Every now and then an email comes my way warning about the day when the government unleashes the military against its own citizens. This day isn't likely to come because for one thing the current regime is not particularly fond of the military.
If Obama has to have any kind of military, he prefers the kind where young men with college degrees sit in a room, push buttons and kill people thousands of miles away from remotely controlled aircraft. That kind of military is a closer cultural fit with a campaign that is in love with technocratic solutions and always looking for shortcuts to avoid the dangerous and dirty hard work that has to be done. It's also much less dangerous.
Unleashing the military on a civilian population carries a price. Once you call out the troops to protect your regime, one of two things happen. Either the troops don't do it and your government is done. Or they do it and your regime now lives or dies by the support of the military. Within the last few years the use of the military in Egypt and Iran turned generals into the arbiters of political succession. To the left, the idea of the people they despise deciding who should run the country and how is their biggest nightmare. It is one reason that we still have a democracy.
The more that a country depends on its military, the more likely it is to be run by the military. After the United States kept the Union together through a civil war, the first elected President after Lincoln was General Ulysses S Grant, the man credited by many with winning the war. His successor, Rutherford B. Hayes was a another general and a Civil War hero. As was Hayes' successor, James A. Garfield and his successor, Chester A. Arthur. Democratic draft dodger Grover Cleveland briefly broke the pattern, but then the Republicans were back with Benjamin Harrison. From 1869 to 1893, America was ruled by the Republican victors of the war who had at one time been able to put the title of general in front of their name. And that's in a democracy.
Popular wars have led to generals becoming presidents. The Revolutionary War gave us Washington. The War of 1812 gave us Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor. The Spanish-American War gave us Teddy Roosevelt, though he was only a Colonel. WW2 gave us Eisenhower. The Gulf War nearly gave us Colin Powell. The current war may yet give us Petraeus. But the Civil War gave us the largest amount of generals in the White House because it was an internal conflict.
Israel, another democracy which is heavily dependent on the military, has seated three generals in the Prime Minister's chair since the 1990's and far more who are involved in politics. The leader of the opposition is a general and there are five generals in Netanyahu's cabinet. This is a direct result of the elevation of the importance of the military as an institution. The more important the military is to the welfare of the country, the likelier it is to become a career track to prominent positions in the business world and in politics. And that's in a democracy. Imagine the situation in a dictatorship that depends on the military to stay in power.
The Soviet Union did not depend on the Red Army, it did depend on the secret police. And the KGB took over. The KGB nearly seized power after Stalin's death and had to be suppressed by the Red Army. In 1982, power fell to an actual KGB Chairman. Today Russia is run by former KGB officers, including a fellow by the name of Vladimir Putin.
In a human body the part that is used the most is the part that develops. So too in a government. When a government relies on the military or the secret police, then those bodies will eventually become the government. But our governments are not all that dependent on the military. They don't rule through troops in the streets, but through bureaucrats in government offices.
Most people don't do things because they are forced to at the point of a gun, but because they have learned to follow regulations and to accept those regulations as second nature. Military planners may run through scenarios for suppressing a Tea Party uprising, but the people who actually run the country know that all they have to do is issue a bulletin and most people will go along with it.
Our dictatorship doesn't depend on men with guns, but men with pens and pocket protectors. Men who fill out forms all day and who know where our permanent record is. Our rule is under the empire of data. We are less worried about informers and more worried that a form that we filled out wasn't done the right way or was lost along the way. The American headquarters of the KGB isn't in a law enforcement building, it's in the EPA and the IRS and a thousand other bureaucratic institutions.
This is the kind of tyranny that the left understands and loves. A fully unionized and unarmed network of bureaucrats enforcing a constantly changing clothesline of rules whose full scope no one knows or understands. This is the tyranny of the byzantine, the chain of complexity and the power of baffling the citizen into submission with an incomprehensible system.
The system we live under is exactly the kind that bearded graduates debating dialectical materialism would build. A horrible Kafkaesque monster that few rebel against because few understand it or are capable of calculating the personal risks to them from the actions of the system. It does not require troops, only some police officers, and their task is less that of suppressing dissent and more of managing the disastrous social consequences of the system.
If this system were ever forced to resort to armed force to stay in power, it would have to undergo some fundamental changes. And that isn't likely to be in the cards. Bureaucracy is a virus, it depends not so much on who is in power, but on being the ones who run things for whoever is in power. Whether Bush or Obama are looking out of the Oval Office, the men and women who interpret their policies in line with the existing agenda are the ones who actually run the country.
The grand show of the American government with its presidents and senators, its elegant domes and assorted rituals, is a facade for the true power of a shadow government of committee meetings and think tanks who shape an agenda and then inject into organizations and associations of government workers who turn it into institutional policy long before the legislatures, governors and presidents have taken a single step.
If the people running this thing have to call out the military to enforce its latest round of EPA orders, health care mandates and affirmative action orders, then the system will not change that drastically. At least not outwardly. The number of generals running things however will increase and the kinds of people running things now, the smooth Ivy League grads who have never done anything harder than wait tables over summer break in their lives, will find themselves taking orders.
The revolution of the left will be over, not immediately, not overtly, but gradually the system of indirect power that the left has worked so hard to build will become something else. Behind the scenes the system will no longer have the same priorities. The Soviet Union stopped being Communist long before it fell. Had the generals overthrown Hitler, the Third Reich would have reverted back to a more conventional Prussian military dictatorship, even if the soldiers still marched under Swastikas. An America in which the power of the left is dependent on troops in the streets will mean their own defeat. And they know it.