Political Formula

Political Formula
Every regime needs a story to justify why they deserve to be in charge.

Every ruling class has a narrative which legitimates their rule. Political philosopher Gaetano Mosca refers to this narrative as the political formula.

What is a political formula?

A political formula is a narrative which justifies why the elite class has power. It is extremely easy to identify the formulas used by polities other than one’s own. Some examples include the medieval doctrine of the divine right of kings, the National Socialist belief in racial supremacy, the colonialist story of spreading civilization, or the Marxist eschatology of bringing about the communist utopia. All of these are myths which justify the rule of a small, organized minority over the majority.

However, as Mosca writes, it would be a mistake to believe “that political formulas are mere quackeries aptly invented to trick the masses into obedience.” Though myths, political formulas are not pure nonsense lest no one believes them; rather, they are grounded in the beliefs and identity of the people. A Hindu political formula could not function on a Muslim society; a Christian political formula could not function on an atheist society. The political formula must be particular to the character of the society. This aligns with Joseph de Maistre’s claim, a century earlier, that every population has the government they deserve.

Why do we need a political formula?

Mosca suggests that political formulas are necessary because “they answer a real need in man’s social nature; and this need, so universally felt, of governing and knowing that one is governed not on the basis of mere material or intellectual force, but on the basis of a moral principle, has beyond any doubt a practical and real importance.”

Men may be willing to comply with hard power for a while, but it is a precarious arrangement which requires the exertion of a lot of energy in order to be maintained. It would require far less direct control from those in power, as well as be much more satisfying for those being ruled, if the population willfully endorsed the existing ruling order. In this manner, a successful political formula is instrumental to a free and autonomous social order with high levels of unity and social trust.

What happens when the political formula changes?

Mosca argues that part of ensuring that the ruling class stays in power means being able to control the dominant social force. Some examples of social forces are religion, commerce, military, and media. There are two reasons why a political formula can change: (1) either the dominant social force changes and the existing regime is too sclerotic to adapt or (2) there is widespread skepticism of the existing political formula. These two processes are not mutually exclusive, and both will lead to the corrosion and disintegration of the existing social order. As an example, during The Enlightenment, there was a development of autonomous, supranational financial interests which could not be controlled by existing institutions as well as a spreading skepticism towards the Christian faith and the authority of monarchs. The constant shifting of which social forces are dominant as well as the deconstruction of hegemonic political formulas contributes to the circulation of elites and the inevitability of cyclical history.

Political formulas in the 21st century

A confluence of multiple narratives helps to perpetuate control of the existing ruling class. Often seeing the mythological nature of one’s own political formulas is far more difficult than identifying the exaggeration and downright absurdity invoked by the formulas of other countries.

One political formula employed today is the will of the people. The people vote, and in doing so, they delegate authority to their elected representatives. Never mind that many decision-makers in Washington are utterly unaccountable to the electoral process, that incumbency rates in Congress are North of 90%, or that public opinion has anywhere between little and negative correlation with which policies get passed. Voting is a religious ritual which legitimates those in power. One thing that makes democracy (as well as communism) a particularly powerful political formula is that it pretends to give people power, which makes them more eager to affirm the regime.

Another formula is that of managerial expertise or meritocracy. According to this formula, the best people rise to the top of the hierarchy, and therefore the people in charge are more knowledgeable than you and thus have a right to rule. Often, this formula will come into conflict with that of the will of the people (as seen during the Covid lockdowns); this raises an interesting question, exemplified a century ago by Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto and embodied now today by Auron MacIntyre and Neema Parvini: to what extent does the ruling class believes their own political formulas? Mosca and MacIntyre argue that they do, while Pareto and Parvini argue that the ruling class is purely Machiavellian in their machinations.

A third narrative which justifies power is that of America’s position of being the world police or spreading democracy. This message is often associated with neoconservatives and contrasted with the progressive message of the Civil Rights Movement, although Paul Gottfried identifies these as two sides of the same narrative coin that is the binding myth of anti-fascism. According to Gottfried, these two narratives collaborate to shut out any socially conservative or nationalist dissent and enforce a global, progressive order. This formula suggests that America and its allies are the beacon of moral and social progress on the world stage.

This all raises the question of what could be the new political formula for a movement which seeks to replace rather than merely reform the existing ruling class. Parvini, drawing on Jonathan Bowden, has suggested a message of “clear them out,” in order to unify dissidents and draw attention to the ultimate goal of capturing authority and arresting it away from those who currently hold it. Curtis Yarvin has suggested the Latin phrase “Salus populi suprema lex,” (the health of the people is the supreme law), to draw attention to the need for pragmatic and non-ideological policies which serve one’s constituents. Many other proposals have been offered such as the Burkean social contract between generations to pass on tradition and care for one’s posterity or the reaffirmation of the Great Chain of Being, wherein everyone has an established and valuable position in a hierarchical cosmic order.

Further reading:

The Machiavellians by James Burnham
The Ruling Class by Gaetano Mosca
The Populist Delusion by Neema Parvini
Antifascism: The Course of a Crusade by Paul Gottfried
The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy by Christopher Lasch
Policies of the deep right” by Curtis Yarvin
Heroin liberals and cocaine conservatives” by Curtis Yarvin