Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pandering As Statecraft

     [BEING, Some Peripheral Thoughts Stimulated By Angelo M. Codevilla’s Excellent Essay “After The Republic”]

     A substantial number of Gentle Readers have written to ask “So when are you going to comment on the Codevilla essay, already?” In point of fact, for some time I’ve been saying most of what Codevilla has said. All the same, a few associated notions have come to mind, specifically concerning the mechanism that’s brought us to this post-republican pass. Read on.

     Ever wonder why the quality of our leaders has been declining with each successive generation? – Angelo M. Codevilla

     Unicausal explanations for social, political, or economic phenomena are always suspect. However, their simplicity is tempting, which keeps them in demand among persons who “explain” sociopolitical currents and developments for money. Their shakiness is both revealed and masked by the inability to experiment: i.e., to create specific initial conditions from which to predict, with variables other than the proposed causes carefully controlled, and to watch for the predicted outcomes within the specified time limits. Not only are the variables too many and too stiff to control adequately, but people generally don’t like being experimented on.

     Even so, we may be fairly confident about certain things:

  1. Human character and personality traits exist in a distribution.
  2. Human action is propelled by desires and inhibited by fears and moral convictions.
  3. Given two courses of action toward a goal, then if all other things are equal, the one that demands less effort and/or less risk will generally be preferred.

     These are my reasons for holding the moral and political convictions that I do.

     Codevilla’s sly query has never baffled me. The three premises I enumerated above provide a perfectly serviceable explanation:

  1. Some people love power and prestige above all things.
  2. Some of those people have no moral constraints and inadequate fear of punishment.
  3. Such persons will cheerfully lie, cheat, steal, intimidate, and brutalize to get what they want.

     The enveloping conditions will determine all else. In a nation with a quasi-democratic electoral process for ascending to power, the most important one will be the moral state of the electorate.

     In his manifesto The People’s Pottage, Garet Garrett provides an illustration of how those determined to rule without constraint can corrupt the nation they seek to rule:

     Senator [Everett] Dirksen tells how Cordell Hull, then Secretary of State, expounded to him the New Deal’s doctrine of corrupting the people for their own good. “My boy,” Hull said, “ this follows a bent of human philosophy. At first people will demur at the idea of subsidies and accept them very reluctantly, and then after a while they will accept them with good grace, and later they will demand them.”

     They who hold the levers of power can often contrive to follow such a course. The subsidy might not be monetary in every case. It might arise from a law that effectively bars new competitors from entering a hot market. It might consist in a web of regulations that favor some commercial concerns over others. Or it might lie in administrative or judicial machinations that favor Smith over Jones. In one form or another, the subsidy – a governmental exertion to create a privilege for some at the expense of others – will be there. The ultimate effect is corruption: the habituation of the people and institutions of the nation to seeking the unearned prize via unjust means.

     Amoral masters can easily rule a corrupted people.

     For more than a century, the mechanisms of corruption have traveled under the label progressivism. Its apostles style themselves as progressives, with all the implications attendant thereto. Leave us to handle things, they say, and we’ll make everything better. And who, honestly, could be against that?

     Progressivism’s apostles have steadily demanded and received more power with which to pursue their overt agenda. We needn’t dwell on whether things have “gotten better.” The mechanics of the phenomenon – the steady accretion of power by corruption of the electorate – is the important thing.

     If only a tiny fraction of the populace is corrupt – i.e., willing to accept the unearned in payment for political support – the scope and power of the State will be well restrained. But corruption exhibits a fungus-like growth pattern. By virtue of the subsidy it receives, that tiny fraction will “do better” than others not so graced. Since success breeds emulation, some of the others will set their moral convictions (and personal pride) aside to “get in on the gravy.” Their young will be less well morally formed, and therefore more susceptible to the lure of the subsidy. The fungus will expand.

     The progressives, seeing their “constituency” expand and become more vocal, will increase their pressure for more power and less constraint. In the usual case, they’ll get their way. A sociopolitical “climax ecology” is reached when approximately 50% of the nation is receiving some sort of net subsidy. (Ironically, virtually everyone will think he’s getting something from the State, though half of them will be wrong on net balance.) At that point, the powers and operations of the progressives become effectively unbounded. Not only can they do as they please without let or hindrance, they can prevent effective opposition from ever arising.

     It’s a stasis that can only be shattered by revolution.

     I haven’t said anything about whether any of the progressives are sincere about their overt aims. That’s because it doesn’t matter. As a great yet generally unknown philosopher once said, sincerity is the ultimate asset: once you can fake that, you’ve got it made. Those who are in the game solely for the power and prestige will emulate the sincere ones, overshadow and eventually displace them. The dynamic of corruption, once in motion, guarantees it.

     The relevance to the present-day United States is obvious. Never before has the Land of the Free been so unfree, so corrupt, and so hagridden by malefactors. Our deterioration from the Constitutionally constrained Republic of the Founders to the venal, subsidy-dominated quasi-democracy of our time is incontestable. It’s rendered American government ugly beyond dispute. The ruling class of which Codevilla speaks in his recent essay is completely divorced in moral terms from the rest of the nation. Its members acknowledge no limits. Neither will they ever surrender their positions before any conceivable pressure from us “deplorables.”

     Pandering as statecraft has become the essence of the system.

     We have stepped over the threshold of a revolution. It is difficult to imagine how we might step back, and futile to speculate where it will end. – Angelo M. Codevilla

     I’m not quite as pessimistic as Codevilla. I think we still have a chance to pull out of this tailspin. It’s rather against the odds, owing to the power of the corruption-by-subsidy dynamic, but it’s still possible.

     The method must be moral rather than utilitarian. It requires a resurgence of the Christian moral and ethical precepts that were strong at the Founding – yes, even among those Founders who didn’t explicitly embrace Christianity – to the point that near to unanimously, the American people will:

  • Refuse all subsidies;
  • Denounce and depose the ruling class.

     How likely is that? And how might we who still care increase its chances?

     More anon.


Dystopic said...

I'd like to share a little story from my youth on the matter of these subsidies and their acceptance. When I was about 4 or 5, I remember standing in line at the grocery store with my father, and a black woman was ahead of us, paying with EBT, or something somewhat like it (this was the early 80s, and so I can't remember if they called it that or not back then). Anyway, I knew that something was different about how she was paying, and I asked my father about it.

He grew embarrassed and told me not to say anything else. The black woman looked embarrassed also, and wouldn't even look at us. I knew I had committed some kind of faux pas.

Later in the car, he explained food stamps to me and told me not to draw attention to it in public. The users of food stamps were poor, he said, and it would not do to further embarrass them, for they were already shamed by using them in the first place.

So in the 80s, a perception still existed that food stamps were embarrassing, shared both by my father, and by the woman who had received them.

Today I imagine if a 4 year old tugged his father's shirt and asked about EBT, he'd be lectured about white privilege, racism, and a host of other things. The recipient would not be embarrassed or shameful. Indeed, they would probably be dismissive to the child asking about it. The parent's motive wouldn't be to spare the recipient further shame, it would be to spare themselves shame for having drawn attention to what is accepted as a perfectly normal practice, now.

It's anecdotal, I know, but it serves to demonstrate just how common acceptance of these subsidies has become, and how much this has changed in America since I was a child.

Malatrope said...

Francis, I have been searching for the perfect word for describing the condition we find ourselves in, and you just reminded me: "hagridden". Thank you for jogging my memory.

Anonymous said...

If only more people were familiar with all the horrors of war. Were that the case I would have great faith that the two needed steps would be followed by enough to make a difference. Sadly, not only do I not think this is the case but the attendant lack of moral, mental, and physical strength does not bode well.