It can be argued that the natural form of government for humanity is the strong man. This makes perfect sense, of course, since from what we know of our simian cousins bands are usually led by a large male. (Though sometimes an older cranky female will do. Be warned. I’m cranky and I’m not getting any younger.)
Tribal government is usually exactly just that – the strongest man, or his son if strong enough to maintain the prestige, gets to rule the roost and impregnate all the women or a significant number of them. In exchange he keeps his tribe safe, steals the other trib– I mean, recovers the stolen property the other tribe took from his people, and generally makes life ordered and relatively safe.
Like most other forms of government, strong man government can even work reasonably well, given a small enough group and a smart enough strong man.
Scaling up, it can still work reasonably well as monarchy (which is hereditary strong man government) given the right kingdom, the right historical situation and a truly brilliant “strong man” who has been raised with the idea of noblesse oblige. (Weirdly, through the entire history of monarchy in the world, I can count on the fingers of one hand the “good monarchs” of that stamp. And half of them didn’t end well.)
Even in democracies, and republics, we keep getting strong men who take power, usually after a period of horrible chaos and terrible economic conditions and who often improve, or at least bring order to their people. Salazar in Portugal was one of those. I’ve expressed before that I don’t like his style of management (as a libertarian I dislike most strong men because they’re arbitrary and dictatorial) but from what I got from my grandparents (neither of whom were particularly fond of him, if one listened carefully to what they said) he took a bankrupt nation with rampant banditry, disorder, and famine, and shepherded it into semi-modernity.
He was of course a dictator. Most strong men are. Also, his policies were very similar to FDR’s who was in many ways as close as the US will ever get to a “Strong Man.” I think that FDR’s policies prolongued the depression, and I think Salazar’s policies kept Portugal an agricultural and poor country much longer than it should have. (Though how much of the current “prosperity” is the result of massive infusions of international money, I leave as an exercise for the class.)
The problem is that as bad as government by strong men is – and most of it is, and it always is in the long run because no one is strong enough or smart enough to manage even a city well in the modern age, much less a whole country, the twentieth century brought us the revival of a much, much worse idea. The theocratic leader, a sort of Messianic Pharaoh.
Part of it was that most people cannot face the notion of “government by the people” – not really – except in the US. And the very idea of government by strong men had been damaged for us. It happened with World War One and World War Two. The men leading the various countries then were “the pride of their race” and the “brightest of their people” and it was strongly believed that of course they knew what was best for everyone. Progress depended on their vision.
After the killing fields of World War I, the idea that these mature, responsible men knew what they were doing was severely damaged worldwide. And after the ovens of World War Two the whole idea of racial supremacy and eugenics was a horror we refused to look in the face. (Though eugenics still permeates much of “progressive”’ thought, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
And so – this is obvious if you read a lot of stuff set and written between the wars – the young decided they needed a new idea with which to steer the course to the bright future where if they had a say we would study war no more.
The problem is that not only had most of them lost their religious faith, but they had lost something deeper and more elementary: the faith that their civilization was better than the rest, a faith that arguably carried Indo-Europeans to vast expansion and to becoming the predominant world-culture prior to this. (Interestingly, there never seemed to be an Indo-European RACE, just a culture that absorbed all others.)
Suddenly, all assumptions had to be examined, and everything we took for granted must be wrong. The older men with knowledge and power who had led the culture, the fathers and grandfathers one trusted implicitly were to be doubted, to be impugned.
But men – and women too, for those who don’t understand the anglo saxon rule of using men to refer to both – don’t live by bread alone, they live by ideas. And the idea can’t just be “the opposite of everything they say.” For millennia – forever? — the idea was that the oldest, the wisest, the most successful would of course lead. The nervous shock of WWI (and yes, there are reasons why it punched harder than other wars, but this is a blog post, not a monograph) upended that idea. And yet, a society – a civilization – can only run so far without a central, unified assumption underlying what its members choose to value and how they plan for the future.
The Nazis and the various like movements around the world (it was very common, all of it, including eugenics. You’d be surprised how many otherwise intelligent people fell for it) was one of the attempts to come up with a grand-unified-structuring-theory for Western civilization. It combined the “Strong man” and “best of his race” with the whole idea that the youth would somehow evolve and be better and propel each “people” to glory. (Listen, you can argue all you want to, but I was forced to memorize more cr*p about Siegfried in my German culture classes than I ever want to have nightmares about again.)
Well, that led to WWII and therefore caused yet more recoil. Fortunately (!) a similar ideology was waiting in the wings. Just like Fascism was National Socialism, this one was socialism, too – it satisfied the need to deny power to those “old men” who had been successful under the normal rules of life and business. BUT unlike National Socialism, this one was International Socialism. It didn’t separate humans into races and try to perfect the race (well, later it did, but for purposes of manipulation.) Instead, it came with its own mythos about how private property had deformed the human soul, its own (bizarre, unproven, counter-logical) idea of a past in which all men had shared everything, and its own idea of paradise.
It is perhaps counterintuitive to those who haven’t studied the theology (it is, trust me) of these beliefs in depth, but the apogee of communism is supposed to come when every man becomes a natural communist, a perfectly evolved man who will have neither greed nor individual desires, and then the state will wither away since it’s no longer needed. And of course, this will happen worldwide and we’ll study war no more.
This dream is of course nuts. What Heinlein said about one man’s religion being another man’s belly laugh applies. Only, while religions at least rely on some supernatural event to make this happen (and therefore can’t be disproven, because unless you can prove that the Messiah has come, or that the second coming has occurred, or that… You can’t prove it won’t work) all communism has is the process of first forming a brutal state that is supposed to crush all trace of individuality and human will out of its subjects and (implied) keep those who would pass on such traits from leaving descendants. And, unlike religion, where you can’t prove that when you die you don’t go to heaven or that when the great transformational event happens humans won’t be miraculously transformed, with communism we know the result of their attempts. They run about seventy years of increasingly worse conditions, and then the whole thing comes crashing down, because it turns out selecting people to rule based on parroting back your lines is a worse manner of picking rulers than to select the great grandson of three pairs of first cousins. At least most European rulers knew which end of the queen the crown went on, even after six or ten generations of inbreeding, while communism creates rulers who LITERALLY can’t see the reality before their eyes.
Communists have learned something from history, though. They’ve intuited that “strong men” regimes happen when everything collapses. Throughout history they’ve taken advantage of this to institute their regimes. It’s just that for some odd reason (bad luck!) they can never hold on to their gains and things just get worse and eventually they’re toppled. (And, it seems, unless great care is taken, at least some of them will revert to strong-man-government, aka Putin. Which is better than communism, but not by much.)
But look they don’t see that. They KNOW how the forces of history are supposed to work. They’ve read Marx and Engels, and this time it will be different. The theories are logical and make perfect sense. They make much more sense than messy reality. And therefore they’ll continue applying the theory even when reality refuses to respond in the right way.
Which brings us to the difference between the strong man and the communist Messiah (which is what they keep looking for and why Mao, Kim Il Jung, Castro, all acquired weird patinas of theocratic leadership) is that the strong man is not – generally – blinded by ideology and is therefore able to see what is before his eyes, and how to make life better (or at least not worse) for his people. Meanwhile, the true believer Messiah insists on ramming the train full speed ahead, because the bridge simply can’t be out. It doesn’t matter what his eyes show him. His eyes are biased by capitalist lies. Why, his college professors, the best minds of his time, the authorities of his received wisdom which has become a religion, all tell them there WILL be a “bridge to the future” there. So, if he just rams the train forward fast enough, the bridge will materialize.
So, in country after country, after a real or forced collapse, communists have grabbed the reins of power – often by masquerading as “strong men” – and led the country into the abyss. At best, it devolves into a sort of strong man rule, but one so tainted by theology and personality cult that even the most functional of them is horrible for the common people. (This might be worsened by communism’s view of individuals as widgets, interchangeable with other individuals of the same general characteristics. It instills a lack of respect for normal people, and in fact an inability to see them as individuals.)
It has fallen in country after country, but “next time will be different” because a hundred million dead is not enough.
It remains to be seen whether the US is different enough – we are different, you know? Not only a country of colonists, but the only country where most people are voluntary colonists and where we made a decision to accept each other’s religion and race. There are many other blended countries in the history of the world, but they were created by waves of conquest (yes, we conquered our own aboriginal population. So, we’re human, deal. BUT that’s not how we accrued most of our population) – to resist the virus of the communist religion like we resisted (no? We did put term limits in after FDR, an admission that something had gone horribly wrong. And we started trying to walk back from the abyss) the strong man government of the 20th century.
Is there enough sheer cursedness left for us to resist the idea of the great communitarian world society?
You know, if the virus had reached its peak in the seventies, I’m not sure. We were full of hopey-dopey ideas, then, aided by a lot of drugs.
Now? Oh, sure, they’ve had our schools. They have our entertainment. They have our media. But we’re still Americans. We have the sheer cursedness of not trusting the slick bastards. And there’s no longer any country in the world even pretending communism works. The liberals’ worship of China is sad and pathetic when you consider the Chinese have gutted all the communitarian crap out of their system to survive.
Can they get a little headway? Sure. But their crawl through the institutions means most of their leaders have already reached third generation stupid and would need a hint or two before they could tip the pee out of a boot with the instructions written on the sole.
Their inability to deal with individuals as individuals works against them, too, because the one thing that Americans are is individual.
Also, their idea of technology is the same as when the march through the institutions started: they think in terms of mass technology, mass transmissions, a unified voice and vision.
The current tech is much closer to bringing us total chaos (and you can hear their sweet, sweet screams of rage and pain as it hits entertainment, media and education) in which the individual and individual creativity and ingenuity rule supreme.
The new world emerging is MADE for Americans – the people who left everything behind to join with and invent a new way of life.
Will we win?
I don’t have a crystal ball, and the future is always uncertain, but my bet is that we’re too big, too weird, too individual for them to even hold for long. They can by the tip of their nails hold us for a little while, but they can’t swallow us, they can’t destroy us, they can’t reduce us. Not as they’ve done to other countries.
No. I think in the end our very American brand of chaos wins. They’ve made a mistake. They got ambitious.
THIS is the land where the misbegotten dream of international socialism dies. We are individuals. We will not be reduced.
Yes, they’ll bring on the chaos. Yes, it’s going to get rough. But Americans thrive in chaos and it will wake up those among us who’ve fallen into communitarian dreams. This is not a land that lends itself to a secular messiah.
This is the nut they crack their teeth on. It’s good they came here. We’re the only ones who can discredit this murderous religion forever. And we will. Because we’re Americans. Because a hundred million dead is enough. And because we have them surrounded.
Be not afraid.