Tyranny, being as endemic to the human condition as other similar privations of the human good such as ignorance, vice, or sickness, is as old as mankind. What may be new, however, is the uniquely intractable form of tyranny that is currently metastasizing throughout the world, namely the rule of an authoritarian plurality of societal parasites. Our next thousand years of darkness, if such be our fate, will begin under the governance of a “parasitocracy.”
The modern West has defied ancient wisdom on so many fronts, introducing new modes of existence and coexistence, spreading prosperity and promise in hitherto inconceivable measures, and overcoming the practical limits of time and distance in ways that would be as fantastical to our ancient ancestors’ imaginations as teleportation and hyperspace seem to ours. Yet it appears that Nature’s scales of justice must exact an equal measure of evil invention to balance our extreme bounty. So it is that late modern man has unearthed a new political arrangement, one that might have been impossible among the ancients, as it could have been born only of a civilization as broadly prosperous, liberal, and tolerant as ours.
I am not speaking of mere parasitism, the weakness of individual men who demand or cajole sustenance from others while contributing nothing in return. Rather, I am speaking of a systematic elevation of parasitism to the status of a ruling philosophy.
First, let us define our terms. By a “parasite” I do not mean merely an “unproductive” member of society. The two categories often overlap, but they are not identical. An unproductive person – i.e., someone whose activities contribute little of measurable value – is not necessarily parasitical. A friend recently reminded me of a lovely observation from Milan Kundera: “To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace.” Sitting with a dog, literally or figuratively, is essentially unproductive, but it harms no one, and perhaps even benefits others indirectly as a reminder of the spiritual life, and particularly of the fact that the value of an action cannot always be measured by its usefulness to other people – a lesson individualists would do well to keep in mind. (Propaganda against the “unproductive” is precisely the means to the death panels of socialized medicine, as collectivism assumes that a productive man’s value is exhausted when his contribution to “society” ceases.)
No, a social parasite is not, strictly speaking, a “loafer” or a “charity case.” Loafing is a man’s free choice; charity is yours. A parasite, on the other hand, is a person who demands – and what is more, who believes – that others must provide for him what he cannot provide, or chooses not to provide, for himself.
This more precise definition is no mere academic exercise. It reveals the subtleties of parasitism that have allowed it to evolve into the parasitocracy that has devoured most of the developed world. For it is now clear that being unproductive, though often true of parasites, is not their essence. What is essential is the parasite’s presumption that the productivity of others – their toil, time, and achievement – ought to be at his or her disposal.
This last point is not merely a restatement of old authoritarian dictums such as “Might makes right,” or “Justice is the advantage of the stronger.” In fact, the unstated premise of the parasite’s self-justification is quite the opposite: “Justice is the advantage of the weaker,” if you will. Tyrants in the old style were plunderers, and they knew they were plunderers. Plunder was their claim to fame, and their success at plunder all the argument they needed. Their case for continued dominance, insofar as they offered one, was typically that supporters would have a share in their master’s plunder, and perhaps be spared themselves. Their case, in other words, was based not on reason, but on greed and fear.
Two important implications follow from this. First, reason was left intact by power, even when excluded from the political process, which means reason – the individual mind, the source of understanding – was always, in theory, present on the periphery as tyranny’s archrival and greatest threat. Western civilization’s two most famous and influential deaths, those of Socrates and Jesus, were the unjust executions of men who spoke truth to power. To a very great extent, our civilization was defined by two men who, in death, dealt blows for the cause of the individual versus irrational authority that have resonated through the centuries. The upshot of this is that tyranny, in the broad sense in which the term was used through the Enlightenment, entailed oppressing the individual without denying his bare existence per se, which means without denying the individual mind.
Secondly, the modus operandi of traditional tyranny, plunder, leaves intact the principle it is knowingly violating, namely the idea of property. To plunder is to take by force what belongs to another man, and to do so knowingly, which presupposes an acceptance, albeit one distorted by power-lust, of the fact that what a man has earned, grown, or built, is his. To steal is to violate the principle of property, not to obliterate it. To anticipate slightly, we might contrast the traditional tyrant with the parasitocrat by observing that the former declares to his subjects, in effect, “You built that, and now I’m taking it,” while the latter says, literally, “You didn’t build that.”
And here we arrive at the matter of first principles. The elements of modern liberty – the deliberate elevation of practical reason in political philosophy, natural rights theory, the humble premise that all men are created equal, the rule of law, and so on – manifested themselves falteringly throughout the West over centuries. This unleashing of practical intelligence (of individual minds seeking preservation and property) initiated an unprecedented revolution in productive capacity, technological development, and material abundance. But this relatively sudden blossoming of new freedom and wealth, and specifically of wealth no longer anchored to ancestral social strata, opened the doors to a new, far more insidious brand of parasitism.
Growing material abundance and the heightened status of private property as a principle of government made parasitism more viable as a life’s pursuit, rather than a private household matter – now everyone, in theory, had something worth stealing. Representative government built on the premise of equality before the law naturally tended away from previous political arrangements that favored land owners, which, as Benjamin Franklin warned, meant that men of few means or fewer scruples now had the power to “vote themselves money” – that is, to exploit the naive sympathy or noble sentiments of an entire community, as their predecessors had done within a household. The new parasites were greatly assisted in this endeavor by the freedom of speech and assembly inherent in modern liberty, and the growing technological capacity to disseminate ideas broadly and quickly.
So the modern parasite engenders a mass political movement for parasitism, citing the newly created material abundance around him as evidence of injustice (unfairness). And just as the traditional, “private” parasite requires a rationalization for his behavior, consisting of excuses for his inactivity and sophistries to support his claim on the efforts of others, so the new, mass-movement parasite – modern liberty’s enhancement of the “drones” Socrates says hold sway in a democracy – requires a rationalization to support parasitism on a mass scale. That is, he requires a system.
Unlike the traditional tyrant, who left reason and the idea of property intact even while violating them, the rise of the parasites as a political faction gave birth to something quite different. We now face a systematic effort to unravel reason itself – to deny the metaphysical and moral primacy of individual minds – and to disabuse men of the idea of private property. The moral strictures against plunder, at least when it is pursued under the auspices of government, are no longer acknowledged.
From this modern parasitocratic need for a theoretical foundation on which to build the new mass movement of “plunder as justice” began the spiritual corruption of the modern world, and with it of mankind’s great moment of political liberty. Hence Marxist economic determinism, hence pragmatism’s assault on the efficacy of individual minds, hence Dewey’s advocacy of government schools as collectivist re-education camps.
Tragically, the various manifestations of the pseudo-philosophy of parasitism gradually swallowed most of academe, an institution that perhaps submitted to the rule of the parasitocrats more easily than most others, due to the inherent character weakness of the traditional scholar. The quiet, impractical pursuit of “pure knowledge” attracts men of intellect, but it also attracts men of excessive discomfort with the demands of the “real world” – decent men who, as the saying goes, prefer books to people. These men, who perhaps constituted the majority of the typical university faculty of the past, tend to harbor an unnaturally negative attitude about the non-academic forms of productive life. Distrusting or even fearing “ordinary people,” such scholars can be inordinately disdainful of the struggles and successes of practical men. When their world was infiltrated by the theoretical parasites – the socialists, the Marxists, the new advocates of absolute power – these bookish men remained passive, because all this real-world noise disturbed their tender equilibrium, because they found it all too boringly practical, or perhaps because they bore a vague sympathy with the idea of tearing down those who had succeeded in that noisy outside world they so disliked, and whose greater affluence they envied.
Thus the theoreticians of the parasitocracy, who are often the dark alter-egos of the quietly detached academics they seek to displace – men whose fear of the practical challenges of the “real world” has turned them not to bookish aloofness, but to hatred and a desire to destroy what they fear – successfully invaded the universities. Weak, unhappy men, this new breed of intellectuals, along with the careerist “scholars” who followed their bread crumbs, quickly rededicated modernity’s great benefactor, the humanities, to the task of contriving justifications for tearing down the successful and suffocating the individual. Reinterpreting the entire history of rationalism and the quest for freedom as, in effect, the story of men’s injustice towards those factions judged most likely to be won over by the demagogic charms of the rising parasitocracy, these new academics reversed the university’s traditional role as the heartland of intellectual integrity, free thinking, moral reasoning, and distrust of temporal power. Instead, they set the civilizational wheels in motion in the opposite direction: towards irrationalism, collectivism, the entitlement ethic, and submission to the whims of authority.
These intellectual parasites – sophists who preserved and promoted themselves by sucking the life out of a theoretical and moral tradition to which they lacked the character and skill to contribute positively – have fostered an ever-growing and increasingly brazen progeny. Collectively, these intellectuals and their spiritually deformed offspring constitute the parasitocracy. These are people who possess the normal human potential to fend for themselves, but who have willingly squandered that potential due to poor character, or bastardized their productive accomplishments with authoritarian overreach.
The parasitocracy includes the ignorant, idle, and lustful who, given the opportunity, will always eschew work and responsibility for ease and amusement. It includes economic titans who, unsatisfied with merely being social benefactors, dream of establishing a permanent stratification of society with themselves as the overseers. (Consider the leading American industrialists who lobbied for stricter compulsory government school laws, and financially supported Dewey’s progressive collectivist methods of retarding intellectual development. They knew exactly what they were supporting.) It includes the bureaucratic Iagos who weasel and flatter themselves into positions of political influence and then urge the expansion of government, in effect holding nations for ransom in the name of an indolent ego-gratification bordering on the criminally insane, in the manner of Woodrow Wilson’s closest advisor, Edward “Colonel” House, who wrote a utopian fantasy novel about a charismatic revolutionary who instigates a bloody civil war to wipe out the American republic in favor of a progressive authoritarian state. And it includes the career politicians, people who have lived a privileged life at the public’s expense for so long that they have lost all moral qualms about taking Franklin’s anticipation of the parasitocracy, “voting themselves money,” to levels inconceivable to any normal citizen-parasite.
Vainglory, which even the parasite possesses, leads these people to seek self-justification, not in their accomplishments and positive goals (if they ever had any), but in their self-serving belief that they have “seen through” the society based on skill and achievement, finding it false and unfair. Hence, they rationalize their plunder, whether of the idle and “entitled” or the power-mongering variety, as some kind of principled rebellion or benign paternalism, respectively.
A subculture of ne'er-do-wells, embittered control freaks, and glorified thugs, born in an atmosphere of great civilizational promise and upheaval, has, thanks to the unifying influence of subversive theorists and conscienceless politicians, transformed itself into today’s “superstructure.” This ruling philosophy’s defining goal, namely the overturning of every great victory of Western civilization in favor of its opposite, is nearly realized. Rationalism and the primacy of the individual soul have been discredited in favor of the German idealist dream of collective consciousness, leading to historical determinism and the belittlement of free will. Liberty based on a right to property rooted in self-ownership has evaporated in favor of coerced redistribution of every kind, right down to the redistribution of physical preservation, in the form of socialized medicine. Moral virtue as the practical means of living according to our nature has been laughed out of existence in favor of the subjectivist tyranny of desires unhinged from rational guidance. Personal effort applied, and success achieved, without the helping hand of government – the underlying premise of all of mankind’s attempts to establish practical and spiritual freedom on Earth – is so thoroughly antithetical to the spirit of the times that the leader of the so-called “free world” casually mocks such effort and success as a foolish delusion: “You didn’t build that.”
Perhaps you know someone who returned from an exotic vacation with a parasite that proved next to impossible to expunge from his body entirely. Modern civilization has taken its exotic vacation, in this case primarily to Germany, where a few tantalizing dishes turned up contaminated – the separation of reason from external reality, Prussian compulsory education, collective consciousness, economic determinism, nihilism in art, the cult of the “charismatic” personality in politics, Frankfurt-School poisoning of the humanities and social sciences. All of these served the interests of the parasites – the urge to destroy modern individualism, natural rights, and practical reason – and the parasitocracy has taken hold so firmly, and for so long, that its increasingly predatory mass has almost completely displaced the once healthy body on which it has slowly fed.
Now we have reached the penultimate stage of the process, history’s proverbial fork in the road, where modern man must choose his fate, whether the tentative beginnings of a recovery or the “dust to dust” moment from which a renewal of rational order would occur only after many generations of degradation and hardship.
The parasitocracy is unquestionably dominant. The question is whether the host’s vital organs are yet in a condition from which a recovery of health – preceded by an inevitable period of violent purgation – remains possible.
(This article originally appeared at American Thinker.)