Monday, August 16, 2021

Saigon 2.0

There’s no need for me to recount the events that have taken place in Kabul this past weekend. By now, the whole internet is splattered with them from end to end. Suffice it to say that the phrase “Saigon 2.0” neatly sums up what just happened – and what a lot of people knew in advance was going to happen – and what a few people knew for almost twenty whole years was going to happen.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then you’ll probably have taken note of my intense disapproval of twentieth century America’s informal abandonment of representative democracy. My belief is basically that the regime has retained the outer appearance of the old ways, while changing its substance; in other words, elected offices like Congress and the Presidency continue to exist, but are reduced to mainly ceremonial roles, while the real decision-making is done elsewhere.

And if I believe that the loss of once-strong democratic institutions here in the United States was a disaster, then perhaps it follows that democracy, or voting, or popular consent, or something along those lines, is the test of a government’s legitimacy.

Except that it isn’t quite that simple. I do indeed like representative democracy. And I believe that in the Anglo-American culture that birthed it, and in other cultures where, from time to time, it has flourished, representative democracy has a good track record of producing governments that people can trust to defend their traditional rights and liberties.

Yet there is nothing magical about majorities that qualifies them to rule. If you went to some wild and barbarous nation with no experience of democracy, and told them that you were about to impose a great new system of government, and that the way this system worked was that the faction that got 51 percent of the votes could do whatever it wanted to do and the faction that got 49 percent just had to submit, what do you expect would happen? Well, anyone who was worried about not ending up on the side of the 51 percent would resist your imposition with weapon in hand.

Nevertheless, in some countries, democracy has a long history of working well, because in some countries, the 49 percent and the 51 percent have a lot ideas in common about what the rights and duties of a citizen are, and the factions trust each other to keep defending those ideas even when a new party comes to power. And that common basis of trust, combined with the accountability mechanism of regular elections, will often provide a country with the highest quality of government than can be achieved within the limits of human nature.

But that raises an important question – perhaps the most important question, as far as Afghanistan is concerned. What happens if the authorities that the people trust the most are not democratic?

What if, for example, the entity which the greatest part of a country’s inhabitants trust to stand up for their rights, and preserve their ancestral laws and customs, is a hereditary ruling house? We shouldn’t consider it strange if they do; after all, most of the societies in recorded history have thought that way.

What is the difference between a king and a tyrant? A monarch and a dictator? Surely, to be a tyrant, a ruler must act in such a way that his subjects feel tyrannized; at the very least he must give them reason to feel tyrannized. Yet most people who have lived under kings haven’t felt that way about their kings. In fact, they were usually quite eager to spill their blood in the service of their king – whenever a foreign king appeared on the horizon to challenge his power.

Tyrants and dictators exist, to be sure. We all know, for example, about Henry VIII, who forcibly converted his entire kingdom to a strange religion so that he could marry his mistress, and then beheaded her less than three years later. We know how he executed hundreds of recalcitrant Catholics for clinging to the faith of their fathers, and how he dissolved the monasteries that had been held sacred and inviolable since well before the Norman Conquest.

Indeed, not only Henry VIII but his entire family wielded so much erratic personal power that later historians have sometimes called their period “the Tudor Dictatorship.”

Yet on paper, Henry VIII’s power was no more or less absolute than that of Henry II, Edward I, Edward III, or any of his other highly-regarded predecessors. It was his immense egotism and his willingness to unilaterally uproot ancient laws and customs that earned him the reputation he now has. Henry II, Edward I, and Edward III didn’t behave this way; rather, when they sought to reform the laws of their kingdom, they earned their subjects’ respect through the use of power-sharing institutions like juries and parliaments.

Were these parliaments democratic by modern standards? Hardly. At first only the nobles and the clergy were represented. To someone like Edward I, a diehard pragmatist if there ever was one, this made a lot of sense – rebellions against the king only mattered when they were led by the nobles and the clergy; therefore, these were the people who needed to be given an alternative means of exerting their power.

 Now all this political theorizing may seem like a very roundabout way to get to the topic of Afghanistan in 2021. But it really is important to realize that, as far as the vast majority of human cultures are concerned, a government’s legitimacy doesn’t come from having institutions that resemble what the United States has. Its legitimacy comes from the trust which its subjects place in it to deal out justice according to their own laws and customs, and to defend their traditional way of life.

Tell that to somebody from almost any camp within today’s American politics, and he or she will naturally get to thinking, “But what if their traditional laws and customs are bad?”

Which is a fair question, because the laws and customs which a government must defend in order to seem legitimate may well include things like racial segregation, witch-burning, or refusing to allow women to drive.

Which to you and me are obviously backwards and evil. Yet history is full of people who were willing to fight pretty hard to defend those customs. And the people who fought to defend segregation and witch-burning and the like felt just as righteous about their cause as you would feel if you were rebelling against a government that was trying to reinstate slavery, or restrict the franchise to people who make at least $100,000 per year, or do some other thing that strikes you as self-evidently awful.

The Americans who went to Afghanistan, being invaders, and being fairly open about their desire to turn that part of the world into something more like their own country, never could gain the respect and trust of the larger and more energetic portion of the Afghan population.

The Afghans knew that most Americans despised and looked down on their culture. They knew that, professions of benevolence aside, the military calculations of the occupying force gave a far cheaper weight to the lives of Afghan civilians than to the lives of American servicemen.

These people knew what it was like to be on the wrong end of an airstrike. They knew what it was like to have the deaths of their relatives written off as collateral damage. They knew what it was like to have their poppy fields burned in a program of economic warfare.

They knew that the new government that had been installed in 2002 was led by American puppets. And they knew that, to form this government and keep it in operation, the Americans had to ally themselves with some of the most corrupt people in the world. And I'm not just talking about bribery  how most of the monetary aid that the Americans provided was siphoned off by graftsmen to the point that US-loyal policemen often went months without getting paid.

Americans hear, from time to time, about how sex between men and boys is rampant in Afghanistan. Most Americans, not bothering to read too deeply into the matter, probably end up thinking that the Taliban (being evil and all that) is responsible. As it turns out, that isn’t the case. Bacha bazi, or “boy play” as it is casually referred to, is the norm among the forces loyal to the Karzai/Ghani government and the US-aligned warlords. American soldiers are sternly instructed to turn a blind eye to it, even when it happens on an army base.

In Taliban-held regions, bacha bazi is punishable by death. Does that make the Taliban the good guys? Certainly not from an American’s perspective. After all, these people will bomb schools in order to keep the lid down on girls’ literacy.

But consider how you would see the situation if you were an ordinary Afghan, with ordinary Afghan beliefs – that is to say, you were indifferent about whether or not your daughter ever learned to read, but as for those policemen who sodomized your son, you wished for nothing more than to see their heads on a bunch of pikes.

And that is why, after twenty years of wasted blood and treasure, America’s attempt to transplant its own culture and its own style of government into the Graveyard of Empires has been a failure, just like the Soviet attempt that began 41 years ago.

Could America’s ruling class have seen this coming? Hardly. As those people see it, their own ideologies, and theirs alone, are good and sweet and true, and trying to impose “American Values” by force has nothing at all in common with what Brezhnev did.

But to an Afghan, it’s all the same. Communism or liberalism, Brezhnev, Bush, or Biden, foreign oppression is foreign oppression, and Allah will smile upon his servants as they tear down foreign oppression and stomp it into the mud.

And in the end, the Taliban will win, because their enemies have nothing with which to match the religious zeal which has inspired them to keep on spilling their blood for the last forty years. Their enemies will buckle and yield, and retreat homeward on a trail of broken promises, leaving their horrified Afghan auxiliaries swarming behind them in a desperate attempt to flee from the wrath to come, only to decide, in the final moment, that falling out of the wheel well of a C-17 is as good a way to die as any other.

Did America have the right to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban on account of their complicity in 9/11? I say yes. There is certainly a middle ground between isolationism and nation-building.

When the Loya Jirga was summoned to set up a transitional government in 2002, Zahir Shah, the last King of Afghanistan, whose overthrow in a 1973 army coup had set his country on the road to so many evils, was easily the most popular and most trusted man in Afghanistan. A great number of Afghans wanted to return him to power, but after a bit of American arm-twisting, they ended up with Hamid Karzai instead – a man whom they generally viewed as Washington’s puppet.

Had the Americans stepped back and let Zahir Shah lead his own country, and never attempted anything so ambitious as nation-building – perhaps providing the new regime with arms and training but never getting involved with any enterprise where Afghans themselves weren’t making most of the decisions and doing most of the work – the new government might have lasted. And if it fell anyway, a lot less blood and treasure would have been wasted in the attempt.

Sometimes, it’s in one nation’s interest to support regime change in another nation. But it rarely works out in the long term unless the main impetus for the regime change comes from within. France could intervene successfully in the American Revolution because everyone knew that the Americans were still doing the majority of the fighting, and still taking orders from their own Continental Congress, which wasn’t being bossed by Louis XVI.

At this point, in Afghanistan, it’s too late for that sort of thing. It might have already been too late in 2002. In the old Afghanistan of kite running and rubab music, there were many factions vying for power – royalists and westernizers and socialists and a plethora of more or less traditional Islamic movements. Now there’s just the Taliban – none of the more moderate, less bloody-minded factions made it through the horrors of the three coups in the 1970s, the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, the civil war in the 1990s, the first Taliban government, and the present war and occupation.

What will the future look like? Well, in the short term, the Taliban will rule as they please. Already they are rebuilding their “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” They’ve decided not to repeat the “go-it-alone” strategy they tried last time, and their diplomats are doing their best to seek international recognition. They’re well on their way to a deal with China – normal diplomatic and trade relations and a piece of the New Silk Road, in exchange for a promise not to harbor anybody involved with the insurgency in Xinjiang.

The Chinese are pragmatists – they know what the future will look like, and their plans reflect that knowledge. In the past, I noticed China’s total aloofness from these Middle-Eastern wars and concluded that China must not be interested in projecting power the way that the United States, Russia, and Britain are. But it could just be that China knew the value of that tried-and-true maxim, ‘Never interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake.’

If Afghanistan doesn’t get invaded again, I expect the Taliban to run the country by their present ethic of dreary fundamentalism for at least the next few decades. Eventually, as popular passions cool, power will consolidate in the hands of some sort of de facto monarch, and then things will moderate.

Music and dancing will return. Women might not have to cover their faces anymore. This is what usually happens to theocratic regimes during the third generation – the leadership moderates, the original zeal subsides, and the walls that have been raised against secular influences become porous. It’s what happened in Hasmonean Judea, in the Umayyad Caliphate, in Puritan New England, and in Brigham Young’s Utah. And it will keep on happening as long as there are theocratic regimes for it to happen to.

Nevertheless, by the time that Afghanistan is ripe for such a change, America’s hegemonial power will have long since disintegrated. One way or another, the American people, right here in America, will have a bill to pay for the way that their empire has been behaving.

The time of troubles is coming. How will it start? How bad will it get? Right now, no one can tell.

But if we have anything to learn from the experience of those Afghans who were young back in 1973 when the monarchy fell, and who are now old and loaded down with more than the usual burden of years, it is that the collapse of a nation is a long and slow and wretchedly unpleasant business, and the challenge of living through it is not for the faint of heart.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Revolution Within The Form – It Can Happen Here

 

When did the Roman Republic end?

Modern historians usually give a fairly precise answer: in 27 BC, when Octavian was granted the title of “Augustus” and became the first full-fledged Roman Emperor. While some might point to 49 BC, when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, or 44 BC, when he was made Dictator for Life, as the more important date, they all pretty-much agree that sometime in the late first century BC, the Republic was destroyed and a new, very different form of government was raised on its carcass.

And their ability to agree that this happened does not depend on their subjective opinions regarding the desirability of the transformation. Both those who look up to the Caesars for restoring peace and civic order to a dysfunctional and war-torn realm, and those who admire Brutus and Cassius for slaughtering a tyrant, alike credit Julius Caesar and his nephew Augustus with the destruction of one system of government and the foundation of a new, radically different one.

Curiously enough, almost nobody who actually lived through those events saw it that way.

There were a few outliers – Brutus and Cassius, of course, and Cato the Younger, who committed suicide rather than live under Caesar’s authority. But the overwhelming majority of Senators, who freely gave Augustus all the power he wanted rather than let their country slide back into civil war? The poets like Horace and Virgil, who eulogized both Julius and Augustus as heaven-sent defenders of the ancient Roman constitution? The pairs of young aristocrats whom the new regime, year after year, kept honoring with the consulship – an office which, though stripped of actual power, was still a gateway to immense wealth and prestige?

As far as these people were concerned, the Republic had never been stronger.

Senators, consuls, tribunes, praetors, quaestors, aediles – all continued to be elected in due order. In theory, their powers were the same as before. In practice, everything important was decided by the emperor.

But great care was taken to preserve the external forms of the Republic. The Romans had a word for a monarch, the good old Latin Rex, which no emperor, however corrupt, dissolute, or hubristic, ever dared use. Imperator, Princeps, Caesar Augustus – each of these titles, grandiose as they may sound to the modern ear, started out as a euphemism for “king.”

Rome had undergone a revolution within the form. The old organs of government – senate, consuls, etc. – were still present. But they had become vestigial organs, like the wings of an ostrich, mere holdovers from an earlier stage in the state’s evolution.

Machiavelli, steeped in the rough-and-tumble politics of Renaissance Italy, understood this concept quite well:

“He who desires or attempts to reform the government of a state, and wishes to have it accepted and capable of maintaining itself to the satisfaction of everybody, must at least retain the semblance of the old forms; so that it may seem to the people that there has been no change in the institutions, even though in fact they are entirely different from the old ones. For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often even more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.” (Discourses on Livy, XXV).

Look beyond Rome, and it isn’t hard to find more examples of what Machiavelli is describing. The transition can go away from monarchical rule as well as towards it – Europe in 2021 still has seven reigning kings and queens, not one of whom actually rules. Perhaps the simplest way to think about revolution within the form is that it’s what happened between Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II. On paper, their powers are the same. In practice, a lot of things have changed.

Nor did the changes only involve the Crown. Britain is actually very well stocked with vestigial organs of government: the prime minister is not only outranked by the Queen and her family, but also by a whole bevy of non-royal ‘Great Officers of State’ like the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Great Chamberlain, and the Lord Privy Seal, each of whom once wielded immense power. And then there are the peers, and the privy council, and the Lords Spiritual, and the Earl Marshall… well, you get the point.

Britain and Rome – monarchy to democracy and republic to monarchy – are hardly the only games in town. Japan, for example, once did a revolution within the form from monarchy to monarchy. The current imperial dynasty dates to sometime before the seventh century, yet for about half of its history – between the years 1192 and 1867, to be exact – all real power belonged to a line of military officers called shoguns, whose full title roughly translates as “High Commander of the Defense Force Against the Barbarians.”

In theory, the shogun was an army officer appointed by the emperor to wield extraordinary powers during a time of crisis; in practice, he was an absolute monarch in his own right. Nevertheless, in keeping with its ad hoc origin, the administration through which the shoguns ruled was called the “Tent Government.” The emperor, meanwhile, presided over his own court and his own retinue of officials. Unlike the Tent Government, these people didn’t exercise any political power, though presumably they had a nicer living quarters.

At a certain point, the divergence between formal and actual power ceases to fool anybody, but continues to persist as a quaint turn of speech – the way, for example, that British lawyers still talk as if the Queen had personally initiated every prosecution in the British courts.

But what interested Machiavelli was the period when the illusion was fresh, when it could still “seem to the people that there has been no change in the institutions, even though in fact they are entirely different from the old ones.”

Britain is no longer in that phase… but the United States is.

During the middle decades of the twentieth century, the United States underwent a slow but thorough transition away from democracy and towards oligarchy, away from a system where the greatest share of political power was wielded by elected representative bodies, and toward one where nearly all power is wielded by wealthy, unaccountable professionals ensconced in various elitist institutions.

Obviously, nobody respectable has admitted this. Officially, democracy is still important enough that we had to invade Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc. in order to spread it. But if you examine America’ organs of government, and separate the vestigial organs from the functioning ones, you’ll see that the democratic organs are vestigial, and the oligarchic organs are functional.

It shouldn’t be hard to identify the vestigial organs. Let’s start with the White House – the most democratic of our offices, since it’s the only one that’s chosen in an election which most people still care about.

Donald Trump generally gets credit for being the most bizarre and erratic president in at least a century. Naturally, one would be curious about what happened when the Donald became the ‘Leader of the Free World,’ and what happened when he went back to being an ordinary citizen four years later.

Well, the day after Trump’s win, back in 2016, a bunch of college professors made the news by allowing their terrified students to bring puppies into the classroom to sooth their fears for the future. And shortly after Trump’s loss in 2020, a mob of terrified Trump supporters, driven berserk by their fears for the future, broke into the Capitol building and carried off Nancy Pelosi’s lectern.

Other than that? Not much. All throughout the Trump years, the border remained mostly open; while ICE detained and deported illegal aliens under pretty-much the same conditions as during the Obama years, this process remained too slow and sporadic to really matter. The US was involved in the same Middle Eastern wars when Trump left office as when he arrived. Nothing decisive had been done about the collapse of the manufacturing sector. And so forth.

As in the year before Trump took office, so in the year after he left, the Supreme Court is pursuing a pro-business but socially liberal agenda. Even with six Republicans, including three Trump appointees, the Court couldn’t get enough votes to even hear the case of that florist in Washington State who is about to lose everything she owns for refusing to service same-sex weddings.

The various administrative agencies that make up the “Executive Branch” pretty much ignored Trump and his cabinet. Do you remember Jeff Sessions or Rick Perry or Ben Carson or Betsy DeVos? Can you think of anything their respective departments did, or refrained from doing, on account of their leadership? Do you think that day-to-day life in those departments has changed now that they’re gone?

If your answer was ‘No,’ then that’s pretty good evidence that the cabinet is just as passive as the presidency. Cabinet members and other “political appointees” have practically no control over the agencies they supposedly lead. They cannot hire or fire the people who work for them. And these lower bureaucrats – the “permanent civil service” – are, for the most part, dyed-in-the-wool leftists who aren’t shy about flaunting their independence from the elected portion of the government, whenever the latter is in Republican hands. Which is why people who worked for the Trump Justice Department got to go to so many racial struggle sessions. And why the immigration laws continued to go unenforced.

Even in areas where it seems like the President is the sole or main decider – foreign policy and judicial nominations – he still often manages to be irrelevant in practice. With regard to foreign policy, all recent presidents have been pliable men who allowed their advisers in the Pentagon and State Department to herd them along the path of least resistance, which is why Obama, after winning office by running against Bush’s foreign policies, proceeded to imitate them practically to the letter, and why Trump did the same thing with Obama’s policies.

As for judicial appointments, the constraint is that, usually, the only nominees who can get through the Senate are the slippery kind with few or no discernible principles, so despite the occasional outlier like Clarence Thomas, even judges put on the bench by Republicans will have the same average beliefs as the people at Harvard and the American Bar Association. And it doesn’t help that power clings to itself, and that, once in power, judges frequently migrate toward ideologies that invite them to see their power as unlimited – i.e. toward leftist ideologies.

Congress is even more passive than the presidency. Changing the Constitution used to require a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress; now it requires a Supreme Court decision. Going to war used to require the approval of Congress; now it doesn’t. Apart from judges, the officials that Congress has to confirm wield less power than the officials that it doesn’t have to confirm. Money is created by the Federal Reserve, which reports to no one. And the legislative role of Congress has been almost entirely absorbed by the administrative state.

In theory, Congress’ powers are immense. In practice, it is very hard to get anything through Congress. As a result, very few of the important decisions which the government has made over the last half-century have been made by Congress.

Jury trials are another vestigial organ of democratic government. In theory, the United States has trial by jury; in practice, it has trial by plea bargain.

If these (along with their counterparts at the state and local level) are the vestigial organs, then what are the functional organs? Who actually decides what the law is?

Well, unlike America’s external empire, which is governed by chance, the internal empire at least has a semblance of law. Its lawmaking process is as follows: the Supreme Court can do anything. Congress can do whatever it wants, within the boundaries set by the Supreme Court. The administrative agencies can do whatever they want, within the boundaries set by Congress and the courts.

Congress, occupying the middle position, is by far the least important of the three – it has neither the omnipotence and finality of the Supreme Court, nor the omnipresence and immediacy of the agencies. The nine Supreme Court Justices, on the other hand, collectively hold the imperium maium. This is a fancy way of saying that the law is whatever the Court says it is, and that the Court’s power is not in any way limited by the other branches of government.

(In regimes where the imperium maium is held by a single man, we all act horrified and call him a “dictator.” The nonchalant attitude of most Americans toward a system where the same role is held by a committee of nine would have baffled the Founders).

According to state ideology, the Court rules by “interpreting” the Constitution. That decisions like the banning of school prayer or the legalization of abortion were made by interpreting the Constitution is one of those official fictions that a child can see through, but which adults do their best to believe in order to show their loyalty to the regime, as in “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.”

The phrase “final interpreter of the constitution,” is a euphemism for “top legislature” in much the same way that “emperor” was a euphemism for “king.” Augustus called a monarchy a republic. Our own ruling class calls an oligarchy a republic.

Now, it was a stroke of Machiavellian genius, in the sense of retaining “the semblance of the old forms,” that rather than create a new body by which to govern, the new ruling class repurposed an old one. That the United States should have a Supreme Court is not a new idea; that this court should have jurisdiction over constitutional cases is not a new idea; nonetheless, the role and function of judges in the new system is completely different than their role and function in the old one.

In traditional Anglo-American politics, the duty of judges was to enforce pre-existing laws against the litigants in the case that they had just heard. Obviously, disputes over the correct meaning of the law would arise from time to time, and laws had to be adapted to situations not anticipated by their drafters (do the police need a warrant to tap a telegraph line?) Still, nearly everyone involved viewed their task as enforcing and regularizing the laws, with as little innovation as was necessary to make them enforceable – not replacing bad, old laws with good, new ones. In short, the whole legal profession was geared towards ensuring that the laws had a consistent and uniform meaning across space and time.

While judicial review is almost as old as the constitution itself, it was also, until fairly recently, a conservative force only. To give two of the most famous examples, in 1803, John Marshall ruled that Congress can’t add to the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction; a century later, Rufus Pekham ruled that states can’t make laws limiting workers’ hours in a bakery. Both decisions, while (justly) controversial, were merely exercising a de facto veto power over new and controversial laws. On the other hand, using the judiciary to initiate changes and reforms – and thereby purging the lawmaking process of the pesky interference of voters – is an innovation of the post-New Deal Left.

In theory, Congress and the President have ways to reign in abuses of judicial power – impeachment, the exceptions clause, and adding new seats to the Supreme Court, to name a few. In practice, none of those things have even been seriously discussed since the 1930s. Right now, the Court’s imperium maium is secure.

But the system is big, and the imperium maium is only one piece of it. Nine people can’t even see most of what the government is doing, let alone care about it, let alone control it. Most of the rules that effect how ordinary Americans live their daily lives are made by administrative agencies, operating under broadly written congressional mandates, drafted by lobbyists and usually enacted with little or no debate.

Which drugs is your doctor allowed to prescribe for you, and when must he warn you about potential adverse effects? How high and how fast can commercial delivery drones fly? What shall be the interest rates on federal student loans, and should those loans accrue interest while the borrower is still in college? Can a hog farmer operate his own on-site smokehouse? To whom may a dairyman sell raw milk? What will happen to an elementary school if its students do poorly on federal standardized tests? Can the school wriggle out of these consequences if enough of its students are diagnosed with and/or medicated for ADHD?

Usually, a decision like this is made by majority vote of a small panel, perhaps with just three or five members, in some regulatory agency. Who are these people? How did they get their jobs? Who the hell knows?

Oftentimes, the people who are most affected by the decision do know what’s going on, and they’ll petition America’s democratic institutions, like Congress and the White House, to wake up and do something. And in theory, all these regulators could have their decisions overturned, or even be dismissed from office, as a result of such petitions.

 In practice? None of these controversies, on its own, will get nearly enough people hopped up to overcome congressional inertia. Voters and elected representatives might as well be the Queen of England for all the influence that they have in their country’s government.

Thus goes oligarchy in America. One set of institutions holds formal power; another, very different set holds actual power. Under the constitution as originally written, the first set is more than strong enough to overcome the second. But it’s stocked with people who, as a matter of ideology, or habit, or pragmatism, or whatever, never contemplate doing so. And the voters, having fallen for the Machiavellian sleight-of-hand, are content with the appearance of democracy rather than the actual thing.

Like all regimes, oligarchy in America won’t last forever. No matter what facet of American life you look at, the evidence of decline is unmistakable. Perhaps, when it falls, the oligarchy will be replaced by something better. The slow collapse of the global fossil-fueled economy might break the US into smaller pieces, and toughen up their inhabitants into the sort of men we had during colonial times, making genuine democracy possible again. Though the system could also weather the crisis by undergoing another revolution within the form, perhaps ending up with a shogun-style de facto monarchy masquerading as an ad hoc crisis response team. At this point, it’s too early to say.

Whatever form the new regime takes, one thing is for sure – its historians will not shy away from discussing the dedemocratization of twentieth century America. Propaganda never outlasts the regime that created it, and no one licks a dead man’s boots. While the scholars of the twenty-sixth century may have lively debates about the desirability of OSHA, or Planned Parenthood v. Casey, or what have you, none of them will pretend that these things existed within a functioning democracy, any more than our own historians pretend that the office of Roman Emperor existed within a functioning republic.

Meanwhile, if America’s remaining patriots are going to salvage something good out of the situation, we will need to wake up from the propaganda that seduces us – from the complementary lies of the Left and the Right – from the claim that the changes of the last century are mostly good, and also from the claim that, while many these changes are bad, the old system of checks and balances is still mostly intact, and we can turn the situation around by voting for Republicans.

As unpleasant as it may be to admit it, this much is clear: the vestigial organs of government are not going to be reactivated. The ostrich is not going to spread its wings and fly.

At this point, collapse is not avoidable. Nor should we want to avoid it. There is no honor in bowing down to the plutocratic oligarchy that has been erected on the carcass of the old republic. Our present task is to detach ourselves from the system, work toward spiritual, intellectual, and material independence, look out for the welfare of our families and whatever small communities we happen to belong to, and do our best to outlast our enemies.