Yesterday’s election news has a great many of us in the Right scratching our heads. This makes no sense, we say to ourselves. People can’t be this stupid. And like John Godfrey Saxe’s blind men who “studied” an elephant, we are partly right and partly wrong.
Partly right, in that few people really are “stupid.” For example, many Pennsylvanians who voted for John Fetterman for United States Senator didn’t really vote for him. They voted “straight-ticket” for the candidates of the Democrat Party. Fetterman merely benefited from the votes of those partisans. While one might consider “straight-ticket” voting a myopic approach to the franchise, there are arguments in favor of it that are difficult to counter definitively.
Partly right as well, in that the evidence is strong that a lot of electoral fraud was involved. As usual in elections these days, there were “voting machine failures,” early-voting and mail-in ballot chicanery, drop-box misbehavior, and illegal electioneering to be reckoned with. How much? Unclear at this point. Possibly it will never become clear. Certainly the mechanisms to enable wide-scale fraud were in place.
But partly wrong, for there are a great many people who’ll believe anything they’re told, no matter how absurd it may seem to us, if the speaker is sufficiently “authoritative.” In this era of “rule by experts,” the nature of expertise and whence it comes can determine a great deal about people’s opinions. This essay at Liberty’s Torch V1.0 is highly relevant. Remember also Porretto’s Anatomical Axiom:
Everybody’s gotta have one.
Could there be any better explanation for why so many millions of Americans believe that “Donald Trump is a fascist” — ?
As usual for a complex phenomenon, there is no single cause for this effect.
I’m loath to suggest a remedy for “what ails us.” I’ve been casting about for many years, and have found no approaches that are proof against some readily deployed countermeasure. I’m not going to suggest a way to repair our electoral system, as its corruption strikes me as a resultant rather than a primary. What’s uppermost in my thoughts this morning is the word federal and what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote our Constitution.
The Framers assembled in Philadelphia in 1787 were there to dictate the formation of an overall government for these United States; make no mistake about that. Nevertheless, they were aware that sentiment among the American colonists was strongly against submission to a government such as the one they and their forbears fled the British Isles to escape. After the success of the Revolution, each of the thirteen original states considered itself sovereign. The colonists and the state governments were unwilling to surrender that status wholly to a national regime.
National had to give way to federal: the division of political authorities among the state governments and the overarching government the Framers intended to create. Else the state governments would not have ratified the Constitution. The approach was successful; all thirteen states, seeing that the proposed Constitution preserved the political prerogatives they were most determined to retain, did ratify the new scheme. That over the decades since then, men greedy for absolute and unending power have managed to set it aside de facto doesn’t change the verdict of those earlier years.
For quite some time, the federal division of powers between the federal government and the states made for political peace in the new Union. This suggests that returning to the original conception of partitioned authorities and responsibilities is the way to go. As usual, the most compelling question isn’t where but how…and perhaps, how far as well.
We’ve gone too far into the verbiage without a couple of quotes. First, have this old favorite:
“You wanted to re-establish the centralized state, didn’t you? Did you ever stop to think that maybe feudalism is what suits Man? Some one place to call our own, and belong to, and be part of; a community with traditions and honor; a chance for the individual to make decisions that count; a bulwark for liberty against the central overlords, who’ll always want more and more power; a thousand different ways to live. We’ve always built supercountries, here on Earth, and we’ve always knocked them apart again. I think maybe the whole idea is wrong. And maybe this time we’ll try something better. Why not a world of little states, too well rooted to dissolve in a nation, too small to do much harm—slowly rising above petty jealousies and spite, but keeping their identities—a thousand separate approaches to our problems. Maybe then we can solve a few of them…for ourselves!”
[Poul Anderson, No Truce With Kings]
Inspiring, isn’t it? But there’s also this:
“Do you know why we band together into nations, girl?”
The question seemed so totally out of the blue that Maricel didn’t really even comprehend it. She shook her head, a gesture that meant, in this case, I don’t understand.
Aida took it wrongly, assuming the girl meant she didn’t know why. She answered the question herself. Pointing towards the flames, she said, “We band into nations for just that reason. In the real world, little tribes like TCS are destroyed. They can’t compete against determined bands of raiders. It takes more power than that to defend yourself against people like yourself, people with no law above themselves.”
Ah, now Maricel understood the question. She wasn’t sure she understood the answer and, given that she was going to die, the answer didn’t really matter anyway.
“It’s the flaw in some utopian schemes,” the woman continued. She looked at Maricel’s uncomprehending face and said, “You don’t understand that word, do you?”
“No.” Sniffle. Just get on with it, will you?
“Never mind; here’s the truth, a truth I’ve been trying to find for the last . . . well, for the last good long while. People band into nations, real nations—not travesties like TCS, gangs that fancy themselves nations—to defend themselves. It requires an emotional commitment. The limits of nations are not how far their borders can reach, but how far their hearts can. People with tiny hearts, people like TCS, can never reach very far, can never gather enough similar hearts together to defend themselves. Only real people, and real countries or causes, can do that. That’s why TCS is going to die tonight.”
[Tom Kratman, Countdown: H Hour]
Is it possible that both writers are correct? Strike that; I’m being silly again. Is it even remotely possible that either writer is wrong?
Give that a few CPU cycles while I fetch more coffee.
In an exchange of thoughts we conducted at Gab, Co-Conspirator Linda cited Switzerland as an example of how liberty and public order can be preserved. Switzerland is indeed an impressive study. Like unto American constitutional federalism, it divides political authority between the national government and the 26 cantons, which possess a limited sovereignty over their internal arrangements and affairs.
No arrangement is perfectly stable. The Swiss system has suffered some degradation in recent decades. The various buttresses against the decay of the confederation have been attacked by some of the same influences that have degraded American federalism, including the unwise decisions to join the United Nations and the European Union. So while Switzerland remains a relatively orderly place and the Swiss retain a significant degree of individual freedom, they’re not as free as they once were, and their society isn’t as orderly as it was in times past.
But if permanent stability is unavailable – and the evidence is strong that it’s as unattainable as Thomas More’s Utopia – then we must look for the best available arrangement. That will demand a “balancing act:” an apportionment of our priorities that will look non-optimal to damned near everyone.
One of my intellectual heroes, the late Herman Kahn, brilliantly dramatized the problem of competing priorities in his massive tome On Thermonuclear War:
A, B, and C are either different circumstances or objectives; systems I, II, and III are designed to grapple with A, B, or C, respectively. The table gives a hypothetical scoring for how each of these systems might work in three different circumstances or objectives, with a score of 100 for “best.” While each of the three systems does admirably at the job for which it was designed, they all perform miserably at off-design points. If the problem were to choose between the given alternatives – that is, systems I, II, or III – both the analyst and the military planner would have a hopeless task as far as analysis goes – they could act as advocates, but not as objective students of the problem.
System I System II System III A 100 50 20 B 30 100 40 C 10 30 100
Fortunately, the situation is not so bad. It is usually possible to redesign systems I, II, and II into systems IV, V, and VI, which have appreciable off-design capabilities, without spectacular loss in performance in the highest-priority position:
System IV System V System VI A 90 85 75 B 80 95 80 C 85 75 95
Because the most extreme supporters of Systems IV, V, and VI will still differ among themselves as to whether A, B, or C is most important, the argument may still be bitter….However, any who are not severely partisan will not care much which system is chosen, so long as it is one of the collection IV, V, and V and not one of the collection of I, II, and II.
Kahn adds this charming side observation:
Even a fanatic about A will pretend to prefer system IV to System I because he does not want to look like a fanatic. Only a fanatic’s fanatic is not willing to yield a little on his cherished objective or worry in order to be able to give a lot to other people’s cherished objectives or worries.
In the context of political design, this isn’t just a morsel of food for thought; it’s a whole BLEEP!ing banquet.
Speaking loosely for the American political Right: What are our objectives?
- Individual freedom;
- Public order;
- Flexibility in times of genuine crisis.
There are various impingements upon each of these things in today’s context. I’m sure any of my Gentle Readers can cite the most important ones. But to cite the methods and structures that preserve each of those values is harder, because each of them is also an impingement:
- Freedom can lead to open licentiousness and the deterioration of public order;
- Public order can stifle the impulses of the innovator and the dissident.
- Flexible arrangements can be corrupted, which can degrade both freedom and order.
In pondering a new design for an acceptable society, all these things must be taken into account – with absolute fanatics about any of them preemptively excluded from the discussion. All must accept that given sufficient time, the system will fail, regardless of how much thought and effort go into its specification. This is Thomas Sowell’s “tragic vision” in the context of political design. Just as there is no way to achieve all three of our objectives perfectly, there is no way to make whatever we design absolutely impregnable against the ravages of time. There are no escapes.
Damn, look at that: another Brobdingnagian monstrosity of a piece. Well, my Gentle Readers know my proclivities. The point is to stimulate some fresh thinking. If I’ve managed that, I’ll rest content for the day. Wait a minute: “rest?” What am I, a Pollyanna? Well, I can hope, anyway.
Have a nice day.
UPDATE: Co-Conspirator Pascal has informed me that Switzerland did not fully join the European Union. Rather, it signed the Schengen agreement, which, in essence, opens its borders to travelers already within the EU. That’s the limit of Swiss engagement with the EU. My mistake.