Monday, May 10, 1999

Week of 05/10/1999

The Art Of Faustian Politics
- by David Matthews 2

Riddle me this, fellow freedom-lovers: When is a right not a right?

Answer: When it is "left" over.

Cheap riddle, you say? Well, maybe. But read on to find the real answer.

They say that diplomacy is the art of saying "nice doggie" until you can find a rock. Well, if that is the case, then the definition of politics is the art of saying "trust me" until after you’ve screwed them.

One has to give credit for the autocratic politician. After all, its not like the good old days when they can stampede over countries on horseback. Guys like Ghengis Khan had it relatively easy; all he had to do was ride in with the Mongolian horde, rape and pillage a town, then ride away. They wanted something, they took it. No muss, no fuss, and if somebody complained, they were killed on the spot.

But today’s tyrant can’t just waltz in and take what they want. Nowadays, they have to be smooth. They have to be deceptive and conniving. They have to appear likable, and pretend they are doing what they do for the greater good. They have to convince the people that they NEED to be raped and pillaged. Its a lot of work for these political descendants of Khan, because not only do they have to constantly persuade the townsfolk to submit, they’re also expected to feed and clothe the poor, house the homeless, pave the roads, and make sure the kids get enough of an education so they know whom to vote for.. if they even bother to vote.

Worse yet, these modern-day thugs can’t kill the people who complain! At least not legitimately. They have to work with courts and lawyers and a legal system that is just as complicated for them as it is for the people who fight them.

Thus was born the art of Faustian politics.

Faust, according to the old German myth, was a scholar, magician, and fortune teller who made a deal with the devil. Faust would have 24 years of pure pleasure and power, then the Devil would own his soul. There have been many variations of the story, including the modern Broadway musical "Phantom Of The Opera," but the initial premise is still the same - one who sells everything they are in order to gain short-term pleasures.

The modern-day autocrat relies on using Faustian politics to convince people to give up their cherished rights by promising short-term pleasures for society. The world will be a better place, they say, just by giving up your freedoms. At least for now.

American’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizures was negated by asset forfeiture laws on the promise that the world would be a better place without drugs. So let’s seize the money and property of people on the mere suspicion of them being ill-gotten gains. Let’s seize cars under the mere suspicion of drunk driving. It’ll only be for a little while, they say. Just long enough to purge the world of drugs.

And to sweeten the deal, the political tyrant will often argue that the cost will be minimal, or even non-existent. Free speech is the worst casualty of this argument. After all, it’s easy to defend speech that is mainstream. Any tyrant can claim to defend free speech as long as it is speech that is average, non-controversial, and non-offensive. The old Soviet Union boasted free speech as long as it supported the Communist Party’s platform. The key for the tyrant is to redefine what is considered speech to only that which is "acceptable." Controversial speech is then considered "inappropriate" or "indecent" or "pornographic" or simply "hate" speech, and thus subject to censorship.

Of course, timing is everything in selling the public to the Faustian deal. You just can’t present tyrannical proposals out of the blue and expect the public to buy them. Just like ruthless lawyers chase ambulances for possible clients, so too must the political tyrant chase tragedies with a ready-made "last minute" reaction, carefully worded so blame can be placed on whatever cause they deem to be the target. Tragedies have a powerful impact on society, with people eager to find something to blame them on and demand easy solutions. Political tyrants use these tragedies to not only rush in their programs, but to also disguise their true motivations should those programs fail. After all, who would fault the tyrant for being "moved" by the tragedy?

The alternative to chasing tragedies is to create a crisis for their solution. In this, the political tyrant has an ally with members of the media who are eager to showcase some attention-gathering issue. But this is a risky proposition for the political tyrant. Should the manufactured crisis work, the public will swallow the Faustian deal just as easily as they would under any real tragedy. But should it fail, the political tyrant is then revealed for the thug he or she really is.

Faustian politics work because its greatest strength is image. No politician wants to look like they are soft on crime, or indifferent to tragedies, or appear to embrace that which has been deemed "unsuitable" by the media. So politicians, even those few with good intentions and a love of freedom, will subscribe to the Faustian deal in order to look good in the public eye.

And that is the true poison of Faustian politics, because it reduces freedom to being nothing more than an illusion; a term that holds no true value. Something that can be negotiated away on a whim to appease the polls.

So when is a right not a right?

When Faustian politics is involved.

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