America in Chains: The Oppression of the Competent

Oppressive regimes of every type are characterized by the persecution of subjects who are distinguished by birth, nobility of character, or ability, while favoritism is shown to the powerless and incompetent.  This approach includes the emasculation of the aggressive elements in the population and the disarming the subjugated populace.  Ancient literature is full of examples.  Herodotus tells the story of Periander, the tyrant of Corinth, who sent a messenger to ask Thrasybulus, tyrant of Miletus, how best to rule his subjects.  Thrasybulus took the messenger out into a field and proceeded to lop off the heads of the tallest plants.  When the messenger reported to his aster what he had seen, Periander began to persecute and repress all his most distinguished citizens.

Livy borrows the tale, and it is paralleled by a brilliant Spartan stratagem.  The Spartans were concerned about the large population of Helots—serfs descended from the old Mycenaean population of the region.  So they announced that any Helot bold enough to fight in the army would receive his freedom.  The brave souls who volunteered were never heard from again.

Aristotle, in his account of tyranny in Book V of his Politics, gives what is still the best account of how tyrants preserve their power:

Tyrannies are preserved in two most opposite ways. One of them is the old traditional method in which most tyrants administer their government. Of such arts Periander of Corinth is said to have been the great master, and many similar devices may be gathered from the Persians in the administration of their government. 

There are firstly the prescriptions mentioned some distance back, for the preservation of a tyranny, in so far as this is possible; viz., that the tyrant should lop off those who are too high; he must put to death men of spirit; he must not allow common meals, clubs, education, and the like; he must be upon his guard against anything which is likely to inspire either courage or confidence among his subjects; he must prohibit literary assemblies or other meetings for discussion, and he must take every means to prevent people from knowing one another (for acquaintance begets mutual confidence).

Further, he must compel all persons staying in the city to appear in public and live at his gates; then he will know what they are doing: if they are always kept under, they will learn to be humble. In short, he should practice these and the like Persian and barbaric arts, which all have the same object. A tyrant should also endeavor to know what each of his subjects says or does, and should employ spies, like the 'female detectives' at Syracuse, and the eavesdroppers whom Hiero was in the habit of sending to any place of resort or meeting; for the fear of informers prevents people from speaking their minds, and if they do, they are more easily found out

There is no need to survey the crimes of Jacobins and Bolsheviks.  In the former case, it is worth noting that, while the leaders of the French Revolution certainly put to death whatever aristocrats were unlucky enough to fall into their hands or attract their attention, the majority of their murders were committed against not only members of their own class—the bourgeoisie—but specifically against rival factions.   In all democratizing tyrannies, such as that of the United States, a great show is made of celebrating the virtues of the common man and of denigrating men of any distinction.  This is a favored method of those comparatively benign would-be tyrants who pose as populists.  Huey Long was famous for the sympathy he expressed for common folk and his contempt for the old Bourbon class, and Joe McCarthy excelled himself in insulting the patricians and pseudo-patricians among the Democrats.  Dean Acheson was “this pompous diplomat in striped pants, with the phony British accent.” One is reminded of Napoleon’s pithier putdown of Talleyrand as “merde en bas de soie.”

The Normans in England, a perfect model of tyrannical conquerors, suppressed the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy in a matter of decades.  In our own beloved democracy, we see the technique being forcefully carried out on many fronts.  Through affirmative action, incompetents are hired in preference to the competent; educational standards lowered and ridiculed; meritorious students are denied knowledge of the awards they have won; and prominent universities, especially law and medical schools, are calling for the end to all objective testing.  The most inspired farce has been the demonization of demanding subjects, especially mathematics, as racist.

The conservative response, for the most part, has been to assail the minority rights advocates for their pathetic fantasies of Critical Race Theory, the 1621 Project, and Black Lives Matter.  While the projectors of these conspiracies are certainly no better than con artists of the lowest type, they are merely tools in the hands of an upper middle class mostly white master class, who fear more than anything else any kind of concentrated response from the dispossessed middle classes they have subjugated.

Aristotle observes that tyrannies ban social clubs and literary societies and any association that might allow people to develop a competitive spirit or get to know each other, while at the same time he has his spies everywhere.  In America, private clubs are not allowed to set their own standards for membership, while the cultural life of the nation is controlled by government agencies that determine what sort of books and music and art are to be encouraged, and what sort suppressed.

A particular useful invention of modern intelligence agencies has been the Internet, an artificial form of community invented by the American military and controlled for the most part by lackeys of the regime like Mark Zuckerberg.  Elon Musk, who is only different from the other supervillains of international commerce by his greater arrogance, is now anathematized as an enemy of the regime, simply because he got so fed up with the Twitter management that in a fit of pique he has revealed their servility to the world.  Just yesterday, I read a fund-raising piece for The Guardian in which the writer virtually prayed for the extinction of Musk-controlled Twitter.

But, we have to save the cultural dimension of our slavery for the future.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

1 Response

  1. Michael Strenk says:

    Very well put.