Earlier, told a little story that addressed something I thought rather funny – that people seemed bent out of shape by how rich these military dictators get. As if the kind of guy who seizes power by force should a) be expected to nonetheless keep his avarice well in check; and, more important, b) control a country by force without controlling every dollar in it, as much as possible. That’s not the way it works.
It’s that second point that should concern us. When you read about the Mafia, or Roman Patriarchs, or English Kings, or Military Dictators, or the actual communists history has given to us (not the theoretical ones, who behave like saints without any moral baggage) one thing comes up over and over: their fingers are in everything.
Imagine you live out in the Roman countryside in the 2nd century. Do you think you could simply set up shop in a village and do business? The local Roman patriarch – head of the noble family that, in effect, provides for all law and order and ‘public’ works in his turf? He’d hear all about it within hours of your attempt to go into business, and, moreover, the locals would probably not buy from you until the social order was clear to everybody. You’d be expected to ‘pay your respects’ to the patriarch, get his permission, acknowledge his lordship and check in with him daily, eat occasional meals with him (symbolically acknowledging that he is your benefactor), and send a little money his way, as part of the business venture you and he have entered into by way of him allowing you to run a business on his turf.
Now, change the name, time and place as appropriate, and the rules still hold. In order to do business, you’ll need the permission of the mafia don, the local representatives of the military dictator or king, or the local communist party boss – and it will cost you. Us peons, over the ages, have loved powerful kings who have kept a lid on the local nobles, because that’s been the best possible outcome for the little guy – you pay the price, they more or less leave you alone. Same goes with life under a mafia don, a military dictator, and so on – prior to the outbreak of representative democracy, the best one could hope for was a strong central leader – strong enough that nobody dared challenge him – who took his cut, let his henchmen, um, nobles take their cut, but kept the overall take to a level where it wasn’t too big a hardship on the peasants.
What you didn’t want is warfare – civil war, in the case of kings, violent coups in the case of military dictators, or gang warfare in the case of mafias. Those are horrible for little people. So, please, a strong king!
But back to the weird, anti-entropic state of representative democracy. Social gravity, as it were, is always tugging towards the default position (in large countries – we’re not talking tribes, here, which have a different dynamic). And, I think, people who are aware of history see it – and become ‘conservative’ in a sense only loosely related to how that term is used politically. They see the state of freedom under a representative democracy for the fragile, unnatural thing it is, and so oppose anything that moves toward a more natural, restful state, socially speaking.
The king, the patriarch, the don, the thug – all, in the end, get their power from control of the money spigot, backed by the threat of violence. What they cannot long tolerate and survive is centers of power – wealth – that are independent, that cannot be turned off by them. The ‘conservative’ mentioned above is the one who wants to maintain as many of those independent centers of power as practical, who sees them as the guarantors of his freedom, given that modern governments exceed the ‘way too powerful to be threatened by any likely coalition of lords’ threshold by an order of magnitude or 3.
On the other hand, efforts to make sure that every dollar anyone has flows through one spigot – that has to be opposed. If it’s not tyranny itself, it’s holding hands with it. In this sense, ‘progressive’, when it means in practice wanting to funnel everything through a central spigot, is the opposite of ‘conservative’ as used here.