He who sets out on the adventure of polemic fiction must expect certain sorts of inquiries. I certainly get my quota. No doubt, had there been an Internet and email when Ayn Rand and C. S. Lewis were alive and writing, they would have gotten their share as well.
The portrayal of a society radically different from what we enjoy / endure today elicits two kinds of feedback above all others:
- "Do you really mean that?"
- "You don't really mean that...do you?"
That's the sort of thing I get most frequently about Which Art In Hope...and from some of the comments at WRSA, I discern that our beloved Mark Butterworth is getting his quota for his "Tales of New America."
That makes for an excellent topic for 12/12/12, a day that will not soon be repeated.
First, a seeming digression. If you're at all alert to legal and political developments in these United States, you've read about the recent upsurge in union "activity:" mostly political agitation for ever more union privileges, but now and then a spot of violence in support of those objectives. Just yesterday, the state of Michigan experienced a bit of the violence:
A Fox News contributor was punched in the face during a pro-union protest Tuesday in Michigan, one of a series of confrontations between union demonstrators and opponents on the day the state Legislature approved so-called "right to work" legislation that unions oppose.
Steven Crowder, a conservative comedian and Fox News contributor, had spent the day questioning demonstrators, and video he posted on YouTube showed some of them becoming verbally aggressive, with one telling him, "get the f--- out of my face!"
Another protester can be seen later in the video punching Crowder in the face before being restrained by another man....
The new laws deliver a blow to the labor movement in the heart of the U.S. auto industry. One bill dealt with public sector workers, the other with government employees. Both measures cleared the Senate last week.
"There will be blood, there will be repercussions," state Democratic Rep. Douglas Geiss, speaking on the House floor on Tuesday, warned ahead of the votes.
There's little in the political realm less surprising than union members using violence and intimidation to get their way. They're practically the only tools remaining to them, now that Americans have grasped how destructive unionization is to employment, the prices of goods, and general prosperity. If you've wondered about the unions' passion for "card check" legislation, you have your answer.
The sociodynamics of a Society of Status -- i.e., a legal-political order in which different classes of persons enjoy different rights and privileges under the law -- inherently give rise to the urge to rebellion among the Low -- the less privileged -- and the will to quell rebellion by any means necessary among the High -- the more privileged. For as long as the High can intimidate the Low out of acting on their rebellious impulse, such an order will persist. Perhaps it will even stratify and intensify further.
But should the High's will-to-dominate falter for any reason or none, the Low will perceive an opportunity to take the initiative. Part of it, at least, will organize and mobilize for action. When its activity becomes visible, whatever part of the High remains energetic enough to resist incursions on its status will react. And quite frequently, "there will be blood."
George Orwell was incisive about the usual course of events:
Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have borne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude towards one another, have varied from age to age: but the essential structure of society has never altered. Even after enormous upheavals and seemingly irrevocable changes, the same pattern has always reasserted itself, just as a gyroscope will always return to equilibrium, however far it is pushed one way or the other.
The aims of these three groups are entirely irreconcilable. The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low, when they have an aim -- for it is an abiding characteristic of the Low that they are too much crushed by drudgery to be more than intermittently conscious of anything outside their daily lives -- is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal. Thus throughout history a struggle which is the same in its main outlines recurs over and over again. For long periods the High seem to be securely in power, but sooner or later there always comes a moment when they lose either their belief in themselves or their capacity to govern efficiently, or both. They are then overthrown by the Middle, who enlist the Low on their side by pretending to them that they are fighting for liberty and justice. As soon as they have reached their objective, the Middle thrust the Low back into their old position of servitude, and themselves become the High. Presently a new Middle group splits off from one of the other groups, or from both of them, and the struggle begins over again. Of the three groups, only the Low are never even temporarily successful in achieving their aims. It would be an exaggeration to say that throughout history there has been no progress of a material kind. Even today, in a period of decline, the average human being is physically better off than he was a few centuries ago. But no advance in wealth, no softening of manners, no reform or revolution has ever brought human equality a millimetre nearer. From the point of view of the Low, no historic change has ever meant much more than a change in the name of their masters.
The United States is unusual in this regard, possibly historically unique. The greater part of our history exhibits no discernible conflict between High and Middle. Only since the New Deal years has the Orwellian tripartite conflict been evident among us, for it was that political spasm that brought America an economically privileged High: a cadre of men with the legally protected power to decree who may work at certain trades, and who may employ them. That, of course, evoked a complementary Low: the rest of us, who lack any right to contravene the dictates of the High.
The events in Michigan are the most recent outbreak of overt combat between High and Low. Ironically, in that case the Low holds the political power in the state, while the High writhes in fury against it.
Human characteristics are non-uniformly distributed. The characteristic most relevant to this tirade is our individual response to the attractions of power over others.
Power over others, which we usually call political power, is a strange thing. In certain senses it's entirely illusory, for even in the most thoroughgoing totalitarian State, it's not the political masters who determine what the law really is; it's the enforcers, who frequently exercise discretion about what laws, and what aspects of the laws, will be enforced. However, in a polity where the political elite does have a sufficient "consent of the governed," we can treat political supremacy as genuine power for analytical purposes.
I can't say of my own knowledge what fraction of Mankind actively desires power over others. I can say, with some confidence, that to those who desire it, no other attraction comes anywhere close. They probably enjoy the material perquisites of power quite as much as anyone, but were they compelled to surrender one or the other, nearly all of them would elect to keep the power and let the wealth go.
I'm reminded of a character from Katherine Anne Porter's magnificent short story "Flowering Judas:" the supposed revolutionary Braggioni:
He is rich, he tells her, not in money but in power, and this power brings with it the blameless ownership of things.
But Braggioni is obsessed with Laura, and is aware that only his power makes it possible for him to force his attentions on her. Do not doubt that Braggioni, or any of his American counterparts of our time, would fight like a crazed dog to retain his power...even if it were to cost him everything he "blamelessly" owned.
But fighting to retain one's power assumes the will to fight, and the desire to prevail. Power elites can lose that will. Given enough time for their successors to become weak, incompetent, or excessive, they most certainly will.
In Michigan, we're witnessing the final struggles of a High group -- the labor unions -- to remain on its perch. Should it lose that power, as it already as in Wisconsin, its rulers will fade into insignificance, a fate they undoubtedly regard with horror. But this is a group which has enjoyed power for only about four generations; it has not yet become terminally flaccid, and it still retains enough allegiance from its enforcers to wield a degree of coercive force against its enemies. Now that both houses of the Michigan legislature have enacted right-to-work, and Governor Snyder has signed the bill, the probable course of events is fairly easy to foresee.
But let that High group age for another three or four generations, and the probability that it could still muster significant enforcement power would be much reduced. This derives directly from the nature of power over others: it's inherently inimical to general advancement and tends very strongly to retard material progress. He who has power need not produce; he can simply take. Thus, over time power-wielders and their enforcers become ever less personally productive and ever more parasitical upon those around them.
It's no coincidence that this fuels the willingness of the Low to rebel against them.
Mark Butterworth's "Tales of New America" dramatize the above dynamic rather nicely. Indeed, Mark's added a few elements to remind us that revolutions, even at their least violent, aren't guaranteed to be entirely pleasant, nor to be entirely "inclusive," nor to bring us everything we might want:
- The embryo of the NAR is a "quiet rebellion" by men willing to flout the legislated law.
- The viability of the maturing NAR stems from its willingness to threaten the remnant of the U.S. with nuclear annihilation.
- Various racial, religious, sexual and cultural groups are either rigidly excluded from the NAR or compelled to undergo re-education or other changes not necessarily to their liking.
- Conditions within the NAR appear to involve a certain amount of universal surveillance, as in "Don't let us catch you talking up welfarism or socialism" and "We'd better see you in church on Sunday."
- And of course, "harmless" government functionaries can find themselves assigned to rather unfortunate accommodations when the NAR moves into a new region.
Revolutions are like that. The new boss is seldom King Log, though in Mark's tales he appears to fall short of King Stork. He'll have requirements, arising from his vision of the way things ought to be, and you'd bloody well better meet them if you want him to look kindly upon you. Few self-nominated revolutionaries give that enough thought, in witness whereof so many of them are routinely purged in the aftermath.
But were Mark to stint on such considerations for the sake of a 100% happy outcome, he'd be telling us a true fantasy: That such a convulsion in our affairs could be made entirely pleasant. Indeed, one of the merits of his stories is that it should give us pause for thought: something to moderate intemperate blather about hoping for such a thing.
I could go on, but the Gentle Readers of Liberty's Torch are surely bright enough to take it from here. Yes, it would be nice if we could restore freedom, limited government, the free market, and so on by force of arms. Yes, the deterioration of the American polity has become severe enough that such thoughts are difficult to resist. Yes, the grumblings in that direction do have positive aspects, both in heartening us with one another's companionship and cautioning those who think they've got us completely fettered or near to it. Yes, yes, yes.
But remember the old axiom about wishful thinking:
You might get it.