Hayek and Ceaușescu's Last Speech
Frederich Hayek identified the primary reason why tyrants fall: they rely on the poisoned cup of centralized knowledge. In the essay The Use of Knowledge in Society, Hayek argued that in complex systems "the relevant facts are dispersed among many people". The problem with the Narrative is that it suppresses the "dispersed information" by insisting on the centralized knowledge, on stories the elite make up themselves.
Central planning in economics leads to a mismatch in prices and a collapse in the economy while a Central Narrative in politics leads to an increased incidence of involuntary rebellion. This occurs when the official line becomes so ridiculous that ordinary people don't even realize they are falling out of step with the Party Line. For example, the administration recently issued a new list of prisoners to be released from Guantanamo, citing their practice of yoga as proof they had reformed.
Sooner or later an administration neuters itself from sheer implausibility. The Washington Times reports that a "top intelligence official" is accusing the "Obama admininistration" of funding a "terror network ‘for the next ten years’", alleging the administration paid a cash ransom to redeem Bowe Bergdahl. No one can ask Bergdahl, since he is now reported as being unable to speak to anyone -- including his family.
Some people will continue to believe the narrative, but even among the acolytes, the fatal smoke of doubt has entered the temple. Robert Ford, the former US ambassador to Syria, has effectively accused the Obama administration of abandoning genuinely pro-American rebels in Syria thereby allowing the ascendance of al-Qaeda. Ford said of his resignation, “I was no longer in a position where I felt I could defend the American policy.” Sooner or later inability to credit yoga or videos produced in Los Angeles as actual factors becomes more and more widespread.
The collapse of the narrative doesn't happen in a single big step, but through an accumulation of small, personal, often innocuous refusals. For example, George Ciampa, an 89-year old D-Day veteran refused an invitation to meet with President Obama at the White House.
George thought about it for awhile and concluded he just couldn’t. “I have so many issues with the president’s policies, including the most recent ones,” he told me ruefully. “I just couldn’t convince myself to do it.”
He is not alone. The recent Bergdahl prisoner swap in which five hardened Taliban terrorists were released from prison is rubbing a lot of the military veterans attending D-Day events the wrong way. “It’s not that we don’t want to respect the commander-in-chief,” one told me sadly. “It’s just that he makes it so hard to do so.”
Just a genteel, inoffensive refusal from an old gent. But rebellion begins involuntarily, at the Hayekian level. It doesn't happen as one big wave. It is simply an accumulation of multitudes ignoring the official line bit by bit and thereby gradually placing themselves unwittingly in opposition to it. Perhaps the biggest example of this is a CBO report that while 30 million people will technically be liable to pay the Obamacare Individual Mandate fine but in practice all but 4 million will have their fines waived or exempted.
Almost none of the uninsured will end up paying the ObamaCare mandate penalty, according to an updated analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, which found that 87% will be able to claim an exemption. ...
Whatever the reason, the result is that the penalty will raise $27 billion less over the next decade than the CBO had originally expected.
And that assumes more don't simply dodge paying the penalty because of the ease with which they can claim a hardship exemption, or because the law places strict limits on the IRS' ability to collect the money.
The hardship exemption rules, for example, let anyone who "experienced domestic violence" avoid the mandate, without providing any documentation of abuse. Getting a shut-off notice from a utility is also sufficient to claim a hardship exemption.
In addition, the law forbids the IRS from using its normal enforcement tools to collect unpaid penalties. Tax experts say the best it can do is withhold the penalty amount from any tax refund due.
The mighty Law of the Land is exposed as all bark and no bite; a fine they can't enforce. The administration's threats, so dire on paper, are toothless in practice because they actually can't afford to carry out the threat. Any actual attempts to fine 30 million Americans would end in a political disaster.
The slippage that attracts the most attention of course, is discontent within the United States military. Diane Dimond writes in Real Clear Politics about the low level grumbling that risen to detectable levels since the Bergdahl affair.
The president of the United States is the commander in chief over all branches of the military. It is a historic time, given that no military member goes public to speak negatively about the ultimate commander. ...
Now career military personnel are speaking out through gritted teeth, insisting they speak for active-duty personnel who cannot talk without being punished. They are speaking about injustice, ineptitude and impeachment. ...
Forget what the politicians on Capitol Hill are saying about the prisoner swap. Forget the pontifications from the myriad talking heads on TV and radio. Now you know what members of our U.S. military are thinking and saying. They have lost all respect for their commander in chief.
It chills me to the bone.
And so should such reports chill one to the bone. Yet there is a big difference between grousing, which is endemic to the military, and actual rebellion. Nobody is likely to rise up and become a Man on Horseback. What may happen of course, is that like a frog slowly being boiled in a pot, the process happens so slowly that people aren't aware of it themselves. For example, there is a silent falling away among American allies.
The Times of Israel quotes Israeli oppositionists as accusing Benjamin Netanyahu of "loathing" Barack Obama so intensely it has endangering the Jewish state's security. A little noticed article in the Sydney Morning Herald notes that Australia will support Japan's effort to repeal its pacifist constitution. A later article shows that Australia is moving toward purchasing Japanese submarines to replace its existing fleet. Lech Walesa has openly accused president Obama as unable to lead in world.
One day Obama may wake up and find the alliances just gone.
Like a jalopy falling apart on the road, dropping a screw here and a spring there, the Obama administration is gradually shaking itself to pieces. It can go on for a long time shedding parts, but eventually the axle falls out. Centralized regimes may seem to collapse suddenly, yet in reality they have been coming apart for a long time.
The process usually follows this path. First their narratives become so infested with lies they go out of sync with their own administrators on the ground. In the second stage their edicts become unenforceable from sheer impracticability. Grandiose plans are announced, "pivots" are ordered, Red Lines are drawn, all manner of schemes are announced with a maximum of hoopla -- but everybody ignores it -- they know the latest fad will pass and the regime will Move On. At some point the entire structure of governance becomes a system of workarounds with all real power devolved to the man on the ground.
The Man at the Top increasingly pulls on disconnected controls, yet still imagines he is in charge. When the crisis comes the Leader Maximus discovers to his absolute surprise that all support has vanished. The story of Ceaușescu's final speech is a textbook example. One moment Ceaușescu was in total control of Romania, determined to crush his enemies. The next he was a hunted man.
In the wake of growing tension over an uprising in Timișoara in which thousands were reportedly killed, Ceaușescu decided to give a nationally televised speech before a crowd in Palace Square ...
Thousands of workers were bused into the square under threat of being fired. They were given red flags, banners and large pictures of Ceaușescu. The workers were augmented by bystanders who were rounded up on Calea Victoriei. The crowd, now totaling up to 80,000, were given orders on where to stand, when to applaud and what to sing. The front rows of the assembly were made up of low-level Communist Party officials and members who acted as cheer-leaders. Immediately before them were plainclothes Securitate agents and a row of police militia, who kept the mass of the crowd about thirty yards back from the front of the Central Committee building.
Ceaușescu appeared on the balcony of the Central Committee building and began as he had in years past, with a speech laden with the usual Marxist-Leninist "wooden language." However, he had badly misread the crowd's mood. Only the front rows supported Ceaușescu with cheers and applause, with most of the crowd remaining impassive. Eight minutes into the speech, some in the crowd actually began to jeer, boo and whistle at him—a reaction considered unthinkable for most of Ceaușescu's 24 years in power. Workers from a Bucharest power plant started chanting "Ti-mi-șoa-ra! Ti-mi-șoa-ra!"—a chant that was soon picked up by others in the crowd. In response, Ceaușescu raised his right hand in hopes of silencing the crowd; his stunned expression remains one of the defining moments of the end of Communism in Eastern Europe. He then tried to placate the crowd by offering to raise workers' salaries ... He did not realize, however, that a real revolution was starting before his eyes.
Within hours Ceaușescu was beseiged inside the Central Committee building by irate crowds. "By the morning of 22 December, the rebellion had already spread to all major cities across the country. ... He, Elena and four others managed to get to the roof and escaped by helicopter, only seconds ahead of a group of demonstrators who had followed them there."
But by then there was nowhere to hide. Ceaușescu was finally cornered in a small town, where he and his wife were subjected to a summary trial, taken out to the courtyard and shot. What happened? Only a few hours before the "Genius of the Carpathians" had been in apparently complete command. And the next moment he was lying in the dust.
What happened was that he was misled by Centralized Information. He had been falling for a long time, and proved the last to know. Sudden realizations are like a crash; it's not the fact of deceleration that is fatal so much as the suddenness of it. Centralized Information as Hayek points out, eventually becomes the Official Lie. It is surpassingly perilous not only for the country, but also for the ruler who relies on it. Richard III of England rode into Bosworth Field relying on his ally Baron Stanely to come to his aid. Stanley double-crossed Richard at the crucial moment.
Shakespeare dramatized the turnabout in his famous scene. "Richard is soon unhorsed on the field at the climax of the battle, and cries out, "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" But wags through the ages have rewritten the lines perhaps less poetically, but more accurately as "a hearse, a hearse, my kingdom for a hearse." That sad funereal vehicle is always drawn by teams of corrupt information. Tyrannies are buried by the shovel of self-deception. A horse or a hearse? A tyrant stops knowing the difference.
One of the fundamental defenses of a democracy is the truth. The truth shall set you free, even if it makes you miserable. No truth, no survival.
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