Here’s a quick post on political rallies, as a short theoretical introduction to my coming post which will examine lessons to be learned from Charlottesville.
Here are basics I’ve stated before:
Politics is the use of power to distribute status and resources. Politics is power and all power is, at base, the capacity for violence. Capacity for violence comes from authority, the ability to command men to commit violence. , men’s belief in your right to command them.
To succeed at politics you first need legitimacy. Then you turn that to authority, which you then turn to power. The accumulation of authority and power, in turn, further increases legitimacy and authority.
All political actions are either displays of legitimacy, authority, or power, or exercises of power.
Government is the exercise of power.
Voting is a display of legitimacy. Voting is the statement: ‘I believe the person I vote for has legitimate authority over me.” This is why naked dictators have hold elections where they win with 120% of the vote. It reinforces their legitimacy.
It is also a display of power. It is a ritualistic counting of heads; who would outnumber whom if political disputes needed to be resolved by violence. ‘I have 65 million people who believe I have legitimate authority and who would fight for me if violence began. You have fewer and would lose. Surrender peacefully’
Letter and phone campaigns, and petitions are the same. They are either displays of and appeals to authority (‘You have authority over me, please exercise it in a way I desire’) or displays of power (‘as you can tell from these letters/calls/signatures we outnumber you. Obey our demands’).
We hide these displays of power behind prettied-up democratic language, because politeness allows us to peacefully coexist. It is easier to accept others having power over you without responding with unlawful violence if you think of it as ‘the people decided’ rather than ‘my opponents displayed greater capacities for violence, so I submitted to them’, even though the latter is the unvarnished truth of democratic decision-making.
Onto rallies and protests specifically. Rallies are displays of power. To peel away painted-up democratic language, they are displays of tribal war, agnostic behaviour, two wolves sizing each other up before fighting.
We often hear the terms ‘people power’ or ‘direct action’, but we never realize the full depths of how primal and literal this phrase is. A rally is a naked show of force, a threat, a taunt. It states to your political opponent, ‘this is how many men we have who would commit to violence, do you dare fight or do you submit?’ On a primal level, all understand this, but, for politeness’ sake and in our muddled democratic thinking, we downplay how serious a rally is.
Knowing this, we can know the reasons for rallies; to assert power and control. To hold a rally is to say, ‘this area belongs to us.’ To hold a counter-protest is declare, ‘you do not control this area, we are willing to fight!’. If the rally continues, those holding the rally show they have the power over that area. If the rally is ended, the counter-protesters have shown the area truly belongs to them. Government agents stand in the middle, keeping the displays as just displays, knowing that whichever side wins the area truly belongs to the government.
You should never hold a rally unless you know you can conclude it. To fail at a rally is to show a lack of power, it shows your opponents are in control.