How Far Can Human Hearts Reach?

From Francis W. Porretto:

Wes Rhinier at NC Renegade has penned a short piece about what he foresees for America. His expectations are bleak. In particular, he’s troubled by the many plaintive calls for “a leader” for “the coming civil war.” Here’s the part that plucked at my fiddlestrings:

     We are all too divided. We all have our own ideas. It’s always been a problem in this liberty movement.

     I think a Balkanization is more likely to happen. Or maybe small confederations happen.

     For me, this called to mind the conclusion of Poul Anderson’s Hugo-winning novella “No Truce With Kings.” It concerns the efforts of an alien race to engineer a specific sociopolitical outcome for Man on Earth…by subterfuge and the use of alien technology to promote one faction in a distributed, multi-participant war over the others:

     “You wanted to re-establish the centralized state, didn’t you? Did you ever stop to think that maybe feudalism is what suits Man? Some one place to call our own, and belong to, and be part of; a community with traditions and honor; a chance for the individual to make decisions that count; a bulwark for liberty against the central overlords, who’ll always want more and more power; a thousand different ways to live. We’ve always built supercountries, here on Earth, and we’ve always knocked them apart again. I think maybe the whole idea is wrong. And maybe this time we’ll try something better. Why not a world of little states, too well rooted to dissolve in a nation, too small to do much harm—slowly rising above petty jealousies and spite, but keeping their identities—a thousand separate approaches to our problems. Maybe then we can solve a few of them…for ourselves!”

     The idea of federalism was an attempt to harmonize the large nation – by virtue of its size capable of standing against other, more rapacious nations – with the small community of independent identity. Federalism proposed a way of having many small, largely autonomous regions within a central structure with sharply limited powers that would defend all of them against invasion. But governments always suck power from smaller units toward larger ones, and from peripheral loci toward central ones. We might not have known about that dynamic two and a half centuries ago – we didn’t have that many examples of it to study back then – but we have no excuse for not knowing about it now.

     However, there’s more than one view about these things. Here’s another angle, from Tom Kratman’s very best novel:

     “Do you know why we band together into nations, girl?”
     The question seemed so totally out of the blue that Maricel didn’t really even comprehend it. She shook her head, a gesture that meant, in this case, I don’t understand.
     Aida took it wrongly, assuming the girl meant she didn’t know why. She answered the question herself. Pointing towards the flames, she said, “We band into nations for just that reason. In the real world, little tribes like TCS are destroyed. They can’t compete against determined bands of raiders. It takes more power than that to defend yourself against people like yourself, people with no law above themselves.”
     Ah, now Maricel understood the question. She wasn’t sure she understood the answer and, given that she was going to die, the answer didn’t really matter anyway.
     “It’s the flaw in some utopian schemes,” the woman continued. She looked at Maricel’s uncomprehending face and said, “You don’t understand that word, do you?”
     “No.” Sniffle. Just get on with it, will you?
     “Never mind; here’s the truth, a truth I’ve been trying to find for the last . . . well, for the last good long while. People band into nations, real nations—not travesties like TCS, gangs that fancy themselves nations—to defend themselves. It requires an emotional commitment. The limits of nations are not how far their borders can reach, but how far their hearts can. People with tiny hearts, people like TCS, can never reach very far, can never gather enough similar hearts together to defend themselves. Only real people, and real countries or causes, can do that. That’s why TCS is going to die tonight.”

     [Tom Kratman, Countdown: H Hour]

     Perhaps the question is multivariate, in which case the answers will be multivariate as well. At the very least, it’s not simply What do we seek for ourselves and how can we get it? but Are we able to do what it will take and endure what we must to remain that way? That all sociopolitical arrangements are inherently unstable doesn’t mean that all are equally desirable.

     Freedom is not the only good people seek from their political alignments and arrangements, as we should all know far too well. They also seek prosperity for themselves and their families, and security against threats, both actual and potential. And some – there will always be some – have a vision of “the good” that requires others to bend their knees and their necks:

     One female (most were men, but women made up for it in silliness) had a long list she wanted made permanent laws—about private matters. No more plural marriage of any sort. No divorces. No “fornication”—had to look that one up. No drinks stronger than 4% beer. Church services only on Saturdays and all else to stop that day. (Air and temperature and pressure engineering, lady? Phones and capsules?) A long list of drugs to be prohibited and a shorter list dispensed only by licensed physicians. (What is a “licensed physician”? Healer I go to has a sign reading “practical doctor”—makes book on side, which is why I go to him. Look, lady, aren’t any medical schools in Luna!) (Then, I mean.) She even wanted to make gambling illegal. If a Loonie couldn’t roll double or nothing, he would go to a shop that would, even if dice were loaded.
     Thing that got me was not her list of things she hated, since she was obviously crazy as a Cyborg, but fact that always somebody agreed with her prohibitions. Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please. Rules, laws—always for other fellow. A murky part of us, something we had before we came down out of trees, and failed to shuck when we stood up. Because not one of those people said: “Please pass this so that I won’t be able to do something I know I should stop.” Nyet, tovarishchee, was always something they hated to see neighbors doing. Stop them “for their own good”—not because speaker claimed to be harmed by it.

     [Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress]

     Are Anderson’s mini-states impossible by Kratman’s logic? Or are Kratman’s larger nations doomed to deteriorate into tyrannies owing to the dynamic of power-seeking as Anderson has pinned it? And what about the people – “crazy as a Cyborg” or otherwise – who insist that the State compel others to bend to their preferences?


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