The Rulers and the Ruled
The Delusions of "Democracy"
Recently, there was an uproar at JD Vance's comments that we need a "healthy ruling class." AOC's tweet got the most attention:
Of course, the uproar is nonsense. All AOC is doing (whether she realizes it or not) is running interference on the fact that there is always a class of Rulers: an oligarchy that wields power. Pretending otherwise does not abolish this oligarchy. It *can't.* All it does is obfuscate them, make them illegible, allow them to operate in the shadows where they quickly become vampires.
To understand this, let's delve into each part of the argument.
There is always a ruling class
Power is an inescapable fact of the world, and there are always those with more Power and those with less. Whether this is due to physical Might, social Charisma, institutional position, information brokerage, etc. some people possess more Power than others. This is not making a reductive claim that literally every relationship is shaped and dictated by power relations. Rather, it is simply to say that Power is an inescapable fact of Public Life (which includes politics).
In a paraphrase of the great ZeroHPLovecraft:
When consent is a precondition for authority, Power will learn to manipulate people into giving consent.
“Democracy,” properly understood, is nothing more than Laundered Oligarchy.
Media and Tech elites are so adamant about defending this "democracy" because it is the system in which they can manipulate the people to support elite interests and legitimize those interests with "the will of the people" through voting.
Being able to control the flow of information grants you massive amounts of Power. You become an Architect of Truth. In fact, this level of Power is far more insidious than brute force. At least with Physical coercion I understand who is "above" me. Not true when we are manipulated by these Architects of Truth. When we are selectively lied to, so as to ensure the narratives we believe in are the ones that align the most with Elite interests.
Discursive Power shapes the World, literally
There will always be those with greater access to information and a greater ability to engage in discursive control/narrative shaping than others. When a Powerful individual like AOC claims there is no ruling class, all this does is provide cover for the Rulers to pretend they don't exist. It makes the Rulers less legible, more informal. They can operate without identification, incentivized to pillage as much as they can without being caught. Making our rulers less legible is a terrible idea. It is how they evade accountability.
Claiming we have equal power, or that it is desirable and possible for us to live in a society where everyone has equal power, sounds quite nice. No one wants to admit they are powerless compared to another person. But this state of affairs is neither real, nor possible. Beginning with the claim people have equal Power, when they is not the case and *cannot* be the case, legitimizes the differences in Power by pretending they don't exist. By obfuscating them.
One of the most pernicious and difficult things to deal with in this world is the obscurity of power.**
The greatest tragedy of our world is that, lost in the endless array of kafkaesque bureaucracies and narrative-forming entities, it isn’t even clear who to blame! Who should I be mad at? “The Man”? That’s meaningless.
Bureaucracy transforms Power from being the clear imposition of a rule by a single Ruler and instead turns it into this amorphous blob, too complicated and treacherous to even properly investigate, that releases the decrees. Of course, *someone* is making the decisions, but we don't ever engage with them. Entire debates, literatures even, have been focused on trying to figure out who the real shot-callers are.
when it is clear where sovereignty lies, when it is clear who is making decisions and *why* they should be deferred to, there is a very obvious ability to respond when things go wrong. If the tribal elder or King makes poor choices, perhaps they need to be pushed out (or given a second chance, depending on how forgiving you are). You understand who is in charge. But when it isn't clear where sovereignty lines, you can't be sure who is making decisions nor why they are making those decisions. You don't know how to effectively respond. In fact, your response may end up *strengthening* the very system you are trying to oppose. Any effective rebellion against such an obfuscated system can only be successful *by accident.*
Discursive Power truly shapes the world. Or, more specifically, discursive power shapes our Maps of the World, and since we all operate using our Maps (unmediated, un-skeptical contact with the World is impossible), it must be understood as being as real as any "material" force. Shifts in ideas, in perspective, can reshape our Maps. As our Maps are reshaped, our understanding of the World changes, and new motivations for different actions may arise.
A chief problem we have today is that discursive power is largely controlled by the same actors that benefit from the current Power structure (and/or the actors that have been indoctrinated into being True Believers in the structure's legitimacy). See: AOC tweet above
So what is a "Healthy Ruling Class?"
Let us reject the discursive power of those who claim to be rebels but act to perpetuate our materially and spiritually impoverished society. What does a "Healthy ruling class" look like? If a ruling class always exists, what distinguishes the Good from the Evil? In other words, what qualities do America's rulers lack?
We can discuss the importance of moral individuals until the end of time, but I think discussing a brute Class interest is more important:
A Ruling Class is *healthy* when its interests are aligned with the interests of the Ruled. When a Ruler, acting purely in their own self-interest, works in a pro-social manner, the ruling class is healthy. Of course, it is effectively impossible to define a society in which this works perfectly. A Healthy body still gets sick from time to time. A Healthy ruling class will need a robust immune system to deal with rare defections. One cannot assume that any society will have an endless string of magnanimous, self-denying rulers. We need a society that is structured to both incentivize pro-social actions and facilitate the moral development of its people, Rulers and Ruled.
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