Regime Politics, Modern Politics
Let me begin with the assertion that modernity began as an attempt to replace regimes with governments. Regime politics, as Machiavelli makes crystal clear, require or facilitate what Machiavelli called “inhuman cruelty.” Regimes, which are dedicated to seeking domination, depend upon such cruelty. But while Machiavelli called attention to this phenomenon, he rejected such politics, seeking to replace regimes with “states,” or “nation-states” that would be “governed,” that is, managed by administrators or officials rather than ruled by leaders or groups who sought domination. The virtues or commitments required to create such regimes would be replaced by bourgeois virtues, by “law and order,” by “limited government,” “a government of laws, not of men,” and generally virtue would come to be understood as “civility,” as in asserting one’s “civil rights,” preferably in courts of law.
“For forms of government, let fools contest; that which is best administered is best.” So claimed Alexander Pope, as quoted in the Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton. Regime politics, that is, democratic politics, oligarchic politics, aristocratic politics, and monarchical politics all seek to politicize psyches or souls, to penetrate psyches or souls; whereas governments seek to merely administer or manage human beings, primarily by way of institutional arrangements that deflect or channel the passions, especially the passion to dominate, that characterize politicized human beings.
The Third Reich wasn’t a modern phenomenon; it was an attempt at politicizing Germany, Europe, and even the world. It was illustrative of regime politics, being fed by the desire to dominate, a domination fueled by racial supremacy. To the extent that the United States is controlled by what may be called “a triumphant nationalism,” it too seeks to dominate the world by penetrating psyches or souls, by “winning hearts and minds,” as the current jargon puts it. “American exceptionalism” is merely a justification for US domination, for making America great. And like the Third Reich, the desire to dominate has led to a holocaust, to mass murder at least since the end of World War II and since 9/11. The US holocaust isn’t fueled by a desire for racial purity as was the Third Reich. But it is fueled by a desire for supremacy which, whether “white” or “multi-colored,” has led to the current American sponsored holocaust.
What to do? I don’t know. But what I do know is that we cannot go back to the Machiavellian option, or to the Enlightenment or “early modern” option. Government as administration has been overwhelmed by politicization, which insofar as Aristotle was correct in characterizing human beings as political animals shouldn’t be surprising. Insofar as “the fundamental things apply” – still – we need to accept that there is “no way out” of a political, a politicized world. In such a situation, the goal should not be greatness but rather goodness, a goal fueled not by the desire to dominate but rather by the desire not to do harm. As Socrates recommended and practiced, avoid being unjust, of doing injustice, insofar as possible. Be good; do no harm. For “the road to hell is paved with great intentions.”