A new threat has risen against modern democracy: our minds. At the International Society of Political Psychologists conference in Lisbon in July 2019, Rick Shenkman of Politico reported on University of California, Irvine Professor Shawn Rosenberg’s presentation of his paper, “Democracy Devouring Itself: The Rise of the Incompetent Citizen and the Appeal of Right Wing Populism.” In this paper, Shawn Rosenberg, one of “the establishment’s pioneer social scientists,” argued that the rise of right-wing populism and conspiracy theories were merely a symptom of democracy’s larger downfall. As Shenkman put it, democracy “asks citizens to be able to sift through large amounts of information and process the good from the bad, the true from the false. It requires thoughtfulness, discipline, and logic;” qualities that “evolution did not favor.”
As “the institutions that have traditionally saved people from their most undemocratic impulses” have declined in the era of social media, unconscious biases, selective listening, and irrational behavior cause people to “drift toward the simple solutions right-wing populists worldwide offer: a deadly mix of xenophobia, racism, and authoritarianism,” Shenkman reported. Though Rosenberg’s position was controversial in the conference, the rise of his hypothesis remains a grave concern.
As of November 12, 2019, the paper is available on Shawn Rosenberg’s UC Irvine faculty page, but there appears to have been no corporate media coverage on the subject. However, the Los Angeles Times covered Shawn Rosenberg’s previous research, in 1986, 1989, and 1994.
Source: Rich Shenkman, “The Shocking Paper Predicting the End of Democracy,” Politico, September 8, 2019, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/09/08/shawn-rosenberg-democracy-228045.
Student Researcher: Spencer Wilkinson (College of Marin)
Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Project Censored)