We all naturally crave immediate gratification for our efforts, and that’s as true of journalists with an agenda as it is for the impatient customer sitting in a McDonald’s drive-thru. Such is the human condition; we’re all dopamine addicts to one degree or another.
I have come to subscribe to the idea that lasting political change, unfortunately, based on the historical record, can only come organically.
This is a problem for “influencers,” for lack of a better term, in the independent media like me who would like to be the ones to shepherd their visions to fruition. That’s not entirely possible as a one-man mission. What is possible is to have an impact by injecting valuable ideas into the zeitgeist, at least within their necessarily narrow sphere of influence. Positive, meaningful change is only sustainable if it bubbles up organically in a bottom-up manner.
Forcing change through the seizure of the gears of power, on its own without a grassroots base of support with a strong sense of shared ideological commitment, is a losing battle because there will be no widely-held ideology that unifies a base of support for the political movement in the long run.
In the absence of popular support and involvement, the management of the project is then outsourced to a governing class that increasingly recognizes its own in-group interests, even interests that conflict with the ideology that justifies its power as well as in opposition to the interests of its governed population, whose interests they are tasked with prioritizing. Interests diverge, and then co-opting the project for ulterior motives is then much easier. George Orwell’s seminal work Animal Farm illustrates this phenomenon well. The same process of corruption and co-option occurs repeatedly, with only slight variations, throughout history.
The problem described plays itself out repeatedly, for instance, in Third World countries that are “democratized” when they do not have the cultural milieu, developed over centuries or millennia, that supports the concepts of democracy. There was never any local version of the Rennaisance or Enlightenment, no Magna Carta or comparable legal doctrine, and so the people don’t have a taste for democracy, beyond the extremely superficial, self-serving synopsis of Democracy™ presented to them by the likes of the UN.
The result, illustrated by history, is consistently not the sort of pluralistic, tolerant liberalism that Immanuel Kant promoted. Rather, the project of “democratization” in these instances almost always concludes in one of two ways: it devolves into tribal warfare (often literally) over ethnic or religious or other lines, or a strongman gets into power and an oppressive state apparatus takes over.
The same problem might be seen with communism. For Karl Marx, the state was a means to an end to establish the proletariat revolution that would govern in perpetuity by and for the workers. But it has never, ever ended that way — not in Russia, not in Vietnam, not in Cuba — because the state gets into power in the name of the worker, the political class in charge of directing the revolution gets a taste of power, likes how it feels, and commits to remain in power forever, usually genociding their own populations that resist in the process.
One of the issues, perhaps among many, is that the Communist rank-and-file, preoccupied with work and largely illiterate, did not truly understand the doctrine espoused in their name. They had never read Karl Marx, and what they had read of him was filtered through the perspective of handpicked academic elites serving as the state intelligentsia. There was no shared ideological vision. Ambitious men with a lust for power took over, and the ideologically-based commitment among the people to safeguard the revolution did not exist to push back.
This isn’t to say that just any shared ideological vision of any sort is the end-all-be-all or even necessarily a good thing. History of full of poisonous ideologies that spurred morally repugnant phenomena like the Cambodian Killing Fields in their name.
But, beyond the nuts and bolts of realpolitik, ideology — including where it comes from and whose interests it serves — matters a great deal to political outcomes.