Cycles times vs. prevention
Posted by aogSaturday, 12 May 2007 at 11:01 TrackBack Ping URL

The previous post reminds me that I wanted to comment on this post by Instapundit about the ongoing and increasing failure of our own political class. While clearly not as dysfunctional as France’s, our leading politicians from both parties seem to be losing any connection with governance as a responsibility to the citizenry.

One can trace the direct roots of this to particular Congressmen who have “safe” seats from which they can enage in apparently unlimited political payoffs at taxpayer expense to friends and family, self-aggrandizment, and outright corruption. But that leaves unanswered the question of why, if these Congressmen are such scum, they have safe seats? There is also the question of why someone like Senator Ted Stevens has any power in a party that claims to be dedicated to limited, well run government as opposed to tax and spend. The Stevens problem isn’t just a local failure, but requires failures at many levels and places.

I think the ultimate point of failure was FDR, who more than anyone else made the government a commons for people to graze on. Once that was set in place, the inevitable tragedy of the commons which we now experiencing follows.

This process will continue to worsen until some crisis. What level of crisis will be required will depend very much on the strength of will of the citizenry. I think that we are starting to see the backlash, as evidenced in how little respect the Democratic Party has achieved in Congress in a single Congress. Not so eventually the situation will be bad enough that someone will be able to benefit his own political career by acting in the public interest rather than Congress’ short term interest.

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cjm Saturday, 12 May 2007 at 15:02

i am not one to wring my hands and bemoan the decline of western civilization, by ways of a preface. but am i the only one to see the similarities between the current state of (virtually every) western society, and the moral decay of weimar germany ? of course (if there is in fact a parallel) the source of our societal decay is different than theirs, but i wonder if it wonn’t lead to the same result.

the democrats only took less than 5 months to lose all the good will they recieved in the last election, not a full congressional term. i would laugh like a jackal, if the dems dump that grinning jack-o-lantern they have for a congressional leader.

from my point of view, the only difference between the republican party, and the dems, is the former have slightly better personal hygiene, on the whole.

Annoying Old Guy Saturday, 12 May 2007 at 15:17


That’s sort of my point. The difference between the USA and the Weimar Republic, if any, is the level of decay the citizenry will tolerate and what they will do when it becomes too much. There is also so much more history now, of modern nation states, that it’s far more difficult for the Planners to promise future success.

Ali Choudhury Saturday, 12 May 2007 at 15:57

Weimar was characterised by large-scale political and cultural polarisations and dramatic economic instability. That doesn’t really correspond with any contemporary industrialised democracy.

I doubt the world as a whole has ever been in better shape. The crisis already occurred back in the late 70s and there isn’t one building now that Thatcherism’s been accepted everywhere.

Michael Herdegen Saturday, 12 May 2007 at 16:20

The world is certainly in far better shape now than it ever was at any point during the 20th century.

Annoying Old Guy Saturday, 12 May 2007 at 19:58

That could be why the political class is becoming so dysfunctional —

  1. People tolerate much more dysfunction because it doesn’t appear to matter
  2. Competent people have better things to do with their time
Tom C., Stamford,Ct Saturday, 12 May 2007 at 21:23

The surrender to ‘progressivism’, at least in the USA, set the decline in motion. It was all anticipated by the founding generation, there are really no surprises. They could see where pre-industrial, late-feudal Europe was heading with it’s Bismarckian types waiting in the wings. They wished to create a national system immune to what we now call ‘progressivim’ with all of it’s magical thinking. The governing class which includes all of the departments of an administrative state, unaccountable to a large extent, evolves interests distinct from the interests of the private citizen. That’s the point, the interests of the state have begun to override the interests of those who pay for the state. People always tend to act in their self-intersts. Private people produce to better their lots. Government can only coerce in order to better theirs. When you give an unlimited power of coercion to any non-productive bureaucracy, it will abuse that power as it rationalizes itself as serving a general interests when in reality it serves mainly it’s own. The constitution of the American government was put down on paper for one simple reason: human nature. Thankfully we have the historical record.

Gideon Monday, 14 May 2007 at 05:01

Why, if these Congressmen are such scum, they have safe seats?

In a word, seniority - the power of incumbency to hand out pork to your district.

For example, John Murtha is on the Appropriations Committee. This gives him the ability to send seemingly unlimited federal money to the PA 12th district (a low-income coal-mining region). The district hosts the John P Murtha Cancer Center, the Murtha Education Center, the Murtha Center for Continuing Education, and so on. A significant percentage of the people in the district owe their jobs to him.

He could drool and dance around the floor of the House in a Barney costume, and the voters would still re-elect him.

cjm Monday, 14 May 2007 at 12:07

Ali: the political arena was one part of the pathology that brought down weimar, but there was also a social pathology present. The latter almost certainly prepared the ground for wider acceptance (by the german populace) of more extreme political ideas and behaviors. American society is a pressure cooker in a lot of ways, and there are clear signs that it is producing a huge number of individuals who are disconnected from maintaining the status quo. Where it all ends, this turn of the wheel of history, who can say…but the world does seem to be building inexorably to some kind of cathartic event.

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 14 May 2007 at 13:04


An excellent example of the tragedy of the commons I mentioned. It’s advantageous to each Congressman to grab pork, but disadvantageous to the party as a whole. It speaks to the dysfunction of the party apparatus that it gives such powers to someone like Murtha, although perhaps given the quality and incentives there’s no better choice.

Ali Choudhury Monday, 14 May 2007 at 13:13

cjm: A major factor was the loss of WW1 which helped pave the way for social pathologies in Weimar and aggravated a lot of other tensions. The US hasn’t ever faced a loss of that extent and is unlikely to in the future.

Tom C., Stamford,Ct. Tuesday, 15 May 2007 at 15:21

It could be argued that WW1 and Weimar were the result of what occurred earlier in Germany. It was thought that Germany’s transition from semi-feudalism to industrialism was distorted to a large degree by the social policies of Otto Bismarck who thought, once Germany was united under his leadership, that he could hold off the ‘Social Democrats’ by creating the first mass entitlement society. The age old, traditional relationship between the governing and governed was broken at that point. Bismarck became the model for the top down re-distribtionist society and, one could argue, the aggrandizing of the state, within a democratic structure, began. The interests of the governing class diverged from the interests of the governed at that point. The interests that drove Germany into the first world war didn’t pop out of a hat fully formed absent a relationship with what came before.

Ali Choudhury Tuesday, 15 May 2007 at 15:56

AFAIK WW1 occurred because the Germans thought it was their destiny to have a major place on the world stage, one they could obtain by annexing White Russia.

There was generally a contempt for the liberalism and democracy practiced in the Anglo-Saxon world with a belief that German kultur was inherently superior to those crass money-grubbers.

I doubt the hand-outs were generous enough to have had much of an effect.

cjm Tuesday, 15 May 2007 at 19:40

getting this thread back OT :)

i was reading an article by Michael Barone, discussing the out-migration of citizens (from the coastal cities) and the in-migration of non-citizens from the 3rd world. another blog was suggesting that the new arrivals will re-create the conditions and political traditions from their home countries. keep in mind that there will be many different “home countries” involved, leading to lots of internal conflict. the part that relates to this thread, is the level of corruption and violence these other countries have, and how that will bring out the worst in existing politicians, and elevate bad people as newly elected politicians.

Tom C., Stamford,Ct Tuesday, 15 May 2007 at 20:27

It’s definately easier for corrupt government to function as the populace becomes corrupted. How it occurs should be the topic of this thread. I thought it was. Bismarck was the model for all of the advocates for distributionist policies that came after him. If anyone were serious about limiting corrupt, self-serving and largely unaccountable government they would look to the tax code and the vote buying powers government has assumed during the 20th century.

cjm Tuesday, 15 May 2007 at 22:14

i thought julias Caesar was the first ruler to intentionally corrupt the citizenry with bread and circuses.

it always happens the same way; a certain percentage of the populace is out of the gravy, and becomes alienated from the dominant culture. a demagogue comes along, catches the mob’s affections, and rides their anger into power. kind of like how forrest fires happen: fuel builds up until a spark comes along.

i would say the main precursors to this phenommenon are:

1. a certain amount of prosperity in the overall society

2. a permanent political class

3. general detachment of the polity from participating in the management of society

4. 20% or more of the population relegated to “their area”

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 16 May 2007 at 10:46


I think you also need some economic hardship that contrasts with prior prosperity. If things are good and looking better in the future, bread and circuses are not as attractive in general. Note that the big change here, due to FDR, was piggy-backed on the Great Depresssion.

Tracked from Political News and Blog Aggregator: Congress, Bush share low ratings on 12 May 2007 at 14:00

People think the Democratic-led Congress is doing just as dreary a job as President Bush, following

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