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On Loyalty, Politics, and Statehood

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The idealistic conception of the state reached its pinnacle in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. No political theorist since, except for Hegel perhaps, held the state in so high a regard, alas, with a religious kind of reverence, as Rousseau did. The state was for Rousseau the end-all and be-all. It trumped all other interests and concerns. As David Runciman puts it in “Why Not Eat an Eclair?” Rousseau envisaged “political life as a quintessentially collective endeavor, in which the claims of the state as a vehicle of human co-operation had to be asserted against the claims of other more partial groups, which would otherwise distort our co-operative impulses to their own ends.”

We’ll return to this all-important vision of political life as a quintessentially collective endeavor, an aspect all-too-oft ignored by the apologists for the liberal state because of “the[ir] assumptions and models of an individualist politics” (see Wolff, page 2). Meanwhile, we can surely appreciate Rousseau’s insight in having posited the state as, potentially at least, the ultimate vehicle of human co-operation, especially when compared to “other more partial groups” and their presumably self-serving interests and claims.

Granted, Rousseau had bought here, lock, stock, and barrel, into a pluralistic, conflict-ridden model of factional politics [according to Wolff, the best that the liberal-democratic state can offer (see, for example, the chapter on “Tolerance” in The Poverty of Liberalism)]; besides, he was unduly suspicious (with a suspicion that bordered on paranoia) of the stifling effects of voluntary associations: Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Even so, his vision of politics as an activity, and of the overarching political community as the primary focus and site of that activity, reminds one of Aristotle (Man is a political animal) for whom politics and engagement in politics, the life of a citizen, that is, represented the pinnacle of human development (the term “human” functioning here in a generic, undifferentiated sense); the final realization of our potential as social beings.

It is arguable, in fact, that for both Aristotle and Rousseau, the ultimate political community, envisaged by either of them as the state, commanded a kind of loyalty that transcended all other loyalties, be they to other institutions, groups of individuals, or individual persons. As an aside, one can’t help but think here of the biblical injunction, “… let no man put asunder,” to establish the primacy of marital relations over the familial ones, except that for Rousseau, and to an extent Aristotle as well, the relationship of a citizen to the state trumped all other relationships and alliances, all other loyalties.

Again, we shall have to hold in abeyance for now the hard question as to whether, and under what circumstances it is possible for an institution to command the same kind of respect and loyalty we usually reserve for persons. I suppose part of the answer has got to do with how we happen to regard the institution in question: it must, in some sense, transcend the real and approximate the ideal; and Rousseau’s vision of the state as the end-all and be-all, enabling the individual to sever the chains imposed on him or her by custom, tradition, what else have you, so as to become free at last through and by total identification with the state, certainly qualifies.

By way of preliminaries, let me suggest two likely responses. The first may be termed “Socratic,” and it’s exemplified by Socrates’ willful submission to the laws of Athens and his opting for drinking hemlock rather than trying to save himself by seeking life in exile; the second can be associated with Thucydides (History of the Peloponnesian War) or with Euripides (The Trojan Women), both latter-day contemporaries of Socrates and super patriots in their own right. In the first instance, the laws and the constitution of Athens are being upheld in spite of an occasional miscarriage of justice; in the second, the entire edifice of the state, the very institution itself, is brought into question, along with a host of related concerns as to its legitimacy, the kind of loyalty it may properly command, etc.

In Socrates’ defense, we must note he hadn’t tasted the full unraveling of the Athenian empire, sanctified as it had become by the formation of the Delos League with Athens in charge. Athens was but a city-state in his times, a powerful city-state and the most enterprising one, a city-state definitely to be reckoned with, but no one could possibly foresee the rise of her imperialistic ambitions, the underlying hubris, and her eventual demise. The Melos massacre, the pinnacle of that hubris, an event which Thucydides so unforgettably records in his first-hand accounts (see the Melian dialogue, for instance, in order to appreciate the full impact), was still far off in the ever-seeing mind of Socrates. And so were the heroic acts of the Greeks epitomized in Homer’s immortal epic if only because they were a myth, a glorious and breathtaking myth, but a myth nonetheless.

It took a prolonged, first-hand exposure to what Athens had become, the experience of an eyewitness, to see her ruthless and unabashed exercise of raw power, unapologetically and matter-of-factly, her flagrant misuse of the position of leadership in which she was placed, her meteoric rise to greatness and her equally rapid disintegration and fall, in order to be able to see her clearly and in the light, in order to cast contemporary as well as mythical or ancient events with an unprecedented tour de force; the benefit of hindsight that Thucydides and Euripides have brought into play but which Socrates had lacked. Hence the different visions of the Athenian state and the attendant judgments.

Where did we go wrong? How come the state, once thought of as “the [ultimate] vehicle of human co-operation” and the rightful locus of all human (once again, read: collective) endeavor, ceased to function in its intended capacity? For that, in essence, is the gist of the anarchistic thesis, that the state failed to deliver on its promise and is no longer true to its original conception, that it cannot be true to its original conception for the simple reason it itself is destined to remain insecure: having always to tend to its own security as a matter of ever-present and overriding concern, it is precluded thereby from ever discharging its sovereign-related duties without prejudice, with only justice and fairness in mind. The idealized, Rousseauian conception of the state is a myth; it’s always been a myth, a concept that was flawed from the outset, a concept beyond the possibility of redemption. Thucydides and Euripides, it appears, were on the right side of history; Socrates was not.

Since the state is bound to remain imperfect – a fatal flaw, if you ask me, considering the centrality of the concept! – then under what circumstances can it still command a measure of loyalty before being deemed illegitimate? What is the litmus test for what counts as legitimate or illegitimate in this context? Can we spell out the relevant criteria to everyone’s satisfaction?

To these considerations we must now turn. Meanwhile, let’s keep in mind that loyalty is not to be denied. It serves as the bedrock of all our relationships, political, social, and familial. Without loyalty, there’d be no such a thing as politics, I daresay; there’d be no family and no voluntary associations either, no bowling league and no rotary club, not even friendship. The essence of loyalty, as I understand it, is always to look up rather than down, in spite of the old saw that there is honor among thieves; and politics, and our engagement in politics, may well represent the high point of our predisposition to be loyal in practice.

And so, just as loyalty is not to be denied, neither is politics, surely one of the most understandable of human activities and concerns. One way or another, with or without the state, politics will go on. We may question the quality of loyalty the next political configuration may rightfully command, whether it will be total and undivided or merely partial (I’d certainly hope for the former, or we’d be back to square one!), but not the eventual replacement of the state by a polity that would be more responsive to human concerns, more realigned with them, more capable of seeing to justice and justice only.

The days of the state as the predominant political institution of our time are numbered.

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About Roger Nowosielski

  • Les Slater

    Again, it’s the markets that control capitalism, not the other way around.

  • I believe the discussion is about the markets, not about retaining capitalism. I don’t regard the functionality of the former as necessarily an essential characteristic of capitalism (organization of production is). Surely there were markets aplenty before the advent of capitalism, although capitalism developed an uncanny way of controlling and manipulating markets.

  • Les Slater

    @33 – I need to clarify my 31.

    Second paragraph describes a possibility. A ‘However’ should precede ‘My belief…’.

    I need also to clarify ‘democratic will’ as pertains to culture and spirit. I do not advocate production of culture or spirit by ‘democratic will’. What I advocate is that the means to culture and spirituality be made available, including any infrastructure enabling those means.

  • Les Slater

    Curve ball? I say smoke and mirrors. It is capital, through the market, that needs and sustains the state.

  • A curve ball. According to David Graeber, market(s) must be sustained by the institution of the state. Can we therefore dissociate its operations and function, and neutralize it so at to serve merely as a feedback mechanism by way of providing the needed input, from the larger context?

  • troll

    re 31 – 1 agreed that I might better say ‘market’ not market as what I describe is a ‘place’ for distribution and not exchange

    2 changing human (e)valuation [of production] would require constant political tinkering with the automata

    3 “imposing our democratic will” remains a muddled and problematic process to me…probably because I live life as an anachronistic anarch and not a very classy guy

  • Igor

    Markets determine which company is the most successful so it can drive the weaker competitors out of business and then form a monopoly so the ascendant company monopolizes wages and can drive those down to subsistence level.


  • Les Slater

    @30 – the ‘market’ you envision being possible to construct is not the ‘invisible hand’ of Smith nor the monster it has become. I contend it is a totally different animal that should not be labeled ‘market’.

    The examples of information gathering you raise could be put into a model to be automated without human intervention.

    My belief is that society will have to become much more conscious of the effects of whatever mechanisms we find necessary and / or convenient and impose our democratic will directing, in a broad sense, all production of what we need, starting with most basic sustenance to the cultural and spiritual.

  • troll

    …I imagine that it would be possible to construct a market that serves as a vehicle for transmitting information about production levels and demand without using prices…something more down to earth like how quickly the shelves in the stores empty and the number of ‘customers’ left wanting at the end of the day

  • Eliminate the power of capital to control the relations of production and you’ve dealt capitalism a major blow. I don’t see why obliteratin of the market would be a required step.

  • Les Slater

    @26 – It is capital, and the strength of capital, that dictate the organization and control of production, but ultimately, it is through the market that capital is brought to bear in the way it does.

  • troll

    …organization and control of the production of surplus value more like it

  • roger nowosielski

    I thought that organization and control of production was the chief distinquishing characteristic of capitalism rather than the existence of markets (although the system is particularly adept at puting markets to its own uses).

  • troll

    …let’s get back to some basics – this all seems somewhat moot (in the not-too-long run) if you can’t figure a way to reverse the trend in the rate of profit (or roi – a rose by any other name etc) which has remained pretty consistent since the end of ww2 despite despite both neoliberal and Keynesian monetary and fiscal shenanigans and manipulations of demand

    retaining capitalism as a foundation for experimentation might not be an option

  • (3) That planning is not a viable alternative to capitalism (as opposed to a tool within it) should disturb even capitalism’s most ardent partisans. It means that their system faces no competition, nor even any plausible threat of competition. Those partisans themselves should be able to say what will happen then: the masters of the system, will be tempted, and more than tempted, to claim more and more of what it produces as monopoly rents. This does not end happily.

    (4) There is a fundamental level at which Marx’s nightmare vision is right: capitalism, the market system, whatever you want to call it, is a product of humanity, but each and every one of us confronts it as an autonomous and deeply alien force. Its ends, to the limited and debatable extent that it can even be understood as having them, are simply inhuman. The ideology of the market tell us that we face not something inhuman but superhuman, tells us to embrace our inner zombie cyborg and loose ourselves in the dance. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry or running screaming.

    But, and this is I think something Marx did not sufficiently appreciate, human beings confront all the structures which emerge from our massed interactions in this way. A bureaucracy, or even a thoroughly democratic polity of which one is a citizen, can feel, can be, just as much of a cold monster as the market. We have no choice but to live among these alien powers which we create, and to try to direct them to human ends. It is beyond us, it is even beyond all of us, to find “a human measure, intelligible to all, chosen by all”, which says how everyone should go. What we can do is try to find the specific ways in which these powers we have conjured up are hurting us, and use them to check each other, or deflect them into better paths. Sometimes this will mean more use of market mechanisms, sometimes it will mean removing some goods and services from market allocation, either through public provision or through other institutional arrangements. Sometimes it will mean expanding the scope of democratic decision-making (for instance, into the insides of firms), and sometimes it will mean narrowing its scope (for instance, not allowing the demos to censor speech it finds objectionable). Sometimes it will mean leaving some tasks to experts, deferring to the internal norms of their professions, and sometimes it will mean recognizing claims of expertise to be mere assertions of authority, to be resisted or countered.

    These are all going to be complex problems, full of messy compromises. Attaining even second best solutions is going to demand “bold, persistent experimentation”, coupled with a frank recognition that many experiments will just fail, and that even long-settled compromises can, with the passage of time, become confining obstacles. We will not be able to turn everything over to the wise academicians, or even to their computers, but we may, if we are lucky and smart, be able, bit by bit, make a world fit for human beings to live in.

  • (1) We need then some systematic way for the citizens to provide feedback on the plan, as it is realized. There are many, many things to be said against the market system, but it is a mechanism for providing feedback from users to producers, and for propagating that feedback through the whole economy, without anyone having to explicitly track that information. This is a point which both Hayek, and Lange (before the war) got very much right. The feedback needn’t be just or even mainly through prices; quantities (especially inventories) can sometimes work just as well. But what sells and what doesn’t is the essential feedback.

    It’s worth mentioning that this is a point which Trotsky got right.(I should perhaps write that “even Trotsky sometimes got right”.) To repeat a quotation:

    The innumerable living participants in the economy, state and private, collective and individual, must serve notice of their needs and of their relative strength not only through the statistical determinations of plan commissions but by the direct pressure of supply and demand. The plan is checked and, to a considerable degree, realized through the market.

    It is conceivable that there is some alternative feedback mechanism which is as rich, adaptive, and easy to use as the market but is not the market, not even in a disguised form. Nobody has proposed such a thing.

    (2) The conditions under which equilibrium prices really are all a decision-maker needs to know, and really are sufficient for coordination, are so extreme as to be absurd.(Stiglitz is good on some of the failure modes.) Even if they hold, the market only lets people “serve notice of their needs and of their relative strength” up to a limit set by how much money they have. This is why careful economists talk about balancing supply and “effective” demand, demand backed by money.

    This is just as much an implicit choice of values as handing the planners an objective function and letting them fire up their optimization algorithm. Those values are not pretty. They are that the whims of the rich matter more than the needs of the poor; that it is more important to keep bond traders in strippers and cocaine than feed hungry children. At the extreme, the market literally starves people to death, because feeding them is a less ”efficient” use of food than helping rich people eat more.
    I don’t think this sort of pathology is intrinsic to market exchange; it comes from market exchange plus gross inequality. If we want markets to signal supply and demand (not just tautological “effective demand”), then we want to ensure not just that everyone has access to the market, but also that they have (roughly) comparable amounts of money to spend. There is, in other words, a strong case to be made for egalitarian distributions of resources being a complement to market allocation. Politically, however, good luck getting those to go together.

    We are left in an uncomfortable position. Turning everything over to the market is not really an option. Beyond the repulsiveness of the values it embodies, markets in areas like healthcare or information goods are always inefficient (over and above the usual impossibility of informationally-efficient prices). Moreover, working through the market imposes its own costs (time and effort in searching out information about prices and qualities, negotiating deals, etc.), and these costs can be very large. This is one reason (among others) why Simon’s Martian sees such large green regions in the capitalist countries — why actually-existing capitalism is at least as much an organizational as a market economy.

  • @21

    I’m not entirely convinced, Les. It’d seem to me he’s following a wise maxim, after Aristotle, not to demand the kind of precision a subject matter would not allow. Scaling down expectations doesn’t seem foolhardy or “unscientific” to me, only realistic. I’ll run it by a friend of mine, a mathematician, to get a second opinion about the soundness of the article.

    Meanwhile, let’s keep in mind the author is no kind of apologist for capitalism. Some quotes of note, see the following post.

  • Les Slater

    @20 – The thrust of his argument begins with pointing out that optimization for all inputs and outputs is computationally prohibitive. He then progressively relaxes constraints and goals until he comes up with a solution he likes. Not very scientific.

  • In that case, you’re going to have to be patient with me because I find the argument quite compelling. I’m going to reread parts of the article, however, in light of your remark.

  • Les Slater


    This is turning into an interesting discussion.

    I’m not exactly sure what to make of the linked essay on planning. In the end it justifies the market, albeit with restrictions.

    I read the whole linked article and much of the thrust of it reminded me of ‘I, Pencil’ by Leonard Read. That was a justification for the market, specifically the ‘Invisible Hand’ and ultimately, the necessity of God.

    Reading ‘Calling the Tune for the Dance of Commodities’ reminded me very much of where my head was at in 1964. I’ve come a long way since then.

  • Dr Dreadful

    A single global state is probably a great idea, but keeping it together would be another thing entirely.

    Humans are social animals and naturally band together for mutual support and defence – but, in our pre-domesticated past, these tended to be nomadic bands of a dozen or so, expanding perhaps to a few dozen or a few hundred on a temporary basis as the need arose. As our numbers grew and we started to use technology, groupings became larger, more permanent and less mobile. Because these enhanced assemblies went against the grain of our natural behaviour, they were/are inherently unstable, so artificial devices had to be invented in order to maintain coherence and loyalty to the new, bigger groups. Thus patriotism was conceived.

    The question then is: to what would a global patriotism appeal? There are no humans nor, as far as we know, any other entities living on any other planet. Therefore there is no rival group of people that we could portray ourselves as better than.

    Of course, patriotism doesn’t have to take the form of believing that the piece of land and the assemblage of folks you happen to live among just happen to be superior to anything else the universe has to offer. It can just mean you love the place you were born in (or have moved to) and enjoy the bond this gives you with others who share that connection.

    It’s just that, in the case of Planet Earth, we don’t currently have any alternative. Patriotism encourages us to stick voluntarily with the place and people we’re with rather than buggering off and joining some other tribe. But we can’t, at our current level of technology, bugger off anywhere other than where we’re at because nowhere else we know of is capable of sustaining us. We can’t start our own planet if we’re not happy with the way this one is being run. The only alternative is to found a breakaway political unit here on Earth, and then we’re back to square one.

  • @16

    I’m not sure, Les, you would want to throw away the baby with the bathwater. Perhaps you can’t separate the institution of the markets from capitalism.

    For an alternative view, see “Soviet Union Optimization Problem Solves You in “Crooked Timber.” The entire article is worth a thorough read, especially if you’re not turned off by mathematical/statistical models. In any case, look at the last three sections: “The Given Assortment, and Planner’s Preferences,” “Errors of the Bourgeois Economists” and “Calling the Tune for the Dance of Commodities.”

  • Les Slater


    Those writing the report assume that they and other like-minded folk will continue controlling things.

    The report itself is an admission on their part that they are losing control and have no alternative. So, it is implicitly self contradictory.

    The fundamental assumption that they start with is that there will be nation states with market driven economies competing on a world market.

    We need to break the pervasive hold of the market on every aspect of our lives. Without the market there is no reason why all problems can’t be avoided or solved.


  • Roger,

    In today’s news, something you may be interested in: U.S. Intelligence Agencies See a Different World in 2030. You will have to google the title ,as the antispam blocked my post when I used the URL.

    New technologies, dwindling resources and explosive population growth in the next 18 years will alter the global balance of power and trigger radical economic and political changes at a speed unprecedented in modern history, says a new report by the U.S. intelligence community.

    The 140-page report released today by the National Intelligence Council lays out dangers and opportunities for nations, economies, investors, political systems and leaders due to four “megatrends” that government intelligence analysts say are transforming the world.

    Those major trends are the end of U.S. global dominance, the rising power of individuals against states, a rising middle class whose demands challenge governments, and a Gordian knot of water, food and energy shortages, according to the analysts.

  • Exactly, one state with no borders.

  • Les Slater

    Nation State? We started out with the City State and that has evolved to the Nation State. But why stop there? How about a Planet State?

    There is absolutely no fundamental need for a Nation State, humanity in general has no use for it.

    But we do have economic classes. There are those, a very small minority, that benefit from the rule of Capital and the division of the world into Nation States. We need a Workers State with no geographical boundaries.

  • In perfect agreement with you, Les, with one possible exception. If only for practical considerations, in particular, the fierce competition any state must face at the hands of any other nation-state, I’m convinced it is thereby precluded from ever becoming a vehicle of liberation. Since it’s compelled therefore throughout its existence always having to tend to matters of its own survival over and above any other concern, it can never serve as an instrument of justice. This may have been the original intent, but the prevailing condition given by the proliferation of nation-states precludes such an eventuality. Only under the condition of a lasting and undisturbed peace could a nation-state be secure enough to function in that capacity, but therein lies the rub: proliferation of nation-states begets war and warlike behavior. It’s a Catch-22.

    So no, the state is beyond the possibility of redemption. It’s an inherently flawed concept, and its value to us is strictly instrumental, to alert us to its necessarily oppressive nature so as to mobilize ourselves against it

  • troll

    …alternatively one could quote: “If you wish to study a Granfalloon just take the skin off a toy balloon”

  • Les Slater

    Interesting article and discussion. Don’t tread on blogcritics too often but this post seems to reflect a more basic reevaluation of where we are and where we’re going.

    However, I think we’re blinded by a certain imposition of superficiality.

    The basic problem we, and by we I mean the broader society, face is that things are getting worse and none of the institutions on hand are solving anything for the majority of us.

    In my opinion we must be careful not to lay too much at the feet of ‘human nature’ or the ‘state’. Both ‘human nature’ and the ‘state’, or other social institutions, are quite variable and influenced by the social and economic environment.

    The problem we face at present is primarily the blind collective pervasiveness of the market, the ‘invisible hand’ having turned into a monster beyond deliberate control.

    Wishful thinking aside, this cannot be confronted without the concentrated power of those that have no investment in the market, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

  • cindy


    It takes me awhile to think on a thing.

  • Not giving me much there, Cindy, to work with.

  • cindy

    Interesting article, Roger.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    John –

    As people become disenchanted with the state

    It’s not just ‘the state’ – it’s with most organizations of any type, whether political, social, or religious.

  • John Lake

    Barring the factors of fear and hunger, it is easier to believe in a government with high principles and standards then one which is only human. By the same token, the study of marketing (social manipulation) as it pertains to government, utilizing subconscious or subliminal means to bring about that same type of emotional tie, peaked in, what, the 60’s. In that situation, no longer do leaders need to possesses endearing qualities, they only need to convince the population that they do.
    The link between government and religion, going far beyond basic moral principles, seems universal in any look at society. Religion changes the formulae, and gives rise to all matter of anomaly. Soon we find the hatred or need to convert that seems to grease the wheels of social history.
    The matter of marriage is certainly paramount today, and seems to be changing daily before our eyes; kind of social change in quick time. I can’t tolerate a two father family, though a two mothered unit might have some merit. Race is becoming less of an issue. The order changes daily.
    As people become disenchanted with the state, they have an option. If they hypothesize a social order and try to establish it, they start on solid ground. If they take the easier course and oppose with the hope of overthrowing, with only a partially formulated idea of what will follow, they may bring into existence the most basic and most destructive kind of system, in which the strong lead and do whatsoever appeals to them at any given time.

  • @1

    It is about perfection, John, or at least about our quest for perfection. Contrary to some, I don’t regard it as an idealistic trait but as basic part of our human makeup. Naturally, those who disagree with my starting assumption will disagree with the conclusions as well.

    The concept of loyalty seems to fit quite nicely. Not only is it reflective of our basic desire to look up to our “betters,” or, alternatively, to what is better in us. It also seems to anchor the political in us in the emotional, in a basic human need, an affinity to be social, along with the functionality which comes with groupings. Needless to say, all this is experimental, just trying to push the envelop.

    I don’t have the same qualms as you do about us notlearning from our mistakes. I think we do.

    Take the institution of marriage, for instance. Once it was considered sacrosanct, a sacrament. Today, single-parent families are close to becoming a norm: a realization had set in to the effect that some marital relations are worse than no relations at all.

    Same with the political, I’d like to argue. More and more are becoming disenchanted with the institution of the state, its purposes, legitimacy, etc. Again, it’s only a matter of time until this sentiment becomes widespread. And when it reaches the boiling point, a critical mass, I believe all bets are off.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Roger –

    What I find most interesting about your article is that it gave a type of voice to an article that I was attempting to write this past week. I say “a type of voice” because I see a different overarching trend than you do; I’m not completely sure where it comes from, but the trend is IMO strongly identifiable.

    I joined the Freemasons back in the mid-1980’s and stayed with them for a little under a decade. One of their primary concerns was their declining membership. There’s a Shriners golf course – a nice one – in a nearby city, and in order to stay afloat it has had to open its doors up to the general public, something that would have been unthinkable in generations past. Other volunteer agencies and fraternities are experiencing similar declines in membership.

    At the same time, on Navy bases there were clubs – each a combination of a restaurant, bar, and nightclub – for non-commissioned officers like myself, for senior NCO’s, and for officers…and now only the Officers’ Club is still extant, and then not out of financial success, but out of hierarchical necessity. The other clubs are simply gone.

    We’ve all seen the decline in religious affiliation (except for in the Church of which I’m a member, which continues to grow – but that story is the exception to the rule), which is happening around the world and is particularly evident in Europe.

    And we’ve seen a decline in the percentage of the American population who self-identify as Republican or Democratic; instead, more and more are identifying as ‘independent’, although there are very few independent politicians to support. That, and I suspect you’ll agree that people are much more willing and able to speak up and speak out against their respective nations than they were once able to do. There’s still no lack of uber-patriots, but they are in decline.

    Look at the whole of the picture, Roger – it’s not just party politics that’s in decline, but it’s clubs, volunteer organizations, and religions too. In my opinion, it’s an overall decline in the human drive to be a part of something larger, greater than ourselves.

    Individuals in the first reference above laid the blame on declining support by the business community, and on the simple fact that people are busier now than ever before. While I feel the second observation is related to the issue, it’s not the whole story. I suspect the reason lay in a ‘perfect storm’, if you will, of lack of free time, societal pressures, increase in overall prosperity, the mass media (for the early days of the decline), and particularly the internet (for today). The increase in knowledge of the shortcomings of all these organizations – from the Freemasons to the Boy Scouts, from the Catholic church to the Salvation Army, from the GOP and the Democrats to the ecological movement, the media and the internet are showing us their flaws, we have less time to devote to such matters, life seems pretty good without them anyway, and besides, we’ve just got to see what happens on Dancing With the Stars tonight!

    So to address your article, it’s not just politics – it’s much bigger than that.

    Where do we go from here? For the life of me, I haven’t a clue. Some sci-fi authors have posited a type of eventual mass gestalt – which is IMO impossible as they propose, but with the free flow of information, general understandings of major issues may evolve into a type of societal will or imperative, the scale of which we haven’t seen before. This may work for good or ill or both, but it certainly isn’t going to be boring.

  • Prince Metternich assembled a considerable centralized model for governance; however, we’ve seen the
    converse or undoing of the centralized model in instances like Gosplan, the experience we’ve seen in
    North Korea, Iran and other places around the globe. The undoing of the highly centralized governance
    model happens when concentrated power vetoes the human creative side which thrives on innovation
    and the goal of individuals to live without too much interference by the government.

  • John Lake

    We might consider that loyalty that transcends all concerns must be a loyalty to perceived perfection. Then we can dedicate our entire being. But humans fall from grace, and societies fail. The loyalty to the state above all other institutions, groups of individuals, or individual persons must be basic, but power does corrupt, and wealth is a corrupting catalyst.
    Severance of the chains of custom, tradition and what else requires a definer, and we must find definers to be loyal to. Not an easy task. Definers are sometimes slippery fellows, and eventual failure is a certainty; the only question is to the duration of the idealistic society. If the definers and the political community strive for some noble perfection, failure may be set back by decades or presumably centuries.
    These concepts which you address have a place in our thinking and concern for modern society. Purity in politics is no longer acceptable, beneath the dignity of many modern politicians. Strange characters in powerful places can bring an early end to an otherwise vibrant society.
    Human concerns ought to be, most I suggest agree, the main concern of the political community. When other concerns are placed in higher esteem, what could one expect but human suffering, and eventual failure of all concerned. But men as a succession of men don’t always learn from failure, and life moves along. Maybe it slouches toward Bethlehem, to be born and reborn again and again.