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Empire — Eternal Suspension of Disbelief

The essence of empire is self-deception. Imperial metamorphosis imposes a prolonged cognitive dissonance in political consciousness: The rocky transformation from republican to imperial constitution requires a collective suspension of disbelief.

And the reason why?

In Rome — where kingship was the ultimate taboo — the idea of a People’s Republic was essential to national identity. Hence, moving Rome away from a citizen-state, and toward an executive-centric order necessitated an overarching political dispensation: Meaning, for empire to work, it required a constitutional suspension of disbelief:

"See? The Republic still stands in all its glory! Nothing has changed. Indeed it is stronger."

How is this declaration defended, let alone believed, in the face of a successor constitutional order in which the executive office has become the center of authority and the source of legitimacy?

When Augustus became chief executive of Rome he refused "a kingly crown" as well as the office of Dictator — a strictly emergency command — which has lost all authority in the civil wars at the end of the republic. He served as consul a number of times, yet then stood down, and let competing nobles assume the office, just as in the old republic. Instead he took tribunican power (tribunica potestatis) in perpetuity, plus the authority of governor of the provinces (proconsular imperium), plus the religious authority of chief priest (pontifex maximus), and of course, commander-in-chief (imperator). These powers intersected, and made Augustus master of Rome — without disturbing any of the official and ritual institutions of the republican constitution.

As referenced in Bullet 1 below, my sense is that Blue's legislative initiatives are designed to give them the power to transform the American constitutional system in Augustan fashion. HR.1 and HR.4 would give Blue leverage over national elections. An enlarged supreme court would reliably rule in favor of such strategic leverage, while new legislation might expand voting rights to include all "American persons”

Extending surveillance to all Americans (with the assistance of the Tech Dukes), combined with a domestic PATRIOT Act, would not take long to snuff out Red populism, while instilling an abiding self-censorship regime across social media.

Like Augustus, the fully imperial president would govern in consultation with the Senate, the military, the Deep State, and the corporate princes (or dukes). Ruling through executive orders and regulations would avoid congressional obstacles (were Red ever again to elect a majority!).

Amusingly, we are quite close to an imperial constitutional order today. Like the early days of Augustus' tenure, there were large factions of nobiles and optimates, well-represented in the Senate, ready to move against him. This situation is analogous to the position of Red today, however... Augustus could rouse the people of Rome to support him, while half of America's populares are dead set to overthrow Blue power. But then again, Augustus had the army, and Blue today also has military allegiance locked up.

Yet what was true from the beginning for Imperial Rome is also true for America today: an elite-ruled, even oligarchic society cannot ever harmonize its competing power factions. Indeed, empire is much more at the mercy of elite power struggles and Coup d'état. Why?

First, Rome’s republican constitution had checks and balances, much as the United States — and was hard-wired for citizen participation at every level of governance. All legislative action was public, and thus, transparent.

In dark contrast, the imperial Roman state was wholly occluded. What was actually going on in the palace, or in the great legionnary encampments on the Rhine, or in the magnificent, slave-tended villas of billionaire (in sesterces, that is!) Senators? Is the substance of American politics any different now, 21 centuries later?

Second, a key element of this transformation is leadership abdication by elites, as they detach themselves from the people. Going further (as mentioned earlier) this entails dissolving the people-leadership bond throughout the national community. Elites become more sealed into their protected bubbles, and look to the Princeps to protect them from the people.

Furthermore, the emergence of “stiff ceremonial structures” across the political realm becomes in many ways a replacement for actual politics, in which both people and elites were formerly engaged. Replacement ceremonial instead substitutes submissive rituals in place of authentic participation, and politics becomes a visually orchestrated pageant that is wholly controlled by the regime (as we saw so extravagantly and so cynically after November 2020). The people’s will now echoes like the lamentation of a Greek chorus in Euripides.

Finally, just because the politics of the state is now in elite hands only does not mean that the endless competition and conflict inherent in politics goes away. Not by any means. In empire, elite factions are constantly locked in struggle. There are those surrounding the emperor who seek to defend his regime and those that lobby ceaselessly to replace him, or at least redirect the agenda and spoils of imperial power.

Hence, empire exacerbates rather than solves the problem of legitimate succession. Sure, the people (or the submissive moiety of them — while the other half is suppressed) can now be electorally harnessed, yet the power struggles between elite factions only grow and cannot easily be accommodated in the politics of a ceremonial constitution. In a working republic, power struggles are resolved and succession is achieved through the ruling framework of the Constitution itself.

In empire, however, only the outward and ritual forms of legitimation are required to achieve succession. This means that internal struggles favor conspiracy and Coup d'état, inasmuch as there is no longer an agreed, rules' based protocol to adjudicate. Hence, you (faction or coalition) seize power, and then satisfy the ritual forms.

The Future?

So what will America’s imperial succession come to look like (that is, its new de facto constitutional order)?

1) Quadrennial civil war (whether or not it veers into open combat)

2) Continual threat and opportunity for “intra-quadrennial” coup d’état, attendant on any significant Imperial misstep — for example, the strategic consequences of our current Afghan débâcle — or manufactured “high crimes” — à la “Russiagate.”

3) Ever-oscillating discrimination against, and proscription of, the faction out of power (à la, post-1/06 “white extremism”)

4) Weak and inconsistent of America’s world presentation and position, paired to a strategic slide.

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