6.4 The top of the hierarchy
In strongly authoritarian societies such as in Nazi Germany typical authoritarians existed in the top echelons of the — visible — hierarchy. For example Eichman, who was the bureaucrat responsible for the Endlösung, was described by Arendt (1963) as an example of the “banality of evil”:
Throughout the trial, Eichmann tried to clarify, mostly without success, this second point in his plea of “not guilty in the sense of the indictment.” The indictment implied not only that he had acted on purpose, which he did not deny, but out of base motives and in full knowledge of the criminal nature of his deeds. As for the base motives, he was perfectly sure that he was not what he called an innerer Schweinehund, a dirty bastard in the depths of his heart; and as for his conscience, he remembered perfectly well that he would have had a bad conscience only if he had not done what he had been ordered to do — to ship millions of men, women, and children to their death with great zeal and the most meticulous care.
Eichmann is a perfectly frank authoritarian when he describes his conscience: this is not concerned with his acts, but with whether or not he complies with the commands of authorities. He is the efficient bureaucrat incapable of understanding and empathizing with out-groups. As such authoritarians like Eichmann can do the most horrible things to those they believe adhere to different norms. From a third person perspective (victim or observer) they can be evil. But as the example of Eichmann shows from a second person perspective (such as the, possibly equally authoritarian priest) the authoritarian may have perfectly normal values. From a first person perspective however no authoritarian considers himself deeply evil, they simply miss the independence of thought and behavior to be a source of true evil (or true benevolence for that matter). For them disobedience is evil. Authoritarians are the ideal tools of evil because more intellectually capable than them direct them and almost own them. But whether an authoritarian is good or evil is as ill posed as the question whether a bullet that killed is evil or the hammer that builds is good. Eichmann was perfectly honest in his self-analysis, consequently, he was nothing near the real top.
The real top of these multi-layered hierarchies consists more likely of a special class of highly capable authoritarians: those with the inclinations, the skills, and the understanding to turn people, hierarchical organizations, and whole societies into instruments of self-enrichment and extortion. People like President Woodrow Wilson can create the conditions that make people more prone to join hierarchies. In our democratic society these people form a stable long-term influence on the politicians that wax and wane with election cycles. But acknowledged or not, this class of skilled long term thinkers has a profound influence on the lives of everyone.
Their influence is no secret at all, it is maybe not apparent for the narrowly educated, but it is quite obvious when one has a well-developed understanding capacity. One famous and highly relevant report about Wilson’s class activities is the 1954 Norman Dodd Report addressing tax-exempt foundations (Dodd, 1954). The Yale educated Norman Dodd was staff director of the United States House Select Committee to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations and Comparable Organizations, also known as the Reece Commission. This committee was tasked to investigate whether the not for (short term) Foundations where the benign influence that justified their tax- exempt status. For this committee Dodd reported that since the early twentieth century the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and Carnegie Endowment were collaborating closely to a common goal of which Dodd writes:
In summary, our study of these entities and their relationship to each other seems to warrant the inference that they constitute a highly efficient, functioning whole. Its product is apparently an educational curriculum designed to indoctrinate the American student from matriculation to the consummation of his education. It contrasts sharply with the freedom of the individual as the cornerstone of our social structure. For this freedom, it seems to substitute the group, the will of the majority, and a centralized power to enforce this will — presumably in the interest of all. (p 7)
The last two sentences foreshadow Stenner’s defining characteristics of Authoritarianism: uniformity via indoctrination and group authority via the centralization of power. The irony still drips from the last statement and begs the question to whom the word “all” actually refers to. Dodds continues with an analysis of the role of Ford foundation that is without precedence as to size and it is the first Foundation that dedicates itself openly to “problem solving” on a global scale (p 14). This early reference to globalization makes one wonder it is the same “all” whose problems are going to be solved. Dodds writes that the Ford Foundation dedicates itself “to take advantage of:”
the wholesale dedication of education to a social purpose —
the need to defend this dedication from criticism —
the need to indoctrinate adults along these lines —
the acceptance by the Executive branch of the Federal Government of responsibility for planning on a national and international scale —
the diminishing power of Congress and the states and the growing power of the Executive Government — and,
the seeming indispensability of control over human behavior. (p 14)
This is a powerful statement outlying the absolute necessity of control over human behavior, using education for social purposes and indoctrination as top priority, that is to be defended at all costs. Furthermore it outlines the erosion of local politics and the legislative branch in favor of stronger executive powers that should accept responsibility for planning on a national and international scale. And this all was to be taken advantage of by some “all” who are interested in problem solving on a global scale.
Problem solving on a global scale for the benefits of “all” references geopolitics: the long-term struggle for control over the earth’s resources through controlling people. Money in this game is a tool, not an objective. Climate change and the prospects of a sustainable future are geopolitical issues par excellence because they are about who controls the earth, and which control-strategy will be used. Ultimately, geopolitics is about controlling how we — citizens of the world — understand our world and choose our actions: for the benefit of ourselves or for the benefit of the top of the hierarchies that our dependence requires us join. Geopolitics is applied cognitive science at a global scale and at timescales up to multiple generations.
Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition (1519–1522) that circumnavigated the earth — and proved beyond all doubt that the earth was of finite size — was an incentive to control all of the Earth. It is no accident that that since that moment Earth has gone from being a shared entity into property (Hall, 2010). The top of the geopolitical hierarchy is therefore not reflected the Forbes list of billionaires as shareholder value: it is only indirectly visible as geopolitical control over energy, minerals, land, labor, intellectual or artistic achievements, and ideals: more difficult to entangle, but much more interesting. For that reason the top of the geopolitical hierarchy might fear nothing more than a careful analysis of who owns or controls what, because it may reveal that sizable fraction of the world in is the hands of a very few who never ever contributed to the total wealth of the Earth. And even authoritarians understand that this is parasitic.
By now, it should be abundantly clear that educational quality — as realized by families, the media, among friends, and at schools — is geopolitics. Any discussion on education quality that does not take the geopolitical ramifications of education for dependency or understanding and for democracy or oligarchy into account is missing the key point.
The crisis of Democracy
A fairly modern opinion on the role of democracy in the eyes of the economic elite Wilson represented and Dodd reported on is conveyed in a report called “The crisis of Democracy” (Crozier, Huntington, & Watanuki, 1975) written for the Trilateral Commission that was founded by David Rockefeller and for a long time directed by geopolitical strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski. The crisis of Democracy, as the report describes, it is one of too much democracy. The report states:
Al Smith once remarked that “the only cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy.” Our analysis suggests that applying that cure at the present time could well be adding fuel to the flames. Instead, some of the problems of governance in the United States today stem from an excess of democracy—an “excess of democracy” in much the same sense in which David Donald used the term to refer to the consequences of the Jacksonian revolution which helped to precipitate the Civil War. Needed, instead, is a greater degree of moderation in democracy.
In practice, this moderation has two major areas of application. First, democracy is only one way of constituting authority, and it is not necessarily a universally applicable one. In many situations the claims of expertise, seniority, experience, and special talents may override the claims of democracy as a way of constituting authority. During the surge of the 1960s, however, the democratic principle was extended to many institutions where it can, in the long run, only frustrate the purposes of those institutions. A university where teaching appointments are subject to approval by students may be a more democratic university but it is not likely to be a better university. In similar fashion, armies in which the commands of officers have been subject to veto by the collective wisdom of their subordinates have almost invariably come to disaster on the battlefield. The arenas where democratic procedures are appropriate are, in short, limited.
Second, the effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups. In the past, every democratic society has had a marginal population, of greater or lesser size, which has not actively participated in politics. In itself, this marginality on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic, but it has also been one of the factors which has enabled democracy to function effectively. Marginal social groups, as in the case of the blacks, are now becoming full participants in the political system. Yet the danger of overloading the political system with demands which extend its functions and undermine its authority still remains. Less marginality on the part of some groups thus needs to be replaced by more self-restraint on the part of all groups. (Crozier et al., 1975) (page 114)
This is a very rich statement, which deserves a full analysis of its own. The issue of increasing popular influence undermining authority is still a topic that is openly discussed within elitist circles. Zbigniew Brzezinski has been addressing this issue now for a few years. In a lecture delivered at Chatham House, London, on November 17th 2008 [link defunct] he addressed the challenges of the then future president Obama. Of which
the first concerns the emergence of global issues pertaining to human wellbeing as critical worldwide political concerns—issues such as climate, environment, starvation, health and social inequality. These issues are becoming more contentious because they have come to the fore in the context of what I have described in my writings as ‘the global political awakening’, itself a truly transformative event on the global scene. For the first time in human history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. There are only a few pockets of humanity left in the remotest corners of the world that are not politically alert and engaged with the political turmoil and stirrings that are so widespread today around the world. The resulting global political activism is generating a surge in the quest for personal dignity, cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world painfully scarred by memories of centuries-long alien colonial or imperial domination.
So even with the more or less global strategy to use education to foster authoritarianism, the crisis of democracy is, for the elite, still a serious issue. Brzezinski continues with the observation that while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people. That insight bears directly on the use of force, particularly by societies that are culturally alien even if technologically superior. As a result, in the current post-colonial era, it is too costly to undertake colonial wars. That is a reality some recent American policy-makers failed to assimilate, to America’s detriment. The world has changed. We-the-people might have more power than ever, and at least part of the elite knows it. It is definitely not easy being the top of an extortionist hierarchy and still remain in control, especially since (external) authority
“can only continue so long as it can depend upon the willingness of a sufficient number of its subjects to sacrifice their lives to the enforcements of its commands” (Curtis, 1918) (page 6).
Disempowerment in any form that maintains or increases the willingness of a a sufficient number of subjects to sacrifice their lives for the benefit of the elite is therefore of central importance.