We Need to Stop Acting as Means to Politicians' Imperial Ends

The ruling elite's machinations bear no relationship to the general interest of Americans. Think what the American empire would be if we refused to cooperate.


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U.S. politicians across the spectrum—including non-politician politicians like Donald B.S. Trump, Doctor Ben Carson, and Carly H.P. Fiorina—insist they love the American people. Of course they love us: they need us. What would they do—what could they do—without us?

Think what the American empire would be if we refused to cooperate. I use empire in its broadest sense to include domestic as well as foreign domination. The empire needs functionaries and soldiers and workers and entrepreneurs and intellectuals to keep the machinery running smoothly. It needs wealth. We, after all, are the geese that lay the golden eggs, and the politicians—no matter what else they may be—are not stupid. They know better than to alienate or kill (too many of) the geese.

Our rulers also know better than to destroy the systemic incentives for the production of wealth. Admittedly, this has them treading nervously along a tightrope. They need to maximize wealth extraction without discouraging us from producing more than subsistence. As Jean-Baptiste Colbert, minister of finance under France's King Louis XIV, understood, "The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing." (That apparently makes him an early supply-sider.)

If enough of us got it into our heads that we were mere means to the politicians' (and their "private"-sector cronies') imperial ends, we might rise up, or sit down, and that would be it. We outnumber them, don't we? In the final analysis, don't we hold ourselves in bondage? (See my article "Subjugating Ourselves" on Étienne de La Boétie and his The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude.)

The competition between conservatives and progressives is actually just a contest over who has the upper hand. But we must not let this contest deceive us. Neither side wants to see the system junked and the people liberated from its grasp. Neither would want to defeat the other by toppling the machinery of exploitation. The two sides have a simple difference of opinion over who should ultimately call the shots and who should occupy the junior position. Aside from that, they are happily united in their program of goose-plucking so that they may pursue their larger aims of wealth and power. (We should take care not to overemphasize the former at the expense of the latter. Human beings live not by bread alone.)

You can find confirmation of this thesis in the U.S. government's conduct on the world stage. The partisan debate over foreign policy is between those who support imperialism and those who support imperialism. With rare honorable exceptions, conservatives (not all of them neoconservatives) fault Barack Obama for "leading from behind" and even retreating from global battlefield, as though he were some kind of pacifist. How absurd. This is the guy whose policy of murder-by-drone makes George W. Bush almost look like Robert Taft. This is the guy who bombed Libya into regime change, who backs a military dictatorship in Egypt, who facilitates the Saudis' barbaric war against the Yemenis (aiding al-Qaeda), who supports the Israeli regime to the hilt at the expense of the long-suffering Palestinians, who conducts bombing raids in Iraq and Syria, and who threatens a war of aggression against Iran despite the nuclear deal.

And let's not forget that his neocon-led State Department coup in Ukraine, which consciously provoked the Russians so that the administration could step up its ludicrous but useful demonization of Vladimir Putin, as though he were a threat to Americans. (The Nobel Peace Prize-winner further promotes peace by staging war games at Russia's doorstep with recently inducted NATO members that used to be in the Soviet orbit.)

To take one example, what interest do Americans have in who rules Syria? And even if they had an interest, how could that justify a policy which wittingly or unwittingly assists gangs—the Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates—that force feed their brand of religion and behead their prisoners? (The rise of a radical caliphate as a result of U.S. policy was anticipated by the Defense Information Agency.)

What's that you say? Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a nasty guy? But so are the guys trying to overthrow him, and between the two poisonous sides, Syria's Christians, other minority sects, and even many Sunnis prefer Assad. (The Russians seem to understand this—but then they are not obsessed with Syria's ally Iran.)

And speaking of nasty rulers, what about those who run Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel—not to mention a few dozen other American allies?

What's that you say? The Islamic State is Assad's fault? Right. That's the official line of the war party—which includes the neoconservatives, the overlapping Jewish/Israel Lobby, and the "humanitarian interventionists"—but it is sheer nonsense. The Islamic State grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which did not exist before George W. Bush invaded Iraq and overthrew secular nasty guy (and former ally) Saddam Hussein, upsetting the balance (however unpleasantly procured) between Sunni and Shia. (Just as the Obama crew overthrew secular nasty guy and former ally Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, turning that place into a Islamist free-fire zone.)

The Islamists moved into Syria from Iraq after Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that Assad (formerly a loyal ally-in-torture in the "war on terror") had to go (by what authority?), aborting conciliatory efforts to head off the then-emerging civil war. (For documentation of how U.S. policy helped make Syria the hellhole it is, see Jonathan Marshall's reporting here and here.) Suffice it to say here that the war party's narrative—faithfully amplified by the supplicant Fourth Estate—is false and self-serving. And just when you thought U.S. policy in the Levant couldn't get worse, it now risks conflict with Russia, that insignificant nuclear nation.

Syria is just one example. Many more could be described. The point is that the ruling elite's machinations bear no relationship to the general interest of Americans and the rest of the world. If the American people ever wake up to that fact, they will reject the militarist politicians' professions of love—along, one hopes, with the state that empowers them.

This piece originally appeared at Richman's "Free Association" blog. 

NEXT: The Secret Service's Awesome Plan to Regain America's Trust: Try to Humiliate Its Critics

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  1. Blah blah blah. More drivel from Sheldon.

    1. i found it quite refreshing.

    2. Blah blah blah. More butthurt from conservatives.

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  3. Excellent article. I hope it passes off the neo-con assholes around here. Got one feller already.

    1. passes = pisses

  4. “Think what the American empire would be if we refused to cooperate.”

    But we do cooperate, we continue to vote for republicans, we continue to hope that those with some libertarian leanings will get elected. Anyone but a democrat seems to be the libertarian motto. Call these idiots out for what they are, do not vote for the “lesser of two evils” then complain the one in office is evil. If libertarians withheld their vote, no republican will have a chance of winning. Maybe then they’ll stop telling us to get off their lawn. Better yet, form a real Libertarian party and get behind it instead of voting against those who we don’t like.

    1. “If libertarians withheld their vote, no republican will have a chance of winning.”

      You don’t seem to understand how the voting system works in the United States. It is not a case of “We need more than 50% of all voters votes to win” it is actually a case of “We need more than our opposition of the voters that do vote.” If three people vote, and two vote for one guy – that one guy wins and is place into office.

      Unfortunately, a lot of libertarians already abstain because they are dissatisfied by the two politicians seeking office.

      You also seems to lack clarity on where the libertarians came from. They are the classical liberals that the Democratic party has been shedding since the 1970s. For awhile, the group in general went Republican, and now they are dropping affiliations altogether. A lot of libertarians are disillusioned. Others want to be involved, but can’t find a way in because they aren’t D or R, which have been given automatic in-roads to elections – libertarians as either L or I don’t get that leg up and thus have sincere and severe problems getting into an election in the first place.

    2. Better yet, form a real Libertarian party and get behind it instead of voting against those who we don’t like.

      That’s not how US politics works. If you want to change politics, you have to change the direction of one of the two main parties. It’s not as bad a system as you might think. And we have a good chance of changing the direction of the Republican party.

      I think the Democrats are a lost cause for now, having given up both on social and economic liberalism over the last few decades.

      Republicans have some libertarian leanings that we can build on. A good way to vote is to support those parts of the Republican party that stand for free markets and small government. Concretely, that means that I may vote for one of the more moderate and/or libertarian Republican candidates, while not voting at all if one of the social conservatives or the nutcases gets the nomination.

      1. “And we have a good chance of changing the direction of the Republican party.”

        Citation needed.

        “I think the Democrats are a lost cause for now, having given up both on social and economic liberalism over the last few decades.”

        And this contrasts with the Republicans how?

        “Republicans have some libertarian leanings that we can build on”

        No. The Republicans are no more libertarian that the Democrats are socialists. Political theater.

        You know who *is* libertarian?


      2. While there might be room in the Republican party for libertarians, that just makes they want our votes. I don’t think the libertarian wing can influence policy much. The libertarian wing will always be outnumbered by the redneck bubba wing.

    3. “Call these idiots out for what they are, do not vote for the “lesser of two evils” then complain the one in office is evil.”

      ^^ This.

  5. Unfortunately I get the impression that most people still think that we simply don’t have the “right” people in charge. Once we have the right people, everything will be just peachy. *throws up*

    1. I believe this. However, I think that the “right” people is anyone willing to work toward a solution to a problem regardless of ideaology – pretty much the exact opposite of any politician.

      1. The right people are those who recognize it’s not the government’s job to solve most “problems”.

        1. That, in itself, is a solution, though. “Do I make a law saying that staring at people in public is punishable?”

          The solution to that question is “Nuh uh.” Thus, the “right” person worked towards a solution regardless of ideaology. 🙂

        2. Unfortunately, the right people tend to want to be left alone and to leave others alone. As a result, they have a disproportionately small say in political matters.

      2. The idea that with the right people in charge, the country would do better is vapid. Of course it would, but that’s missing the point.

        The point is that elections will not put “the right people” in charge. In fact, unlike a monarchy, where at least you occasionally end up with someone good (usually after a bunch of genocidal maniacs), elections are pretty much guaranteed to put self-deluded frauds in charge each and every time.

        The compromise we have made in the US historically is to accept this as a necessary evil, recognize that things will never be peachy, and limit the power that these people can wield.

        1. “limit the power that these people can wield.”

          Which of the two major parties is proposing this?

  6. To be fair, both the Reps and the Dems are the war party. They just (sometimes) differ on who they want to bomb and for what reason. If there hadn’t been such an outcry by the grass roots of both major parties, we’d have bombed Assad with the approval of the Dem Whitehouse and the Rep congress.

    Also, Richman criticizes our saying Assad must go and our supporting Al-Sisi in the same article. Unless he wants to see Egypt become a larger and bloodier version of Syria, he should reconsider his position.

  7. The Athenians already recognized that if you have elections, you end up with a ruling elite and no democracy. That’s why Athenian democracy selected representatives randomly from among those who had completed their military training. It’s not a bad system…

  8. Etienne de la Boetie’s essay was written in 1546 – some 469 years ago.

    Sadly, we still haven’t gotten the news.

  9. To do what Richman suggests means putting aside the whole historical narrative that last three generations have been brought up with in school. Namely, that U.S. isolationism was the bane that brought about WWII. It means that the United States ignore wars of conquests. It ignores violations of freedom of the seas. It ignores violations of human rights. It ignores suffering (especially the suffering of Richman’s beloved Palestinians).

    How long would that actually last?

    1. No, it doesn’t mean ignoring the world’s problems. It means simply not using taxpayer funds to play policeman or Santa Claus to the rest of the world. Individuals and private organizations would still be free to take actions in the rest of the world.

      Who says that I have a duty to pay taxes so that U.S. politicians and bureaucrats can decide which countries to invade and which countries to give foreign aid to?

  10. Iraq, Libya, and Egypt are concrete examples that meddling in other countries that we do not comprehensibly understand is always a disastrous endeavor . We want to spread “Democracy”
    like the Conquistadores spread disease. At some point, it might actually occur to us that some, if not all countries, need to find their own way at their own pace and time.

    1. I’ve liken helping the Middle East to trying to help your best friend get out of an abusive marriage. She can show up at your doorstep crying and bruised; you give love, shelter, and good advice but, she eventually/inevitably goes back to the same situation. Sure she needs professional help and she did go to counseling still, it didn’t keep her from going back to a monster. Except now, the guy is furious I meddled and abuses her even more for treason. Months or maybe years go by and out of the clear blue she’s had enough and she’s out of there! Moral of the story: There was nothing I or anyone else could do until she herself was ready. I am in no way advocating ignoring these situations, but you will save yourself much grief if you understand your own limitations in these situations.

      But then again, if her daddy owned Exxon would you help her a little more aggressively and with a longer commitment, than if she had been a baker’s daughter?

  11. The point is that the ruling elite’s machinations bear no relationship to the general interest of Americans and the rest of the world. If the American people ever wake up to that fact, they will reject the militarist politicians’ professions of love?along, one hopes, with the state that empowers them.

    I can’t name a single politician or elite that has ever had the people’s interests at heart and I can’t name a single time the American people have en masse “woken up”, so I’m of the opinion one ought not to hold one’s breath. Somnolence rules!

  12. So basically, government shouldn’t do stuff.

    For once, we are in agreement.

  13. Oh, brother. Another piece about how we’re all just cogs in the great imperial machine.

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