What Is a Political Movement?Submitted by BILL3 on Wed, 09/25/2013 - 22:00
A Realpolitk structural analysis of political movements and breakdown of today's conditions and prospects.
What does a real political movement look like? What leads to a political movement? What can we expect to emerge in present conditions? How does the ledger tally up for liberty?
What's the earliest known political movement?
Let's scrap everything before land property as irrelevant.
First, we have to define a political movement.
Politics by itself can mean any use of power to achieve ends political in nature; distribution of legal rights, claims, titles, powers, property, privileges.
A political movement I'll define as a movement of political conditions based on the demands of a substantial minority, if not a majority, of the people comprising the political body.
The historical data are limited, and fade into prehistory, which is to say preliterate history. If it isn't recorded reliably, we can't access it.
Early on, so few of the people had either power or knowledge, that politics was the domain of minorities. Skill with weapons and skill with words (literacy, rhetoric, social position to wield words or weapons) were inherently limited.
Majorities were ordered hierarchically under minorities who directed force and propaganda (in its neutral sense of information).
You can view that power as mere violence and robbery, or as the legitimate use of force to create order out of worse disorder, in a world where everyone just wanted enough to eat.
TBeing hungry for more than mere food, people demanded justification for the political order under which they live and depend on to live.
Morality and a sense of justice in the use of power were requisites for the maintenance of a prevailing political order. That is the domain of information.
Call it fraud, or call it wisdom, it was the control of information and ideas to support the legal order that secured conditions favorable for that balance of power that had emerged to form the political order and provide peace.
A political movement, then, is the historical process by which a segment of society uses its influence to make changes in the legal or political order as defined above.
Whether motivated by interests or ideas; whether moved by growing numbers, growing wealth or just the growth of will to make something happen, it is the move itself, the impact on political conditions, that makes the event a movement.
The earliest political movements are probably of the kind long described by historians and philosophers, which occurred regularly and intermittently in ancient times.
Concentrations of wealth and influence by an elite, abuse followed by reaction from below. An oppressed or indebted class whose conditions become intolerable, often finding a champion in a king or dictator to alleviate the continued injustice. Debts are discharged, slaves emancipated, and freedom restored. Freedom in those conditions was not an idea but a real condition of discharge from bondage to a more powerful class. Whether acting from ambition, self interest, or foresight to the consequences, someone champions the economic interests of those suffering.
Force and economic power were then often one in the same, and the functions we associate with government were held privately in the household, the extended family, local bodies, or some other political layers subordinate to the final central political authority. Historically, the power of the king was often much more limited than today's state. Distance and limitations of resources made direct rule impossible and unpalatable to all.
What characterized such early political movements was the existence of intolerable conditions for a substantial enough portion of the people that their discontent threatened to spill over into violence, and disrupt the order established by the ruling class. Someone had to make a move to put out the fire. Often enough the champion was himself from the nobility or ruling order and recognized the necessity of amelioration of the suffering to preserve stability.
Here, as ever, morality plays and propaganda, rightly or wrongly exercised, played their role.
This kind of thing has been going on for all recorded history, and will likely continue until economic abundance, moral rebirth, or all out catastrophe ends the cycle or reshuffles the deck. I can't comment on either potentiality.
A second kind of political movement, which I know less about, is the mass religious awakening sort.
A spiritual malaise and exhaustion at the end of an urbane and peaceful era, suffering more from excess of civilization than barbarism, like that of the late Pax Romana.
Who knows what spiritual needs and feelings result in a clean sweep like that of Christianity or Islam. I can't comment on it any further than to suggest something fundamental in the character of a culture demands it, something not being answered by the existing intellectual edifice.
Combined with peripheral economic conditions, a new movement can sweep the field of senile institutions, that rule in name but not spirit. Why continue to rule in the face of violence and hardship when you believe in nothing?
Religious sweeps might best be explained by the way in which they allow people to respond to changing conditions of life more effectively than previous beliefs and forms of social organization. The beliefs themselves could be less central and ancillary.
3. Anarchy to Order
The chaos that was left in the wake of the retreating Roman empire produced a demand for security, with local power centers creating a hub around which rings orbited, and is simple enough to understand. Liberty isn't even on the agenda, or understood, when physical chaos prevails.
People prefer peace and security to chaos, regular order in the use of violence to the irregular, random use of violence, and economic growth flourishes under the former more so than the latter. Violent chaos inevitably becomes ordered violence - law - as the latter condition benefits even the violent more than the former state.
4. Conflict between ruling class vs. ruling individual
The next big political movement was the on again, off again conflicts between nobility and monarchy.
Monarchy was ultimately empowered not in the shape of the modern 'tyrant' but in the sense of law, justice, order; the end to the arbitrary power, abuse and privilege carried on by elites bent on wringing wealth from lower orders beyond all bounds of toleration. Law rooted in justice rather than mere exploitation rooted in power.
The King in those times was often synonymous with Justice, against predatory interposition of grasping elites.
Those interests that were eventually arrayed against the claims of a hereditary nobility often lodged their hopes and threw their weight behind a central power. Not to enslave them but to free themselves from the arbitrary enslavement to the class that ruled them more directly acquisitively.
It is the dangerous game of vesting all power in one big Lord to get rid of all the little ones.
Its way beyond the scope here to track the progress of technology, ideas, forms of economic relations, and so on.
Suffice it to say that the emergence of stability from predictable legal order and relations, by wider areas of centrally provided political stability; common rules, common exchange relations, safe conduct for travel and trade, enforcement of contracts, etc., led to the economic basis for capital accumulation and thus the improvement in technology.
The emergence of things like printing and gunpowder are central to future political movements.
Literacy is a precondition of broad political movements based on rapid dissemination of ideas via propaganda, and so is the technological means of producing mass information.
The reformation, the enlightenment, the extension of the voting franchise, all go back to printing.
Gunpowder, and the development of individual firearms that emerged from it, leveled the playing field of violence. It went from a specialized skill to much less specialized one. It permitted the lit match of literacy to ignite something with actual explosive power, spread by means of the new medium of information.
The democratization of information and force led to political democratization, and shifted the role of elites to the more subtle management of masses via propaganda, economic centralization and new military tactics that allowed the re-specialization of violence.
5a. Economic technology
Mobile capital: securities, pooling capital, ownership shares, joint stock firms, public chartered corps, traded bonds, debt instruments, bank loans, international clearing, currency convertibility.
The interests of new business classes provided funds for political movements like the democratic revolutions of Europe and later America. The producers and purveyors of goods not attached to hereditary land rights developed interests that aligned with democratic government, not least of which was to get rid of unreliable kings who didn't repay their loans.
I won't even open the banking can of worms and the emergence of the financial technology of bonds and banking to the political movements of this era.
The emergence of the modern state followed a path of the greater and greater vestment of power in a central, chartered body with limited and written powers, to 'liberate' or emancipate the individual from obligation to other, interposing power centers.
Church, gild, county, even family. The individual secures his freedom from the little bully by finding, or creating, a bigger bully - the State.
6. National state and religious fragmentation
The elimination of a unified Church and the solidification of lingual blocs into nations, with their own new economic and political elites, drew the map of Europe and the religious fragmenting that contributed to it.
In all of these political movements, a plurality of interests in a number of segments of society combined to create a critical mass or tipping point to demand structural changes in the political order. Force was always on the table, and willingness to use it caused the change to take place, with or without actual violence.
The exterior shell of power, left over from a real former distribution of power and resources, yields to a new one.
The real constitution of power outgrows the written constitution, the paper crumbles before power, regardless of whether the outward forms are retained and made to accommodate the new reality.
Ideas were not always paramount, but often the servants of interests that had been formed or changed by the change in economic and technological conditions. The ideas are easy enough to find or fabricate when the interests demand them. Seek and ye shall find.
Analyzing Present Conditions
For the present, then, what political forces can we catalogue as active, alive and growing in our surrounding environment?
a) Information availability to the educated minority.
Good +1 for liberty.
b) Greater concentration of wealth and economic power. Less even distribution of property; less autonomy for individuals and families, greater economic dependence on concentrated income streams from corporate bodies like corps and govt.
Bad -1 for liberty.
c) Demographic shift, accelerating divergence into economic classes, ethno-economic blocs. Identity politics, groupthink.
Bad -1 for liberty.
d) Technological changes leading to greater wealth, but less even distribution of new wealth.
Neutral -/+ or unknown.
e) Globalization, amplifying the greater concentration, more uneven distribution of wealth, disrupting the historical class distribution of liberal societies.
Bad -1 for liberty.
f) Political fragmentation, distrust of government, collapse in common culture/faith, common identity in American body-politic. Neutral, balanced +/- for liberty.
g) Effect of greater wealth and security on the willingness to take risk and bear danger for any purpose.
Very bad -1 for political liberty.
h) Decline in beliefs, sense of purpose, growing nihilism and alienation. Good - Lowers authoritarianism, +1, Bad - lowers ability to work together, have a unified front against power, and leads to more of the above lack of willingness to take risk, sacrifice or endure hardship for any idea or belief. Bad-1.
Neutral +/- for liberty.
i) General absence of physical work, danger, or risk for average upper achieving person, such that the idea of enduring physical danger or risk becomes largely unimaginable for most participants in the "democratic process," aside from the underclass that is more accustomed to violence, pain, physical labor, and physical want.
Good and bad for liberty; people are less willing to harm each other and violate each others rights directly, but are also more willing to have their rights violated by others, by the state, by the demands of violent political blocs, and more willing to allow the state to harm others in their name or in their interests by proxy, including the use of military force against domestic and foreign populations, as long as the risk to themselves is limited.
Overall negative, -1 for liberty.
j) Prevalence of fear; fear of terrorism, of crime, of weather, natural disasters, annual flu hysteria, guns, ecological bogeymen, et al.
Bad - empowers govt to claim more powers to protect the frightened, neurotic public. Prevents willingness to bear risks courageously as a part of life; unwillingness to uphold moral commitments not to resort to certain actions, like informing on neighbors, or using torture, upholding legal protections and rights. Willingness to turn a blind eye to mistreatment or persecution, abuse of power, unjust military actions in their name. Unwillingness to challenge authority.
Very bad -1 for liberty.
k) Improvements in technology.
Weapons/military technology increases disparity of power in favor of govt. Increases in information technology, broader availability of info, decentralization of info, good for liberty. But only for the educable minority, and then only the smaller subset of independent thinkers. This subset is too comfortable and lacking in physical courage to engage in risky political activity in present conditions.
Cuts both ways, as the privacy of the majority is decreased, and the skill and quality of the propaganda of media, education and entertainment increases.
Overall, appears to be bad. -1 for liberty, or unknown.
l) Ideas. Tough one.
For the educable minority and its independent thinking subset, good news, better grip on the nuts and bolts nature of their position in society, how power is exercised, better understanding of human nature and political behavior.
But seems to be ineffectual in causing any unified action. Ideological and cultural fragmentation allows central power elite to play ideological factions against each other.
Pragmatic elite winning battle of using ideas and knowledge to control political outcomes. They work together for limited practical goals, they are amoral.
Idealist, ideological factions unwilling to set aside differences to unite for common, limited goals. Often unbridgeable ideological differences and cultural prejudices stand in way of unified action to rein in political elites and their malfeasance and corruption.
Uneducated majority more and more subject to the degradation of popular culture and media-packaged ideas of deference to authority, the celebration and glamorization of power, government, military, law enforcement. The dominance of the pop culture apparatus in imparting values on the majority incompatible with personal liberty; moral decadence, no personal standards of behavior, pride, dignity, virtue and other qualities necessary for liberty.
The undermining of all traditional ideas of virtue by faux intellectual, quisling-academic institutions.
Churning out cultural and intellectual dogfood for a population of managed, dependent, decadent and domesticated consumers and debt-serfs, who's personal and moral character often deserve their degraded political status.
Bad, bad, bad -1 overall for liberty.
Well, can't write anymore, and no one is still reading anyway.
That's a quarter pint Bourbon's worth.
Paece, thought criminals.
P.S. I haven't even touched on quasi-religions, Ideologies. Next time.