Monday, November 25, 2013

Pain And Power

It would be understandable for a Gentle Reader to conclude, based on pieces such as this one, that I have some sort of fascination with monarchy and monarchical systems. It would also be accurate, though a guess at my reasons would almost certainly miss the mark.

The origin of all forms of federated systems of government can be found in early European systems of nobility and royalty.

Nobility, like all other notions about distinctions among men, had its origin in an observable difference. That difference is expressed neatly in the Latin root of nobility: nobis, which means "for us."

The earliest men who were conceded noble status earned the title in battle, as did many other wielders of power in times past. However, the original nobles were distinguished from predatory brigands in that they fought, and led other fighters, in defense of people less able to fight for themselves. He who rose to the forefront of a realm's nobility, such that the nobles would call on him to lead them in times of peril to the whole of the realm, was accorded the higher status of king.

In the early instances of such arrangements, the king had very little power, de jure or de facto. Indeed, he usually lacked an army of the sort a contemporary nation-state possesses. The armed power at his disposal comprised those forces he could pay out of his own purse plus those the nobles of his realm were willing to assign temporarily to his command. Lacking such a preponderance of force, the king's ability to coerce any particular noble was questionable, as the English barons demonstrated to King John at Runnymede. Thus, the nobility constituted a check on what aspirations to greater power a king might harbor.

The nobility was also responsible for meting the overwhelming majority of cases of "high, middle, and low justice." The usual practice was to bring disputes to the regional noble's periodic assizes, at which he would adjudicate disputes among his subjects and pronounce sentences upon apprehended felons. The seriousness of an assize was emphasized by the custom of having the noble sit with his sword across his knees. The sword was more than merely a ceremonial instrument; many an assize concluded with an execution, performed by the noble's own hand.

This pre-Enlightenment scheme for the dispersal of power was corrupted by well-known influences, most notably hereditary aristocracy, aristocratic inbreeding, and the rule of primogeniture. However, in its original form, it worked better than any other system of government before it, and most of those that have been tried since then.

Omitting for a moment Lord Acton's observation that power corrupts, the core problem with nobility and royalty is the core problem of all political systems: that positions of power are not guaranteed to be held by men worthy of it:

"It's the general's worst nightmare," he whispered. "Kings used to lead their own armies. They used to lead the cavalry's charge. For a king to send an army to war and remain behind to warm his throne was simply not done. Those that tried it lost their thrones, and some lost their heads -- to their own people. It was a useful check on political and military rashness.

"It hasn't been that way for a long time. Today armies go into the field exclusively at the orders of politicians who remain at home. And politicians are bred to believe that reality is entirely plastic to their wills."

[From On Broken Wings.]

This is especially true in political systems where power is awarded:

  1. According to a majority vote,
  2. To a man who selected himself as a candidate,
  3. And who need not have previously demonstrated any degree of civic virtue.

Where among us is there a county executive, or a state governor, who would willingly play a leading role in the enforcement of the laws of his region? What president, or person imagined as a potential president, would willingly execute a traitor by his own hand, or lead a field army committed to battle?

One of the reasons Americans have preferred executives with military experience is the inchoate sense that a demonstration of the willingness to put oneself at risk for others' benefit is a good indication of the character of the candidate. It might well be that we haven't gone far enough in that regard -- that a state of the variety military SF writer Tom Kratman depicts in his Carreraverse / Terra Nova novels is the only halfway feasible means for selecting power wielders in a fashion that will resist the incentives to pander, plunder, and self-aggrandize.

In one of those happy accidents an opinion writer sometimes enjoys, I've just come across an impassioned condemnation of the worst man ever to reach the pinnacle of executive power in these United States:

The lone rape victim who testified before the Illinois Senate on behalf of a 1999 rape-victim protections bill is speaking out against the lone Illinois state senator who chose not to vote for it: Barack Obama.

“I just couldn’t believe it. How could he do that? Thank God for the other [senators] who voted for it. They had a heart. They had compassion that Obama evidently doesn’t have,” rape survivor Michelle Eppel told The Daily Caller after recently finding out that Obama was the one non-yes vote.

“He doesn’t care,” Eppel said....

Eppel now questions Obama’s manhood.

“How many issues does he push aside as president because he just doesn’t want to deal with it?,” Eppel said. ”The people want someone who will fight for them and protect them from harm. Why does he not do that?”

“I do not believe a leader of our country should be someone who has no compassion for someone else as a human being…he doesn’t care…it’s like he’s giving permission for the perpetrators to keep going. He’s not even man enough to protect us. How heartless,” Eppel said.

But then, Barack Hussein "Above my pay grade" Obama also voted against the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, written specifically to protect the right to life of a newborn that survives an attempted abortion. He has taken repeated steps to castrate our armed forces, especially our strategic deterrent. He has embarked on a purge of top commanders he deems not "politically reliable." He treats the military as if it were a laboratory for social experimentation...with the outcome of the "experiment" determined beforehand. Most recently, he has given his imprimatur to the UN Treaty on Small Arms, a not-particularly-subtle attempt to disarm anyone not in the pay of a government.

That's the behavior of a man who has never suffered, who has never put himself at any risk or hardship for others' benefit, and to whom pain and loss are abstractions experienced by faceless others. But the worst of it is that Obama isn't all that far below the great majority of those who wield power over the longsuffering private citizens of these United States.

We no longer demand that those who desire power demonstrate even the most minimal civic virtue before they put themselves forward as candidates. On several occasions we've reaped the whirlwind. Indeed, convictions for all sorts of corrupt behavior are more frequent among members of the "political class" than among Americans generally. Whether returning to the moral norm of demanding that a man demonstrate noble character before allowing him to put his hands to the levers of power would improve matters is uncertain...but it seems unlikely to hurt.

There are a lot of "cracies" in the political lexicon. The one we hear most frequently is, of course "democracy," from the Greek rule by the mob. It's time to take some inspiration from the medieval nobilities and royalties of medieval Europe. Why not explore the possibilities of a system in which a candidate for public power must first demonstrate his personal honor and civic virtue in the most explicit way: by voluntarily embracing the pain and sacrifice of serving our nation's most fundamental need:

It is customary in democratic countries to deplore expenditures on armaments as conflicting with the requirements of the social services. There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service that a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free. -- Sir John Slessor

UPDATE: Tom Kratman has just reminded me that another role of a medieval king, which I had forgotten to mention, is to stand with the commons against the nobility. Commoners subject to a tyrannical or rapacious noble were seldom able to do anything about him without external aid, whereas the king had some capacity to do so, especially in cases where the noble in question could be plausibly represented as posing a threat to neighboring baronies or counties. The check on abuses of power thus ran in more than one direction.


agraves said...

The only way I will accept a Monarchy is if he is OUR king. Who demonstrates thru his behavior that he represents what is best for us and our future and that we will willingly go along as long as he truly represents us, as in the lord Aragorn, in Lord of the Rings. Any behavior less than that will not stand. He must be willing to actually fight or if too old his sons should go to battle and prove themselves. Is it possible?

Anonymous said...

God warned Israel about what would happen if they had a fellow 'man' as king, which they requested. Still, God granted their request. But he never, ever, presented the idea of democracy as a legitimate form of rule. In fact, Lucifer's rebellion was 'democracy' as we know it.

Democracy is rebellion.

Col. B. Bunny said...

From Charles Hugh Smith:

"The Dark Heart of Centralized Power (November 22, 2013)

"This pathology is not the result of individual psychology or character; it is the result of centralized, concentrated power itself.

"It's little wonder so many sociopaths end up in positions of power: power attracts the ruthless unencumbered by empathy. No wonder the phrase pathology of power resonates: The Federal Reserve and the Pathology of Power (November 18, 2010).

"There is an ontological darkness in centralized power, and it flows from the disconnect between authority, responsibility and consequence. A leader with vast centralized powers--a president, an emperor, a dictator--has the authority to send young citizens into combat in distant lands, but he does not carry an equal responsibility to ensure their lives are not lost in the vain glories of Empire. The consequences of his decisions do not fall on him; he is far from the combat and the loosed dogs of war. His concern is the domestic political squabbles of the Elites who support his centralized power.

"All centralized power carries the same pathology: those with the authority are never exposed to the consequences of their authority, nor do they have any responsibility for the consequences."

Links omitted. Source.