American conservatives are looking around rather glumly these days, as their political fortunes appear to have dwindled to near-nothingness. Among the leading presidential candidates, none inspires any hope in the kind of change conservatives could appreciate. John McCain, the candidate who comes closest to a conservative viewpoint, is not a conservative despite his protestations to the contrary. It is a sign of the times that he could even become the Republican presidential candidate, given his record of less-than-conservative legislative achievements and his penchant for appealing to the news media precisely by bashing conservatism. In fact, the biggest news in this presidential cycle may be the rupture between the conservative movement and the Republican party.
That this has been accompanied by a decline in the fortunes of the Republican party does not seem to have fazed the party leadership, which, it appears, would rather cut deals with its Democrat opposition the better to apportion power in Washington, as a loyal part of the Washington establishment, than stand up to that Washington establishment and demand government accountability.
Apart from conservative alternative media sources, there is no attempt at government accountability. What government does is good, what the private sector does is tolerated in the best case and demonized in the worst.
Of course, the things government is supposed to do are bashed along with the private sector. Law enforcement is frowned upon; punishment of criminals is an evil to be averted; respect for property and contract is an old-fashioned concept to be superseded. Only progressive implementations of government are favored, with the latest fad being the use of the courts to foist counter-customary social values onto the people (e.g., judge-made homosexual marriage).
This is in-your-face liberalism at its haughtiest and most frightening level. It shows government elites not only not in touch with the people they are supposed to represent, but conscious of the divide and acting in flagrant opposition to it.
The question arises over and over: how do they get away with it? If the people ultimately are the sovereign, then how do the elites continue to shove their agenda down the people's throats?
To answer that, one must understand the phenomenon of the elite and the character of the elite structure.
The elite is essentially a structure of manipulation.
Human societies create authority structures which in turn generate legitimating visions or stories so as to maintain that authority. They thus project an image of reality onto the populace aimed at cementing their position of power. This is not a bad thing in itself. Authority is necessary and must be obeyed. "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation" (Romans 13:1-2, KJV). The church has always taught obedience to civil authority, except at extreme levels of tyranny; and even then, the debate for and against has been fierce.
Be that as it may, an entire machinery of legitimation is built up which is geared to keeping the people under control and obedient. This machinery serves the ruling authority, whoever it may be.
There is another form of machinery as well, geared not to maintaining subjection to authority but manipulating authority. This is clearly to be seen in history in the the courts which have surrounded monarchs. Courtiers have always sought to flatter and debauch the prince, the better to manipulate him to their own ends. That this was a dangerous game was understood as "coming with the territory." All efforts were geared to positioning oneself most favorably with the sovereign, gaining his or her ear, leading him or her in the desired direction, the better to establish control over the power of the state.
Hence, in addition to the machinery which was established to legitimate government authority to the subjects, another set of machinery was built to represent reality to the sovereign, in order to steer him. A whole apparatus slowly took shape, geared to manipulating, flattering, steering the sovereign in the direction the "happy few" wished to take it. This machinery, as I said, was complementary to the machinery by which the populace was manipulated. With the growth of parliamentary representation, these two machines began to be meshed together: the power of the machine over the prince was used to manipulate the people, and the power of the machine over the people was used to manipulate the prince.
This third power thus began its enormous career of influence which it has carried into the modern world -- the power of the manipulator, between sovereign and subject, beholden to both, beholden to neither, master of the universe.
This is the power of the modern elite, once characterized by C. Wright Mills as "The Power Elite" (although his military-industrial complex was more of a left-wing fantasy, indeed itself a weapon in the elite's arsenal of manipulative imageries), composed of the higher ranges of academia, politics, the entertainment industry, and the news media. These form an interlocking directorate which manipulates all possible information in all possible ways in order to steer the sovereign.
Who is the sovereign in modern democracies? The people. And the people are also the subjects. So the two machines, which are now one, operate in full synchronization, on the one hand to flatter and debauch the people, and on the other hand to put the fear of raw power into them.
What about the political parties? They have an important role to play in this, for they are the instruments through which a good portion of debauchment is channeled to the citizenry, through programs of economic dependency. In this manner they attach the citizens to the fortunes of government and then turn around and make very clear to them that their fortunes do depend on government, and any attack on government is an attack on them. The problems this dependency racket creates in society is then blamed on non-government agents in the private sector. This model is extended not only to problems created by dependency but to problems ginned up by the manipulation machine itself: gay rights, animal rights, environmental catastrophe, global warming, etc. Government is the solution, submit to government, give up your freedom. The role of the political parties within the manipulation machine is to act as a transmission belt for this message to the constituents. Their role is representative, absolutely; but it is representative in only one direction. The political parties do not represent your interests to government; they represent government's interest to you. The quicker you understand that, the quicker you will acquiesce to the "six in one, half a dozen in the other" range of choices the political establishment provides you.
Or perhaps the people may in fact wake up to the machinery of manipulation? A sovereign who realizes he's been deceived is a dangerous proposition.