No sooner than we have declared the dearth of new elite formation, we are presented with evidence to the contrary. Time will tell whether the just-leave-me-be streak of libertarianism is anything but a pastime for eccentric billionaires or whether we are for an age of rule by the no-longer-Aspergers over the long haul.
Towards a theory of societal change and conflict: it can be argued that internal revolutions happen when new elites arise and gain power enough to challenge old ones. A corollary to this would be that revolutions such as these succeed when the old elites are weakened by war, insolvency or famine.
Despite the vaguely Marxist class-struggle overtones, such theory may yet hold merit, as evidenced by a good number of examples – to wit: the rise of generals and plebeian tribunes in the Roman Republic that led to civil war and ultimately to Octavian; the rise of mercantile elites in late-medieval Europe that led to toppling of lately-bankrupt French and English monarchies; the rise of the intellectual elites in the 19th century that led ultimately to Marxist revolutions in war-ravaged Russia and her neighbors.
Today, at least in the United States, no new elites appear to be rising, and even though ranks of old elites continue burgeoning, this theory would not advance an argument for pending revolution – unless, that is, the recent rise of technological entrepreneurs represents in fact emergence of a new and qualitatively different libertarian elite.
The persistent mantra of the call for limiting the size and power of government that has so captured the imagination of a certain segment of the American body politic sounds very well to those of us who would do what we will in our own personal and economic spheres, but no amount of suasion is very likely to have significant effect, aside from the occasional lip service when the country’s mood requires it, to the actual trajectory of growth of governmental power.
The sad fact is that the law of government is that it must grow, not less than it is the nature of rabbits and of entropy to increase. The simple reason for the growth is the natural reluctance of those in authority to relinquish it but rather always to increase the power they hold. What bureaucrat, after all, has ever volunteered to reduce his budget or his reach?
If we are to examine the trajectories of governmental institutions throughout history, we likewise find that once a governmental system has emerged from the infighting, it promptly will commence to establish and shore up its power position. We see this pattern, for example, in the emergence of strong monarchy in Europe in the Middle Ages, just as we do in the rise of empires of the East and of the ancients.
Only when a governmental power is overthrown, by war, disaster or even revolution does it give up the growth of its reach, only to be replaced by the next emerging government which next begins its own power-agglomeration cycle.
Whenever we are subjected to a new bout of technocratic regulationism in the name of greater efficiency or moral correctness — whether it stems from bureaucratic self-servingness or ideologues’ delusions of omniscience — it behooves us to remember the sad fate all such initiatives to date, whether they were as large and sweeping as the Russian Revolution, that last great paroxysm of romantic ideology, or merely the dressed up doctrines concocted by powerful interest groups as universal truths, they all aim to fit facts to the Procrustean bed of favored theory and sweep the inconvenient details under the rug. Still, the devil is not merely in the details of such undertakings, but in the very nature of our human ability to closely manage, or even fully understand, phenomena of such complexity as our economy, the planetary climate or even the direction of the arrow of history, all as impossible to predict as next week’s weather.
As the White House toys with thoughts of yet another Middle-Eastern intervention amidst an ever-louder chorus of demand to “do something“, nevermind the outcomes of the last two, still fresh even in memories of journalists, perhaps it is worthwhile to review the still-being-paid wages of another well-meaning bout of humanitarianism.
It is not that we are even discussing the law of unintended consequences of high-minded policy, but rather the well-documented and fully-well expected outcomes of boneheaded policies that are still claiming lives of brave Americans. A wise man once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and each time expecting different results. How long can we continue tolerating moronic policy of spilling blood and treasure on the thankless sands when we can ill afford to fritter away either, especially as we are about to become drawn into yet another French-led pseudo-colonial adventure?
There is no dearth of published parallels of the American polity with the Roman Empire — and no dearth of refutations, either — but, it seems that a closer similarity can perhaps be found between the United States as it exists today and the Republic. We must recall that the stories we associate with Roman dissipation, Tacitus’ class-based calumnies notwithstanding, belong mostly to that period. To the republic also belong the great existential trials of the rising nation, personified as they are in Hannibal and Mithridates, not to mention Spartacus.
It behooves us to remember, also, the personalities that shaped the waning days of the Republic, and their motivations. The Gracchi, those early populists, began the dissolution that was completed in due course by more capable and no less ambitious men, and women too. The question we should be asking then is not how America is like the Empire — which, after all survived in various guises for over 1500 years — but how like the Republic — on which, we should recall, it was intentionally modeled by its founders. If like the Republic, then, what developments are likely to lie in our future? It is received orthodoxy now that, teleologically, democracy is the ultimate development of states, but what if, like in the ancient times, it is nothing more than a short-lived aberration?