We’ve been discussing the system put forth in naval officer and science fiction author Robert Heinlein’s book, Starship Troopers. For some background see last week’s column. For more background, read the book and spurn the wretched movie.
So why are we – those of us who are in favor – even concerned with radically changing the system that has, and for the most part well enough, seen us through over two centuries? It’s simple: We think that system’s time has run, that we are not the people we were and that our ruling class is no longer worthy. Indeed, it’s not even trustworthy, let alone generally worthy. We observe that our political and economic fate has fallen into the hands of the denationalized rich, who frankly don’t care a fig for us. We see that where once we were an “ask what you can do for your country” people, we are increasingly indistinguishable from the worst third-world kleptocratic and nepotistic hellholes. We see the PC fascisti replacing us with unassimilable foreigners, often enough from cultures that are not just incompatible, but which actively hate us. We see that we are fracturing in ways that are arguably worse than anything we’ve ever seen before, worse even than before and during the Civil War. Yankees and Rebs used to, at least, mostly speak the same language. Our language today, as spoken by left and right from north and south, may sound the same but the words and concepts have changed meanings.
In short, we think that we either, in Brecht’s words, elect a new people, as our denationalized and corrupt rulers seem to be trying to do via immigration, or we fall hard – so hard we’ll never stand again.
The thing is, though, that we’re not all that far over the edge. Democracy of the kind we’ve long been accustomed to is only failing by a few percentage points. The expensive, counter-productive and too often oppressive regulatory bureaucracy under which the people groan is only sustained by that few percentage points, too.
Still, there are criticisms, some of them more valid than others and some not valid at all. I can’t address them all, but we can look at a few from last week’s column and perhaps one or two others not previously raised in full. Some are easy to dispose of. Others are much harder.
- Why pin everything on a single virtue?
I think this objection hinges on the preposterous notion that if someone has one virtue, he must be deficient in all others. Why someone should think this I cannot be sure; it may be a case of projection, which is something of a specialty for many on the left and especially for the social justice warriors. Still, are there any grounds for believing that someone with a sense of civic virtue or altruism is, say, unintelligent? I think not. Devoid of compassion or selfish? The man or woman who puts their life on the line for others is devoid of compassion or selfish? Oh, please. In short, the question is fraudulent; no one is pinning everything on one virtue; they couldn’t if they tried. Rather, presuming that the virtues are present in large chunks of the populace, they’re asking for a little bit more of one, an objective demonstration of a little bit more of one, that we have become deficient in overall.
- But why civic virtue?
We pin our hopes on that partly because we sense that that few percentage points warping the body politic and the fabric of our civilization are a mix of the free shit army, left-wing fantasists, which is to say fantasy-obsessed, sociopathic, larval stage mass murderers, corrupt bureaucracies staffed with self-serving bureaucrats, and the corrupt and denationalized rich, few or none of whom have any civic virtue, though they may mouth the platitudes eloquently enough, and though they may wrap themselves in a threadbare cloak of false altruism.
- It is collectivist.
I’m not sure quite what this means? Is it that it’s not based on an Anarcho-capitalist, Objectivist (which was nothing of the sort), or Libertarian fantasy. Well, true enough, it’s not and it should not be. Whatever the merits of those, or various other extreme individualist positions, one thing seems to me inarguable; they are incapable of effective self-defense in a hostile world. Sorry, but after Ayn Rand told Atlas to shrug off his responsibility to others, as she shrugged off her responsibility to anyone but herself, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t trust her, or anyone who adhered to her fantasy, to guard my left or right flank.
- There will be sociopaths and other wicked characters who will earn the right to vote and hold public office.
That’s absolutely true and one of the areas the book addressed. Short version; so what, we have those now? Is there a reason to believe we’ll have more of them? Other than left-wing fantasies about the easy and reliable malleability of man, I mean? Longer version, also so what; we’re not pinning our hopes for this on individuals but on the average and the aggregate? Yes, that does rather mean we’re rejecting that whole Vanguard of the Revolution thing.
- It won’t last forever.
So what; nothing does. Next objection.
Oh, all right. Actually, this deserves a little more commentary. That short and glib answer I gave is true, but it’s only a half truth, hence misleading. Forever may not be possible, and may not even be desirable. Duration, however, still matters. And that, how long it would last, is an important question. One of last week’s commenters estimated two to three generations before the thing rots into nepotism. I think that estimate was based precisely on a somewhat optimistic view of how quickly the Soviet Union turned rotten and corrupt. In fact, the Soviets turned a lot quicker than that, within a single generation, actually, or two split ones. Indeed, I’ve read the suggestion that Stalinism was only possible because the bureaucracy lined up behind him to protect their positions and the perks that went with them. If a system like the one in Starship Troopers could not be expected to last more than a generation, why bother, really?
But would it? Is the Soviet Union a good example? For a couple of reasons, I don’t think so. First, there is the background. We’re starting with a two hundred year history of a pretty good society, with a strong body of law, respect for law, and a general respect for limited government, for diffusion of power via federalism. Conversely, what was the background to the Soviet Union? Was there respect for law there? No. A history of limited government? No. A generally successful society? No.
There’s a saying, “You are what you were back when.” The Soviets clearly drew from the Czars. We did not and will not have.
All that said, though, let me be clear; the system would not last forever. However well it starts, eventually people would start reverting to the human default state of “me and mine.” Eventually, the children of existing citizens would find their path to citizenship being eased and greased. Eventually, the citizens will start voting themselves largesse. The most we can hope for is that, since we’ll have started well, since we’re beginning with selecting for a virtue opposed to all that, and since we’re not early 20th Century Russia, we may have anything from centuries to millennia before things rot. If so, it would be an achievement – a worthy achievement – unique in human history.
- The system needs an external enemy or the armed forces will begin to redirect their focus to the internal.
This objection is presupposing that the thing expands to become a global government, with no external enemies. It’s not clear that it has to. Oh, true, foreign governments would have a very hard time resisting the system, because their own soldiers would be likely to be in great sympathy with that system, and to have little sympathy for some other system. Short version: “Go ahead and raise an army to resist us. However will you resist it?”
It is not, however, obvious – it does not follow – that simply because two societies have similar governing philosophies that they must therefore become one society. We are not Canada, after all. The UK and the Netherlands are not united, either. And the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China fought several times viciously along their common border.
Part III next week.
Photo by Marko Marcello/Getty Images
Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.
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