THE WISE AND EFFICIENT POLITICIAN

Plato's dialogues are littered with useful sayings on government, including this concise summary of statecraft.1

"The wise and efficient politician is the man who makes wholesome things seem just to a city instead of pernicious ones."

Theaetetus 167c.

That is a rich sentence if ever there was one, and it includes most every insight that political science has been explaining over the past 2500 years. There are distinct policies that are wholesome (The Federalist Papers, Democracy in America), and those that are pernicious (Main Currents in Marxism, The Gulag Archipelago). The populace supports what they think is justice (The Rights of Man, The Social Contract), but they cannot tell the difference between the wholesome and the pernicious (Animal Farm, Coriolanus) unless a politician convinces them (The Prince). That politician must be wise enough to know the difference himself (Two Treatises of Government, Leviathan) and effective at swaying the masses by any means necessary (1984, The Roman Revolution2).

Nothing could better express the political aims of the alt-right. This movement is very flexible about the means used to achieve a stable, orderly political structure for Europeans; social media trolling, memes, podcasts, and conferences are all directed toward helping people see the truth even if they cannot yet rationally accept it. This trait most clearly divides us from the traditional conservative movement, which is content to state their logical syllogism and then retreat to the bitter recesses of talk radio, having convinced no one. It has been years since America has had a national politician who could plausibly claim to be either wise or efficient and generations since a politician exhibited both traits.

To the chagrin of political science professors and magazine editors, the novice Donald Trump was demonstrably wiser and more efficient than any other presidential candidate in 2016. The alt-right affinity for Trump grew quickly after some initial skepticism, resting on a visceral recognition that Trump was not the same uninspiring hack usually offered by the Republicans but rather a natural celebrity salesman who could convince disillusioned voters to care about politics again. Trump gathered a collection of controversial policies from the fringes of the mainstream right, notably Anne Coulter, and he seemed to follow the election strategy of Steve Sailer.

The real magic of Trump's campaign was in the execution. Many right-wing pundits have diagnosed the ills of modern America only to be drowned out by the media before they could reach a large national audience. To our detriment, the novelty of hearing nationalist rhetoric in a presidential campaign kept the alt-right from probing the depth and resiliency of Trump's stated beliefs. If this was ill-advised it was also understandable because Trump was better than the status quo Republicans or Hillary Clinton simply because he was an unknown quantity in a roomful of known useful idiots and globalists. If Trump only delivers on a fraction of his promises he will still give the nationalist Right a respite from constant Leftist statist attacks, and if he abandons all his campaign promises his rhetoric still made previously taboo nationalism a live option for 50% of the nation.

By some combination of instinct and calculation Trump put together a platform that mimicked the 20th century anti-Party reform movement of Hilaire Belloc and Cecil Chesterton.3 America is the de facto heir of the British Empire, and we seem to have inherited the same pathologies and vices that plagued Britannia.

But now a dim suspicion has begun to arise in the minds of at least a section of the people that this historic optimism is not quite as true as it looks, that the electors do not as a fact control the representatives, and that the representatives do not as a fact control the Government, that something alien has intervened between electors and elected, between legislature and Executive, something that deflects the working of representative institutions...The politician... does hold a different brief according to the side of the House on which he sits, and though he... probably has no intention of making it the basis of action, yet it is often real enough to those to whose support he appeals. The Party System, which is a game (and a source of profit) to the politicians, is often a matter of deadly earnest to their honest backers in the country. There are still very many who believe implicitly and fervently in the reality of the conflict.

The Party System p 19-20

Trump vowed to drain the government swamp of its time-serving 'public servants', and much to the dismay of Ted Cruz the public was more inclined to believe a TV star casino owner than a principled Constitutionalist. Anti-government rhetoric sounds a little hollow coming from a long time employee of Leviathan. Cruz's grandstanding filibusters and 'shut it down' rhetoric make for great segments on Fox News, but they are the time honored ineffectual tactics of Belloc's Placeman.

The Placeman is the man who enters politics as a profession with the object of obtaining one of the well-paid offices in the gift of the Ministry. His mode of operation will necessarily vary according to his talents and temperament. Sometimes he will endeavour to earn the gratitude of the governing group by voting steadily according to the dictation of the Whips...Sometimes he plays a bolder game, assumes the airs of an independent member, criticises the Government from time to time, asks inconvenient questions, and makes himself a mild nuisance to the Front Benches and the Whips. But by this sign the mere Placeman may always be known that, though he may ask questions or raise matters slightly inconvenient to his " leaders," he will never hint at existence of things inconvenient to both Front Benches and awkward to the Party System as a whole, for on this system he proposes to fatten.

The Party System p 45

Along with their inability to control the government or trust their representatives Americans have a growing sense of impotence in world affairs. A decade and more of harsh reality has ingrained a war-weariness in the traditional Republican base that Trump would do well to remember over the next four years. In the campaign his tough talk and pro-military posture included a skepticism of foreign intervention that resonated with ordinary conservatives and would have been wholeheartedly endorsed by the Left if it came from Bernie Sanders. Trump mocked the philosophy that undergirded the perpetual neocon wars in the Middle East.

In a State of ancient institutions—indeed, in any State—you must not lightly destroy an institution, for when you have destroyed it you cannot with ease replace it by another institution. The political institutions of men are not theories, they are things. Destroy the monarchy, for instance, of a despotic society, and you are bound to supply the gap which it has left by some other definite and powerful organ of government, concrete because it is human, and because it is human necessarily subject to error and to vice. " Leave well alone " should therefore be a standing motto, so far as primary institutions are concerned, with every patriotic man. Unless you have some clear alternative capable of concrete expression, and certainly capable of giving as good a result as the institution you propose to overthrow, then an attack upon it is anarchic and profoundly unwise.

The Party System p 144

Above all Trump talked about the damage of globalization and the international movement of labor and capital in a way that would have been unthinkable with Bush, Romney or McCain. The hoi polloi were never supposed to hear a coherent denunciation of the world economic system that linked the issues of jobs, immigration, and trade, so Trump gained a lot of credibility for his willingness to reveal the inner workings of the system designed for and maintained by the 1%.

If ever an election was won on a specific issue, the election of 1906 was won on Chinese Labour. This is not the place to express an opinion on the merits of the question; we simply state the facts. If the representatives of the people had acted according to their instructions, the repatriation of the Chinese would have begun at once and upon the largest possible scale. Everybody knows that this was not done; on the contrary, anxious negotiations were entered into by the Ministry to propitiate the South African Jews, a common plan was agreed on between the two Front Benches and those magnates, and 1300 Chinese were admitted to the Rand after the change of Government. But this is not the important point. The important point is that the new House of Commons, elected mainly on that issue, was not allowed to divide on the question or to express any opinion upon the policy which should be adopted. p 56

The country not only by an overwhelming majority, but with an overwhelming intensity, gave the mandate that the Chinese should go, and that they should go at once. It was a mandate based upon a mixture of popular emotions, not the least of which was the desire to chastise those South African Jews who had compelled our politicians as their servants to exploit for financial ends the popular enthusiasm in the matter of the South African war. It was, again, a demand for the signal punishment of the first attempt made since modern industrialism began, to move labour in large batches from place to place upon a scheme arranged by capital for the interests of capital alone. Popular instinct seized at once upon the enormous danger of that initial experiment, and perceived with sound sense that if it were not made an example of, and if the South African Jews were not taught a sharp lesson, the whole outlook and theory upon which this vile experiment had been based would become the permanent theory and outlook of international capitalism...The politicians, when the Parliament of 1906 had met, paid no attention whatsoever to the mandate. The leaders of the two Front Benches consulted with the South African Jews as to what would best suit their convenience. The South African Jews decided that they would be poorer men unless the Chinese were left to work out their contract...Such were the orders of these gentlemen, and the politicians had nothing to do but to obey. But how was it that, with the House of Commons crammed with men who had received a definite mandate from the electors to do the exact opposite to this, nothing was done to satisfy that mandate?

The Party System p 75-76

Who knew "they all have to go back" was a political motivation in Belloc's day as well as our own? Trump only ever dabbled in generic impersonal terms to account for the ravages of globalism, and even that was only at the end of the campaign when Bannon's influence was arguably strongest. Public discourse has atrophied in many ways since 1911, but especially in the discussion of Jewish interests and political influence. Trump was given too much credit for understanding the causes of globalism and open borders because he used openly nationalist language, but he probably was just addressing symptoms of globalism that are obvious to the middle class. Trump generally filled a needed place in American politics, but that need was created by the combined efforts of the three other types of politicians implied in Plato's definition.

On the Left Trump faced a party of unwise but efficient Democrats. These politicians, exemplified by Chuck Schumer, either do not know what is wholesome for the U.S.A. or they knowingly promote what is pernicious for their own un-American ends. In either case the Democrats are generally efficient as they wreck America; despite their internal divisions the Democrats consistently move society to the Left. During the Obama administration the Democrats advocated policies so blatantly pernicious that even the average white voter began to get uncomfortable. Unfortunately the existing Republican base has been conditioned to accept the most useless GOP conservatives.

Prior to Trump there were two types of conservatives opposing the Left. The minority were wise and inefficient politicians like Pat Buchanan, men who knew the difference between wholesome and pernicious policy but were unable to convince a sufficient number of people to support them. Now that circumstances have finally caught up to the predictions of the wise men of the Right, we are unfortunately burdened by the majority of Republicans who are both unwise and inefficient and work tirelessly to earn the moniker of 'the stupid party'. These Republicans mostly spend their days trying to convince their voters that some pernicious Leftist policy is really not so bad and then are surprised to lose Congress every few years. Paul Ryan is the current exemplar of the Republican who does not know what he should be doing and is ineffective when he does try something.

Even on those rare occasions when a Republican does stumble upon a good policy, they do so for all the wrong reasons. Rand Paul voiced the weakest possible critique of 1/10 of the Civil Rights Act because it conflicts with his libertarian principles, but true to the inefficient politician form he did so in a manner totally unappealing to the mass of voters, and he retreated as soon as the Left noticed that he was touching on an issue of actual significance. The unifying factor of basically the entire political class, the wise and inefficient Traditionalists, the unwise and efficient Democrats, and the unwise and inefficient Conservatives is that their combined efforts always tends toward the detriment of ordinary citizens. For the past year and more Trump seemed like the one person who could disrupt the system and promote some beneficial populism.

All this analysis of how Trump won is good as far as it goes, but we must also face the fact that most Trump voters, and probably Trump himself, do not understand why he won. For instance, the conceptual models and analogies proposed by Scott Adams were very useful during the campaign, but on actual policy proposals Adams is essentially worthless. 4D chess is a useful description of a technique Trump used to campaign, not a governing philosophy. During the campaign the goal of every chess move was winning the race, which the alt-right approved of, but no one knows what Trump's priorities as president will be. The 4D technique can be used as easily to maneuver into a Syrian war as out of NAFTA. Endorsing Trump's questionable moves now presupposes that Trump knows the objective of the game being played, which seemed clear on the campaign trail only because of the stark contrast with Clinton. The alt-right certainly has a different game in mind than the millions of ordinary working class Trump voters.

This disconnect between the alt-right and the majority of the Trump coalition partly explains the extreme hostility and disappointment over the Syria strike that only the alt-right cares about. It is entirely possible that Trump will gain more than he loses from the Syria strike just by cleansing the unpalatable Obama foreign policy from the public memory. He may end up with greater popularity and establishment support in exchange for angering a vocal but electorally insignificant minority of his base. If a minor military action results in easier passage of Trump's stated domestic agenda the alt-right will have to admit that it was pragmatic and effective no matter how objectively distasteful the strike was. However, there are concerning signs that this is not the case.

If we grant that Trump does not believe the rhetoric coming from Tillerson or Nikki Haley the Syria strike is still disheartening for several reasons. First, the faux analysts who based on their past performance should be the laughing stock of the foreign policy world are treating this strike as a first step on the way to war with Iran. If any politician finds himself standing with Bill Kristol he should immediately sit down. It is also sad to see how quickly the past decade and a half of bitter war experience are replaced by jingoism among the Republican base. We cannot rely on these people to think things through, not when there are Support our Troops bumper stickers to be bought. Despite all the memes of 2016 and the wokest campaign in living memory most voters are still lemming-like political ignoramuses.

Let us also grant that Trump was using the strike as a clever geopolitical maneuver vis-à-vis China and North Korea and was not selling out to the neocons just yet. The problem is hawks have been saying for 25 years that we must strike North Korea now or face disaster. Every time they say this we have done nothing and have faced no disaster. What has changed in the last 100 days to make this the critical moment in our North Korea policy, a moment worth delaying or derailing the MAGA agenda for? I grant that the hawks may eventually be proved correct, as the Soviet dissidents used to say, some things are true even though the Party says they are true. But more likely this maneuvering will gain us nothing and cost plenty of political capital.

There is a sad history of Republican presidents giving immediate, tangible benefits to the Democrats in exchange for future concessions that never materialize. Reagan tried negotiating tax reform and never got the promised spending cuts. George W. Bush ended up with expanded prescription drug coverage and No Child Left Behind and still got no Democrat support for the Iraq War.

Syria too goes against our national interest now in order to secure some far off supposed benefit. It is also a slap in the face to Trump's most ardent supporters. In this idiocracy every act of foreign intervention must reinforce America's reputation as an unserious country. We can never make a 4D chess move in which the enemies of Western Civilization suffer; heaven forbid we strike an ISIS cell anywhere in the vicinity of Israel. Anyone we strike must be a stable, secular, nationalist government that keeps a lid on terrorism and does not persecute Christians. It worked so well in Iraq, Egypt and Libya. If Trump really wanted to keep the international community guessing and have a reputation akin to Rorschach he should have invaded Mexico under the pretext of fighting the drug cartels.

The alt-right got about as much as they could hope for in exchange for their enthusiastic support of Trump before inauguration day. Trump's campaign wounded the Left and revealed their weaknesses while simultaneously reinvigorating the Right. Young civic nationalists are organizing defensive squads to protect the Right from antifa while conservative media are desperately urging everyone not to panic about nationalism. NRO’s Ian Tuttle and Charlie Cooke telling everyone to ignore that mean old Richard Spencer is a far cry from William F. Buckley declaring the John Birch Society to be beyond the pale of conservatism. So the alt-right should still support Trump when he is holding firm on his campaign promises, while recognizing that the magic of 2016 has vanished. We no longer have any reason to assume that a 4D chess move is necessarily aiming for good objectives. Future dealings with Trump will be purely transactional, and no one quite knows how damaging such a relationship will be for the Trump presidency. Until now Trump’s freedom of action has been covered by the hyperactive rhetoric of alt-right meme warfare. If he had had to earn every bit of grudging support rather than being the beneficiary of enthusiasm during the campaign, 2016 may have ended very differently.

The alt-right thought Trump was better on fundamentals because of his mastery of campaign techniques. Though we all knew he was not one of us, it became second nature to treat him as an honorary nationalist. Inevitable disappointment is a necessary part of the political maturation of a movement, and having our Robert Bruce moment sooner rather than later places the alt-right ahead of the Republican base, which has still not learned to pursue ideas rather than personalities. What is intriguing is how slight the difference between hope and disillusionment really is. A few small differences in Trump’s rhetoric and the alt-right would have been much more skeptical of him. Discernment, as Plato knew, is a fundamental survival skill.

And [there are similarities] between a wolf and a dog, the wildest thing there is and the gentlest. If you’re going to be safe, you have to be especially careful about similarities.

Sophist 231a

Unless we oppose Trump when he moves further away from his promises the alt-right will prove to be just another obedient, toothless constituency like the always abused, never appreciated Tea Party or pro-life voters. I hope it will not come to this, but Trump may find 2018 and 2020 to be much rougher going if the alt-right truly turns against him. Trump did not win by a large margin, and whether he knows it or not, keeping his campaign promises is the only way to keep the Republican electoral hopes demographically viable in the near future. MAGA voters and the alt-right may not look very different from the Oval Office, but the anger of people who put blood and treasure into a cause and invested hope and belief in a candidate is not to be underestimated, and the alt-right is rapidly making itself indispensable for right-wing politics despite its numerical insignificance. Alcibiades in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens suffers disgrace at the hands of the Athenian Senate for which he had fought valiantly. He does not take it well.

I’m worse than mad. I have kept back their foes
While they have told their money and let out
Their coin upon large interest, I myself
Rich only in large hurts. All those for this?
Is this the balsam that the usuring Senate
Pours into captains’ wounds? Banishment.
It comes not ill. I hate not to be banished.
It is a cause worthy my spleen and fury,
That I may strike at Athens. I’ll cheer up
My discontented troops and lay for hearts.
’Tis honor with most lands to be at odds.
Soldiers should brook as little wrongs as gods.

Timon of Athens 3.5.114

Notes

  1. A PDF of Plato's Complete Works edited by Cooper and Hutchinson can be found here.

  2. Ronald Syme's Roman Revolution was 'controversial' because contemporaries recognized the parallels between The Late Republic and Weimar Germany

  3. Full text PDF of The Party System available on archive.org