Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The permanent conservative movement

I'm of course hooked into the higher echelons of neither the conservative movement nor the Republican party, so this article is pure speculation. If I were in charge, though, this is how I would do things.

The highest level goal is to create an elite which will exercise arbitrary power. It is important to understand that the exercise of power is an end in itself. Fundamental to exercising arbitrary power is de facto economic enslavement: ensuring that all the surplus value of labor accrues to the elite, dispensing only enough to those outside the elite to maintain life. Enslavement is more important than overall wealth-creation ability; it is preferable to sacrifice efficiency to maintain control. The wealth is to be so heavily concentrated in the elite that additional wealth would only prove disruptive. Once enslavement has been established, opportunities for mindfucks, sadism, torture, brutality, murder and other symbols of the exercise of the power of absolute dominance will occur naturally.

In a generally wealthy nation, economic power is more important than official political power (i.e. actual government offices such as the Presidency and membership in Congress). Although both feed back to each other, official political power is the one to be temporarily sacrificed at need. This inversion of the traditional stance of the primacy of official political power is the true stroke of genius of the late 20th century conservative movement. Economic power is more stable than political power, and it is easier to use economic power to claim or reclaim political power than the opposite.

Thus, the high-level strategic goal of the conservative movement is to concentrate economic power—specifically money and corporate control—into the hands of the elite. There are any number of tactics for concentrating wealth, up to and including outright Enron-style theft. Secondary to this strategy is simply destroying excess wealth that cannot be usefully concentrated: $500,000,000,000 spend on Iraq is performing that task most effectively.

The second high-level strategic goal of the conservative movement is to defend against a coercive redistribution of wealth by means of official political power. The fundamentally defensive role of official political power—rather than emphasizing the aggressive role—follows from the greater importance of economic power vis-à-vis official political power, and is necessary to understand the political tactics of the conservative movement.

The political strategy of the conservative movement must therefore be twofold. First, the movement must ensure that when the opportunity arises, political officials will act positively to further the aims of the movement rather than any contrary personal or moral interest. Second, in inopportune times, the political officials will still perform its primarily defensive role in preserving previous gains.

Central to this strategy is the emphasis of movement politics over electoral or party politics: The political arm of the movement must be subservient to the goals of the elite even to the extent of temporarily sacrificing official power. Even in the minority, political officials can still perform their defensive role.

Fundamental to this strategy is the creation of a persistent popular mass movement to provide an electoral base using the tactics and techniques best described by Eric Hoffer's The True Believer. First, there must be an underlying ideology which exists to shield the members of the movement from any encroachment of objective reality. Second, there must be continuous recruitment among the bored, disaffected and frustrated. The economic conditions of slavery will produce such people in great numbers, who can easily be co-opted into the very movement establishing and promoting those conditions, making the movement self-sustaining. The actual details of the ideology are mostly irrelevant, so long as they are unintelligible, vague or unfalsifiable.

The mass movement must dominate yet be insulated from an actual political party. Party officials are keyed not to further the goals of a movement (and its underlying elite) but rather to (in a democracy) winning elections. But winning elections must be sacrificed when winning necessarily compromises the goals of the elite, and the party must be punished by the movement when it inevitably strays from the goals of the elite.

However, it is necessary to ensure punishment is merely electoral; party officials and political officials loyal to the movement should be individually rewarded (with the exception of random persecution of a few innocents to maintain the paranoia necessary to establish absolute loyalty) even in the face of electoral loss.

If these speculations do indeed hold in the United States then we can get more specific about this theory.

The elite is, of course, the ultra-wealthy, wealthy mostly on the basis of owning corporate stock. (It's important to distinguish these ultra-wealthy pure owners from the top-level corporate management, including CEOs. Corporate management is a stepping-stone to the elite, not part of the elite itself, which does no actual work at all and itself generates no wealth.)

The mass movement is the fundamentalist Christian/conservative movement. It's pretty clear that the public ideology of this movement fulfills Hoffer's criteria of being unintelligible, vague or unfalsifiable. The movement's ideology is promoted by relentless propaganda, enabled by the economic elite's ownership of most corporate media. (As Hoffer notes, propaganda is not effective at creating "true believers", but it is indispensable in maintaining the unity and focus of the mass movement.)

The political party is, of course, the Republican party, separate from but enthralled to the conservative movement.

The 2008 election is looking to be an inopportune time for the elite, movement and party to gain official political power, mostly because of the unpopularity of the war in Iraq. If my theory were false, we would see the Republican party and the conservative movement disassociate itself from the war in Iraq. If my theory is true, then the party and movement should pursue the "ratchet" strategy and continue to support the war—because the war is critical to both the legitimacy of the movement and the goals of the elite—even at the temporary cost of a congressional majority.

We will see those political officials such as Hagel, who have shown disloyalty to the movement and elite, to be severely punished personally. On the other hand, those party and political officials who suffer electoral defeat because they remain loyal to the war, and thus the movement and the elite, will be personally rewarded with lobbyist or corporate jobs. After the 2008 election, the loyal Republican officials that remain will concentrate on defending the concentration of economic power in the hands of the ultra-rich, as well as defending the dissipation of excess wealth in continuing and perhaps additional foreign adventures.

The Democratic party, lacking a mass movement base and intimidated by the conservative movement, will continue to try to appease the conservative movement, out of mistaken pragmatism. However, they will probably (just by virtue of not being completely driven by an elitist agenda) make temporary improvements to the quality of life of ordinary Americans. This improvement will, however, backfire by 2012 (perhaps as early as 2010). Because the ideology of the conservative movement is impervious to objective reality, the quality of life improvements will simply remove the empirical disaffection of the non-true-believer movement sympathizers.

The triad of the economic elite (especially with its economic control of the commercial media), the mass movement of fundamentalist/conservative true believers and the captive Republican party is, in the long term, unstoppable. Managed correctly, this triad could equal or surpass the Catholic church's millennium of tyranny in the middle ages. The world is theirs to lose, until a thousand years of entrenched incompetence renders them again vulnerable.


  1. Larry,

    Methinks you undervalue the free will to laziness that is part of the human condition. The "elite" has done a sorry job of properly retaining all the surplus value of labor: few are the plebs in America that can only maintain life with the wealth that you insinuate they are merely allowed to have. Televisions, expensive shoes, cosmetics, alcohol, silly fashion trends - even the entrenched urban poor can and do indulge in all these things.

    More over, many can even be said to strive for them. I don't think the elite's media power has convinced massive segments of our population to be shallow, status-seeking, mindlessly henodic, and generally complacent - I think that is human nature unfortunately.

    Now that is not to say that power brokers of all political stripes (and a liberal can lust for power just as a conservative can) don't exploit these tendancies for men and women to be sheep. But it is to say that with no explicit power-maintenance on the part of the elite at all, there would still be individuals who strive for more and those who strive for very little. And among the more-strivers, there will be plenty who are happy to put their energies into suped-up low-riders, overpriced fashion labels, breast implants, and cheap drugs and alcohol.

    And that is where the "defense" of coercive wealth redistribution comes in. You and I are certainly economically affluent compared to many - and yet I certainly don't feel wealthy at all. I could get by with less, in fact - but that should be my decision rather than the government's (no matter how beneficent the governors' intentions).

    After all, just who is "wealthy"? And how much do the unwealthy deserve to get? Do we strive for parity? It seems rather obvious to me that even if we liquidated Bill Gate's wealth and sent checks for tens of thousands of dollars to everyone below the poverty line, we would still find many people (including many of the same people) who were poverty striken thereafter.

    This post seems to posit an extensive and orchestrated socio-economic plot of the elite against the plebs when mere human foolishness can explain just as much of the discrepency of wealth and power. Bill Clinton is uncommonly smart, wealthy, and powerful - and yet even he could not prevent himself from indulging in self-destructive and ehtically questionable sexual exploits. The impeachment hearings which followed may have been a conservative power-play - but Clinton's precipatory behavior was of his own choosing. Why would we think all the men and women with far less brains (not to mention wealth or influence) than Bill Clinton require an elitist plot to fall prey to the same distractions and self-destruction?

    My point is, you seem to describe an overly elaborate scheme on the part of the elite that apparently thwarts an intrinsic equality of individual potential, motivation, and achievement. I see little evidence for anything like this intrinsic equality on the ground. And the power-playing schemes and strategies, the wealth protections and the like do not seem uniquely tied to Republicans,Democrats, conservatives or liberals (or Christians, Catholics, Muslims, etc).

    In other words: Why assume a vast rightwing conspiracy when the non-centralized, a-political faults of human nature will do?

  2. A few miscellaneous points:

    First, I'm speculating. If I were an evil genius, this is what I would do. I have no idea whatsoever if any of this is actually happening. I understand the maxim, "Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity."

    Second, I'm talking about the goals of such a setup, not its present capabilities.

    Third, there's no need for a "conspiracy" as such, in the sense that strict secrecy does not need to be kept. All that's required are several affinity groups (the ultra-rich, fundamentalist/conservative movement leaders and high-level Republican party operatives and officials) acting in their mutual self-interest.

    We still have a middle class, and we still have a degree of surplus income and wealth not in control of the ultra-rich. The program I describe—if it does indeed exist—would not yet be complete.

    The tendency of Americans to be "shallow, status-seeking, mindlessly henodic [hedonistic?], and generally complacent" would not be part of the program. The program is simply to keep a substantial number of people, regardless of their own material self-interest, voting for or otherwise supporting those who furthering the concentration of wealth and defending against its dissipation.

    I have more to say, but it'll have to wait until later.

  3. It's also entire possible that these components have spontaneously coalesced; there may not be even now anyone intentionally holding things together. It would still be the case, however, that the elite, movement and party are mutually reinforcing, the positive feedback becoming out of control.

    I'm trying to explain what seems otherwise inexplicable, notably why the Republican party is not running as fast as they can to distance themselves from the disastrous Iraq war, as well as why the conservative movement remains strong. Mere stupidity does not seem to be sufficient.

  4. I think the main reason the movement holds together has nothing to do with any plan so much as the RWA personality type - they simply won't be moved from their support no matter what. Now, I'm sure the GOP knows this, and that is part of their stubborness. They are the 29% that will never leave Bush no matter what. I think the GOP did so well over the past six years mostly because 9/11 made a larger proportion of the population RWAs for a time, but now it has shrunk back to its normal level.


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