"Will the real oligarchs please stand up," by Nicholas Strakon, part nine (conclusion).
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What Karp means to me

Ninety percent of this review-essay is adversely critical, but my overall assessment of Karp's book is 90 percent positive — wildly positive. Walter Karp was a master of political analysis, and he can afford to give up points.

Ironically in light of our theoretical differences, I owe much of my "Dark Suits and Red Guards" theory to Karp's analysis of collusive rule. Had I never encountered Karp's explorations of what lies beneath the superficially ferocious cat-and-dog brawling of Republicans and Democrats, and of conservatives and liberals, I might never have suspected that the extreme-leftist Establishment (my Red Guards) could be working in alliance with the fascist-corporate Establishment (my Dark Suits) to jointly exploit, demoralize, and enslave the great reaches of ordinary Americans.

The irony runs deeper. One of Karp's arguments against an extra-regime ruling class convinced me that that very ruling class must have an "executive committee." He adduces "the elementary political fact that if a ... political act hurts one special interest it will also benefit some other special interest." (p. 280) Karp provides plenty of examples of that sort of thing, and every one of them would dismay an analyst who wanted to believe that all members of a ruling class must have an identical stake in every political act.

Relying on the work of libertarian economists Walter E. Grinder and John Hagel III in "Toward a Theory of State Capitalism: Ultimate Decision-making and Class Structure," I found my executive committee in the financial sector. [20] It is in forums "chaired," in effect, by the big bankers — I came to believe — where unavoidable conflicts among politically connected corporations and entire industries are brokered; where the more favored are distinguished from the less favored; where corporate titans are reminded of the general, long-range interest they all share in the stability of the system; and where, from time to time, corporations or entire industries are prevailed upon to stand up and absorb the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (or outrageous Red Guards) in furtherance of that overall stability. The latter should sound familiar to a reader of Karp: it's just like the loyal party hack swallowing his pride and accepting defeat in a rigged race, for the greater good of the party organization. [21]


Much of what Karp wrote about, two decades ago, has passed into history, most notably the old structure of the Democracy with its Tammanyite and Bourbon wings. The old white urban machines are gone, mostly, and have been replaced in many cities — both North and South — by Negro machines whose corruption and incapacity would stagger even reptiles such as Daley who thought they had seen (and done) it all. And the South is now a two-party region — although for all we know, what we are seeing is actually a gradual transition to a one-party Republican South. [22] Party collusion continues despite tectonic shifts, suggesting that the system depends on factors and dynamics that Karp didn't consider. [23]

But it was enough for Karp to be a political Galileo and Linnaeus; we need not ask him to be a Nostradamus as well. The greatest value of Karp's approach lies in the habits of mind that, after we read him, will forever be second nature to us. We will always assume that, however impressively Republocrats and Demlicans yell and gesticulate at each other in the light of day, they spend their nights down in the basement together, carrying on some very bad business.

Karp had his blind spots, yet he was able to see much that we could not. It was his particular genius to be able to scrub the years of filth off the little basement window, peer down at the blood on the floor, and put together a convincing account of exactly what must have happened in that gloomy cellar. He did it, too, in prose clear, muscular, and sardonic.

Later this year we might need Karp to tell us — depending on events — whether the Republicans deliberately threw the presidential election by nominating the zombie Dole or whether the Democrats deliberately threw it by renominating the rogues Billary. Depending on events, we might need Karp to explain how Newt Gingrich undermined the reelection of the House Republican "mavericks" even though it meant losing the speakership. Or, alternatively, why the "mavericks" have not been a real stumbling block at all for partyarchs such as Gingrich. Whatever happens, it's a good bet that we will need Karp. But he is gone.

And any day when such a man is lost is a bad day for liberty.  Ω

Posted June 8, 2002

Posted in 2002 by WTM Enterprises.
Originally published in 1996.

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