Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Authority Party

It is often said that the United States has a two-party system of government. The Democrats and the Republicans (and their predecessor parties throughout history) are diametrically opposed and, thanks to this opposition, ensure that no one set of interests can rule indefinitely. There will always be a powerful opposition party waiting to challenge those in power.

This has never been true, and is even less true now.

There is only one political party with only one party platform. This party is duplicated in full, with minor variations, and alleged to be two. This party is the Authority Party, of which the Democrats and the Republicans are twin wings.

The existence of the Democratic and Republican Parties is the primary strategy authority uses to limit dissent. The fierce competition between Democrats and Republicans during elections, and on the floor of the Congress, is akin to the competition between Old Navy, the Gap, and Banana Republic for customers: they're all owned by the same people, and the illusion of choice ensures that the owner always wins.

There are token differences between the Democrats and the Republicans that have real consequences for voters. This is necessary, because it forces people to choose the side they support in fear of those consequences being realized. For example, nonconsensual-pregnancy advocates must vote Republican in the hope that women lose control over their bodies. Pro-choice people must vote Democrat to ensure that women don't lose more control over their bodies. Neither side can afford to waste a vote on anybody else for fear of the consequences.

The most surprising aspect of authority is that there are no members of this party, no leaders. The system is self-perpetuating. Democrats truly believe they are distinct from Republicans. There is not one big conspiracy in a smoky room to divide up the United States between the two ruling powers. There are two big conspiracies in two smoky rooms, each conspiring to do the same thing as they other, convinced that they are doing big, important work. Protecting private capitalism and maintaining hegemony is hard.

The Declaration of Independence says that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. This is true, and as long as we, the governed, consent to authority it will continue to rule us. Unfortunately, authority is strong and we, as individuals, are weak. Even a thousand people refusing to vote, or to pay taxes, does essentially nothing to challenge authority. Until and unless there is a mass anti-authoritarian movement, authority will inevitably use its power to invoke fear and extract consent from the majority to further drive down dissent.

Don't fear. Don't consent. Dissent.

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