Organised Opposition and the Health of the Body Politic

Posted on 06/01/2012 by


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In this excellent post, Rick Falkvinge (Twitter) touched upon ‘the four boxes of liberty‘ concept, and uses that as a springboard for a discussion about privacy in the context of rising authoritarianism, amongst other concerns. For those who are unaware, the ‘four boxes’ are as follows:

“There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury and ammo. Please use in that order.”

I am opposed on principle to violence, so the fourth ‘box’ is one with which I am uncomfortable. The power of non-violence is one which I think is superior, especially within the wider context of Satyagraha. Be that as it might, however, the point is valid: Drastic measures need be taken when the health of the body politic has degenerated to such an extreme degree. I differ with the list on means alone. Another point Mr Falkvinge made in passing was that he essentially considers these United States a lost cause.

“The United States is lost; it is beyond help and repair and will descend.” [bold in original]

Anyone who follows me here or on Twitter will know I completely agree with him. The time for reforming the USA has come and gone quite a long time ago. Now comes collapse, and eventually colonisation. More on that later in this essay.

From dismissing the United States rightly as a lost cause for preventing authoritarianism, Mr Falkvinge then goes on to express  worry about the future of Europe, and preventing those countries from leaping off the cliff after the USA. Using that as my own springboard, I would like to show that the task is not as daunting as one might otherwise assume, for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost is the depth of civic and cultural legacy which European countries enjoy. Literally thousands of years of inhabitation and elaboration are immediately helping define the psyche of any given European. This depth is one which these United States completely, utterly, and irrevocably lacks.

The power of this depth is often under-considered popularly. To Europeans it can easily go completely overlooked, be cause it is just outside the window, as it were. Buildings and streets are many hundreds of years old, some going over a thousand years. Cities themselves are even more ancient. It cannot be emphasised enough that these United States completely lack any such depth of civic traditions and institutions.

To elaborate: The existence of these institutions and traditions represent older  forms of social, economic, and political organisation (or settlement) which are less complex – in some cases far less complex – than what exists today. In essence, they are a cultural safety net onto which a country can fall when a complex and authoritarian settlements fails; ‘authoritarian insurance’, if you will, to borrow a phrase from unemployment insurance. To give an example, German or the United Kingdom might fail, but underneath those arrangements are the vestiges of older, pre-centralised political arrangements.

Beating a dead horse once more: There is nothing in these United States which is at all comparable. Beside the notion of the thirteen original Colonies, and a few odds and ends in former Canadian and Mexican possessions, these United States have precisely zero institutions which predate the body politic of the USA. Even legacy traditions like Common Law from the British Empire have largely been reduced to quaint procedural niceties in the face of all levels of government doing whatever the hell they fancy.

To summarise this point: Even tattered remnants of prior historical social, political, and economic organisations can effectively act as a safety net for collapsing bodies politic. Those older arrangements can be re-elaborated upon in order to facilitate a transition phase; a pivot point for reorganisation in times of political collapse.

This, in my mind, represents a worst-case scenario for European (and other similarly legacy-endowed) countries. It assumes that political efforts to become more and more authoritarian cannot be stopped, and that these authoritarian bodies politic fail in a manner which allows for no salvaging of even their notional existence.

For reasons which I will address shortly, I do not think European countries, by and large, are anywhere near this point. These United States, on the other hand, unknowingly face a worse scenario after the fully-authoritarian Federal Government ‘goes away’: Same collapse, no safety net of legacy organisations.

Even should this worst-case scenario  come to pass, European communities and societies have a wealth of traditions and institutions to fall back upon. In the long run, new countries will stabilise, survivors will deeply restructure on a very un-authoritarian line, and life will generally return to Europe being its stodgy old self. The pits of collapse, if they should be fallen into, will not be so deep as they might now seem.

But to repeat, this worst-case scenario needn’t come to pass anywhere in Europe – or elsewhere for that matter – so long as one very important requirement is met within the body politic: An organised opposition.

By ‘opposition’, I mean a political, economy, and social platform which runs against the grain of the status quo on all major issues. By ‘organised’, I mean that this opposition has enough support it can garner a modicum of political power within the institutions of governance.

In essence, an organised opposition is a counterpoint to dominant notions within the narrative of political power. Its function is much the same as legacy traditions and  institutions: An organised opposition can pick up the pieces after a status quo blows out and takes its supporters down with it. Hence the importance of holding a platform against the grain of a status quo. Some factor internal to that status quo led to its self-destruction, therefore it is wise to avoid repeating whatever series of mistakes led to that failure. It is far better to go about making new mistakes, rather than digging in on old ones.

A criticism here arises: Organised opposition is commonly filed under ‘controlled’; which is to say, the opposition is controlled as part of the status quo. Its opposition-ness is precluded by its being controlled, ensuring it is no threat to the status quo.

The simplest response is that the status quo is usually its own worst enemy.

Beyond that, however, this criticism can be answered on in two parts. First is by looking at the nature of the opposition. If it runs against the status quo, it is honest opposition (however much  it might be controlled) in that it does indeed have a platform independent to the status quo. The second answer hinges upon the first: Given an honest organised opposition, it does not matter if it is controlled. the true need for a legitimate opposition arises after the control has broken down; which is to say, after the failure of a status quo. The controlled nature of the opposition becomes immaterial after this failure.

All of this brings me to a species of reassurance to European countries as well as Mr Falkvinge, and perhaps a grim warning to these United States and other such irredeemably authoritarian countries. Countries which have a Pirate Party within the power structure are actually in fairly good shape for the future. Without a doubt, Pirate Parties are opposition, and when organised as part of the institutions of governance, are a sign of a (relatively) healthy body politic. Those countries have an opposition to fall back on, and indeed are not so corrupt that all non-status quo platforms are excluded no matter how popular or reasonable. Any organised opposition will do, really; I simply use the Pirates as an excellent example thereof.

Stepping down from there are countries which have an organised Pirate Party, but not within the institutions of governance. This, by my model, could be a sign the body politic is unhealthy. It is not a sign that the situation is unsalvageable, simply an indication that all might not be well. Again, however, any organisation opposition within the institutions of governance is a healthy sign.

The worst situation is one where not only is there no Pirate Party, but there is no real organised opposition whatsoever. Here we can count these United states. The extant two-headed single party dictatorship – also known as ‘Democrats and Republicans’ – has no organised opposition within the institutions of governance, much less the narrative of power. Solitary individuals an organised opposition does not make, with apologies to Ron Paul and his supporters. There has been no organised opposition in these Unites States since the War Between the States (also ineptly named the Civil War, which was not civil). There has been no gesture toward pretending there is an organised opposition since Franklin Roosevelt’s Presidency.

By this analysis there are few countries in so deep of trouble as these United States, certainly none with so many weapons and bases flung across the world. European countries, by and large, can at least feel better by comparison. Eventually even the Greeks and Irish might be able to toast each other with “Well, at least we’re not Yanks”.

For those countries which have an organised opposition, they should count themselves fortunate, but not lessen their vigilance. authoritarianism is en vogue at present, and one is wise to ensure one’s organised opposition aren’t Greek Socialists.

In those countries which have no organised opposition, nor even prospects thereof anytime soon, it would be wise, in my opinion, to choose alternate arrangements. Going local politically is likely a wise defensive manoeuvre, if escape to a healthier country is not possible. Additionally, looking to one’s neighbouring countries is certainly a good idea as well. If those countries have healthier (or at least less ill) bodies politic than one’s own, colonisation would be a positive outcome, worthy of support and embrace.

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Posted in: Analysis, Reform