A Totalitarian Republic?

Faction: A number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community
— James Madison, The Federalist No. 10, “The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection”

The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie
— Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto,  Chapter 1, “Bourgeois and Proletarians”

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
— Pete Townshend, Won’t Get Fooled Again, The Who’s 1971 album “Who’s Next”

Third Fisherman: Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.
First Fisherman: Why, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Shakespeare, Act 2, Scene 1

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary
— H.L. Menken, In Defense of Women, 1918

Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they  still enjoyed their ancient freedom.
— Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1 and 2

As in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when writers would hold up a “mirror” for the instruction of princes, so too this essay is an admittedly speculative mirror held up to allegedly democratic republics to help them judge whether or not they are truly democratic and in what ways it could be said that they are truly republics.

Human beings are collaborative, interdependent animals. Much of the good and the bad that we as a species have created has been achieved through cooperation on both small and grand scales. The simple, primary thesis of this essay is that private interests have effectively organized themselves throughout the complete fabric of modern society to both control that society in order to extract value from it and, most importantly, to maintain continuous power over it. I call this by now global system of surreptitious governance: Neopatrimonial Factionalism (NF). It is the private “steerage” system behind the public formalities of “democracy” “party” “state” “nation” “citizenry” “republic” or even “politics” as such. It is the partial realization of the ancient argument of Thrasymachus that the “stronger” decides what is “just”. And that this overwhelming strength of both action and decision is ultimately derived from the effective organization and coordination of a relatively vast amount of people whose somewhat covert membership cuts across class, race, ethnicity, gender and ideology.

It is also another key contention of this paper that NF has led to a modern type of Totalitarian Republic which is both a curious and a specific political hybrid that has taken hold of all the so called liberal democratic countries of our time. In part, its development and full historical realization is a reflection of the insights contained within Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchy combined with a Gramscian capture of the leading institutions of society. While in its default position, the Totalitarian Republic operates as an ostensibly fully functioning liberal democracy; there are nevertheless many political, social, and economic instances where the direction of society is non-democratically manipulated using what would generally be seen as totalitarian methods of control. Both individuals and society as a whole lie within the grip of NF; it determines both the character and actions of present day democracies.

Since the “Faction” which existence we are here theoretically supposing both crosses and unites disparate classes in its maintenance and function, it is, from a Marxist point of view, deeply reactionary in practice and, at its core, ideologically ultra-conservative.  It cannot be stressed enough that NF is not an “ executive committee of the Bourgeoisie” or a conspiracy standing outside of society but is located within the key interstices of society itself interested in the maintenance of collective power for power’s sake and not a particular advocate of a class or classes. Thus, NF need not hide itself; in fact, it is “hidden” in plain view. It seeks to benefit its collective members irrespective of their class positions and individual ideological inclinations or sympathies. Since the faction is privately highly organized and disciplined, it does not fear the wide spectrum of diverse ideologies. Ideology is but a social-cultural smokescreen that conveniently lends itself to NF’s various actual projects of biopower. In this, our view of ideology, culture, and politics is very similar to Marx’s idea of  “superstructure”. Indeed, what could be more ultra-conservative in essence than a private collective socially operative organization based on a structured society wide patron-client relationship(s)?

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the death of ideology coincided with the rise and control of factional neopatrimonialism. When key positions of power are factionally occupied, radical visions have little chance to realize themselves in such a situation. They can be talked about, written about, even voted on, but their implementation, if ever, will be a carefully guided, manipulated affair.

Following Carl Schmitt, it is in the exercising of the “exception” that the power, resources, and organizational reach of NF is most fully apparent. The handling of the exception is always under the cover of legality/normality. The key, as always, is to have members of the faction occupy the necessary positions in society; civil or political, usually both. If no current member is available; bribery, extortion, blackmail, or other methods can and may be used to further any particular end of long or short range power projection.

NF has a much greater chance of starting, spreading, maintaining, and taking control of a society, if that society is initially what we call “a free and open society”; conversely in an authoritarian society or even more drastically in a classical totalitarian society the faction becomes palpably visible in the sense that it consists of the party members and/or the secret services and usually both; in the first instance the faction is partially invisible while in the second instance the faction need not hide its face since it is explicitly tasked with controlling its society; thus in the first instance we are talking about implicit, surreptitious control while in the second instance control is explicitly visible and total. In the first instance, not every aspect of society has to be controlled since that would be superfluous; only the important power defining aspects of society need to be under control. Mundane or everyday life aspects need not be monitored or controlled directly. You don’t have to control everything to be in total control. In this sense, the first model is far more rational, economical, efficient and therefore effective both historically and actually.

Thus,  our “democratic” institutions function as they are widely imagined to function until faction leaders decide on the exception and it is then that what I call surgical totalitarianism comes into play; the exception runs always counter to the democratic spirit of our institutions, the rules are bent or crossed, actions are carried out that are inherently unjust and undemocratic; a stock or bank is manipulated, an unfavorable (or favorable) law is passed, a person is even murdered (Jeffrey Epstein?) all under the guise of normality and within the law: nothing can be definitively proven and more often than not nothing seems to have even really significantly “happened” or gone wrong; the choice of the exception is specific, the actions taken towards its desired denouement seamless and unseen. Great care is always taken that no incriminating fingerprints are left during even the minutest manipulation of surgical totalitarian power.

Following the Hobbesian tradition, man seeks power after power and the means of power which is domination. He seeks to control both people and things. However, the control of people is the most important. Even the partial mastery of human subjectivities and through them human actions opens up almost unlimited opportunities for not only the control of society but the power to shape it in the directions one chooses. Power holds the present in its hands and paves the pathways of the future.

If Antonio Negri’s and Michael Hardt’s “multitude” is not identical with NF, it is and will ever remain powerless.

As Gramsci understood, who controls the institutions controls social life.

Even if NF may indeed ultimately trace its historical origins to ethnically organized gangsterism in the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries, it did not long remain that way. The methods, practices, and ethos of gangsterism may have formed the structural core of its organization but its spread throughout society and thus its inclusion of more and more members went much beyond the early gangs and thugs and took on a pragmatic structure and ideology that cared more for efficiency, profit, and societal control by any means and through whatever types of people necessary. The organizational structure became wide open to talent from all walks of life. All that was required was obedience to the faction’s wishes and desires, aims and methods. And where inclusion was not possible, human frailty did the job just as well; extortion, bribery, blackmail are time honored traditions for getting what one wants. In this, the Borgias can serve as an historical example for some of the more extreme methods of the modern neopatrimonial faction.

The faction does not necessarily control all the means and forces of production or occupy each and every point of power and influence in society but they control enough of them; but, to repeat, what is most crucial and necessary are not the control of things but of people. It is the readiness of people in positions not only of great power, but of temporary useful strategic convenience to commit carefully hidden unlawful acts that is of paramount importance to the effective functioning of the system as a whole. Indeed, organized people power is key. Technology and wealth are surely helpful, but nevertheless secondary in this scheme of control.

We can only guess at the number of actual participants in NF. The East German Stasi and its web of informants comprised by some estimates 2% of the population or perhaps considerably more, the Romanian Securitate numbered 1 million, 6.5% of Chinese are Communist Party Members; as one can see from these statistics it doesn’t take a large number of well organized and disciplined people to control and, if necessary, intimidate a much larger society of people. The key factors in control are a high level of discipline and organization and a willingness to use violence when deemed necessary; if just 7% of the American population were members of a hypothetical factional neopatrimonial system that would make a not inconsiderable total of about 23 million; more than enough, especially if strategically placed, to control the general outlines and rhythms of social life.

The inherently deep pessimism of this view of life is that whether under the name of Mosca’s and Pareto’s circulation of elites, or Michels’ Iron law of Oligarchy, or Mills’ Power Elite or factional neopatrimonialism the organization of a network of preferential power and opportunity will remain the main feature of all modern societies whatever their ideology as long as human nature remains what it is. There is no political revolution or societal upheaval or gradual reformism of any kind that can substantially dissuade people from surreptitiously organizing themselves for mutual advantage and self-protection. It is the logical outcome of both modern development, historical circumstances, and basic psychological and material needs. Factional neopatrimonialism is a society wide phenomenon that will effect, if not always completely direct, all of our lives for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, the supposed existence of the Totalitarian Republic is a curious phantom like amalgam of select democratic principles contradicted by totalitarian organization and practices. It is the inevitable outcome of two strands of modern history; the rise of human rights’ ideology and the concomitant rise of sophisticated totalitarian methods of societal control. It is a dynamic contradiction that holds in its hands the daily lives and destinies of many of the world’s people.

The idea/concept presented here of the “faction” is not to be misinterpreted as a newer version of Marx’s Bourgeoisie or Mills’ Power Elite; although it contains aspects of both. To be sure, the “faction” contains within it extremely wealthy and politically powerful people but not only; it also consists of people of the lowliest extremes of status, power, and wealth. For NF to comprehensively work, patrons need clients just as much as clients need patrons.

The faction should not be considered identical with the leading institutions of society. They do not control every member of every institution, nor do they need to. Neopatrimonial factionalism is based on partial control, more specifically functional control. For this they only need what I call a functional majority to control an institution. This is not the same as an arithmetic majority. A functional majority in this case means that the faction controls key top positions in the institution while at the same time controlling specific middle and lower levels of the organization as well. Once again, the faction is neither class-based, nor the promulgator of a specific ideology, unless, of course, you view the acquisition of power as an ideology and not a natural and thus necessary result of human nature. The functionality of power is what is of interest to the faction, not numbers, not ideologies. How many people in what functions are necessary to wield power? If the faction can be said to have a motto it would most certainly be: The Right Person in the Right Place.

The “faction” comprises all classes and all ideologies; from communist to conservative. This is because people of all classes and thus professions are very useful under certain circumstances while ideology only serves as a convenient veil to cover the real interests, methods, and motives of the faction. If the realization of factional interests coincide with the general interest, so be it; but such an outcome is often only a by-product of more specific factional political and economic aims. However, since a substantial fraction of factional members come from the working and non-professional classes; the faction has an inherent collective bias in bettering these “lower class” members’ life situation through a combination of legislation, media influence, career and economic opportunities and education. In a sense, therefore, the faction can be seen as a specific instance of a kind of surreptitious labor union which has the political power to resort to totalitarian tactics and methods; particularly through their de-facto control of the security and police forces but not only.

The technological dominance of the faction affords them with the greatest scope for totalitarian action. Surveillance and other technologies greatly aid where specific goals of either general or individual manipulation are concerned. Having an assortment of hackers, software engineers, and other specialists within the faction are of an obvious benefit here. But technology, by itself, would be useless if it was not embedded within a legal, political, economic factional net of influence and control. Once again to drive home a point, faction is not dependent on any one technology, but on the people who control, develop, implement, and manipulate those technologies whatever they may be. Of course, the more powerful and penetrating the technology, the more powerful and penetrating the faction. Thus, NF does not reign solely or even primarily through technology, but is certainly helped by it.

Nowhere does NF show itself more as a totalitarian system of governance and control than in its determination of what constitutes an “exception”. Here, an exception is meant as an active suspension of not only the spirit of democratic rule but its procedures, rules, regulations, and laws. A good general example of this is the much vaunted formal separation of power between the branches of American government. If it is true that NF strategically inhabits and thus is in de-facto control of all the branches of government; then what we have is not separation but a carefully orchestrated functional collusion between the branches. This would explain the oftentimes “carnival” nature of the fabricated disputes (the Clinton and Trump “Impeachments” come to mind here) that often arise between the “separate” branches and “competing” parties. It is above all a question of the manufacture of spectacle rather than a competitive discourse of existential political seriousness. The members of the “branches” of government dance a dance of figurative power, but are mutually informed of their desired direction; they are collectively, after all, the principle music makers and thus the theme, melody, and general score of government has been decided well in advance. The same could be said of seemingly impossibly complex designs such as markets. Supremely organized human coordination is able to reduce the ostensibly complex. The influence and control of a set of organized people blurs not only institutional lines but gives an underlying order to the seeming public experience of “chaos” “impersonal algorithms” and “unforeseeable black swan events”. Market chaos, rogue machine algorithms, and devastating black swans are convenient stories that hide the truth of organized power. The story that something is “out of control” hides the reality that it is, in fact, very much in control.

In a world controlled by NF there is both stability and stagnation. Stability in the sense that political consensus is sought for projects and plans both near and far; and stagnation from the very same source. In this factional system political participation whether in the form of mass demonstrations, media campaigns, or other forms of ostensibly public pressure has a chance only if it dovetails with the long term goals of faction. If it does not, it will be slowly but surely diffused, dispersed and ultimately forgotten. Marginalization is one of the effective social tools of faction. Either de facto if not de jure oblivion awaits for societal elements that seem overly destabilizing; either that or  some form of disarming co-optation usually through the harmless commercialization of their ideas or their careful recruitment into the ruling institutions.

Modern society is made up of machines and people. People control the machines. Who controls the people and decides when an “exception” of rules, regulations, laws, and the spirit of justice and democracy is to take place controls and directs that society.

Historically, how did the criminal class origins of NF launder themselves and come in from the cold? Quite simply their formula was time, children, education. The Time for one generation to pass on the knowledge of the old ways of power, organization, and cohesion but now mediated through education opening the doors to the professions and through them the institutions. The children and grandchildren of those who were once professional gangsters have gone on to become politicians, film makers, doctors, lawyers, judges, policemen, pop-stars and every other conceivable line of work. As Daniel Bell once put it the once primitive criminal world has undergone full “Embourgeoisement”. Like the rest of America, the gangster families moved up in social rank through the traditional move of advancement afforded by a good education. In this, they embodied the American dream as it is commonly believed. However, their “natural” rise through society did not, by any means, signify that they abandoned their traditional ties, habits, and lessons concerning the organization, maintenance, and control of power; on the contrary their new found social, educational, professional status made it that much easier. The functional solidarity of the faction was/is maintained between and within the institutions; it is their ultimate strength and they have no intention of ever letting go.

Yet when all is said and done the faction does possess an ideology of sorts which closely resembles a certain important strand of modern liberal belief. Since the historical origins of the faction lay with ethnic minorities (the Irish, Italians, Jews, and Blacks, for example) who were, initially, excluded from participation in various aspects of society and its institutions, the members of the faction never forgot this psychologically searing aspect of their hardscrabble origins in the violent, multi-ethnic cauldron that was the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this way, they retained and developed a bias towards the “opening of all talents to all careers”. Their opportunities dramatically increased with the arrival of the sixties in which they became champions of the civil rights movements concerning all minorities. Their goal was for ethnic identity to become a background issue and for it never again to take the bigoted foreground of violent intolerance and the denial of equal opportunity. This ideological viewpoint of the faction was backed up with the fomenting of action on several ethnic fronts, in particular: Afro-American, Jewish, Italian (Sicilian), Hispanic, and even Irish.

Over time the concern for equal opportunities for all ethnic groups developed into an interest in women’s rights, gay rights, and even animal rights. In this then, the faction is part and parcel of overall American ideological development. Indeed, the faction was in large part responsible for the significant progress in this area. Yet, before we congratulate them on their farsighted benevolence, we should understand how this ideology of civil rights dovetails with their organizational goals. The faction grew out of the multi-ethnic reality of an urban America, their strength lies, in no small part, with their ability to use and recruit talent from the total mosaic of American life. It is therefore in their interest to maintain as much organizational cohesion as possible and the ideology and practice of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multiple identity politics helps to provide the cement for such a cohesion. The faction is a reflection of the variegated reality of the social life of the United States, thus, it too, must believe and practice the politics of the colorblind. For whatever they ultimately are, the factionalists are not racists and or bigots. If they were, they would not be able to effectively rule and influence the daily life of the polity in which they find themselves.

In the Republic, Socrates talks about thieves needing a modicum of justice if they wish to take any concerted and effective action; so it is with our faction; there are clear rules and they must be obeyed. A sort of rough justice along the lines of “I wash your back and you wash mine” applies. Draconian sanctions are applied when the rules are broken.

As for the command and control center of the faction, it should come as no surprise that due to the faction’s historical origins in organized crime, central authority and effective decision making is structured along the lines of a traditional criminal organization meting out rewards and punishments as deemed necessary and appropriate.

In the end, class struggle is not the motor of history, the capture and control of institutions is the prime directive of world history; elites become elites through their closeness and/or absolute identity with leading institutions.

As mentioned before,  NF has a profound effect on both domestic and international politics. Domestically, NF deflates or empties the contents of the purportedly dialectical nature of ostensibly democratic politics. When the leadership of political parties is infiltrated by NF collaborative actors they no longer really serve the interests of either their parties or constituents but the collective interests of NF. If this is true, we could take for purposes of illustration the recent election of Boris Johnson rather than Jeremy Corbyn. The outcome of this election can be looked at in a certain specific way if both parties are indeed merely “theatrical” facades covering the deeper structure of NF organized power we are suggesting here. If, for example, both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are members of the same NF then any number of collaborative strategies would be available to them. For instance, strategies that would favor one or the other’s election that would serve the longer term interests of the NF and certainly not their specific parties or countries. Any number of engineered “scandals” or “false steps” or “scare tactics” or “fake news” could be easily manufactured to strongly favor one or the other candidate. To be even clearer, this means that the underlying structure of NF would, almost every time, dictate the preferred candidate/party through the active, if covert, cooperation of the “opposition”. Indeed, in a world of NF there is no real opposition; only formal democratic “theatrics”.

We could take another recent example. The ongoing impeachment process of Donald Trump. If the leadership of both parties are members of NF then, like the recent British elections, a wide variety of imaginative collaborative strategies are open to them. For instance, what may seem to the uninitiated as a “principled” pursuit of “justice” would, in fact, be just another example of democratic theatrics as usual. The real substantive goal of the impeachment process would be to ensure the reelection of Donald Trump by rousing his base, as well as others, to his defense and eventual (landslide?) reelection. After all, the likelihood of his impeachment by the senate is a very small one, if almost a “toothless” forgone conclusion in the house of representatives. Thus it is that NF reduces democratic (as well as other kinds of politics) to a performance art, rather than a real clash of interests, or real servants of the “people”. The “res publica” is here revealed to be what it truly is: a “res privata”. Citizenship is reduced to a mockery of itself. The citizen is at best, a tool of private interests here described as NF, and if not that, then an unconscious fool or sleepwalker lost in the dreamscape of past political visions such as those of the contract theorists, the founding fathers, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and many others. Thus Marx was closest to the mark when he described the state as merely a mask for private, economic interests. The particular ways in which NF differs from Marx’s interpretation of “democratic” “bourgeois” politics is that we do not see NF as primarily made up of capitalists or even just the “rich” but as a vast assembly of actors that criss-cross the socio-economic spectrum. NF does not primarily seek wealth (although it certainly requires and wields it) but power. Power over politics. Power over business. Power over media. Power over education, culture, and science. NF is the steering mechanism of both domestic societies and, increasingly, international relations. If true, substantive public opposition has evaporated within the intricate networks of private interests.

If NF is also a salient feature of world society and not just domestic societies (in a global age it would not be surprising that NF would also become global) then certain political tendencies should be observable. One is that the necessity of overt violence of one formal state structure versus another should decrease, particularly among reciprocally significant trading partners. The overwhelming benefits of covert cooperation would consistently outweigh destructive behaviors leading to unnecessary loss of life and property. Thus, the decline of major warfare would be the result not of the spread of democratic politics or the spread of commerce, per se, but of an understanding among private elites of the mutual benefits of a “pax mafiosa”.

From time to time, in order to sustain the last great mass illusion of publicly competing states, artificial crises would need to be created. This fundamental idea was first brilliantly described by George Orwell in his book 1984. The illusion of potential conflict; of China vs the US, or the US vs Russia, or the US vs North Korea etc..etc..would have to be sustained to essentially keep fundamentally deluded populations mobilized, cohesive, and obedient to their separate state powers. As Hegel long ago remarked, a state of conflict (war) makes for good political hygiene (cohesiveness). If the world were all of a sudden to be definitively revealed to be a vast con game structurally steered by privately motivated players, then an immense anarchic backlash of peoples would most likely result. Such an outcome is, however, highly unlikely since NF, by it’s very nature, is highly impervious to empirical verification. If a criminal organization is large enough, it will be able to effectively cover its actions no matter how minute in the short term or overwhelming in the long run. He who is able to organize and discipline the most people wins the planetary game. It is here that small private moves can potentially determine vast public permutations.

Thus it has come to pass that the historical, titanic battle for “the planet of the Apes” in the twentieth century: Red (Communist) mafia, Brown (Fascist) mafia, Multi-Ethnic American mafia was settled and won: American gangsterism won the global game of thieves and bestrides the world as a colossus; largely undisturbed and unchallenged in its might and influence. But it is important to remember that it won, in part, because of its remarkable powers of co-optation. After all, it was Abraham Lincoln who said that the best way to defeat an enemy was to make him your friend. We can think of no better expression that encapsulates the quintessential imperial American strategy than this.

The growing homogenization of the world reflects the growing political, economic, social cohesion of the global faction and its collective goals; globalization reflects, in part, the removal of obstacles to further effective rule by the faction and the growing coordination among its members and their aims.

Capitalist economic relations and formal democratic institutions are the most efficient systems through which the faction can rule; it provides ideological legitimacy, real economic and social benefits, and regulates the vast majority of problems that arise within the system and that are of no particular interest to the faction. In other words, the system works, in part, as advertised. It is only when the vital interests of the faction are concerned that action that is deemed necessary is taken and the contingent nature of the regime is revealed. Democratic rules are broken and the ethos of the system becomes a mockery of itself.  The system reveals itself, in its occasional temporary suspensions, for what it is: A Totalitarian Republic. A system where a large faction that has captured the commanding heights of all major institutions decides upon “the exception”; who or what will be protected, eliminated, and fostered by the system. To a certain extent, it retains the consensus and unanimity of its members, not out of a quaint concern for the democratic “spirit, but because they understand that their material well being depends on the system’s continual exercise and distribution of preferential power.

Why would a vast number of people except such a system? Answer: scarcity and opportunity. There are just so many good jobs, desirable goods, and other material benefits that can be distributed. A semi-surreptitious social system which helps to provide you with any possible edge or preference for you over another equally deserving, if crucially uninformed, member of society would be, almost needless to say, of great and lasting personal advantage. And it is a synergistic system based on the well known game of “Tit for Tat”. Each member strives to not only benefit himself but all the others in the network, thus creating an enormous collective advantage. In playing for the team, you, inevitably, help yourself. In such a system, defection would be supremely irrational not to mention deadly.

The capture and arrest of “mafia” figures today is the roundup of old non-integrated remnants that have for whatever reason been unable to successfully infiltrate the institutions whether corporation, committee, political party, university, hospital: they are the anachronistic outsiders feebly battling both the formal institutions of society and their real content of direction and power. The real mafia IS society; it does not stand outside of it; it is a Gramscian story of the march through the institutions; it is a neopatrimonial compact between individuals to ensure first their survival, then employment and career advancement, then social and economic influence and then finally the careful projection and deployment of various forms of non-democratic practices. This is beyond conspiracy; this is a system of collective collusion based on a collective understanding of an ultimate aim; the maintenance and projection and control of power wherever and whenever it matters. For the most part, the actors are not hidden; they are almost all public figures. What is hidden is the organization of their methods and the ultimate outcomes of their collective actions: this is a methodological conspiracy with a public face. Make no mistake, though, coordination, organization, and the ability to conceal ones actions is of the utmost importance here. Keeping with its American origins, the methodological conspiracy recruits from all nationalities, ethnicities, religions, genders, classes; the socio-cultural origins of the recruits do not matter in the least, the willingness to accept the rules of the game and to execute them is the vital component; and who wouldn’t join them if asked, especially the socially disadvantaged? Since the immediate gains and the harshness of punishment is so evident: the combination of carrot and stick are almost perfectly effective here. Ultimately, we cannot empirically prove our assertions here; we can but offer a theory of the partially unseen that may one day be proven by those more fortunate, intrepid, or courageous than ourselves, or perhaps when the system we are describing will have, for whatever reason, reached its historical end; no system lasts forever after all; even the most efficient and popular. An entrenched neopatrimonial structure rules the West which is at sharp odds with its ideology of universal human rights and individual freedoms and pretensions to  equality; surreptitious networks of power form the web, while a compact of silence affords them their universal protection. All wish to partake in the bounty of the political and economic system and will use any means necessary to unfairly obtain it; connection, influence, and collective solidarity are the means to this end. The West is still framed by a system of competition under conditions of the relative scarcity of desirable social goods; any organizational structure that could effectively take advantage of this situation would be of great long term benefit to all participants in it.

Can such a system be defeated? Unfortunately, probably not because it is eminently rational. As Hegel once said “The Real is Rational and the Rational is Real”. This idea fits well with our system. Under conditions of modernity, it will always make sense for a group of people to furtively combine their efforts to penetrate and control as many modern institutions as possible in order to tilt the game of survival and the scarcity of all kinds of goods in their favor. Even slight advantages would add up quickly in such a system. Under modernity, whether in its fascist, communist, nationalist, liberal-democratic form; factional groups always arise whose interest it is to capture the commanding heights of society. And they will always do this under the cover of some ideology with which to more generally regulate those that are not directly included in the leading group. The group which does this most effectively is the one which not only disturbs the social fabric the least but is also able to satisfy some, even many, of the demands of the uninitiated majority. Thus the successful factional neo-patrimonial system has a dual mandate: maintain its in-group benefits and advantages while at the same time maintain and produce real social/economic/political benefits for the out-group. Here, selfishness has its limits. “For things to remain the same, things are going to have to change”. Thus the system is inherently dynamic and fair to the extent that those who occupy important positions within it are generally qualified to do so; their membership has given them career advantages but nevertheless they had to exhibit the requisite talents to be given those advantages in the first place. There must be some kind of consensus for the selected person’s basic functionality for the position that is sought. Thus, here we can see how the dual aspect of the political system dovetails with one another. Both sides of the system are modern, rational, and to some extent, fair. Where they differ is in the exercise of preferences for members of the in-group and thereby in the projection of both ideological and practical consensus in the real world. In this factional set-up not everything is allowed or is possible. Another world is not coming any time soon.

In all, this is not a Marxian theory of structural control, private obedience, and public fiction; it is a Hobbesian even Augustinian story; certainly a Machiavellian one. It is the story of the man of power, not necessarily the man of wealth and industry.

Yet, in the end, it should come as no surprise that such a vast, efficient, mutually beneficial, disciplined network of collaborators arose in human history. In a sense, cooperation is what defines human beings’ success throughout history. Through effective collaboration and individual discipline pyramids have been built, cathedrals erected, people placed on the moon, and atomic bombs dropped on cities. But no system, however beneficial to its members, lasts forever. Collaboration can fray, coalitions can change their minds, ideologies and new religions may spring up, unforeseen environmental hazards may prove fatally disruptive and key centers of power may collapse through excessive corruption, indiscipline, or even a kind of culturally deadly ennui.

Dan Corjescu teaches at the University of Tübingen's "Studium Professionale" program. Read other articles by Dan.