The commonest furphy in liberal democracies is that power comes from voting franchise and individual liberties.
That is, people are strong because they can vote and because they possess rights that are protected by courts and constitutions.
This is backwards.
People have rights and the franchise because they have power.
Voting is a form of stylized combat, in which society figures out which side would most likely win a war without needing all the destruction of an actual war. For this reason, it only makes sense to give the vote to those who hold some sort of real power in society that might translate to battlefield success.
In early Anglo democracies, only white, property-owning men could vote because they were the only people in society who would make a difference in such a conflict. Over time, poor men could also vote because industrial forms of warfare needed their labour.
Later still, women and non-whites could vote because their economic power realistically translated to battlefield success. In the United States, women and blacks began working in factories to make up for labour shortages during WWII. More broadly, mechanization has enhanced women’s public role because physical strength is no longer required for economic productivity.
One might argue that many people agreed to expand the franchise for feel-good reasons like justice or morality. It’s a factor. However, do not ignore the deeper forces that underly such sentiments.
People have rights when they are considered too strong to push around.
The Magna Carta reflected that regional lords were too powerful for the King of England to push around. It was a peaceful codification of their respective abilities and forced some level of compromise.
The first thirteen Amendments to the US Constitution reflected the immense individual power held by ordinary Americans, who were heavily armed and often far from the reaches of the government. Prior to the Amendments, the Constitution was primarily a codification of the powers of the States vs the Federal Government. Without it, the States would have refused to sign up and no one would have been able to force them.
A mirror image of this stylized conflict took place in the establishment of other countries, including the federation of Australia.
Of course, voting and rights do not perfectly reflect a person’s battlefield prowess. They are approximations and can fall out of date.
When an individual or group’s power has declined, however, it is likely that their rights and votes will eventually be curtailed. That is what is happening now.
It’s hard to say exactly when Americans’ real power began to decline, but it has probably been happening for some time.
These days, 89% of wealth is owned by the top 10%, which must make some in that 10% wonder why the other 90% are allowed to vote or to talk shit to them.
Economically, the yeoman’s main influence on society is to start his own family. This is the basic building block of modern prosperity. However, housing costs and the rupture of the sexual/marriage market make this much more difficult than it once was.
Many more people today are dependent on the government for their livelihood (in one way or another) which further erodes their real-world power.
The masses are now less necessary for the state to conduct military campaigns, with mechanization and automation replacing soldiers with rifles and labour-intensive factory lines.
The ability to disseminate or gather information is truncated in some ways. Big Tech and the legacy media are able to corral views that go against the official narrative into harmless backwaters where most people will never hear of them.
The power of the state vis-a-vis the people has also increased with new surveillance technologies. They know far more about what everybody’s up to than the Stasi did, no informers required. As we are seeing in Canada, they can also use this information about dissidents to turn off our ability to transact with the push of a button.
The alliance of the state and big business offers the establishment unprecedented power to interfere in our lives in many ways. Without a glance at the Constitution, they can restrict our travel, close our bank accounts, throw us out of work, crucify us in the media, and generally unperson us from participation in society.
While ‘power’ can include economic and social power, raw physical power is still important in some respects, especially in promoting the confidence and virility to resist injustice. The average man is now physically and mentally weak because he is obese, unfit and unwell, often taking several medications of dubious worth and unable to get far without the help of machines. Chiseled 1940s men were not to be slighted but the average 2020s man is little threat to anyone.
For all these reasons, the average Westerner has much less power now than he did in the mid-20th century. Covid restrictions (papers, please!) are the latest manifestation of this switch in fortunes.
Today, many Western governments are only semi-democratic. People still have some power over local affairs (where they still pose a real-life force to be reckoned with) but cannot exert much influence in the capital.
In America, cheating is rife and all future presidents will have to be elite-approved. In the UK, the Brexit referendum was largely ignored through compromise. In Australia, the public is so easily manipulated through media pressure that elections seem to barely matter anymore. The policy differences between the two major parties are almost imperceptible.
Wherever you look, it is clear that truly powerful interests like big business and insiders get what they want while common people are left out in the cold. The perfect example of this is mass immigration. No one voted for it and yet we have it.
No government can afford to completely ignore public sentiment, whether it is democratic or not. However, voting power is reserved for those too strong to be ignored. Aside from wealthy and connected people, most citizens no longer enjoy such strength.
The decline in electoral veracity is not complete. Close elections can be diddled while landslides with a margin greater than 10% probably can’t, yet. Compare Russia, where the equivalent margin is sometimes estimated to be around 20%. We’re getting there. For now, the main form of manipulation in the West is in curated mainstream and social media.
I assume the reader is already aware of how our liberties have eroded and will skip ahead to the reasons.
Some perceive the recent decline of our rights as driven by technology: big data allows warrantless searches, Big Tech restricts freedom of speech and so on. It is tempting to believe that Big Brother innovations are to blame for our cyber-dystopia, as in Black Mirror.
This is incorrect. First, there are plenty of low-tech ways in which traditional rights are being ignored. In Britain, people are being written up for ‘hate speech incidents’ that do not rise to the level of a crime. In Australia, Border Force can seize and search your phone for no reason, without a warrant or any accountability. Also in Australia, it was illegal in some states to protest against lockdowns and vaccine mandates. In America, some civil and criminal trials are based more on politics than the law. Across much of the world, people lose ‘privileges’ (formerly known as rights) for refusing medical treatment.
All of these can involve technology but none are driven by technological advancements. Equivalent measures could have been introduced in 1950.
While technological developments have assisted state oppression (and dissident resistance), the driving force has been the declining independence of ordinary people versus the might of state apparatus and allied nodes of power.
In 1950, outrages against liberty such as those described may have been met with strikes, boycotts, violent protests or other measures. In the 2020s, the faction troubled by such injustice no longer has the stomach or organizational prowess for such things. Our loss of rights is caused by some combination of demographics, dependence on the State, loss of cultural confidence, loss of community (especially religion) plus a good measure of physical decline.
Do not ask, ‘How can we restore legitimacy to elections?’ or ‘How can we restore our traditional liberties?’ These are proximate problems.
Ask instead, ‘How can I increase my power?’
The answers may seem prosaic, but they are not. These are the essence of how 1950s Man held the line:
- Eat well and exercise.
- Regain your spiritual strength. This can mean different things to different people, but power comes from believing in something. Nihilists never did anything except inject heroin and listen to Radiohead. Not a diss on Radiohead.
- Nurture a love of your culture and people. It’s easy to be disheartened by the worst of us, but it’s also possible to be inspired by the best. Read old books, listen to old music, watch old films. Convince yourself that we have something worth preserving.
- Use or disuse technology in ways that increase your power. Adopt dissident technologies. Abandon enemy platforms. Seriously consider doing away with smartphones once your present one gives up the ghost as they are increasingly being used as tools to monitor and control us in this QR code hellscape.
- Organise, even on a nano scale. Build networks online and in real life. Reversal: don’t join a movement that glows like a thousand suns. Anyone advocating extremism is a bad-faith actor.
Add your suggestions in the comments.
Once our power level is restored, we will be in a better place to think about the electoral process or respond to abuses of our rights.
A fit, healthy, confident man who uses networks and tools effectively is better able to resist tyranny than an unwell, isolated, demoralised man.
I should have started this post with ‘Dear Diary’.