Tyranny

One of the needs served by societies is that ability to defer reward. The accumulation of wealth for later redemption not only enables us to improve our lot in life through dedicated application of our skills, it enables societies to pursue public works that create new opportunities for the creation of wealth, as well as ennobling the minds and spirits of the public.

Unfortunately, life is ephemeral in absolute terms. If it costs $500,000 to advance a child to a fully qualified majority, it costs less than $1000 to end that life. In any age, this simple calculus is the wellspring of tyranny. The wealth stored in a society is more than sufficient to destroy a good portion of its citizens. When placed in trust with an unscrupulous government, it becomes the means for manifesting the most horrifying criminal ambitions.

For that is the nature of tyranny: criminality on the grand scale, institutionalized within a government that was created to serve our needs. While the genocidal conduct of a Hitler or Stalin obviously fits the mold, by our definition we might also recognize evil in political manipulation. Power is denied when mud-slinging and unsubstantiated promises become the currency of political debate.

The power of mass media supports the projection of the leader's personality. The ruler or his image is frequently in the imaginings and dreams of his citizenry. Information technology enables the crafting of narrowly targeting mailings that promise different things to different people. Despite the impression of availability, layers of officialdom impede access to the ruler, and the public has little knowledge of his daily routine. The ruler becomes an abstract symbol, rather than a tangible personality.

Displacing a well-protected ruler is enormously difficult. Yet over time, their power does decay. No ruler can order the affairs of a nation in every detail. That requires the participation of engaged and constructive lieutenants. The very act of delivering services to the population, however, generates loyalty that can undermine public fealty to the despot. Productively engaged leaders are only tolerated for a limited time. To survive, the despot's retinue must master of the art of deflecting responsibility back onto the despot. Because no individual can address all the needs of a nation, the government becomes unresponsive.

Displacing a despotic regime may require generations. The ruler must be separated from involvement in the affairs of state, and institutions developed that can survive the interference of his or her intervention. In almost any age, a prerequisite is establishing a professional military that eschews political intervention.

The engagement of the United States in the Philippines is a classic example of facilitation of such a transformation through external intervention. The modern mechanism for professional military association is the distribution of sophisticated military technology, and subsequent training of a modern officer corps in the management and use of modern systems. The training is a suitable opportunity for indoctrination in modern philosophies regarding the relationship of the military to the state.

Unfortunately, in this model when things go wrong, they go terribly, terribly wrong. You are left with a despot in the possession of a modern military arsenal.