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.
Foxes are clever, crafty, and nimble. They are very skilled at the manipulation and combinations of ideas. Ruling elites of the fox disposition are always seeking new knowledge, new ways to approach a situation, and new tools to address the issues that a society might face. They encourage society to take risks, embrace new technologies, build new institutions, and expand their horizons. The foxes may be interested in new institutions, but they're not overly attached to existing ones. They are happy to combine, rearrange, or completely replace without worrying about conservation or consequences. These are the leaders that transform economic systems or transition a civilization from one form of production to another. Foxes tend to be intellectuals, businessmen, media figures, and those classes that generally benefit from the manipulation of ideas and data.
When a civilization is in its infancy, lions dominate. A new tribe or nation must fight for its existence, defining itself and securing control of its borders. New civilizations are constantly addressing the kinds of challenges for which lions are best suited. Lions lead the civilization as the people seek physical security. They are highly capable when it comes to bringing order inside the borders of the state. If crime has risen to unacceptable levels or political unrest has turned violent, the people look to lions to correct the problem. The ruling class is usually dominated by lions when the nation is frequently at war, or at least wars that pose existential threats to the survival of the civilization. The leadership of lions is also very valuable in expansionist phases where exploration, colonization, or wars of acquisition are required.
As societies become more complex and the problems they face become more abstract, foxes tend to dominate. Once physical safety has become less of a day to day struggle and security can be expected in most circumstances, civilizational structure can become more sophisticated. The option for specialization and expertise emerges which only compounds the growth of complex and interdependent networks inside the civilization. The need for overwhelming physical force as a solution to the problems facing the nation wanes, and the demand for the manipulation and combination of sophisticated ideas rises significantly. Large-scale coordination requires new forms of organization, mass communication, and intricate economic instruments, areas in which foxes excel.
While these traits are distinct and useful to understand, it is important to acknowledge that no ruling class is composed of all foxes or all lions. Pareto notes that it is important to have a mix of both types of leaders in your ruling elite at all stages, and Machiavelli suggests that it is important for individual leaders to have a healthy mix of both of these spirits. When we discuss the tendencies of these groups remember that they are still made up of individuals who are making decisions. We can see shared interests and trends that will unlock insights about the nature of a ruling elite, but individuals can still act outside of or completely disrupt these stereotypes. Julius Caesar was a brilliant military leader who also possessed a unique gift for politics and manipulation. The great men of history can often radically shift the elite paradigm of power and remake it in their image, at least for a time.
When a society is ruled predominantly through physical force, you can be sure that lions dominate. With our very modern aversion to overt force we may automatically see this as the worst option, but that is not necessarily the case. Whether we are comfortable admitting the fact or not, all societies are implicitly governed by the threat of force. Peaceful navigation of the social hierarchy can only occur once violence has been removed as an option, and violence is only removed as an option when one individual or class of individuals has gained a monopoly over it. As Robert Heinlein famously put it in his novel Starship Troopers, “Force, my friends, is violence. The supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived.” Those that forget this basic truth always pay dearly. Once the question of force has been decided, more abstract goods can be addressed but make no mistake, until peace has been secured through a monopoly on violence, no higher functions of society can be addressed. Even societies dominated by crafty foxes still rest ultimately on the monopoly on force, even if that power is obfuscated by many layers of abstraction and rarely used.
While no one enjoys being ruled by the regular application of direct force, this is not usually necessary. Lion’s are adept at the application of force so when it is utilized it tends to be swift, targeted, and effective. This is why lions are generally valued in areas like law and order where the consistent and efficient application of force yields more reliable results than clever manipulation. The talent of lions for keeping a stricter hold on order is also more valuable when a civilization is consistently facing existential threats from outside its borders. Nations that are engaged in a life or death struggle with foreign powers do not have the luxury of being tolerant of rampant criminal behavior at home. They also tend to value the reliable production of a large and competent martial caste which tends to accompany rule by lions.
While the rule of lions has obvious advantages it also tends to have hard limits. As the problems that civilizations face become more complex and abstract, the effective application of force, as valuable as it might be, becomes a less reliable solution. As the nation becomes more powerful and subdues a large portion of its nearby enemies, it is no longer in immediate need of a large and highly competent martial cast. Its problems tend to become issues of scale and exchange, more likely to be solved by the clever manipulation of existing systems or the creation of entirely new ones. When security ceases to be the central concern of a civilization, increasing coordination and facilitating the generation of surplus starts to take precedence. The foxes' natural inclination to hold traditions loosely and instead seek out new approaches, alongside their skill at creating new concepts through manipulation, gradually leads them to dominate the ruling class of societies undergoing this shift.
While foxes still rely on the implicit threat of force, they are neither skilled at or comfortable with its regular application. This does not mean, however, that foxes do not need a way to bend the population to their will. All ruling classes need a way to guide the behavior of the masses, this is of course what makes them the rulers. The lack of competent displays of force by the foxes does not mean that the people are free of elite influence, it simply means that different forms of influence are being utilized.
Foxes, being adept at manipulation and combination of ideas and systems, tend to rule through deceit. Just as no ruling class maintains control without a monopoly on force, no ruling class stays in power without a political formula, an ideological justification for their position. Due to their lack of raw displays of force, foxes tend to lean heavily on the manipulation of systems, along with the subtle control of information and data, to maintain order. Advanced civilizations require foxes to operate the complex systems on which that civilization is dependent, and this expertise factors heavily into their political formula. While the control foxes exert through the manipulation of systems and information may not be as immediately striking as open displays of violence, it is just as capable of becoming totalitarian and reaching into every aspect of the lives of the people.
Most of the totalitarian regimes of the last century have understood the importance of controlling information and shaping the narrative that legitimates their power. In places like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia this control was achieved through obvious propaganda, but was also delivered through the brutal application of force and this is what we generally default to when we think of a total state. Western liberal democracies may have forgone the regular displays of violence, but they also understood the essential nature of narrative control, especially after the age of mass media and mass production. As we noted in chapter one, journalist Walter Lippman made the case that the public must be manipulated by the media and other elite opinion makers so that they do not vote for foolish or disastrous things almost 100 years ago, and that lesson was taken to heart. Mass media is a powerful tool for shaping the beliefs of the nation, and good liberals like Lippman understood it as their duty to guide popular sovereignty to the correct conclusions using the power of the press. The Cathedral, which serves as the decentralized consensus manufacturing apparatus for the United States and the wider western world, has proven a far more effective and durable version of mass narrative control. While the Nazis and Soviets achieved ideological hegemony in a far more immediate fashion, their rule also proved far more brittle. The tight grip of the lions in those societies drove them to collapse, but in the liberal West foxes used a gradual approach that proved more resilient.
Despite the lack of gulags or internment camps, people in liberal democracies are increasingly terrified to speak their minds. In Orwell’s 1984 the public enemy is subjected to two minutes of hate, but in modern western regimes the human sacrifice can go on much longer. An errant word on social media or an awkward interaction at work can end a person’s career and make them the target of a public hatred campaign that will strip them of friends and family. The progressive outrage machine combs through every human interaction seeking any individual guilty of wrongthink that it can devour in order to feed its endless appetite. The impressive part is that the machine trains the population to do most of the monitoring and policing for it.
Punishing dissent in traditionally totalitarian societies may be effective but it also tends to be messy and draws attention directly to its source. If a regime plans to cart dissidents off to an internment camp and execute them, that will probably deter people from publicly questioning the regime, but the downsides are obvious. The constant need to apply brutal violence is jarring and tends to wear on the populace, the logistics are a nightmare, and worst of all for those in power, the chain of accountability is clear. The guys showing up with guns, carting them away, and executing them are clearly working on behalf of the state. The person ordering them to take such action is clearly responsible for what took place. If the people ever decide to rise up and hold someone accountable, they know exactly who to blame.
The fox’s approach to totalitarian social control is much slower and requires far more patience, but it has many advantages. While the Cathedral is constantly advancing progressive ideology through educational, cultural, and corporate institutions, its decentralized nature makes it far more difficult to pinpoint the source of the totalitarian dogma. The ideological dictates feel far more organic because they accumulate slowly and seem to emerge from the normal processes of the institutions around the citizen rather than being directly issued from an official organ of the state. The subtle manipulation of the procedures that dictate the behavior of modern bureaucratic organization is a skill easily mastered by a fox-style elite. By making a nameless, faceless, ever-shifting process the agent of totalitarian oppression, rulers can obfuscate the source of power and how it is actually applied. It is almost impossible to hold a process accountable, especially when the mechanisms of that procedure are easily manipulated by an unspecified ruling elite.
Democracy is also a useful tool for an elite interested in implementing soft totalitarianism without being held accountable. The idea of popular sovereignty conditions people to believe the masses select their leaders and hold them accountable. This means that while an individual might be able to identify a leader that they disagree with, that leader is only one of many involved in a complicated process, and is not ultimately responsible for the overall situation. Even if that leader could be singled out as the cause of totalitarian action, it is ultimately the duty of the citizens to select or replace that leader and hold them accountable. When elections ultimately fail to restrict the power of government or remove undesirable leaders it is the nameless mass of opposing voters, and not an individual leader, who is to blame. The ruling elite are, in theory, simply the servants of the people, and if only those red/blue state voters were not so evil/stupid, then the system would work correctly. The system is carefully crafted to restrain government power and hold leaders accountable, so if government power is growing and totalitarian leaders are not removed then it is the people who are to blame, not the leaders and certainly not the system.
The abuse of the public/private distinction has also been key to the implementation of soft totalitarianism by the foxes, particularly in the United States. American citizens are taught at a very young age that the government is constrained by the mechanisms of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but that these restrictions do not apply to private organizations. The emphasis on the need to restrain formal government power is understandable given the country’s origins, but the idea that the power of the state and private entities is completely separable is a mistake. As we discussed earlier, the power of the Cathedral comes from its ability to coordinate actions across multiple key organizations, both public and private. The Pentagon, The New York Times, Harvard, Facebook, and Apple all have very similar opinions on an issue like the need to accept transgender lifestyles. All of them are eager to wield their influence to ensure that the public supports this endeavor despite only one of them being a formal government organization. Each of these influential institutions will fire someone from their employ for public disagreement. Most of them will actively seek the personal destruction of those outside of their immediate employ for public disagreement. This is commonly called “cancel culture” by its opponents, but this is terrible branding that hides the true exercise of power. By characterizing the public destruction of a wrongthinking individual as an aspect of culture, foxes are able to once again disperse the responsibility. There is no one individual to be held accountable, it is the culture at large that is to blame. No one can hold a culture accountable and changing an entire culture is a monumental task, and so once again the cost of this exercise of power for the foxes is completely dissipated.
The larger and more complex this network of social and economic infrastructure becomes, and the more reliant civilization is upon it, the more avenues the foxes gain to exercise totalitarianism without accountability. Once again the Covid pandemic provides exceptional examples of how soft power, with the aid of key technological advancements, can provide a level of reach that most dictators could only dream of. Before looking at how fox-style elites used Covid to exercise an insane level of power, one must understand the kind of technological and supply networks that are required to exist before this even becomes an option.
There must be a media apparatus so powerful and so omnipresent that it can make a nasty flu look like the black death. Social media and 24 hour news coverage must thrust a narrative of apocalyptic proportions in front of people who are mostly getting a mild cold and force them to believe it. Total social isolation helps, but this is still an impressively complex undertaking that requires sophisticated propaganda delivery techniques that had been thought previously unimaginable. Elites also need a supply chain capable of facilitating at-home work, education, entertainment, and food delivery if they want to maintain this illusion for an extended period of time. People who must regularly leave home to go to work, school or the grocery store will be less likely to buy the delusion. Without a populace who are already conditioned to consume a large amount of electronic entertainment, individuals will become restless and defy government dictates. Make no mistake, not everyone can sit at home. Much of the working class are still required to leave their home to keep the wheels of civilizations turning, but it is not about locking everyone down, it is about locking the right people down. An infrastructure built on Netflix, Amazon, DoorDash, and automated grocery curbside pickup allowed middle and upper class information-based workers to stay locked down without disturbing the most essential parts of their lifestyle. These are the people with the most social influence and the ones most capable of pushing back, so controlling them properly is essential.
Technology not only allows these essential classes to remain propagandized and locked down for an extended period of time, it also facilitates the large-scale management of dissent. Social media can identify medical experts willing to speak out against the narrative, censor them, and mark them for exile by the relevant professional organizations. The threat of constant video surveillance via the camera constantly present in the pocket of almost every human in the developed world assures large-scale compliance with requirements like mask mandates. An individual might find the need to wear a mask outside in public constantly ridiculous, but footage of an argument with an aggressive pro-mask stranger could ensure that the dissident is fired the next day. In some countries like Australia, regional governments created smartphone apps requiring individuals under quarantine to regularly take pictures of themselves and confirm their location to prove compliance. When truck drivers in Canada protested vaccine mandates by peacefully shutting down commerce, the government seized money donated to fund the demonstration and froze the bank accounts of those that contributed.
In the end, even with all of the technological advancements and financial manipulation, the application of force is sometimes necessary. The few Canadian truckers who endured everything and continued to protest were ultimately hauled off of a bridge in handcuffs after a healthy dose of state-administered violence. Footage of Australian police trampling protesters with horses and arresting families who dared to visit empty beaches or parks went viral on the internet. Despite allowing riots to rage for months across the United States during the pandemic, Washington DC was immediately put under what amounted to military occupation after a protest at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021 ended with participants entering the building and taking pictures. As reliant as foxes can become on propaganda and the procedural manipulation of systems, they will use force when soft power reaches its natural limits.
This application of force is usually treated as a last resort for a few reasons. Soft power is hard to see and harder to locate. The foxes that dominate the west today rely on the notion that their dictates are rational, organic, and largely voluntary to provide an illusion of liberty. Citizens are not being forced at gunpoint to comply with arbitrary government orders, they are being encouraged to follow the science through cultural and systemic incentives. The regular application of direct force has the undesirable effect of shattering that illusion and making it obvious that the individual is no longer participating in a voluntary association. A population who witnesses this kind of enforcement on a consistent basis may question a founding story predicated on the idea of liberty and individual rights.
The regular application of force is also usually avoided by foxes because they are bad at it. The judicious and effective use of violence is a skill like any other and it must be properly honed in order to be reliably deployed. As foxes become more confident in their station they tend to swap out the effective lions in their police and military forces for more compliant subordinates willing to play the games. A security force filled with ideological adherents may be better at reinforcing propaganda, but they tend to be much worse at actually achieving goals through violence. Achieving authority through violence is a tricky thing. If a government does it correctly it usually does not need to do it often, the consequences of disobedience are clear for all to see. If, however, the police or military attempt to stop a behavior with violence and they fail, the government loses legitimacy very quickly. A government without the monopoly on violence is no government at all, so if a ruling elite cannot win a physical confrontation it is best to manufacture an excuse for why the confrontation is unnecessary. Yes, that is a recipe for inevitable disaster, but fox-style elites who have to resort to physical violence on a regular basis are already living on borrowed time.
The creeping totalitarianism of the total state in America looks different than the previous examples of the last century because of the character of its leadership class. The slower more methodical approach of foxes proved to be more flexible and resilient than the aggressive application of centralized control by lions. It also scaled far more reliably, which as we will see, turned out to be a critical asset as the 20th century developed. This strategy proved more materially successful and benefited from the longevity provided by a populace who believed that the changes occurring in its society were organic and voluntary. The comparable stability of this system also came from the foxes’ talent for managing large bureaucracies, a factor we will be exploring in more depth in the following chapter.
"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. "
And yet we are bombarded by various psyops daily, intel agencies run our social media, and almost every ad and company is forced to insert political messaging into their brand/product by law.
At least in China you know what you can and can't say. Here in the West, that shifts yearly or even monthly. We are a Psyop State, something much more insidious and deadly imo.
Love your work! Very edifying.