The partnership between a people and their government is not a fiction. The fiction is that a government will honor that partnership devoid of active participation by the people. In absence of active participation, any government will naturally assume it has ultimate authority, and it will eventually degenerate into one of the various authoritarian variants. Democracy, therefore, exists only through the will of the people, and it survives or dies based upon their determination to defend it.
This is not to say that government is the enemy of the people, or that all governments are illegitimate. By establishing a framework of law and order, a healthy government provides a vital foundation without which the continuity of a society cannot exist. However, there are many ways by which the legitimacy of that foundation can become strained to the breaking point, with disastrous consequences.
Perhaps one of the greatest dangers to that foundation is the bureaucratization of the various institutions through which the people exert control over the government. A bureaucracy, after all, exists only for itself, and when the channels through which the people legally exert control become solely allegiant to their respective administrative machines, the people have lost a vital means of bending the ear of the government through which both civil obedience and civil disobedience operate. And when the people lose the reasonable belief in their ability to work within the legal boundaries of a government to control or to change it, they often react to this crisis of confidence by turning to radicalism, civil war, and revolution.
An offshoot of this bureaucratization of government is the willful attack by the state on the authority of the people; specifically by attacking the right of association. As has been previously discussed, it is through the ability to speak en mass that the people can both restore the state to its proper place, and alter the framework through with the state works. If the people are not afforded the right to freely associate without interference or obstruction by the state, then it follows that state is dangerously interfering with one of the most fundamental ways through which it peacefully gains and maintains legitimacy. Thus, to use the American government as an example, to the extent that the recently exposed collection and sharing of large amounts of data on its citizens through action of the NSA and other agencies discourages the freedom of voluntary association, this also creates a chilling deterrent to a necessary means through which its citizens check its power. Add to this the fact that the American government, through the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, now reserves the right to indefinitely detain any individual, citizen or not, without trial or legal counsel, that it suspects of aiding, committing, or plotting merely even “belligerent” acts, and one can see that this is a disturbing situation, indeed.
Moving beyond active disenfranchisement of the people, another stress on the foundation that may become intolerable is the selective interpretation of the law, whether institutional or otherwise. A classic example of this, for example, was the central issue with regards to the American Civil Rights Movement: to wit, the inability of the Union to collectively integrate the population of freed slaves beneath the legal umbrella of the partnership which the white and immigrant populations inherited by birth or decree. For over a century after the American Civil War, those descended from slaves still existed, for the most part, outside of the system and, thus, their actions took on a radical light, even though the actions of those of the white community who marched beside them were seen as disobedient instead of radical. Indeed, this is perhaps still one of the most relevant and undying differences between the way in which white and black Americans interact with the government: with the white community, the right to civil disobedience is implied by birth, while the black community has no preconception that this is the case at all. They are quite well aware of the tenuousness of this concept, having fought so hard to earn it.
In no more chilling manner was all of the above on display than during the Occupy Wall Street Movement of 2011, against which various government and private agencies plotted and conspired to denigrate, disenchant, and forcefully disperse the peaceful civil disobedience of groups of citizens voicing their outrage at the vast and openly conducted criminal disobedience of the financial sector, often in collusion with the same financial entities charged with the criminal conduct to which the citizenry was so outraged. Thus, another means by which the contract between the people and their government can become dangerously strained: if a government does not, or cannot, equally enforce the rule of law, then the result is to bring in to question its authority as the immutable arbiter of order and justice, leading to a breakdown of the state’s legitimacy in the eyes of the people and a consequent erosion of the state’s authority. Indeed, one cannot overstate the damage the U.S. government has arguably sustained, for example, by not only failing to restrain the most egregious acts of the financial industry, but, in many ways, colluding with it to weaken or remove the laws designed to prevent these acts, and to be seen to side with the criminal disobedience of that industry by forcefully removing those peacefully, and legally, protesting against it.
For one does not have to be a conspiracy enthusiast to recognize that these are perilous times indeed for American democracy. With faith in fundamental government institutions at the lowest level in modern history; with those institutions increasingly populated by technocrats for whom preserving the bureaucracy is more important than preserving the partnership with the people; with the bureaucracy itself increasingly disconnected from, and actively attacking, that partnership; with the executive, judicial, and legislative branches openly at war with each other and the Constitution that provides them legitimacy; and with the majority of the people feeling ever disconnected and disenfranchised from the levers of power through which they historically exerted control, it does not take much of a leap of the imagination to envision a situation in which radicalism and violent protest replaces peaceful demonstration and systematic change.