One word can sum up our government today: kakistocracy

Dec 5, 2021
House of Representatives
(Image: Unsplash)

Kakistocracy is government by the least competent — its hallmarks are ineptitude and corruption. This will ring true for many Australian voters.  

If each political day is undifferentiated from the other, no matter the specific realm of politics, and disdain for them is grounded in folly pretence, vanity, self-deception and the artificiality of human conduct in a confused society, then a few other inquiries of the psyche might reveal the underlying causes.

Accordingly, if:

  • You are horrified at having for years heard little or even nothing from government ministers which sounded authentically human and totally honest, and too often their pronouncements are either contradictions of other official statements, or absurdities;
  • You stand bewildered in the face of routinised rampant mediocrity, incompetence, deceit, dishonesty and evasion of accountability and responsibility;
  • The national interest has become a concept without referent reality which is manipulated and trifled with according to opportunity for partisan political advantage;
  • So many in positions of political power and influence have come to resemble, in Albert Camus’ description, “hollow clowns”;
  • Mainstream politics all too often appears as a banal squabble over the distribution of largesse pilfered from the national treasury;
  • The term “parliamentary debate” traduces the English language;
  • The rules of political conduct heretofore understood as minimal by some and tolerable by others are now in suspension;
  • Undertakings announced by government, often to great fanfare, are on examination prone to being vacuous and equivocal;
  • The citizenry are held in such contempt that BOHICA — Bend Over, Here It Comes Again — is the government’s preferred position for them…

Then the country is in the thrall of a type of government the description of which is alien to most: kakistocracy, from the Greek words kakistos (the worst) and kratos (rule). Kakistocracy, essentially, refers to a government by the least suitable or competent, or even the worst, citizens of a state. Such a rule is, without qualification, injurious to the citizens under it.

Consider the recent past and the present. In place of achievements which benefit the body politic, there is a comprehensive government plan to distract the population from understanding its ineptitude. The giveaway is what the government is prepared to talk to the citizenry about. Most noticeable are the obsessions with crude nationalism, militarism and national security; the disdain for human rights; the use of enemies and scapegoats as sources of appeals to national unity; and the justification for crimes (both secret and explicit) by government.

These are complemented by rampant sexism; an acquiescent and/or domesticated mass media; the protection of the corporate sector at the expense of the rights of labour; the disdain for and even suppression of intellectuals and the arts; the bonding of political and religious elites; baseless concerns for electoral integrity; cronyism and corruption; projects which entail the surveillance of society as a whole and the harassment of citizen’s groups; and an opportunistic fixation on crime and punishment. All are ushered forth within the disposition that truth doesn’t matter.

Expressed differently, the Australian kakistocracy assumes and relies upon a passive citizenry, a collective that is not only sufficiently ignorant and inattentive to challenge it but also possessed of a sense of fatalism regarding the status of its members as walk-on players whenever elections are called.

A central question concerning the kakistocracy, then, is whether those in power are inept or, worse, stupid. To this the answer is quite likely to be “yes” on all counts. That said, stupidity is not a necessary and sufficient condition for a kakistocracy to exist; the bullet points above are a more reliable guide.

It is common, however, for a kakistocracy to be defined by corruption in addition to the attempts to evade scrutiny through various artifices and stratagems. In this context, though, we are no longer talking just about “normal” corruption, which almost inescapably resides in all governments because, try as they might, they cannot expunge all mendacity and avarice from their constituent parts and personnel.

Rather, the corruption in question is the inevitable consequence of political parties becoming so beholden to special interests with no connection to democracy that their immune systems are totally compromised. They have ceased to stand for anything except “pure politics” — which is to say any activity dominated by the increasingly opaque “donor community” regardless of its sources of funds, unindicted war criminals, dishonesty, deceit, fear, anger, lust and revenge.

Before the era of citizens exhibiting internet-induced, seriously diminished attention spans, such behaviour had a chance of being recognised and dealt with on more occasions than now. But such is that reduction that the trajectory towards kakistocracy, though discernible and its consequences predictable, proceeded without arrest.

For now, the consequences are legion. A political calculus exists in place of anything resembling a process by which the true needs of the people and their regions are given appropriate procedural and ethical consideration.

At the heart of this new political arrangement is a constellation of political black holes from which probity and integrity cannot escape: favour exchanges, obligations based on private benefits, clientelism, power brokers, perception management consultants, polling advisers, lobbyists, transactional loyalties, policy by think tank, sleaze, moral bankruptcy, and the absence of independent oversight.

To belabour the point, it is not difficult to understand why and how kakistocracies repel the talented and attract the inept and most debased; over time, and without a revolution in integrity, they exist as realms that are systemic, strategic and seemingly permanent.

These consequences are, moreover, fundamental to the point of being radical and are likely to continue; indeed, they are so fundamental that we might cue what the Danish philosopher, physicist and Nobel laureate Neils Bohr proclaimed about change in his discipline: “Anyone who isn’t fundamentally disturbed by what is taking place doesn’t understand it.”

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