With Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders outperforming all expectations in the current election cycle, much has been said and written about the widespread dissatisfaction with the so-called “establishment.”
“We’re tired of typical politicians,” they say. “It’s time for real change and real solutions. It’s time to shake up the system!”
Yet, as Jeffrey Tucker points out, blind opposition to the status quo, no matter how bad it may be, is not the same as supporting liberty.
The state power we oppose is not identical to the establishment we reject. You can overthrow the establishment and still be left with a gigantic machinery of legalized exploitation. All the agencies, laws, regulations, and powers are still in place. And now you have a problem: someone else is in charge of the state itself. You might call it a new establishment. It could be even more wicked than the one you swept away.
Indeed, it usually is. Maybe always.
Or, as Peggy Noonan recently wrote, considering the prospect of a completely dismembered GOP: “Something important is ending. It is hard to believe what replaces it will be better.”
For Tucker, the establishment is a “network of large and cooperating interest groups that have developed a stable relationship with state power,” including “finance, organized labor, public bureaucrats, government contractors, big businesses with quid pro quo relationships with regulators and politicians, political families with a strong stake in the election process, intellectuals at state-friendly think tanks and universities, and so on.”
If this is our working definition, historical examples aren’t exactly the friend of anti-disestablishmentarianism. See: Weimar Republic.
Alas, if this toppling of the current order succeeds, we’re still left with the same power structures but in new hands, regardless of the preexisting illusions. In our case, those hands could belong to Donald J. Trump or Bernie Sanders, each of whom offers a clear picture of how the levers will be pulled.
In the case of Trump, we see a man who boasts of his “business experience” in manipulating virtually every corner of the railed-against establishment. We see a man who promises to be the biggest and smartest and most audacious at executive trampling, even as he somehow befriends both parties. We see the promise of kingly “deal-making” within the newfound political order. This is Authoritarian Cronyism with as bright a label as voters could hope for.
In the case of Sanders, we see a range of proposals that rely on the expansion of existing power structures. Rather than constraining government against the realms of abuse that Sanders disdains, his policies point to “bigger but better” systems and structures, expanding the government’s control, and in turn, the cronies and special interests therein. We can pretend that Sanders’ autocratic tendencies will be mitigated by his “genuine heart” and independent spirit, hoping it will trickle down to the grand poobahs eventually appoints. Unfortunately for us, human nature is not a play thing.
As Tucker concludes, the real solution is to keep our focus on liberty and how it might properly be preserved:
A movement toward a lasting liberty has to think long term, and not find itself buffeted by the winds of politics that promise overnight results. The goal should be the tearing down of power itself and its replacement by simple human rights and a society that functions according to civilized standards.
Top-down political putsches are particularly dangerous in our times. The establishment is already on the run because of technological innovation. The ruling class is gradually losing control over communication, education, industrial development, civic planning, consumption, and so much else. The old models have been discredited and new ones are replacing them, organically, in a sustainable way.
A new autocrat from the left or right threatens everything. A political movement fueled by bloodlust — mobilized by raw resentment and crying out for vengeance — could empower a new form of oligarchic control, resulting in a calamity that no one intended but no one can control once it has power.
We ought to remain keenly aware and cautious of the systems and networks of power that are currently in place. We ought to stay wary of the so-called “establishment” and how we might not become another special interest in the blur of the bloated bureaucracy.
But let’s not get distracted about what truly empowers society: bottom-up spiritual, cultural, economic, and political engagement that values freedom over unchecked power, and fights to protect and preserve it.