government has lots of interlock to limit the damage that the occasionally elected bad president can do, and I think that's a much better security model than doing everything possible to minimize the chance of electing him. Do you think the taboo would enable would-be dictators to commit crimes that make them more likely to get elected?  Such crimes are conceivable, I guess, but the impactful ones (like tampering with voting machines) seem likely to be legible.  The current example is... keeping a bunch of classified documents he shouldn't have?  I don't see how that helps win an election. Yeah, this is unfortunate.  Though if we back down because there's a taboo, or because we want to portray our country as better than others—rather than because we're scared of violence, based on an evaluation of how violen
1green_leaf8mo
There are many points to arresting criminals. Making it harder for them to amass power is one of them, of which winning an election is a subset. Increase, for the reasons I enumerated. That's one factor, yes. That doesn't work for the reasons I gave (to very briefly repeat them - the dictator will not respect any informal taboos (or formal ones, for that matter)). Aside from not respecting informal taboos, he will be helped by other Republicans in other branches of the government to get away with both overstepping his authority and committing outright crimes. The idea you're describing is the exact opposite of how social interaction and the system of power work, and has been generated and released into the wild by bad-faith actors who are invested in people falsely believing in them (another one is "we have to give the Babyeaters a platform and host their hate speech on our servers, so that people can see how terrible they are and stop supporting them," which also works, in reality, the other way around).

I don't actually see very much of an argument presented for the extremely strong headline claim:

This post aims to show that, over the next decade, it is quite likely that most democratic Western countries will become fascist dictatorships - this is not a tail risk, but the most likely overall outcome.

You draw an analogy between the "by induction"/"line go up" AI risk argument, and the increase in far-right political representation in Western democracies over the last couple decades.  But the "by induction"/"line go up" argument for AI risk is not the reason one should be worried; one should be worried for specific causal reasons that we expect unaligned ASI to cause extremely bad outcomes.  There is no corresponding causal model presented for why fascist dictatorship is the default future outcome for most Western democracies.

Like, yes, it is a bit silly to see "line go up" and plug one's fingers in one's ears.  It certainly can happen here.  Donald Trump being elected in 2024 seems like the kind of thing that might do it, though I'd probably be happy to bet at 9:1 against.  But if that doesn't happen, I don't know why you expect some other Republican candidate to do it, given that none of them seem particularly inclined.

This seems like a strange reaction. If an alien read this post and believed the claims, wouldn't they think fascism was pretty likely very much on the rise? There's global trends, and there's a bunch of specific examples. Do you agree with that?

Maybe you have some reasons that this prima facie evidence isn't actually strong evidence. What are those reasons?

But the "by induction"/"line go up" argument for AI risk is not the reason one should be worried; one should be worried for specific causal reasons that we expect unaligned ASI to cause extremely bad outcomes.

One should be worried because of a combination of specific causal reasons to expect ASI to be very bad for us, plus various lines (compute, capabilities, research investment, research insights, economic benefit) going way up. If the lines weren't going up, there'd be no great reason to expect ASI in the next 50 years with significant probability. We know dictatorships are bad because we've seen it; and we have fascism lines going up.

5RobertM8mo
I might agree with a more limited claim like "most people in our reference class underestimate the chances of western democracies turning into fascist dictatorships over the next decade".  I don't think someone reading this post should have >50% odds on >50% of western democracies turning into fascist dictatorships over the next decade or two, no.  I don't see an argument that "fascist dictatorship" is a stable attractor; as others have pointed out, even countries which started out much closer to that endpoint have mostly not ended up there after a couple of decades despite appearing to move in that direction.
1[comment deleted]8mo
3LeBleu8mo
I'm confused why you don't expect some other Republican candidate to do it. Have you not paid attention to Gov. DeSantis's actions in Florida? https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2023/05/05/commentary-is-ron-desantis-fascist/ I'm not familiar with Nikki Haley, but this article seems to indicate she is at least far right: https://www.newstatesman.com/quickfire/2023/02/nikki-haley-is-extremist-moderates-clothing-donald-trump Mike Pence risked his life to oppose Trump's January 6th coup attempt, so even though he is an Christian evangelical Dominionist, and I vehemently disagree with him on policy, I'm going to count him as pro-democracy. I also couldn't easily find any clear point by point evidence that he's a fascist, separate from Trump. Mostly stuff like this which calls him one, but never backs it up: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thenation.com/article/politics/mike-pence-gridiron-january-6th/tnamp/ So out of the 4 people Politico considers contenders for the Republican nomination, 3 are far right or fascist, and the 1 who is partially pro-democracy is considered not likely to win, but might be able to influence who does. https://www.politico.com/interactives/2023/republican-candidates-2024-gop-presidential-hopefuls-list/

FWIW I'm not convinced by the article on Haley, having bad conservative policies != being an anti-democratic nut job who wants to rig elections and put all your opponents in jail. She's super unlikely to win, though.

Because there's a big difference between "has unsavory political stances" and "will actively and successfully optimize for turning the US into a fascist dictatorship", such that "far right or fascist" is very misleading as a descriptor.

4ChristianKl8mo
There are reasons why Trump couldn't do a successful coup even if he wanted to. He didn't have the loyalty. It seems that Trump's strategy to get more loyalty for the next time was to use claims that the election was stolen as a loyalty test. The other candidates are just going to hire the traditional Republican establishment in a similar way that Trump did in his first term. 

What do we expect to see at year 5 for the prediction to be true at year 10?

Noting that the author deleted a critical comment which was somewhat rude but IMO made some reasonable points. That's fair enough, but in conjunction with the way the site handles deletions this strikes me as bad, since there's no way of (a) seeing which user posted the deleted comment (this might be a bug?) (b) examining the text of deleted comments. Together this means that you can't distinguish cases where a post attracts no criticism(an important signal) and cases where there were critical comments that were deleted, and you can't examine deleted criticisms.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply3

I find it ironic that the author of a post warning of the risks of dictatorships becoming more widespread throughout the world has a moderation policy of "deleting anything they judge to be counterproductive".

8the gears to ascension8mo
Without knowing what was deleted, I can take a guess why. The author has a long history of an inflammatory commentary style, while nevertheless making good points (same tbh). I'd love to see them come back and write with a more calibrated level of inflammation - ie, definitely not none, this is an "immune system, activate" post, which is why it needs the politics label. But there's still quite a lot of dissent, and the deleted comment author is free to post the same thing again elsewhere, eg a shortform - where it can then be read by looking at the deleted comments list.
4Czynski8mo
I tried being more polite many times over the last months on Discord. All it got was dismissal, because anxietybrain is anxietybrain.
2the gears to ascension8mo
That may be why you believe it to have been dismissed. Sometimes reasonable minds can disagree about predictions.
6RobertM8mo
You can see who wrote the deleted comment here (and there's also a link this page at the bottom of every post's comment section).  Not sure if we intend to hide the username on the comment itself, will check.
3interstice8mo
On the linked page, I see "[anonymous]" for all values of the user field.
5RobertM8mo
Oh, that might just be me having admin permissions, whoops.  I'll double-check what the intended behavior is.

(Update: I just merged a PR that should fix the issue, i.e. make it clear who's comments got deleted. Should be live in about 7 minutes)

1Ninety-Three8mo
One can cross-reference the moderation log with "Deleted by alyssavance, Today at 8:19 AM" to determine who made any particular deleted comment. Since this information is already public, does it make sense to preserve the information directly on the comment, something like "[comment by Czynski deleted]"?
8[comment deleted]8mo

    I notice that you cite Freedom House, and Richard Hanania goes into why that NGO in particular is pretty institutionally captured and a biased source.  Citing Freedom house is akin to circular reasoning or is too close for comfort with regards to the question of "Democracy". (link) Also, for better or worse every institution of the US is very liberal, including the government (link) so it's hard to imagine how in any real sense the US could become an actual right wing dictatorship. 

   Furthermore,"The Dictator's Handbook" actually researches this exact question, with an eye toward selectorate theory, on how stable democracies vs dictatorships are, and actually digs into the numbers on this. And the punchline is that if you actually look, once you get past a certain threshold of keys, needed to obtain or stay in power, Democracies become very, very, very stable. And that in the entire history of democracies, no democracy past that threshold has ever backslid into dictatorships, short of being conquered by a foreign power or going completely bankrupt. (It goes without saying the US is well past this point)

  

The relevant section of The Dictator's Handbook is the following

Given the complexity of the trade-off between declining private rewards and increased societal rewards, it is useful to look at a simple graphical illustration, which, although based on specific numbers, reinforces the relationships highlighted throughout this book. Imagine a country of 100 people that initially has a government with two people in the winning coalition. With so few essentials and so many interchangeables, taxes will be high, people won’t work very hard, productivity will be low, and therefore the country’s total income will be small. Let’s suppose the country’s income is $100,000 and that half of it goes to the coalition and the other half is left to the people to feed, clothe, shelter themselves and to pay for everything else they can purchase. Ignoring the leader’s take, we assume the two coalition members get to split the $50,000 of government revenue, earning $25,000 a piece from the government plus their own untaxed income. We’ll assume they earn neither more nor less than anyone else based on whatever work they do outside the coalition.

Now we illustrate the consequences of enlarging the coalition

... (read more)
3CitizenTen8mo
Short of "a foreign power or going bankrupt."  Germany was forced to pay for all damages that occurred during WW1.  They were pretty bankrupt as countries go.  And then the great depression happened.  So I think Germany counts as democratic backsliding on account of "going bankrupt."  And it doesn't claim all democracies.  Just democracies that reach a large enough numbers of keys.
4Ege Erdil8mo
I don't have a source for this claim off the top of my head, but I've previously read that Germany was actually a net beneficiary of international financial transactions in the 1920s. Essentially, the flow of funds went like this: * Germany paid war reparations to the UK and France. * The UK and France paid off their war debts to the United States. * The United States made loans to Germany, and Germany defaulted on a good fraction of them. It would be nice if someone could check whether this is true or not, but the impression I got from reading the history here is that the role of war reparations in causing fiscal problems for Germany was inflated by propaganda, especially by German politicians who tried to blackmail the Allies into lowering the amount of reparations to be paid by raising the specter of economic collapse in Germany.
2Garrett Baker8mo
Oh yeah, good point about Germany. I’m still pretty skeptical about the claim. Even if the claim ended up being true, I’d be worried its just because democracy is a pretty new concept, so we just don’t have as much data as we’d like. But far less worried it’d be non predictive as I am now. The particular argument why democracies are so stable does not seem robust to the population wrongly believing a dictatorship would be better in their interests than the current situation. Voters can be arbitrarily wrong when they aren’t able to see the effects of their actions and then re-vote.
2Garrett Baker8mo
Oh also, I'd expect this analysis breaks down once the size of the essentials becomes large enough that people start advocating policies for fashion rather than the policy will actually have a positive effect on their life if implemented. See The Myth of the Rational Voter, and I expect that for a bunch of pro-Trump people, this is exactly why they are pro-Trump (similarly with a bunch of the pro-Biden people).

France had a military coup in 1958 followed by 6 months of dictatorship. What threshold had France not passed in 1958 to not count as a full democracy? Does the Dictator's Handbook actually say this?

You write: "Stalinism is also very bad, but is not a major political force in 2023."

Why do you think this?  In western countries, the "left" has control of most of the levers of power and influence - eg, look at who gets censored by social media corporations, what sort of stuff academic job applicants have to write to get hired, how much money is spent by governments on left-oriented projects. And there are clear signs of increasing authoritarianism on the left - for example, the Canadian government reaction to the "Freedom Convoy", invoking the Emergencies Act in response to an annoying, but peaceful, protest, and freezing bank accounts of people whose only crime was donating money to the protesters.  Some left-wing policies seem almost designed to provoke the right, such as (in the US) giving away hundreds of billions of dollars in student loan forgiveness, and proposing to give away trillions of dollars in "reparations".  Such huge wealth transfers break the social compact, and are likely to trigger a conflict that might in the end result in right-wing authoritarians taking power, but presumably are seen by their advocates as more likely to result in a left-wing authoritarian regime.

Most highly educated people lean left, but there really are just very few Stalinists. I quoted a poll above showing that just 8% of Americans would support an AOC hard-left party, and actual Stalinists are a small fraction of that. There's no developed country where tankies get a serious fraction of the vote. See Contrapoints for why communist revolutionaries are super unlikely to take power: https://youtu.be/t3Vah8sUFgI

There are many crazy professors of various stripes, but universities aren't states. They can't shoot you, can't throw you in jail, can't seize your house or business, and are ultimately dependent on government funding to even exist.

3Quinn8mo
In terms of the parties, DNC has a track record of handling their populists, and GOP does not. This comment reads like it's coming from a world where Romney is running the GOP and AOC is running the DNC. It simply is not viable to bothsides this.
6ChristianKl8mo
Stalin wasn't a populist either. He got to power because of how he interact with other elites and not because he had popular support. Being a populist is not required to be authoritarian. In an important sense it's even worse if a leader uses authoritarian powers to pursue political projects that are widely unpopular than if the leader does what the majority of the population works. 
1Radford Neal8mo
How many people have been killed in the US by right-wing protestors in the last four years?  How many have been killed by left-wing protestors?
4ChristianKl8mo
If you care about the numbers, why should I do the searching for them? In any case, they are irrelevant to the argument about authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is about abuse of power coming from authority and protestors don't have power.  Death due to protestors and protests in general are bad, but they are a different kind of danger than abuse of government power. 
3Radford Neal8mo
I don't think you can separate these phenomena like this.  Thugs who aren't official police can intimidate political opponents of the government, and then not be prosecuted by the government.  Thugs can cause chaos that somehow goes away when an organization or community stops opposing the government, or pays money to associates of the thugs, with the government again not prosecuting the thugs for extortion.  In fact, I find it hard to imagine a democratic government becoming authoritarian without it employing some extra-governmental coercion of this sort.  Without it, it would be too easy for opponents of the government to organize, since governments (especially in the early stage of authoritarianism) have limited surveillance resources (though maybe that is changing with technology). By the way, protests are not bad in general - only the violent or otherwise illegal (by democratic standards) ones.
2ChristianKl8mo
The OP takes Hungary and Turkey as examples of countries that went through the problematic transition. Vox has a long article on Hungary and it doesn't speak about thugs being used in a significant way. As far as my memories goes that wasn't the case in Turkey either. When governments coordinate with corporations they don't need to surveil everyone themselves. If you look at China, they give the corporations a lot of responsibility to monitor their users to keep their internet licenses.  France is censoring Rumble. The "tiktok"-ban bill would have been essentially a move to allow the US government to shut down many internet companies it doesn't like in a similar way that the Chinese can.  Extra-governmental violence is a factor in some states that transition to dictatorship but it's not an universal factor. In the US the FBI seems to be pretty good at fighting violent extremism on both sides of the spectrum. 
2faul_sname8mo
Slightly off topic, but is this a thing that was actually verified to have happened? The only case I had heard of was the "Brianne from Chilliwack" one that seemed not to pan out as real as far as I can tell. (Asking because at the time there was quite a bit of discussion about whether the overreach was "trying to punish protestors directly" or "deliberately trying to create a chilling effect on any support for protests")
3Radford Neal8mo
I can't say with any certainty what exactly happened.  Neither, it seems, can anyone else, to judge by https://www.forbes.com/sites/siladityaray/2022/02/23/canada-begins-to-release-frozen-bank-accounts-of-freedom-convoy-protestors/?sh=2745dbcc6364 Note that there is no reason to take statements by government officials at face value. Even if you believe that the government intended only to freeze accounts of people actually at the protests, this is still a dangerous expansion of government power, considering that there were no court hearings, where people would have the ability to challenge the order.  And it certainly had a chilling effect for anyone in future thinking of protesting government actions. Crucially, there was no actual need for any of this, if the goal was simply to restore order.  The Ottawa protest was cleared in the end by ordinary police actions, with no need for the Emergency Act, or freezing bank accounts.  The Emergency Act was imposed the day after the most economically damaging protest (that blocked a heavily-used bridge between Canada and the US) was peacefully resolved.  One has to suspect that the government was hoping that that protest would turn violent, justifying use of the Emergency Act, and when it didn't, they decided to go ahead and invoke it anyway.  The precedent is now set for invoking it pretty much any time the government wants, though of course not against violent protestors whose cause the government is ideologically sympathetic to, such as this violent pipeline protest concurrent with the Freedom Convoy: https://bc.ctvnews.ca/surveillance-images-released-as-mounties-investigate-attack-at-b-c-pipeline-work-site-1.5788158

Thanks for this—I agree that this is a pretty serious concern, particularly in the US. Even putting aside all of the ways in which the end of democracy in the US could be a serious problem from a short-term humanitarian standpoint, I think it would also be hugely detrimental to effective AI policy interventions and cooperation, especially between the US, the UK, and the EU. I'd recommend cross-posting this to the EA Forum—In my opinion, I think this issue deserves a lot more EA attention.

Can you explain why "most democratic Western countries will become fascist dictatorships" specifically is the most likely outcome? I'm not quite following the "line go up" reasoning.

Just to give some concrete illustrations: Western Europe has dropped by 0.08 points on the Democracy Index over the last decade. If that happens again, it will fall to 8.28, so about as democratic as the UK is now. Definitely not fascist dictatorship territory!

If we pessimistically assume that Western Europe will decline faster in line with the world average, we get to 8.13, a bit more democratic than France. Also nothing close to a fascist dictatorship.

If Western Europe declines twice as fast as the world average, we get 7.9, a bit more democratic than the US. Three times as fast, we end up just above Belgium. Double that, and we'd be about level with Poland and India: not functioning democracies, but still democratic enough that upsets can happen (e.g. Modi's BJP just lost a major state election in Karnataka). I certainly wouldn't call either of those countries fascist.

Let's assume the decline in democracy speeds up ten times over the next decade: then Western Europe still looks more democratic than Mexico, Ukraine and Peru. A sudden tenfold speed-up in current trends sounds like a tail risk to me, but it doesn't come close to the outcome you're predicting. How do you get to a prediction as strong as that one given the data you've presented?

Here is a much weaker version of this argument.

Sam Altman, the quintessential short-timeline accelerationist, is currently on an international tour meeting with heads of state, and is worried about the 2024 election. He wouldn't do that if he thought it would all be irrelevant next year.

Whilst I do believe Sam Altman is probably worried about the rise of fascism and its augmenting by artificial intelligence, I don't see this as evidence of his care regarding this fact. Even if he believed a rise in fascism had no likelihood of occurring; it would still be beneficial for him to pursue the international tour as a means of minimizing x-risks, assuming even that we would see AGI in the next <6 months.

[Facism is] a system of government where there are no meaningful elections; the state does not respect civil liberties or property rights; dissidents, political opposition, minorities, and intellectuals are persecuted; and where government has a strong ideology that is nationalist, populist, socially conservative, and hostile to minority groups.

I doubt that including some of the conditions toward the end makes for a more useful dialogue. Irrespective of social conservatism and hostility directed at minority groups, the risk of fasci... (read more)

3the gears to ascension8mo
What do you mean by "worse" here?
4lukemarks8mo
As in decreases the 'amount of democracy' given that democracy is what you were trying to optimize for.
4the gears to ascension8mo
I would suggest rephrasing to "concerning" to distinguish from "unelectable" as an interpretation of "worse".
1lukemarks8mo
Agreed. I have edited that excerpt to be:
2dr_s8mo
Loyalty in general is more important in a centralised system built essentially on violence than a pluralist one built on legitimacy. In a democracy usually you'll have competing forces all holding some weight, and the worst that betrayal can cause is a lost election. In a dictatorship there's only one master to obey and the stakes are quite higher (consider how many "accidents" keep happening to members of the Russian upper echelon these days). Democracies aren't immune from this phenomenon, but it tends to happen more at the party level. For example, in Italy, back in the early 2000s Berlusconi did this, building his own party essentially as an extension of himself and filling it only with incompetent yes men who wouldn't threaten his position. Brexit has done something like it to the Tory party in UK, distilling only the most loyal ones even if it meant purging competent politicians in favour of mindless demagogues. But things like the military, the judiciary and the civil service at least are slow changing enough that they carry the signs of the balance of power throughout the years.
0dr_s8mo
I mean, that's what makes it "fascism" though rather than generic authoritarianism. People should avoid having gut reactions to their ideology being called out for its excesses, especially here. Same way in which a leftist has to be aware of the extremes of communism, and not immediately recoil upon mention of them, so should a rational conservative know about fascism and trying their hardest to avoid falling into its traps.
2lukemarks8mo
See: And:
0dr_s8mo
Fair, but right now, what we're seeing explicitly includes minority group hostility. Besides, while minority hostility may not be the key trait here, it is in fact part of how fascism works. You can't get quite as free rein at being incompetent if you don't have a sacrificial lamb to blame for any and all failures.

The Trump section makes a few assumptions that aren't defended. They might be right, they might be wrong, but even the most basic counterarguments aren't addressed.

First, you call questioning the election "overthrowing democracy," which implies that questioning it wasn't in any way justified. What's your prior that an election is sound? This is a genuine question; I'm not sure what's appropriate. Many, many elections throughout human history have been various degrees of rigged. I have no idea what prior to use, and I have no idea what level of fraud/questionable behavior occurs every election, so it's hard to analyze both the prior and the update. That said, you're ascribing bad faith to anyone questioning the results, when most of those truly believe the democratically chosen vote was different. Rigged elections that the media covers up are an equally valid way to abolish democracy, and you provided just as much defense of that claim as you did of yours (none).

If anything, what happened with Gore and Bush in '08 was more egregious than this, and that didn't destroy the republic, at least not to the point of property rights vanishing. Contested elections are par for the course for ... (read more)

0dr_s8mo
Some amount of messiness here and there isn't the same as systematic rigging on the scale that leads to a straight up different result. The more important question is: why would this specific election have been rigged, and where did Trump and his supporters draw their belief that it was specifically rigged while, say, the one Trump won had been fair and square? And the answer is, there was no special evidence that this one election was any different from the others. Only one candidate loudly proclaiming that if he won, it was fair, and if he lost, it was rigged, because of course he had to win. That doesn't seem the most epistemologically sound or falsifiable basis for belief. It's kind of absurd to start asking "ok but how do we know it was not rigged?" when no one usually even thinks about it being rigged, the elections keep having reasonably alternating winners, with the candidate of the opposite party often winning against the one that is presently holding power, and the only thing drawing attention to this specific election is that the candidate who lost expected to lose and pre-emptively said that if he lost it had to be because the other side was cheating. Given that the election wasn't a stand out in any way, given that Trump's own people in the end couldn't really do much to prove their claims despite trying their hardest while still being the party in power, I think it's reasonable to assign a high probability to the 2020 election being roughly as fair as any other in recent US history. If there's one election in memory that could in fact have actually suffered from this problem due to how close it was, it was the Bush/Gore mess in 2000, and Gore conceded that one.

It was the mechanism and order of the counting which differentiated this election from others. The counts continued long into the night, and into the following days. It was the first election with substantial mail in voting, adding many new attack vectors for fraud.

At about 2am on election night, Trump was a -190 favorite, so not huge, but definitely expected to win. It was certainly unlikely that there were enough votes in the deep blue areas that had yet to be counted to swing the election, although it was no where near prohibitively unlikely.

Then there were the tens of anecdotal reports of various fraudulent or suspicious behaviors at polling and counting sites. To determine what update, if any, these provide, we'd need to know the base rate for them: would there be this many reports for any election where there was sufficient scrutiny? It's very possible, but it's also possible this one really was worse.

So those are the updates. Again, it's unclear how large they are, but they are there.

I can't think of a position I hold for which the election being rigged/sound is actually a crux, other than "I think 99% probability the election was sound is too high," which is why I objected.... (read more)

2dr_s8mo
This seems to me like it depends on how mail in voting actually works (never mind that this wasn't the result of any particular plan, it just happened randomly due to COVID, which also explains perfectly well the difference in use of mail vote between Democrats and Republicans). Personally, my priors come from the fact that both sides have an interest in not letting the other rig it, and that there is enough mix of powers and interests throughout the system that I don't think any actual serious, systematic rigging would go through. Look at actual well known examples of rigged elections and you'll usually find systems in which the rigging was blatant but still the side doing it got away with it because they could resort to physical violence and held all the relevant keys to power. If one or another jackass in a specific place had someone throw away some voting cards odds are something similar that benefitted the opposite side happened elsewhere. It's mostly noise. The question is if there was an organised effort to rig it in one specific direction, and if there is evidence of it, and I just don't see it. Absent which my prior is, as I said, merely "as fair as any other election", which doesn't imply perfectly fair, but reasonably enough not to warrant that sort of extreme behaviour, which is far more threatening of democracy if employed lightly.

Alright I see one crux here.

Bush and Obama governed almost identically, despite the "heated" election between Obama and Romney/McCain. It seems like what we have is essentially a uniparty with two WWE faces for the public, and they execute mostly Kayfabe performances that all lead to the same outcome in the end.

It appeared, from the media reaction to Trump, that the uniparty was actually threatened by him. This is why I think it's more likely in this election, rather than previous elections, that there was more of an effort to rig on one side than there was on the other.

I do find myself confused: Trump himself seems relatively incompetent, and his first term didn't seem all that threatening to the establishment (despite the rhetoric). Even with this confusion, though, I still think the difference between Trump and "Republican candidate X" is significant.

Also, I intentionally didn't refute your point about "as fair as any other election." I completely understand that idea; no one here is claiming nothing nefarious ever happens, it's just a matter of degree and impact.

Good post. You changed my mind moderately (and somehow did so without presenting many new-to-me facts/arguments, but perhaps by combatting an irrational sense of it couldn't happen here [edit: or more charitably to myself, perhaps just by causing me to think about it]). Focusing on America, thinking about it, I have credence ~40% in a Republican trifecta in 2025 and credence ~30% that Republicans do wild bad stuff in 2025–2026 (mostly from Republican-trifecta worlds but also some from Republican-president-but-no-trifecta worlds). I probably shouldn't try to do anything about this but it's worth Noticing.

4the gears to ascension8mo
I think there should be a post with higher quality argument, since I agree about likely futures but it's not reasonable to expect people to be convinced if the argument was lacking precision. I want the version of this analysis with #[inline_all], or so.

only 8% who would vote for a "woke", left-wing AOC party. American conservatives far outnumber liberals, and "woke" policies like defunding the police and affirmative action are very unpopular even in left-wing areas, with the latter being defeated by huge margins in deep-blue California. Hence, even though there are both left-wing and right-wing radicals, it is vastly easier to imagine fascist dictatorship than a "woke" dictatorship, especially as the latter movement now seems to be in decline.

Honestly I think anyone who seriously envisioned a "woke dictatorship" must have had listened way too much to right wing propaganda. The problem with the "woke" movement (which doesn't want to be called that but also refuses to give itself any other name in a desperate and generally failed bid to market itself as the default) is instead exactly that it's this unpopular. It elicits fanatical loyalty in a minority and leaves everyone else baffled or repulsed, dividing the left's ability to push back against the right while offering the latter a perfect strawman to point at for all of left wing ideas. Worse, since lots of people don't have the mental space to separate "this cause is quite im... (read more)

6Troof8mo
Mostly agree, but I think it's wrong to imagine that you need a popular ideology to get a dictatorship. In Mao's or Pol Pot's case for instance, it was really driven by a minority of "fanatics" at first. Then a larger number of people can (at least pretend to) join the rank, and even become enforcers, until a stable equilibrium is reached: you don't know who is pretending and who is a true believer, and trying to guess can be very risky.
2dr_s8mo
I don't remember the details of the history, but if I'm not wrong Mao's faction took power taking advantage of the chaos at the end of a long period of strife and civil war that originally was sparked by the overthrowing of the imperial government. I'd say having popular support isn't the only way for a dictatorship to start, but it's the main way to get there from a democracy. Other obvious ways are if a foreign power installs it somehow, or if, as in Mao's case, it's simply the result of the distillation process that takes place during a revolution, in which the most ruthless and fanatical bastards keep rising on top until they're the only ones left, regardless of what was the original impetus behind the uprising. So I think for our current trajectory in western powers, popularity remains the main road to power.
4Ege Erdil8mo
I agree that a "woke dictatorship" (whatever that means) is unlikely to be established in most Western countries over the next ten years, but the unpopularity of the idea among the broader population is not very strong evidence that a dictatorship cannot be established on said principles. Just to provide one example, Bolshevik ideas were quite unpopular in Russia in February 1917, and yet Russia had become a dictatorship under the Bolsheviks by 1920.
1dr_s8mo
Yes but as I said in another comment that requires special conditions, such as a previous revolution destabilising things so much that power is up for grabs, or some sway over the military. 1917 being in the middle of a very unpopular war probably played a huge role in creating the conditions for a relative minority to impose its will.
2Ege Erdil8mo
The unpopularity of the war in early 1917 is rather overstated. In fact; even after the fall of the Tsarist government, the war was so popular that before Lenin returned to Russia, Stalin felt it necessary to change the Bolshevik party line by endorsing Russia's continued participation in the war. I agree that the chaotic conditions in 1917 Russia were essential for a minority to seize power, but similarly chaotic conditions could come to exist in many Western countries as well, perhaps as the result of a world war or economic transformation driven by AI.
1dr_s8mo
The question is how popular the war was with the soldiers, who had the weapons. The home front's opinion gets relatively less important in the face of enough angry people with guns. Or climate change. True. But I honestly still expect right wing authoritarianism to emerge victorious from most of those scenarios. The leftist front just doesn't have enough unity or enough of a project to turn even its worst impulses into actual policy. I think the only liberal-ish leaning regime I can imagine emerging is more of a moderate technocracy enforced by an alliance between politics and techno-capitalists bolstered in power by AI. And of course, since we're here, anyone who created an aligned ASI first would have a shot at shaping the world as they see fit, so that's the ultimate pivot upon which even a very extreme minority might impose its views on everyone else. I wrote a whole post about this once. But those are very extreme scenarios (and I expect that if such an ASI is possible it'd just kill us, most likely).
4ChristianKl8mo
AOC explicitly called for the executive branch to ignore the judicial branch because the judicial branch lacks the power to enforce laws. Calling for the government to ignore the courts is pretty far in the direction of dictatorship. 
8dr_s8mo
I don't know the episode you're referencing, but my general point was less "it's ludicrous to imagine a dictatorship built around the current left's principles" and more "it's ludicrous to imagine the current left mustering enough support to enact any kind of successful coup".
7ChristianKl8mo
This episode. 
-1dr_s8mo
I mean, the presenter does his best to show this as the worst thing ever but it's really nothing that serious. The issue it applies to matters, and this is a situation where there's a conflict between duties; there's the letter of the law and there's the moral duty of care towards citizens. If you believe a grossly incompetent judiciary has ruled wrongly on a matter of healthcare, and following the ruling might endanger and harm the citizens, then her position, while still fairly radical, makes sense, and isn't a symptom in itself of a greater push towards authoritarianism. While I don't think a minority should impose its will on a majority, I'm a lot more lenient when, like in this case, all someone is saying is "yeah, the State is trying to impose unreasonable limits on us about things that wouldn't involve anyone else, don't enforce that". That's not authoritarianism, if anything her position is funnily enough starkly libertarian on this, though she's inviting the POTUS to back her up (which doesn't mean he will, nor I think she would be so naive as to expect that her words would be enough to make him do it). To be clear, I think sometimes the meta and the object level get mixed up (sometimes in bad faith) in political discourse, and this is one of those cases where I think you can't avoid an opinion on the object level, not just the meta level. The executive shouldn't generally override the judiciary, but if the judiciary is being unreasonably oppressive and authoritarian and the executive is the only organ with the power to stop it at that moment, then letting legality get in the way of that is missing the spirit for the letter. Similarly, if you did really have strong evidence that an election was rigged to the point that the wrong President was elected, I think storming the Capital would be quite an appropriate reaction! I think the events of Jan 6 2021 were ridiculous and shameless simply because I believe in that occasion, specifically, there was no riggi
7ChristianKl8mo
You can argue that there's a conflict between duties in nearly every political conflict. If you take fighting terrorism, you can easily argue that there's a duty of the state to do so. That doesn't allow the state to do everything it wants in that goal. In general, when it comes to new powers of the executive, once they are established in one case they are going to be used in other cases as well.  Fortunately, she doesn't have the power and her way of doing politics is still a minority position in the Democratic party. I was talking about what would happen if the winds shift into making her style of politics more powerful.
-2dr_s8mo
Sure, but I'm sure most people would draw a line there too. If it was between breaking procedure to spy on someone illegally and letting a nuke detonate in NYC, well... You don't know though that simply making a rhetoric statement that she knows won't be followed up equates actually doing it if she was the POTUS. Many radicals on either side are more bark than bite, because barking is a very effective way of writing checks no one expects you to cash. In fact, that's one decent source of hope concerning the fascist problem too (though one shouldn't rely on it, obviously). To a point, "radical asks outrageous thing, moderate concedes more reasonable one" is a kind of role play that is part and parcel of politics. Whether knowingly or not, if they're in a healthy equilibrium, both roles serve a useful function.
8ChristianKl8mo
The rules-based order works on following the law consistently and not when it suits you.  But that's not how real-world policy decisions look like. The OP did point to Turkey and the Kurds. Fighting Kurdish terrorism is a valid interest of the Turkish state but the means they use to do so are problematic and it's precisely the fact that they use illegitimate means that makes it sensible to describe the behavior as authoritarian.  When it comes to presidents claiming more executive powers, that's usually that when they are in office presidents like to grab more power and not less.  More importantly, her speech pushes the Overton window toward being more authoritarian. Her calls for censorship of Tucker are similar at moving the window into a more authoritarian direction. The fact that she sees it as good politics to call for Biden to be more authoritarian should be concerning as it tells you something about how she perceives the political winds. To actually put it into policy, she would of course need to find people that think like her to put them into positions of power. 
7dr_s8mo
Hmm, this gets actually so complicated IMO that it might deserve its own post. Whether you take a deontological or utilitarian approach, "always follow the law" is almost never the actual policy you'll get out of your ethical system, even though obviously "break the law whenever you feel like you know better" is also bad (the same way in which naive utilitarianism such as "defect whenever you think it's for the greater good" is bad). We might call it Antigone's Dilemma, since this tension between law abiding and personal virtue was pretty much the core theme of that tragedy and its heroine's arc. I do agree that in general normalizing too many authoritarian-ish behaviours is bad, and it's especially bad when it comes from enough sides that the only thing all the political spectrum has in common is this sense of mild annoyance with procedure and rules, as if they were just a formality that hinders real action. When no one believes in the laws, the laws are bound to eventually fail. However that doesn't mean that it's unreasonable to not believe in the laws either; a State holds together by virtue of its citizens all sharing some kind of political and philosophical bedrock that they can use to cooperate and sort through conflicts without resorting to violence. Peaceful transition of power and graceful defeat are only possible if both sides agree that the other winning is still a much less bad fate than the chaos that would ensue from a violent conflict. It seems to me like, rightly or wrongly (more likely the latter, since people always severely underestimate what war actually means), this belief is coming apart in many countries, including the US, and on both sides of the aisle - which turns inevitably into a feedback loop. If the other side is willing to do anything to beat me, I have to step up my game or my defeat is guaranteed. Overall, in this sense, I still think in the US it's the GOP that is pushing the accelerator pedal, and though there are people on the l

Publically, AOC demanding that the Biden administration should engage in authoritarian behaviour provides very little use when she doesn't think that Biden will actually engage in those behavior while at the same time eroding the standards. If a future Trump administration will call for ignoring court orders, you can count on Fox News to air AOC's pronouncements that it's an acceptable tactic. 

Even when your ethical system says that sometimes it's worthwhile to break rules because of utilitarian concerns, that doesn't make cases where you call for rules to be broken when you don't expect that actually happen okay. People who do find value in pushing the Overton window to allow for more authoritarian actions are rightfully seen as authoritarians. 

Democrat side is overall way more divided on this and has some significant attempts at deescalation.

What do you see as notable attempts at deescalation? 

When Trump spoke about putting Hillary in jail for mishandling classified documents, the left talked about it as a huge norm violation but Trump didn't actually follow through.

On the other hand, Democracts are currently hoping pursuing a legal case against Trump for mishandli... (read more)

3dr_s8mo
Three points. Point one: is the judiciary independent of the executive or not? Because it's not the government who's prosecuting Trump, it's the judiciary. They might feel safer doing so under a Democrat president of course but that's not the same thing. Point two: the scale and severity if crimes is different. Clinton apparently stored emails on an unproperly secured server. Trump took secret documents at home, stored them in unsecured boxes, was repeatedly nicely asked to return them, lied that he had already, and showed the documents to his friends in order to brag like some twelve years old boy particularly proud of his porn stash. I don't think things would have reached the point of indictment if he'd been a bit more compliant when things were still in the "asking nicely" stage. But at one point, an example must be made, or we're just saying laws don't exist at all. Point three: there might be a bit of a "getting Al Capone for tax evasion" thing going on admittedly because I think the real escalation that Trump is suffering retaliation for, the thing where he truly broke precedent to a ridiculous extent and that everyone rightfully doesn't want to repeat ever again but that's apparently hard to nail him down for is his little 6 January stunt. Messing with peaceful transition of power that way is a big no-no, and while he wasn't literally leading the mob he clearly did enough to purposefully inflame the situation instead of defusing it. I'd bet if he didn't do that the judiciary would be less fixated on prosecuting him. As for an example of Democrats not pushing their advantage like the GOP: the Supreme Court. They had a chance to strategize when Obama was still President to hold control of it but didn't do it, Trump packed it with friendly judges at every occasion, and now despite suggestions about how to retaliate against that existing they didn't really do anything, despite this unelected organ having a disproportionate decisional power (which honestly fr
2ChristianKl8mo
Not doing something to push an advantage is not automatically de-escalation. They didn't push Ruth Bader Ginsburg to resign for similar reasons they aren't doing it with Dianne Feinstein. The principle seems to be something along the lines of "it should be every politician's right to decide when they have to resign because they are too old or ill". While that isn't escalation I also don't see that as deescalation. political Civics 101. The term judiciary refers to the courts. Courts don't prosecute anyone. Prosecutors do. Prosecutors are part of the executive.  If you care about the threat of fascism, power that's wielded without being democratically accountable, isn't less problematic. If you have people who are not democratically accountable using authoritarian power to eliminate their political opponents that's problematic even if it's not along Blue vs. Red lines.  I think you can make an argument that the Trump prosecution is justified, but I don't think that changes the fact that it creates a precedent that moves the whole system in the direction of being more authoritarian.  They built up what's called the Disinformation Industrial Complex. They put pressure in various ways on tech companies to censor and funded many institutions to get speech that goes against the official narrative censored as misinformation.  Without that groundwork, the WHO would not have been able to get Twitter and Facebook to censor lab leak claims in 2021.  We have the emails. "Critical that responsible, respected scientists and agencies get ahead of the science and the narrative of this" I agree that virologists were not driven by allegiance to a US political party but by their own interests and geopolitical considerations. Farrar's self-description of not having slept enough might also account for part of why the thinking went poorly.  That doesn't change the fact that the censorship wouldn't have worked without the structures of the Disinformation Industrial Complex for whi
0dr_s8mo
I'm not from the US so never realised that DAs could get apparently replaced with the administration. Sorry for the mistake. This seems to me like a typical case of a race to the bottom. Yes, most attempts to control disinformation kind of suck, but disinformation is still a thing; propaganda through social media has been deployed at scale and used, often precisely by the right wing, at least in its more "mercenary" form (e.g. Cambridge Analytica). Let's not forget that other nuggets of wisdom that were (not particularly successfully) suppressed included "COVID is not real" or "ivermectin cures COVID", stuff that actively could and surely did get people killed. And many of these were explicitly manipulated for political purposes, in fact Trump was part and parcel in polarizing the issue and thus crippling the US' first response to COVID simply because it allowed him to score easy points. Twitter and Facebook made a fortune off enabling automated propaganda in the first place. This is kind of like the AI situation: we may have been better off without altogether, but then companies went and created it anyway, and at some point someone tried to recover some lost ground by forcing them to try and align their product. I don't think the methods have been successful, if you ask me the one thing Trump was ever right about is that Twitter is editorializing. My approach though would be "just force Twitter to be transparent about its algorithms and ban using anything that personalises content". Just give me chronological timelines and good search tools. What's that from? I honestly don't know if Twitter/Facebook corrections here were necessarily the main factor. And anyone saying "this claim is not backed by any scientific authority/peer reviewed paper" would have been technically correct. The problem was simply whether the scientists themselves were fair; non-experts might mistrust them based on reasonable priors that they may be biased by the considerations mentioned abo
2ChristianKl8mo
Fauci, Farrar, and a bunch of other people had a conference call after Andersen wrote his email that the COVID genome seems inconsistent with evolutionary theory.  Afterward, Farrar speaks more with Fauci and Farrar writes an email to Tedros who heads the WHO to propose how to move forward. That's one of the bullet points from that email. https://usrtk.org/covid-19-origins/timeline-the-proximal-origin-of-sars-cov-2/ gives you a lot of details about what happened in that week. Farrar also has a good chapter in his book January 2021 that's worth reading. In it he talks about working 24/7 during that time, with one night receiving 11 calls during the night. He talks about having to get a burner phone after he talked with British intelligence about the possibility of there being a lab leak. He talks about fearing that revealing a lab leak might start WWIII.  Disinformation is a problem, but the most important disinformation seems to come from nation states. The most consequential case of disinformation of the last decades was the claim that Iraq has a WMD program.  The WHO's disinformation claim of "COVID is not airborne" seems to me worse than "Ivermectin cures COVID" and I would expect that  "COVID is not airborne" killed more. Fauci statement in congress that a paper where he named the PDF in his own emails "Baric, Shi et al - Nature medicine - SARS Gain of  function" doesn't contain anything about gain of function research is disinformation.  If we look at the last year the biggest disinformation story seems to be that Russia blew up their own pipeline when it was relatively clear to Western intelligence that Ukrainians blew it up.  The claim that Hunter Biden's laptop was a Russian psyop is itself a disinformation campaign to mislead the American people. You might say that it's ironic that the most high-profile use of the tools of the disinformation campaign was part of a disinformation campaign but that's what it was designed to do.  It's a system designed

I think this post makes a very important and useful claim, but one that is obscured by the use of the word 'fascism', which -- as the post itself admits -- has for decades had a very charged meaning and has been used in inconsistent ways. It seems as though it is usually used to draw an analogy with the WW2-era Axis powers, but the movements that you're highlighting lack some very important characteristics that those regimes had. Most importantly, under Modi/Orbán/Erdogan, control by the ruling party has never been total; opposition parties control the capital cities in all three countries, and are generally permitted to participate in elections which may not be fair because of media policies but are fairly free. (Also, the movements you highlight are usually not militaristic: Erdogan has had a famously strained relationship with the Turkish military, and most 'populists' in other nations have won running against the entire old elite, which includes the military leadership. They are also rarely or never expansionist.)

But it is very clear that there is a global trend away from rule by a set of 'cosmopolitan' elites (...the details of these elites actually differing a great deal betw... (read more)

3dr_s8mo
Yeah, I think you manage to pinpoint the differences accurately enough. I think "fascism" still describes the basic spirit of these movements well enough in absence of a more specific word, but it's true that if people hear it and they expect 1930s Germany they'll look for the wrong signs. "Right wing populism" doesn't quite roll off the tongue well enough. The immediate model for this approach might be Russia's Putin instead, who is in fact often suspected of or known to have funded at least some of these movements, especially in Europe as a way to weaken it. That said, he's still different due to Russia not having ever been a democracy in a meaningful sense, and as it turns out, he's very much an expansionist too (just not a very competent one).

I do indeed agree this is a major problem even if I'm not sure if I agree with the main claim. The rise of fascism in the last decade and expectation that it will continue is extremely evident; its consequences for democracy are a lot less clear.

The major wrinkle in all of this is in assessing anti-democratic behavior. Democracy indices not a great way of assessing democracy for much the same reason that the Doomsday Clock is a bad way of assessing nuclear risk: they're subjective metrics by (probably increasingly) left-leaning academics and tend to measure a lot of things that I wouldn't classify as democracy (eg rights of women/LGBT people/minorities). This paper found that using re-election rates there has been no evidence of global democratic backsliding. This started quite the controversy in political science; my read on the subsequent discussion is that there is evidence of backsliding, but such backsliding has been fairly modest.

I expect things to get worse as more countries get far-right leaders and those which already have far-right leaders have their democratic institutions increasingly captured by far-right leaders. And yet...a lot of places with far-right leaders contin... (read more)

how are you personally preparing for this?

Everyone seems to find the most striking claim here 

over the next decade, ... that most democratic Western countries will become fascist dictatorships ... is ... the most likely overall outcome

pretty outlandish. That right-wing, nationalist, conservative parties might win power in a lot of places, seems a reasonable projection (though very far from assured); that they will all turn their countries into "fascist dictatorships" where "there are no meaningful elections" is the outlandish part. That would seem to require something like the Spanish civil war, but throughout Europe and North America, perhaps after a catastrophic collapse of NATO under Trump 2.0 - which might be Putin's dream, and the nightmare of liberal-progressive Americans, but I wouldn't bet on it ever happening. 

I noticed one oddity among the references cited. There's this graph about how populists "rarely lose power" peacefully. But if you add up "reached term limits" and "lost free and fair elections", that's actually larger than the other bars. And "still in office" doesn't distinguish between those who have been in office for a year and those who have been there for 25 years. 

Furthermore, if you l... (read more)

Your link for "The V-Dem Institute's tracker" does not point to that, it points to DWB which is giving its own take on a link to the V-Dem Institute, which in turn is broken so I can't check it. This might be the one intended: https://www.v-dem.net/documents/12/dr_2021.pdf ?

Umberto Eco's list is extremely low quality. Several of its items are stock traits of bad government; if you mean bad government you should say "bad government" and not "fascism". Eco is a rhetorician, please stop citing him as though he's a political scientist.

I think this post is engaged in significant sleight of hand, between claims that a dictator will murder thousands of people, and claims that an abstract rating will decrease below X points. This is aggravated by the fact that the bet has a clause for "If The Economist Democracy Index [...] significantly changes its methodology" when to my knowledge the EDI does not publish its methodology other than a very brief summary.

Side note -- France isn't a great example for your point here "France, for example, is a very old, well-established and liberal democracy." because the Fifth Republic was only established in 1958. It's also notable for giving the president much stronger executive powers compared with the Fourth Republic!

4alyssavance8mo
The current constitution isn't that old (although 65 years is still longer than most democracies), but with brief interruptions, France has been a democracy for around 150 years, which is far longer than most countries can claim. 

This post would greatly benefit from quantitative forecasts on precise claims that are at least in principle falsifiable.

I also strongly disagree with Erdogan's characterization as a dictator under the definition of "a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections". Perhaps under some "softer" definition, you could classify him as a dictator; but that makes what I said above all the more important. What is a "dictator", and how do we know if we're in a world where "dictatorship" is becoming more widespread?

8dr_s8mo
There's a bunch of grey areas there: leaders who technically keep winning elections but rig it somehow, or simply use their time in office to gerrymander and otherwise bias things in their favour, leaders who extend their term past its original length, and so on. Not every autocrat is declaredly such, or completely impossible to remove by nonviolent means.
7Ege Erdil8mo
Yes, that is why I would want the post to be more precise. What does it mean to say "over the next decade, it is quite likely that most democratic Western countries will become fascist dictatorships"? If we had to write a Metaculus question or a prediction market on this claim, what would it look like? I understand that it's not necessarily easy to do this, but especially when dealing with politics it's important to exercise this kind of cognitive discipline. For example, we could say Russia is closer to being a fascist dictatorship than the US for many different reasons: * The same leader has been in power, in one form or another, for over twenty years. * There is no serious organized political opposition to the leader. Putin won the last presidential election in 2018 with 77% of the popular vote. (Contrast this with Erdogan, who won this year with a slim margin of 52% against 48% in the runoff elections.) * People are routinely prosecuted and fined or put in prison for political speech that the government does not approve of. (By this metric, even a country like Germany fails the test more often than we might like to admit, but the US is particularly good on this dimension.) Feel free to expand this list with more items. Essentially, I want the post to take the vague concept of "fascist dictatorship" and turn it into some more easily falsifiable properties of a government. For instance, I'm happy to bet that over the next 30 years, no politician in the US will be elected President for more than two terms and that all elections in the US will be reasonably close in the popular vote. Those are more objective facts about the government, while whether it's a dictatorship or not is much more subjective. I would be much more inclined to believe a moderate claim such as "it's moderately likely that most countries in the Western world will be relatively more fascist and relatively more dictatorial by some measurement." However, going from the present state of most

Russia isn't just closer than the US to being a fascist dictatorship, Russia is a fascist dictatorship by most metrics. It's an autocrat ruled country with a strongly reactionary culture waging a brutal war of conquest on vague bullshit Blood And Soil reasons, it hardly gets more fascist than that.

I don't think 21st century fascism will be the same beat for beat as 1930s one, for example I expect more isolationism and less overt militarism. And yeah, I think it will be mostly "soft" takeovers, just degradation of democracy and possibly limitation of suffrage than actual coups, but even coups could happen (though in the US I would expect one to result in civil war, not a swift and unchallenged takeover).

4Ege Erdil8mo
Sorry, but I don't think this comment addresses anything I've said. I don't even know how to respond to it.
5dr_s8mo
I guess my objection is that if you want to know what a modern fascist dictatorship might look like, "something like Putin's Russia" is probably a better answer than, say, 1930s Germany. About quantitative predictions, I'm not sure how to formalise the notion of electorate disempowerment, but more than "no elections" I would expect "a long string of elections won always by the same party with progressive disenfranchisement of those who would vote otherwise".
3Ege Erdil8mo
I agree that if most Western countries looked like today's Russia in ten years in some vague sense, I would count that as Alyssa Vance's prediction coming true. I'm not too sure which part of my comment this is meant to be an objection to. That's why I didn't list "no elections" as part of my list, but elections that are won by the same person every time with more than 70% of the vote for 20 years is already something I don't expect to happen in most Western countries in the medium-term future. I'm just not sure if this is what Alyssa Vance is actually referring to when she talks about a "fascist dictatorship".
1dr_s8mo
I can't speak for Vance but my expectation would be even "softer" than that - more like a defanged democracy in which e.g. a combination of gerrymandering and obstacles put up to citizenship or voting means that only favored groups get to vote properly. This shifts the Overton window solidly on the right and then you get at best cosmetic competitions between who gets to be the fascist leader of the year. So perhaps more a sort of oligarchy than a dictatorship? That said, I am also not necessarily sure that this is the only possible future or even the most likely one from here. This might be copium on my part, but I think it might as well be just a cycle which then eventually turns around when the right wing populists inevitably fail to deliver. In Britain, for example, the flirtation with UKIP and even the far less extreme Boris Johnson seems to have been rather contained, and despite leaving long lasting effects on the country, it also has on balance seemingly brought ruin to the British right, with the Tories polling disastrously and projected to be destroyed in the next GE. History isn't as simple as extrapolating a few trends indefinitely and calling it a day.

I'm especially worried about the US going forward.  In general presidential republics don't have a good track record.  Luckily the US has benefited from strong notions of democratic legitimacy over most of its history.  Also, except at the very beginning, for a brief period around the birth of the Republican party, and recently with the introduction of open primaries US political parties haven't had strong ideological partisanship but were mostly very ideologically mixed with most partisanship being over spoils rather than ideology.  

In How Democracies Die the authors argue that the most worrying sign for a democracy is an escalating pattern of constitutional hardball where contestants continue to adhere to the written rules but more and more break unwritten norms.  Within the last couple of decades we've seen filibusters go from a rarely deployed emergency break to a routine legislative tactic, repeated showdowns over the debt ceiling, a breakdown in norms around supreme court appointees, etc.  I don't expect any disaster imminently, but the trends are very bad.

fascism is usually established through a process of democratic backsliding under a populist leader. Essentially, the steps are:

  1. A charismatic figure emerges to lead a new populist movement, focusing on opposition to the existing political system and its "elites".
  2. Eventually, average people become dissatisfied with the existing democratic government or leader. Possible reasons range from corruption, to scandals, to economic decline, to a hostile press. As of 2023, most leaders of developed countries have poor approval ratings; opinions vary on whether this is because of changes in the media landscape, or whether society overall just sucks more than it used to.
  3. In the next election, ordinary people vote for the new populist movement and its leader, and they win democratically.
  4. Once in power, the new leadership uses state institutions to slowly, one piece at a time, give themselves electoral advantages. They gerrymander districts, take over the media, punish any opposition, and purge or abolish outside institutions or checks on their authority (courts, electoral commissions, local governments, etc.), until democracy is gone.

I'm not sure I follow how this model applies to the examples you ... (read more)

Disagree with this and might write up a more thorough response than the one I have in a bit, but for now, here are some manifold markets around this topic area:

https://manifold.markets/group/weird-doomsday

4the gears to ascension8mo
I generally think manifold has a systematic bias to undercount this risk, as people who anticipate this risk are among the most likely to be uninterested in a prediction platform based around play money. that said, I think it's undercounted by a small enough factor that these markets are mostly valid. I lose money betting my long term beliefs on manifold because I'm a bad short term bettor and don't want to get really good; I suspect I'm not the only one. https://manifold.markets/L

The V-Dem Institute's tracker shows that, after widespread growth in democracy during the 1980s and 90s, many more countries are now becoming autocratic than democratic, especially weighted by population:


The V-Dem tracker you show doesn't show "widespread growth in democracy during the 1980s and 90s." It shows a giant explosion all of a sudden starting in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, and then an equally sudden reversion from about 2000-2004.

It's tracking autocratization, the sign of the direction of change, rather than the magnitude of autocracy or of its rate of change. If the world saw a wave of democratization (as during the USSR's collapse) followed by even a minor systemic reversion to the mean, we would observe this as a giant spike in democratization followed by a giant spike in autocratization.

That said, V-Dem does appear to be a pretty large, serious, thoughtful and data-backed organization, and they have enough examples of autocratization trends in their report that I am updating to say yes, it does look like there's some sort of genuinely concerning autocratization process going on globally.

This post is interesting, but I think it fails to do enough to provide possible causal mechanisms to help folks really think about this. It's a lot of worrying trends, which are good to worry about and an important start, but for me this post is missing something it really needs. So, let me see if I can provide a simple story that might make sense of the trend and give us some clues about how much to worry.

Lately, times have been getting harder for a large number of folks in Western countries. There's less slack in the system. Historically, left-coded positions have existed only when there's sufficient slack, since people don't care about equity or even equality when they aren't sure if they'll have enough grain to survive the winter—all they want is to at least get by. We may not be on the verge of actual famine, but despite rising absolute wealth, relative perceptions of wealth are falling among the working class and some of the professional class.  Some of this is real, and some of this is hedonic treadmill, failing to recognize the tide that has lifted all boats. Regardless, the experience of decline, even if it is only relative to other people in the same society, leads to a loss of purpose and a desire for a return to the good old days. The political implications follow naturally.

I think it's great that you took a stand to present your independent observations and relay some information people here may not have encountered on the subject, especially since political discourse is a minor LW taboo. This is good for epistemics IMO.

The key argument for why we'd predict 18+ Western fascisms in the next decade is that we should by default extrapolate current trends, while rejecting the appearance of stability.

I find this contradictory. Why are current derivative of fascism something we should view as "stable" and likely to hold constant over the long term, while the current amount of fascism is something we should view as "unstable" and easy to change?

Obviously, both can't be true - we can't have a stable amount of fascism and also a stable rate of change. I'm just not clear on why you think we ought to assume the rate of change is the statistic that is stable and the absolute level is the statistic that is unstable.

My intuition is the opposite. The level of autocracy appears pretty stable over long time periods in most countries, with occasional shocks and constant wobbles. It seems likely to me that we are having a wobble.

A secondary issue is the underlying caus... (read more)

2simon8mo
Yes, I was thinking on those lines myself and suspect that we've already left the optimal conditions for democracy.  Consider how people say, for example, that it's impossible to revolt against the government using just personal firearms, given that the government has nukes, fighter jets etc. Well, if that's true, democracy depends on the ideological commitment of members of the relevant institutions. And I don't think that's necessarily an especially stable situation - if the incentive is there, the ideology will shift eventually. Moreover, I think alyssavance (OP) is perhaps a bit too dismissive of wokeism, in part precisely for the above reasons - woke ideology has disproportionate institutional influence compared with its popular support. But another, perhaps more important reason to be concerned about woke ideology is that its institutional influence is leading de facto policy as actually implemented to - as I see it - be considerably more woke-oriented than is popularly supported. This naturally could lead to support among anti-woke people for political crackdowns on woke-influenced institutions to prevent this. But of course, such crackdowns are exactly the sort of thing that would enable a takeover. And that sort of support could also lead to increased fervor among the woke: "see, we have to stop those terrible people", etc (which is also what the anti-woke are saying, of course). Classic toxoplasma, potentially. Edit: to be clear, I do think it's a bad thing that democracy may be unstable now. 
2localdeity8mo
People do say that kind of thing.  Counterarguments: * Successful revolts don't need to be capable of defeating the army in a fair fight.  All you need to do is make it sufficiently painful for them to keep fighting that they give up.  I think the Middle East has modern examples of this. * A revolt may have some portion of the army on its side, and another portion might refuse to fight their own people.  Nukes in particular—I would be extremely astonished if any government used a large nuke, killing a bunch of civilians, when putting down a rebellion.  (Maybe they'd use very small tactical nukes—equivalent to large conventional bombs—in situations where there'd be no civilian casualties, but I suspect (and hope) that there'd still be strong resistance to breaking the nuclear taboo.  And would there even be an advantage to doing so?  Are the tactical nukes cheaper than the equivalents?  Heh, someone has looked into it: probably not.)
0the gears to ascension8mo
can you rephrase without "woke" to establish what you mean by it, in order to separate it from other things others might refer to as woke that you wouldn't? I'm not familiar enough with the term to know what people actually mean by it in this context, given the differences in how different subcultures talk.
3simon8mo
I guess I probably meant it a lot broader than others do - it's more of a spectrum  than a binary classification and I'm including support for open immigration, affirmative action, etc. in what I'm thinking of. The more the support for a policy is based on some firmly held moral conviction that is at odds with most of the population, the more I'm thinking of it as woke I guess.
2the gears to ascension8mo
I see. For what it's worth I don't think that's the only important split here. I think a lot more people accept the firm moral convictions than there are people who endorse pressuring others about them in the particular flavor that defines what I hope I can simply refer to as corporate wokism and be understood, which is what I see in the halls of power. Merely "staying woke" in self defense as a different thing than "woke ideology" as a different thing than "woke authority". I personally define my moral convictions by anti-authoritarianism and pro-flourishing-autonomy, and with that as the guiding reference I find a lot of common ground with centrists I meet online (discord, games, etc) on morality, the disagreements are over how that morality should be implemented, usually, though of course there are plenty who don't agree morally. It seems to me that the sense in which Sam Altman is woke is the one to be afraid of, given that my my standards the thing to stay woke about is the threat from him! If authoritarian regime change occurs, I think it will at this point be heavily entangled with the way his interaction with government changed the system.
1simon8mo
Hmm yes the "pressuring others about them" aspect is a major part of what I'm thinking of as woke too. But, regarding: If people in an institution have to "stay woke" in self defense, that is a major degree of influence, even if few actually endorse pressuring others as you say. Not sure what you're saying after that point, perhaps you could elaborate.
3the gears to ascension8mo
agh I should probably do more useful things than reply to this in detail. basically I think sam altman is a great example of what this video describes. (ai summary with human edits.) this is an unabashedly left channel - not even liberal, which this channel would describe as centrist. It's not a full citation, but it's a solid overview. * Some folks have been increasingly concerned about a "woke corporate agenda" where corporations pretend to care about social issues like racism and sexism to defend their wealth and power. * The video claims the real problem is not that corporations care too much about social justice, but the amount of power and control they have over working people. * Identity politics was originally coined by Black feminists to fully participate in political movements and engage in politics, but got coopted and the name means something else to most people now * Identity politics was proposed to focus on undoing inequality and building solidarity, not just solutions based on identities. Perhaps nominative determinism screwed it up. (What if we designed by nominative determinism?) * Corporations have captured identity politics because they see how valuable it is, but they don't actually change the unequal structures. * Corporations use progressive and identity politics language to defend their interests and union bust (thereby changing what the zeitgeist uses those words to refer to.) * Corporations engage in "deference politics" where they recognize marginalized voices within power structures but don't change the unequal structures. * We need "constructive politics" focusing on positive outcomes for working people, starting with identity but arriving at solidarity. * True solidarity unites working people against corporate elites and fights for a more equitable distribution of wealth and power. * Once we realize who is trying to divide us (the elite), we can work towards solidarity and economic justice for all.
1simon8mo
Thanks, that was very clarifying. I'm definitely talking about the post-elite-capture version, and not the original grassroots version.

The rise in in authoritarianism in the west is very real and concerning and we should strive to counter it. But I think you overstate some of your points.

In the US, the most recent midterm served as a rebuke to trumpism and election denial. Despite having the highest inflation in recent memory and low favorability scores for biden, democrats actually won a senate seat, barely lost any seats in the house and defeated all AG and governors in swing states that run on election denial. This is not what a normal mid term looks like, and it is certainly not what a midterm in which authoritarians are gaining broader mainstream support would look like. In every special election, democrats overperform too, sometimes to very large extents.

Polls are important to gauge the current public opinion, but especially this far out to an election, they need to be interpreted cautiously. The general election polls are predominantly from low quality and/or republican pollsters. Higher quality pollsters do show Biden leading Trump, but even they don't tell you very much because their numbers of undecided people is so high. This are predominantly people who disapprove of both Biden and Trump, but who have ... (read more)

The key thing you don't address is how unelected bodies like the military and the judiciary may pushback against fascists. On January 6th the legislative branch was able to address the issue alone (a kind of blow into your thesis). Anyway, I wouldn't expect Roberts to show up on January 20th to sworn in Trump. And I see at least 5 Justices willing to protect America. The judiciary branch actually is working hard to incarcerate Trump.

Also, you don't address important G7 countries like Japan and the United Kingdom. Because during the far right uprising the C... (read more)

A large part of your evidence is that "far-right" parties, like the Sweden democrats, are growing. But ~none of the western parties you mention are running on an explicitly anti-democratic platform, which was a fairly unifying feature of the worst dictatorships throughout history. "Marine Le Pen is a fascist and will start democratic backsliding if she wins" is a pretty odd assumption to just leave unsubstantiated.

AI policy, strategy, and governance involves working with government officials within the political system. This will be very different if the relevant officials are fascists, who are selected for loyalty rather than competence.

The way you tell the story suggests that loyalty to the left is very important to prevent the political right from getting power. This dynamic means that people who sit in powerful chairs are more selected due to loyalty than competence.

The narrative of the importance of fighting fascism led to a media landscape where loyalty to lef... (read more)

This conversation might be better if we taboo Hitler and recent politics. On the askhistorians subreddit they have a 50 years rule, and here we say that politics is the mind killer.

In any case, it seems to me that this approach extrapolates current trends, but I suggest that it might be more reliable to look at history for priors. Extrapolation can lead us to predict wild swings, while history puts bounds on the swings and sometimes suggests a return to the mean.

There certainly have been a lot of dictatorships in history and not all of them fascist. But th... (read more)

I think this is a bit overstated in terms of likelihood and severity.  Political predictions deeply suffer from reference class problems - it's unclear which past events or trends are indicators of future outcomes.  Nobody votes in the same election twice.  Not legally, at least.

I don't see this as being distinct from or better than any typical left wing "republicans are a threat to democracy" article. If there is anything that isn't fit for LW it's this post.

1TropicalFruit8mo
I think there are significant differences between this post and the run of the mill leftist drivel you see somewhere like reddit. This post is well written and coherent, and, as such, invites discussion. I've also seen the author respond to opposing comments with real counter-arguments, rather than random ad hominems and fallacies. Also, while politics is certainly the mind-killer, I personally enjoy the occasional political article where we get to discuss it with LessWrong's forum features and LessWrong's audience. There's a chance of actually having my mind changed, and the new agree/disagree feature, as distinct from upvote/downvote, makes this kind of thing possible. I will agree, though, that it's not the same class as the typical post. I can feel my own mind being killed by my own political bias trying to engage with this, as I'm sure others can as well, but I still want to try. Maybe some sort of compromise with a political and non-political section would be useful.
[+][comment deleted]8mo41