In the novel Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein described a world ruled by a military elite called the Terran Federation. Only veterans of the military enjoyed full citizenship, including the right to vote. Those who did not perform military service retained their rights of free speech and assembly, but they could not vote or hold office. As is true of every system there were some exceptions here and there, but important government jobs were reserved for federal service veterans.
This idea of earning citizenship through military service has always had some popularity on the Right, for no other reason that it would seem to exclude the sorts of people who are living arguments against democracy. It seems unlikely that you will get too many people like Ocasio-Cortez in public office if she must first do a tour in the military, rather than just wink at customers as a barmaid. Even if she passed that threshold, military veterans are too serious to vote for someone like her.
Rule by warrior elite has an appeal because it conjures images of the Middle Ages in which a ruling elite arose from the warrior class. A world governed by an honor code just sounds better to right-wing people. It also brings to my Spartan society, which proved to be superior to Athenian democracy in the Peloponnesian War. A society rule by male warriors just feels like it would be better. At the minimum, it would avoid the problems that come with the feminization of society.
There is a less fantastic appeal to this concept. In the novel, this system arose in the aftermath of the collapse of 20th century Western democracy. That system proved itself unable to combat crime and juvenile delinquency. Interestingly, Heinlein also imagined a future in which the West teams with Russian against China. Another reason for the new system of military governance was due to the inability of fully democratic systems to confront the authoritarianism of China.
Another way of looking at this setup is in the larger context of the novel in which earth is at war with two alien species. The decisions that must be made in such a war cannot be left to lonely barmaids. They must be made by the people who have skin in the game, which in the case of earth, means the warrior class. Remove the giant bugs trying to destroy earth and a system controlled by those with skin in the game could simply mean a system ruled by property owners and families.
The Heinlein idea sounds good until you look around at present day America. Some of the worst people in public life are veterans. The obvious example is Lindsey Graham, who is arguably the wort human in the Senate. The reason we can say this is his mentor John McCain is now in Hell. When Graham joins him, there will be other veterans ready to fill the role. Richard Blumenthal and Joni Ernst will be the early favorites, but we will no doubt be spoiled for choice.
By the time Lucifer calls Graham home, Dan Crenshaw and Brian Mast may have parlayed their military service and general awfulness into the Senate. Crenshaw is the veteran’s version of Ocasio-Cortez. Mast has used his service and wartime injury to make himself Israel’s main representative in Congress. They have many other representatives in the imperial congress, but only Brian Mast wears the uniform of the Israeli military to work every day.
While the Heinlein model sounds good in theory, in practice it is probably better to ban veterans from public office. There certainly have been some veterans in Washington politics who have done good work for their constituents, but the terrible ones have done far more damage. The fact that veterans are so easily turned into weapons by the neocons suggests the military selects for the sorts of people who will gladly become a mercenary for whoever can write the biggest check.
This may be the result of the volunteer military. Despite all the patriotic blather, the American military is composed of mercenaries. They structure their pay to attract the types of people they need. The military does not restrict itself to citizens, as military service is one way to win citizenship. Due to the lack of white men joining the ranks, the military is now looking to recruit foreigners. The fact is the relationship between the institution and the soldier is purely transactional.
Another reason for the terrible veterans rising up in the political ranks is the nature of all democratic systems. Voting bestows authority on the people doing the voting. Win the crowd and you are right, morally, and factually. Of course, the best way to win the crowd is by convincing them you are a virtuous person. If the people assume you are a good person, they are going to give you the benefit of the doubt, which means you will win those 50-50 debates against someone without your reputation.
John McCain leveraged this reality by waving around the flag with one of his damaged arms, while reminding everyone he was a prisoner of war. His initial foray into politics came soon after he returned home. He commissioned a long article in a big foot magazine about his deeds as a POW. His physical injuries won him sympathy and his tales of heroism won him respect. Who was going to challenge John Wayne McCain, especially when it came to military matters?
Another reason military service should be a disqualifier is that it is the worst possible training for democratic politics. In theory, politicians in a democratic system are in office to represent their constituents. Maybe those constituents are determined by geography or by ideology, but they are always real people. Those real people are living in the real world living normal lives. The ideal representative is one who has lived as his constituents and alongside his constituents.
Outside of congressional districts that have a large military base, life in the military is alien to civilian life. The military trains you to be a useful cog in a vast bureaucratic machine in which none of the cogs get to make many choices. The choices that do arise come with a well-defined list of options. Most important, the military comes with a floor as long as you do the minimum. Real life does not come with a floor. You can do all the right things and still get dealt a bad hand by reality.
Of course, all of this is an argument against democracy. It is a system that selects for the worst sorts of people. These are people who seek to use any means necessary to win over the crowd in order to profit themselves. Whether it is Ocasio-Cortez shaking her boobs in front of the camera of Crenshaw waving the bloody shirt around, the point is always the same. Democracy rewards the politicians who are adept at turning your virtues into a vice so they can exploit them.
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