Learning to love your enslavement
Throughout history, the power of the state is claimed by the victor of violent struggle, and is maintained by the threat of violence.
But to prosper, military might must join forces with the wealthy mercantile classes. The governing body formed by this ruling class of might and money may be fronted by the military, the mercantilists, or by a separate class of counsels that pursues the interests of the ruling class, while also buffering the ruling class from interaction with the lowly ignorant public.
While might and money are necessary for the ruling class to prosper, they are not sufficient. Further pursuit of the interests of the ruling class - acquiring more power and wealth (i.e., more might and money) - requires the active participation of the public as workers, soldiers, and taxpayers. The threat of violence achieves dull involuntary public participation but, for sincere committment, other forms of motivation are required.
So, to effectively govern, the ruling class of might and money also needs to to instill myths - narratives and belief systems that motivate public committment to serve the ruling class - using religion (both denominational and civil), philosophy, and the arts to sanctify state rule, create a national identity, and unify citizenry with shared social values like loyalty and self-sacrifice for the good of the state. The power of myth ensures that the public remains ignorant of their own interests, and loyally serving their rulers.
This combination of might, money, and myths enables a tiny few to successfully rule over the multitudes.
In established states, this coalescence of might, money, and myths occurred long ago, and only the bureaucracy formed by the counsel class is now apparent to the casual observer, as the myths have been internalized and are now regarded as the result of individual choice rather than social conditioning. But when a military overthrows a civilian government in order to directly take charge of the government, we are provided a contemporary look at the process of the formation of the state. In the first phase we see the raw violence (or threat of violence) that is at the foundation of all states. Then comes negotiation with any sectors of wealth that were not initially privy to coup planning. Finally, and most importantly, the new junta must respond to the challenge of winning public acceptance of the new rule. The junta must reorient existing belief systems to the new regime, as well as create new forms of propaganda when necessary.
Freedom's Home: The People's Democratic Republic of Draconia
One of the most absurd aspects of contemporary authoritarian regimes is the attempt to disguise their authoritarian nature.
It often starts with the state being given an official name that sounds anti-authoritarian. Unlike well-established old-school autocracies, like Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of Swaziland, or Sultanate of Oman, whose names parade their despotism with majesty, modern autocracies are compelled by our era to operate under names that cloak their true nature. Some examples:
Democracy index by country (2015)[compiled by The Economist, extracted from Wikipedia]
|Name||Rank (1=best, 167=worst)||Category|
|People's Democratic Republic of Algeria||118||Authoritarian|
|Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia||123||Authoritarian|
|People's Republic of China||136||Authoritarian|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||144||Authoritarian|
|Lao People's Democratic Republic||155||Authoritarian|
|Democratic People's Republic of Korea||167||Authoritarian|
If the military junta does not rebrand the entire country, its perception management operations are limited to the regime. Nevertheless, the same tendency to attempt to disguise the true nature of the regime is in full effect. Some examples:
Junta Names[ from Foreign Policy]
|1969||Somalia||Supreme Revolutionary Council|
|1980||Liberia||People’s Redemption Council|
|1981||Poland||Military Council of National Salvation|
|1988||Myanmar||The State Law & Order Restoration Council|
|2014||Thailand||The National Peace & Order Maintaining Council (later changed to "National Council for Peace and Order" or "NCPO")|
But despite a junta's best efforts at the Restoration of the Supreme Order of Salvation and Redemption, some elements of society may still need supplemental conceptual reorientation.
Prachatai English reports that Thailand's current military junta has been all but consumed by the formidable task of rectifying the public's perception of unfavorable aspects of the regime. The article includes these samples of the junta's work:
The Happy Junta
Along with the attempt to cloak the junta's nasty bits, the Thailand junta also launched a program to win hearts and minds, by tapping into conventional practice, and driving home the standard message of reactionary dogma: returning to the good old days.
How successful has Thailand's military junta's propaganda campaign been? Of course, that depends on how "success" is defined. But one anomaly in the Prachatai English report does suggest one possible way to measure success, when it claims:
The term “attitude adjustment” was the very first example of newspeak by the junta.
This claim suggests that the junta's official name, National Council for Peace and Order (whose acronym, NCPO, was used three times in the article), was either not considered newspeak or unintentionally overlooked by the author. Either case could be viewed as a form of acceptance of the core rationale given for the coup, and thus the first step towards transforming the junta from lawless thugs to "People’s Redemption" and "National Salvation". And even active opponents of the junta are not immune to this process of gradual normalization of the absurd - a key part of the process of the formation of the state.
This is how we learned to love our enslavement.