Recreating the Conditions for Autocracy
Throughout history, crises – like the Covid-19 pandemic – have been ideal opportunities for expanding centralized control of life, ostensibly for our own good. We are already seeing the potential rise of a new police state and in some countries, such as France, a rising incidence of informers, conspiracy theories, and even vigilantism.
Propaganda, relentless and clever, is critical for creating any kind of police state. The green movement and supporters of unlimited authoritarian steps to address the pandemic can now rely on the mainstream media’s often hysterical and innumerate reporting to provide political leaders with a rationale for uber-control.
Expertise and Oligarchy
A scientifically-based crisis offers an ideal terroir for the promotion of oligarchy. The current approach to reducing climate-altering emissions offers enormous opportunities not only for expanded government but also for Wall Street and the large tech firms to profiteer on our energy “transition.” This illustrates sociologist Robert Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy,” articulated in the early 20th century, that the more complex the issue, the greater the need for elite-driven solutions.
Like the pandemic, climate change is an extraordinarily complex issue that has been promoted by consistent exaggeration and predictions of catastrophe. Alarmed by the threat of imminent doom from a changing climate, some progressive pundits openly favor replacing democracy with a global “technocracy” that would preempt popular control and allow experts to implement policies of their own design.
The problem here lies with the notion of an “expert” class, which likes to see itself as “scientific” and unencumbered by prejudice. But having a PhD does not suppress the human desire for unbound power and influence. As the “experts” grow in power, as James Burnham noted, they see themselves as responsible not to the public, but to others in their peer group from whom they seek approval and support.
In this and other crises, we need to remind ourselves that enforced orthodoxy among “experts” – which we often seek – can prove very dangerous. After all, we have had so many miscalls from our cognitive betters on everything from “peak oil” and dietary advice to policy toward Syria and the Soviet Union. Facing pressure from the virus’s spread, there is already danger of embracing the same kind of centralized groupthink practiced so disastrously in China.