This podcast show is a sampler from my Spokes of the Wheel book The Pathos of the Politics. If you are interested in politics, you’ll find the book a rich, rewarding read.
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Our ape forebearers had dominance hierarchies of exercised authority. Those on top settled conflicts and set norms of acceptable conduct. Those below acknowledged authority with submissive behaviors.
Down through history, kingdoms were forged and maintained by men who could bend other men to their will. Other than involving more subjects and applying more sophisticated technologies, these realms of political strength were selfsame to those of apes.
Power has always been kept by violence and its threat. As German friar Martin Luther observed, “blood alone moves the wheels of history.”
The chronicles of men are replete with savagery on whatever scale technology afforded. We see it today in the wars, prisons, and concentration camps of the United States, China, and in every country in the world. Yes, America has concentration camps for unfortunate immigrants, just as China has them for those with the beliefs suspect to the state, notably the concentrations of Muslims in the western part of the country.
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Political regimes are elaborate expressions of territoriality. Since prehistory, when agricultural surpluses begat rulers over those surpluses, governance has been an exercise in resource allocation.
Throughout history, the core functions of government have been essentially the same: to control the populace, but especially, to extract bounty, so that the government may rule over them. Government is parasitic, but more parasitic to some than others. Governmental revenue flow represents a redistribution from the less favored to the privileged.
Inequity has been the immovable rule of rulers throughout history. Beholden to those with material resources, rulers have relied upon the rich to prop themselves up. As power flows to the powerful, governments are, by nature, plutocratic. Even in modern democracies, the ruling class is so by dint of its financial resources.
With rare historical exception, the disadvantaged classes are squeezed to benefit those not needing further enrichment. Tax policies reflect plutocracy. No modern government is progressive in taxing according to ability to pay. Instead, in keeping with medieval practice, the lower classes are serfs to government taxation, with a level of governmental services to keep the economy afloat and the populace from revolting.
Like any organism, the most critical function of the state is to preserve itself. Revolutions have been necessary because the state interposes itself into a societal body as a vital organ which must be replaced wholesale for a political patient to have any hope of reform. Long-standing democracies most flagrantly portray how leadership turnover changes little, as the effect is that of replacing cogs in institutionalized machinery.
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Defects drive evolution, whether biological, technological, or political. While the corruptibility of the human beast has enthralled political philosophers, the descent of polity has always pivoted on accountability. The constitutional concept of checks and balances is a thought experiment in accountability.
The bedrock of democracy is liability. Granting citizens the power to cast political leaders aside on a periodic whim is an attempt at accountability.
In a democracy, accountability is diffused to everyone who has suffrage. The practical effect has been emasculation, in that being answerable morphed into a popularity contest, where decision makers – voters – are readily and regularly deceived: a lamentable situation apparent in democracies today.
The most representative body in American democracy is the federal lower legislative house. The House of Representatives consistently musters low respect in public opinion polls. Yet turnover in House members is minuscule. Voters express contempt for their most democratic organ but are paradoxically content to let the status quo fester.
The consequence of democracy has been to concentrate power into the hands of those who can manipulate public opinion. This dilution of accountability through concentration of economic power has corroded the vitality, viability, and legitimacy of every democracy.
A benevolent sovereign beats the mob rule which constitutes democracy. The difficulty is getting the right tyrant. This unresolved problem demonstrates that dominance hierarchies among modern humans are inferior to those of tribal simians, whose leaders possessed cunning in service of group interest.
Systematically, governments should be meritocracies of people dedicated to public service. That political systems, especially democracy, have not actualized meritocracy as a norm is the ongoing defect of politics.