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).
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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.
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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)
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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.)
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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?
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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).
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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.