A Short Piece

Economic Hardship, Resulting Extremism, and Mob Rule

O.G. Rose
8 min readFeb 18, 2021

Conservatism and Liberalism on the Relationship Between Standards of Living, Family Strength, and State Involvement.

Kennan Grant proposed the following consideration:

If sufficient economic hardship inevitably produces a minority of violent, extremist political powers — be they fascist or communist or what have you — and if that minority is all it takes to intimidate the majority into compliance because the majority is, at their best, protecting their dependents…

Then aren’t you left with only two solutions?

Solution 1: The society never falls into economic ruin.

Solution 2: Families decide, as entire families, to be courageous and defiant. No family member will comply with an extremist movement out of fear for their dependents.

And since solution 1 is (probably) impossible in the long run, that leaves solution 2.

What am I missing?

In my mind, Grant has laid out a useful framework for considering ideological differences (he himself, nor I, would not claim it is a hard “natural law” of political science but still helpful). It reminds me of James Madison in the Federalist Papers, considering ways to avoid both “majority mob rule” and “tyranny by a minority” (views on which shape views on State size). The framework might help us understand differences between Conservatives and Liberals, Capitalists and Socialists, and though this short work will not endeavor to prove “who’s right,” it might still prove helpful for providing bearings on political discourse today. Also, we might discover some ironies and paradoxes, which is my favorite pastime.

From Grant’s question, what follows in my mind are two defenses to tyrannical control and a failsafe:

1. (Line of Defense 1) We need a strong middle class that makes people at least feel like they can escape economic ruin and improve their economic wellbeing.

This suggests why “the death of the American Dream” is so consequential. Even if it is the case that the middle class is growing richer, if people don’t feel like it is, they may become desperate. Personally, there’s a lot of conflicting evidence on if the middle class in America is growing or weakening: research out of the Urban Institute suggests the “upper classes” are growing while “lower classes” are shrinking, but other studies claim 40% of Americans don’t have $400 for an emergency expenditure. Other evidence shows the purchasing power of the dollar decreasing significantly with time.

Also, even if the rich are “ultrarich,” as long as the majority feel like they can access the middle class, that seems to be enough to keep the majority from becoming desperate. I can’t swear to this, but the dissolution of the “middle class” seems more consequential than the growing enrichment of the “upper class” (keep in mind that it does not necessarily follow that the rich get rich at the expense of lower classes, because money is created — there is no necessary limit to money — unless perhaps growth stops). Also, if people in lower economic brackets can “enter into” higher brackets for some period of time before coming back into lower brackets (say during a year when they sell a home, cash in a Roth IRA, etc.), that too will help the society avoid social backlash.

2. (Line of Defense 2) We need strong families.

What constitutes a “strong family” here is not something I mean in terms of a “return to traditionalism”: what I mean are families that don’t just get swept up and carried along by “the thinking of the day.” Likewise, individual members aren’t worried that other members and dependents will be so swept up: members are confident in one another. Families hence hold values that help them resist “mob think”; they incubate “critical thinking,” creative thinking, and innovation so that members of the family don’t just accept whatever they’re told, and they always feel capable of finding solutions to their problems. To allude to “The Creative Concord” by O.G. Rose, we need families to be artifexian; alluding to Nassim Taleb, we need “antifragility.”

3. (Failsafe for if 1 and 2 Fall) We need smaller governments and States than larger ones to assure a minority or majority could never use it for tyrannical purposes.

If 1 and 2 never failed, the size of the State would likely not be a significant problem, unless that is State growth somehow weakened 1 and 2 (which I will not argue here: it’s possible the opposite is the case). All this doesn’t mean the State should never grow or be abolished, but it is to say all State growth should be considered with great “fear and trembling.”

On the flipside, it might be the case that a large State helps solve the problems of 1 and 2, so shrinking the State could be what makes it seem like a good idea that the State be small (a self-fulfilling prophecy). This is because if a large State helps the economy and family, then when the State is small and the economy and family fail, there won’t be a large State that a consequently emboldened minority and/or majority could use to tyrannically expand their vision and/or project. It is possible the failsafe of 3 could be what makes the failsafe seem wise.

This in mind, and assuming these considerations are valid, let’s use them to help us grasp differences between political ideologies (general umbrellas, at least):

Capitalists and Conservatives (“Tragic Vision”):

1 cannot be guaranteed, so 2 is necessary, but in case 2 fails, 3 should be maintained.

Generally, Conservatives believe taking care of 1 is hard, can’t be done all at once, and that “free markets” is the best system for addressing 1, but “free markets” are imperfect and leave a lot to be desired. Since there will be imperfections, 2 is needed to keep those imperfections from motivating an uprising, revolution, etc. until those imperfections can be addressed by free markets. 3 is needed incase 2 fails.

But what if the imperfections are never addressed and hopes that they will be by the market in the future used to keep suffering people in a state of suffering? Well, the Conservative may say that concerns for justice in this way could lead to the whole system being ruined, and then everyone will be worse off with no hope of improvement. The Liberal could reply that, again, that concern could be used to keep people in suffering, and back and forth forever — the dilemma must be managed, which is very hard, as discussed in “Belonging Again” by O.G. Rose.

Also, how do we scale the solution of “good character” and/or “good family?” How is “antifragility” spread? It almost seems magical and random when large families manage to incubate this, assuming they ever have. Additionally, is a small State really a solution in a world of large corporations and others large States with large militaries? To these counters, the Conservative may say “strong families” can’t be scaled or “socially engineered,” only managed on an individual level, family by family (which still leaves open the questions of “According to what values should families define ‘strength?’ ” and “How can it be assured that these values won’t contribute to injustices?”). Also, the Conservative may say that large corporations would be impossible without a large State (right or wrong), and if now we can’t reverse State size, it’s primarily the State’s fault (a line of thinking explored in “No Exit” by O.G. Rose); additionally, a “small State” and “small military” don’t necessarily have to follow, or a “small economy,” meaning America could still be competitive with larger foreign States. Whether this is true or not is another question entirely.

Socialists and Liberals (“Progressive Vision”):

If 1 is taken care of, 2 and 3 are less consequential (and, contrary to 3, growth of the State could be what takes care of 1, thus making 2 inconsequential; in fact weakening families could increase justice if they oppress individuals).

Generally, Liberals believe 1 can be addressed by State growth, meaning a failsafe of 3 is not only unnecessary but counterproductive). If this is the case, Conservative concerns about 2 and 3 will not be a problem. In fact, this is the only “just” way for society to be organized, because all versions of “strong families” tend to be defined by “traditional values” — the hope for families to incubate “artifexians” could be mostly idealistic — and traditional values tend to cause oppression (against LGBTs, minorities, etc.). This isn’t to say Liberals are against families, but it is to say they are skeptical of them, following a tradition of Marx, who believed families tended to embody and participate in “ruling ideologies.” In fact, Liberals may argue that “givens” are what keep houses from feeling like homes.

Some Closing Thoughts and Possible Ironies

1. If Conservatives are wrong that Capitalism grows the middle class, then strong families and a small State will be important precisely because of the Conservative “solution” to 1. If failure to address economic needs causes family hardships, then failure to address 1 will cause a failure of 2, which will make the failsafe of 3 seem extremely wise of Conservatives, when in facts Conservatives “set the board in their favor.”

If Conservatives are correct that free markets only address 1 if the State is small, then the failsafe of 3 has a double function and is required for 1. If 1 helps 2, 3 is needed for 1 and 2. Furthermore, if “strong families,” which incubate artifexianism, also are more likely to stay together and this increases economic wellbeing (say by reducing solo parenting), then 1 and 2 rise and fall together in a feedback loop. Everything works full circle.

If 3 isn’t needed for 1 — though it’s hard to imagine how a “free market’ is possible without a relatively small State — then Conservatives don’t need to worry about the failsafe of 3 so much: if 1 and 2 (perhaps by extension) are taken care of, 3 will take care of itself. Paradoxically, Conservatives could be concerned about 3 unnecessarily (unless, again, a large State somehow necessarily hurts 1 and 2).

2. If Liberals are wrong that State involvement is needed for 1, and in fact if State involvement weakens 1, then as Liberals try to address 1 to make 2 less consequential and a failsafe of 3 unnecessary, the consequences which could result from 2 and 3 being ignored could be made increasingly more likely and dire in the name of making them less probable and impactful.

If Liberals are correct though that a large State is needed to address 1 and 2, then the need for 1 and 2 to avoid the dangers of 3 are lessened as the danger of 3 increases. As the State grows, it becomes more dangerous, but that danger never manifests. In fact, the “increased risk” only pays off.

If ignoring 3 is needed for 1, then Liberals don’t need to worry about 1 and 2 so much: growing the State is everything.




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O.G. Rose

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