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> in the long-run, nothing really keeps the masses in line.

Amen. What keeps a society stable for a long time is allowing the masses to go out of line on a regular basis without too much collateral damage. It's like letting some steam escape from a boiling pot so it doesn't boil over.

This is essentially what elections are for: to let people revolt against government power without resorting to violence. But if elections are perceived as not valid, or as ineffective, they can no longer release that tension... and to your point, eventually the masses will get out of line one way or another. The longer it takes, the messier it will be.

Authoritarian governments are not even really intended to create long-term stability. They are corrupt in a very essential way: the people running them know they can't last forever, but they don't care as long as they can give themselves a great life, and put off the explosion until after their (natural, comfortable, long-delayed) death.

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