The unholy trinity: collectivism, sovereignty, corruption
“Know your enemy,” says the old adage of Sun Tzo. And this idea has, of late, been much troubling liberty lovers. We all agree that, from the point of view of freedom, justice, prosperity and peace, the political tone in Western societies today is bad and getting worse. But can we agree on the causes of this malaise, still less work out what to do about it? That’s hard.
It’s become plain that thinking of our enemies’ paradigm as “cultural marxism,” a diagnosis favoured by some on the political right, isn’t correct. Surely, our enemies are aiming to kill our economy, to destroy the liberal legacy of the past, and to divorce people from their cultural roots. But such policies, I think, aren’t so much characteristic of marxists, as of wannabe dictators of any stripe. Besides which, all our enemies need do to refute this diagnosis, is smirk and say “I’m not a marxist.”
Others see part of the problem as a resurgence of puritanism. There’s certainly something in this; for the hatred of pleasure and enjoyment, so characteristic of puritans, is obvious in our enemies. Smokers, alcohol drinkers, fox hunters and car drivers, among many others, know this from experience. But I don’t think this idea gives us anywhere near a full picture.
So, I’ll make my own shot at diagnosing the troubles of our times. I see three main problems in politics today: collectivism, sovereignty and corruption. These are all related. Indeed, they’re so hard to separate that I see them all as aspects of one whole; three in one, and one in three. And so, I dub them the unholy trinity.
I also know the name of the devilhead, the fount of evil from which the others flow. But I’ll come to that a bit later.
Collectivism, per Webster, is: “emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity.” Encyclopaedia Britannica goes further, saying: “The individual is seen as being subordinate to a social collectivity.”
At its root, collectivism is a failure to have regard for the human being. It sees the individual as existing for the benefit of the collective, not the other way round. So, all too often, collectivism breeds an unreasoning intolerance and hatred of the individual. And it easily leads to victimization; of those different from others, or those who develop their particular talents, or those who just want to live their own lives in their own way. Thus, collectivism destroys any possibility of justice on an individual basis.
Worse, many collectivists see a dichotomy between “public” and “private” activities, and reject the private. It’s almost as if they think, in Orwellian terms: “Public good, private bad.” Thus they come to hate private industry, honest business and earned success.
Furthermore, collectivists often seem to believe that their collective has a will, or even a Grand Purpose; and one which is, conveniently, aligned with their own. So, they like to invent political Great Causes, out of thin air if necessary. And they like to use them as excuses to impose their arbitrary dictates on people. History is littered with examples: communism, fascism, racism (and anti-racism), religious persecutions, nationalism, wealth re-distribution and welfarism, and deep green environmentalism, to name but a few.
As several of these examples show, collectivists are brutally callous, too. When their Great Causes and the policies they spawn harass innocent people, or force them down into poverty, or even murder them in droves, they don’t care. They don’t show any concern at all for the victims of their unjust and burdensome taxes, or of their dislocations of the economy, or of their violations of human rights.
Collectivism is normally characteristic of the political left. But not always. Today’s brouhaha about immigration, for example, comes mostly from the right. Yet the anti-immigration agenda is a collectivist one, based as it is on counting people as “in” or “out” merely by accidents of race or birth.
And it gets worse. All politics is collectivist! For that word, derived from the ancient Greek polis, a city, in origin means “the business of the city.” Not, I say, the business of the many individuals who live in that city. But the business of the city as a unit. Aha.
As to democracy… for now, I’ll only say that democracy is collectivist too. For however many individuals there may be in a democracy, it has only one demos. Democracy means power to the collective, not power to individuals.
Our friend Mr Webster tells us that sovereignty is: “supreme power, especially over a body politic.” The encyclopaedia, this time, is softer in tone, calling it: “the ultimate overseer, or authority, in the decision-making process of the state and in the maintenance of order.”
The idea of sovereignty goes all the way back to a 16th century Frenchman named Jean Bodin. And, when you think about it, it’s a completely mad way to run any society. That any individual, or any group, should be allowed supreme power over all others in a territory isn’t a recipe for freedom, justice or prosperity for anyone else. And as people become more and more discontented with such a system, they will eventually see no option but to overthrow the supreme power by violence – as the English did in 1649. Not to mention Bodin’s own lot, 140 years later.
To give him his due, I don’t think Bodin was really one of the bad guys. For he lived in the time of the Reformation, amid squabbling nobility and bloody religious wars. What he set out to do was to counteract the problems of his day, by justifying an increase in the power of the French king. But the legacy he left us is, to say the least, unfortunate.
In Bodin’s scheme, the sovereign – the king or ruling élite – is fundamentally different from, and superior to, the rest of the population in its territory, the subjects. In particular, the sovereign has moral privileges; rights to do certain things, which others don’t share.
Bodin listed seven privileges of the sovereign: (1) To make laws to bind the subjects. (2) To make war and peace. (3) To appoint the top officials of the state. (4) To be the final court of appeal. (5) To pardon guilty individuals if it so wishes. (6) To issue a currency. (7) To levy taxes and impositions, and to exempt, if it wishes, certain individuals or groups from payment.
Furthermore, the sovereign isn’t bound by the laws it makes. And it isn’t responsible for the consequences of what it does (also known as “the king can do no wrong.”)
And we’re still using Bodin’s system today. Isn’t that crazy? We don’t use 16th century medicine any more, or 16th century technology, or 16th century transport. And we’ve been through the Enlightenment since then, for goodness’ sake! So why are we still using a 16th century political system? Why are we still suffering a system that lets an élite do to us exactly what it wants, with no accountability or come-back? This may, perhaps, have something to do with our malaise.
Surely, we’ve put some bags on the side of this system over time. We’ve tried parliaments that are meant to “represent” us. But they don’t – their members have merely become part of the élite, and so part of the problem. We’ve tried constitutions meant to limit the sovereign’s power. But they haven’t worked. We’ve tried to separate powers between legislative, executive and judiciary. But that hasn’t worked either. We’ve tried ideals of “social contract,” but the élite don’t even try to keep to their side of any bargain. We’ve tried charters and bills of rights and human rights acts. But the ruling élite either simply ignore them, or seek to destroy them.
We’ve even tried to bolt on the rule of law as a bag on the side of the state. But did we get, in John Adams’ words, “government of laws, not of men?” Not a bit of it. What we got, instead, was government of bad legislation made by evil politicians. What we suffer today is exactly what Edmund Burke warned against almost 250 years ago, when he said: “Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.”
Even where they seemed to have some beneficial effects in the short term, none of these bags on the side have done any good in the long term. They’re like putting lipstick on a pig, or a gaily coloured sticking plaster on a haemorrhage.
And then, in recent times, we’ve been graciously (not!) invited to take part in a charade called “democracy.” Each of us gets a chance to vote every so often for which of several lying, thieving criminal gangs, none of them showing even the slightest concern for us human beings, will be given the reins of all but absolute power over us for the next few years.
Has democracy brought the freedom, justice, peace and prosperity we deserve? No; it’s actually made things worse. For, first, it brings opportunities for power to those that want power; that is, to exactly those least suited to be allowed power. Second, it pollutes the mental atmosphere with lies, spin and empty promises. Third, it allows the ruling élite to victimize minorities, and to rob Peter to buy Paul’s vote. And fourth, voting gives the whole charade a veneer of false legitimacy.
It’s worse yet; for democracy divides people from each other. The victims of bad policies feel harshly treated, and become disaffected. They come to view politics and politicians with contempt and loathing. And, slowly but surely, they lose all fellow feeling, not only with the criminal gangs, but also with those that support the criminal gangs by voting for them. Thus, today’s democracy breaks apart the very sense of “we” that gave it legitimacy in the first place. It destroys the social cohesion, the glue which was supposed to keep the democratic political unit together.
The biggest problem I find with sovereignty, though, is that it contradicts the only civilized way to run a political society; the rule of law. For the key feature of the rule of law is moral equality. What is legal, and what is not, must be exactly the same for everyone. Yet the sovereign state claims, for the ruling élite and its functionaries, rights to do things others may not. If you or I extorted money from people like the taxation system does, for example, wouldn’t it be theft or worse? Or if you or I premeditatedly killed an innocent person like Jean Charles de Menezes, wouldn’t it be murder?
And a claim of sovereignty over a territory is a claim of ownership over that territory, and everyone and everything in it. It’s a claim that the subjects, along with all their property, are actually owned by the sovereign; that they are, in essence, its slaves. Today’s élites treat us like slaves, too. For they make bad laws to bind us, while taxing us out of existence, inflating the currencies we depend on, and violating our human rights.
If you doubt that sovereigns claim ownership, consider why states claim a right to erect borders around their territories, and to seek to control movement across those borders. The logic is, that just as an individual has a right to control who enters his property, so does a state have a right to control who enters (or exits) its property. Aha.
A desire for sovereignty – or to use a slightly softer word, authority – has, for centuries, been characteristic of the political right. They’re on top, and they want things to stay that way; that’s why they’re “conservatives.” And they don’t care a damn about anyone else.
Moreover, authoritarians or – if I may coin a word – sovereigntarians are just as brutally callous as collectivists. And the thing they love most of all is war. For war, as Randolph Bourne rightly told us, is the health of the state.
But it isn’t just the right that have a liking for sovereignty. Sovereignty, and the irresponsibility which goes with it, have inspired (if that’s the right word) all the worst mass murderers of the 20th and early 21st century; including Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, George W. Bush and Blair.
Corruption, says the dictionary, is: “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle.” Wikipedia is more succinct, defining “corrupt” as “utterly broken.”
There are many kinds of corruption. The most usual is where officials use their positions of power for personal financial gain. Many people seem to think that such corruption, at least on a large scale, only happens in third world countries. But that’s not so. Remember the House of Commons expenses scandal of a few years back?
Indeed, it’s possible to view receiving tax money, even in exchange for doing a job, as corruption. Though many government employees would object to this, saying: But I earn my living! It’s true, indeed, that the best government workers really do earn every penny they are paid. (Even I have, in the past, taken government money to do defence or NHS work). The problem is that, from the point of view of the individuals who paid the taxes, many such government jobs have costs far greater than any benefits they bring. This is clearly not according to any sane moral principle. It’s corruption, even if some may find that hard to see.
This corruption is even more serious, when we unwillingly finance bureaucrats that actively harm us. For example, when we’re made to pay for rapacious tax bureaucrats, or for goons that intercept our e-mails.
Welfare recipients too, though many of them probably don’t realize it, are embroiled in corruption. They are, in effect, receiving stolen goods.
Now, to take freely offered charity isn’t corrupt. To take an insurance pay-out isn’t corrupt. To take at need from a fund, to which you and others have voluntarily contributed for the purpose of mutual aid in need, isn’t corrupt. But to take, without a by-your-leave or a thank you, money which has been taken against their wills from those who would rather have done something else with it, shows lack of integrity. It’s a corrupt act. And those quite capable of earning their living, but choosing the lazy option of sponging off others, are even more corrupt.
Another form of corruption is crony capitalism. This is where company bosses lobby government to try to get advantages for themselves, or to damage their competitors. Officials are usually more than happy to listen, particularly if the scheme will result in increased tax revenue. I myself am a victim of a scam (IR35) of exactly this type, which – from the evidence I can see – was almost certainly perpetrated by the big software development companies like EDS, with intent to destroy the one-man competitors who took business away from them during the Y2K panic.
Then there is systemic corruption in academe, education and the media. The academics promote collectivist and authoritarian ideas. The teachers teach only what is politically correct. The media – of all political stripes – spout lies, hype, spin, scares, propaganda and emotional manipulation, all designed to keep people under control.
Then there is political corruption. We know that politicians habitually lie and mislead; for example, about carbon dioxide emissions causing catastrophic global warming, or Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. We know that the promises they make are usually empty. And we know that many of them seek power primarily to impose their evil agendas on people they don’t like. Remember the old labour slogan, “Let’s make the rich squeal?”
But there’s also a case that taking any part in politics is corruption. Even voting for a politician or political party is an act of corruption, because it underwrites a corrupt system. (It’s an act of aggression, too. It’s an aggression against all those who have been, are being or will be harmed by the policies of that politician or party).
There’s corruption in government itself, too. In the UK, it’s hard to know how much judicial corruption there is, because the subject isn’t aired. But it’s clearly a big problem in the USA, where many judgments are political, and “judge shopping” has become a common idiom.
Executive corruption is also a big issue. And the symptoms are obvious. Police brutality. Rigorous “law enforcement,” that often looks to be merely for the sake of enforcement. Zealous policing of arbitrary limits, like speed limits and minimum age limits. Routine violations of our privacy, like cameras on street corners and intercepting our e-mails. Bureaucrats that try to behave as judge, jury and executioner. And a culture of seeking to “get” anyone who deviates, even slightly, from the political correctness du jour.
But legislative corruption is perhaps the biggest problem. Almost every “law” made today – certainly in the UK, the EU and the USA, and probably in other Western countries too – is made to satisfy some evil ideological agenda, or to buy votes, or to appease some political pressure group. Moreover, the modern puritans are out in force, baying for more and yet more regulation. So, virtually all legislation made today is bad. If Edmund Burke was brought back to life now, he would have a fit.
The unholy trinity
So, there you have the unholy trinity. Collectivism, sovereignty and corruption; the three faces of the devilhead.
Collectivism is the first of the trinity; the devil’s mother, if you will. I put it first, because historically it came first. For, as the old testament tells us, there were tribes before there were kings. Sovereignty, and the state it spawns, is the second, the mischief maker or the devil’s daughter. And the “unholy spirit” is the name I give to the miasma of corruption, which we see, hear, feel and smell all around us. While each of them tends to be favoured by different factions of our enemies, the three faces of the devilhead work together against us human beings.
In Western societies, not so long ago, there was a fairly clear divide between the political left and right. The left were collectivist, but not so much authoritarian; that’s why they called themselves “liberals.” The right were authoritarian, but not so much into collectivism. So, those who hated collectivism voted for the right. And those, whose pet hates were sovereignty and privilege, supported the left. But in recent decades, the two have converged. If there’s any difference between Blair and Cameron, for example, or Obama and Bush, it’s that one lot are collectivists first and authoritarians second, while the other are authoritarians first and collectivists second. So, today, both “left” and “right” are evil. And to vote for either of them is an act of evil.
I don’t find this convergence surprising. For the ideologies of both left and right are well past their last-use-by dates. There was a time, perhaps, when collectivism may have been a viable way to run a city-state; but the age of city-states is now long gone. And sovereignty may have been a half way reasonable idea in Jean Bodin’s time; but even a quick glance at recent history shows that it has become a Bad Idea.
So, feeling a need to bolster their weakness, both sides have found it convenient to take on the practices of the other as well as their own. It’s easier to foist your collectivism on to people, if you start making strict laws to hem them in, and brutally enforcing those laws. And it’s easier to keep your position as a ruling élite, if you start inventing ruses – like the global warming fraud – designed to, in H.L.Mencken’s words, “keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
And so, collectivism fuels sovereignty, and sovereignty fuels collectivism. Thus does evil beget evil.
They both fuel corruption, too. For, as Lord Acton told us, power tends to corrupt. And power without responsibility – and that’s what, in essence, sovereignty is – corrupts absolutely. On the other hand, collectivists don’t have any idea of individual responsibility; so they don’t feel any shame for what they do, however badly they behave.
The biggest enabler of corruption, though, is taxation. Franz Oppenheimer, a century ago, identified the divide between what he called the economic means and the political means for obtaining satisfaction of needs. Those who use the economic means (work), seek to provide goods or services valuable to others. They seek to do good for others, in return for those others doing good for them. Those that use the political means (robbery), on the other hand, simply take, take, take. They offer nothing in any way valuable to the victims of their larceny.
Not only does taxation take away wealth from productive people, and re-distribute it to the ruling élite and their lackeys and cronies, and to the lazy and the feckless. Not only does it provide the corrupt with the time, resources and social status that enable them to promote their evil Great Causes and to carry out their destructive schemes. But it also encourages perverse incentives, for example where people prefer to claim benefits instead of working, or to work less hard to avoid paying more tax. And these perverse incentives, slowly but surely, cause the miasma of corruption to spread through the population like a horrible disease.
I said earlier that I know the name of the devilhead. I know the name of that which stands in the same relationship to the unholy trinity, as the godhead does to the Christian trinity. That name is… dishonesty.
We can see dishonesty in our enemies at many levels. First, we see it in their failure to appreciate human nature. They don’t see us as individuals. They don’t acknowledge our free will and its consequence, individual responsibility. They don’t acknowledge that human beings are naturally good and honest, and that they themselves are aberrations.
Second, we see it in their disregard for truth and objectivity, and their constant use of lies, deceit and propaganda.
Third, we see it in their disregard for ethical conduct. They fail to behave according to any sane code of civilized behaviour. Instead, they set themselves up on a moral pedestal, and assert for themselves privileges which they deny to others. And they commit, and seek to get away with, real crimes such as theft, harassment, perjury, murder and even incitement to mass murder.
Fourth, we see it in their disregard for sane principles of government and social organization. They fail to uphold objective justice, the condition in which individuals are treated, overall, as they treat others. They pervert the rule of law into the rule of bad legislation. They violate our human rights, and show no concern at all for our freedom.
Fifth, we see it in their choice to use the political means (robbery) of getting their needs satisfied, in preference to the economic means (work). We see it, too, in their desire to suppress economic prosperity, to deny it to those who earn it and deserve it.
But most obviously of all, we see it in their hypocrisy; in their abject failure to practise what they preach. We see it, for example, in those that bleat about energy from fossil fuels causing damage to the planet, yet don’t stop using that energy, or even cut their use of it. Or those that moan that the world is overpopulated, yet have families. Or those that shed crocodile tears for the “poor” and “needy,” yet don’t give away any of their own wealth, or make any sacrifices for those “poor” and “needy.”
So, there you have my diagnosis. The main causes of our troubles today are collectivism, sovereignty and corruption; the unholy trinity. And each of the three faces is an aspect of the devilhead, the deadly disease of dishonesty.
And the cure? That’s for another day. For now, I’ll just say: To hell with the unholy trinity. To hell with collectivism, and with the promoters and supporters of its Great Causes. To hell with sovereignty, with the state and its politics, and with the ruling élites, their lackeys and their cronies. To hell with corruption, and with those that take part in it.
To hell with the devil. To hell with dishonesty. To hell with the dishonest.