Scapegoating is as old a tactic as political power itself, and a vital tool in the perpetuation of political, economic and social privilege. James Madison, the Father of the US Constitution, expressed a great truism about state power when he described its fundamental role as being to defend ‘the minority of the opulent from the majority.’ What Madison neglected to mention was that the defense of the minority of the opulent against the majority tended to entrench and exacerbate social and economic inequality. This in turn precipitated social chaos as inequality and disorder exacerbated social and class conflict, threatening the stability of the system as a whole.
Faced with this situation, the minority of the opulent required some mechanism or other to neutralize social conflict and ensure stability without having to address its root causes in the defense of their economic and social privileges from economic democracy and social justice. They needed to be able to establish and maintain a state of peace without justice, a state long understood to be synonymous with tyranny. Whether the tyranny concerned was that of an individual autocrat, or a class of them, the same problem remained; what the minority of the opulent needed in effect was an ideological safety valve to take the pressure away of actually existing social conflicts and tensions and divert them onto a scapegoat, onto one or another ideological punching bag for the shortcomings of a society devoted to maintaining the minority of the opulent in the lifestyle to which they had become accustomed. Continue reading →
In his book, America the Virtuous, Claes Ryn cited (p. 196) a great quote from Joseph Schumpeter’s essay on Imperialism. Does this sound at all familiar? Try substituting ‘America’ for ‘Rome’ and ‘American’ for ‘Roman’.
There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not Roman, they were those of Rome’s allies; and if Rome had no allies, then allies would be invented. When it was utterly impossible to contrive such an interest–why, then it was the national honor that had been insulted. The fight was always invested with an aura of legality. Rome was always being attacked by evil-minded neighbors, always fighting for a breathing space. The whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies, and it was manifestly Rome’s duty to guard against their indubitably aggressive designs. They were enemies who only waited to fall on the Roman people.
Yes, yes that sounds very familiar. It sounds very goddamn familar indeed.
This group is for anyone interested in studying the relationship between aspects of social psychology and social history, with particular emphasis on the relationship between the work on moral disengagement of Albert Bandura and the broad tendency of history to repeat via the phenomenon of witchhunting.