Politics in a liberal democracy is first and foremost performative. Getting attention is the first goal for political types and they do that by comporting to familiar roles. How well they play those roles, as in any type of theater, establishes their status in the hierarchy of the political theater. Some actors, of course, take a short cut and play one of the various fools or jesters in the political drama. If done well this is a fast-track to attention, but the role itself is always on the periphery of the main show.
If most people were operating from self-interest and had a reasonable sense of their self-interest, political theater would not exit. For example, why would people line up to vote when they know their votes will be ignored? Most people know this to some degree and the science bears it out, but people still vote. In fact, voter participation has gone up as the effectiveness of voting has declined. The theater of democratic politics blinds people to the futility of it for some reason.
This is most obvious in the cosplay brand of politics. This is where people dress up in strange outfits and play make-believe on the streets. Antifa is just cosplay for people with a taste for violence. Instead of playing characters from their favorite TV shows, they play characters from their misreading of history. The black outfits make them the heirs of the Schwarze Scharen or maybe the red makes them the modern day Rotfrontkämpferbund or the post-modern Khmer Rouge.
Their view of themselves and their role in the political drama is as imaginary as the characters they are playing. No one bothers to ask any of them why they go around smashing windows and harassing people. Why do they show up at some right-wing political event? What is the point? There is no practical point. They do it because politics for them is a real life fantasy game. They have to show up at these things to keep the game going. That is the whole point of it.
Of course, their analogs are the flag and costume characters who are eager to play their part in the drama. Since the 1960’s anti-Semites have been staging flag and costume shows. They play the part of the Freikorps in this endless replay of the interwar years in Germany. The credit for this belongs to George Lincoln Rockwell who landed on the idea of playing dress-up to get attention. He dressed up as a cartoon Nazi and marched around with his followers.
For fifty years now anti-Semites and make-believe Nazis have been doing flag and costume parties in the public square. They say they are trying to draw attention to their issues, but that is part of the fantasy. After more than fifty years, everyone is well aware of the issues they support. In reality, it is just political cosplay. Like the Antifa people, it is all about maintaining a fantasy version of politics and history. Instead of the hammer and sickle eventually winning the game, it is the swastika.
What lies beneath cosplay politics is escapism. Like libertarianism, this type of political theater is a way to avoid reality. There is the personal reality of the players themselves, who are low-status people with no role in society. They will never be the important people they dream of being, so they play one in minor politics. At a higher level there is the grim reality of liberal democratic politics. No one wants to face the fact that the will of the people plays almost no role in the affairs of men.
The absurdity of political cosplay plays another role. It allows people who turn away from these ridiculous performances to believe their brand of performative politics really do matter. Serious Progressives, for example, condemn street violence as it distracts from their important issues. Conservatives condemn the “Nazis” because they make them look bad in front of their liberal friends. Cosplay politics gives them an excuse for why their performative politics is equally ineffective.
This addiction to performative politics is the primary manifestation of the narcotic of liberal democracy. Once a people accept the “general will” as their god, they have an unshakeable believe in the power of persuasion. They are forever convinced that if they can just win the next election, have the right performance, they can gain the backing of the general will and the wheel of history will turn their way. Heroin addicts have a better grasp of their circumstances than people in a democracy.
The Roman poet Juvenal is credited with coining the term “bread and circuses” to explain how rulers gain public approval. To generate public approval, they use public spectacle and satisfy the base requirements of the people. As long as people are fed and entertained, they are compliant. Juvenal’s actual point here was to condemn the people for selfishly going along with it, but over the centuries the expression has come to mean a ruling ethos, especially in democracies.
The magic of liberal democracy, at least in the short run, is it becomes something of a self-licking ice cream cone. The people, in search of bread and circuses, create their own circuses in the form of political theater. To underwrite the drama they endlessly seek to improve their conditions in order to have more time and money for the political circuses they are creating. The people in charge just put their thumb on the scale in order to direct the activity to their benefit.
Therein lies the real alternative to modern politics. Since there is no voting your way out of democracy, the only solution is to boycott it. If the audience fails to show up for the great political drama, the players have no purpose. Performative politics requires an audience as that is its point. Boycotts are not as fun as playing dress-up or voting harder, so it is at a disadvantage. It may be that the only solution to the narcotic of democracy is for the people to vote themselves to death.
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