Lenin’s one-party state was based on different values. It overthrew the aristocratic order. But it did not put a competitive model in place. The Bolshevik one-party state was not merely undemocratic; it was also anticompetitive and antimeritocratic. Places in universities, civil-service jobs, and roles in government and industry did not go to the most industrious or the most capable. Instead, they went to the most loyal. People advanced because they were willing to conform to the rules of party membership. Though those rules were different at different times, they were consistent in certain ways. They usually excluded the former ruling elite and their children, as well as suspicious ethnic groups. They favored the children of the working class. Above all, they favored people who loudly professed belief in the creed, who attended party meetings, who participated in public displays of enthusiasm. Unlike an ordinary oligarchy, the one-party state allows for upward mobility: True believers can advance. As Hannah Arendt wrote back in the 1940s, the worst kind of one-party state “invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”
18 June, 2021
15 June, 2021
In certain young people today like these two from my writing workshop, I notice what I find increasingly troubling: a cold-blooded grasping, a hunger to take and take and take, but never give; a massive sense of entitlement; an inability to show gratitude; an ease with dishonesty and pretension and selfishness that is couched in the language of self-care; an expectation always to be helped and rewarded no matter whether deserving or not; language that is slick and sleek but with little emotional intelligence; an astonishing level of self-absorption; an unrealistic expectation of puritanism from others; an over-inflated sense of ability, or of talent where there is any at all; an inability to apologize, truly and fully, without justifications; a passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship.
I find it obscene.
02 June, 2021
The Top about-faced and stood at attention in front the company formation. I could see the grunts from where I was. Here and there, you’d see a soldier’s expression go from bored, to puzzled, to Holy shit!, to suppressed laughter. I was watching them pop off one by one.
And one by one, they were met by the cold, hard stare of a First Sergeant demonstrating, without a word or a motion, the finest example of military command and control I have ever seen. It was magnificent. One by one, as grunts in formation twigged on to what was happening, the Top stared them back into silence and back into military bearing. No sniggering. No laughter. Nothing.
Some things don’t change, even if you add helicopters and radios. Command and control is a personal thing. It doesn’t automatically come with rank. It isn’t always augmented by technology. A Roman Legionnaire would have recognized the First Sergeant’s look. And obeyed.
About now I should give a lecture on command and control, how it isn’t just yelling orders, how it’s a personal trait that cannot be instilled but can be trained... Nuh uh. I know it when I see it. That’s all I got.