The Universal Fetish of One Man Rule

It is an almost universally accepted and rightly believed that in all endeavors there is one person who is best: who is the most knowledgeable, who is the strongest, who is the most talented, who is the most courageous, who is the most moderate, and who is the wisest. And we devise competitions to determine who such persons are. We have all kinds of competitive sports, the Olympic Games, competitive entrance exams for universities, competitive civil service exams, America’s Got Talent (and other countries), and Eurovision. When such talented persons can articulate their talent or skill to others, we call them “authorities,” “leaders,” and “teachers.” Plato believed that such persons could be cultivated in all the virtues, especially wisdom, and singled out to rule a city-state. He called such persons “philosopher-kings.”

It was Thomas Carlyle who glorified such persons in his lectures, published as “On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History” (1841) .

It is true that within a tribe, i.e., a small group of about 150 adults, the best person in some area can be determined because everyone knows everyone else. And in such groups, there is usually some elder person who acts as a “moderator” in group meetings, and may even act as an adjudicator for minor disputes. But such a person is neither a king nor a military leader, nor Plato’s philosopher-king.

Plato’s philosopher-king is actually an idealized god. No human being has the capacity for universal knowledge or wisdom. But, something like what Plato wanted is being approximated in the world of computers in the form of artificial intelligence. [But take note of what happens when a quirk happens to a computer, as to HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey]. Humans are driven by different interests, and it is questionable which interests are to prevail, and how to reach compromise; and so, there is an intrinsic problem of decision which humans — not computers — must make.

The celebration of a one-man rule is originally the celebration of a military leader — a warlord. What we learn in school as history is the history of war and conquest. The State, as Franz Oppenheimer, Ludwig Gumplowicz and Karl Marx taught, is the product of conquest. It is conquest which explains the prevalence of the tradition and fetish or superstition of one man rule. The State is the result of military conquests of territories. If the territory is small, he is — to use the Japanese terminology — the warlord. If the territory is large, we can call him a Shogun or Emperor. We have our own names “king,” “prince,” “baron,” “landlord.” Consider the etymology of the word “lord”.

The State is a mirror of an army, except we call it a bureaucracy. In ancient Rome, there were the Consuls as the highest executives, and Proconsuls in distant territories. But ancient Romans and Spartans had a distrust of one man rule. In order to check their powers, they had two Consuls and two Kings. A single leader the Romans called a “dictator.”

I am convinced by the arguments of Franz Oppenheimer that the State is the product of conquest, and that the acceptance of a one man rule is both a tradition, a fetish, and a delusion.

When we study political history, we are studying how power is achieved and extended by war and conquest.

And war and conquest are a function of one man rule. Giving a single person the power to rule, he will use it to gain more power and more wealth, just as a capitalist will continue to expand his businesses ad infinitum. I think that a person who gets to rule, imagines he is playing chess with other rulers. And with computer technology, he is further removed from reality by playing a computer game of virtual chess.

There is competition among States, as there is competition among capitalists. And as Sheldon Wolin has shown, in Democracy Incorporated (2008), [Preface] that the State is now the instrument of the capitalist corporations, giving rise to “inverted totalitarianism.” Wolin means by “totalitarianism” a total political control by a single individual or a clique (a party) as in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Bolshevik Russia. The difference, it seems, is that neither Hitler, nor Mussolini, nor Stalin desired personal wealth, as do modern leaders like Putin or Trump, and their shadow oligarchs and corporations.

What am I driving at? Imitate Switzerland. Replace one man rule by a Federal Council.

“A Kind of Fascism Is Replacing Our Democracy”

by Sheldon S. Wolin, Newsday, July 18, 2003


Sept. 11, 2001, hastened a significant shift in our nation’s self-understanding. It became commonplace to refer to an “American empire” and to the United States as “the world’s only superpower.”

Instead of those formulations, try to conceive of ones like “superpower democracy” or “imperial democracy,” and they seem not only contradictory but opposed to basic assumptions that Americans hold about their political system and their place within it. Supposedly ours is a government of constitutionally limited powers in which equal citizens can take part in power. But one can no more assume that a superpower welcomes legal limits than believe that an empire finds democratic participation congenial.

No administration before George W. Bush’s ever claimed such sweeping powers for an enterprise as vaguely defined as the “war against terrorism” and the “axis of evil.” Nor has one begun to consume such an enormous amount of the nation’s resources for a mission whose end would be difficult to recognize even if achieved.

Like previous forms of totalitarianism, the Bush administration boasts a reckless unilateralism that believes the United States can demand unquestioning support, on terms it dictates; ignores treaties and violates international law at will; invades other countries without provocation; and incarcerates persons indefinitely without charging them with a crime or allowing access to counsel.

The drive toward total power can take different forms, as Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union suggest.

The American system is evolving its own form: “inverted totalitarianism.” This has no official doctrine of racism or extermination camps but, as described above, it displays similar contempt for restraints.

It also has an upside-down character. For instance, the Nazis focused upon mobilizing and unifying the society, maintaining a continuous state of war preparations and demanding enthusiastic participation from the populace. In contrast, inverted totalitarianism exploits political apathy and encourages divisiveness. The turnout for a Nazi plebiscite was typically 90 percent or higher; in a good election year in the United States, participation is about 50 percent.

Another example: The Nazis abolished the parliamentary system, instituted single-party rule and controlled all forms of public communication. It is possible, however, to reach a similar result without seeming to suppress. An elected legislature is retained but a system of corruption (lobbyists, campaign contributions, payoffs to powerful interests) short-circuits the connection between voters and their representatives. The system responds primarily to corporate interests; voters become cynical, resigned; and opposition seems futile.

While Nazi control of the media meant that only the “official story” was communicated, that result is approximated by encouraging concentrated ownership of the media and thereby narrowing the range of permissible opinions.

This can be augmented by having “homeland security” envelop the entire nation with a maze of restrictions and by instilling fear among the general population by periodic alerts raised against a background of economic uncertainty, unemployment, downsizing and cutbacks in basic services.

Further, instead of outlawing all but one party, transform the two-party system. Have one, the Republican, radically change its identity:

From a moderately conservative party to a radically conservative one.

From a party of isolationism, skeptical of foreign adventures and viscerally opposed to deficit spending, to a party zealous for foreign wars.

From a party skeptical of ideologies and eggheads into an ideologically driven party nurturing its own intellectuals and supporting a network that transforms the national ideology from mildly liberal to predominantly conservative, while forcing the Democrats to the right and and enfeebling opposition.

From one that maintains space between business and government to one that merges governmental and corporate power and exploits the power-potential of scientific advances and technological innovation. (This would differ from the Nazi warfare organization, which subordinated “big business” to party leadership.)

The resulting dynamic unfolded spectacularly in the technology unleashed against Iraq and predictably in the corporate feeding frenzy over postwar contracts for Iraq’s reconstruction.

In institutionalizing the “war on terrorism” the Bush administration acquired a rationale for expanding its powers and furthering its domestic agenda. While the nation’s resources are directed toward endless war, the White House promoted tax cuts in the midst of recession, leaving scant resources available for domestic programs. The effect is to render the citizenry more dependent on government, and to empty the cash-box in case a reformist administration comes to power.

Americans are now facing a grim situation with no easy solution. Perhaps the just-passed anniversary of the Declaration of Independence might remind us that “whenever any form of Government becomes destructive …” it must be challenged.

Anne Applebaum on Russia

As I listened to Anne Applebaum, it appears that her current interest is in understanding how propaganda works and how it is being actually used. [A topic covered by Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent] Although propaganda is universal, her interest is focused on Russia, her field of expertise. She is the author of:
Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe (1994);
Gulag: A History (2003);
Gulag Voices: An Anthology (2011);
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56 (2012)
Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine (2018)

Disinformation & the Threat to Democracy (Jan. 4, 2019 at the Library of Congress)

In Jan. 2013, she gave a lecture. Putinism: the Ideology. I would add to this title: Fake democracy by Fake opposition, by Real control, and by Real assassination.

Putin’s Russian Invasions

I want to remind viewers that under Putin, in 2014 Russia invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and is still occupying the Donbass region.

In 2008 Russia invaded Georgia, occupying Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In 1994 and in 1999 Russia invaded Chechnya.

In 1992 Russia’s army supported the breakaway war of Transnistria from Moldova.

Basic Income and/or Free Subsistence Land?

In the following videos, Rutger Bregman argues for a Universal Basic Income. This idea was first proposed by Bertrand Russell in his book Proposed Roads to Freedom, 1918, as a universal “vagabond wage.” A similar idea was also suggested by Milton Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom, 1962, as a “negative income tax.”

How not to argue

Tucker Carlson’s answer to Rutger Bregman’s claim that Carlson with his Fox interview show is doing the bidding of billionaires was this: “Why don’t you go fuck yourself, you tiny brain. And I hope this gets picked up because you’re a moron. I tried to give you a hearing, but you were too fucking annoying.”

Carlson’s retort is typical of people who are put in a corner with no reasonable response.

Where on Paul Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement pyramid does Carlson’s reply belong?

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes, . . . the rest is bullshit

I want to focus on the young Dutch historian, Rutger Bregman, who created media attention at the 2019 Davos World Economic Forum by focusing on the problem that the rich are allowed to avoid paying a fair share of taxes. His additional position is that there should be a universal Basic Income.

 

In the first video below is the discussion at Davos in which Bregman made his points.

In the second video, The Young Turks (TYT) comment on the exchange between Tucker Carlson and Rutger Bregman. Carlson invited Bregman to talk about the phenomenon of tax avoidance . . . but it never got there. Instead, Bregman focused on the problem of why such an issue as tax avoidance is not discussed by the major media, and his own answer was it is because billionaires pay millionaires — like Tucker Carlson — not to discuss it. At that point Carlson lost his composure with an emotive reaction of “go fuck yourself!”

The third video is the full exchange between Carlson and Bregman.

 

Video 1:

Video 2:

Video 3:

In the following clip, Noam Chomsky made the same charge against an interviewer as did Bregman against Carlson.

The Tyranny of Words

I have always been wary of political labels such as “fascism,” “nazism,” “communism,” “liberalism,” “socialism,” “Marxism,” — in fact, all “isms.” I never know what people mean by these words. I am suspicious that they themselves don’t know what they mean by them. I think they use them emotively to say something equivalent to Daffy Duck’s “you’re despicable.”

Take, for example, the label “fascism.” Stuart Chase, in his book, appropriately titled The Tyranny of Words, 1938, asked many people to tell him what “fascism” meant for them. Below is his take on “fascism,” and the result of his survey.


Pursuit of “fascism.” As a specific illustration, let us inquire into the term “fascism” from the semantic point of view. Ever since Mussolini popularized it soon after the World War, the word has been finding its way into conversations and printed matter, until now one can hardly go out to dinner, open a newspaper, turn on the radio, without encountering it. It is constantly employed as a weighty test for affairs in Spain, for affairs in Europe, for affairs all over the world. Sinclair Lewis tells us that it can happen here. His wife, Dorothy Thompson, never tires of drawing deadly parallels between European fascism and incipient fascism in America. If you call a professional communist a fascist, he turns pale with anger. If you call yourself a fascist, as does Lawrence Dennis, friends begin to avoid you as though you had the plague.

In ancient Rome, fasces were carried by lictors in imperial processions and ceremonies. They were bundles of birch rods, fastened together by a red strap, from which the head of an axe projected. The fasces were symbols of authority, first used by the Roman kings, then by the consuls, then by the emperors, A victorious general, saluted as “Imperator” by his soldiers, had his fasces crowned with laurel.

Mussolini picked up the word to symbolize the unity in a squad of his black-shirted followers. It was also helpful as propaganda to identify Italy in 1920 with the glories of imperial Rome. The programme of the early fascists was derived in part from the nationalist movement of 1910, and from syndicalism. The fascist squadrons fought the communist squadrons up and down Italy in a series of riots and disturbances, and vanquished them. Labour unions were broken up and crushed.

People outside of Italy who favoured labour unions, especially socialists, began to hate fascism. In due time Hitler appeared in Germany with his brand of National Socialism, but he too crushed labour unions, and so he was called a fascist. (Note the confusion caused by the appearance of Hitler’s “socialism” among the more orthodox brands.) By this time radicals had begun to label anyone they did not like as a fascist. I have been called a “social fascist” by the left press because I have ideas of my own. Meanwhile, if the test of fascism is breaking up labour unions, certain American communists should be presented with fasces crowned with laurel.

Well, what does “fascism” mean? Obviously the term by itself means nothing. In one context it has some meaning as a tag for Mussolini, his political party, and his activities in Italy. In another context it might be used as a tag for Hitler, his party, and his political activities in Germany. The two contexts are clearly not identical, and if they are to be used one ought to speak of the Italian and German varieties as facism1 and fascism2.

More important than trying to find meaning in a vague abstraction is an analysis of what people believe it means. Do they agree? Are they thinking about the same referent when they hear the term or use it? I collected nearly a hundred reactions from friends and chance acquaintances during the early summer cf 1937. I did not ask for a definition, but asked them to tell me what “fascism” meant to them, what kind of a picture came into their minds when they heard the term. Here are sample reactions:

Schoolteacher: A dictator suppressing all opposition.
Author: One-party government. “Outs” unrepresented.
Governess: Obtaining one’s desires by sacrifice of human lives.
Lawyer: A state where the individual has no rights, hope, or future.
College Student: Hitler and Mussolini.
United Stales senator: Deception, duplicity, and professing to do what one is not doing.
Schoolboy: War. Concentration camps. Bad treatment of workers. Something that’s got to be licked.
Lawyer: A coercive capitalistic state.
Teacher: A government where you can live comfortably if you never disagree with it.
Lawyer; I don’t know.
Musician: Empiricism, forced control, quackery.
Editor: Domination of big business hiding behind Hitler and Mussolini.
Short story writer: A form of government where socialism is used to perpetuate capitalism.
Housewife: Dictatorship by a man not always intelligent.
Taxi-driver: What Hitler’s trying to put over. I don’t like it.
Housewife: Same thing as communism.
College student: Exaggerated nationalism. The creation of artificial hatreds.
Housewife: A large Florida rattlesnake in summer.
Author: I can only answer in cuss words.
Housewife: The corporate state. Against women and workers.
Librarian: They overturn things.
Farmer: Lawlessness.
Italian hairdresser: A bunch, all together.
Elevator starter: I never heard of it.
Businessman: The equivalent of the ARA.
Stenographer: Terrorism, religious intolerance, bigotry.
Social worker: Government in the interest of the majority for the purpose of accomplishing things democracy cannot do.
Businessman: Egotism. One person thinks he can run everything.
Clerk: II Duce, Oneness. Ugh!
Clerk: Mussolini’s racket. All business not making money taken over by the state.
Secretary: Blackshirts. I don’t like it.
Author: A totalitarian state which does not pretend to aim at equalization of wealth.
Housewife: Oppression. No worse than communism.
Author: An all-powerful police force to hold up a decaying society.
Housewife: Dictatorship. President Roosevelt is a dictator, but he’s not a fascist.
Journalist: Undesired government of masses by a self-seeking, fanatical minority.
Clerk: Me, one and only, and a lot of blind sheep following.
Sculptor: Chauvinism made into a religious cult and the consequent suppression of other races and religions.
Artist: An attitude toward life which I hate as violently as anything I know. Why? Because it destroys everything in life I value.
Lawyer: A group which does not believe in government interference, and will overthrow the government if necessary.
Journalist: A left-wing group prepared to use force.
Advertising man: A governmental form which regards the individual as the property of the state.

Further comment is really unnecessary. It is safe to say that kindred abstractions, such as “democracy,” “communism,””totalitarianism,” would show a like reaction. The persons interviewed showed a dislike of “fascism,” but there was little agreement as to what it meant. A number skipped the description level and jumped to the inference level, thus indicating that they did not know what they were disliking. Some specific referents were provided when Hitler and Mussolini were mentioned. The Italian hairdresser went back to the bundle of birch rods in imperial Rome.

There are at least fifteen distinguishable concepts in the answers quoted. The ideas of “dictatorship” and “repression” are in evidence but by no means uniform. It is easy to lump these answers in one’s mind because of a dangerous illusion of agreement. If one is opposed to fascism, he feels that because these answers indicate people also opposed, then all agree. Observe that the agreement, such as it is, is on the inference level, with little or no agreement on the objective level. The abstract phrases given are loose and hazy enough to fit our loose and hazy conceptions interchangeably. Notice also how readily a collection like this can be classified by abstract concepts; how neatly the pigeonholes hold answers tying fascism up with capitalism, with communism, with oppressive laws, or with lawlessness. Multiply the sample by ten million and picture if you can the aggregate mental chaos. Yet this is the word which is soberly treated as a definite thing by newspapers, authors, orators, statesmen, talkers, the world over.


Using such words as “fascism” without knowing what they mean, is an example of the linguistic habit of “psittacism.” Take a look at Walter Laqueur’s chapter “Foreign Policy and the English Language” in his America, Europe, and the Soviet Union, 1983.

Catch-22 Bullshit

The concept of “catch-22” comes from Joseph Heller’s novel “Catch-22” (1961). In the novel, American pilots who fly combat missions must be crazy to do so. Now, the army has a rule that if one is crazy, one does not have to fly the missions. But to be excused, a pilot has to declare himself to be crazy. But by making the declaration, one demonstrates that one is not crazy, and therefore, has to fly the combat missions. So, crazy or not, one has to fly the combat missions.

So, “catch-22” is applicable to any self-defeating rule or situation. In the Wikipedia article, an example is given of trying to look for one’s lost eyeglasses. But to see your eyeglasses, you have to have eyeglasses, which you don’t have: catch-22.

What comes to my political mind are such matters as secessions. For example, Catalonia wanted to secede from Spain. To do so, by the Spanish Constitution, it needed a national referendum. And to have a national referendum, it needed a vote of Parliament, which was not forthcoming. It resorted to an “illegal” Catalonian referendum, which, in fact, favored secession. But the Spanish Supreme Court ruled this unconstitutional. So, for Catalonia to have a legal chance of secession, it would have to change the Constitution . . . a practical impossibility — hence, a catch-22 situation.

Generally, any radical change in politics, requires a change in the constitution. But constitutions are extremely hard to change. They are secured by catch-22 situations. Consider how difficult it is to amend the US Constitution.

The only country which has allowed relatively easy democratic changes to its Constitution is Switzerland through national initiatives and referendums. See Switzerland