People today seem utterly unsatisfied with the government under which they live. The more tolerant or representative a government is, the more vehement the expression of dissatisfaction. This obvious dissent from what the government proposes or allows among the democracies may merely reflect what people are permitted compared to governments that are more repressive. No matter what the lid a government imposes on it citizens, unhappiness with its performance appears universal.
Because of the ubiquity of information, constantly and unavoidably available, it may seem that political dissatisfaction is at a record high. But a look through history, no matter how unpopular the subject now is, suggests that demographic unhappiness is as regular a phenomenon as hunger. The record of both history and philosophy is the litany of how bad government is, how poorly people respond to to their leaders, and how fierce and unfocused is their desire to make it better. Alas, ferocity devoid of reason, nuance, and analysis does not result in better governance. On the contrary, these characteristics make it worse.
Pericles, the exemplar of the Athenian democracy presided over a city state that became a mini-empire. Its artistic and architectural achievements were extraordinary. Yet it embarked and persisted in a long war against its main rival that resulted in its ruin. The city regularly sent its outstanding citizens into a 10 year exile by ostracizing them, often for no reason other than envy. It was a true democracy, but the franchise was limited to adult males who had completed obligatory military training. Woman and slaves who comprised the city’s majority were excluded from the polls.
When the Athenians recovered from a plague, mysterious to this day and which infected no other city in Greece, they embarked on a disastrous naval expedition against Syracuse which was largely pointless and bound to fail. Then after having lost the war to Sparta they executed the wisest man in town on the grounds that he had corrupted the morals of the young. Conquest by the barbarians from the north initiated a series of political and economic disasters which persist to this day as does unhappiness with whatever system or combination briefly controls the government.
Pick any country you wish and a significant part of its population is always unhappy with how the place is run – often to the point of violence. Start with France. Riot is currently the order of the day. During a span less than the history of the USA the country has gone through five republics, two empires, and a four year occupation by a neighboring country. The history of Russia is one of continuous violence both within and outside its borders. The dull Swiss can’t afford yearly mammograms for their women. Their banking system has proved less robust than advertised and they steal from whomever is not able to resist their surreptitious grabs. Notoriously, their main achievement is the cuckoo clock.
Every country on the planet has a tale of mischief, misprision, and misadventure. All their current occupants live on land that once belonged to someone else who in turn stole it from an earlier resident. A sad truism of human character is that the better things get, the more time people have to be covetous of those more successful and more opportunity to dwell on the imperfections of their existence. A man with an income of half a million dollars per year will feel himself fairly compensated if everyone else in his neighborhood make $250,000. But move him to another part of town while keeping his income and purchasing power the same, but where he’s surrounded by millionaires and misery is sure to be his lot.
There seems to be point of equipoise where people will be as content as their troubled wants and desires allow. If they fall below that critical position, their true state of well-being will evoke real distress which if allowed to continue its descent will lead to misery and rebellion unless they live under a state which is ruthless and relentless in preserving its power at any price. Make people totally broken and their will to resist will vanish with their spirit. But let a modest prosperity of both means and condition loose and a different species of deep dissatisfaction will emerge like a malign genie. The perfect will scour the good overturning the arrangements of generations or millennia in the name of a false god encrusted with fool’s gold. The irresistible compulsion of the spiritually frail to discard the satisfactory and serviceable of their history will take hold. The strengths of the past will be replaced by the saccharine and typically inchoate musings of an unhinged professoriate unmoored from experience, practice, and wisdom. This folly seems to be a defining compulsion of societies which once professed allegiance to precedent, reason, and temperance.
Consider Britain and the United States. The former from the turmoil of strife and division evolved a governance mostly responsive to the wants of its people. Imperfect, as is everything human, it was constructed on a foundation of thought and achievement unmatched in world culture. Shakespeare, Hobbes, Locke, Newton, Hume, Smith, Gibbon, and Mill were just the brightest ornaments of of a vast structure of thought and invention which birthed parliamentary government, the industrial revolution, and an empire bigger than any before or since; one which left more good than ill in the aftermath of its dissolution.
While the salutary fruit of thought and action were spreading through Britain and its dominions there was considerable internal strife as to how the Brobdingnagian edifice was to be managed. It had been constructed without a plan – often a process with more resultant good than bad, but with a failure of its parts to intermesh. Two colossal mistakes brought the structure, if not to ruin, at least to irrelevance. First the loss of America, more through inadvertence than intent (see below). This failure of statecraft and force was not fatal, painful as it was. The second error was mortal.
The country stumbled into a general European war which it could easily have avoided. The unnecessary carnage dissolved the world order which had kept the peace, with an occasional misstep, for a century. Out of the ashes of this conflagration emerged the nation’s greatest statesman who bore much responsibility for some of the disasters that happened during the first Great War. When he predicted an even greater conflagration and was ignored the world entered the worst struggle in its history. He was called to rescue his demoralized country and brought them through a crisis worse than the one which they had blundered into a quarter century earlier. But the toll was more than his compatriots could bear. They lost their will and and exchanged their leader for subsidized health care before the war was even over. The irrelevance mentioned above has been their lot since and is likely a permanent condition.
The United States, of course, is an outgrowth of Britain – but with a very different trajectory. Sheltered and nourished by geography it came into being by the only truly conservative revolution in world history. American had prospered for more than century of mostly benign neglect by its mother country. When prosperity attracted the notice of that parent, filial avarice sought to profit from American prosperity. This unwanted attention resulted in revolution made successful by distance and the intervention of France.
Fortunate at its founding to have men of exceptional intellect and diverse education it produced a constitution that was brief and well made to carry then weight of a government that soon held sway over a continent. It dealt with the insoluble problem of slavery poorly as there was no other way to reconcile the institution with the ideals of the nation’s founding. An ocean of blood was the only was to end it; politics was incapable of any other solution. The fate of the formerly enslaved was imperfectly resolved, though changes in law and attitudes seemed to favor eventual resolution.
Like any other human enterprise the burgeoning country was built on pillars of invention, exploitation, avarice, compassion, and a mix of the seven deadly sins, the Sermon on the Mount, and the 10 Commandments. Having the best parcel of land on the globe set in the planet’s best location, the USA was a country that couldn’t fail unless it decided to opt for it.
This option seems to be the one chosen by an influential segment of the country’s intelligentsia. This cohort is the least equipped to handle time free of the demands of survival. They’re best employed fighting wars, building weapons or plowshares, but leave them alone with time to question the meaning of life – or worse the foundations of their country’s governance and its distribution of resources – and they’re sure to wander into the land of the absurd from whence they may never escape.
A country that emerged at the top of the global heap irrespective of fortune, accident, design, effective management, good governance, or any other reason is at risk of mortal peril when it cedes its fate to its at liberty intellectuals. That is what the USA has been doing at ever accelerating pace for the last century.
Using the country’s mistakes and failures (plentiful and inevitable in any human enterprise) as a lever, the “progressive” left has opened vast spaces in all the institutions of thought, opinion, and power that lie vulnerable in a free society. And yes the US is freer than most and its virtue to malfeasance ratio is likely more favorable than any other country. Yet, if your view of the country does not support this picture and you think its instruments of power should be changed such that the very nature of the country is altered it is not hard if you’re persistent enough to use these instruments to direct the wheels of power in your favor. You and your like can convert the guarantees of freedom into an oligarchy of the ‘wise’. At least that’s the fiction under which that you’ll operate. Obviously, you’re likely not that wise. And the dials of power will probably fall under the control of someone else who knows your fate better than you do.
The general maxim operative for decades is that he who believes in nothing will believe in anything. Thus, once you’ve gotten people to abandon the verities on which human intercourse has been based for epochs, you’ll be able to get them accept utter rot as truth. Once past this marker you’ll have the gullible fully under control. This Dadist view of reality is why people are encouraged to believe in the bizarre.
A man cannot become a woman and vice versa. Those who are pushing this nonsense don’t believe it themselves. It’s just an effective tool to manipulate the suckers who will accept useful distortions at the appropriate time. The same is true for victimhood. Tell people they’re victims and oppressed long enough and reward them for believing themselves among the unfairly deprived and they’ll see themselves as pawns and do what those moving the pieces wish them to do. Also tell them that the government’s capacity to create money is limitless and without any serious adverse consequences. Thus, whatever a rube wants, he can have courtesy of his bureaucratic betters as long as he stays in the game. People full of virtuous delusions can be made to dance to any tune no matter how asynchronous the rhythm.
Eventually the hoped for result will be bad governance according to the former standard, but just what the nouveaux penseurs have been after since the Great War. What can be done? First you can’t meet a lunatic intellectual in the middle. You have to kick him hard in the symbolic shin. Second, you cannot concede a jot of folly no matter how many names you’re called as a result of speaking truth to those with a superiority complex. The nature of man and his follies have not changed for millennia. Do not allow yourself to be badly governed. Ernest Hemingway said that one of life’s essentials was a bullshit detector. Truer now than ever.
Vote for the candidate who makes the least number of promises. Doing so may not improve your lot, but it will not leave you disappointed. I’m assuming meaningful suffrage persists. There soon may be a real reason for people to wish for the complete restructuring of the government. Finally, there’s always the chance, no matter how remote that sanity may spontaneously reemerge.