Political power structures, past and present

It’s normal that political leaders drive policy changes and historic events.  However, quite often, there are individuals away from the public’s eye who have influence on these leaders.  Sometimes they influence the public itself, often by way of institutions.  Sometimes the leaders have hidden agendas themselves.

Power structures in history

It’s true that there’s nothing new under the sun.  Back in the days of Renaissance Europe, the royalty often was related to each other.  Further, some of the kings were pretty corrupt; it was normal for them to have mistresses, and a few made Bill Clinton seem like a monk by comparison.  Bribery certainly is nothing new; today, they just have more sophisticated means.  The wealthy and ambitious clamored for access to their kings, and some profited greatly.  The difference from today’s times was that things were more out in the open.  Even illiterate peasants became aware of scandals and court gossip, long before television, tabloids, and social media existed.

Still, the intricate pattern of alliances and rivalries between the royal dynasties was public knowledge, and historians have little trouble studying the power structures.  We’re also aware of the beliefs and power of the Catholic Church and its Protestant rivals.  We also have a fairly good idea about what other sectors of society were doing:  merchants, guilds, and the peasantry.  Some things are shrouded in the mists of time, but the broad picture is discernible.

A rational king would identify with his nation and acted in its best interests, so that his eldest son would inherit a stable kingdom, and his dynasty would thrive.  Not all were top-notch, though; some were tyrannical, others were incompetent.  Being the King was no guarantee of good character or even intelligence (some were too inbred).  He got the job by being the firstborn in the lineal succession of whatever warlord last took over the country, and had the advantage of first-class education, but otherwise there’s nothing special about monarchs.  When the common people became literate and started getting a fairly decent education, monarchy started becoming obsolete.

Thus, during the Age of Enlightenment, democratic government became fashionable.  The newborn USA led the way as a proof of concept.  With the people in charge, it was expected that the best men in the nation would rule.

Modern power structures

So the new model worked, giving the public more input into government since the Roman Republic.  An extensive system of checks and balances prevented power from being amassed into too few hands.  (As much as people complain about our recent batch of Presidents, fortunately the USA hasn’t had to deal with any rulers like Caligula, Vlad the Impaler, or Ivan the Terrible.)  In practice, several complications arose.  The Founders didn’t anticipate all this, though they were well aware that their Constitution would only work right with a virtuous public.  In any event, even this masterfully devised system isn’t perfect.

It was intended that the cream of society would do tours of duty in Washington, then return to private life.  These days, politicians are careerists, usually ascended lawyers.  Some are decent people, but all too often they gradually fall out of touch with the experience of their constituents.  The best and brightest don’t always come to power; having the right connections is the critical factor.  Further, the corrupt and power-hungry have a way of rising to the top.  Finally, excessive centralization and judicial abuses have distorted Constitutional rule of law.

The influence of monopolies and trusts became very powerful during the Industrial Age.  As time went on, semi-formal international coalitions of billionaires began casting a long shadow.  The banking dynasties of Europe were already manipulating politics there.  In the USA, industrialists and bankers began forging international alliances in the 20th century, with considerable political influence behind the scenes by the 1940s.

Unlike monarchy at its best, business interests aren’t in it for the generational long haul, but rather whatever gets the best quarterly numbers.  Neither must they be loyal to their countries; instead, they see things like borders, sovereignty, and national solidarity as a barrier to profits.  Short-sightedness is a huge problem.  It seems that today’s Powers That Be don’t care if their heirs inherit a global slum.

Perhaps the greatest unintended consequence of the democratic system is that political parties almost immediately became the gatekeepers of power.  In the USA, the Electoral College and lack of runoff elections all but guarantees the two party system.  (In Europe, it’s a little more diverse, where three and sometimes four viable parties operate and form parliamentary coalitions, but they can still defy the people’s will with impunity.)  So it came to political machines, Tammany Hall, smoke-filled rooms, and all the rest of it.

Oligarchical control

Today, money and media access are everything.  Major contributors call the tune, usually hedging their bets with both parties.  This is how the oligarch class has owned the Republicans and the Democrats in recent decades, giving the public the good cop / bad cop treatment.

The 2016 election was a great upset, practically a bloodless coup.  Democrats were stunned, as one would expect.  What truly was surprising – at least to those unaware of today’s power structures – was that Republican party bosses fought their top candidate every step of the way.  (The bipartisan opposition by the leadership had everything to do with Trump’s disdain for to globalist policies, and nothing to do with saying the word “pussy”.)  Donald Trump is a billionaire, but is basically a rebel opposing others in the oligarch class.  His victory was possible only because he is rich enough that he could finance his own election and couldn’t be bought off.  However, how independent he actually is – and what the extent of the Deep State is – remains anyone’s guess at this moment.

Ultimately, the oligarchs have become even more powerful than most nominal heads of state.  Yet in today’s information age, ironically the picture of the top-level power structures is quite murky.  With the lack of transparency, looking for evidence about today’s shadow government leads one down countless rabbit holes, leaving more speculation than facts.

The problem is, democratic societies are supposed to be better than all this.  With the people in charge – so the theory goes – if politicians abuse their power, the public could throw the bums out.  The Founding Fathers did understand that danger was always present; as Thomas Jefferson said,

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

If he were around today, that attitude probably would’ve put him on some watch list.  All told, perhaps draining the swamp might be more akin to a Superfund abatement.

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Political power structures, past and present

10 thoughts on “Political power structures, past and present

  1. Jay Dee says:

    Hi Beau,
    An excellent article. I would highly recommend Professor Philip Hamburger’s recent article on Imprimus, “The History and Danger of Administrative Law”.
    Essentially, administrative law has morphed from simple administration of the law into a jurisprudence seemingly independent of the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. Do remember that Barack Obama was trailing Hillary Clinton until he met with SEIU. The government unions are seemingly now electing our legislators and presidents.
    Jay

    Like

  2. Ankara says:

    As a Turk, I’d like to thank you for your article on Ataturk posted on Return of Kings. http://www.returnofkings.com/123276/turkish-leader-ataturk-proved-that-a-nations-terminal-decline-can-be-reversed

    At a time when, Turkey is going through challenging times and the legacy of Ataturk is trying to be erased, it was a big morale booster to read your uplifting and informative article on his accomplishments and the founding of the Turkish Republic.

    Keep up the good work!

    Ankara

    p.s. I did not want to lave these comments on the RoK site because the comments there degenerated into name calling as usual.

    Like

  3. Hey, I’m glad someone out there liked the article. It’s too bad that there are those who want to drag the country backward.

    Indeed, many of the comments were pretty negative, as I figured they might be. Historical matters in that region are often a matter of intense dispute. Really, I was focusing on the time of national renewal. The underlying purpose was to show the revival as a proof of concept. In my region, there is too much apathy and defeatism, and we need to get over that. I made all that pretty clear, but sometimes I wish people would read what I wrote, rather than what they think I wrote!

    Like

  4. Jac says:

    Great article. New Zealand is also on its way down that route. Do you a facebook group/page I can follow please? Thanks!

    Like

  5. Jac says:

    Yes, I read that article. I am aware of it. Also, we are also get bought up by Indian & Chinese millionaires & billionaires at an extremely fast pace. Long story short, our government has some sort of an agreement with them that allows them to buy private land, houses, businesses without the need for residency/citizenship. So yea, basically if you have millions/billions then can buy citizenship, land etc. But India & China are the two countries most interested in NZ at the moment! New Zealanders are priced out of Auckland which is one of them most expensive places in the world to buy a home. Corruption is increasing, labour exploitation is increasing. Our elections are coming, it will be interesting to see what transpires.
    Oh, we are very PC down here. SJW’s are everywhere. There is no common sense around and people are easily offended.
    I will be leaving soon and probably heading to Australia. Not sure how much better off I am there, but I will have to find out..:)

    Also, if you use the Facebook group page setup then you can make it private and invite and approve who you think will like your group. You will not get taken down that way. Or setup up your own facebook personal page and make it private. No one will report you or ban you.If possible, get a subscribe function setup on your website so people can get notified for next article:) Thanks.

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  6. The way I’ve heard, Australia isn’t as bad off as many places, but the politicians been pushing demographic changes there too. If you like, you can go on vacation there for two weeks, check things out, and talk to the people there. Better yet, though, we’ve got to draw a line in the sand and start taking our nations back from the SJW types. They want to wreck everything, and they have no right to do this. We either start telling them no, or soon there won’t be anyplace to run.

    Anyway, it sounds like it’s pretty crazy there. Just remember, you are not alone. Everywhere, there are people who see things as they are but are afraid to speak out. The left got where they are through controlling the narrative and intimidation. With little real opposition, they become more brazen. Still, all it’s going to take is for us to start finding our voice. The good news is that the sleeping giant is starting to awaken.

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