I remember reading a couple of decades ago, before Hong Kong was absorbed into what I still like to call Red China, that the British had periodically attempted to introduce limited self-government to their protectorate but had always been bullied out of it by the island's future masters. The Reds perceived, probably correctly, that a democratic Hong Kong would have enjoyed an independent legitimacy that would have made its takeover much more problematic than merely replacing the British.
I thought about that story as I read the Salon article about Midtown Inc., a Community Development Corporation that has apparently taken over many government functions for a gentrifying neighborhood in Detroit. Readers may have remembered that in my last post about Detroit, I wrote that the best thing for the city was to "part it out". I should have added then that the possibility of spinning off the periphery into "charter cities" or independent municipalities was exceptionally remote: there was just no way that the Detroit government would cede its territory voluntarily.
Midtown Inc., however, seems to have managed to do something like this. I'm not quite sure how to characterize MI's somewhat complicated relationship with Detroit city government. Steve calls it government-by-"Unelected Nice White Lady Rulers"; the phrase that comes to my mind is "Byzantine". But as Steve points out, what it surely is not is democracy.
The lack of democracy may have been the only path to independence the Detroit government would find sufficiently unthreatening. If this "shadow government" actually had elections, then its gowing de facto seccession would be obvious. As it is, MI only has the role of colonial administrator: a curiosity, perhaps, but Detroit government can console itself that it still holds the "real" power.
Come to think of it, didn't Byzantium also have to run a diverse empire?