October 30, 2023•612 words
I've got no education whatsoever in polisci or history, so take all this as the word of an unqualified amateur. But being an unqualified amateur has never stopped me before and I don't see any reason why it should now. So I've decided to compile some timeless laws of human political behavior. Source on all of them is "I read a lot of history".
The law of conservation of sovereignty: sovereignty can be transferred, but never created or destroyed. That which is not sovereign does not govern; that which governs is sovereign. That which gives up sovereignty will find it taken by something else. If (for example) the "government" lets you go anywhere but a corporation restricts your movements, it is the corporation which is exercising sovereignty over your movement.
Every polity has a hierarchy. Some are more explicit than others.
Every settled polity has an aristocracy. Some are more formal than others.
Inter-group interactions are real whether you believe in them or not. Factors like language, culture, ethnicity, religion, gender, class, family, and location have a great effect on how groups of humans relate to each other. Attempts to ignore or eradicate these factors have consistently failed throughout history; some have managed to downplay or transform them using finesse and wisdom; many have managed to harness them as awesome forces of destructive power; many of those have lost control of that which they have unleashed.
Every polity has a formal "org chart" describing its government in theory; one which is written down or spoken aloud officially. Every polity also has an informal "org chart" which accurately captures the structure of power in practice; this can only be determined through close study and observation, and is subject to change at any time without a corresponding change in the formal structure. The difference between the formal and informal org charts is a crucial measure of the stability of the polity; when they diverge too far, the odds of a revolution approach 1. A key long-term outcome of any revolution is that the formal and informal org charts become reconciled; both may end up taking radically different forms than the ones they started out with.
People act in what they perceive to be their own best interest. They may be sincerely wrong; they are rarely sincerely selfless. If they claim to be acting in the best interest of someone else, they likely see a benefit to themselves.
Client-patron relations are the base unit of political power; patrons provide favors and protection to their clients and are rewarded by loyalty, prestige, and/or rent. Patrons act to increase the size, power, and loyalty of their client base; clients act to improve their position in the client base, improve the position of the patron within society, or move to more promising patrons when dissatisfied.
No "democracy" is entirely dependent on public opinion; no "autocracy" is entirely immune.
Virtues like honesty, trust, competence, and fairness are difficult to measure directly and easy to take for granted. But it's horribly obvious when they go missing from a particular place, and you probably want to be far away from that place when that happens.
Given the choice between abstract ideals like Freedom, Justice, Truth, etc and concrete benefits like Food, Stability, or Comfort, expect most people to take the concrete benefits. But sometimes they'll surprise you!
Soft power tends to work best when there's hard power backing it up.
People can shrug off Injury, but they'll stay mad about Insult for millennia.
Every action has intended and unintended consequences. Over time, the unintended ones will grow dominant.