Today’s Western countries are governed not by statesmen, nor even any longer by politicians, but by apparatchiks. These jumped-up, faceless, morally and intellectually corrupt nincompoops display the character traits of all their predecessors – regardless of nationality, culture or political system.
Their first loyalty is pledged to themselves, but, aware as they are of their own limitations, they realise they need to pool that loyalty with many similar ones within a system that can serve and protect them all.
Such pools go by the name of Latin origin but Soviet provenance: apparat, a bureaucratic system that transcends ideologies, philosophies and party allegiances.
An apparatchik has no principles. All he has is slogans, and those serve a purely utilitarian purpose. When the purpose changes, so do the slogans. As long as such toing and froing doesn’t endanger the apparat, the apparatchik has much leeway.
But the second the apparat itself is threatened, the apparatchiks close ranks and join forces against the menace. When that happens, even omnipotent dictators are no longer immune.
Stalin, for example, was probably killed by the very apparat he had created. He had been steadily weeding out the undesirable elements within that group, and the apparat was willing to grin and bear it. But when Stalin decided to wipe out the apparat collectively, it wiped him out instead.
Apparatchiks detest mavericks, even those willing to work within the system. Margaret Thatcher, for example, was ousted precisely for that reason: she was no longer perceived as a loyal member of the Tory apparat. The apparat smelled danger and united against it.
It’s against this backdrop that one must view the seemingly violent squabbles between Tories and Labour in Britain, Democrats and Republicans in the US, Gaullists and Socialists in France, Christian and Social Democrats in Germany and so forth.
Those conflicts are neither, God forbid, philosophical nor even political. They are fights for territory within the apparat. All such disagreements are part of a game, with the players exchanging meaningless shibboleths they themselves don’t believe, know that neither does the other side, and know that the other side knows.
None of this matters – until an outsider appears who refuses to play the game. That throws a gauntlet to the apparat, and suddenly it’s no longer a game. Caps come off the lances, and an innocent joust becomes a fight to the death.
Nothing illustrates this tendency better than the deranged, hysterical hatred flung Trump’s way by both sub-divisions of the American political apparat. Set aside are their (already illusory) differences. Forgotten are their party allegiances. Trump is an outsider who clearly flouts the apparat’s code of practice – off with his head.
I haven’t observed anything like that since Nixon, who became a marked man in 1948, when, as a congressional investigator, he nailed the Soviet spy Alger Hiss to the wall. Since then the predominantly ‘liberal’ American press went after him like a pack of bloodhounds.
Finally they got him at Watergate, and there’s no doubt that Nixon had committed a crime. One still suspects that the very same journalists wouldn’t have been quite so principled had a similar transgression been committed by one of the Kennedys.
Yet Nixon was a party man through and through, meaning that, much as he offended some parts of the apparat, he didn’t threaten it as a whole. But for Watergate, he would have happily completed his presidential tenure and retired in peace.
Trump is a different animal altogether. He has no discernible party allegiance and doesn’t even bother to conceal his contempt for the bipartisan apparat. Trump doesn’t recognise the validity of the apparat’s ethos and spurns it at every opportunity.
That earns him spittle-sputtering hatred from all sides, regardless of the intrinsic merits of his policies. Some of them, I’d say most, are quite reasonable, but that’s neither here nor there. What offends the apparat isn’t so much anything Trump does as everything he is: an outsider, someone who mocks the rules, a potential threat.
Trump may well be a one-off figure, a stutter in the workings of the apparat soon to be corrected and never again repeated. But the wishful thinker in me hopes that he represents something truly valuable: one of the sledgehammers knocking out the cornerstone of the apparat.
And not just the American variety. Interestingly, thanks to the advances in communication technology, our world is so globalised that, whatever challenges to the apparat occur, they tend to happen at the same time in many places.
Witness, for example, the brewing dissent against the ultimate perfidy of the apparat, its attempt to self-perpetuate under the shelter of a supranational setup free from even vestiges of accountability.
Anti-EU parties and sentiments are gaining ground across Europe, and I’m not even talking about the Brexit vote that took me by surprise. But the apparat is feeling the pinch everywhere: in France and Germany, Italy and Spain, Hungary and Poland.
In all those places, attacks against the apparat proceed under various sets of slogans, ranging from genuine quest for sovereignty to legitimate concerns about the social, demographic and economic effects of mass immigration; from patriotism to nationalism to xenophobia; from conservatism to socialism to outright fascism.
Yet one detects that underneath it all the revolt transcends all such things, that at base it’s an expression of resentment against the apparat. And pressure is being applied from both inside and outside.
A current example of the former is Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who himself has always been a cog in the workings of the apparat. Hence he’s no more principled, selfless and moral than the rest of them.
But Johnson is smarter than most, which is why he may have discerned the rebellious grassroots tendency I’ve mentioned. Hence he has seemingly recklessly assailed the very apparat he has served for so long both as a hack and a politician.
A cabinet member attacks his institutional superiors at his peril, and Johnson knows this perfectly well. Yet he has publicly taken the PM and Chancellor to task over their Brexit shilly-shallying.
Johnson has clearly hardened his already generally Brexit stance by demanding a clean break with not a single penny in ‘divorce settlement’. The romantic in me hopes his newly acquired intransigence comes from some Damascene experience, but the realist recognises a strong element of opportunism there as well.
If so, it’s much more valuable. When a clever chap like Johnson sees a political opening in scoffing his party leadership, then he may sense something they don’t. The apparat may be tottering, and before long it just may come down with a big thud.