Politics is About Winning | Samuel Martin
History is earned. You win the day. And then you win the day after. And then you do the same thing every day until you’re dead. And you’re remembered not for the winning, but because you never lost.Frank Underwood
In the aftermath of the 2020 Presidential Election, Joe Biden proclaimed victory with a disgusting call for unity. “They are not our enemies. They’re Americans. This is the time to heal in America”. Such pleas are suspect when you’ve spent the last four years treating the other camp as enemies; deplorable Neo-Nazi maggots that need removing from society, etc. “Coming together as Americans” would be easier to do if a common American identity still existed; a concept that politicians like Biden have always felt uncomfortable talking about. Trump’s allegations of election fraud have caused outrage, but why should they? Given that his opponents have convinced themselves he’s a tyrant comparable to Hitler or Mussolini, why wouldn’t they do everything they could to remove him from office? Democracy cannot sustain itself if it allows forces perceived to be anti-democratic to gain power via the democratic process. This is when the most self-righteous defenders of democracy, discover they are not as “democratic” as they first thought. If the election was rigged, Biden becomes President, and he is seen as legitimate, then I must give him props. A masterclass in the art of winning.
Nevertheless, anyone with even a slither of intelligence can see this farce; rhetoric espousing the need for unity is not only disingenuous, little more than an implicit demand that your opponents should start agreeing with you, but also contrary to the notion of democracy. Democratic politics is irremovably state of conflict. At first, this seems a rather peculiar claim to make. Democracy can be divisive perhaps, but not a state of conflict. Conflict is a word we associate with war and terrorism; it is what democracy theoretically seeks to avoid, making it hard to imagine how these words can be synonymous. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to conclude that, as Carl Schmitt said: “the specific political distinction which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy”. The formulation of political motives cannot be removed from the formulation of political friends and enemies. Politics is about power, and if power is the ability to actualize one’s desires, then politics is the ability to triumph over the enemy in the pursuit of an end; politics is about winning.
Democratic politics is not an alternative to conflict; rather it is an obfuscation of it. If Clausewitz is correct in saying “war is the continuation of politics by other means”, then surely politics is the continuation of war by other means, or as Mao Zedong put it: “politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed”. Nevertheless, whilst we may concede that democratic politics is innately adversarial, defining it as a “state of conflict” sounds hyperbolic. Democratic politics is closer to contest than conflict. Both are fundamentally adversarial, but the latter is chaotic and brutish, whilst the former implies a sense of fair play, established rules, and marks of mutual respect. So be it: politics is a contest, even if contests are about winning.
Political contestation appears in many forms. Voting, joining a party, leafleting, petitioning, protests, debate, discussion, rhetoric, making your opponent look cringe, careerism, parallel institutions, etc. – these are all methods of contestation. We would separate these from methods of conflict: terrorism; revolution; civil war, etc. Unsurprisingly, bribery, blackmail, and deception fall in the ambiguous twilight zone. Nevertheless, whilst methods of contestation and methods of conflict are different, they both imply adversity and the attainment of victory. If one’s goal is victory, it shouldn’t come as a shock to suggest that some methods of contestation are more effective than others. After all, victory is achieved through assertion that is skilful and effective, rather than reckless or impotent. The idea that we must choose between meaningless debate and senseless violence is a delusion.
Darren J. Beattie was correct in his analysis as to why conventional conservative rhetoric has been so weak. Mainstream conservatism (see classic liberalism injected with a bit of transmogrified Trotskyism) rhetoric falls flat is because it is inherently pacifistic; it immediately puts conservatives on the defensive. Ascendant left-wing slogans by contrast does not have this problem. Their ideas are not posed for your consideration, they are commands by which you must abide. They are not policies, they are instructions. They are not posed as potential solutions; they are prescribed as the solutions. Sir Roger Scruton also identified this problem: whilst the Left tells us we must march forward into the future, conservatives can only advise us to hesitate. Conventional wisdom has been taking a battering in recent times, but it appears that attack is still the best defence. Power is a vacuum to occupied, not something to be left in awe at. Fill it or your enemies will.
The idea that politics being downstream from Parliament is a disease. In the context of politics, the words “winning”, and “power” will be connotated with becoming an MP and forming governments. As such, it makes this doctrine common-sense to the partisan shill and problematic to the enlightened moralist. This is one of the reasons debating has become so futile; nobody agrees on what anything means. You will find that everyone nods their head at the word “equality” but ask them to clarify what “equality” means and you will find their hands at each other’s throats.
Herein lies the fundamental rule: the metapolitical defines the political. As omnipresent as they are, bickering politicians and the parties they comprise are little more than pawns in a game of cosmic chess. What shapes them? Hegemony. Our politicians are shaped by the forces, attitudes, and ideologies that are ascendant. Not popular, but ascendant. Ways of thinking that everyone is expected to subscribe to. The subjects of the Prince can argue amongst themselves as much as they please, so long as they do not anger the Prince. For the Prince is the being around which they orient themselves; the Prince is hegemonic. As Machiavelli notes, it is important that the Prince’s priority that he be feared, rather than loved.
The Centre-Ground is a concept often banded around in politics. In divided times it is portrayed as a place to which we ought to return, an alternative to clustering at the polarising extremes. What is the centre-ground specifically? We are told it is the realm of reason as opposed to the dunes of dogmatism which lie beyond its borders. Much like the holy land, it is something in need of conquering, something to be held on to, and immediately recaptured when lost. Of course, this is all rubbish. It’s the kind of fanciful rhetoric that centrists insist they don’t indulge in. Centrism is a dead meme at best and cringe LARP at worst. Nevertheless, the Centre-Ground is an important concept because dissecting it can help us understand hegemony. Look to any self-identifying centrist individual, and you will find a cosmopolitan corporate-friendly establishment wet-wipe who flaunts their high-status “woke” opinions like the latest expensive consumer item.
However, it must be noted that hegemony is not static. As Macron has shown in France, secular hegemony cannot sustain itself by being a vacancy of something (in this case: state religion). Rather, it must define itself as something, necessitating exclusion. A secular republic cannot tolerate pockets of Islamism if it wants to remain a secular republic. As such we now find Macron, the establishment liberal technocrat, espousing rhetoric expected of Marine Le Pen. The rules are clear: hegemony is not only necessary, it needs to be asserted or it will be lost. Hegemony, even if cannot become a totality, is obligated to move in the direction of becoming one. The irony of secularism is that, despite its portrayal as a liberating nothingness, it is no different than religions in a theocracy; it must do more than exist, it must reign like Jupiter.
Hegemony is an organic manifestation. It is subject to ascent, apotheosis, and decline. It is not immune to contest, corruption, and death. As with hegemony on the international stage, when it is in decline it becomes assertive and militant to sustain itself when it is challenged by a potential alternative. This is perhaps why the rise of right-wing populism across the West has coincided with more combatant and coercive forms of Wokeism. Politics is a contest for power, and like all contests requires a winner and a loser. Contests end in the following ways: victory, stalemate, or defeat. Defeat and stalemate, obvious differences aside, do not depose hegemony. Only by winning can the groundwork for a new order commence. The Thucydidean Trap is escaped only though victory.
Moldbug quipped: “if you can explain to me how democracy can be a good thing and politics a bad thing then… you must know something I don’t”. The effect a politicised populous has on the social fabric is entropic. Given the array of frontiers that a liberal democracy opens for contestation, it eventually finds it necessary level of cohesion there are subjects and values which become incontestable. When everything is up for contestation, there is chaos. To avoid chaos, somethings must be made incontestable; the things to we can say we all agree upon, that which we have in common. The paradox being that what should be considered incontestable is a highly contested matter; that the apolitical is not immune to politicisation.
Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend and expand the serving of school meals is a good recent example of how the idea of humanity is made distinct from political matters. The government’s decision was not a political one, it was display of “a lack of humanity”. What is one man’s idea of humanity is another man’s political matter. Under such circumstances, how does one engage in rational discourse? Short answer is that they don’t. What appears in the place of rational discourse? Nothing pretty. Of course, the thought of people violently clashing on the streets of London like political street-gangs in Weimar Germany over whether to tweak a school-meal policy is absurd, although it does make for some bitter squabbles. Besides, such a concept may not be so absurd if the subject matter was substituted for something for fundamental. For instance, are we comfortable to put something as fundamental as the basic essence of our civilization to a vote? Is this really something we can afford to disagree about? Life is defined by degrees of difference; some differences are trivial whilst others more severe, some differences may not actually exist, whilst others are real and downright fundamental. It is when those trivial differences exhaust themselves, in the process of becoming fundamental, is an impasse reached and conflict burdens.
When hegemony is truly challenged, a political disagreement mutates into a Manichean struggle between lightness and darkness, between the “human” and the “inhumane”. This is perhaps why the term “Taking the Red Pill”, the breaking of an illusion as seen in The Matrix, has become so prominent in dissident right circles; it implies that the sanctity of the Cathedral has become contestable. The idea of neutrality is important as it implies a lack of contestation, and therefore it is fair to say neutrality is a product of hegemony. To “win” at politics is not to win an election or win a debate, it is to achieve hegemony; it is to turn something from contestable to something incontestable, it is making whatever opinion you may hold, benchmark of neutrality; neutrality defined in your own terms.
Is losing a contradiction of the idea politics is about winning? No, of course not. Losing implies the existence of winning, and to point out someone’s loss is to concede that it was their intent to win, because it was necessary. You may win the war, but if you aren’t flying your colours by the end of it then it has all been for nothing. Nobody goes into politics to lose; what matters is that people don’t want to. Politics is a realm of contestation. If you have political desires but do not actively contest on behalf of them, then you are destined for disappointment and failure. If you don’t have political desires to contest on behalf of, you shouldn’t be in politics. The former is unaware of the nature of politics, whilst the latter reduces it to a conduit from which to extract things that, albeit are useful for achieving political end goals, are themselves not political (e.g. money, wealth, prestige); politics turns from something to be a part of to something be in. It is better to lose fighting for your ideals, than winning on the behalf of someone else.
The contradictory nature of politics is that it is both viewed as a private matter, something personal, and yet it is something which inherently concerns matters beyond just the self. The word politics comes from politiká: “the affairs of the cities”. The foundation of the City of Rome is encapsulated in story Romulus’ murder of his brother Remus, a story that summarises the ruthless nature of politics. However, as Machiavelli wrote of Romulus’ actions in The Discourses: “the end is good, it will always excuse the means; since it is he who does violence with intent to injure, not he who does it with the design to secure tranquillity, who merits blame. Such a person ought however to be so prudent and moderate as to avoid transmitting the absolute authority he acquires, as an inheritance to another; for as men are, by nature, more prone to evil than to good, a successor may turn to ambitious ends the power which his predecessor has used to promote worthy ends”.
Alea iacta estJulius Caesar