Why Dictators Underestimate Democracies

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Our luxury and liberty are deceptive. Vitality creates luxury, and then luxury hides vitality. To illustrate this principle, let’s examine an archetypal picture of Western decadence: a fine restaurant in a leafy suburb serving expensive wines and locally sourced food to a wealthy array of doctors, lawyers, and software engineers who spend their meal talking about pickleball and politics.

Not exactly the picture of a society prepared for the hell of war, is it?

But let’s peek under the hood just a bit. Chances are, the owner of the restaurant is both a risk taker and an innovator. She gambled with her life savings that the precise way she’s learned to prepare and serve food can provide for her family. The tattooed server pouring the wine? He’s working two jobs to get through school, the first member of his immigrant family to go to college.

The Teslas in the parking lot were the product of a company envisioned by another American immigrant, built by working-class Americans who produce a vehicle that’s the wonder of every generation that came before. And the customers themselves? Although many come from prosperous families, their own stories are marked by tales of self-discipline, risk, innovation, and courage. They live lives not of casual comfort, but of intense energy and effort.

So what on the surface can look a lot like pure decadence is, in fact, also the product of an enormous amount of industry and virtue.