In his “Catechism of a Revolutionary,” the 19th-century terrorist Sergei Nechaev, who inspired Dostoevsky’s The Devils, claimed that the true revolutionary “has no interests, no habits, no property, not even a name. Everything in him is wholly absorbed by a single, exclusive interest, a single thought, a single passion – the revolution.” Lenin boiled this down to unswerving loyalty to the party as the embodiment of revolution. Even ideology could not challenge the will of the party, which meant in effect the will of the party boss.
Lenin saw terror as a good thing, and in 1908 called for “real, nationwide terror, which reinvigorates the country”. In 1929 nationwide terror was unleashed in Russia, first against the peasants, then the party, the army, and the population at large. It set the tone, to be followed in China and elsewhere, of ideological lunacy inflicting savage suffering on millions of its own people.
Currently, we witness progressive politicians, Black Lives Matter, and Antifa employ Marxist tactics in an effort to overturn liberal democracy in the West. They use identity politics, based on race, class, gender or anything else that can promote division and confusion in the society they seek to subvert, and their influence in academia, the media, corporations, especially the technology giants, and in the deep state, is cause for serious concern. However, identifying a central command is almost impossible, and the spectre of oligarchy raises its head once more.
A century ago, the sociologist, Robert Michels, published his important political theory, the Iron Law of Oligarchy, and given the countless examples that have occurred since then, it seems strange that so few people are aware of either the hypothesis or its implications. The law asserts that the emergence of control by an elite, or oligarchy, in democratic institutions is inevitable as a result of inescapable tactical and technical necessities, and unchanging human nature.
The organisational complexity of modern society makes direct democracy impossible, and power passes to certain individuals, whether by election, appointment, or appropriation. In effect, the Iron Law says that organisation inexorably promotes oligarchy, and institutional safeguards against it never work. Elite classes emerge and gradually expand their power and the façade of legitimacy by controlling information, culture, and the foundational narrative. Ignorance and apathy among workers or citizens usually facilitates the growth of oligarchic control, and wherever dissent arises, it is readily repressed. Moreover, since the elites possess the means to reward loyalty, attempts to curb their power tend to fail, provoking people to resort to more destructive measures.
Ryszard Legutko is a Polish professor who opposed the communist regime. In his book, The Demon in Democracy, he explains how liberal democracy manifests the characteristics of communism – sweeping politicisation of institutions, ideological fanaticism, political correctness, repression of free speech, social engineering, family breakdown, sexual permissiveness, and propagation of the myth of progress as justification for the totalitarian activities of the state.
He recalls how communist students terrorised ‘bourgeois’ professors, who they accused of reactionary ideas and the corruption of young minds, and how they ridiculed the teaching of Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas as ‘anti-scientific’. Authors who contradicted the reigning ideology were stigmatised and ‘cancelled’. This academic tyranny worked to intimidate all independent thinking as thought crimes. Just consider the many thought crimes of which one might be accused today: racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, binarism, white supremacy, Eurocentrism, and more.
100 years ago, G K Chesterton saw the noxious nexus looming: “Bolshevism and Big Business are very much alike; they are both built on the truth that everything is easy and simple if once you eliminate liberty. And the real irreconcilable enemy of both is what may be called Small Business.”
By the 1950s, the US economy had become increasingly corporatized through the unholy alliance of Big Government, Big Business, and Big Unions. The managerial state grew out of this, saddling society with the inevitable insensitivity and incompetence of corporations and bureaucracy. The Iron Law of Oligarchy suggests we are now threatened by an establishment elite, terrified that they are losing control, and an ideological minority, highly organized and powerfully funded, who are bent on violence as the means of creating a utopia in which they will call the shots. And we cannot be sure just who is playing whom more successfully.
The vast majority of people, shocked by the maelstrom, and ranging from fearful and docile to angry and militant, and having no clearly thought out political allegiance, merely want a return to the stability and security that will let them get on with their lives. In short, they want freedom, while the oligarchs of left and right want control.
How often we hear ordinary people today say that the world has gone mad. Significantly, the loss of the ability to reason is known as insanity, and the power-hungry elites and thuggish ideologues are provoking once more the insanity of the last century that produced the Holocaust and the Gulags, and the barbaric violence that brutalises every part of the globe to this day.
Our future depends on the true politics that makes differences reconcilable. Allegiance to truth, justice, law and order, human dignity, a freedom for excellence, the common good, solidarity, and subsidiarity is the only meaningful alternative to the collapse of civilization. Interestingly, such allegiance can be applied to any of the three good regimes of classical philosophy, but only if the regime stands firmly on the foundations laid by Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome.