Falling to Pieces:

In anticipation of the possible release of what may be an incendiary memorandum, it is timely for us to review the basic stages by which a political order falls to pieces. It does so through the stages of party politics, factional politics, conspiracies, and civil war (under which head I include revolution, rebellion, and secession).

* * * * *

Party politics are not unique to democracy, and may be said to exist in some form in any complex society. In a tribe of hunter-gatherers, for instance, we might discern something like a Hunter party and a Gatherer party, the one urging the chief to order manufacture of more arrowheads, the other urging the chief to order manufacture of more baskets. The word party is, of course, related to the word part, so that any society that has parts (what Durkheim called an organic society) will have parties.

Now a party remains a true party only so long as it sincerely acknowledges the legitimacy of the other party (or parties). The Hunters, for instance, are a true party so long as they sincerely acknowledge that they and the Gatherers constitute a single tribe, that some number of baskets must be manufactured, and that the Gatherers are neither or stupid nor evil when they urge the chief to see that some number of baskets are made. The Hunters will, of course, remonstrate against some the Gatherer’s demands, but will remain a true party so long as they do not begin to nurse the thought that the tribe would be greatly improved if there were no Gatherers in it.

* * * * *

A party becomes a faction when it begins to see its opponent as an enemy rather than a partner. When this happens, a government is said to be infected with “partisanship,” “party spirit,” or “party animosity,” and as James Madison observed, the decay of party into faction is “the disease most incident to deliberative bodies and most apt to contaminate their proceedings” (Federalist Papers 28).

So, once the Hunters begin to hate the Gathers, and to think that the Gathers have no legitimate interest in obtaining baskets, and that, perhaps, no baskets should be made, the politics of the tribe has become factional politics.

When the Hunters grow sick to death of the endless, stupid complaints of the Gatherers, and begin to think how pleasant life would be if they did not have to eat those beastly nuts and berries—but more especially if they did not have to put up with those damned Gatherers—the tribe has crossed the line and begun to fall to pieces.

It has crossed the line and begun to fall to pieces once the Hunters wish that the Gathers would just shut up and die!

This means, of course, that they are beginning to think of the Gatherers as not quite part of the tribe. James Madison put it this way:

“By faction I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or the permanent and aggregate interest of the community” (Federalist Papers 28)

* * * * *

I was brought to think about factions when a friend sent me a link to Paul Krugman’s recent editorial denouncing Republicans as a reincarnation of the old Know Nothing party of the mid nineteenth century. For those who are a little hazy on the Know Nothings, they were a nativist party that organized in response to German and Irish immigration in the 1840s and 1850s. The Know Nothings were American-born citizens who doubted that their interests were served by the growth of large cities packed with cheap labor, Papists, and German radicals, and they expressed this doubt in the manner approved by the Constitution.  They formed a party.

Krugman believes they should have shut up and died.

(I should admit that my politics have also grown increasingly factional, and that I view a writer like Krugman as more of an enemy than a partner, so these remarks should be taken as descriptive rather than accusatory.)

* * * * *

When the factional wish that one’s opponent would shut up and die gives way to an actual program to effect that end, faction has given way to conspiracy. The defining mark of a political conspiracy is that it aims to eliminate the opposition.

There have certainly been reactionary conspiracies in the modern age, which is to say conspiracies by aristocratic parties that aimed, not just to oppose, but to eliminate their bourgeois and proletariat rivals. All of these conspiracies failed. The Great Conspiracy of the modern age has been, on the other hand, the conspiracy to eliminate bourgeois and aristocratic parties (along with the bourgeoisie and aristocracy), and to establish what the most famous theorist of the Great Conspiracy called a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Much of this Great Conspiracy was covert, but secrecy is not the essence of conspiracy. The essence of conspiracy is the plot to eliminate the opposition. That elimination of the opposition is the aim of the Great Conspiracy may be seen in its stated aim, the establishment of a “classless society.” What is “classless society” but a society in which the proletariat has eliminated all the other classes?

* * * * *

If the anticipated memorandum actually shows that agencies of the Federal Government were used to spy on Trump, it will disclose a plot that rises to the level of conspiracy. But it seems to me clear that this would be only a small part in a much larger conspiracy—indeed in the Great Conspiracy—which is operating in plain view.

“Progressives” are the vital heart of the Democratic Party, and have been its vital heart since the 1970s. To what are these “Progressives” progressing? They are progressing, on their own account, to a glorious day when all their opponents have been eliminated. Progressives are entirely open in looking forward to the day when they no longer “have to deal” with Republicans, or conservatives, or “racists,” or “sexists,” or “opponents of a woman’s right to choose.” Indeed, they openly look forward to the day when all such retrograde elements have eliminated.

What is more, “Progressives” operate large, well-financed and effective programs that are designed to eliminate the opposition. Especially through their immigration policy and control of education and the media, they aim and bid fair to eliminate the Republican party by mid-century. I will not greatly lament the passing of the feckless GOP, but I will lament (if I live to see the mid-century) the final elimination of any organized opposition to the Great Conspiracy.

This “progressive” phase of the Great Conspiracy is what Trotsky called the “permanent revolution.”  This phrase does not mean, as many seem to believe, a revolution that never ends.  It means a revolution that doesn’t end until it is finished (i.e. until all opposition to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat has been eliminated).

* * * * *

Civil War is the last stage of a political order falling to pieces. This needn’t be especially long or bloody, but there is usually some amount of violence when a conspiracy comes very near to attaining its goal. Either the conspirators grow impatient and decide to expedite the process of eliminating their opponents (a revolutionary war), or the opponents slated for elimination suddenly wake from their sleep and try to escape (a war of secession).

There are endless examples of political orders falling to pieces in this way. Of political orders turning around and re-ascending the hill, not so many.


17 thoughts on “Falling to Pieces:

  1. Pingback: Falling to Pieces: | @the_arv

  2. Another word for factionalism is “democracy.” I like to ask my liberal acquaintances how many times the word “democracy” occurs in the Constitution. I carry a pocket Constitution with me, to prove my point when they say something ignorant that stems from never having read the Constitution. The absence of the word “democracy” in the Constitution is one of those hate-facts that drive progressives crazy.

  3. There may be a honeymoon period, but it does seem that a democracy becomes factionalism in pretty short order. I think this may be because most people cannot bear the fact that political negotiations are necessarily interminable. It takes a special sort of Hunter to negotiate with Gatherers all his life and not grow to hate them.

    • The logic of a Republic of Laws is to depersonalize negotiations by deferring directness through impersonal processes that, being impersonal, have no regard — and can have no regard — for persons or stations. The progressive mentality is really a radically regressive mentality, which hates the deferral of the personal. In democracy, everything is personalized. The tribal phenomenon of “respect” reasserts itself. Everyone claims to have been “disrespected.” The vanguard is really the rear-guard.

      • I see what you are saying, but the progressives I know are also fanatical about forms and formal procedures. Their idea of a perfect organization is one in which no one has to (or may) exercise any personal judgment. I greatly dislike sitting on committees these people design because I feel we humans are very nearly superfluous. It the by-laws could be made to act by themselves, rather than by taking possession of our bodies, there would be no need for humans on the committee.

  4. Pingback: Falling to Pieces: | Reaction Times

  5. An excellent parse of the phases of political devolution; thanks, Professor Smith.

    A thought: because the civil war does not ever quite end until one side definitively crushes the other, and in so doing demolishes its political power – its voice – the end of the civil war marks the phase change from democracy to ochlocracy noticed by Polybius. Being a condition of political chaos, ochlocracy cannot but be ephemeral, soon to be replaced by monarchy.

    One way or another, then – i.e., whether the Deep State or their populist adversaries win – we are in for a king, pretty soon. Reaction wins either way. Not that many reactionaries would survive the purges that would follow a Deep State victory, to see the renascence of their favored notions.

      • Anti-Lincoln folk tend to see him more as a dictator, so that the U.S after 1865 was something like Rome after the end of the republic. It is probably wiser to see Lincoln as a precursor to Wilson, for it was under Wilson that America really began to act like an empire.

      • The history of America since 1865 can be interpreted as a long lurching glide toward an imperial dictatorship of the Federal machine, with periods of great intensification (Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, LBJ, Obama) and weak extensification (Coolidge, Eisenhower, Reagan, Trump). As the Civil War winds down and ochlocracy waxes, so does the dictatorship (whoever happens to be occupying the Oval Office); in the limit, you get anarcho-tyranny, wherein both ochlocracy and dictatorship are maximized, and both seek totalitarian control, each invoking the other.

        But anarcho-tyranny is inherently unstable, because anarchy is inherently unstable. So sooner or later you get tyranny, period full stop. Then comes the question: is the tyrant a beneficent king or sagacious emperor, or is he a brutal bully like Stalin?

      • Winston: Notice that I wrote, “… the civil war does not ever quite end *until one side definitively crushes the other, and in so doing demolishes its political power – its voice* …” By that standard, the American Civil War between the North and the South is not yet quite over, because while the North grievously oppressed the South for a century after the end of military action, it never truly crushed her, and never completely eliminated the South’s self-government. The recent iconoclastic orgy of ochlocratic hatred of the South shows that the South is still somehow active, howsoever dormant, and viewed by the North as still a clear and present danger.

        There are even today large swathes of the South where statement that “The South will rise again” swells the heart and pricks the eye.

        The American Civil War, i.e., is still in its last phases. The ochlocracy had begun to take hold; a Big Man has taken power, and is in the process of quelling the swelling chaos of mob rule. Or trying to, anyway. We’ll see how successful he is. If he is not, some other, bigger man will soon take his place.

  6. Thanks. What we are in for is an emperor. That is certainly a monarch, but not quite what we mean by king. I think it is significant that the New Testament speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven, not the Empire of Heaven. A writer in the 1st century A.D. would naturally think in terms of Empire, but when he put pen to papyrus was inspired to write kingdom.

    Of course the Latin roots of “emperor” mean command, so an emperor is a commander or dictator. The essence of empire is thus concentration of power in a person or a place. This is why I think that the God of Mohammed is more of an emperor, and our Triune God is more of a king. But I’m getting off track here. In the good old U. S. of A., I expect an acceleration in the concentration of power (which if successful will constitute a revolution), and various belated efforts at secession before the portcullis slams shut.

    • Emperor, high king, king of kings: something like one or all of those. They are not quite completely dissimilar; viz., Divine Caesar, Holy Roman Emperor.

      Notwithstanding that, I take your point. Like most reactionaries, I suppose, I would much prefer a king – literally, a kinning – of my own nation, and so, however distantly related to me genetically, my relative and familiar, to some strange imperial monarch arisen from some foreign nation, howsoever agreeable that nation was to my own. But, that might not be an option open to us. As far better than the chaos of ochlocracy, I’ll take any of the monarchical alternatives.

  7. There seems to be an implication that this regress is inevitable. It may be so, but if so, it is a process that is fed by daemons of destruction and hatred.

    From a conservative point of view, the “others” have been struck down by an ideational virus which has deranged their faculties of perception and reason. It fixes in its victims the delusion that conservatives are evil, and that to have any truck with them is to enable that evil. We have seen the ineffectiveness of conservative attempts to deal with this widening polarisation by the traditional means of the Western democratic polity. The end result is that many or most conservatives become reactionaries, and the poor but generally honest “moderate” conservatives struggle to keep their criticisms and programmes within a realm of discourse long abandoned by their opponents.

    I remember being mightily impressed by this passage in American Power and the New Mandarins, when read it way back when.

    For the most part, these essays are elaborated versions of
    lectures given over the past few years. During these years, I
    have taken part in more conferences, debates, forums, teach-ins,
    meetings on Vietnam and American imperialism than I care to
    remember. Perhaps I should mention that, increasingly, I have
    had a certain feeling of falseness in these lectures and discus-
    sions. This feeling does not have to do with the intellectual
    issues. The basic facts are clear enough ; the assessment of the
    situation is as accurate as I can make it. But the entire perfor-
    mance is emotionally and morally false in a disturbing way. It is
    a feeling that I have occasionally been struck by before. For ex-
    ample, I remember reading an excellent study of Hitler’s East
    European policies a number of years ago in a mood of grim
    fascination. The author was trying hard to be cool and scholarly
    and objective, to stifle the only human response to a plan to
    enslave and destroy millions of subhuman organisms so that the
    inheritors of the spiritual values of Western civilization would
    be free to develop a higher form of society in peace. Controlling
    this elementary human reaction, we enter into a technical de-
    bate with the Nazi intelligentsia: Is it technically feasible to
    dispose of millions of bodies? What is the evidence that the
    Slavs are inferior beings? Must they be ground under foot or
    returned to their “natural” home in the East so that this great
    culture can flourish, to the benefit of all mankind? Is it true that
    the Jews are a cancer eating away at the vitality of the German
    people? and so on. Without awareness, I found myself drawn
    into this morass of insane rationality — inventing arguments to
    counter and demolish the constructions of the Hermanns and
    the Rosenbergs.

    By entering into the arena of argument and counterargu-
    ment, of technical feasibility and tactics, of footnotes and cita-
    tions, by accepting the presumption of legitimacy of debate on
    certain issues, one has already lost one’s humanity. This is the
    feeling I find almost impossible to repress when going through
    the motions of building a case against the American war in

    The excesses of the New Left were driven by such “analysis” as this; but some slow and massive moon has set and begun to rise again, drawing a new and larger generation of lunatics out to bay.

  8. Pingback: This Week In Reaction (2018/01/21) - Social Matter

  9. Pingback: Incivility and its Discontents – The Orthosphere


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