Friday, August 20, 2021

Reflecting On Legitimacy

It's a bad sign for the health of our political establishment that more and more articles are popping up with people writing about issues of legitimate governance. I don't think I've ever been naive about the American political order, but I'll be the first to admit I didn't think the country would ever sink to this level. Trump has revealed to all: The Empire's clothing is threadbare at best. And now serious people are asking: What comes next. That may seem extreme at this point, but events have a way of taking on a life of their own. Once a rock starts downhill it gathers momentum.

So I plan here to provide examples of the type of commentary that's out there, and increasing. First, however, I'll sketch out the traditional ideas on government in the Western tradition.

Aristotle's classical formulation of good and bad types of government has retained its usefulness. Aristotle came up with three categories, based on : Rule by one, by several, and by many, and divided each category in two: good and corrupt forms. Thus, there could be good or bad forms of government in any of the three categories (simplified): 

One:  Monarchy  Dictatorship

Several: Aristocracy  Oligarchy

Many: Timocracy  Democracy

Aristotle and other ancients were advocates of a governments in which all three levels of society were involved.

During the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas was also a strong advocate for a mixed constitution, in which all elements of society received representation under a strong executive. Aquinas presents his reasoning in favor of a mixed constitution in three elements, which explictly includes the idea of what we now term "checks and balances":

First, in any rightly ordered society, all the members of the community “should take some share in the government: for this form of constitution ensures peace among the people, commends itself to all, and is most enduring.” Good government, in short, is democratic government, involving the input and participation of the subjects whom it governs. ... As Aquinas himself later describes the democratic ideal, it is government “by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people, and the people have the right to choose their rulers.”

To this democratic principle of good governance Aquinas adds a second consideration, which is that, on the other hand, the more unified a society’s government is, the more effective it must be in carrying out the task of government, in which respect monarchy is actually to be preferred, because in this “the power of government is vested in one.” Good government may need to be democratic, involving the many, but it also needs to be monarchical, led by the one. Third and finally, and pushing now in the other direction, Aquinas says that “since the power granted to a king is so great, it easily degenerates into tyranny,” requiring that this concentration of power in the hands of one man should also be placed in check by the institution of an intermediate level of rulers. Bringing all three of these principles together—participation of the people, a unitary ruler, yet decentralized checks against tyranny—Aquinas concludes that “the best form of government is in a state or kingdom, where one is given the power to preside over all; while under him are others having governing powers: and yet a government of this kind is shared by all, both because all are eligible to govern, and because the rules are chosen by all.” The best form of government, in sum, is one part monarchy, one part aristocracy, and one part democracy.

This concept of the best political order was preserved by later Catholic thinkers (prominent among them, Robert Bellarmine), even during the period of "absolute monarchy" in the West. This tradition of political thought in turn influenced early modern thinkers such as Hugo Grotius and John Locke--and through them the American founding. It is easy enough to see how congenial this tradition of political thought was to the American Founders from this brief passage from Bellarmines De Laicis:

"Such a mixed and more useful government would therefore: first, embrace one supreme head and possess all the good qualities attributed to monarchy, viz, order, peace, power, stability, efficiency; second, provide such minor heads as governors of provinces, legislators, and judges, who, on the one hand, would be in harmony with the supreme head and assist in distributing the burdens of government, and on the other hand, be independent enough, but as their own, thus making the best qualities of an aristocracy also possible; third, contain such democratic elements as should reasonably insure the Commonwealth against incompetent rulers and secure the highest degree of popular right, liberty, approval, self-expression, participation, and welfare."

Here we have the political foundations of self-government, succinctly expressed by a Roman Catholic Cardinal two centuries prior to the founding of our nation. During an age in which the descendents of Henry VIII and their Protestant apologists were expounding the Divine Right of Kings, Bellarmine was defending a form of government that finds good qualities in monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, and insists it is the right of the people to decide the "combination" under which they are to be ruled.

The continuity of Western political theory from the Greeks through to the early modern period is clear enough.

The common element in all the commentary that I've been reading is the concern that the third element in the mixed constitution scheme--the involvement of "the people", is increasingly elided. While the forms and institutions still exist through which the people are supposed to participate and have a voice, the reality is that these forms and institutions are manipulated by what C. Wright Mills termed a "power elite" for their own purposes. Times have changed since ancient Greece, medieval Europe, and Renaissance Europe. Whereas in the past the composition of the power elite might have leaned heavily toward the military class, we see in our time the rise of corporate interests.

Supporting the power elite is a new class of experts and managers. Government by such expert and managers was the pet project of the Progressive Era--which has continued to the present and blossomed in a rampant growth of governmental bureaucracies and attendant agencies.

Here is a brief survey of some recent articles. This first article was sent by a reader:

Farewell to Bourgeois Kings

This article draws on the thought of an unreconstructed Nazi, Carl Schmitt. However, the appeal is to Schmitt's pre-Nazi thought, particularly The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. What I find telling is the author's critique of rule by experts or managers--it appears to fit our current situation. Here are some excerpts, cobbled together out of context:

Every ruling class throughout history advances various claims about its own legitimacy, without which a stable political order is impossible. Legitimating claims can take many different forms and may change over time, but once they become exhausted or lose their credibility, that is pretty much it.

What Schmitt is saying is that when the legitimating claim for a particular form of elite is used up, when people no longer believe in the concepts or claims that underpin a particular system or claim to rule, the extinction of that particular elite becomes a foregone conclusion. 

[In Afghanistan], the full force of the entire NGO world, the brightest minds of that international government-in-waiting without a people to be beholden to, were given a playground with nearly infinite resources at their disposal. 

Their spectacular failure on every conceivable level now brings us to the true heart of the matter. Western society today is openly ruled by a managerial class. 

Put plainly: managers, through the power of managerialism, were once believed to be able to mobilize science and reason and progress to accomplish what everyone else could not, and so only they could secure a just and functional society for their subjects, just as only the rightful kings of yore could count on Providence and God to do the same thing.

It is not just that the elite class is incompetent – even kings could be incompetent without undermining belief in monarchy as a system – it is that they are so grossly, spectacularly incompetent that they walk around among us as living rebuttals of meritocracy itself. 

The managerial class increasingly appears as a sort of funhouse mirror inversion of the doomed Russian nobility of the late tsarist era; they no longer know how to run a country and only seem to parasitize on the body politic while giving almost nothing of value in return.

How long it will take for their institutions to disappear, or before they end up toppled by popular discontent and revolution, no one can know. But at this point, I think most people on some level now understand that it really is only a matter of time.

Lee Smith passes judgment in similar terms, drawing on multiple events from our current history, in an article about the Afghan debacle (and much more):

Assabiya Wins Every Time

Twenty years, $2 trillion, and the most powerful army in the world were no match for the one thing the Taliban has—and that current American leadership has lost

Evidence of the establishment’s decay is everywhere you look—the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, the public health bureaucracy’s failed COVID response, even Obama’s 60th birthday. Who would publicly celebrate leadership of an effort to split a nation on behalf of a sectarian gang that is only kept from each other’s throats by driving them at a much larger force, one made more cohesive and angry by the elite’s incessant attacks? Only a deracinated and delirious regime would parade an assortment of celebrities from the worlds of entertainment and politics to demonstrate its self-arrogated superiority in front of a nation it locked down, bankrupted, and mocked—only an intoxicated elite with no one left to take away the car keys.

Next are two articles that place rule by experts and manipulation of the masses in a Globalist context--the Davos elites of the World Economic Forum (WEF), fronted by Klaus Schwab. The first article is actually from 2019. I cite it to show how the world power elite--the corporatist world order, if you will--is taking over world institutions. Call it global socialism or global fascism, it's the corporatist world order (again, excerpts are taken without surrounding context). Note that the bias to rule by experts and a narrow power elite is overt:

How the United Nations is quietly being turned into a public-private partnership

A new agreement with the World Economic Forum gives multinational corporations influence over matters of global governance.

A new corporate and government marriage quietly took place last week when the leadership of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the United Nations (UN) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to partner with each other. ...

The timing and managing of public perceptions are not the only interesting aspect of this arrangement. In 2009, the WEF published a 600 page report entitled the Global Redesign Initiative, which called for a new system of global governing, one in which the decisions of governments could be made secondary to multistakeholder led initiatives in which corporations would play a defining role. In a sense this WEF study recommended a sort of public-private United “Nations” – something that has now been formalized in this MOU. The agreement announces new multistakeholder partnerships to deliver public goods in the fields of education, women, financing, climate change, and health.

All this joint work might have some practical good if it were not for three crucial elements: firstly, the agreement circumvents the intergovernmental review process; secondly, the agreement elevates multistakeholderism as the solution to the problems with the current multilateral system; and thirdly the proposed multistakeholder partnerships are not governed by any formal democratic system. Were the Secretary-General convinced of the wisdom of a UN marriage with the WEF, he could have submitted the draft MOU for approval by the member states. Instead, the Secretary-General joined the WEF in declaring in effect that multistakeholder groups without any formal intergovernmental oversight are a better governance system than a one-country-one-vote system.

All multistakeholder governance groups are largely composed of a self-selected group of multinational corporations and those organizations and individuals that they want to work with. They work without any common internal rule book to protect the views of all who might be impacted by the group. Participation in multistakeholder group is a voluntary undertaking. The drop-in-drop-out arrangements are antithetical to the UN’s efforts for 75 years to build a stable secure global governance system with a clear understanding of obligations, responsibilities and liabilities.

Did you have a voice in this? Me neither.

The next article, dated just last week, in a sense is an update, explaining what this model for world government involves:

Conspiracy theories aside, there is something fishy about the Great Reset

It’s a corporate takeover of global governance that affects our food, our data and our vaccines

The set of conspiracy theories around the Great Reset are nebulous and hard to pin down, but piecing them together gives us something like this: the Great Reset is the global elite’s plan to instate a communist world order by abolishing private property while using COVID-19 to solve overpopulation and enslaving what remains of humanity with vaccines.

Intrigued by the palaver around last year’s summit, I decided to find out what the WEF’s Great Reset plan was really about. At the heart of conspiracy theories are supposed secret agendas and malicious intent. While these may be absent from the WEF's Great Reset initiative, what I found was something almost as sinister hiding in plain sight. In fact, more sinister because it’s real and it’s happening now. And it involves things as fundamental as our food, our data and our vaccines.

The real Great Reset

The magic words are ‘stakeholder capitalism’, a concept that WEF chairman Klaus Schwab has been hammering for decades and which occupies pride of place in the WEF’s Great Reset plan from June 2020. The idea is that global capitalism should be transformed so that corporations no longer focus solely on serving shareholders but become custodians of society by creating value for customers, suppliers, employees, communities and other ‘stakeholders’. The way the WEF sees stakeholder capitalism being carried out is through a range of ‘multi-stakeholder partnerships’ bringing together the private sector, governments and civil society across all areas of global governance.

The idea of stakeholder capitalism and multi-stakeholder partnerships might sound warm and fuzzy, until we dig deeper and realise that this actually means giving corporations more power over society, and democratic institutions less.

Instead of corporations serving many stakeholders, in the multi-stakeholder model of global governance, corporations are promoted to being official stakeholders in global decision-making, while governments are relegated to being one of many stakeholders. In practice, corporations become the main stakeholders, while governments take a backseat role, and civil society is mainly window dressing.

The multi-stakeholder model is already being built. In recent years, an ever-expanding ecosystem of multi-stakeholder groups has spread across all sectors of the global governance system. There are now more than 45 global multi-stakeholder groups that set standards and establish guidelines and rules in a range of areas. According to Gleckman, these groups, which lack any democratic accountability, consist of private stakeholders (big corporations) who “recruit their friends in government, civil society and universities to join them in solving public problems”.

Put bluntly, multi-stakeholder partnerships are public-private partnerships on the global stage. And they have real-world implications for the way our food systems are organized, how big tech is governed and how our vaccines and medicines are distributed.

Big tech governing big tech

Another landmark in the development of stakeholder capitalism can be found in the Big Tech sector. As a part of his 2020 Roadmap for Digital Cooperation the UN Secretary-General called for the formation of a new ‘strategic and empowered multi-stakeholder high-level body’. Again it's not easy to find a list of stakeholders but after some digging a long list of ‘roundtable participants’ for the roadmap includes Facebook, Google, Microsoft and the WEF.

Although the functions laid out for this new body are quite vague, civil society organizations fear it will come down to Big Tech creating a global body to govern itself. This risks institutionalising these companies' resistance against effective regulation both globally and nationally and increasing their power over governments and multilateral organizations. If the body comes to fruition, it could be a decisive victory in the ongoing war GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) is waging with governments over tax evasion, antitrust rules, and their ever-expanding power over society.


Then there’s COVAX. The COVAX initiative aims to “accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world”. That, again, sounds wonderful, especially given the staggering inequalities in vaccination levels between rich and developing countries.

But why is the World Health Organization (WHO), which is part of the UN, not calling the shots? ...

COVAX was set up as a multi-stakeholder group by two other multi-stakeholder groups, GAVI (the Vaccine Alliance) and CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), in partnership with the WHO. Both GAVI and CEPI have strong ties with the World Economic Forum (which was one of the founders of CEPI) as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and both are also connected to companies like Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson through manufacturer partnerships (GAVI) or as 'supporters' (CEPI). Even though COVAX is funded predominantly by governments, it is these corporate-centred coalitions that are overseeing its roll-out.

Checks and balances? Are you kidding? Consent of the governed? That's another joke. Legitimacy? Can you hear the sound of vast sums of money sloshing around? That's all the legitimacy that matters now. Who owns our governments anyway? It's the Global Corporatist Order, global Fascism. The Covid Panic is an enabling mechanism. It's not a world I'd care to live in--if I had a choice.


  1. The writer of the post on Bourgeois Kings, Malcolm Kyeyune, also has a post on foes of CRT, which gets much into the thought of Joseph Tainter, and argues that CRT is a weapon of inter-Elite competition, this being a symptom of how

    "...the American system is simply starting to buckle, under the stress of useless, harmful complexity it can no longer afford to maintain, and that many of the people who reap none of the rewards, but pay all of the costs, are starting to reach a painful breaking point....
    giving any pillar of American society a mandate to double its own complexity is increasingly starting to sound more like a recipe for dysfunction and dystopia, rather than a way forward to real improvement. Yet, this counterproductive recipe is the only thing the current crop of elites knows how to do follow... the only one they actually plan to follow in the days and years ahead."
    See .

    1. We've certainly seen that CRT raises alienation and anger to levels that we haven't seen much before.

  2. When they are seen as walking around, "as living *rebuttals* of meritocracy itself", they expose their system as one which groans "under the stress of useless, harmful *complexity* it can no longer afford to maintain."

    1. His last paragraph is why I keep talking about conversion:

      "The bitter truth that these young radicals will have to face is not that the period they live in is a twilight of the gods. That much should have been obvious long ago. The real horror they must grapple with is that their own gods died a long time ago; this time, the twilight has come for the gods of their enemies, and they will be the ones left to deal with the fallout. Rather than pointedly ask how we plan to keep living life in the case this patently decrepit, rainbow-colored Soviet Union lasts forever in all of its repressive, totalitarian, transgender glory, perhaps today’s dissidents ought to think somewhat seriously about what the fuck it is they plan on doing when it actually doesn’t."

      I'm no longer a young radical, but I'm old enough to see the wisdom in planning for such a future.

    2. When you "keep talking about conversion", does this refer to the Aquinian/ anti-Nominalist view, or something beyond just such theological matters?

    3. I'd call those philosophical matters.