Tag Archives: Power

Realpolitik and Kittens

I have been reading about pro-Nazi exiles recruited and paid by the CIA. I can never read such things without feeling powerfully upset. But I also keep in mind Ludwig von Rochau’s idea that “the law of power governs the world of states just as the law of gravity governs the physical world.” Rochau supposedly coined the term, “realpolitik,” which originally had to do with achieving Enlightenment ideals in a world that didn’t operate according to those ideals. Reading about the CIA’s support of the Svoboda Party in the Ukraine led me back to Rochau, someone I haven’t thought about since my undergraduate years.

People seem shocked when they first learn that American Imperialism (like all imperialism no matter what costume it currently happens to be wearing) involves propping up murderous dictators, victimizing the weak, and destabilizing the social order of disobedient nations. Every nation that reaches a certain level of power becomes amoral. This is not to say it’s alright from an ethical standpoint. This is just the nature power politics–inherently pragmatic and opportunistic.

The inherent viciousness of such governments is held in check by two closely related things: the press and public opinion. Laws have nothing to do with it. Laws can be changed or ignored–as we see happening in the UK and the USA. But look at what has happened at the town hall meetings across the States. Those are a large part of what caused the lack of GOP support for Trumpcare. Fear of an angry mob gets things done in Congress, yessir.

Exposing a government’s essential Machiavellianism will not change the imperative for realpolitik in the world, but it can blunt the essential cruelty of decision makers, opening up a space for the weak and poor to evacuate to the hill country. Get grandpa dressed and fire up the sampan while there’s still time, why don’t you.

Picture an enormous rock rolling down the side of a mountain. The rock is moving in accordance with universal law. If you’re smart, you get out of the way. If you’re not so smart, you try to argue with gravity. I propose the wise course is to pay attention to what’s going on, know when to get out of the way, and live to read more books, complain about the murderers in power, and play with more kittens in your hut. Then maybe you can write political pieces on the inherent nastiness of the rulers and live to see them published.

Alternately, you can die for your beliefs. That is very heroic, but gravity will keep the boulders rolling down the mountains and there will always be bullets flying through the air. There will also always be empires and bloody strongmen and fools wearing crowns. It’s up to us to accuse them, argue for reform, and cast blame where it belongs. But we can’t do that face down in the canal.

And it’s alright to say, “But who will look after my cats?”

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The End of the Hustle

Trump knows he’s drowning. || Michael David

Source: The End of the Hustle


The Debate Did Not Take Place

No one says what they’re really thinking: there is no escape. || Michael Davis

Source: The Debate Did Not Take Place


Letter from Washington, Part 1

“In a very few hours I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited sepulchre. Prejudice no doubt. I had no difficulty in finding the Company’s offices. It was the biggest thing in the town, and everybody I met was full of it. They were going to run an over-sea empire, and make no end of coin by trade.” – Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Standing outside the White House, one feels a strange energy, a sense of outward composure over ruthless analysis and scheming. It’s not the dead weight on the air when you enter an old cathedral in Prague or the sinking  medieval depth of a back street in Oxford.  Neither does the White House radiate the architectural pretensions of our older universities trying to be more significant and stately than they actually are.  Instead, it gives the impression of a violent river that, through some trick of light and gravity, has acquired a façade of perfect serenity.  The White House is more of a movement than a structure; it’s dynamic; it’s a verb.  It’s the soul of the United States evolving in some obscure, perhaps fated, direction.  There is a powerful mystery here.

White House

Party Central

Simply walking around downtown D.C. is a history lesson—but maybe not the sort of history we’d like to believe, rather an emotional experience, a certain dissonance, a national identity crisis in full bloom.  It’s easy to feel a brutal undercurrent to the capitol, echoes of neoclassical idealism tempered by an absolute faith in institutional power.  In every edifice, one feels the constant tension between accepted history and the hard reality of a 300-year-old political experiment still trying not to fail.  300 years seems like a long time to an American, but it’s nothing to Europe.  Yet Washington D. C. seems to have distilled the same civic narcissism of any European capitol city.

Albert Gallatin

Petit Albert

The irony of standing in front of the Department of the Treasury with a Swiss tour group was not lost on me.  “Look, Albert Gallatin.” the 12-year-old boy in electric blue Nike sweats tugged on his father’s camera bag, but dad was frowning, texting with both thumbs.  It was indeed Albert Gallatin, fourth Secretary of the Treasury, US financial bodhisattva immured forever in bronze by the north entrance, a detached expression on his face.  A few minutes later, the worn-out mother took a picture of the boy holding up a $10 bill with Albert in the background.

Executive Office Building – certainly not haunted .

Walking from the Executive Office Building to the Washington Monument, the message is clear: people built all this—but such people no longer exist and possibly never will again.  Still, you are very small and they, even dead, are enormous.  One thinks of the Valley of the Kings when standing at the foot of the Capitol Building.  One thinks of the Tower of Babel and the Twin Towers and how the same gravity that rules the field mouse in a farm outside Hays, Kansas rules all this stone.  And then one thinks of Ozymandias and goes home.

And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’