Most of us at some point or other in our formal education were introduced to a short story called “Battle Royale”. This was an excerpt from a larger work called The Invisible Man by famous American author Ralph Ellison. This excerpt follows a young black man and his efforts to obtain a scholarship to go to college. I will spare the reader the full synopsis of the story but many of us are aware of the general plot. A young African-American man has the opportunity to win a scholarship to go to college in a time of institutionalized segregation in America. The young man believes he is to deliver a speech in order to receive his scholarship but soon finds out when he arrives at the venue that he will be pitted in a humiliating fight with another African-American; a veritable cock fight where they both would undergo several humiliations and tortures by the all white crowd for their entertainment. In the end the young man wins and is allowed to give his speech but he is tired and bloodied and he is heckled even then. The author uses this portion of his book to illustrate a metaphor for his readers. This “Battle Royale” not only shows the pains and injustices suffered by African-Americans of the day but also shows how they were pitted against each other so that their race in general could not become one and win equal rights for themselves. While Ellison used his metaphor as a commentary on race relations we can also use it to reflect the larger picture that Ellison’s microcosm lived in and that is the American political structure in general.
Any movement such as ours often reflects upon the system of democracy with a less than trusting attitude. From time to time we even hear this sentiment echoed by libertarians, Republicans, and otherwise conservative constitutionalists when they proclaim that America was never intended to be a democracy but rather a republic. This statement is always made when the left is howling for more democracy. But these same conservatives never say anything about destroying democracy and defend it to the death when it appears threatened by any piece of legislation or political group deemed by them to be “authoritarian”. Then they are defenders of western style democracy! In short, the American right is full of contradictions and inconsistencies. They can come to no consensus on much of anything and thus fall prey time and again to the left as they always will. They may take a step forward now and then but they will always take two steps back afterward. Because this is a fact of American politics and the fact that both parties are classically liberal, we will continue to march leftward as a nation over time as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and because liberalism is atomization as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west it is just a matter of time before the sun sets on the west. Once this nature of the system is realized a natural question arises. What is the purpose of our democracy if we haven’t any real power to change the course? For all thinking and concerned individuals this question should keep you awake at night.
The important thing to remember and what is lost on most people is that just like the scenario in Ellison’s ‘Battle Royale’ our system was constructed. The American political model was not organic. It was handed down to us from aloft by men who by the time’s standards were quite wealthy and had vested interests in crafting a system that would benefit them and their caste. What we see in constitutional law and discourse the most is a right to private property. Ostensibly these property rights extended to all men but there were already inequalities. It was men such as the founding fathers who had the most property. In some portions of the country there were sharecroppers who owned no land but had to cultivate the land of others to survive. One of the most glaring inequalities was the fact that at this time in American history some men were themselves property; property in the form of slaves. It was ownership of land that allowed one to vote back then. If you did not own it then you didn’t have a say. It is clear then, that these property rights codified in the constitution expressly benefited only the wealthy in American society. As history progressed and the modern Democratic Party came on to the scene under Andrew Jackson there was what came to be known as Jacksonian Democracy. Jackson (who had married well) we now know saw expansion of voting rights to non-land owning white men as a tactic to win an election. On the day of Jackson’s inauguration poor whites covered the white house lawn as it was not fenced in in those days. The crowd was mostly drunk and exultant in having defeated the rich and elected one of their own to the highest office in the land. As Jackson ascended the stairs to his new home an assassin attempted to shoot Jackson before he proceeded to soundly beat the would be assassin nearly to death. The lesson from this scene is that it was perhaps the first and clearest example of modern day political tactics. One side gets the have-nots to rise up against the haves and ride this broadening of democracy all the way to the pinnacle of political power. With the election of Andrew Jackson the scene that unfolded on the White House lawn that day was a veritable crucifixion of aristocratic values. But in the end it was a group of wealthy men that beat another group of wealthy men. The electoral system was the game they played to see who won.
As time went on this game became more sophisticated. It became clear to the ruling elite that the poor could use this system to take from them not just exclusivity of the vote but everything they had. They quickly realized that the same system that gave them their property rights also now gave the lower classes the power to jerk it all out from under them if they took a mind to. The game would still be played but it would have to be more tightly controlled.
Every major political party with ballot access that wins elections were and are parties that were provided by an established political and wealthy class for the masses to be part of. Property rights could only be taken away from the wealthy if the masses came together with one mind to do so. In order to keep the status quo several rules had to be made for the game. The first rule would be that there would be two parties. This would keep the electorate effectively split. The second would be that these parties would have minor differences but would essentially be one and the same not allowing any radical changes to the system. No matter which party won, the wealthy wouldn’t lose. The third was that the government would have to be subordinate to the interests that put the representatives there. A fourth rule was that there had to be checks and balances to insure that even if the system somehow got a mind to turn against its masters it would be completely impotent to do so. In its infancy this is how our system was rigged from the beginning. How apt Ellison’s Battle Royale turned out to be for our entire political system that is adversarial in nature and keeps us pitted against each other so that privilege could survive above all else. Even the well-being of the nation. Today the system has formulated the game to a science. Much the same way all games start off primitive and become developed the ruling classes in America truly have went from leather helmets without face masks, using football as an analogy, to a level of modern day NFL sophistication. In addition to these four rules I have exposed for the reader there are other sinister sides to the whole affair. Elections themselves serve a purpose. They allow the public to feel as though their voice is heard every few years or so and allows them to effectively blow off steam. This of course allows for things to continue as usual. Having politicians are also useful because they are figureheads who supposedly hold the power and therefore serve as a target for the dissatisfied to take their frustrations out on. Such is the nature of public life. But the fact is that the source of power does not emanate from Washington without first having flowed into it from the most wealthy men, industries, businesses, and corporations from all over the country. How many lobbyists do you personally have representing your interests in congress?
The fact that the entire system is so deviously devised to separate us and pit us in round after never ending round of this cock fight we are in with each other should make you boiling mad. It should make you refuse to fight. Do not play their game. It should be obvious that you cannot win by more of us participating in it. The system simply uses participation to validate its existence to the world. Once again the nation was split and once again nothing of real importance was achieved. There are those who say that greater democracy will do away with these evils because it will do away with the people who perpetuate them but it was the ideology of democracy that allowed this system to be built in the first place. It was the destruction of the state that allowed it. You may take away their power today but so long as liberal democracy thrives others will use the system to rise up and take their place. What you get is a never ending cycle of political turmoil and strife. Never any peace, never any national cohesion and harmony. It is for this reason that greater democracy is not the answer but a great fallacy. The only way to put an end to our woes is to put an end to democracy. What would have happened in Battle Royale had the combatants simply refused to fight? We can’t choose an alternative ending for the story but we can choose an alternative ending for ourselves.