Structural Power and Federal Feudalism

09 Justice, 11 Society, Civil Society, Corruption, Counter-Oppression/Counter-Dictatorship Practices, Cultural Intelligence, Government
Nathan Allen

While the U.S. government may be described as a massive wealth transferring scheme, looting the middle class for the elite, I’d suggest that ‘wealth’ and ‘elite’ are not precisely correct. The transformation in Western power structures over past three centuries is such that the ‘elite’ was formerly indistinguishable from the government, which is the hallmark of feudal government; whereas now, the locus of power is the government itself, not any particular group of people.

We still find the old system at work in dictatorships – Libya, N. Korea – in which the government is indistinguishable from a small group of people and for whom wealth accumulation is the primary goal.

But wealth isn’t the primary goal of western governments; they have a nearly unlimited ability to create their own wealth (debt and printing money) – or destroy it (debt and printing money). The primary concern of these supposedly post-feudal governments is stability and power, and their primary means to securing these ends is patronage.

Patronage existed in feudal governments, but it was a means to an end (wealth accumulation), and not the end in itself. As such, it’s then not surprising that the primary purpose of most government endeavors – the education and court systems, intelligence communities, healthcare – is to employ the greatest number of people, thus securing widespread government support. Critical mass is reached when a simple majority of the voters earn >50% of their income from government sources – there are people who work for a living and people who vote for a living, and once the latter reaches >50%, the former becomes politically irrelevant.

Regarding the court systems and particularly education, this analysis is routinely openly discussed, including by many within government. Yet this analysis doesn’t seem to be regularly discussed in its application to the intelligence communities, though it seems quite apparent that the CIA is first an employment agency. (Additionally, I would argue that when the government bailed out General Motors, they fundamentally transformed it from a business to an employment agency, e.g. from a private sector to a public sector operating model, thus the comment that GM is a retirement fund that happens to make cars.)

Perhaps the most interesting example is Gingrich’s criticisms of NASA. He’s certainly an insider, and yet as far back as the early 80s, he identified NASA as primarily an employment agency. That analysis really took hold a few years ago and has caused some fundamental shifts in the aerospace community. So it’s possible for those on the inside to observe what’s patently clear, and yet that conversation, it seems, hasn’t substantially surfaced regarding the intelligence communities. I suspect 9/11 is the prime reason.

I would posit that the transfer of power from a group of people to the structure itself occurred for two reasons. First, it corresponds to our democratic sensibilities; we required a system wherein the participants are removable. Second, investing the power in the structure itself makes that power more permanent; you can vote out the people, but you can’t vote out the system. As the leaders and the government in a feudal system are indistinguishable, the mechanism for changing either changes both. Democracy separates the leaders from the government and incorporates a mechanism for changing the leaders and invests all power in the structure of the government, and yet in contrast to the feudal world, there exists no seemingly valid mechanism for changing the government. Thomas Jefferson recognized this when he conveyed a veiled positive comment on Shay’s Rebellion.

When did this structural shift in power occur in the U.S.? The greatest tragedies of the Civil War didn’t occur on any battlefield. Everyone is concerned what Lincoln did during those years, but the real story is what Congress did. The Republicans who controlled Congress, like Lincoln, were retread Whigs, and the majority of small government Democrats were persona non grata rebels.

Central to Whig philosophy is a modernized version of mercantilism in which the government assumes a commanding role in the nation’s economic activity, typically via regulation and legislation to control fiscal policy. It was also during this period that the government first printed paper currency, which, unlike gold and silver coins, has no value in itself. And though the Whig party died in 1854, its resurrection under the Republicans has now led it to become not only the dominant political theory but the core political theory of all major Western parties. Democrats and Republicans alike – along with their analogues in all Western countries – are Whigs.

What’s the solution for limiting the power that’s been structurally invested in the government? It’s both simple and bold: anyone who receives more than 50% of his annual income from government sources should not be able to vote that year and for three years thereafter due to their substantial conflict of interest. We restrict the activities of lobbyists and former politicians who wish to become lobbyists, so why not restrict the activities of this legion of lobbyists the government keeps on its payroll? Once that legion exceeds 50% of the voting class, those who vote for a living become the masters and those who work for a living become the slaves.

As I detailed in Arsonist, the battle our founding fathers fought was against feudalism – structural hierarchies. I also note that the battle for liberty is continuous, and feudal tendencies are constantly struggling for relevance and then prominence. We are now at the point of critical mass wherein structural systematic power is shifting from the people and the markets to the government. And once that power shifts, our democracy contains no recognized mechanism for reasserting the people’s liberties. This is precisely the predicament to which Jefferson referenced when he wrote of Shay’s Rebellions, “And what country can preserve its liberties, if the rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. …The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”