(…from war-lords to robber-baron oligarchs…and back again)

This may be indulging in a bit of philosophy…on wry…here, but it seems like today’s American angst about itself is simply an echo of its past…from war-lords to robber-baron oligarchs…and back again…with the Trumpian dreadnaught machine as just a reflection of that cycle.

Actually it’s a cyclic pattern to be found throughout history ever since human societies evolved from their egalitarian hunter-gatherer conditions, and became agrarian ones instead. Since such societies needed hierarchic structures to make them work the end result of such structures created elites of “haves” controlling masses of “have-nots”, which ultimately led to what we’ve come to call…civilizations…but, as with all organisms, the development of these civilizations followed a pattern with a consistent process of fusion-fission-fusion. A process which always ended up with “empires” of one kind or another, in constant conflict for dominance over whatever part of the world was in the reach of their hegemony. In turn, once formed, these then established a period of universal political order, economic stability, and relative peace within themselves.

 But over time that very order and stability loses the dynamism that created it in the first place, becoming static, and as that dissipates, new dynamics, both internal and external, emerge which don’t conform to that older form of economic and social-political order it once had. Eventually either from implosion or by explosion that “empire” collapses back into another era of chaos and conflict. All empires ancient and modern have followed that cyclic process, and it’s at such moments of collapse that opportunistic individuals come forward, and by the means of sheer force and power as “war lords” attempt to re-establish some semblance of order and stability in whatever bit of territory their force and power can control. These then become society’s new “elites”…new “have’s” controlling new collectives of “have-nots.” The formation of the aristocracies in Europe is a classic example of that process.

Eventually, however, such strong-arm order gives way to conglomerates of such elite families, combined together by intermarriage and economic interests to thus become the oligarchs of their times controlling every economic and political  aspect of their societies. These are mostly paternalistic and ostensibly benign in the manner of their rule by ensuring that everyone gets a piece of the pie, no matter how miniscule that slice of pie might be. It’s their way of keeping things stable with free bread and circuses, so to speak. But in exchange for that stability, no one is allowed to disturb their brand of it, or, like an orphan-boy Oliver, come forward with begging bowl in hand to ask for…more…of that pie.

Here in America we might say that our “war lord” period culminated with our Civil War and its immediate aftermath of the Wild West, where strong-arm individuals and the law of the gun was the only law. But the new technologies of the last half of the 19th Century…helped to create new oligarchic elites which then helped to form the American “empire.” An empire based on economic dominance which reached its global apogee after WWII, in the last half of the 20th Century. The only difference between these new oligarchic elites and the previous ones has been the advent of newer and more advanced technologies, allowing for more self-made individuals to achieve even greater conspicuous wealth from effective exploitation of these newer technologies. Nevertheless, the common ingredient of such individuals’ successes has always been their absolutist mindset to gain such rewards for their efforts, regardless of anyone else’s sensibilities, and our President Trump is the epitome of that.

Our “warlords” of the past were mostly of the political kind which used extreme political partisanship to acquire and secure their holds on the levers of power for a very long time. But now they find themselves being supplanted by our new class of oligarchs, and it is the stresses and strains of that changeover which are the cause of so many of the dichotomies we have in our society today. In short, while America may still appear to be “beautiful” to behold for most of us, the only reason we continue believing in that image of ourselves… may be because we think we’re still very skilled at applying a lot of make-up to it…to make it so.

Well, such self-delusion has its merits…it maintains hope…for the future.