Psychology Rules Again!

Column by Paul Hein.

Exclusive to STR

Readers of STR are no doubt familiar with George Washington’s characterization of government as force, not reason. (Has any president since ever acknowledged that?) In our time, we can find plenty of examples of government achieving its goals with violence, and I’m thinking not only of the federal government, but even local government. Just search online videos for examples of police brutality, for lots of examples.
But millions of Americans do government’s bidding day after day, even though they find it odious, or simply aggravating, with no sign of a gun or truncheon. They not only obey, but expect others to do likewise. So while force is the rulers’ ultimate weapon, they get what they want by other means 99% of the time. And that means is psychology.
Years ago--OK, half a century ago--my wife and I were in England, and took a tour of Windsor Castle. My memories of the occasion are fuzzy, except for one thing. We were given a look into the royal pantry, where the Queen’s china is stored. You and I probably have two sets of china: everyday, and for company. The Queen, need I say it, had no “everyday” china, but had literally dozens of sets of “company” china, each with place settings for, perhaps, a hundred guests. Our tour guide, and the English tourists among us, were obviously proud that their Queen had such wealth.
Many, many years later, in Madrid, we toured the royal castle there, which is said to be the largest in Europe. The royals no longer live there, so it stands empty, except for occasional state functions, a royal wedding, or some such event. I remember one room, which was called, if memory serves, the ceramic room. Floor, walls, ceiling, were all covered in ceramic tiles, apparently at the whim of the King. I didn’t think it was especially beautiful, but it certainly was impressive. And that, I guess, might have been the point. As in England, the Spanish on the tour seemed quite proud that their King had such a nice place to lay his head.
Here’s where the psychology comes in: If the people of a given nation were told that they were going to have to build for one of their number a palace--or, more likely, a string of them--and that they were going to have to pay the maintenance of these edifices, to furnish them in the height of luxury, with garages filled with expensive cars, and servants by the regiment, they would likely resent it. “What’s so special about him,” they might ask of the intended recipient of this largesse. The question would remain unanswered, as it was obvious there was nothing special about the lucky fellow.
Why, therefore, weren’t the people of England, or Spain (or, for that matter, France, and other countries as well) incensed that the burden was placed upon their backs to sustain a particular family at a level of luxury that was, to all of them, unheard of? Were the royals for whom they were thus sacrificing themselves superior in wisdom or virtue? Moreover, did the fortunate royals provide any tangible benefit to the people who supported them so regally, even though they themselves might have been having problems maintaining a roof over their heads?
One might think that the people of England, or Spain, would be furious at being forced to provide such a luxurious existence for their rulers. Royal palaces would be objects of detestation, nor admiration. But it is not so. Even in this country, where the ruler is called “president,” instead of “king,” the people seem to take pride in the White House, which, while admittedly not in the same class as a palace, is well-above the living accommodations of most of us, and well stocked with servants to eliminate any necessity for the ruler to raise a hand to take care of himself. The ruler is careful to frequently refer to his mansion as “the people’s house,” although if you try to schedule your anniversary party there, expect to be disappointed. Even the presidential airplane, one of a fleet, actually, is a subject of national pride. “Our ruler’s airplane is bigger than your ruler’s airplane!”
Yes, there are exceptions. The Russians overthrew their ruler and his family, and so did the French. However, their mansions still exist, and are maintained in all their splendor, by the same people who executed their former occupants. It’s just been an exchange of one tyranny for another, more kindly regarded by the subjects, who still end up paying for it.
There can be no accounting for it unless the rulers have somehow convinced the people that they, the rulers, love the people, look after them, have their interests at heart, and will protect them. In return, the subjects feel flattered by such blandishments, and willingly sacrifice to give their rulers personal luxuries and their grateful obedience. The impression of benign omnipotence is heightened by the trappings that accompany the ruler: all rise when he enters the room, while the band strikes up “Hail to the Chief.” As he departs his magnificent airplane, the uniformed flunkies at the foot of the steps snap to attention and salute. It’s enough to make him think he really IS somebody!
If the ruler, however, were dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, and dumped, unrecognized, on a busy street, there would be no kowtowing. No one would rise, or even pay attention, when he entered a room; no music, no salutes. His expressed desires would impress no one, his orders would be ignored; he would be just another nobody, as in The Prince and the Pauper.
So it’s all psychology. As long as rulers can keep people believing that they are special, and deserve our money and our obedience, they’ll get it! Thank God for the Internet, where ever-growing numbers of people are coming to the realization that the king has no clothes. In fact, he has very little of anything, save ambition, to warrant our admiration. Of course, not altogether hidden from sight, he has all those guns!


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Paul Hein's picture
Columns on STR: 150


ReverendDraco's picture

Caesar has nothing which wasn't first stolen from the person who produced it.

So, by all means, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. . . and keep rendering it until Caesar is living in a tent along a creek somewhere - just like a quarter of US Veterans are. . .

Suverans2's picture

Absolutely, ReverendDraco; we must remember to separate the "image and superscription" (fiction), which are the CAESAR's, from the silver (nonfiction). What the CAESAR ends up with when we do this, is nothing, nothing but thin air. The same thing is true of the "prince and the pauper"; when we separate the fiction from the nonfiction, we end up with nothing but a man.

Suverans2's picture

"But millions of Americans do government’s bidding day after day, even though they find it odious, or simply aggravating, with no sign of a gun or truncheon. They not only obey, but expect others to do likewise. So while force is the rulers’ ultimate weapon, they get what they want by other means 99% of the time. And that means is psychology." ~ Paul Hein

And, there it is. I gave this a "Must read!", ten-star rating.

Jim Davies's picture

Take care, Paul, when next you visit England. Her Majesty might just spot you and say "off with his head!"

Your remarks come at a good moment. This year is the 50th of her reign, and there are some good things one can find to say about that. She did not set out to become Queen; her uncle quit so as to marry an American divorcee, thrusting her very shy father on to the throne where he did a creditable job as a national figurehead and morale booster during WW-II (into which, of course, the UK should never have entered, but that's another story. Monarchs nowadays don't rule, they reign.) He died young, from stress and smoking, so Elizabeth took on the job. I reserve judgment on her grandsons, but otherwise she is the only member of her family for whom I have any respect.

The Royal finances are not simple. There is huge wealth (land, palaces) attached to the monarchy, though not to the person. The population is taxed to provide stipends to members of the family, but those are, like the US President's, not way out of line. In return, they do a large amount of work as national ambassadors and, again, as figureheads. I have no doubt that the British economy comes out well ahead from tourism revenues minus those Royal expenses, and the palaces form the #1 staple in terms of tourist magnets - as Windsor did in your case. A case could also be made that the Queen has held together the Commonwealth, which approximates to a free trade area, by building relationships over a very long term. So it's not quite fair or true to say that the Royals are parasites. They earn their keep, in PR alone. Finally I'm gullible enough to believe that by her weekly interviews with the Prime Minister, she has exercised moderation on some of their wilder plans. That relationship is subtle, and on occasion the influence flows the other way; those interested should watch the movie "The Queen" that documents how she and Tony Blair interacted during the week following Diana's death.

So much for the positive. The negative aspect of monarchy - and it is decisive, we fully agree - is that the figurehead serves to validate the government she nominally "owns", as in "my government" and "the Queen's Ministers." My blog at explores the issue a little and concludes: "The monarchy all-but ensures that, however unpopular a particular administration may deservedly become, the institution of government itself will survive."

So: guilty, as charged.

Suverans2's picture

Take care, Paul, when next you visit the UNITED STATES. Its PRESIDENT, (with his new powers), might just spot you and say "off with his head!"

Samarami's picture

You've outlined the genius of state, Paul: pillage by use of psychology.

Look at it this way: we have to deal with two distinct types of thieves and robbers in our daily lives: government confiscators and non-government confiscators. State media types are using the term "sector": "the private sector" and "the public sector" -- but that's all a bunch of obfuscation and one dimension of the psychology that produces the genius of "pillage legitimacy".

You described it well in your essay, Paul: the mass of "the people" ooh and aah and talk about it for years when they are "provided" tours of state opulence. People who take guided tours of those joints never in a hundred years connect the abundance of palaces and state buildings and mansions with the thievery that is euphemized as "taxation".

Non-government thieves and robbers take your stuff and leave you alone. Government thieves and robbers confiscate your stuff and later put it on display for you so you can tell your grandkids about how you got to "tour" this or that capitol "oval office" and perhaps took pictures or bought souvenirs.

The psychology of state is indeed an act of genius. You and your family are perhaps the only individuals on your block who see through the ruse. Disseminate your knowledge. Carefully and discreetly.


Paul's picture

"(Has any president since ever acknowledged that?)" Yeah, believe it or not, Obama did. I saw it on youtube!

I think part of the psychology works this way. First, people have a natural respect and fascination with old stuff. It's stuff that talks to us over the centuries. Not so surprisingly, the "best" old stuff is that which was owned by the ruling class. They had the facilities and the incentive to preserve it, and even when it was new it was top notch, not shoddy, so it was not going to fall apart.

So the state takes this natural fascination and manipulates it into a means of control. It's much like the way laws are named. For example the "Patriot Act" had nothing patriotic about it, but naming it that way helped to sell it.