Ran across the above graphic on a couple of image boards recently. To most of you, it’s just a one-second snort at the pun, and move on to the next image. I have the misfortune to have read a certain amount of history, so it prompts a rant. Sorry.
The original painting, if you don’t know, was of Louis XIV, head of the most powerful state in the western world at the time. He had claim, on paper anyway, to most of North America, among other places. You see where I’m going with this already.
His reign is often pointed to as the archetype of “absolute monarchy”, something to which many monarchs of the time aspired. That was a relatively new idea at the time and, believe it or not, rather “progressive”, in a sense. If you had lived under the system that
preceded it, you’d understand.
What it meant to have a strong monarch was that there was something to appeal to, above the local barons, counts, and dukes who had always had their way with the commoners.
The King might be a sick, greedy bastard just like the local lord, but it was one more chance to get something different, if not better. A strong central power also meant a chance to replace local customs and “ancient rights” with something a little more carefully thought through, imposed uniformly on the whole realm. Well, it didn’t really work that way, but it was supposed to be moving in that direction. In fact, Louis’ centralized monarchy was a necessary step toward what the Revolution and Napoleon would make a “nation state”.
Notice the really big sword on his hip. It had been centuries since such a sword was used in combat, but the sword is there in the portrait just to remind you that, in a society ruled by a noblesse d’épée, this guy had the biggest épée. Monarchy, if it is effective at all, is a military dictatorship. Anyone who lives under a real (i.e., Saudi style, rather than British style) monarch knows that.
“Baroque” is a word, referring to that era, that now means “needlessly elaborate and showy”, with “rococo” (Louis XV’s time) as the extreme version of it. It was a dominance behavior, and still is among some people. Anyone who thought Louis was effeminate because he wore lacey kerchiefs and flashy brocades (and ballet was invented so he could
show off his legs) would soon learn otherwise.
(The distinction in plainness between male & female dress came a century later, from England mostly, mainly because the French Revolution scared the crap out of aristocrats and they no longer wanted to be such obvious targets.)
In Louis’ time colorful feathers on the male were de rigueur. That’s what all the precious doodads, fountains, entertainment & such were about. It did a lot to attract nobles to stay in his palace and serve him, rather than go home and plot rebellion. You know how motel furniture is weighted to make it hard to steal? Louis had furniture molded of solid silver. Fashions that he set, and his ruinously expensive lifestyle, dominated the whole region for a while, as did aspirations toward the kind of absolute monarchy symbolized by his court.
I guess my work is done now. You see how this relates to Obama, of course.
Ok, let’s go…
In theory, the old monarchs were chosen by direct father-to-son inheritance. Sometimes it worked that way. Often, it didn’t. Reading the history of any European country of that time is much like reading recent Latin American or African history. There were many factors other than heredity involved, including popularity as a personality, bribery, palace coups, and civil wars. There was always someone questioning a ruler’s legitimacy, hence the need for the dominance behaviors mentioned above.
In a republic with “elected” leaders, we tend to emphasize the personal popularity angle, but those other factors are still in play. Obama, being a different color from all previous presidents, has a bit more to prove to many people. This is emphasized by a myth that Democrats are “soft on national security”. Cue the dominance behaviors.
Well, flashy dress and elaborate fêtes aren’t so much in fashion any more. Rulers can still burn money in great potlatch piles today, but most of it goes to Wall Street bailouts, “tax incentives”, and the Pentagon. What really raises a figurehead’s status, though, is violence. “I can spy on you, disappear you, bomb you, assassinate you, kidnap and torture you, anywhere in the world.” That’s dominance behavior, and Obama has continued and expanded what his predecessors have done for a long time. Ever since the Civil War, we’ve seen more and more arbitrary power concentrated under the federal executive branch, with hardly a pause, always in the name of “national security”.
This is an instructor in constitutional law, remember. He knows very well what he’s doing.
Some further reading and listening on that subject, if you need it (Notice that there’s a mixture of “left” and “right” writers here.):
Dumb Question of the Twenty-first Century: Is It Legal?
John Whitehead – US is a police state
Obama Comes for the Journalists
A hidden world, growing beyond control
For Anarchist, Details of Life as F.B.I. Target
Committee to Stop FBI Repression
The CIA’s Secret Sites in Somalia
Obama: A disaster for civil liberties
The NYT’s Love Letter to Death Squads
Go back to what I said about Louis’ possessions. French explorers had claimed Canada, the Great Lakes region, and the whole watershed of the Mississippi for him, but we know that didn’t last. France was a little too tied up in continental affairs, mainly very wasteful land wars, to develop large colonies in vast new territories. A reprieve for indigenous Americans, an opportunity for the British Empire, not so good for the future of French power (for good or ill). This ought to serve as a warning about our “national security” potlatch, if you really care about American power in the world. There are good investments and bad investments. Learn to tell the difference. Renewable energy is a good investment. Wars for oil are a bad investment. Get it?
But Obama probably doesn’t care about that any more than previous rulers have. He has courtiers to keep happy, with great fireworks displays accentuating his magnificence.
So how should we behave under such a régime?
There are some behaviors required of citizens of a republic:
– Attend meetings of governmental bodies, or at least watch
them on local cable or C-SPAN.
– Communicate with your representatives.
– Maintain regular fellowship with others, in person, face-to-face
as people with an interest in their community.
– Run for office, or support some who do.
– Resist injustice with lawsuits, organized actions, and publicity.
etc., etc., etc.
It’s no news to anyone reading this that a very small portion of our population does any of this.
Serfs and vassals behave very differently:
– Always flatter those above you in the hierarchy.
– If you have any wealth, hide it from your “betters”, otherwise
some wellborn con man or thug who can hire lawyers will
take it from you.
– Display dominance to those below you in the hierarchy,
so you can help those above you keep them in line. This
is usually the only favor you can do for them.
– Those roughly equal to you in the hierarchy often can be
bribed. Expect it as a way of life.
– Trust no one, except maybe family and friends you grew up with.
Which set of behaviors is appropriate for our nominal republic that increasingly looks like a mafia state? Maybe “rule of law” was always a fiction, but the fiction is getting much harder to preserve these days. And how long before the mounting debts of a profligate monarchy lead to a complete breakdown?
There are some other behaviors typical of revolutionaries who know what they’re doing, but I wouldn’t talk about them here. It involves concealing what you’re doing.
What’s most important might be to understand that acting like a “citizen” might be very ineffective, though necessary. Our “national security” state is designed to disincentivize citizen-like behavior. If you’re wealthy and “white”, you can get away with more, but at some point, if you bump up against someone’s “property rights”, “national security”, or something else in our vast labyrinth of laws, they’ll have something to use against you. That’s not usually the biggest worry, though.
The biggest worry is your wasted effort.
Each of us is allowed only so much time in this vale of tears. Do you choose to spend it fighting? Most of our election laws and “security authorizations” are designed to make sure you don’t succeed, by people who probably know much more about this than you or I do.
But very few of our fellow “citizens” really understand how corrupt and brutal the state is. Only when people resist it, and the story is told, does it become apparent. A revolution happens when the corruption is so apparent that the troops won’t fire on the crowd. To convert the troops, you need stories to tell. Making those stories is a vital part of the movement.
So if you feel that’s your calling, to be a citizen rather than a serf, I won’t discourage you.
You might end up buried in the Panthéon.