On Perceiving the People and the Army as One Hand in America, Too

Why do people, according to this survey, separate so neatly that which the view of the system we’re commonly taught says is incorrect? Why do Americans ascribe such confidence to pigs & soldiers while withholding confidence from who tells pigs and soldiers what indeed to do?

First, they don’t see police as “pigs”: They see them as fellow citizens doing difficult jobs that need to be done.

Police forces and the military are “democratic” in the Tocquevillian sense, not exclusively because of particular relationships to majoritarian democratic processes, forms, events, and personalities, but perhaps primarily because they are constituted of and by the people, for no other purpose than to serve and protect the people, altogether and individual by individual, without regard for color, creed, class, etc. The last part especially is obviously not the view of a blogger like B-Psycho, but the people rather evidently do not require perfection in such matters, and the general tendency is hardly a uniquely American tendency: “The people and the army are one hand” was, of course, an Egyptian slogan, and maintained ardently despite an I believe widespread awareness of the Egyptian army’s corruption and other defects at the highest levels.

Tolerance of the apparent contradiction, or the maintenance of a good reputation despite imperfections and contradictions, will be possible for as long as the institutions of law enforcement, order, and national power are seen to operate on behalf of the whole state, serving an entirety of the law and the requirements for civic life in a non-partisan manner, only at most marginally affected by this year’s latest additions to the statutes or today’s “orders” from any particular officeholder. The army isn’t seen as Barack Obama’s or George Bush’s army, but as “our” army – and “we” are not simply a registration of transitory majority opinion on whatever particular issue. On this matter we are a trans-generational culture-state with responsibilities to and warrants from the dead and the not yet born. A police force isn’t seen as a Democratic or Republican police force just because a mayor or district attorney or legislature or council happens to be Democratic or Republican, or dominated this season, year, decade, or generation by the left or the right. If this perception changes for whatever reasons, if and when the military or police forces generally are seen to be corrupted by power or profit, or to be putting their own separate institutional interests ahead of their responsibility to the public interest as a whole, then public opinion would likely begin to change – though the Egyptian example among many others suggests that such perceptions may be, rightly or wrongly, difficult to alter.

What this all would also mean is that it is quite possible for police and/or army – or for that matter the DMV or the planning and code enforcement division of your city government – to be seen as maintaining an objectively democratic character, and to receive the reflexive sympathies that go with it, whether or not we’re happy with the functioning of elected officials or with what B-Psycho derogates as “oligarchical pluralist” tendencies . It is unclear to me how in theory any mass society could function except as something resembling a pluralist oligarchy: Even a totalitarian dictatorship under a charismatic leader still requires coordination of “plural” factions, and to be heard at all a faction will have to produce a leadership empowered to decide on behalf of the mass. “Oligarchy” means government by the few, and as a technical matter all government is government by a relative few. What we intend to express with the term is government by the few on behalf of their own interests against or irrespective of the interests of the many, but whether a particular oligarchy is in this sense “oligarchical” will be debatable, as will the general position on the ability of broadly speaking or technically oligarchical forms of mass governance (i.e., almost all government) best serving the interests of human beings, or even of producing the greatest actually attainable and sustainable space for “radical democratist-anarchist freedom” or, if you prefer, for life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

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4 comments on “On Perceiving the People and the Army as One Hand in America, Too

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  1. Actually, the former notion comes out in the comments of our president, a dozen years ago, our secretary of state, half a dozen years ago, the upper class disdain for an institution with petit bourgeois or heaven forbid working class roots, is not far from the surface,

    an interesting parallel to the Egyptian situation would be what I could only classify as Gnostic scifi, Dominion, which is a sort of a sequel to the cult film Legion, where Vegas is a militarized citi state, fighting off angels? for the last quarter century

    • Gnostic sci-fi seems about right for Dominion, which I found myself watching last night, but I don’t see the parallel to Egypt very clearly, or can only guess at what you have in mind.

      As for the first part, you seem to be suggesting that the Prez and a SecState (Clinton or Kerry?) made comments impugning the honor of the military or the police somehow?

  2. Maybe it’s more Roman trappings, but Vega’s identity seems to be tied with the paramilitaries, that guard the walls

  3. “Oligarchy” means government by the few, and as a technical matter all government is government by a relative few. What we intend to express with the term is government by the few on behalf of their own interests against or irrespective of the interests of the many, but whether a particular oligarchy is in this sense “oligarchical” will be debatable,

    I’ll have to think about this post and the preceding one a bit more before I formulate any response, but for now I’d just like to say that the extract above is very well-stated indeed.

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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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