September 03, 2002
More From Civilization: Democracy Is Way Too Hard!



"Democracy is way too hard!"

"Yeah! Democracy is way too hard!" It is the twelve-year-old and the nine-year-old, speaking in chorus from the back seat.

"In democracy, when you move one military unit out of its home city two people become unhappy," says the nine-year-old.

"And if you don't spend a complete and total fortune on entertainment and luxuries, your people riot," says twelve-year-old.

"It's impossible to wage an aggressive campaign of conquest," says the nine-year-old. "They force you to make peace prematurely."

"But aren't your people much more productive? Aren't people richer? isn't scientific progress faster? Isn't total production much, much higher?" I ask.

"Yes. But what good is that if I want to conquer the world?" asks the nine-year-old.

"Remember. Civilization is not just a war game. It's a peace game too. You can win by creating a great and peaceful civilization," I say.

"Not if another civilization on earth happens to be led by Genghis Khan and possesses nuclear weapons," says the twelve-year-old.

"You're looking at it from the wrong perspective," I say, changing the subject, hoping to distract my children from the moral question--unsuitable for Berkeley--of whether it is possible for a preemptive war waged with nuclear weapons to be a "just cause." (Answer: when faced with the version of Genghis Khan inside the Civilization program, yes.)

"What do you mean?" says the nine-year-old.

"You're thinking that the people exist to serve the government--especially if the government wants to engage in world conquest. But the founders of America thought--especially Thomas Jefferson thought--Thomas Jefferson thought it was so true as to need no argument, to be self-evident." I pause.

"Thought what was true, Dad?" says the twelve-year-old.

"That all people are endowed with rights that no government can take away and that they cannot give away, rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That governments are instituted to secure these rights. And that governments are legitimate only as long as they serve the people by protecting these rights, and only as long as the people think the government is doing a good job. And if the government doesn't--if it drafts all the young men and sends them out to die half a continent away for a war waged for no purpose other than to make the ruler happy that he has conquered another province--then what do you think Jefferson believed the people had a right to do?"

"Aaargh!! Crash!! Chomp!! Arrghh! Riot!! Civil disorder!! Down with the Consul!! Aaarghh" says the nine-year-old.

Well, Jefferson was somewhat more eloquent. But you've got the idea," I said.

"'That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.'"

"Dad?" says the twelve-year-old.


"The Declaration of Independence was written with those strange s's that look like f's, right?"


"So shouldn't you say, '...purfuing invariably the fame Object evinces a defign to reduce them under abfolute Defpotifm...'?"

Posted by DeLong at September 03, 2002 06:15 PM | Trackback

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You should buy your kids Tropico. The idea behind that game is that you're the dictator-president of a tiny carribean island. The focus is on domestic politics and economics. Your foreign politics is basically "how much do the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. like you, and how much money do they give you in consequence?" Although there are SOME other aspects of foreign policy: if you piss the U.S. off mightily, for one thing, they send in gunboats to your port, and possibly invade, and both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. can establish military bases with your consent, which can be a mixed blessing.

Anyway, it's an interesting game. It doesn't have a market economy: all production, wages, rents, and investment is controlled by the government, just as in civilization, but it comes closer than in any game I've seen: you don't "allocate" workers, as in Civ: rather, you control wages and try to use incentives to get people to work where you want them to work.

Also, rather than having five government options, it has a multitude of different policies. You can run a military dictatorship based on martial law, or a democracy, but EITHER of these are compatible with your literacy program or contraception ban.

Basically, your power is founded on how well you please the people as a whole, but also on how well you please certain, powerful special interest groups (there are six factions: communist, capitalist, intellectual, environmentalist, religious, and militarist). You can lose power by losing an election, being overthrown by a military coup, being overthrown by massive popular uprisings (a la Ferdinand Marcos), by being overthrown by rebels (a la Fulgencio Batista), or by being invaded by a superpower.

It's all very fun, IMHO, and perhaps a bit more human, realistic, and organic feeling than civilization, which seems like you're more a robot programmer than a leader of human beings, though I think Civilization's fun too.


Posted by: Julian Elson on September 4, 2002 12:01 AM

This is precisely why citizens must be allowed topossess weapons. If the government reached a level of arrogance necessitating its forced removal then the citizenry must have resources suitable for the action.

Posted by: Jon A on September 4, 2002 04:33 AM

I have changed my mind on the gun rights issue recently, but one thing I haven't changed my mind on is the defense of the right to bear arms that Jon A uses. People should be allowed to own weapons to protect themselves from crime and for little else. The idea that we could forcibly remove the goverment, assuming that you include the armed forces as part of the government, is laughable. This isn't the 1700s, where the only difference between a nation's soldier and an armed citizen was a uniform and a regiment. Even if you instituted a weapons ownership regime beyond anything the NRA would ever ask for, say, as ridiculous as letting people own bazookas or anti-aircraft missiles, there is absolutely no way armed citizens could defeat our armed forces. Never. If we resisted they could just nuke us, for starters. The right to bear arms can be easily defended on solid ground, but anyone who argues that we should be armed so that we can forcibly overthrow the government if the need arises is out of their mind. Like it or not, and I like it, a group of disaffected citizens no matter how large can not overthrow our government short of defeating the nation's combined military might.

Of course, the armed forces are powerful enough to stage a coup of the elected government, but that's one of the reasons why we have the armed forces separated into 4 groups. Even if the army somehow got it into its head that it should take over our government(?!?), how could it hope do so with the air force and marines and navy in the way? Not only do we have a separation of powers in government, we also have a separation of powers in our military. It's a good thing too.

Posted by: PR on September 4, 2002 08:54 AM

So who you gonna shoot, Jon?? Seriously.

Ashcroft isn't going to show up at my front door, the details of implementing my "detainment" are going to be left in the hands of a bunch of lower level flunkies. In all likelihood they would eventually assign the local police department to actually pick me up.

The Chief (and regular beat officer) of this tiny force was at one time literally the "kid next door." I'm going to point a gun at him? I don't think so.

I ask again: who the f*** are you planning to shoot at, Jon???

Posted by: a different chris on September 4, 2002 09:11 AM

Armed insurgency (against our government) gets you Ruby Ridge and Waco.

right to bear arms to 'defend oneself' is fine with me as long as they are licensed, registered and background checked.

Hell, I go thru a credit check to get a measly cell phone contract or an apartment rental!

Posted by: on September 4, 2002 09:20 AM

Uh.... just one question concerning the right-to-bear-arms-as-a-check-on-despotic-government argument: you seem to have an armed citizenry in mind as a potential insurgency, with democratic aims, trying to overthrow a democratic government. Certainly that's one scenario, but could there also be a anti-democratic insurgency which attempted to overthrow a democratic government, backed by a well armed minority? Or one kind of anti-democratic insurgency trying to overthrow another kind of anti-democratic government (say... communist insurgency against a fascist government, or something?). Hell, there could even be one kind of pro-democracy insurgency against a democratic government, with different visions of democracy, somehow (say, a secessionist movement, trying to carve a small republic out of a bigger one...). Anyway, though, of those four scenarios, only one clearly helps democracy, and one clearly hurts it, and two are ambiguous in their effect on democracy (but I would say undesirable aside from their neutrality with regard to democracy, because they DO cause violence and destruction). Anyway, how does allowing lots of guns help prevent despotic government?

Julian Elson

Posted by: Julian Elson on September 4, 2002 11:36 AM

Hey, democracy is tough in Civ. You need to outpace competitors while keeping a strong central defense. Once you get a tech advantage, you outproduce and crush them all. They won't know what hit them.

Posted by: John Robb on September 4, 2002 02:07 PM

(Pardon the duplication; I posted this to Rosenberg's page on Salon, but this looks like a more active comment board)

[mustering my best Paul Harvey impression]: "...and that little boy's name was... George Walker Bush. And now you know the rest of the story."

OK, I'm ignoring the obvious anachronism and the fact that Mr. DeLong's kids' articulations (real or not) are far above the level Dubya is capable of as an adult.

It's certainly an apt metaphor for the transition that has occurred in our country. What I read from the administration is a clear let-the-economy-rot-there's-always-enough-money-for-weapons message. Note that Bush did say a dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier. Maybe he plays Civ too.

Posted by: Paul Callahan on September 4, 2002 02:22 PM

Here's last year's Sid Meier's Advice On Defeating the Taliban. Coming soon: Sid Meier's Advice On Defeating Iraq.

Posted by: John Gorenfeld on September 4, 2002 03:28 PM

The arguments posted which claim that the right to keep and bear arms are useless in preserving democracy do not hold water.

One poster claims that a group of citizens could never hope to defeat the armed forces. Another claims that any such action would be like Ruby Ridge or Waco.

Certainly a handful of people who voluntarily identify themselves and then hole up in an isolated area are easy pickings for law enforcement. Armed groups of thousands, operating with some popular support, in populated areas, would present an entirely different problem. F-16s and nuclear weapons won't be of much use in this case. Use of heavy weapons would only turn more people against the government's side.
Besides, do you think that the average soldier, earing maybe $10K per year, really WANTS to risk death? Will he do so in combat against his fellow countrymen? What will the effect on his morale be when he realizes that his wearing a government uniform makes him a target, even in his hometown?

Look at Palestine, Chechnya, and all the other guerilla movements around the world. It's very difficult to stamp out such movements as long as they have local popular support. The reason that they can continue is that the rebels have access to arms. Some rebel movements I can support, others I oppose. If the US government ever becomes odious enough, I hope that we get our own rebel movement. To that end, I own firearms and encourage others to do so. I'd rather die with little chance of victory than live with little hope of freedom.

Posted by: gander7 on September 5, 2002 08:01 AM

>>Like it or not, and I like it, a group of disaffected citizens no matter how large can not overthrow our government short of defeating the nation's combined military might.<<

I don't advocate overthrow. I don't even advocate INFLUENCE of our government via violence. This is purely theoretical. I tell you just like I'll tell the Secret Service...


I remind you all that John Wilkes Booth did affect the course of our history.

If political activists of either party were in fact as evil as some of their opponents claim,
a small group could EASILY alter the current
government. Say, just for example, that a
ultra-right-wing militia conspiracy decided it
could no longer tolerate a left-leaning Senate.

A few minutes with an almanac identifies which
Republican governors might appoint "better" senators if untimely vacancies happened to occur among Democratic incumbants. Janklow in S.D., Engler in Michigan, Celucci in MA...

The inverse case is similar, of course.

Are Senators a hard target? I hope it is so.
But an impossible one? I doubt it. If a Begalia or a Limbaugh succeeded in inciting revolutionary fervor among the disaffected; there could never be enough defenders to protect all critical officials.

Nor need there be. In general it's still MUCH easier to vote the rascals out than hunt them down. But let's not kid ourselves,nor allow our leaders to kid THEMselves, that a lightly armed citizenry is incapable of affecting meaningful change.

Posted by: Melcher on September 5, 2002 12:28 PM

'But let's not kid ourselves,nor allow our leaders to kid THEMselves, that a lightly armed citizenry is incapable of affecting meaningful change.'

Lets also not kid ourselves that these arms will necessarily be used for good. To first order, you're pretty much arguing for might makes right here.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on September 5, 2002 01:31 PM

To all,

I don't remember ANY case from history of the last 100 years where an insurgency won in which the National Armed forces either sat it out or joined them. Not sure if this was true ever. Bottom line is an armed anti-democratic insurgency would be very easy do defeat - its members would be very easy to find.

Posted by: buffpilot on September 5, 2002 02:14 PM


Moscow 1991?

Posted by: Benjamin Coates on September 6, 2002 06:48 AM

Purhaps the right to bear arms is more of a check on a despotic local government. Given the time of the writing of the Second Ammendment, militias where made up of local citizens providing their own arms. Citizens where also, essentially, cut off from the Federal and state governemnt. The travel time for Fedral forces to reach a small town was significant. A corrupt local government could hold a town hostage, putting up a front for a visiting Federal representative. Even today, an armed citizenry could resist such a small local despotism.

Posted by: james on September 6, 2002 08:15 AM

Democracy IS hard in Civ. That's why I always stick with the ancient Republic government if I want to be peaceful, and communist/fascist if I want to kick butt.

Posted by: Davey D on September 6, 2002 08:31 AM

In response to the question: how does allowing lots of guns help prevent despotic government?

There could certainly be an armed revolt that becomes despotic once it is installed in power (the Bolshevik Revolution or Mao's Revolution being the most obvious examples). But solely considering the what-ifs miss the point. A society that respects and upholds individual rights, as the United States was chartered to do, has no need to fear revolt.

If a revolt ever occurred, the citizens in a government that has respected the rights of its citizens -- and has thus established its legitimacy within the hearts and minds of its people -- won't find a shortage of volunteers to defend their government from the insurgents.

Posted by: Matt on September 6, 2002 08:36 AM

I've found that Democracy in Civ II is workable
only if you have both Michelangelo's Chapel and
Women's Suffrage. If I have only the Chapel, I
can only deal with Republic.

Posted by: Peter on September 6, 2002 08:44 AM

An interesting point that hasn't been made yet is the awe-inspiring effectiveness of communism in Civilization III.

Oh, sure, your research is absolutely atrocious, but who needs it? Your citizens are heavily pacified by troops. You can draft lots of your citizens and turn them into tank units. You can support a ridiculous total number of troops.

As long as you're close to the other countries in technology at the time you convert to communism, you'll almost always can conquer the entire world before the democracies out-research you into oblivion.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on September 6, 2002 03:32 PM

You forgot the most important part of the lesson:

Yes, it's hard to wage war in a Democracy. UNLESS the "enemy" attacks you first. Then you get much less "war weariness". Enemy not attacking? Do a little espionage. Antagonize without actually attacking. Sooner or later, the "enemy" will attack YOU, and your people will rally behind the war.


Posted by: on September 9, 2002 11:29 PM

Hey guys -

Just caught a link to this page thru the Metafilter blog. Interesting stuff. I myself am a strategy game-loving adult also. I've not tried Civ 3 or Tropico yet; I'm still obsessed with Sims and Shogun: Total War (in which one learns, I guess, to hire Buddhist monks and invite friends over regularly???).

Anyway. Just wanted to chime in regarding the Right to Bear Arms: Though nobody reasonably expects the populace at large to defend themselves against a tyrannical government armed only with revolvers and deer rifles, it's not as though we would really have to face the military on a one-to-one basis if worst came to absolute worst.
In many cases, confrontations between citizens and armed forces would, I'm certain, often be resolved by the military backing down and joining the citizens: after all, the soldiers are citizens themselves, and even the severest military discipline doesn't completely eradicate one's loyalty to one's mates, girlfriend, mom, etc.
Remember what happened when the Soviet Union fell: T-60 tanks were out in the streets, but they were quickly crawling with citizens, who convinced the drivers and gunners to join their side - and it worked. The most vivid image I remember of that event was not tanks firing at citizens, but a tank resting against the curb, firing on the Parliament building.
Besides, I think (I HOPE) that if things got so bad in this country that the military was violently suppressing civilian protests, the public at large would wake up and decide once and for all to kick the (current) rascals out. Whether we put another set of rascals right back in their place would be the next question.
By the by, in all seriousness, can anyone recommend a good military strategy game in which Iraq is a terrain option? I thought I'd like to game the thing in my living room before the end of October, when the real thing takes place (whether the world wants it or not)....

Posted by: Todd Frye on September 10, 2002 05:55 AM

- Jon

Way to go, America! Keep every citizen armed to the teeth, ready to overthrow your own government. Then maybe the World will stop admiring you and find a better solution for themselves...

Posted by: Mauricio Vismona on September 10, 2002 12:28 PM

I certainly believe the ability to defend themselves against an oppressive government was a prime consideration in the drafting of the 2nd Ammendment, and it is still valid today. As someone mentioned earlier, such a confrontation would always begin locally (the first move would not be F-16s strafing the Dan Ryan Expressway). It would be some local sheriff or ATF agent knocking on doors. Also, one of the key elements in the right to bear arms is Deterrence. An unarmed population is much more susceptible to intimidation by the sight of troops on street corners than an armed one, when the soldiers themselves have to look at every rooftop as they patrol. It makes the prospect of martial law that much more unappealing.

For Todd: Not sure of a good strategic level game featuring Iraq, but for tactical level combat, Steel Panthers III (Brigade Command) is a realistic and fun game that has 40 different nationalities available, including Iraq, and the equipment lists go from 1939-1999, so most of the current equipment is available. It also has lots of options to customize scenarios, and even design your own maps, I believe.

Posted by: Joe Schweickert on September 10, 2002 04:38 PM

Hehe....I certainly don't admire any countries where if you shoot some guy who broke into your house to rape your wife or daughter, you go to jail. Poor britian and australia, and others I assume.

Anyway like they armed american populace is not only a deterant for keeping the government honest...but a deterrant to external invasion! Serveral high ranking japanese officals and officers were quoted that any invasion of the US was thrown out because they knew americans almost all owned firearms and would use them.

Posted by: Frank Johnson on September 10, 2002 08:34 PM

even though the right to bear arms is completly off the issue, i would like to state my opinion as well.

It is not though armed insurrgency that a people in modern society will over throw a despotic goverment, it will be though peacful protests and strikes. A goverment only maintains power over the military as long as it can pay it. The citizens are the power behind a goverment not because they are voters but because they are the nations work force and with out them a nations economy will colapes.

and as for arms being a deterent for conflict between armed forces and citizens as joe stated, they will have a completly oppersite effect, it is unlikely that that the military or national guard will shoot unarmed protesters but if you start shooting at them you are a thearte and thier military training will kick in and they will start shooting back, as well as this i hate to tell you that a hunting rifle will do little against a tank or or well equiped mechanized infantry,

Grander7 stated "Look at Palestine, Chechnya, and all the other guerilla movements around the world. It's very difficult to stamp out such movements as long as they have local popular support.", there are not movment fighting against a despotic goverments but movements for independece hence you can not apply the same rules to them.

and finally jon since you left your e mail address the fbi are probably on their way to your house as i type so get that that army surplus anti tank rifle out of the basement and get ready to defend your rights to bear arms.

Posted by: Andrew on September 10, 2002 09:35 PM

About Moscow 1991: this was not a raise of the people against the sitting government, Gorbatsjov the Soviet president where faced with a coup from hard line communist that did not like his perestroika politics and the closer ties with the west. So they tried a cop, now the people did not like this and the leader of Russia (Boris Jeltsin) took the chance to rise in power and used the support from the people and friendly army troops. So it was army troops that toppled a coup - not the people that toppled the sitting government. Btw had the coup not been so poorly planed, it would probably have succeeded, considering the top down leadership of former soviet.

Posted by: Magnus on September 11, 2002 01:45 AM

Your kids should upgrade to Civ III (thanks Dad), which has a much better model across all dimensions of the game. A better model means better learning and even more insightful questions....

Posted by: on September 22, 2002 03:23 PM
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