Of course we will get fooled again, and again and again–until the illusion of democracy is but a wispy mirage wafting away into the ether of our empty, programmed minds. I for one am on my knees thanking God that this travesty of group mental masturbation is soon to be over. The most expensive tragic comedy ever produced the only real beneficiaries of which are the media companies reaping the rewards of the obnoxious, ubiquitous political advertising and the seemingly inexhaustible pool of political pundits and ideologically biased prognosticators.
Of course, at least for a few days, before and following this democratic charade, the American people are able to push back from the table tip their chairs back, pat their bloated bellies, let out sufficient air from whatever end suits their tastes and feel fulfilled. But it is all an illusion. Nothing really changes, but the players. The new members of the political leadership transmogrify, after sufficient media highlighted posturing and puffery and take on the scent of the bodies that had previously occupied their seats. The system rules. The system is far less malleable than the posturings of the newly anointed, whose intentions may have once been noble, but are no more.
Bagehot’s notion was as follows. Power in Britain reposed initially in the monarch alone. Over the decades, however, a dual set of institutions emerged. One set comprises the monarchy and the House of Lords. These Bagehot called the “dignified” institutions—dignified in the sense that they provide a link to the past and excite the public imagination. Through theatrical show, pomp, and historical symbolism, they exercise an emotional hold on the public mind by evoking the grandeur of ages past. They embody memories of greatness. Yet it is a second, newer set of institutions—Britain’s “efficient” institutions—that do the real work of governing. These are the House of Commons, the Cabinet, and the Prime Minister.
As Bagehot put it: “[I]ts dignified parts are very complicated and somewhat imposing, very old and rather venerable; while its efficient part…is decidedly simple and rather modern….Its essence is strong with the strength of modern simplicity; its exterior is august with the Gothic grandeur of a more imposing age.” Together these institutions make up a “disguised republic” that obscures the massive shift in power that has occurred, which if widely understood would create a crisis of public confidence. This crisis has been averted because the efficient institutions have been careful to hide where they begin and where the dignified institutions end.
Bagehot called this Britain’s “double government.” The structural duality, some have suggested, is a modern reification of the “Noble Lie” that, two millennia before, Plato had thought necessary to insulate a state from the fatal excesses of democracy and to ensure deference to the golden class of efficient guardians.
Bagehot’s enduring insight—that dual institutions of governance, one public and the other concealed, evolve side by side to maximize both legitimacy and efficiency—is worth pondering as one possible explanation of why the Obama and Bush national security policies have been essentially the same. There is no reason in principle why the institutions of Britain’s juridical offspring, the United States, ought to be immune from the broader bifurcating forces that have driven British institutional evolution.
This, America’s “efficient” institution (actually, as will be seen, more a network than an institution), consists of the several hundred executive officials who sit atop the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement departments and agencies that have as their mission the protection of America’s international and internal security. Large segments of the public continue to believe that America’s constitutionally established, dignified institutions are the locus of governmental power. By promoting that impression, both sets of institutions maintain public support. But when it comes to defining and protecting national security, the public’s impression is mistaken.
==National Security and Double Government (Michael J. Glennon)
Rulers seek to rule. Well, that seems a bit obvious, doesn’t it? And yet, time after time, we elect new leaders, imagining that, “This new group will be better—they’ll represent us as they promised.”
Unfortunately, the democratic system doesn’t really work very well at all. The idea is supposed to be that if old leaders overstep their bounds, new candidates may come forth who promise a reversal of the autocracy of the previous group, and we elect them. They will then proceed to implement that reversal.
Of course, we all know that it’s this last bit that consistently fails to happen. The new group does not fulfill its promises to the electorate—in fact, it almost invariably seeks to increase its power over them. And as each group assumes greater power than the previous one, the country slowly declines, until ultimately, it reaches the state of tyranny.
But what is at the heart of this process? Why on earth does it never seem to happen that the new leaders actually diminish their power and become true representatives of those who elected them? Surely, we must get a few good leaders once in a while.