|Liberal isolationists||They will love us if we are nice to them||They will never love us|
|Liberal interventionists||They will love us if we kill their enemies||They will never love us|
|Neoconservatives||They will be grateful if we kill their enemies||They will never be grateful|
|Conservative isolationists||They will leave us alone if we leave them alone||They want what we have|
|The Pentagon||Total war is finished, so we’ll just hit them with drones||Limited wars can never be won|
|Obama||We can’t beat them, so let’s join them||Strong enemies are worse than weak ones|
|Tea Party||Israel is our friend through thick and thin||States do not have friends|
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.
Now that we have once again entered the annual time of the new year resolution and the attendant run on self-help books (and e-books) to help inspire us to improve ourselves, we even hear of such efforts — and their entirely unsurprising bad ends — on the scale of nations.
The bad end of self-improvement efforts is not surprising because it is so very nearly universal, but before we delve into the human nature — or is it a particularly American human nature?– that insists on believing that if only a measure of self-control were added to our lives then all things could improve, from melting pounds to eliminating deficits, perhaps it would be profitable to take a look at the one measure that did, once set one part of the world on the path toward prosperity, low corruption and — yes — democracy.
Let us consider first which countries have achieved this: The Netherlands came first, then England with Scotland close behind, then Germany. Also, on a different scale we have Switzerland, one half of Belgium, Canada (by extension, mostly, from England), Luxemburg and — eventually — the American Midwest. France was — and is — a laggard, and we all know of the state of South Europe and much of the rest of our little globe. Then let us consider what they have in common – and that is, without exception, a particular brand of Christianity — namely early forms of Protestantism that did away with the idea of salvation via works and substituted grace, or faith, into the equation.
Without exception these societies, when at the height of their development, far from mouthing platitudes about camels and need-eyes saw wealth instead as a big sign of divine favor rather than a result of sin, and so they honored the work of finance and commerce that were the main route to its acquisition. By contrast, all the other cultures denigrated all self-interest and viewed wealth acquisition with suspicion — not that they could succeed in banishing all wealth, but because gains were sinful it was a priori no worse to get at them through sinful means like theft or conquest.
To bring this overlong discourse back to where it started, the only way for a society to join the club of nations prosperous because of the efforts of their people rather than merely their minerals (or certain plant-based powders), one must begin by inviting preachers of the most intolerant, hell-fire breathing, patriarchal, Calvinist persuasion, setting them loose to convert the populace, and then waiting two or three hundred years for their efforts to begin to bear fruit. This would appear to work a great deal better than demonizing their wealthy for not wishing to give away large portions of their fortune or demagoguing the so-called “fair share” of taxation to pay for profligacies of the unproductive.
Just because radicals rarely win sufficient power to implement their agendas does not mean that they labor in vain, for it is without a doubt that — when widely heard — their voices serve to move the mainstream center in their direction. Thus, for example, it has been in the United States that leftist radicals have moved consensus ever leftward from their violent beginnings in the strikes and bombings of the early 1900s and beyond. This also is today’s right wing is trying reverse this pattern. It would be unwise to discount heir influence, despite their recent losses. After all, left-radicals skated quite a long time to see their views affect the mainstream and its choices.
Having strayed far from their origins, both of the major parties of the American political landscape have now broadly represent two broad sectors of society.
The GOP, despite the favored leftist narrative, now represents a coalition of the wrongly classes and a broad segment of the managerial elite. Together they form what can properly be termed the Producing Class, brig that they are responsible for the backbone of the mon-information economy.
The Democrats, by contrast, have formed a coalition of the intellectual elites, minorities, elite women, union leaderships and the poor. Together, perhaps more controversially, they can be grouped as the Non-productive Class.
The irony here is, of course, that they are precisely the people whom Marx — whose ghost still haunts the ideology of the party, given the backgrounds of much of its activist base — counts among the social parasites.
The electorate of the nation had become more or less equally divided between these emergent classes, but that is an unstable situation, and for effective governance to emerge in time it will have to be resolved. Lacking a peaceful resolution, 1930s Spain serves as a the truly frightening example of the results of an ever-more radicalized population that forms two armed camps.
It is telling that whenever proponents of a political ideology discuss their particular project as the inevitable outcome of the natural process of history, they generally default to the messianic language of the Romantic-era Christian proselytes. Our current preoccupation with a mildly capitalistic democracy as the best and most-natural system of governance is the unquestioned policy of both the official and the chattering establishments, quite despite its recent paramount failures in Egypt, Libya and Afghanistan. Not even in the heat of the current presidential campaign are its premises being evenly remotely questioned.
Richard Lachmann is right in that historical forces are not directed by a class struggle, but rather a struggle among elites. In fact, all history may be understood as history of formation and decline of elites on the basis of internal economic as well as external pressure forces.
It is a curious feature of the trajectory of American political discourse that the more permissive the society becomes the more both ends of the spectrum pine for authoritarianism — naturally, on their own respective terms — as if sensing the increasing centripetal effect of small-l liberalism upon continued vitality of the Union.