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Moral collapse of leadership corrodes the social contract between governments and citizens.
There are periods throughout history where it is possible to identify a point in time where a civilisation, usually drunk on decadence and despairing in decay, passes into a stage of terminal decline, a caricature of its former self. Often this point is not necessarily the result of a singular seismic event, but a slow devolving process from a moment in time where the direction and priorities of the society altered course.
The Greek historian Polybius pointed, for example, to the Roman defeat of Carthage in 146 B.C. as the point of departure for the long-drawn decline and capitulation of Rome. With all proximate enemies now defeated and no longer confronted with any external threats, the Roman body politic could indulge personal ambition, greed, and lives of material luxury.
The vices of ambitio [ambition], avaritia [greed; lust for money], luxuria [lust for luxury], and libido [in the political context, this meant abuse of power], were considered above all to be corrosive to the Republic, and hastened the corruption of power into dictatorship. Cicero was particularly focused on avaritia, which he considered the most destructive vice and source of moral corruption. In fact, Cicero considered avaritia to be a disease. And avaritia and libido, meant in its political context of arbitrary abuse of power, were often fellow travellers, symptoms of the same pathology.
A recent paper by Blanton et al. published in Frontiers in Political Science would, no doubt, have been met with nodding approval by the great Roman statesman, had he not been beheaded at the behest of Mark Antony. The paper identified moral failure as the fundamental driver of decline and state collapse, evident across numerous pre-modern societies. The analysis employed collective action theory, which posits that cooperative success between groups [i.e., in a society] are maximised when shared resources are produced and managed unselfishly, with a moral responsibility of the group managing the resources [i.e., leadership/government] to those producing the resources [i.e., citizens], for overall group benefit.
In a socio-political context, mutual moral accountability problems arises where the leadership of a society have control over the majority of resources and their direction of distribution, and can thus shirk responsibility for good governance, while building and consolidating resources and power.
Blanton et al. provided four examples: the Roman Empire, the Ming Dynasty in China, the Mughal Empire in India, and the Republic of Venice. Initially, each of these societies developed prosperity from fiscal economies in conjunction with good governance that ensured a benefit to citizens. For example, the Ming Dynasty [1368-1644] funded thousands of schools and managed community granaries to protect against famine and overpricing of grain by merchants. But by the mid-16th Century, the emperors had become gripped by avaritia and luxuria, and mobilised their own administrative power to hoard resources. The contagion of corruption precipitated inexorable decline, culminating in invasion and the fall of the dynasty.
The Mughal Empire [1556-1857] initially sought to introduce a secular state for a religiously pluralistic society, equitable taxation, and control of corruption. By the mid-17th Century, the emperors pushed Islam to the fore of politics, enforcing higher taxes on Hindus and ushered in a period of social upheaval, famine, and population decline. When the East India Company showed up, there was no legitimate power left to resist the carving and swallowing up of the subcontinent on behalf of the Crown, in what was histories first example of societal takeover by a corporate conglomerate, long before über-creep Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Avaritia and libido combined to decay the Mughal Empire.
A key feature of each of the four pre-modern societies analysed by Blanton et al. is that, with the exception of the Venetian Republic, they were imperial and monarchical societies. The Ming Dynasty, Mughal Empire, and Roman Empire, did not have free elections, separation of powers, or mechanisms for political accountability. Yet, for periods of time, each were able to create a social contract with the citizenry, grounded in the moral responsibility associated with the management of resources by the leadership, where those resources were produced by the citizenry, i.e., the workforce. Where there was a moral failure of leadership, a weakened fiscal economy ensued from the corruption, social division, and loss of functioning services that citizens had depended on.
The collapse of a functioning state is a moral collapse, a disintegration of the moral obligations underpinning an effective social contract. Cicero stated of Sulla that he possessed three deadly vices: luxury, greed, and cruelty. Last year, 320 Tory MPs voted against giving food to hungry children. A black-and-white moral and ethical decision: give children food vs. do not give children food. And three hundred and twenty people, supposedly with a brain and conscience, said no. Libido: arbitrary abuse of power. A failure of moral responsibility.
What of avaritia, the disease of greed. The basic salary for a Member of Parliament is £81,932. The government recently decided to cut the £20-a-week universal credit increase out of peoples pockets, in a year when the average cost of living increase of £1,200 will devastate families throughout the UK. In July, Conservative Party MP Andrew Rosindell had this to say about people receiving the UC increase:
“I think there are people that quite like getting the extra £20 but maybe they don’t need it.”
In November, when asked about MPs having consultancy jobs outside of their work as MPs, Rosindell had a different tack:
“I am very cautious on this because I know that some of my colleagues have jobs and outside work that they do, and that means them having to give up....changing their lifestyle. We have to be careful about this, we have to realise we are dealing with human beings who have families and responsibilities...”
Avaritia. Libido. Luxuria.
Rosindell voted against giving food to children.
The social contract is shattered with the collapse of moral responsibilities of leadership, when the role of leadership is viewed instead as a moral entitlement to take from the citizenry, and give nothing back. If that universal credit increase for a single family was to come directly out of a single MPs salary, their annual salary would be £81,852 instead of £81,932. How would they possibly live? On the other street, the difference for the 6-million families who formerly benefited from the UC increase is the difference between heating or eating.
Most people would consider children as human beings, with the possible exception of the Chinese Communist Party, and evidently Andrew Rosindell and 319 other British Conservative Party MPs. That he could mention the word “responsibilities”, wholly devoid of irony, betrays a collapse of the moral responsibilities which leadership holds to citizens.
Liz Truss, in pole position to usurp Boris Johnson in the recently regicidal Tory party, insisted on lunch at the extravagant private club of a Conservative Party donor, 5 Hertford Street. The bill was reported to be £1,400. To be paid for by the taxpayer. Bear in mind Liz Truss co-authored Britannia Unchained, along with Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, and Chris Skidmore, an ideological spew containing a repository of failed ideas, a reconstituted neo-Thatcherite dogma of market fundamentalism and hyper-individualism. The State should pay for nothing. Except her boozy lunch. Luxuria. Avaritia.
Luxury, greed, cruelty.
It would be difficult to find a more deeply classist society in a developed country than the UK. The Tory party policy to inequality, if it could be called such, is a game of blame, shame, and condescension, one which attempted to frame living in austerity as a moral virtue, where George Osborne exhorted the British public to ‘live within their means’, all juxtaposed against the luxuria of the ruling party.
The hostile, duplicitous ideology of the sociopathic Conservative Party is a poisonous fusion of decrepit Victorian morality with regressive Thatcherite economic brutality and anti-collectivism. The moral collapse of good governance is an inevitable consequence of their ideology, guaranteed to unfold when they hold power.
They view their avaritia as a virtue, their luxuria as an entitlement, their libido administered without empathy, irony, or regard for consequence, and the means justify the ends of their ambitio.
There is no moral compass. And moral collapse of governance was always guaranteed.