Friday, 9 February 2007

4:2 Narrow the range of your advisors.

The present crisis is so grave that it forces you to re-think your whole decision-making system from the bottom up. Until recently what were called democracies encouraged a wide range of people to participate in the crucial input into decision making. The President or Prime Minister and his close personal friends and un-elected advisors were held in check by numerous other influential groups.

There were above all the elected representatives of the people, the Parliament with two balanced Houses, the Senate and the Congress and other bodies of that kind. Then the elected politicians were again balanced by permanent bureaucracies of expert civil servants, whether in Whitehall or the White House. They again formed a check. Even within the inner circle of power, the influence of the Prime Minister or President and his friends were checked by the cabinet of Senior Ministers.

This is all very well in normal times and something of which many are proud and think constitutes the essence of democracy. But it will not do in a crisis, in the hectic, fast-moving and dangerous world you live in now. Always remember that you do not live with the comforts of peace, but in a time of war. In past wars, the power has been wrenched from its distributed bases and placed in the hands of the Commander in Chief. So you can no longer afford to trust or consult your Parliaments and Senates until after you have decided to act, or to change the legal or political system. You do not have the obligation or time to let your civil servants know what you intend to do. Even your formal cabinet is to be kept in the dark, only minimally consulted in perfunctory meetings with no agendas and no minutes.

Instead, in order to be mean and lean, you must find half a dozen dependable friends who will work with you on your plans. Preferably they should be rich and independent. They must obviously share your vision of the terrible threat of the empire of evil and your fears of what is happening. They must share your realization that in order to save democracy, democratic government must be suspended until the crisis is over. They must owe their power to your patronage, rather than the votes of the people, so that you can pressurize them if necessary. (I expect Machiavelli’s ‘Courtier’ has wise advice on this, for in the old days they would have been called courtiers). And, like courtiers, if things go wrong, they can become your scapegoats.

Their view and suggestions to you should remain secret. You should protect them from the prying eyes of the press as much as possible. And they should then work with you on your secret plans to defeat the enemy. For while your Parliaments, Cabinet and even civil service will be infiltrated by the corrupt ideas of the Devil, these people, because of their history and known interests are to be trusted – as much as anyone can be trusted. Pick them carefully, warm each other with the fire of your vision of God’s work, and do battle with the Axis of Evil together.

The reason for all this, of course, is a mixture of secrecy, speed and ruthlessness. Larger bodies are notoriously unpredictable, they are bound to be ill-informed (much of the information on which you will have to make your lonely decisions is too secret to show to them), and timorous. So leave them out of the loop – until the final rubber stamping has to be done in a rush of high emotion.

This leaves the cabinet, ministers and senior members of the government. Yet, we are must remind you, the same applies to them. A few of them are hand-picked, loyal without questioning, their careers more important to them than their principles. You can consult with them. But keep it out of full cabinet until all is sown up, for it will again only lead to argument and procrastination and old-fashioned appeals to outmoded international conventions and so on.

This leaves it to you personally and a few advisors. Who should they be? Obviously you should avoid the experts here. Ambassadors with years of experience in the region will know too much, give you too many warnings and caveats and complexities. They often go native and think that oil or idealism are not sufficient reasons to break international laws. So do not get them involved. This applies to other experts, for example academics who have specialized for years on the places in question. They are all quibblers and qualifiers, tend to be liberal, undependable, likely to question your resolution.

So go for some old friends, hand-picked for their shared ideological vision, a handful of acquiescent politicians, and a few discontented and hopeful migrants from the country in question. The last of these will help with their confident predictions of universal support for your easy conquest of their country.

With this small inner circle, take your own decisions. If anything goes wrong, round on your critics and remind them that any criticism is disloyalty, perhaps even bordering on treason in time of war, that everyone must support the desperate battle to save and extend democracy. Such an appeal rarely fails. Since you have the power, you are never likely to face trial as war criminals, which is what might well happen to failed attempts of a similar kind by weaker leaders.

1 comment:

Gabriel Andrade said...

Imperfect as it may be, it seems to me American democracy is still in good shape. The American Parliament is now controlled by a Democrat majority that opposes the war (or at least Bush's strategy). Even if America is not pulling out of Iraq, the Parlamentary opposition mitigates Bush's excesses.
I'm sad to say that in Venezuela the case is different. Very much as the Inquisitors' advise, Chavez has asked Parliament for full powers; so Executive and Legislative powers are no longer separated.
Montesquieu's elementary formula for the separation of powers is usually seen as fragmenting a country's 'unity'. That is why I'm usually suspicious of leaders who advocate "unity", because frequently, "unity" comes to be confused with "totalitarianism"; after all, "totality" and "union", on the surface, do seem to be the same thing.
In the Latin American context, Simon Bolivar (the general who freed South America from Spain in the XIX Cent) put forward a "dream" where Latin America would all be "united". This "dream" is the banner of Chavez and many other leaders in the region. Did this mean one great nation from Mexico to Argentina freed from internal quarels? Indeed, that is part of the Bolivarian dream. But, that is not all of it. Bolivar had clear totalitarian tendencies; he followed the Inquisitor's advice with great detail.
Is it possible to hold a large political entity "united" in the territorial-administrative sense without having to force its "unity" in the political sense? Large countries and Empires have had trouble separating one thing from the other. China is the best example that comes to my mind. No one doubts that China's relative homogeneity is one of its greatest strengths. I can't think of a huge land and population mass more "united" than China. This "unity" has made it a power. Has it come at a price? I would say so. Even if reforms may be going on, China has firm roots in totalitarian tendencies, and do not seem to go away easily.
So, again, is it possible to have a descentralized Empire with balanced powers? I guess the Brittish Empire has come to be the closest. In the same manner that, in a comment to a previous post I argued Pauline Christianity is a great model for a balance on cultural relativism, I think now some balance must be sought between feudal extreme descentralization and Ancien Regime extreme centralization. I think English history provides the best model. Indeed, I think Alan has written extensively on this issue, on his comments on Maitland.
How to be "united" without suppressing a democracy's balance and separation of powers? Societies that find such a balance will be the most successfull.