Will to Power
has been a good deal of talk, during this post-election of our discontent,
about sparing no effort to discern the will of the people, a process
whereby the next president and the next administration will presumably
be blessed with a shroud of legitimacy. It is astounding that this
term can be used in the wake of the closest election in our history,
when the people at least those who voted were almost equally divided
without eliciting universal horselaughs and scorn from serious commentators.
can 50-percent-plus-or-minus-one be viewed as anything remotely
resembling the will of "the people?" With regard to this
presidential election the people were divided and/or indecisive.
Thereís no "will" expressed there, no mandate, no demand
for the program one of the two candidates put forward. And no particular
legitimacy for whichever contender emerges with the booby prize
of the Oval Orifice.
anything, the will of the people was for these two barely competent
scions of second-rate political power families to go away and stop
reminding us how degraded politics has become in the last days of
the empire. One of the candidates will assume office and gain access
to the levers of power. But in a very real sense, it is more accurate
to say that both candidates lost. Neither ignited much excitement,
admiration or loyalty. Most of those who voted for one or another
had to hold their noses while doing so.
THE PREZ CONTENDERS
media people on the scene claim to be amazed that some thousands
of ballots in Miami-Dade and other counties have chads pushed out
for most of the other offices and issues on the ballots but not
for the presidential race. I obviously have no more ability to read
the minds of the voters than the dimple-hunters, but it wouldnít
surprise me a bit. In the weeks leading up to the election most
of the people I talked to complained of the dreadful quality of
candidates offered by the major parties, and quite a few said they
wouldnít vote for either of those two bozos.
the chattering classes still speak of the sacred will of the people.
It suggests that the phrase "the will of the people" as
has been the case since the concept came into general parlance with
Jean-Jacques-Rousseauís "General Will" and has been used
by totalitarians and would-be totalitarians ever since has more
to do with giving rulers an excuse to wreak their will on the people
than with any respect for the people themselves.
REAL WHIFF OF FASCISM
fact, most of the phrases in general usage among the political classes
these days carry a whiff of totalitarianism or fascism. The politicos
claim to think that "unity," implementing "the will
of the people," "coming together," "working
toward consensus," "setting bold national goals and purposes,"
"respecting the process" are what is necessary in this
time of trial. But the unspoken obverse of all these phrases, the
logical corollary of focusing on unity, is squelching dissent, marginalizing
those who disagree, ignoring those who are indifferent to the absurd
language of national unity is and almost always has been the language
of would-be dictators, of Maximum Leaders, of Men on a White Horse.
In a genuinely democratic government devoted to protecting the peoplesí
liberty such phrases should be as rare as an honest thief, reserved
for those dire occasions of attack from outside when a nation might
have to come together or cease to exist as a nation.
voting the way they did. The people have let it be known that a
man on a white horse to lead a crusade for national unity is almost
the last thing they want. Yet phrases about unity are the customary
parlance of the chattering classes.
donít think itís because many of them really are incipient would-be
dictators, repressed Hitlers or Stalins just biding their time until
they can achieve power and show their enemies how ruthlessly this
ruling thing can be done. The sad thing is that such phrases are
used so casually, with so little concern about the political implications
of the choice of phrases, a bit like the polite "How are yous?"
most people trade in social situations. Most people would be shocked
if somebody so addressed told them how he or she really was, especially
if it wasnít so hot. The phrase has become a custom not exactly
meaningless insofar as polite fictions are important societal lubricants but
not to be taken literally.
STILL HAVE MEANING
the chatter about national unity has entered a similar realm, that
is to say it has been drained of literal meaning and become political
background music stuff you expect politicians to say but
that nobody really expects to be taken seriously. After all, nobody
could expect a country as large and diverse as ours, so distinctly
multicultural, to be unified about much of anything. Or it could
be that the language of fascism national purpose, rally Ďround
the leader and all that has gradually and ineluctably become
the normal language of politics in these United States.
the latter is the case, itís potentially dangerous even if the concepts
have been drained of most of their meaning and most political actors
have forgotten what they used to mean. Words and concepts donít
become entirely devoid of meaning even when they become clichés.
A political discourse built around authoritarian clichés
will ineluctably have an authoritarian tinge and be dangerous to
human liberty over the long haul.
OLD ORDER PASSETH?
me Pollyanna if you will, but I still think what we are seeing in
Florida even in the incredibly overdone and overwrought news
coverage resembles the last gasps of a dying system. The
assumptions that have guided American governance since about the
New Deal have played themselves out. Democrats and Republicans alike,
while they may have some tattered remnants of the ideals that once
impelled them into politics, are now fighting almost entirely over
power, positions and jobs. The next paradigm is evolving as we watch,
but off the radar screens of most observers.
some senses the very ideological emptiness of American politics
explains the bitterness of the current battle. Numerous commentators
have noted that the close election suggests a deeply divided American
people. Maybe, but maybe not. The differences between Gush and Bore
were not all that great, and many boiled down to personality. The
struggle is over the spoils of power and which constituencies will
get to loot the taxpayers. Thatís raw, right down to the nub, to
the essence of the political game, with hardly any sheen of pretended
idealism to cloak it. Of course the battle is bitter.
all this means or might mean is that the political
landscape is extraordinarily fluid just now, potentially more open
to new ideas and change than at most times in our history. Those
with different ideas about how society ought to be organized and
ruled who might be interested in reminding people that the
founders created a government of limited powers in part so a bare
majority with power would be able to do less mischief to the minority
of the moment should find more receptivity than usual in
the next few years.
of us who care about limited government and a noninterventionist
foreign policy, then, should view the next few years as an opportunity
of the kind that might come, quite literally, once in a lifetime.
The people arenít extraordinarily unhappy with their lives for the
most part, but they have no particular confidence in the political
system. They should be more ready to listen to heterodox ideas,
presented in persuasive and relatively unthreatening ways, than
at any time during recent memory. The competition in ideas will
be stiff, of course. The dominant media are still tied to the old
order and a situation of ideological flux will bring out all kinds
of alternatives. We must be persistent and persuasive if we want
to convince people.
the opportunities to do so will be available.