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.

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