September 29, 1994
In every political system there exists a tension, a contest for power, between the king and the aristocracy. The king, or the centralized executive branch of government, is always threatened by the aristocracy, the loosely federated political units of which the larger is composed. The threat works both ways, and the aristocracy is always fearful that the king will devour them. The executive depends on a bureaucratic machine to carry out its edicts, and this bureaucracy, once set in motion, becomes an end in itself, jealous of all other authority.
Babylon and Egypt witnessed the triumph of the king against his nobles, resulting in empires of immense stability. The king early on became no more than a figurehead for his bureaucracy, which actually ran the vast machinery of government. Responsive to no-one and nothing, these massive, self-perpetuating, paper-shuffling warrens of petty clerks endured for millennia. When the king, as in the case of Akhenaton, made the mistake of thinking that he actually had some real power, and tried to enforce real change in the way the government of Egypt was organized, he was assassinated for his pains and his monuments obscured. Such empires, which exist today in China and to a lesser degree in India and Russia, can only fall as a result of outside pressure. No matter how rotten and inefficient they may be, nothing from within can disturb their bland enormity.
In ancient Rome, the contest between the dictator and the aristocracy resulted in the eventual destruction of the aristocracy, the triumph of the central executive authority and the replacement of the aristocracy with bureaucrats responsible only to their immediate superiors. When communications broke down concurrent with the dwindling of central authority, these bureaucracies broke up into the smaller units that quickly became medieval feudal fiefdoms.
The Roman aristocracy was forced to assume onerous public office, kept away from its land and compelled to spend large amounts of time in the city of Rome itself. The ruinous expense and compulsory neglect of important duties are reflected in sumptuary laws, passed because the aristocracy was broke and the merchant class was able to outspend them.
The Sun King destroyed his aristocracy the same way, forcing them to live in Versailles, spend their money on parties, clothing and fripperies, while their lands went to ruin.
In Japan, the emperor lost out to the aristocracy. The Tokugawa shogunate displaced the emperor, and replaced his authority with a bureaucratic system run, theoretically, by the aristocracy, but after an interval of civil war, in reality by the bureaucracy itself. By the time Admiral Perry forced his way in, Japan had become an eternal, self-contained, insulated society in which any change was increasingly unlikely. The Aristocracy had been destroyed, a la Rome and Versailles, through being kept away from its land and forced into elaborate, ceremonial and ruinously expensive public office. The phenomenon of Edo, with its enclaves of wealthy merchants openly defying sumptuary laws, and poor but proud aristocrats ruined by their inability to keep up with the Nakamuras, echoed both Rome and the court of Versailles.
English nobles compelled Bad King John to sign a treaty, subjecting him to the authority of the law. In this case, the aristocracy triumphed over the king, and replaced him not with a bureaucracy, but with a parliament. This formed the basis for our own system of government, in which the king-the Federal Executive Authority-is balanced by the Aristocracy-the Several States. Keeping the whole in tension is the power of the People themselves, a third element not present in earlier systems. "By throwing themselves into either balance," the People maintain the tension between the monolithic Federal Authority and the quarrelsome Several States, steering our nation between the Scylla of runaway bureaucracy and the Charybdis of feudal anarchy.
All contests of law, such as Gun Control, Abortion, Pornography or what-you-will, can more successfully be viewed as the push-me-pull-you between the States and the Federal Authority.
Right now, and since the Civil War, the Several States have been on the run. With the passage of the 14th Amendment, which substantially strips the States of autonomy, we may have witnessed the beginning of what will eventually become a triumph of the Executive, which really means the triumph of myriad anti-democratic bureaucratic systems.
Bureaucracy sees everything not itself as a threat to itself. Grow or die, eat or be eaten. Keeping in mind that these systems, once entrenched, tend to be of the utmost longevity; that they view anything not of themselves as a threat to themselves; that they are profoundly reluctant to accept enterprise, change or anything whatever that challenges the order of things-as-they-are; and that they can only be toppled from outside; we may be looking toward the absolute end of human progress and enterprise. The nullification of all human endeavor lies in the proliferation of bureaucracy, whose sole purpose is the increase of its own strength, at the expense of all else.
Babylon, Egypt, China, Rome and Japan all got out of balance. They got out of balance because there was nothing to keep them in balance. Like other political systems Americans have the Federal Authority (the King), the Several States (the Aristocracy). But unlike them, we have the People, whose task it is to keep things in balance, pitting one against the other and leaping to the aid of the underdog. If, as I fear may be the case, the power of the People is given away to one or the other or divided between them, then the balancing factor will disappear, and one dog will eat the other. It doesn't matter which, because the result is always the same. The out-of-control growth of the regulatory welfare state. Stasis. Immobility. Death.
The whole world may come to resemble medieval China, in which the most marvelous things are invented and forgotten; the most ambitious undertakings are initiated and aborted; the greatest premium is placed on education, but its goal is only to perpetuate, never to innovate; the social order is shaken up from time to time only to shrug its shoulders and settle back to the familiar, tedious routine. In other words,
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