The parent coup
"Actions that make future victories easier are productive actions."
Politics is limited war, and there is a simple standard for the success of any action in war. Does that action leave the actor’s relative position stronger, or weaker?
The story of war is the story of counterproductive action, from the Sicilian Expedition to Pickett’s charge. Not making mistakes is not all of warfare, just most of it.
An action that makes the actor stronger is productive; weaker, counterproductive. The definition of victory is that victory improves the balance of power against the enemy.
Strength is defined as the probability of victory in future contests. One simple if local test of strength is whether the same action, repeated, would be more or less likely to work. This test can give false negatives, but any negative is a red flag.
Again, actions that make future victories easier are productive actions. Actions that make future victories harder are counterproductive actions. Total victory results in total sovereignty, which is maximum strength—by definition, all conflicts between sovereigns and nonsovereigns are victories for the former.
Note that this test assumes that the only legitimate purpose of conflict is total victory—as opposed to, say, the capture of land or property. Most Americans do not yet see their political system in these terms, though more and more are getting there.
Most Americans see the purpose of legitimate engagement with politics in terms of an impact on the policies of government. This represents an outdated understanding of the nature of the modern state. Once voters correct this misunderstanding, they will learn to engage only in terms of the structures of government.
In practice, these structures are not manageable—political pressure, whether from politicians or from voters, will not shift them very much. Legal scholars call this system the administrative state; rednecks and boomers call it the Deep State; there is not very much difference.
It is immunized by law against the executive branch, and is deeply integrated with staffers in the legislative branch. Its quasi-judicial character makes it a favorite of the judiciary, whose life tenure is at least constitutional.
And this applies only to government agencies. Most of the powerful institutions in the country are nonprofits or media companies—both accountable to no one below God.
Since these institutions cannot be commanded, success can only consist of damaging them. Nor is any damage sufficient. It must be damage that improves the balance of power between the old structures and their new replacement.
The trivial answer is a one-step coup which exerts absolute executive authority over all institutions in the nation—as absolute as the winning Allies over the Nazi regime, or the winning Taliban over our satellite regime. After any such coup, the balance of power is fully inverted; there is no more balance of power; the old regime is history.
Everyone wants more intermediate actions. But just as there is no such thing as a partial satellite launch, the partial coup is hard to design. It has to involve capturing some position whose possession is not only hard to reverse, but grants increased strength in future conflicts.
These kinds of actions are often hard to find. Damaging a regime without destroying it often stimulates it to greater health and energy, and always turns its full energy on the source of damage, which has to be as invulnerable as possible. What strongpoints of the enemy can we take?
And if this gain of function comes with a tangible benefit, all the better. But the goal is not the benefit—the goal is the capture of power, even just incremental capture. While incremental capture of power is not easy to design, nor is it impossible.
Let’s focus on one possible angle of attack: public schools.
Critical race theory in the public schools
Consider the present-day campaign against “critical race theory.”
This campaign has been wonderfully successful by the conventional standards of politics. For example, it has passed laws in all 57 states banning the teaching of something called “critical race theory.”
There actually used to be such a thing as critical race theory. Once noticed, it ceased to exist. One might as well ban the teaching of communism, or feminism, or any other ism. If the structure wants to teach it, the structure will teach it—if needed, with an absurd scissored-out hole that only mocks the censor and delights the young.
Many of our 57 states have laws on the books against communism in the schools, homosexuality in the schools, etc. That these laws (now deader than Caesar’s ghost, and scarcely ever more alive) were demanded, proved that they were already futile.
How would anyone find this tool—the banning of some list of labeled ideas—to be an effective weapon of culture war? After this law is passed in Arkantexas, or wherever, will the Arkantexan schools be more likely to turn out little Republicans and not little Democrats? So long as the teachers are all Democrats, it would appear most doubtful.
Moreover, this style of action makes the most delicious possible propaganda for the institutions, who get to be “censored” in ways that do not harm them at all, but make them look like they are under attack—pulling their followers closer. Those so-called defenders of free speech have been lured onto the stage, where under the lights they are seen banning ideas. What rascals and hypocrites! We must fight them even harder.
So the net power gain of this action, for the actors, is negligible; and the net power gain, for the actors’ enemies, is considerable. The action is counterproductive: a trap.
And yet the energy behind this movement is impressive. Is there any way to convert it into a genuinely effective action?
From voice to exit to reset
One of the few concretely effective structural efforts of the last generation has been the drive for charter schools and school vouchers.
But this exit drive had a fundamentally defensive quality which was proper in its day, yet no longer seems appropriate to the current historical moment. It remains more effective than banning doctrines by label, which is both defensive and ineffectual—though at least that voice strategy complies with the default narrative of democracy.
The exit strategy is at least coherent. Exiting says that the labels are not the problem, and nor are these outrageous, deranged doctrines. They are symptoms of the problem. The problem is whoever decided to teach them. The problem is the institution itself. This institution shows no evidence of being curable, so we must exit it.
But why should we have to exit it? It is our institution, after all. Even if it is not legally part of the government, its mission is to serve the public. And an implicit aspect of any mission to serve the public is that any institution which is no longer serving the public must be either reformed or reset—that is, reconstructed from first principles.
Let us therefore design a democratic weapon with some actual teeth.
The question of education
Suppose a school your child is in is teaching some doctrine you abhor—critical race theory, or evolution, or racism, or Islam. Your first thought is to enjoin them from doing so.
Your second thought is that no such injunction can be enforced or defended, and will prove nothing more than a useful point of attack for your enemies. Look at these rubes who are banning books and ideas! Didn’t that go out with Tipper Gore and the Scopes Monkey Trial? Maybe stop hitting the fentanyl moonshine, rubes…
Your third thought is that the wrongful intent in this case is the intent by some third party or power to train your children to disagree with you. Not only is this a personal violation that threatens your family, collectively it is a violation of your culture’s right to perpetuate itself across generations—which in fact fits Raphael Lemkin’s original definition of “genocide,” though this word is now too loaded to use. I will assert till my dying breath that even rubes have the divine right to raise their children as rubes, so long as their rube communities can live in harmony with all other communities.
A community should control its own schools because it has the right to perpetuate its beliefs and traditions. This was the original purpose of an elected school board, but this purpose has been completely vitiated by the many strings of real power that now bypass these antiquated and wooden political formalities.
To be effective, this body politic must be reforged and wielded to attack, not defend. Here is a straightforward way to accomplish this.