A Short Piece Inspired by PolyMatter

The Unintended Consequence of Seizing Too Much Power

We suddenly have no excuse not to act on what we say.

The videos on PolyMatter are remarkable, and in one of his videos reviewing China, he noted how ruling parties can want opposition from other parities so that the ruling parties can maintain their legitimacy while at the same time not accomplishing all of their goals. PolyMatter applied this point to international relations, which brought out another example where “nonrationality” (as discussed regarding Benjamin Fondane) can prove useful as a schema for understanding political parities and their operations.

Political parties seek to accomplish their goals (we wouldn’t vote for them if they didn’t), and if they have absolute power, accomplishing their goals becomes possible. Hence, it is natural and rational for political parities to seek “absolute power,” by which I mean power that is not inhibited or “held back” by other parities. And yet perhaps this is an example where what is rational for individuals and groups isn’t what is rational overall, suggesting a Game Theory dynamic, which is to say that if all political parties seek “what is rational,” we might end up with “a suboptimal result” (or “Nash Equilibrium”). Why? Because when a party has “absolute power,” it loses “plausible deniability” for failing to do what it says it’s going to do. Isn’t that a good thing? Perhaps for a domestic agenda, but when it comes to global geopolitics, the opposite might be the case, suggesting that what is “domestically rational” might be “geopolitically irrational” (a point which recalls my conversation with Dr. James Simpkin, as described in “O.G. Rose Conversation #68).

If it is rational in one sense for political parties to seek absolute power, there’s still an unintentional consequence: they become “absolutely” responsible for doing what they say they will do. They can no longer blame “the other party” for keeping them from doing what they want, which sounds great (and domestically perhaps is), but internationally it can prove disastrous. Why? Because a way a nation like America can maintain its credibility when it tells a nation like Russia not to do x or there will be y consequence and yet at the same time not prove entirely able to do x is precisely because of “gridlock” and “the two-party system.” Isn’t “gridlock” a bad thing? Not necessarily, for it provides a way America can maintain “plausible deniability”: Russia cannot know for sure American won’t do y in response to x just as soon as “the two-party system” agrees (and this can hold true even as America seemingly does nothing in response to Russia doing x). The “gridlock” of a multiparty system hence can prove useful.

To offer another example: if “we will attack Russia” but actually don’t want to invade Russia but still need to scare them, then we need another party to hold us back. If we garner too much power, we can lose this paradoxical way to maintain legitimacy, as needed for other nations to take us seriously and to abstain from aggression. Where legitimacy is lost, nations can become more aggressive, but a way we maintain legitimacy is by convincing other nations that we are willing to be aggressive, even if we don’t want to be aggressive. How do we maintain that balance? Well, again, this is where a “multiparty system” can prove useful (which also suggests the close relationship between politics and psychology, do note, a topic explored by the brilliant Raymond).

There is value in other nations thinking we are willing to fight, which requires words and statements, but there is also a problem if we cannot “plausibly deny” why we don’t always do what we say we are going to do. When we lack “absolute power,” this “plausible deniability” is available to us, and yet for the sake of our own “domestic agenda,” it is rational to seek “absolute power” (suggesting that the line between “domestic politics” and “international politics” might not be easy to draw). Assuming we don’t want war, then it is easily “irrational” relative to global politics to have “absolute power,” for then we cannot threaten dangerous nations and not act on those threats without losing credibility. But don’t we want to be able to act on what we say regarding domestic policies? Yes/no, and it could certainly be argued that if we have “absolute power,” maybe aggressive nations will be less likely to act because they know “nothing can stop us” from stopping them. That’s possible, yes, but I fear this scenario is more likely to end up in aggression and violence, precisely because the aggressive nation might “push the envelope” gradually to see when the nation with “absolute power” will act. Eventually, the powerful nation will either have to act or lose credibility. Perhaps the aggressive nation will never start being aggressive in the first place, afraid of “the absolute power” of the other nation, and indeed I don’t mean to suggest such cannot occur. Mainly, I want to shed light on how what is domestically rational can prove geopolitically irrationally, suggesting the nonrational benefits of a multiparty system.

Can’t all this work in reverse? Might a nation like Russia be aggressive precisely because they know “the two-party system” will keep America from acting? Perhaps, but I’m not sure if things tend to work out that way, because once Russia begins invading, the two parties can unite against it. Better yet, America can’t be blamed for “acting first,” whereas a party with “absolute power” can feel pressured into needing to act before anyone else does to “prove they are serious.” This might sound like a silly concern, but it can indeed maintain credibility in a world where losing credibility can greatly increase the likelihood of conflict.

We need an excuse for not fighting, but that means we don’t want absolute power. Hence a multiparty system can prove important: the system can “maintain plausible deniability,” which helps maintain legitimacy without always acting. The claims of a party always “might be” valid, but we cannot say for sure since the opposing party might be holding the other party back. But again, it is the nature of parities to “seek more power” to make their voters happy, creating a problem. “Gridlock” can indeed seem like a curse, and perhaps domestically it is, but in terms of “international relations,” it might be a great gift.

Perhaps a reason totalitarian regimes are more likely to end up in conflict is because a dictator is pressured by circumstances to say x, but then the dictator cannot “plausibly deny” why x isn’t done, risking credibility. Dictators or “very powerful governments” find themselves in a much more difficult balancing act between achieving domestic goals, maintaining credibility, but also remaining threatening and “taken seriously.” For this reason, the “rise of Populism” in the West might be very problematic, for it entails a push for “our party” to gain “absolute power” on the domestic front to “save America” (for example), but succeeding in this goal could prove “suboptimal” in terms of “international relations” (especially since Populism tends to oppose Globalization and trade-agreements, both of which can help nations work together — economics can unify).

If the desire for “absolute domestic power” continues to spread in the West, we should not be surprised to see more Global Conflict. Domestically, we “rationally” want our party to gain more power to accomplish our agenda, but this could prove risky and dangerous on an international stage. What is “domestically rational” could prove “internationally irrational,” which for me suggests the “nonrationality of gridlock.” As discussed throughout O.G. Rose, where there is a “Nash Equilibrium” like this, the only way to avoid “the suboptimal result” is with “nonrationality,” and here that would seem to be “gridlock” — a state we tend to spend all our time bashing and that the media constantly calls a “dysfunction.” Yes, that’s true in a way, but I fear the cure might prove worse than the sickness. Dissatisfaction can be a small price to pay compared to destruction.




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