You will often hear people talk about the age of Late Capitalism. These people are almost always those who identify as being on the left but they do have a point. Capitalism has mutated. The capitalism of today bears little resemblance to the capitalism of the age of Henry Ford.
What has been less noticed is that we now live in the age of Late Democracy. Democracy of course was always a sham. The purpose of democratic institutions is to thwart the will of the people. What has changed, and it has changed dramatically over the past twenty years, is that the mask has been dropped. In the past great effort was put into maintaining the pretense that democracy expressed the will of the people. This is no longer felt to be necessary.
Political leaders like Tony Blair, David Cameron, Barack Obama, François Hollande, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau and Malcolm Turnbull do not even pretend to care about what the voters want or think.
The media no longer makes any attempt to hide the fact that it manipulates elections. Members of the real elite, the international finance elite, openly buy and sell politicians. Bureaucrats and judges openly despise ordinary people and openly defy the will of the people.
The contempt for ordinary people is palpable. And it is venomous. And it is openly expressed.
The question is whether this is sustainable in the long term. Governments have always felt the need for some sort of legitimacy. This was true even in the days when kings ruled rather than serving as figureheads. A king would think twice before taking any action that he knew would be repugnant to his people. A king reigned by the Grace of God but it was clearly understood that he was in a real sense the servant of his people. If he lost the confidence of the people he could be, and often was, deposed. Such a king no longer had any legitimacy and thus could no longer claim to rule by the Grace of God.
Even dictators usually only survive for as long as they serve the interests of the nation and the people. Like kings they can be, and often are, deposed.
We now have a new situation in which we are ruled by an elite whose claim to legitimacy is increasingly sketchy. Rule by a class which openly expresses its contempt for the people is also new.
Of course our current elites have much greater power in their hands than any king or dictator. Their control over the media is total and the power of the media is unprecedented in history. They control education. They control the police and the military. They control the “intelligence communities” which are now quite blatantly employed for the purpose of social control. They also control the economy. If you oppose them they can destroy your livelihood. They can destroy your family. They can also simply have you locked up and they are increasingly willing to do so.
In spite of all this power held by the elites the situation is inherently unstable. It can only continue as long as the elites remain united, and history shows that there is no guarantee that this will continue indefinitely. There are always groups that are on the margins of the elite and they would be happy to be on the inside, and in order to achieve this they will quite cheerfully displace existing members of the elites. New groups arise that want their share of the action and again they’re happy to take the place of existing elite groups.
The continuance of this situation also depends on the ability of the elites to navigate crises, and crises are by their nature impossible to predict.
Ruling classes also become, in time, decadent.
A ruling class without legitimacy is in a poor position to weather such storms, both internal and external. Whether or not our current ruling class can do so remains to be seen.