As the Europeans dither over what sanctions they could apply to Russia that would not hurt them more, a two-pronged question: In an age of growing mass literacy and electronic communication, what kinds of governments stand the best chance of being effective — and hence, durable — and is the expression ‘mob rule’ justified?
The Western press has had a field day since the Sochi Olympics, depicting the Russian President as a megalo-maniac jock whose word is law, while complaining in the same breath that the American President cannot get anything done. Given the unprecedented dangers the world has concocted for itself, it would seem that any sane, rational person would be more interested in how the presidents of nuclear armed nations use their power, than in how much power they have.
Americans are told that leaders must be ‘democratically elected,’ with ‘checks and balances’ on their power. Yet given the myriad ways big business has to make Presidents do its bidding, checks and balances is now but a pious invocation: real power lies not with elected officials, but with their financiers.
How else to explain that President Obama admits to ordering the assassination of American citizens, while allowing purveyors of consumer goods to learn our most intimate wants and needs? Or the fact that though he’s a professor of constitutional law, he disregards the laws that bar him from supporting rulers who gain power by force — as in Egypt or Ukraine.
And yet I’m sure there are days when Obama envies Putin his legislators’ obedience:
“I need a vote on the possible use of force in Ukraine.”
Personally, I prefer a president who easily gets an authorization to use force because his legislators are well-educated and know what’s happening in the larger world, but only uses that authorization as a real last resort, to one who uses force first and justifies it to a largely ignorant Congress later — or not. I’d rather have a president who offers to negotiate with the European Union and the U.S. over the Ukraine (as Putin did early on), than one who sends his minions to deliver cookies and CIA arms to achieve what is commonly referred to as ‘mob rule’ — except when they are ‘our’ mob.
The term ‘mob rule’ has been in wide use, I believe, since shortly after the Constitution was adopted, inspired by the storming of the Bastille during the contemporaneous French Revolution, and reinforced a century and a half later by newsreels of the storming of the Winter Palace during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The American system of ‘checks and balances’ has been so successfully contrasted to the idea of wild-eyed club-wielding men destroying fine furniture that the press freely associates demonstrations with ‘mob rule,’ invariably opposing them to the ‘democratic’ way of achieving change through the ballot box. It mindlessly parrots the vocabulary used by the political class, especially the derogatory expressions with which it designates those over whom power weighs most heavily.
This leads to the two issues, which in fact is really one: the relationship of power to the people — or the other way around. The most significant element in any discussion of power today is the exponentially growing number of people on the planet, which makes it almost impossible for any regime to govern satisfactorily. Populations now have to be ‘managed;’ and the more they resist being managed, the tighter the controlling screws are turned, via high-tech bureaucracies, militarily-armed police and spying on a scale never seen before. This could be called the Rousseau aspect of governance, that of bringing man from a ‘state of nature’ to ‘civilization,’ and it is sometimes accused of leading to totalitarianism.