If Politics is not the Royal Road to Justice
The great dream of the Age of Politics that started, shall we say, with the German printing press and allowed bourgeois intellectuals to write books and imagine glorious futures and have people read them and have a say in affairs of state, is that we can make a better world with better politics.
Really. I think that the modern world began with Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz. Prior to that it was just not possible for ideas to get out of the monastery or the king’s court.
But then Gutenberg printed up his Bible in 1450ish. And Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517. And lots of people wanted to read so they could read the Bible and have their own religious opinions. And then they started reading philosophy so they could have their own opinions about other things.
It was natural that the new educated class should have opinions regarding their relationship with the kingly rulers of the time. And it’s not surprising that they started to believe that educated people could make a contribution to the question of political power, that kings and princes ought to pay more attention to the musings of the world’s finest thinkers.
So we progress from the aristocratic St. Thomas, a Dominican friar from Aquino, Italy, to the middle-class Jean-Jacques Rousseau from Geneva, Switzerland. And by the run-up to the French Revolution, the king and his court were completely down with the new thinking. So when the King Louis XVI’s Assembly of Notables met in 1787 to Do Something about the French king’s money troubles, their proposals were completely up to date in Kansas City.
Never mind. We still want our Revolution, baby.
Am I saying that it doesn’t really matter whether the rulers are wearing ermine or homespun, driving carriages or EVs? Yes. I am saying that all the fashionable people in the Capitol watching the Hunger Games all believe in the current Thing.
I’m reading Andrew Bacevich’s take of the Cold War, Washington Rules, where he argues that CIA Director Allen Dulles and Strategic Air Command’s Curtis LeMay basically ran the Cold War. And Bacevich proposes that Eisenhower’s famous Farewell Speech on the military-industrial complex was kind of an admission, as he was leaving office, that it was the men behind the throne that were directing traffic.
Fast forward to today’s Ukraine intervention. Does it really matter who is president? Isn’t national security policy more the received wisdom of the national security / foreign policy community who talk to each other, write for each other, influence each other, and develop the consensus that everyone believes, sign on the dotted line, Mr. President.
And you think that maybe Trump had to be dumped because he wasn’t following the consensus properly? As in proposing Gen. Flynn to be National Security Advisor, he was asking for trouble. We learned, if you remember, that Flynn wanted to do some serious reform in the intelligence community. La Wik’s piece presents Flynn as a loose cannon, darling. And so, “they” have “six ways from Sunday” to get at him.
We’ve had over 200 years of brilliant political ideas from the educated class. We’ve had bloody revolutions, world wars, modern slave states, gigantic entitlement programs. And the enemy is everywhere.
I thought that the modern era, by replacing royal courts with parliaments, by advancing from the Age of Kings to the Age of Politics, was supposed to end the endless wars of kings and princes.
But it hasn’t, and the reason is simple. Politics must have an enemy to fight, and if there isn’t the king across the river there is the thug dictator across the world. If there isn’t a rapacious feudal lord at the manor there is always the greedy banker next door.
I have a dream that somehow we should be able to the battlefield into the sports stadium. But I don’t know how.