On the day after Memorial Day celebrate Plutocracy Now!

Summary: The enemies of America’s democracy have stepped into the light. Yesterday we remembered the sacrifice of those who fell defending America. Today let’s see how we betray them through our apathy and disinterest in working the political machinery of the Republic, putting it at risk. Here are harsh facts essential for us to see. Our complacency is their advantage.

"Plutocracy" bumper sticker

Powerful elements of society seek power just as water runs downhill. They find courtiers who devise justifications for their patron’s rule. It’s a fact of history, although the nature of power changes over time — by ancestry, religious office, ownership of land or animals, or by money.

America’s plutocrats have regained the supremacy they held during the Gilded Age, before the reforms of the progressive age and New Deal. Now they lay the foundation to gain even more power. One node of the plutocrat’s power is Silicon Valley, where the 1%’s dreams of power flower undisturbed — as described in this detailed and frightening essay by Corey Pein in the Baffler: “Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich“. He examines the roots of Silicon Valley’s magnates’ belief in their unique fitness to rule America.

“It is clear that {Peter} Thiel sees corporations as the governments of the future and capitalists such as himself as the kings, and it is also clear that this is a shockingly common view in Thiel’s cohort.”

For more about the “Dark Enlightenment” see the articles by Curtis Yarvin (writing as Mencius Moldbug) and Nick Land — collected at this website. As successful reactionary movements so, it has gained allies from conservatives. Such as Andrew Sullivan, providing a philosophical gloss to the 1%’s lust for power: “Democracies end when they are too democraticin New York magazine — “And right now, America is a breeding ground for tyranny.”

“It seems shocking to argue that we need elites in this democratic age — especially with vast inequalities of wealth and elite failures all around us. But we need them precisely to protect this precious democracy from its own destabilizing excesses.”

Executive Unbound
Available at Amazon.

Lawyers speaking for the plutocracy

In America even plutocrats need a legal justification for their tyranny. Eric Posner (Prof Law, U Chicago; bio here) and Adrian Vermeule (Prof Law, Harvard) have obliged, with a book explaining that the Republic has died, and they are OK with that: Executive Unbound: After the Madisonian Republic.  You can download the first chapter at Amazon. Summary: it’s necessary, it’s inevitable, it’s necessary, it’s inevitable. Excerpt…

The book argues that the Madisonian system of separation of powers has eroded beyond recognition and been replaced with a system of executive primacy (which others have called the “imperial presidency”) in which Congress and the courts play only a marginal role.

Most scholars who have recognized this development have called for a return to the Madisonian system, but we believe that the rise of the executive has resulted from a recognition among political elites that only a powerful executive can address the economic and security challenges of modern times. {From the Volokh Conspiracy.}

The Republic is weak because we’ve lost confidence in ourselves

The fall of a political regime is almost always preceded by its key supporters losing confidence. For the regime built on the Constitution, that is us. Too apathetic to work its machinery, we complain about the results.

Gallup: Confidence in Government Institutions - 2015Gallup’s long-term data on Confidence in Institutions, going back to 1973, looks even bleaker. Our confidence in the Republic’s institutions and our elected officials have been falling for generations — except for police (the second most trusted) and the military (the most trusted). For details see Gallup warns us to prepare for fascism! Only 11% percent of the public approved of Congress’s performance in Gallup’s 2016 poll.

Here comes the worse news

A YouGov poll on September 2-3 confirms these findings, providing ugly details suggesting that we’re ready for our new rulers — and how they might come to power.

YouGov survey about military coupThe YouGov poll shows that 29% of Americans can imagine a situation in which they would support the military seizing control of the federal government. Potential support for a coup is strongest among males, among whites, and among Republicans.

YouGov survey about military coupA large minority are OK with the military putting their judgment over that of their civilian superiors — if the orders are “misguided”. A smaller minority believe the military should obey orders of their military superiors, even if they believe them unconstitutional. These are innocuous, unless seen along with the previous questions.

“Should active duty members of the U.S. military always follow orders from their civilian superiors, even if they feel that those orders are misguided?”

  • Yes: 28%.
  • No: 38%.
  • Not sure: 35%.

“Should active duty members of the U.S. military always follow orders from their military superiors, even if they feel that those orders are unconstitutional?”

  • Yes: 27%.
  • No: 39%.
  • Not sure: 33%.
"Caesar" by Christian Meier
Available at Amazon.

What comes next?

The Founders built America using lessons learned from the Roman Republic. So perhaps America’s fall will mirror it as well. The Roman people grew weary of self-government, of carrying its burden of responsibility and self-discipline. Conflict followed to determine who would place the bridle on Rome’s people. Christian Meier’s Caesar: A Biography tells this story.

Yesterday we celebrated the sacrifice of those who fell in defense of America. Today’s let’s feel shame at our weakness, allowing the Republic to decay to the point where we must choose between candidates such Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — while the 1% harvests the fruits of America’s productivity and slowly shapes us into suitable peons for their New America.

Every tyranny has its base of public support from people unwilling to govern themselves.

Peasants for Plutocracy

For More Information

Global Support for Principle of Free Expression, but Opposition to Some Forms of Speech” by the Pew Research, Nov 2015.

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14 thoughts on “On the day after Memorial Day celebrate Plutocracy Now!

  1. I would not say that the Romans “grew tired” of the burden of self-government. I would say that their existing system, after the magnificent victory over Carthage, encountered a rapid-fire set of social changes that favored the Plutocrats and was overwhelmed by them. To put the situation in Boyd terms, the Plutocrats got inside the OODA loop and overwhelmed the Republic, using its own rules against it.

    As you point out, this is the second time in American history that the same thing has happened in the US. The first came about as a result of massive technological and economic changes from 1870 to 1929 that simply overwhelmed the society. We were saved by the fact that the Plutocrats overstepped and caused a massive economic meltdown, saw the results of their greed, and were smart enough to give up some of their gains in order to keep their heads (ala the French Revolution). We were also fortunate to have FDR, who was widely trusted by both sides and John Maynard Keynes who pointed us in the right general direction out of the chaos. Oh, and WWII was important too.

    This time around with both easier and harder. There isn’t nearly as much technological change but the Plutocrats are working the system a lot harder and have gotten inside the OODA loop again. As Boyd pointed out, once your enemy has gotten inside your OODA loop, the only effective strategy is to disengage the enemy and seek to reset the conflict on better terms. Unfortunately, governments can’t really do that.

    As a result of the above, I sadly find your suggestions about how to win back the country to be terribly inadequate. The Plutocrats ability to control the message at this time ensures that they can co-opt any resistance movement more quickly than it can spawn (example: Tea Party). A better prescription is to keep educating as many people as possible on as many different ways to resist the Plutocrat message as possible. To generate resistance cells, to continually point out the very many ways in which the Plutocrats are getting things wrong or do not agree with each other.

    It may seem in this day and age of hyper-pixellated marketing campaigns that true democracy is dead, but I disagree. These campaigns come and go very quickly. It takes effort to spin up these campaigns and to manage them that only the Plutocrats have in sufficient quantities. Sufficiently educated and resistant voters can make the rewards of these campaigns too small to be sustainable for the Plutocrats.

    It may seem to FM that I am advocating doing nothing. Quite the contrary, I am advocating a Boyd strategy of recovering the integrity of my OODA loop before acting, which is necessary for long-term victory. Acting without getting the enemy out of my OODA loop is guaranteed to end badly.

    Barring the unexpected, this is going to be a lot of work and take a long time but I think it is the only way to recover our democracy. FM is correct that both Trump and Clinton are Plutocrat candidates and voting for either of them is to vote for making America worse.

    1. Pluto,

      “I would say that their existing system, after the magnificent victory over Carthage, encountered a rapid-fire set of social changes that favored the Plutocrats and was overwhelmed by them.”

      Our job as citizens is to respond to events, not bask in the sunlight and enjoy the ride. Your excuse is the equivalent of a driver saying “the crash wasn’t my fault because the road curved!” There are always enemies. That’s why we celebrate Memorial Day.

      “To put the situation in Boyd terms, the Plutocrats got inside the OODA loop and overwhelmed the Republic, using its own rules against it.”

      Our job is to work to maintain the Republic. Since we have made almost no efforts to resist the 1%, its absurd to say they “overwhelmed” us. A better analogy is lifting the wallet from a drunk in the gutter. Overwhelmed!

    2. Pluto,

      “The first came about as a result of massive technological and economic changes from 1870 to 1929 that simply overwhelmed the society. …There isn’t nearly as much technological change”

      False. The rate of technological change was far faster during the first rise of the 1% (from after the civil war to 1932 than it has been 1970-now. See details here.

      “but the Plutocrats are working the system a lot harder”

      You must be kidding. They used brute force to suppress opposition in the 1870-1932 period. The US Army, state militia, mercs (e.g., the Pinkertons). Plus occasional assassinations. See a list of anti-union violence for a sample of what our ancestors faced.

      “As Boyd pointed out, once your enemy has gotten inside your OODA loop”

      We sitting on our butts. All your fancy talk cannot disguise that simple fact. Nor can any high theory substitute for getting onto our feet and acting.

      “As a result of the above, I sadly find your suggestions about how to win back the country to be terribly inadequate.”

      What suggestions do you refer to?

      “The Plutocrats ability to control the message at this time”

      Silly. We have vastly more ability to reach people without censorship than at any time in the past.

      “A better prescription is to keep educating as many people as possible on as many different ways to resist the Plutocrat message as possible.”

      Education? That’s your response?

      “It may seem in this day and age of hyper-pixellated marketing campaigns that true democracy is dead”

      What? How have “marketing campaigns” — even if “hyper-pixellated” — killed democracy?

      “It may seem to FM that I am advocating doing nothing.”

      Not at all. You are making excuses for our inactivity, and justifying more. Because we are passive you assume we are weak.

      “Boyd strategy of recovering the integrity of my OODA loop before acting”

      Empty words, just excuses. The point of theoretical analysis is to generate tactical or strategic insights. These abstractions have no meaning in themselves. To treat them as real things is reification. Nobody is tied to a chair by OODA loops.

  2. Written like a true Jacobin. Funny though how “fascism” has always been ushered in by Leftists with a hatred for independent property ownership and the more productive and successful classes of society.

    As for plutocracy – it’s the normal and proper state of Man. Democracy is only there to soften it and to allow for the plutocrats to changed out when they no longer merit the power that they have.

  3. Your article read much like something the Jacobin in France would have written in the lead up the French Revolution. As for the rest, you might want to read more about just how “fascism” came to be in the terms of a socio-economic-political model as opposed to a villianized and proproganda’d pejorative.

    Hell! The first thing the Nazis did was remove those same plutocrats you also want to remove.

  4. It is not the average citizen who loses faith in democracy that causes the democratic system of government to fail. It is the average elected representative who fails to stand up against antidemocratic pressure who causes the failure. But why?

    As with the reasons such poor presidential candidates as Hillary and Donald are the best America can offer in 2016: either no one with resolve sees the job of political representative as having any chance of doing something useful, or the gatekeepers don’t allow people with backbone from applying for the job. Of course, reason #2 feeds back to reason #1 …

    America does not have a pattern of assassinating political opponents in-country. So why the reluctance to oppose big money and special interest groups? I’m saying the rank and file politican does believe in constitutional democracy as a viable political system for a Nation wishing to be THE global superpower.

    If what the “people” wanted counted, the perpetual war and globalization treaties that destroy American jobs would collapse. But so would global influence.

    If you want to live like a Roman, you have to BE a Roman. A top down power system gets you an empire. A bottomup gets you Iceland.

  5. I have sympathy to some degree with all points of view here. We all see a big problem, but come at the issue from different angles. This goes for the debate as a whole as well as the comments here. Our elected officials are failing us and we are failing ourselves. The thing is, most people are living decent lives and provide for their children and find happiness in existence to one degree or another. Outside of hugely overblown threats shoved down our throats by the media, most of us live safe and stable lives. Historically speaking, our society is rich without precedence.

    I am not concerned as some here and despite the doom and gloom I hear from so many quarters, we still live in a politically stable and prosperous country. I personally believe we have had a long string of years with weak presidents and it is causing humungous strain on our political system. I think one strong president with excellent leadership skills could repair much of the political ruin we currently see.

    As far as the more macro problems described here, I am not doom and gloom either. Instead of radical change, I believe small pushes from the right angles is what is needed to fix most of our problems. Congress is never going to become a paragon of virtue, but it can at least begin to function again and that’s all we really want. As long as we can get a healthier balance of action in Congress and a president able to work effectively with both parties, things will slowly get better.

    What I am most worried about is the people who want to throw out of the baby with the bath water. The people who believe that the ends justify the means. These are the truly dangerous people in politically stable societies. When I hear people like Andrew Sullivan articulating views that are not too far removed from totalitarianism lite, that is what is truly scary. It is why I don’t like Bernie Sanders (his supporters really). In order to make a Sanders vision come true, you need to change the fundamentals of the system. That is where the true danger exists. I don’t think Bernie is a danger, just his aggressive supporters who want to overturn the system.

    If you wish for radical political change, better put on your prayer beads and pray once it starts happening. Look, I know that people here are making bigger points and my desires for moderate change seem inconsequential to our problems, but then some of you are being truly dramatic about everything. To me, somehow finding stronger national leadership that brings about slow change is a helluva lot more appealing to the perils (often accompanied by violence) of radical political change.

  6. “America’s plutocrats have regained the supremacy they held during the Gilded Age, before the reforms of the progressive age and New Deal.”

    Hey Fabius, just finished reading ‘Capital in the 21st century’ in his analysis he comes to the the conclusion that the policy during the depression and after the war had a negligible effect on reducing the concentration of wealth. That is not to say many polices created during the period were not a good thing.
    The main effect came from the huge destruction of wealth that occurred during the period 1914-45. Its worth a read, in his analysis, due to the fluidity of capital no one nation can reverse current trends, it its only by concerted action by nation states can we make any difference. It seems that widening inequality is a feature of capitalism, not an aberration.

    1. merocaine,

      Yes, that is his conclusion about wealth. But that’s only one dimension of the situation. Income has different dynamics, as do economic security and social mobility.

      • The rise of unions and progressive taxs changed the distribution of income.
      • Economic security was boosted by Medicare and Social Security for the elderly — and Medicaid, SS Disability, and welfare for everyone else.
      • Social mobility was boosted as the middle class gained greater access to college following the Veterans Education benefits begun in 1944 and the expansion of aid to college scholarships after Sputnik (e.g., the National Defense Education Act in 1958).

      These created what we think of as America. Few realize how great a change these (and other legislation, such as the great civil rights acts) created from the America of 1776-1932. But we are gaining an understanding of that as these things are stripped away.

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