On the Inevitable Decay Of Governments

By David Mamet

Published May 05, 2006, issue of May 05, 2006.

The political organization, no less than the human being, learns as it grows. In the individual, this growth is ramified in the very physical development of the brain, and is first and always in aid of the expedited accomplishment of tasks.

The political organism, like the individual, embodies that one adaptive mechanism specific to the human being: the ability to observe and reflect such that tomorrow’s work, though in scope and form identical to that of today, will be, in operation, easier of accomplishment. In the human being this rationality is best exemplified in the criminal, in the group by the political Junta, toward which all unchecked factionalism decays.

The Christian Cross, like the Star of David, like the Yin and Yang, is symbolic of the mystical conjunction of opposites. Here vertical and horizontal are transposed, and may, in their transposition, inspire contemplation — and, indeed, evoke wonder, symbolizing the irreconcilability of death and life, of good and evil, will and predestination, et cetera. These symbols, thus, are perfect. For what alteration could but mar the simplicity which is their power to evoke?

But an organization, as it grows, attracts not only disciples but dependents. An informal squad of family heads, hastily self-convened to repel marauders, may become, over time, a militia requiring an officer corps.

Should the Body Politic prosper, it may acquire first an informal and then a codified group of officers, then, as the army grows, an officer caste requiring a General Staff, staff colleges, study groups, and, inevitably, ties to military suppliers. This business group, which first existed to provide for the common defense, may evolve, through the protection and friendship of its cousins in the military, first into a mercantile hegemony, then, as it, increasingly, utilizes its ever-increasing wealth to field or purchase politicians, into a state-within-a-state.

The caveman’s grunt, meaning “look out,” becomes the communal call to arms. Over time, this is codified as Patriotism, and we may see both the draft and the ever-handy accusation of treason toward the recalcitrant or restrained — both to the specific conflict, and to the government in general.

For, if the hegemony of officer class, industry and politics may thrive through the proclamation of war, is it not inevitable that, given the choice, its members will come down on the side of war? For what man votes against his own self-interest? The very mechanism of consciousness ensures that which is proven effective once will be chosen autonomically, without recourse to the taxing necessity of thought.

The corporate organism, then, automatically mutates, self-taught, through the employment of the successful stratagem. Differences geographic or accidental may guide it, for a time, this way or that: Britain, for a moment, turning toward socialism, the United States toward Liberal Democracy. But in each, the urge to power, and the lessons of the powerful, at home and abroad, must bring about the progression toward centralization. Thus, the marginalization, and then the stifling of revolt, until the achievement of actual dictatorship, and eventual subjugation to a younger and healthier — which is to say, more adaptive — organism.

The simple Christian Cross, through the success of its devotees, becomes modified, the two simple lines elaborated into Jerusalem, Crusaders, Unitarian, St. Andrews, Greek, Maltese, Papal, et cetera, renditions. These elaborations are a symbol of health. Inventive individuals and sects have been inspired to apostrophize or reinterpret the symbol that first attracted them. Each wishes to impart its special love and understanding of that symbol, and alters it accordingly. Each sect or, indeed, new religion, will follow the faith of its fathers, who fought and died that this, their new, altered vision have life.

Now, a return to irreducible first-principles may be as little thinkable as a rejection of the sect’s proprietary Cross in favor of the unadorned original. At this point, of course, individuals inspired by a longing for simple mystery will form their own sects, or, indeed, religions, and the process will begin anew. The fate of the disillusioned and disenfranchised voter, though, in our day, is somewhat more problematical.

We do not, as of the moment, enjoy the benefits of the Inquisition. The cry of “heresy” is not yet heard, but its profane equivalents — “treason” or “un-Americanism” — are and will increasingly be used. The political hegemons, no less than the over-elaborated hierarchy of any Clergy, are challenged to put their practices to a fair trial judged by the standard of its own First Principles. The elaborated organization, political, religious or otherwise, is hard-pressed to support its rituals by reference to primal precedent — as these rituals, though they may have evolved through inspiration, are inevitably employed as a means to ensure the rule of the elite.

The corporate elite, asked to defend itself in human terms, must (as a human organization) choose a simpler course, and rely upon accusation, subjugation and the other simple and effective tools eventually conjoined under the rubric of “tyranny.”

As the power of the hegemon swells (vide: the One Global Superpower), the press unifies, until its remaining few practitioners, purveying both entertainment and news, are free to label each as the other. The populace, now, sees the possibility of remedy (which is to say, a reversion to first principles) as increasingly remote, indeed, coming to regard it, over time, as characterizable as “fantasy” or “delusion” or by that name historically favored by the hegemons as indicative of the same: “liberal.”

As the sway of the Central Power grows, the strength of the excluded must additionally decline, through the very generational development (which is to say, decay) of communal expectation. This process continues, coming to rest in that state which a disinterested observer would readily name “slavery,” but which is self-described — indeed accepted — as Patriotism, or by rough philosophers as “The way things are.”

In the progression toward the slave state, traditional opposites — Labor and Capital, War and Peace, Free Trade and Protection — become mere courtesy divisions. These are available to the ruled, allowing harmless play of the enjoyable human propensity for faction, and pacifying a tradition-minded public, while allowing the essentially aligned (as identically suborned) politicians to pursue their shared pursuit of power. Each Party chants “progress,” an agreeably amorphous term. Their true object may be defined by the identity of the shared noun, rather than its dependent and essentially inert modifiers: Peace, Order, Social Justice, Individualism, et cetera.

True opposition would be not between championship of any one of these over another, but of a program opposed to “progress,” e.g., reflection. All that lives must, of course, die, and restraint and contemplation of the irreducible — justice, dignity, safety, security — will not vanquish decay. But it will allow life (individual or corporate) to approach toward harmony with that mystery with which it will eventually be reunited, which reunion the genetically inevitable tropism toward power must strive to obscure.



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