The closest thing we have to a universal principle of human society is that all elites are primarily concerned with maintaining their status as elites. No matter how the society is organized and for what purpose, the number one priority of a social elite is maintaining themselves as the elite. In fact, it is reasonable to say that the point of society, from the perspective of elites, is to maintain the elite. Any benefit to the people is either to maintain the standing of the elite or a happy accident.
It is tempting to think that the best way for an elite to maintain itself is to make sure the people over whom it rules is happy. A good king keeps his people in peace and prosperity, so the people are happy to have him as king. The trouble is, there is always someone who thinks they can do a better job than the king. Good times or bad times, these people will look for their opportunity. Of course, in good times, a new elite can form up outside the system and potentially rival the existing elite.
It turns out that good times bring dangers to an elite. In fact, good times are more of a problem than bad times, because in bad times the elite can use the emergency as a way to rally the people. Roosevelt used the Great Depression to rally the people around a set of alien ideas called the New Deal. His massive expansion of the state was totally at odds with American tradition, but times were tough and the people trusted him, so they went along with his radical ideas.
Emergencies are a great way to bind the people to their current elites. Unless the elite proves to be unable to unwilling to face the emergency, the people will give their existing rulers the benefit of the doubt. Throughout the Cold War, Americans were willing to tolerate all sorts of trouble, because the threat of nuclear war made the idea of challenging the elites seem risky. There was plenty of cultural turmoil, much of it from the top, but the great American middle never wavered.
That gets to the other way elites maintain power. By pitting one group against another, the people are too busy with that to question authority. In fact, self-interest leads them to appeal to the exiting authority to resolve the conflict. If crime suddenly becomes a problem in your town, those complaints about the cops suddenly go away as long as the cops do something about the crime. By keeping the masses busy with various small issues, elites can defend against the formation of rival elites.
This explains the turmoil of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The race revolts, youth rebellion and cultural revolution were not grassroots phenomenon. All of these things were the product of the exiting elites. Look into the background of the radical leaders of that period and most of them came from elite backgrounds. Once their radical days were done, they went into positions within elite institutions. Even those who committed serious crimes were welcomed back home.
The second half of the 20th century was a game of good cop – bad cop on the American people by the ruling elite that emerged after the war. The bad cops created cultural mayhem that “freaked out the squares” while the good cops appealed to the people’s patriotism and decency to fight the Cold War. One hand created division while the other hand created unity. Often these two forces were pitted against one another to the benefit of the ruling class.
During the Cold War, this system served the elites very well. The threat of nuclear war forced the agents of control to contain the agents of chaos. At the same time, the agents of chaos understood they had limits. The two sides of the ruling class were not always in balance, but they always returned to balance. The chaos of civil rights gave way to the control of racial peace. The cultural chaos of the 1960’s and 1970’s gave way to the control of the 1980’s.
Ever since the end of the Cold war, this system has been in crisis. Without the threat of nuclear annihilation, the agents of chaos have no limits. At the same time, the agents of control no longer have to worry as much about the façade of democracy. The crusades against the Muslims brought some stability to the problem, but the Muslims were never a serious threat like the Soviets. For the last two decades the agents of chaos and control have been running wild.
This explains the ridiculous things we see today. On the one hand, the security state is wantonly violating civil rights in order to maintain control. The extent of the crimes committed by the FBI is unknown, but what is known is shocking. On the other hand, the super-rich finance crackpot schemes to unleash crime waves and pervert the law to torment the people. Throwing open the jails and appointing pro-crime prosecutors is the definition of societal madness.
The standard explanation from conservatives for what we are seeing is that the people behind this stuff want money or power. The trouble is the people behind this stuff already have money and power. In fact, they have more money and power than any ruling elite in human history. Western elites, especially the American elites, make the aristocracy of 18th century France look poor and impotent. Clearly, the motivation behind this behavior is not money or power.
What we may be seeing is the organic death of a ruling elite. The 20th century selected for a certain type of person in the American ruling class. One type was the agent of chaos and the other type was the agent of control. There was no selection pressure in favor of prudence or moral scruples. The great crises of the 20th century provided something like an electric fence around the elite. Over time, these conditions produced an elite incapable of self-limit.
Like the panda bear, our elite has evolved down a dead end. They thrash around looking for some great crisis to serve the same role as the Cold War, but that was a unique period in human history. It cannot be replicated. Meanwhile, the agents of chaos and control explore the outer limits of their sociopathy. Unencumbered by the fear of destruction, they keep pushing the limits, while simultaneously creating the conditions for their own demise.
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