Monday, June 5, 2023

Oligarchies self-mutilate

The term oligarchy is a Greek portmanteau fusing ‘few’ and ‘rule’ and therefore simply refers to government by a few. Originally it was scarcely distinguishable from plutocracy but its meaning has succumbed to the dictates of time and developed complex ramifications. The force that agglutinates the ‘few’ is no longer just confined to wealth; it spreads over to religion, education and a variety of other backgrounds but, it invariably comes back to wealth acquisition and expansion by the ruling elite. The main aim of an oligarchy is to expand their influence by having unfettered access to state resources. They have to control the political economy, the institutions and structures of government, and the key personnel in those structures. In short, it is a handful minority of the country’s elite furthering their agenda and not necessarily that of the people. That in the process the citizenry may feel accommodated in policy adoption is in most cases purely coincidental or a well-calculated populist antic.

It may not be clear how the fluidity of conventional government structures winds up with a rigid power house. I will not try to offer the last on it but ostensibly, when bureaucratic tiers are installed to manage a large and widespread society with the intention to maintain and enhance the efficiency of the society so that decisions are not taken randomly and severally, some measure of centralization has to be maintained. The concentrated centralized power lands in the eager hands of the few – the oligarchy. They then (ab)use it for self-preservation, perpetuation and expansion of their influence. Thus, as bureaucracy happens, power moves up the echelons but, power corrupts and clouds the vision of those who wield it.

An oligarchy controls unlimited power to sanctions and rewards ÔÇô those who share their opinion are well-placed and well-rewarded while those with a divergent view are foiled and pulverized. This explains the emergence of clientelism and a plethora of other vices! In such an atmosphere, it is a common sight to see loyalists being unethically but strategically placed to guard and further entrench the ‘chosen few’. A dishonest appropriation of public funds is also not a stranger in such circumstances. After-all, it is not about the citizens but, self-preservation and expansion of influence.

In a constitutional democracy, which is the focus of my discussion, to leverage their positions, oligarchs need to control the ruling party. They therefore need an individual or individuals with an ability to eclipse the role of the party and arrest power from elected representatives by holding dominion over them, presiding over them and holding court for all who wish to advance politically or economically. They are ruthless when it comes to dealing with emerging talent that holds divergent views because such pose a threat to the oligarchical core and how the oligarchy wishes to perpetuate itself.

An oligarchy has to control information that flows down the channels of communication. They censor that which does not put them on a good stead in preference for what glorifies them. Their outright disregard, scorn and adversarial disposition towards organizations they have limited control over like private media, opposition parties, worker unions, religious groups, business associations and other interest groups is testament to their proclivity to have ultimate control. They can even resort to spying to show how suspicious they are about the motives of those ‘democratic loose ends’. Oligarchs dedicate significant resources in spurious benevolent feat, to dupe the unsuspecting citizens into believing their interests matter, that the future looks up for them and that they are the selfless individuals making it right for them. That is obviously a product of well-staged and publicized dispensing of goodies to a disadvantaged few, well-couched but hackneyed and insincere promises, and spirited messages of hope when things point in the contrary. In that whole charade, the citizens may get entranced and show little initiative in so far as groping for enduring solutions is concerned especially that the dummy they are being sold is a make-believe sponsored by government.

In the process, the improvident sustenance of duplicity rattles the working-class who can read the fine print. When that class realizes how much their welfare and interests don’t matter in the agenda of the oligarchy they develop resistance, stubbornness and profound indifference; an attitude that the oligarchy views with utter detestation because it has the potential to diminish the credibility of the oligarchy. That section of the working class becomes an instant liability, a bunch of ill-disciplined spoil-spots hell-bent on dimming the shine of the oligarchs. As an iron rule in the world of oligarchs, liabilities have to be neutralized, ejected and eliminated! The no-holds-barred approach simply means disregard for the law and social justice but, the last thing an oligarch needs in their quest for expansion is an individual or group that sets out to expose profligacy on the side of government and the sumptuous livestyles of those who benefit from it.

When I say benefit I mean on a scale where less than 5% of the population may account for more 50% of the country’s wealth. Such is an empire that can be jealously guarded and hence the reason why oligarchs are characteristically intolerant and tyrannical.
Oligarchies thrive well in societies where there is profuse public obedience, hero-worshipping those in positions of power and religiously believing in the rightness of their superior vision. The restructuring of societies by globalization has liberalized the modern era and spawned organizations with innovative and revolutionary goals that pose threats to oligarchies by advocating for the broader human rights base. Apparently, that has the propensity to raise the level of awareness of the citizens and sow seeds of discontentment. Despite the crucial role those organizations play in a democracy and in the modern era, oligarchs find the need to quash them; of course for all the selfish reasons. That includes destabilizing the organizations with their ‘Trojan Horses’.

That is paltry compared to a situation whereby a house of representatives like parliament becomes the barracks for the garrison of the oligarchy ÔÇô that instead of representing the electorate, some take to representing and guarding the interests of the oligarchy with arrogance and the bigotry of religion; perhaps motivated by the reality or expectation that the oligarchy sprinkles the dust of some of their gold on the hands. This gullible garrison, also jinxed to believe they belong or will belong to the oligarchical core; fail to decipher the fact that they shall forever wander in the sidelines – that theirs is to safe-guard the interests of the core. In the end, all democratic institutions become shadows of their real selves and have little influence over policy adoption. Participatory democracy is frowned upon as an indirect and surreptitious invitation to crowd-psychology, unnecessary bottle-necks and anarchy. Then, the inevitable creeps in; arbitrary decision-making, reluctance to account and not even a requirement for polite retrospective justification. The reality or possibility of the foregoing simply describes complete razing a state and its constitution.

Describing the nature of an oligarchy in a constitutional democracy does not necessarily suggest ways of restoring a good democratic dispensation nor does it suggest any alternative for that matter. It is just to have our brains cracking about realities of the world and drawing parallels to our specific experiences where any exists. Some may think the prophylactic move to restoration is constantly exposing the oligarchy and its nefarious employs – that proponents of alternative systems, under-resourced as they are should wage a counterpoise against a well-resourced, well-guarded and state-sponsored oligarchy to prove their gritty venture. That has the same sound as saying one should prove themselves by disproving the next which, is not necessarily the best approach. Proponents of change have more to offer than discrediting democratic liabilities and robber-barons.

Rather than give an oligarchy the pleasure and soft victory of ‘being wrestled in the mud’, they should labor on reducing the social viscosity of the citizens whose power and resources are being gambled with to ensure better and faster flow with change. I think it is everybody’s call to know the values of their country, to know what they stand for as individuals and as a collective and to know their value in the society. We all need to take our selves super-serious!┬á I also know that the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind! At His timing and His alone, the snake bites its own tail – an oligarchy self-mutilates!

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