Alexander Hellene

The Price of Failure

I am obliged to confess that I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.

William F. Buckley Jr.

I wouldn’t!

This is a quote that gets thrown around by conservatives to demonstrate their distrust of the intellectual class. And this distrust is completely justified! Look at the rapid disintegration of the United States as a serious nation-state and the people in charge of this deliberate decline, and you’ll see that it’s chock full of Harvard graduates, as well as Stanford, Yale, Columbia, and so on.

Conservatives run the constant risk of being considered “anti-intellectual,” but I don’t think that’s their intent. I think they’re more “anti-intellectuals” in that it’s the individual people who are wrecking the country they take umbrage with, and not the idea of having a high IQ or being really smart in general.  

But who should be running the show, then?

Lost in Buckley’s witticism is the rest of his thought:

Not, heaven knows, because I hold lightly the brainpower or knowledge or generosity or even the affability of the Harvard faculty: but because I greatly fear intellectual arrogance, and that is a distinguishing characteristic of the university which refuses to accept any common premise.

This tempers the first part of this quotation with the recognition that the Harvard faculty is likely far smarter than the first two thousand people, in alphabetical order, who call Boston their home—especially now in 2022 and not in 1961 when Buckley was said to have made this comment. But still: I don’t think the answer is to take people with no experience or training in how to lead and plopping them into power.

This is what we basically do now, and our Congress and the unelected bureaucracy are full of people with no experience or training in how to lead . . . and they’re our elite class!

The problem isn’t the idea of elites. It’s our elites.

I’m not against elites at all. I think there are certain people who are better suited to lead than others. Historically, this class—because there’s never been a truly classless society, not in the supposedly egalitarian Soviet Union, and not in these United States either—has been trained in things like history, law, religion, philosophy, economics, war, and ethics, lead, to rule, to have a sense of duty towards those whose well-being they are directly responsible for. So in my mind what we need is a far better class of elites. Because the ones we have are pure garbage.

*     *     *

I’m not an egalitarian. Far from it. I believe that hierarchies are natural and are good and are necessary if you want to get anything of value accomplished. I think egalitarianism sounds nice on paper, and it really hits all of the feel-good rah-rah ‘Murica warm and fuzzy spots about one man, one vote and having public servants who serve the public and who are actually beholden to us, enacting out our will and how anybody can become President and all of that stuff. But at the end of the day, I mean, come on.

That’s the technical term for this sort of argument, actually: “Come on . . .”

I’ve got a whole boatload of issues with the Our Democracy we live under. Here are a few of them:

Most people should not be making important decisions.

The idea that everybody’s voice should count is just absurd. You wouldn’t run a corner store by giving the dude you hire to run the cash register three nights a week an equal say in the business’s operations. You wouldn’t run a car company by letting the people who push the buttons on the machines that affix the door handles make key financial decisions. You don’t even run your family in this way. But we’re going to run a nation of hundreds of millions of disparate people with little-to-no kinship ties and an arsenal allegedly capable of killing all seven-billion people on the planet several times over and making it a generally unlivable place for centuries to come in this manner? Come on . . .

Most people should not even be thinking about politics.

Look, I’m under no delusion that I’m fit to rule. THIS ISN’T ABOUT ME. I’d much rather have an elite that was actually good at their job. Why? So I don’t have to worry about any of this stuff. I’d argue that 98 percent of people in America and other “advanced” democracies shouldn’t have to worry about any of this stuff. It takes up way too much time and energy that could be spent on things that are useful.

“The personal is political.” Every wonder why? It’s because mass democracies require fifty-percent-plus-one of the vote to give what our horrible leaders are going to do anyway a patina of legitimacy. So everything right down to the food you eat and whether you work out or not (because fitness is fascist) becomes a political matter that informs the way you should vote.

This is insane! Why do we live like this? We don’t have to live like this.

When you vote in local, state, and national elections, do you really know every single candidate and where they stand on every single issue? Do you truly understand the nuances of every single ballot initiative, what they mean, and what the implications are if it passes or doesn’t?

You don’t. Nobody does. Instead, you rely on soundbites from YouTube ads, radio spots, and TV commercials where one candidate or group or the other talks about fighting the ABORTION BAN (there’s no “abortion ban”) or the LIBERALS’ RECKLESS SPENDING (the conservatives are just as reckless in their spending), reducing the issues into the most ass-achingly dumbed down version possible, that’s not even really accurate, to entice you to fill in the circle next to their name and not the other guys’.

This is also insane.  

We have some of the most unaccountable, above-the-law leaders on the planet.

“We can vote the bums out!”

When has that ever worked? When? When does changing the figurehead make a lick of difference? The people you vote in, whether they be in Congress or the Oval Office, don’t really have the power in Washington. Furthermore, we have a one-party system anyway. It’s just a really horrible party comprised of an unaccountable, unelected swarm of bureaucrats that doesn’t want to rock the boat because they have really good jobs they’d like to keep.

They are the elite, after all.

“But wait, Alex: aren’t you for an elite?”

Yes I am. I just want one that doesn’t actively hate the people its supposed to rule over.

I firmly believe everybody should have a shot at living a good life in the best manner they’re capable of, and those at the top have a duty to make it happen and should suffer serious consequences if they fail.

An example of such consequences.

*     *     *

Sometimes I wonder if they had the right idea in the olden days: prove to me you have the right to rule over me. This used to mean literally conquering a kingdom. That is the sort of right to rule I can get behind.

Elections are supposed to be a stand-in for this. But they produce the absolute shittiest class of rulers we’ve seen in recorded human history. Physical, mental, spiritual, and ethical cripples are at the levers of power, holding them in a seemingly endless death-grip and ready to pass them down to their woefully incapable successors based on nothing more than loyalty to the Party, whichever Party that may be (hint: they’re both basically the same).

So what do we do?

Rulers need to prove they want it. I propose some sort of minimum physical, intellectual, and moral requirements that are a baseline, but this baseline be set high. There should be tests simulating wars of conquest, but actually involving conflict between the competing rulers, whether it be for the top spot or a seat in Congress.

Naturally, the potential for death should be present, and a healthy dose of financial risk as well. I don’t want cynical mediocrities having power over me. I want people who actually have skin in the game.

Leave the people out of the selection process, but allow the people the ability to remove abusive leaders. “We have that, Alex! It’s called the ballot box!”

If you actually believe this, stop reading this blog immediately.

*     *     *

I had the idea for a story where a leader is given a ten- or fifteen- or twenty-year term or something to rule as they see fit, have nearly unlimited power, money, etc., but get reevaluated at the end of every year or two. If a significant majority of those entrusted with voting on their performance find the ruler wanting, they get the rope. If they somehow make it to the end of their term . . . they also get the rope.

I mean, it doesn’t have to be a rope . . .

The idea is to select for people who are willing to literally throw their lives away for the chance to serve their nation. I was called stupid and some other words for floating this idea in a fictional setting, but I think it’s an interesting one. Maybe you select for people who are really crazy, totally touched in the head. But maybe you’d also select for people who want to leave a lasting legacy of greatness for a nation that they truly care about . . . enough to lay down their lives for this shot at glory. Not just glory for themselves, but for their people. Yes, you’d be summarily executed at the end, presumably in a dignified manner if you were a benevolent dictator, but you’d be doing something excellent for your people and not using the pretense of being a “public servant” (how can you hear this term and not want to vomit?) to enrich yourself at the expense of the people you’re ostensibly elected to represent.

Because that’s what modern mass democracy selects for: literal sociopaths who don’t spare a single thought for the people they govern and view government as their ticket to wealth and influence and power. These people will say and do anything to get elected, and then say and do and vote for or against whichever big-money interest is pulling the strings, the well-being of the people be damned. I’d rather have someone willing to risk death over someone willing to risk a few months in a cushy federal prison, if they even get to that point at all.

And last but not least, if none of these wacky ideas work, if there doesn’t seem to be any good way to get a class of elite who are actually fit to rule, there’s always tiddlywinks. It’s no crazier than what we do now.

– Alexander


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6 thoughts on “The Price of Failure”

  1. Alexander,

    A thoughtful post. A few obsersations:

    1) Hierarchy: whose? Whenever people bring up hierarchy and its naturalness, my Iberian/Mediterranean anarchist tendency riles. The problem is everyone really wants an unmoveable caste system à la India. My years of living in Singapore has shaped my disdain for hierarchy. It’s a rationale for self anointed elites to burrow themselves in society and repress any challenges to their preeminence.
    My own preference is circulation of social classes: people go up and down based on ability, commitment and virtue. The elites we have are our moral, intellectual and esthetic inferiors.

    2) Politics. Actually, people do need to think about politics to the extent it’s the local skin in the game level. People ensure the infrastructure is built and maintained, the community is safe and encourages human flourishing with full accountability. Demobilizing citizens to the point they’re apathetic towards the common good is unhealthy. The elites have become insufferable. Right now, I distrust our elites to manage domestic and international politics precisely because they’re our inferiors

    3) We can’t vacate the public square or politics for a Benedict option. We need to turn Gramsci on his head and return to the Apostles and Church fathers when they Christianized the world.

    xavier

    1. Xavier:

      1) Hierarchy: whose? Whenever people bring up hierarchy and its naturalness, my Iberian/Mediterranean anarchist tendency riles. The problem is everyone really wants an unmoveable caste system à la India. My years of living in Singapore has shaped my disdain for hierarchy. It’s a rationale for self anointed elites to burrow themselves in society and repress any challenges to their preeminence.
      My own preference is circulation of social classes: people go up and down based on ability, commitment and virtue. The elites we have are our moral, intellectual and esthetic inferiors.

      Hierarchies form no matter how much one may dislike them. You’re right, the question is “Whose hierarchy?” There are manners of determining who gets to be top dog. Rules and standards help. Unfortunately, most hierarchies are formed based upon ability and then they slowly get corrupted from there. Just like anything! The answer isn’t to just have none, and I know that’s not what you’re suggesting. Ability, commitment, and virtue are all great standards to have. Right now, we have some of the most unable, least-honorable, and anti-virtuous people at the top of our hierarchies, often because they were appointed by virtue of whose children they were or what connections they had. Our whole system stinks.

      2) Politics. Actually, people do need to think about politics to the extent it’s the local skin in the game level. People ensure the infrastructure is built and maintained, the community is safe and encourages human flourishing with full accountability. Demobilizing citizens to the point they’re apathetic towards the common good is unhealthy. The elites have become insufferable. Right now, I distrust our elites to manage domestic and international politics precisely because they’re our inferiors

      The local level is always super-important. Otherwise, the only real issue that matters is “Are we better off?” If one’s political ideology, say, mandates a tax rate of under 10 percent, but we’re actually doing great with a tax rate of 15 percent, and the switch to a 10 percent tax rate actually messes everything up, we are not better off despite one’s ideology being enacted. Most problems will be more complex than this, but I’m just trying to illustrate a point. Your concern seems mostly with WHO is in charge and less than WHAT they do. I agree! My proposal is to ensure that the best people are in charge, and they can actually be removed, and then trusting THEM to make the decisions. That’s not too dissimilar to what we have here in the U.S., at least nominally–a democratically-elected representative republic–except our elected officials are all garbage people and the citizenry has little-to-no recourse when these morally bankrupt morons abuse their power, which they always do. Giving people a way to actually hold rulers accountable would REDUCE apathy. We have universal suffrage and most people can’t be bothered to vote–which I think is actually probably for the best, given that it’s almost impossible for any normal person to be truly informed on the pros and cons of every single candidate and issue.

      3) We can’t vacate the public square or politics for a Benedict option. We need to turn Gramsci on his head and return to the Apostles and Church fathers when they Christianized the world.

      I’m not advocating we vacate the public square or politics. As long as the other side of the great divide is engaged, we have to be as well. I’m talking about what comes next.

      As always, great discussion!

  2. Alexander,

    Thanks for your response.

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I don’t advocate no hierarchy, that’s imprudent given man’s fallen nature. I’ve been reading @ChivalryGuild to refresh my memory of what chivalry is and isn’t. On the whole, there’s lots of raw material, but how to recultvate it in a hostile anti religious environment? I guess it’s time to review the experiences from the Apostles and Church fathers’time and apply them to a post pagan/post Christian world.
    I’d like to sit down and write about hierarchy, obedience and virtue in a scifi setting. I liked Bradford’s Star knight’s series and Carlos Carrasco’s Knight very much and the universes they created inspire me to create something similar but with the obvious differences so I could explore the issues.
    I have a few concerns about how to craft the character so he’s likeable but difficult because he’s struggling to come to terms with his society.

    2) On politics. I’ve always liked your who benefits?/ how does this make us better off? metric as quite sound. That’s a helpful heuristic and gives everyone skin in the game, as well as providing elements of accountability. Again, in complex societies how do implement these ideas into policies? My own conclusion is we’re going to have to decentralize à la Middle Ages and have a much looser federation. At least that would work for Canada and the U.S. Maybe Australia. Other countries will have to experiment with what works best.

    3) Got it, I misunderstood your position. The way to stay in the political square is to go local: mayor, city manager, town librarian. Politics has to become grassroots and localized again.

    xavier

    1. Xavier,

      Decentralization would be nice, but I think it would take a drastic collapse to force it to happen. Polities rarely give up power and territory voluntarily. I see the likelihood of a “Caesar” as a prerequisite to reasserting any different form of government or organization. Ossified bureaucracies with entrenched interests running the show at the whim of wealthy oligarchs with no skin in the game need to be swept away. I just don’t foresee any sort of reform ever happening.

      Hierarchies will form before, during, and after—the idea is encouraging virtue among and between the layers. Many mock the idea of nobility and of church and state, but the church provided a check on state power. And also, a common faith is a key ingredient to actually having a nation and a culture made up of a specific people. It’s hard to have any of this when your state isn’t an actual nation but, like America, is a multicultural economic zone. An ever-stronger centralized government is required when you don’t have an actual people capable of having any sort of common interest.

      Interesting times ahead.

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