Foxes, Lions, And The Total State

When people imagine a total state they usually envision a dystopian science fiction novel full of jackbooted thugs and gulags full of thought criminals. This is understandable as the total states of the early 20th century like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union prominently featured brutal violence and mass imprisonment as the main enforcement mechanisms of their totalitarianism. The close association of totalitarianism with violence in the popular consciousness can, however, mislead us into believing that a system without direct and omnipresent violent oppression is free. Many will point to the lack of prison camps or storm troopers in western nations like the United States, Australia, or Canada as evidence against the idea that we are approaching a total state. But books like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World should remind us that there is an entirely different form of power that can be used to manipulate and control a society. In contrast to the brutal force in George Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s dystopia relies more on scientific manipulation, indoctrination, and bureaucracy to control the population, but it is no less totalitarian. In this chapter we will examine the two main types of ruling elite, the different forms of power they wield, and how their character impacts the way in which they control the population.

In his book The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli suggests that rulers emulate two types of animals: Foxes and lions. Lions are strong and courageous, capable of fighting off wolves and protecting their pride, but they can easily be caught in a trap. Foxes are clever and cunning, able to maneuver out of difficult situations and avoid traps, but they have no hope in a direct fight with a pack of wolves. The political theorist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto would later expand on this aspect of Machiavelli’s work, describing the characteristics, attitudes, and motivations of what he called class one residues (foxes) and class two residues (lions). Pareto’s nomenclature of residues is particular to his much larger system of sociology, which is fascinating, but not necessarily germane to our topic. While we will be drawing heavily from Pareto’s work, we will keep Machiavelli’s classifications of fox and lion for the sake of simplicity.

Lions are strong, brave, patriotic, and courageous. They value order, and are naturally conservative, with a strong interest in preserving the tradition and forms of society. Ruling elites with a lion disposition generally invest in institutions that generate stability, perpetuate hierarchy, and communicate shared values to subsequent generations. They encourage the persistence of kin groups, recognize the existence and duties of different social classes, and value loyalty very highly. These leaders also tend to be responsible for the continuation of abstract ideas that define the society including those that are formally religious like gods or an organized church, as well as those that are informally religious such as the celebration of heroes and the noble dead who defended the nation. Ideas that are perpetuated as part of the civic religion like popular sovereignty or progress also fall into this category. Lions are generally found in the martial class, they are natural leaders who rise to the challenge when the situation calls for acts of bravery and skill in combat.


Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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