1983 Adoption of Revolutionary/Insurgent Tactics by American Right in Social Security Debate

1983 Adoption of Revolutionary/Insurgent Tactics by American Right in Social Security Debate

The Prince,” by Nicolo Machiavelli, Medieval Sourcebook, AD 1513, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/machiavelli-prince.html.

Achieving Social Security Reform: A “Leninist” Strategy, by Stuart Butler and Peter Germanis, CATO Journal, Fall 1983, https://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj3n2/cj3n2.html (from Clean Cut Kid).

Boyd on al-Qaeda’s Grand Strategy,” by John Robb, Global Guerrillas, 8 May 2005, http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2004/05/journal_boyd_on.html (from Safranski on GG through tdaxp).

Chad at CCK pointed me to a 1983 article in the CATO Journal that calls for the adaption of revolutionary/insurgent tactics in the Social Security debate. While the authors incorrectly describe the style as “Leninist,” it shares more than a little with Maoist and Sandinist thought. Indeed, it is historical proof of explicit Fourth Generation Politics more than two decades ago. And I thought I was original when I saw fourth generation struggle in the Social Security fight.

I am pleased to find proof that at least some groups have purposefully applied revolutionary/insurgent tactics to modern politics. The remainder of the post are my comments on the first few pages of the article.

Marx believed that capitalism was doomed by its inherent contradictions, and that it would inevitably collapse—to he replaced by the next stage on the ladder leading to the socialist Utopia.

The first paragraph, and the authors identify the most important part of decades-long political struggle: a happy ending

Lenin also believed that capitalism was doomed by its inherent contradictions, and would inevitably collapse. But just to be on the safe side, he sought to mobilize the working class, in alliance with other key elements in political society, both to hasten the collapse and to ensure that the result conformed with his interpretation of the proletarian state. Unlike many other socialists at the time, Lenin recognized that fundamental change is contingent both upon a movement’s ability to create a focused political coalition and upon its success in isolating and weakening its opponents.

A step below Marx’s path-to-victory is Lenin’s grand strategy. Lenin recognized the need for a correlation of forces — creating a full array of friendlies who help pull the movement to victory. Likewise, Lenin’s “isolating and weakening” of the opposition is analogous to Isolation and Subversion in the famous PISRR model of conflict.

As we contemplate basic reform of the Social Security system, we would do well to draw a few lessons from the Leninist strategy. Many critics of the present system believe, as Marx and Lenin did of capitalism, that the system’s days are numbered because of its contradictory objectives of attempting to provide both welfare and insurance. All that really needs to be done, they contend, is to point out these inherent flaws to the taxpayers and to show them that Social Security would be vastly improved if it were restructured into a predominantly private system. Convinced by the undeniable facts and logic, individuals supposedly would then rise up and demand that their representatives make the appropriate reforms.

Simply good conflict preparation — drawing on the lessons of history. Lenin did his work in the 1910s. This article was published in the 1980s. A lifetime had passed, but the rules of ideological struggle remain the same. It is up to the wise historians to discover them, and it is up to the wise warrior to be a historian.

While this may indeed happen, the public’s reaction last year against politicians who simply noted the deep problems of the system, and the absence of even a recognition of the underlying problems during this spring’s Social Security “reform,” suggest that it will be a long time before citizen indignation will cause radical change to take place. Therefore, if we are to achieve basic changes in the system, we must first prepare the political ground so that the fiasco of the last 18 months is not repeated.

More wisdom. While the article suggests a way to hurry up the social security reform over what would naturally happen, the authors prepare the reader for a struggle that will take “a long time.” Bush’s misstep on the aircraft carrier in the Pacific was to imply that the war would soon be over. Butler and Germanis are not making that mistake.

Likewise, Butler and Germanis are preparing the battlespace. Foolish commanders fight where their enemy wants to fight. Wise strategists select the battlespace at a time and place of their choosing. An implication of this strategy is avoid direct confrontation until the battlespace has a friendly correlation of forces.

First, we must recognize that there is a firm coalition behind the present Social Security system, and that this coalition has been very effective in winning political concessions for many years. Before Social Security can be reformed, we must begin to divide this coalition and cast doubt on the picture of reality it presents to the general public.

More preparation of the reader. The authors are hyping the strengths of the status quoistas. This is building for a call to the fight in the way of the weak – guerrilla warfare.

Second, we must recognize that we need more than a manifesto— even one as cogent and persuasive as that provided by Peter Ferrara. What we must do is construct a coalition around the Ferrara plan, a coalition that will gain directly from its implementation. That coalition should consist of not only those who will reap benefits from the IRA-based private system Ferrara has proposed but also the banks, insurance companies, and other institutions that will gain from providing such plans to the public.

Another recognition of weakness. Butler and Germanis lay out their planned correlation of forces. They see what Nicolo Machiavelli saw nearly five hundred years ago

Those who by valorous ways become princes, like these men, acquire a principality with difficulty, but they keep it with ease. The difficulties they have in acquiring it rise in part from the new rules and methods which they are forced to introduce to establish their government and its security. And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, then to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly, in such wise that the prince is endangered along with them.

The no-changers have “the laws on their side,” but the Butler and Germanis are trying to minimize their other weakness — “the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.” The authors are presenting a slow, building plan that will give men long experience with the benefits of reform. Specifically, powerful men “those who will reap benefits from the IRA-based private system… but also the banks, insurance companies, and other institutions…”

As we construct and consolidate this coalition, we must press for modest changes in the laws and regulations designed to make private pension options more attractive, and we must expose the fundamental flaws and contradictions in the existing system. In so doing, we will strengthen the coalition for privatizing Social Security and we will weaken the coalition for retaining or expanding the current system. By approaching the problem in this way, we may be ready for the next crisis in Social Security—ready with a strong coalition for change, a weakened coalition supporting the current system, and a general public familiar with the private-sector option.

“Modest changes” help with the Machiavellian building of a favorable correlation of forces. While “expos[ing] the fundamental flaws and contradiction in the existing system… [to] weaken the coalition for retaining or expanding the current system” is another Isolation-Subversion PISRR attack.

Peter Ferrara’s “family security plan” provides a sound framework for reform.2 The Ferrara plan resolves the contradiction within the existing system and provides a realistic phase-in process for a private pension plan. Recent efforts to publicize and implement the Ferrara plan, however, only confirm the fact that a successful reform strategy must be designed within a framework of well-understood constraints and opportunities; otherwise we will fall into the same political traps that have discouraged many a would-be reformer.

Butler and Germanis are saying that having a plan for after victory is not enough, there needs to be a plan for victory. Good examination of the existing battlespace and history.

In an effort to identify a broad framework for Social Security reform, the Heritage Foundation (1982) gathered various experts, who discussed the essential ingredients of reform. The principles and observations that emerged from that gathering can now be summarized.

Calming Existing Beneficiaries

The sine qua non of any successful Social Security reform strategy must he an assurance to those already retired or nearing retirement that their benefits will he paid in full. It was irresponsible in the first place for the federal government to promise unrealistic benefits. But it would be even more irresponsible now to break faith with the millions of people who have based their retirement plans on these expected benefits. Instead of spreading widespread panic among our elderly, which will only undermine our efforts to reform the system,

The authors being by demanding an Isolation attack, separating existing seniors from younger defenders. Isolation is a critical part of struggle. Butler and Germanis’s focus on Isolation is reminiscent of the planning of war genius John Boyd.

From a purely political standpoint, it should be remembered that the elderly represent a very powerful and vocal interest group. This power was reflected in the recent bailout plan, which made no effort to address the system’s underlying structural problems. One congressman, with disarming frankness, implicitly evidenced that considerable power when he explained his position on Social Security reform: “I have no intention of trying to explain what needs to be done,just give me a vote on something that can save the damn thing until I retire.” ‘‘~

The authors recognize the power of greed in the social security atrophist camp. Again, to quote ol’ Nick

Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Besides, pretexts for taking away the property are never wanting; for he who has once begun to live by robbery will always find pretexts for seizing what belongs to others; but reasons for taking life, on the contrary, are more difficult to find and sooner lapse. But when a prince is with his army, and has under control a multitude of soldiers, then it is quite necessary for him to disregard the reputation of cruelty, for without it he would never hold his army united or disposed to its duties.

Except Machavelli did not foresee the vampire quality of the current system: to rephrase for the modern environment, Seniors will sooner forgive the bankruptcy of the nation than being prohibited from stealing from their grandchildren.

Still, same lesson applies.

The political power of the elderly will only increase in the future. The proportion of the population over 65 will rise steadily, from 11.3 percent today to 18.3 percent by 2030. So any proposal aimed at cntting benefits will face increasingly stiff opposition from the elderly, undermining the prospects for genuine reform. Any plan to change the system must therefore he neutral or (better still) clearly advantageous to senior citizens. By accepting this principle, we may succeed in neutralizing the most powerful element of the coalition that opposes structural reform.

The authors see that the most powerful element of the correlation of forces opposing them — the elderly — are only increasing their power. A correlation is that isolating the elderly from Social Security atrophists is the best move the reformers can make.

The full article, which fully develops the plan, is available from the Fall 1983 edition of CATO Journal. Highly recommended.