Politics in the United States have become an all-encompassing nightmare from which the average American cannot hope to escape. As American democracy (you know, the “freedom” form of government) expands the reach of the managerial state into every area of modern life, the stakes involved in the political process have mushroomed, with control over the lives of hundreds of millions of people hanging in the balance. It’s little surprise that each election season stretches out over a year, and (as Florida and Georgia recently showed us) doesn’t end once the voting is “officially” over.
It’s reached the point where literally everything is involved in some way with politics. Your choice of restaurant now signals your political inclinations, and thus who will harass you while eating there. Businesses themselves feel compelled to virtue signal, usually in a leftward direction, lest they bring upon themselves threats of boycott, bad publicity, or worse. It has escalated to the point where being the public face of the “wrong” side earns you harassment and menace to your physical health, as Tucker Carlson and several Republican members of Congress have found out. Expressing the “wrong” opinions in the workplace or online can get you reprimanded or fired.
How did we reach that point?
It hearkens back to something I wrote about earlier concerning the tyranny of the technical society. In our particular case, we are seeing a situation playing out in real time whereby “political techniques” first pioneered by Lenin in establishing and maintaining Soviet control over Russia are being used to bring every facet of modern life into the political realm. Every action and attitude has a political ramification which can affect your employment, your access to social amenities, and even (eventually) your freedom from the gulag.
This omnipolitisation leads inevitably into a dichotomy between formal and informal power in the US governing system. Formal power is exactly as it sounds – the “constitutional” (written or otherwise) distribution of decision and policy-making authority in a government, i.e. which entity or body gets to legally do what. This usually involves theoretical limits on the roles or extent of governing authority, which sets it in opposition to the principle of omnipolitics. Conversely, informal power is also exactly as it sounds – it is power wielded extra-constitutionally (yet in a very real sense) by those who “shouldn’t” be exercising it, but nevertheless are.
This dichotomy was observed by Moldbug, who tended to identify the recipient of non-constitutional informal power with the Supreme Court. This was partially right, but not extensive enough.
As readers of this blog know, I am not at all a fan of democracy. One of the reasons for this is that democracy is a force for chaos, for the destruction of ordered society and the blessings that come with it. Democracy is a form of government that, by its very nature, seeks to formally divide power. Consider the three “co-equal” branches of government established by the US Constitution which (in theory, at least) act as checks and balances on each other. The same could be said for the democratic structures that have existed in Europe, from ancient Greece to modern times. Even more aristocratic systems, such as those of Republican Rome or the Venetian Republic, tended toward dividing formal authority before they were eventually forced to move in more unitary directions (the latter peacefully, the former not so much).
One of the problems caused by such divided structures is that they tend to leave open a lot of doors for the development of the wrong kinds of informal power. Let’s note here that “informal power” can describe two different types of schemes. The first is the kind of informal power that naturally arises through proper and good cultural channels – such as religion – and which tends to buttress, while also influencing, the unitary power of the secular government (what, in a Roman Catholic context, would be termed “integralism”). This kind of informal power is both inevitable and socially stabilising, and should be encouraged.
The second kind of informal power arises from more illegitimate sources (though these could be thought of as a “religion” in the sense that modern progressivism is a continuation of certain Puritan impulses) which don’t act in tandem with legitimate formal government, but rather act to undermine and subvert it, while retaining the veneer of formal power in place. This is, essentially, what the Deep State is. The process through which it acts is why we now see unelected bureaucrats, university functionaries, and NGOs exercising a more decisive power to craft US public policy than the voters or their elected representatives, including the president himself.
Democracy more or less makes this inevitable. Since power is already divided, it is relatively simple to gradually transfer the little pieces of power away from formal agents and into the hands of informal ones, until you begin to aggregate that influence into an entirely separate power structure under your own control.
The omnipolitisation I discussed above makes this easier to do since there are more “pieces” that can be taken and used to consolidate power, a consequence of democracy’s tendency to expand governing power into greater and greater areas of life. The great irony is that monarchical government (whose opponents tend to cast it as “tyrannical” or “expansive”) actually tends to be smaller in real scope than democratic government is. Historically, the average citizen has been MORE able to live out his life free from the onerous burdens of government under monarchies than he has under democracies, especially the modern kind. It’s easier to transfer power to your cabal one bit at a time by (for example) managing to install your functionaries into the CIA or the State Department, than it is to overthrow a king and take power in one fell swoop (though, obviously, that has been done at times, too).
Once power has become fully, or at least substantially informal, then control over the formal organs of government is relatively meaningless. This is why Trump and the Republicans have been able to accomplish little over the last two years, despite controlling all three branches of the federal government. Losing the House of Representatives to the Democrats did little to change the actual overall power structure in Washington, other than to provide that party with a formalised way to endlessly investigate and impeach the president and his judges. Overall policy-making capacity remains largely unchanged since policy was being made by bureaucrats and quasi-governmental organisations under progressive control anywise. At this point, the president can’t even control the composition of his own press pool anymore, much less ram through The Wall or enact meaningful First Amendment protections for social media users.
Is there nothing that can be done about this? Well, there is – though it will require more conviction and fortitude than I suspect most of Red Cathedral is capable of mustering.
One of the benefits of formal power is that, as was noted above, it is formal. It conforms to the structure AS IT HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED IN THEORY. As such, formal power enjoys a perceived and conferred legitimacy (even if, as in democracy, the bases for this such as “the will of the people” are illusory) which informal power does not. Everyone knows that Congress is supposed to make laws. Few outside the progressive Blue Cathedral accept that NGOs or lobbyists should be able to do so, even if they don’t know of any way to stop it from happening. That’s why conspiracy theories (real or imagined) find so much currency.
It is within the power of Red Cathedral to do much, much more to dismantle the informal progressive Blue Cathedral than they’ve done. Trump and his underlings could be applying quite plausible interpretations of the many very vague and expansive laws which Congress has been passing for decades which hand a great deal of managerial authority to the president and the executive branch. They could be limiting, firing, rolling back, arresting, commandeering, and otherwise using the power they formally have against the Deep State, yet they aren’t.
Some of this is because of elements within Red Cathedral who are unwilling to do so, and thus far have worked to hinder the Trump agenda at every turn. However, it is also due just as much to the fact that Red Cathedral’s refusal to accept the realities on the ground about omnipolitisation hobbles them, making them unable to compete with the mechanisms of progressivism. “Muh constertooshun” type conservatives simply don’t seem to be temperamentally equipped to deal with people who don’t allow their political ambitions to be curtailed by a scrap of paper.
One of the sad lessons from Jacques Ellul is that once technique gets started, there’s no stopping it until it completes its course. The only way to compete with someone using political techniques is to adopt them as well, refining them and out-competing your opponent. Sitting back and tut-tutting about what your opponent “should” be doing is a useless waste of time, which is the deserved reputation that cuckservatism has acquired for itself.
Only *after* you have beaten an opponent using these techniques can you safely sit back and return to life as it was before technique. Once done, you must remain ever vigilant to suppress future opponents who appear to be reacquiring political techniques. The Czar refused to do this in the years leading up to the October Revolution (which is especially egregious given his experiences after 1905), and look where he ended up.
The lesson of modern democratic politics is that formal power, at least when it is divided and arbitrarily restrained, has severe limits which simply do not allow it to deal with those willing to collude outside of those established limits. There will always be those who exploit the system to manipulate procedural outcomes to their faction’s favour. It is possible, through the exercise of legitimate unitary formal power, to confute conspiracies seeking to accrue to themselves informal power. However, this requires both the successful counterapplication of political techniques and the willingness to weather the storms of managerial resistance that will inevitably be met.
At the stage the USA is at, the players exercising informal power are so deeply entrenched in all power-generating institutions at all levels that they may not be removable, and if they can be, it will require severe dislocations to our entire governing system. The deeper the arrow is embedded, the more damage is done when removing it. Further, the more application of raw political technique that is required to recover legitimate formal power into proper hands, the more distorted the end result will be from the original system, no matter how much a return is desired. For all his efforts to retain the outward forms of the Republic, Augustus’ Principate wielded its formal power in a far different way than the Senate had when it actually had real power.
Sooner or later, the stalemate between President Trump and the Deep State will have to end. How it ends will be decided largely by how willing and able Trump will be to match technique for technique, and how ruthless he ends up being in dealing with the usurpers exercising informal power to his detriment.