“Listen to me, Mr. Ambassador, F— your parliament and your constitution…. If your prime minister gives me talk about Democracy, Parliament and Constitution, he, his Parliament and his Constitution may not last very long”
—President Lyndon Johnson to the Greek Ambassador, circa 1967 (quoted in Edward Luttwak, Coup d’Etat, 1968)
First, some predictions:
1. Hillary Clinton will be elected the next president of the United States. Because she is the worst of Obama paired with the worst of McCain, she will win by a landslide, given the penchant of Americans to elect to power the most ghastly candidates imaginable, under the impression that they are the best the country has to offer.
2. Russia, in a brilliant move, will adopt the gold standard. Having doubled its gold reserves in recent years, realizing that its economy will always be primarily a resource-based, rather than an industry-driven, one, Moscow will undertake this prudent measure to thwart future volatility brought about by the intensification of geopolitical chaos. Vladimir Putin, president for life, will peg one ounce of gold to $1500 while keeping the money supply proportionate to the rate of reserves, thus creating a stabilized investment environment and minimizing Russia’s wild card image…
3. Within two decades, illegal immigration from Mexico will count an additional 30 million souls eager for weaning from the world’s biggest and fastest-bankrupting tierra de leche y miel. The Mexican government, delighted as ever to be relieved of this burden, will toast a round of sunset tequilas in the distinguished company of Señor Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexico City-born world’s richest man, who, discreet as ever, simply has not found a way to put his $75 billion personal fortune to work finding local employment for these exhausted pilgrims. Meanwhile, Liberals with names like Conor Davenport and Brandi du Près will pounce on keypads defending Tolerance at gunpoint; Lib’tarians, in stocking feet and beer bottle in hand, will denounce the tyranny of pesky minimum wages, and well-heeled Catholics will admonish that We Are All God’s Children, as they move deeper into gated communities and stockpile the ammo…
4. Ongoing 9-11 research will score some points for the much-maligned kook-class and conspiracy theories will start circulating, like the omniscient whirlwind of Oriental religions descending upon late-stage Rome, ever more bewitchingly around a crumbling and decadent mainstream media establishment…
5. Sunshine-Superman technology, squeaky and fun, will continue to course along its cutting-abyss path, allowing humanoids to create, for instance, 3D print-outs of children–the Mother of all Apps for men and women who can’t be bothered with the fussiness of courtship, love, reproduction, etc. Given that male-female sexual relations are increasingly unfashionable anyway, this technology will serve all styles of life and Market Forces will zip and zap hither and thither fueled by obscene windfalls of cash and Correct social conscience–a Kapitalismus we can love. Parents will get to design their offspring at the touch of an I-Pod-seed-sod, fine-tuning their future bundles of joy to just the right frequency of half-straight and a quarter-gay; outfitting them with lush brown hair and bionic limbs, or strawberry blonde hair and alternative genitalia, with brain-chip implants for one and all programmed to think up billion “dollar” social media ideas such as… photo-sharing between friends! relatives! Life will be squeaky, cute,without controversy, without complaint…
6. Perpetual Terror will be the newest, latest and greatest-ever Novus Ordo Seclorum: watch as The End of History huffs and puffs its unshapely physique across the finish line at long last,collapsing into one big pile of continual Present in which Dark Age fanaticism, Modern Age nihilism and Classical Age imperialism merge as one, the past and future ceasing to exist. Google and DARPA will colonize Mars as well as Asteroid B-612, establishing the Star Wars Defense Shield V, which will pulse-stream subatomic particle beam-weapons and chemical lasers to earth; to any specific city,village or market square, setting off vile human and material destruction, in turn setting off cycles of blame, revenge and retribution–‘ad infinitum’,of course, since there is no Time anymore anyway…
7. The American Southeast, perceived to be the most culturally cohesive and psychologically healthy corner of the country by the remaining strata of rational intelligence hiding out in darkened woods, will flourish in discreet pseudo-autonomy–a quasi-neo-Confederacy and secret club for members only. Watch as real estate prices rise and rise in and around Charleston, Savannah, Lexington, Nashville…
8. …and one day a young man—a veteran of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, possibly of Afghanistan, having been shipped overseas once more, this time to fight the ISIL bogey; a kind, football-hero gentle giant; fiercely loyal, with a name “like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales or Leroy Brown”, as Patrick Buchanan once put it; the type that wears a jacket and tie to visit his grandmother—who saw one too many friends blown apart in a desert on behalf of a war launched by supreme falsehoods and mass deception; who heard of one too many suicides at the army hospital at Landestuhl; who read of 30 year-old veteran Daniel Somers, a Joint Special Operations Command analyst, taking his life in June 2013 unable to cope with the “wasteland of incredible horror” his mind had become, as the young man wrote in his suicide note to his family; who observed as the President never stood with the families of these lost men and who watched as friends were left to rot by a corrupt and inept Veterans Administration…He will snap one day, this young man, a day far but not too-far in the future and, joined by a core group of his comrade renegade officers, the United States will have the coup d’etat that many have thought can, could or should happen. For, it will be an act as much against a population that has become decadent and distracted as it has been manipulated, bullied and bled-dry by an American government running amok and fanatically gone astray…
I have never been a Determinist. Hegel, Freud, Marx and their respective historical, psychological and economic ‘determinism’ never worked their seductive charms on this blonde brain; have never comprised à trois the intellectual opiate for me that has lulled others into the stupor of seeing in the extraction of transcendent theory from empirical banality a kind of holier-than-thou meta-Reality. But it seems that an eventual coup in America may be Our Fate. It is a connect-the-dots, paint-by-numbers picture coming increasingly into view across a thickly fogged moral-cultural horizon, to take place most likely within the next quarter-century. What comes to mind is Napoleon’s famous line: “I feel myself driven towards an end that I do not know. As soon as I have reached it, as I shall become unnecessary; an atom will suffice to shatter me.” Such will be the nature of this possible overthrow of “Washington“: a driving, unbridled conviction that Something has to happen because it has been made to have to happen. “Every country gets the military intervention it deserves”, wrote S.E. Finer, a Cold War historian of the coup d’etat phenomenon, in 1962, and the US has distressingly gathered into place over the past two decades the social, economic and foreign-policy conditions to get hers at last. What will have brought matters to such a point needs, of course, no introduction: the United States is run by an abusive shadow government, corrupt to the core. It is a one-party state with two branches; its checks-and-balances on power about as transparent as the sweaty regime of a tropical caudillo; Congress a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil affair of morally flea-bitten primates set loose in a zoo; the Fourth-Estate a creepy Fifth Column; the citizenry fat, stupid and liberty-loathing—and all of this conspiring to contaminate the greatest democratic political experiment in the history of mankind with an odious whiff of the fraudulent. The super-patriots have been exposed at the traitors, while the official traitors—once marginalized, silenced or driven underground for their honest beliefs—have emerged, slowly, as the authentic patriots. What remains is the death-blow needed to resurrect life—the life of a country that has ceased to be a nation.
A coup, a golpe de Estado, a putsch, an overthrow…Napoleon’s coup of the 18th Brumaire ending the French Revolution; the Bolsheviks, the 1920 Kapp Putsch in Berlin; Spain 1923, Poland 1926, Bela Kun in Hungary; Mussolini, Hitler; Egypt 1952, Iran 1953, Algiers 1965, Greece 1909/Greece 1967, Libya 1969, Chile 1973; Portugal 1974; Haiti, most of Africa…Well over half the governments in the modern world came to power by means of overthrow and these by far the most common means of political change during the 20th century. “Everything within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State” was Mussolini’s dictum; “Where there is liberty there is no State” said Lenin. Whether from the Right or the Left, the successful coup is defined by one essential characteristic: that a small, dedicated group of true-believers may use the State to seize the state. Half-way between a conspiracy and a revolution, a coup does not necessarily require a massive amount of force. It needs, foremost, three basic conditions to be pulled off effectively: first, that establishment power rests hands of an elite few, such that an overthrow will not only have popularity and subsequent mass-approval, but also a narrow, well-defined target for its planners; secondly, that there is a clear political center through which control of the State is administered: communication channels; key physical targets; fundamental intelligence sources, etc., all properly identified for the sake of the operational sequence and timing of the coup; and third, that public attachment to civilian institutions will have grown very weak, allowing for military intervention in politics without too much controversy or resistance.
Once in power, most coup-regimes have secured their position more or less in the same way: severe and “efficient” repression, excessive propaganda, and some degree of economic development—from the Soviet Union to China; from the relatively tame Primo de Rivera in Spain to the violent Pinochet in Chile; from Duvalier in Haiti to N’Krumah in Ghana, this pattern was pretty much consistent. It is indeed fascinating to consider that throughout the entire run of the Totalitarian Age of the last century the force of personality could still overcome the machinery of the State—even if many of those personalities created more wretched machinery and a bloodier State in their wake. “The army is not an autonomous body”, wrote the famous Greek revolutionary, Sypros Spyromelios, in the mid-19th century, “but an organized class which reflects the virtues and evils of the society that has produced it.” One would hope that in the event of a coup the United States would not spiral into a maelstrom of bloodshed–that is not what is being advocated here, of course. For, many a coup has been of a non-violent nature, and successfully so.
Theoretically, if an overthrow of the US government were to follow, say, the example of 1909 Greece (more on that below), extreme unrest would not even be “necessary”. First, it would not be a question of the US military Establishment taking power: considering what has been on display over the past decade or so, to install such an option would serve only to replace the current civilian regime with its uniformed moral and intellectual equivalent. Secondly, as argued by Samuel Huntington, whose 1951 Soldier and State is considered a definitive work on the subject of civilian and military relations, the US military is inherently conservative and unwarlike. That is, it is prepared for war but never by itself has sought out such engagement; it is populated for the most part by conservative realists who follow the dictum that war is the instrument of politics. Civilian control, continues Huntington, is considered essential to military professionalism in the US and it is not the tradition of the country—ironically, one born of a successful Revolution—to use the military for means of political power. Rather, as I write above, the coup would originate within a grassroots-maverick framework among veterans, in turn allied to conspiratorial players in key posts within the defense hierarchy—men fueled by the same outraged indignation, burning at both ends.
Turn of the (20th) century Greece is an interesting case of a bloodless and remarkably effective coup, especially considering the fact that Greece was then sandwiched between an oppressive imperial neighbor and impending Balkan war. Already in the mid-19th century, Greece had gone through two coups in the aftermath of the Greek War of Independence (1821-1832) against the Ottoman Empire—one in 1843 and again in 1862. The military then shopped around for and installed European royalty at the helm, imposing more-or-less parliamentary dictatorships in the country—still, these enjoyed substantial widespread mass support. It was the even more popular Goudi coup of 1909, however, that stands out. The Military League, a group of young commissioned and non-commissioned officers, rebelled against the Balkan policies of Prince Constantine as commander-in-chief; a failing economy, the corruption of the civilian regime and incompetent foreign policy vis-à-vis the Turks. Though the League’s maverick officers were disciplined for insubordination, they prevailed anyhow, calling upon a sympathetic senior officer, Colonel Nicholas Zorbas, to guide them. On August 14, 1909, Colonel Zorbas issued a series of directives to the government, eventually resulting in the capitulation of King George I and his cabinet to the demands. Not a shot had been fired. A complete military seizure of the government then followed and the Military League turned to Eleftherios Venizelos, a European Liberal respected by both the Left and the Right, who advocated a transition back to civilian rule. Venizelos, elected by a huge majority of parliament in 1910, would later go down in history as one of the great European statesmen of the last century.
A coup does not necessarily even have to be of a military nature. Another intriguing example–speaking of the gold standard above—is that of Germany 1923, when a power-grab resulted in the re-establishment of that country’s monetary stability in the midst of the outrageous hyperinflation of the day. When Gustav Stresemann was appointed Chancellor in August 1923, the notorious mark was one trillionth of what is was before the war. Stresemann immediately suspended seven articles of the Weimar Constitution, declared a state of emergency and basically instigated a coup that resulted in a military dictatorship. The adoption of the new Rentenmark, artificially pegged to gold, and using the country’s industrial assets, such as they were, as mortgaged collateral, was conceived by Stresemann’s currency commissioner Hjalmar Schacht, president of the Reichsbank. In the 1975 classic When Money Dies by Adam Fergusson, a (revolting) account of the social consequences of the Weimar hyperinflation, Schacht is described as having worked alone out of the supply closet of a cleaning woman, turning the German economy around in about a week by ordering the suspension of money-printing; creating the Rentenmark currency linked to a kind of invented gold standard set at pre-war parity, and restricting the supply of that currency to maintain value. Austria followed suit returning to gold that year, Poland in 1924 and Hungary in 1925. Here, too,was a kind of unconventional coup, with determined, uncompromising leaders; a clear goal, and incredible results for its time, place and circumstances.
But if one wishes to educate oneself on the history and the hard-core how-to’s of the coup phenomenon, there are three works in particular that cover the subject in brilliant detail: Curzio Malaparte’s The Technique of Revolution, published in 1931; S.E. Finer’s 1962 The Man on Horseback, and Edward Luttwak’s cold-blooded handbook, Coup d’Etat, of 1968. All three describe what conditions make an overthrow of the government from the inside possible—and, as one reads along, even desirable.
Malaparte, who observed first-hand Russia at the time of the Revolution, Poland at the time of the Soviet invasion in 1920, Berlin during the Kapp Putsch, and who supported Il Duce in his power-grab of 1922, described the ease with which a modern nation can be conquered by a handful of determined men; in fact, when the book was translated into English in 1931, it was considered a dangerous tract given the state of affairs in the US during the Depression. A well-executed overthrow, wrote the Italian journalist (whose rhythmic nom de plume, by the way, was a deliberately pessimistic twist on “Bonaparte”), relies upon a small number of energetic, highly-trained, highly-motivated workers rather than a loose group of masses. The capital of any country, he continued, can be at the mercy of such action.
To begin with, successful coup leaders are quick to understand the specific nature of power they are confronting and how, as a result, they must carefully style their particular offensive. “The Communist peril against which governments in modern Europe have to defend themselves lies not in Lenin’s strategy, but in Trotsky’s tactics”, wrote Malaparte of what is probably history’s most famous coup. From his famous armored train with its machine gun-outfitted Rolls Royce aboard, Trotsky, not a trained soldier, commanded the Red Guards who had seized power in then-Petrograd in 1917 by modeling his forces on the French Revolution. By shrewdly making sophisticated officers from the old regime fight alongside worker and peasant conscripts kept loyal by powerful commissars, all the while dispersing professional communists throughout to keep up “morale”, Trotsky’s success over the Whites was mainly psychological: discipline was high, expertise was present, and, the Soviet regime being a one-party dictatorship by 1919, any non-Bolsheviks were purged, thereby giving a uniform character and “fervor” to the Red Army that eluded the well-armed but disoriented Whites.
Meanwhile, the bloodless-coup tactics about to take place in Spain were of a completely different nature. The courageous, fun-loving and fascistic Captain Miguel Primo de Rivera had concluded one day that civilian rule had completely ruined Spain and that any country could, in effect, be run without a government—just a “security” force was needed. Incensed by the loss of Spain’s imperial glory with that country’s defeat in the Spanish-American war, the former colonial officer (Morocco) denounced parliamentary democracy as a fraud that promoted ineptitude, masked corruption and eroded cultural standards. In executing the relatively tame tactics of his September 1923 take-over, Primo de Rivera worked with just a few, key clandestine officers close to King Alfonso XIII, as most senior generals refused to join in. He prevailed: “Our methods are simple as they are ingenious”, he said of his coup, which, scholars have noted, employed little of the brutality and persecution that would later characterize, for example, General Franco. Primo de Rivera’s methods included the forceful but non-violent physical removal of the entire parliament and cabinet with the approval of the King—who lifted nary a finger to help his own ministers—the Captain’s reading of a poetic manifesto explaining his coup to “the people”; a suspension of the constitution, the appointment of an eight-man Directory, martial law, the replacement of all bureaucrats and civilian politicians with military officers, and the imposition of almost total censorship. His ensuing economic achievements were considerable: for instance, Spain had few cars when he came to power; by 1930 the country possessed the best network of automobile roads in Europe. Railroads were upgraded, the iron and steel industries prospered and electricity was made available for the first time to rural areas. By no means a great leader, Primo de Rivera has, nonetheless, not been quite so tarred-and-feathered by official history as far as self-imposed monarchist dictators go, and he even won the praise of the esteemed intellectual José Ortega y Gasset.
In his eloquent The Man on Horseback, the first philosophical treatment of “domestic military intervention”, the London-born Samuel E. Finer, famous for his acclaimed three-volume history of government, wrote that the military of every modern nation is by virtue of its monopoly of force and its superior degree of organization and discipline “always in a position to take over the mechanism of government.” Mr. Finer identifies four orders of political culture—mature, developed, low and minimal—each of these possessing corresponding levels of effective intervention: influence, blackmail, displacement of civilian cabinets and the outright supplanting of a civilian regime. He then cites six kinds of intervention that any rebel-military may consider within such political cultures: the normal constitutional channels, collusions or competition with the civilian authorities, intimidation of those authorities, threats of non-cooperation with or violence toward them, failure to defend that civilian establishment against violence, and, finally, outright violence perpetrated against that establishment. A coup is essentially this last category but, as some examples here have shown, must not necessarily be characterized by anarchical civil unrest.
The rebel-military for its part, continues Finer, must possess several attributes: organization and coherence, control of its arms, “emotional and symbolic status”, and the classic military virtues of discipline and restraint. Its motives for intervention must be clear: an identification with the national interest (one that is above parties, particular governments and even constitutions); identification with certain sectional interests (a social class, a separatist region or a corporate self-interest); there must be the “mood“ to intervene, “created by feelings of self-importance or morbidly high self-esteem”, and this, in particular, “when linked with professional or national humiliation and frustration.“ However, notes scholar Juan J. Linz in an astute 1965 review of this work, neither the capacity of intervention, nor the motivation to do so, nor even the desire to undertake a coup would have any effect without the “opportunity to intervene“, which can only be created by increased civilian dependence on the military in general, combined with a growing cult-popularity of the rebel-military in question. “It is this interplay of disposition and opportunity that constitutes the key to the success or failure of various types of military intervention”, writes Mr. Linz, whether the goal is mere influence and pressure on civil authority or its complete displacement.
However, if it is a step-by-step ‘How-To’ on the subject one seeks, Edward Luttwak’s 1968 underground classic is the guide of choice, one that offers no moral justifications or denunciations any which way—just the facts, Sir: the strategies and tactics for taking over a nation. Coup d’Etat patiently demonstrates the how of why a small number of individuals with assiduous planning can seize control of a state with virtually no fighting resistance on the part of the establishment government.”Though we will try to avoid all conflict with the ‘political’ forces”, writes Mr. Luttwak in his engaging first person, “some of them will almost certainly oppose a coup. But this opposition will largely subside when we have substituted our new status-quo for the old one, and can enforce it by our control of the state bureaucracy and security forces.” He continues: “We shall then be carrying out the dual task of imposing our control on the machinery of state while, at the same time, using it to impose our control on the country at large.”
Luttwak had been a student at the London School of Economics during the 1960s and had become frustrated with the lack of understanding about the African states then coming into independence. “It was naively assumed that by raising a flag, a sophisticated political community would appear overnight complete with democratic machinery in place”, one academic wrote of the development of Luttwak’s views, which grasped early on that for such countries real power rested in the militaries. From this foundation, Luttwak’s book examines at close range the structure of bureaucracy in democratic and totalitarian states; the organization of armies and, most captivatingly, the psychology of motivation among army officers—“from the embittered, passed-over captain to the general determined to save the soul of his nation”.
The Machiavellian acuity of Luttwak’s observations make for thrilling reading: one gets the sense that he’d have enjoyed as much trading notes on takeover strategies with Lenin and Bukharin over muddy coffee at Cafe Central as with Videla and Galtieri over fruity malbec on a sunny estancia along the Mar del Plata. A proper coup, Luttwak maintains, must be guided by two main considerations: first, the need for maximum speed in the transition phase, and, secondly, the imperative of swiftly neutralizing those forces which could oppose coup leaders both before and immediately after it takes place. If operations are delayed at any stage, their own inherent weaknesses will quickly emerge. Therefore, a coup must be rapid, “cloaked in anonymity”, and such that no particular political faction will have a reason, or the chance, to oppose its actors. Luttwak regards “Anglo-Saxon countries” and those of continental Europe particularly coup-prone since political parties in the West are, in effect, but “coalitions of pressure groups” or “class- or religion-based parties”, neither type of which is particularly well-versed in the techniques of mass unrest. The very stability of such political life deprives those societies’ elites of the ability to withstand the agitation of a well-organized overthrow. He also urges that violence be kept to an absolute minimum, for, “though some form of confrontation may be inevitable, it is essential to avoid bloodshed, because this may well have crucial negative repercussions amongst the personnel of the armed forces and the police.”
Above all, of course, is control of the media. In a passage that could easily have been written yesterday to summarize the current role of that institution in our sorry one-party State, Luttwak writes, “the confused and dramatic events of the coup will mean that the radio and television services will have a particularly attentive and receptive audience…[O]ur purpose is not to provide information about the situation but rather to affect its development by exploiting our monopoly of these media.“ He then adds: “Our first objective will be achieved by conveying the reality and strength of the coup instead of trying to justify it”. He goes on to define the single most critical element of a successful power-grab that knows how to stay in power:
If there is, in fact, some resistance and if its intensity and locale are such as to make it difficult to conceal from particular segments of the public, we should admit its existence; but we should strongly emphasize that it is isolated [emphasis in original], the product of the obstinacy of a few misguided or dishonest individuals who are not affiliated to any party or group of significant membership. The constant working of the motif of isolation […]and the emphasis on the fact that law and order have been re-established, should have the effect of making resistance appear as dangerous and useless. [page 168]
He further advocates the immediate manipulation of national symbols and the assertion of belief in “prevailing pieties“. For, the likely popular suspicion that the coup has been engineered by the “Company” [slang Luttwak uses for the CIA used by that organization itself] can only be dispelled with severe attacks on such questioning. “These, being verbal and not unexpected, will pacify the public without disturbing business interests, and the attacks should be all the more violent if these suspicions are, in fact, justified.” Step aside, Dr. Kissinger—it doesn’t get anymore realpolitik than this…
In a recent work of mine, I defined a philosophy of ‘Absurdism’, which states that things are so bad, they can only get better, by getting worse. It may be the case of the US of A that the rescue of the country from its subversive, nation-hating, professional patriots will require, in effect, anti-American measures that ultimately and most profoundly express the very soul of America at its best, once more recovered and rejuvenated. Because when in the course of human events…it comes time to do so, and a young man, who has returned home from war only to no longer recognize the country he volunteered, then vowed, to serve, it will be he—not the next pointless election, not the next half-baked, faction-rife political party; not the next ‘terrorism commission report’ or the next round of grotesque NSA revelations—and only he, who will understand most clearly that his country, once upon a time born from an overthrow of power, may have to go that far back, back to such origins, to become again the nation it always has been, but somewhere along the way—mysteriously, tragically—ceased to be.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.