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2.3 Plato's Revenge: Small as Bio-regional, Communitarian and Jeffersonian
With the recent publication of Plato's Revenge. Politics in the Age of Ecology (2011), Ophuls completed a trilogy on the politics of scarcity. In 1977 he had achieved a certain notoriety among environmentalists by questioning whether ecological integrity could ever be compatible with modern liberal democracy. He pointed out that the entire set of ideas, institutions and practices predicated on abundance would inevitably be replaced by new social and political forms based on scarcity.
In 1997 he extended the critique of modern liberalism, arguing that the paradigm of mass politics inherited from Hobbes and Locke, even without ecological crisis, was bound for self-destruction because it abandons the premise that a successful polity must be rooted in an unspoken but pervasive framework of virtue, itself reproduced in the context of a binding we-identity and community (or what Tönnies called 'gemeinschaft'). In Plato's Revenge, Ophuls completes the argument by sketching a possible replacement – a new communitarian philosophy and political framework rooted in the ideas of Jefferson and Rousseau, but grounded in evolutionary psychology, anthropology and Jungian psychology.
The modern belief among police officers that they are a special corps or squad, and that the rest of us are ‘civilians’, is very damaging, and utterly contradicts Sir Robert Peel’s original (and still valid) view of what a British police constable should be. The changes in law and practice that led to this state of affairs are explained in my book. My critics should read it, especially before accusing me of ignorance. Meanwhile, stay safe.
By Machiavellian, I am referring specifically and only to a tradition of political analysis that studies how elite classes gain and hold power. Machiavellians may hold quite contrasting political views--Mosca was a rightist, while Sorel was a leftist agitator and Gramsci a Communist. One false dichotomy, often made by the Straussians and those infected with their lies, is between ancient political thought that was rooted in the virtues and the Machiavellians who are interested in power. In fact, it is the nature of the commonwealth that has changed and not the terms of political analysis. The state--a word first used either by NM or in his time--is something new in the world, a political corporation owned by an elite class. I do not say this is a bad thing, only that the Tuscan and other city-states were a new form of government. Therefore, I am not talking about a cynical pursuit of power but a realistic assessment of political motives and strategy.
2 The Machiavellian Approach. One of the greatest contributions to American conservative thought was James Burnham's book The Machiavellians. It had a profound influence on Burnhams's most important student, Samuel T. Francis. Machiavelli, particularly in his Commentaries on the Decades of Titus Livius, offered significant insights into the nature of power and the difficulty of acquiring or maintaining political liberty. This method of analysis was extended and deepened by Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca, the German-turned-Italian Roberto Michels, and the French Syndicalist Georges Sore--among others, including Sam Francis and Burnham himself.
What the Machiavellians have taught us to see is the significance of elite classes. According to Michels' "Iron Law of Oligarchy," there is only one form of government, namely, oligarchy. A monarch depends on an aristocracy to carry out his will and support his authority, while so-called democracies cannot be governed in any practical sense either by the people as a whole or by their elected representatives, unless the representative body is fairly small, coherent, and empowered for decades, in which case it forms an oligarchy.
Machiavellians are not necessarily cynical power-seekers; on the contrary, they typically believe in republican government and cherish political liberty, but they refuse to be taken in by surface illusions or rhetoric about democracy, equality, and human rights. While on the surface, political debates may seem like conflicts between angels and demons or an argument between two sorts of idealists, the reality is generally more sordid. Advocates of women's rights may really want to make them sexual slaves or ill-paid laborers; champions of democracy and liberty may be scheming to acquire a totalitarian power that they will claim to be based on the will of the people.
When James Henry Hammond was defending slavery in the US Senate a northern opponent boasted that in the North they had eliminated slavery. "Yes," retorted Hammond, "the name but not the thing." Hammond was, obviously, defending an economic system on which he had grown very rich, but my point is not to defend or excuse slavery but to point to a reality that my friend Eugene Genovese so brilliantly revealed in books like Roll, Jordan Roll: the World the Slaves Made, and in his subsequent investigations into the mind of antebellum slave-holders. Genovese was, in those days, a Machiavellian Marxist who viewed both sets of arguments, for and against slavery, as so much ideological posturing to defend two sets of regional class interests, those of Southern slaveholders and those of Northern capitalists and industrialists.
Inevitably, those who have looked with jaundiced eyes at the reality of minority rights movements, as Sam Francis did, have been condemned as bigots. Perhaps some of them were or are, but that is hardly the point. What is most deeply offensive in palaeoconservative thought is not the failure to celebrate the empowerment of minorities but the refusal to admire the emperor's new clothes and the insistence that while leftist politicians may have changed the names, political power still rests on the pursuit of power and the exploitation of the weak. They have learned from the ancients, from Herodotus and Aristotle, that it is the mark of a tyrant to elevate the poor and the weak as part of their project of disempowering their only real rivals, people of high social status, ability, or integrity.