Column by Paul Hein.
Exclusive to STR
Readers of STR are no doubt familiar with George Washington’s characterization of government as force, not reason. (Has any president since ever acknowledged that?) In our time, we can find plenty of examples of government achieving its goals with violence, and I’m thinking not only of the federal government, but even local government. Just search online videos for examples of police brutality, for lots of examples.
But millions of Americans do government’s bidding day after day, even though they find it odious, or simply aggravating, with no sign of a gun or truncheon. They not only obey, but expect others to do likewise. So while force is the rulers’ ultimate weapon, they get what they want by other means 99% of the time. And that means is psychology.
Years ago--OK, half a century ago--my wife and I were in England, and took a tour of Windsor Castle. My memories of the occasion are fuzzy, except for one thing. We were given a look into the royal pantry, where the Queen’s china is stored. You and I probably have two sets of china: everyday, and for company. The Queen, need I say it, had no “everyday” china, but had literally dozens of sets of “company” china, each with place settings for, perhaps, a hundred guests. Our tour guide, and the English tourists among us, were obviously proud that their Queen had such wealth.
Many, many years later, in Madrid, we toured the royal castle there, which is said to be the largest in Europe. The royals no longer live there, so it stands empty, except for occasional state functions, a royal wedding, or some such event. I remember one room, which was called, if memory serves, the ceramic room. Floor, walls, ceiling, were all covered in ceramic tiles, apparently at the whim of the King. I didn’t think it was especially beautiful, but it certainly was impressive. And that, I guess, might have been the point. As in England, the Spanish on the tour seemed quite proud that their King had such a nice place to lay his head.
Here’s where the psychology comes in: If the people of a given nation were told that they were going to have to build for one of their number a palace--or, more likely, a string of them--and that they were going to have to pay the maintenance of these edifices, to furnish them in the height of luxury, with garages filled with expensive cars, and servants by the regiment, they would likely resent it. “What’s so special about him,” they might ask of the intended recipient of this largesse. The question would remain unanswered, as it was obvious there was nothing special about the lucky fellow.
Why, therefore, weren’t the people of England, or Spain (or, for that matter, France, and other countries as well) incensed that the burden was placed upon their backs to sustain a particular family at a level of luxury that was, to all of them, unheard of? Were the royals for whom they were thus sacrificing themselves superior in wisdom or virtue? Moreover, did the fortunate royals provide any tangible benefit to the people who supported them so regally, even though they themselves might have been having problems maintaining a roof over their heads?
One might think that the people of England, or Spain, would be furious at being forced to provide such a luxurious existence for their rulers. Royal palaces would be objects of detestation, nor admiration. But it is not so. Even in this country, where the ruler is called “president,” instead of “king,” the people seem to take pride in the White House, which, while admittedly not in the same class as a palace, is well-above the living accommodations of most of us, and well stocked with servants to eliminate any necessity for the ruler to raise a hand to take care of himself. The ruler is careful to frequently refer to his mansion as “the people’s house,” although if you try to schedule your anniversary party there, expect to be disappointed. Even the presidential airplane, one of a fleet, actually, is a subject of national pride. “Our ruler’s airplane is bigger than your ruler’s airplane!”
Yes, there are exceptions. The Russians overthrew their ruler and his family, and so did the French. However, their mansions still exist, and are maintained in all their splendor, by the same people who executed their former occupants. It’s just been an exchange of one tyranny for another, more kindly regarded by the subjects, who still end up paying for it.
There can be no accounting for it unless the rulers have somehow convinced the people that they, the rulers, love the people, look after them, have their interests at heart, and will protect them. In return, the subjects feel flattered by such blandishments, and willingly sacrifice to give their rulers personal luxuries and their grateful obedience. The impression of benign omnipotence is heightened by the trappings that accompany the ruler: all rise when he enters the room, while the band strikes up “Hail to the Chief.” As he departs his magnificent airplane, the uniformed flunkies at the foot of the steps snap to attention and salute. It’s enough to make him think he really IS somebody!
If the ruler, however, were dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, and dumped, unrecognized, on a busy street, there would be no kowtowing. No one would rise, or even pay attention, when he entered a room; no music, no salutes. His expressed desires would impress no one, his orders would be ignored; he would be just another nobody, as in The Prince and the Pauper.
So it’s all psychology. As long as rulers can keep people believing that they are special, and deserve our money and our obedience, they’ll get it! Thank God for the Internet, where ever-growing numbers of people are coming to the realization that the king has no clothes. In fact, he has very little of anything, save ambition, to warrant our admiration. Of course, not altogether hidden from sight, he has all those guns!