In Defense of a Police State (I)

The power of the mighty hath no foundation but in the opinion and belief of the people.

-Thomas Hobbes

There you have it.  The foundational assumption of the social contract theory of government is that all people are roughly equal.  N.b. not totally equal, not should be made equal, but are roughly, approximately, kinda-sorta equal — equal enough, in other words, that a fight between a large-but-dumb man and a small-but-clever one is a 50/50 bet.  This is Hobbes’s famous “state of nature,” in which human life is “nasty, poor, solitary, brutish, and short.”  To escape this horrid state of affairs, we roughly-kinda-sorta equal folks contract with each other, trading away some of our liberty for a guarantee of security.  This “social contract” is the basis of all modern political thought.

The problem, of course, is how any such government could propagate itself.  What happens when the state of nature is overcome, and the next generation is born into peace and prosperity?  Why is the king’s eldest son automatically the new king when the old one dies?

Our Founding Fathers, via Locke and Montesquieu, proposed that we all re-contract every few years.  That solves the primogeniture problem, but again, note the underlying assumption: every party to the contract is roughly equal.  It simply doesn’t make sense otherwise.

In a rough frontier society, as America was then, this can work.  This is why George Washington was so conscious of the dignity of the Presidency — Washington had feet of clay, as everyone who knew him knew very well, but he didn’t let those clay feet soil the carpets in the halls of government.  The office ennobles the man, not the other way around, and this was true all the way down the line — any town mayor who put on airs outside of business hours would be laughed out of the tavern.

Fast forward 200 years, and we find ourselves once again ruled by a hereditary aristocracy.  Take Barack Obama, President Sort-of-God himself.  He is not like other men, and not just in his murky, comic book-esque origin story.  The entire American “meritocracy” is designed to produce people like him: rootless cosmopolitans with letters after their names, who feel their prep school yearbook photos give them the right –but not the duty — to rule over the huddled masses.  Take the long view, and every non-Trump presidential candidate of the last three decades has been a slightly different version of this same base model.  They all know each other, marry each other, hang out together, and have arranged affairs such that they can replenish their ranks with guys like Obama, whose Harvard degrees mark him, Mafia-style, as a Friend of Ours.

And that’s the problem.  Hobbes wrote all that stuff about the state of nature in an attempt to explain the English Civil War, and to make sure something like that never happened again.  He knew that people — kings most definitely included — are fickle, shortsighted fools who value their (baseless, irrational) opinions of themselves far higher than they value their lives.  When it becomes too obvious that a king is just a man like any other — when, in other words, the “opinion and belief of the people” no longer holds blue blood in awe — horrific, violent chaos is the inevitable result.

We’re very near that point now.  As folks in Our Thing have been pointing out for a long time, the dignity of the office of the President is dead — Bill Clinton killed it back in 1998.  As we’ve further pointed out many times, the current scandals in our government — Uranium One, the Russia probe, the IRS, anything and everything to do with the FBI — are orders of magnitude worse than Watergate.  Our modern blue bloods still think they’re above it all; “the opinion and belief of the people” is something else entirely.  What happens when the people simply refuse to obey?


Loading Likes...

7 thoughts on “In Defense of a Police State (I)

  1. Anonymous White Male

    “What happens when the people simply refuse to obey?”

    Some people will always obey. If some LGBQRSTUVWXYZ negro shot Trump, there would be those that would not know what they believed until Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, the gay mulatto, or some idiotic Hollywood douche told them. I know that during the American Revolutionary War it was only a small percentage of the population that supported the Revolution at first. Possibly as low as 5%. There were about as many Tories as there were Rebels when the revolution started. The number of those that wanted to separate from England probably increased over the course of the war due to British depredations, but the boys in blue probably committed as many atrocities. The point is, and the more interesting question is, I think, what percentage of the population has to quit obeying in order to force change upon the others?

  2. Jay Carter

    Too bad that Hobbes never met Pavlov and his dog. After all, it was Pavlov who really got the “conditioning” thing. Regarding the realm of politics, mankind and dogs are cut from the same cloth. We too are “conditioned”.

  3. Al from da Nort

    Hobbes’ “opinion and belief of the people” sounds a great deal like ‘the mandate of heaven’ in Imperial Chinese history. IIRC, this explanation was largely given ex post facto after a successful regime change as a rationale for said change. If true, this would imply a very limited predictive power for that concept, and perhaps by extension, Hobbes’ as well.

    However, it would be highly interesting to know if there were significant Chinese historiography exploring the concept. Wishing to know the signs of the end times has been a matter of keen interest for a long time, after all.

    If I had to guess, I’d say the determinative factor for losing ‘the mandate of heaven’ is continuing elite dilution due to overproduction of merely average offspring. This overproduction is due to successful new male rulers having many offspring. These offspring will include many who revert to the mean in abilities because of HBD factors. While not dangerous in itself, this situation becomes dangerous if there is no culling (e.g. sending second and subsequent sons into the church or the army) Otherwise the mediocre offspring are all ensconced in offices they are unsuitable for holding due to the suddenly successful female follow-on rulers who are their mothers.

    Once this situation becomes patently obvious, as you rightly say it is here and now, able disruptors, internal or external, will attempt to displace the now-effete elite in their own favor. Trump is one such disruptor. Hence our elites’ unfocused hostility to his rise to power. They are literally too stupid to grasp that *they* are the reason for his rise.

    1. Severian

      Hobbes was trying to prevent another civil war, at all costs. Behemoth (origin of the quote) is his analysis of the causes of the war. He skates right up to the line of admitting Charles I was seventeen kinds of fool in the 1620s; he concludes that Charles I wasn’t absolute enough of a monarch….

      ….Which is a reasonable conclusion if you believe, as Hobbes does, than ANY breakdown of the social order immediately leads to brutal civil war. (There’s a reason I titled this series “In Defense of a Police State”).

      1. Al from da Nort

        Throughout history elite incompetence often resulted in foreign intervention, particularly if the foreigners thought they could count on a favorable reception from a large faction of the locals, civil war or not. One would think that this possibility would focus the elite collective mind.

        But, in the specific situation of England, foreign intervention is difficult at all times. In Charles I time the continental powers were busy chewing each other up over religion, etc. or were too small to chance it.

        I’m wondering how much English particularism entered into Hobbes’ thinking unconsciously. IOW, since foreign intervention wasn’t in the offing, the English Civil War dragged on far longer than it might have otherwise, as contrasted to the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Equally, Charles I had to know at some level that his opponents could hope for no help and this fortified him in his folly.

        But Hobbes was a man of his times and so his conclusions about the desirability total political absolutism seem daft to us (at least me) now. To me this would result in faster elite decay rather than slower and hence increase the possibility of invasion and overthrow, sooner rather than later.

        However, nuclear weapons may well have stood my theory on its head: We might be back to Hobbes’ situation at the time where no foreign intervention was possible and any civil wars must run their bloody course. I hope I wrong about the latter, btw.

        1. Severian Post author

          Yes, Hobbes is a great example of right diagnosis, wrong treatment. But he was a shrewd observer of human nature, and his argument style is one of the most influential ever. I love the guy (even though I disagree with his conclusions).

          The question always is (anticipating parts III and IV), what kind of elite shall we have? As Z Man points out today, our elite openly, unabashedly hates us. No divine right monarch ever had a higher opinion of himself, or a lower opinion of his subjects, than Pelosi et al do. Worse, they feel they have the right — but not the duty — to rule us. “Duty” implies “for our own good;” they could care less about us, so long as we shut up and pay our taxes, die in their wars, etc. That’s a pretty good working definition of tyranny.

          An elite must be conscious of their duty. If they lose this, they must be MADE conscious of their duty… or a new elite will be found that is. Hobbes and Machiavelli knew that quite well, and had many examples to hand. Our elite is going to find that out very, very soon, unless….

Comments are closed.