Tyrannous Clarification

Alright, last entry on this I swear! Thinking a little bit more about Pynchon’s new forward to 1984 and my response to one of his points, I realized that I had not yet made the point I wished to make.

In my last post on this subject, I outlined some of the strengths and weaknesses of the American system of governance. I want to make it clear that I was not attempting to excuse or defend abuses of the system; my intention was simply to explain how and why these abuses happen. Our government is a human construct, and as such it is apt to fail at some point or another. This world of ours is constantly changing, as are the threats to our way of life. My point was that our Founding Fathers recognized this and built in a degree of fault tolerance so as to allow for such failures. We cannot hope to plan for every possible outcome, we can only allow enough flexibility and adaptability to react swiftly and surely in the face of an emergency, correcting problems as we go along. Times of national crisis, such as war, can place an enormous amount of stress on the system, thus it is natural that such times will produce more component failures. This is not meant to excuse those failures, but rather to explain them.

Pynchon points out that “One could certainly argue that Churchill’s war cabinet had behaved on occasion no differently from a fascist regime, censoring news, controlling wages and prices, restricting travel, subordinating civil liberties to self-defined wartime necessity.” Indeed one could argue this, but then one would have to understand, as Pynchon himself noted, that the wartime powers led by Churchill were immediately booted out of power by the British electorate the first chance they got (in a landslide victory for the Labour party). A few years later, America ratified the 22nd amendment (which officially codified the precedent set by George Washington that no president should serve more than two terms. FDR died a few months after his fourth inauguration, and while many were no doubt comforted by FDR’s presence in the White House, they were also somewhat scared by the possibility of someone becoming intoxicated with the power of the Presidency and attempting to become “President-for-Life”.) In the Soviet Union, tens of millions of peasants were slaughtered to force collectivization.

The reason the British and American systems fared better than the Soviet system was not just because the British and American systems were better than the Soviet system on an absolute scale, but rather because our systems were designed to handle failures and adapt to changing times while the Soviet system was rigid and unchanging (and also denied human nature, but that is a whole different can of worms).