Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Machine Crumbles

The Phalanx revolutionized warfare in the Ancient world. It has been credited to Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, who used it to utterly crush the Greek city-States. His son Alexander turned his eyes eastwards towards the Persian Empire. Seven years later, his army was on the banks of the Indus river, where he is said to have wept that there were no more worlds for him to conquor. Not for nothing do we call him "The Great".

The Phalanx was a great mass of soldiers, formed into many - at least eight and up to 32 - rows of spear men. It's actually incorrect to call the weapons "spears", which are typically eight to ten feet long. The Phalanx was armed with pikes up to 21 feet long. In the attack, at least four rows of pikes extended to the front.

Expensive to equip and train, requiring strict discipline, not many ancient states could field a Phalanx. As the shock troops par excellence, it swept all before it on the battlefield and dominated the Ancient World. Alexander died young and his empire split, but his successors honed their Phalanx tactics against each other for another hundred years. Nothing else could stand against it on the battlefield.

But new times bring new technologies and organizational ideas. By 200 B.C. the Romans were done dealing with Hannibal, and were the new tough kids on the Mediterranean block. The Greeks, chaffing under the bridle of Philip V of Macedon, asked them for help. The Romans, never shy from a fight and remembering Philip's treaty with Hannibal, thought the time ripe to take Alexander's successor down a peg.

The Romans had seen the Phalanx before, and alone in the Ancient world, weren't afraid of it. Their Legion was much less densely packed, was much more mobile, and had a large number of officers which made it much easier to command during the heat of the battle. In 197 B.C. Titus Quinctius Flamininus met Philip at Cynoscephalae. Part of his legions held off the shock of Philip's Phalanx, while other parts of used their superior mobility to get behind the it. The Phalanx was all about organizing large numbers troops for mass and shock, not for mobility and adaptability on the battlefield.

Mobility and adaptability were what the Romans excelled at, and Flamininus' legions cut the Phalanx to pieces. Philip's son Perseus tried to soldier on for another decade, but it was too little, too late. He ended as the last of his line.

Organization, mass, and shock are great as far as they go, but adaptability and mobility still gives people fits. We're seeing that happen again today, as both Dinosaur political parties are finding that their armies of ward bosses and control of the old media no longer provide enough mass and shock for the current political battlefield. They're facing not each other, like the Phalanx duels of old, predictable and stodgy. Instead, they find themselves face to face with a new foe, one that uses new media channels to adapt and out flank them.

And make no mistake - both of the Dinosaur parties are bleeding on this battlefield. All his campaign money, all the ward bosses with their Get Out The Vote programs, none of this saved Alan Mollohan. His own party defeated him, or more accurately, a Legion of new Democrats destroyed his Phalanx of ward bosses and Political Establishment hangers on. He joins Bob Bennett, who suffered the exact same fate from a legion of fellow Republicans who cut his political machine to bits. Arlen Specter and John McCain may soon join them, their careers ended not by the opposing party, but by their own.

These legions share an affinity to online organizing and the use of new media to bypass the old media gatekeepers, to surround the crumbling Phalanxes.

Blogfather JayG left a comment to yesterday's post, speaking for a number of others:
I wish I were as optimistic as you, BP.

I still maintain that the Stupid Party might just manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I hope I'm wrong, I really do; I just fear that history will indeed repeat itself...
I don't think that the problem is the Democrats, and I don't think the solution is the Republicans. The problem is that there's a permanent political class that has increasing contempt for the voters, and who is aided and abetted by their lackeys in the traditional media. If the Republicans are not as bad as the Democrats in this, it's not for lack of trying.

There's a reason that I call them the Stupid Party. The big losses in 2006 and 2008 weren't enough for the signal to get through the noise from the machine. The voters were sending as clear a message as I've ever seen, and where's the change? We sure didn't see it from the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Scott Brown's campaign.

Stupidity knows no party, however: the Democrats think that a repudiation of the Republican establishment was an embrace of the Democrat establishment. Well, have fun with that one, Scooter, and we shall see what we shall see in November.

The problem is with both parties, with both political establishments, with a culture that is rigid, inflexible, and too comfortable with the old shock campaigns. Parties who see more value in those that help them fund and equip their phalanxes than in those who they pay lip service to represent.

Both parties.

But the Legions are forming, and are even now in battle. The solution is one that the Romans knew well, decimation. When one of the Roman Army Cohorts earned the contempt of the Republic, every tenth man was put to death. That let the other nine know that no further infractions would be tolerated.

Bluesun left a comment yesterday that speaks to the sense of futility felt by so many:
No matter who wins, however optimistically they say they will change the system, it's all gonna go back to the status quo soon enough. The problem is there is no fresh blood. For most anyone to be elected they have to already be part of the party, or so rich that they are out of touch with reality anyway.
Or they have to join a Legion.

The message is already going out, not just in the form of Internet chatter, but in the form of voters rejecting the incumbents. The message is: no seat is safe. Right now, it's Blue-on-Blue and Red-on-Red action, where the tangos are members of the same party. They're still being voted out. The contempt is being returned, in a very legal and binding way.

There is only one danger, and it's this: if we stop. The Legions didn't, and ground down their opponents until the Mediterranean was a Roman Lake.

People are talking about 100 Democratic seats being lost this November. I for one will consider this a failure if 20 Republicans are not also turned out into the street. I want Congress terrified of us, more terrified of us than tempted by their old comfortable ways. I want them thinking on their future.

As Dr. Johnson said, When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully. This isn't Republican vs. Democrat, that's short term thinking. Long term thinking is it's us vs. them, and we have to break them to our will. All of them.

The parties hate this, as do their lackeys in the traditional media. This much disruption makes it hard to plan, just like the Legion tactics made it hard on generals used to Phalanx battles, or reporters used to acting as sportscasters at the battles. The have to adjust to a world of Tea Parties and Sarah Palin and grassroots Democrat insurgency, and they hate this uncertainty.

There's an old Roman saying that applies here: Oderint, dum metuant. Let them hate, so long as they fear.

The Dinosaurs smell a change in the air, and roar their defiance.

UPDATE 13 May 2010 15:16: Welcome visitors from JayG's place. If you like this post, you might be interested in this one. Also, stop by tomorrow morning for a post about the Senate's Cap-and-Trade boondoggle.

UPDATE 14 May 2010 12:50: Welcome visitors from View From The Porch. If you liked this, you might also like this.


Paladin said...


"I want Congress terrified of us, more terrified of us than tempted by their old comfortable ways."

AND I want them more afraid of us than they are of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, pressure from the White House, or anyone else that seeks to subvert the will of the people. The stories of representatives caving in to pressure and/or promises of backroom deals during all of this - all while the people's wishes are being ignored - make me feel physically ill.

ASM826 said...

Jay said it. Out of the park. One of your best.

bluesun said...

I eagerly await the future. I can't see the entire population of the USA going to way of britain, even if the leaders of the big cities work towards it, so I kinda figure freedom will be there, if you want it.

Borepatch said...

Paladin, that's a great point. Wish I'd said that.

ASM826, thanks. It seems a bit grumpy when I read it last night. Maybe I should get grumpy more often?

Bluesun, I've never seen anything like this before. For sure, there's no chance at all that we'll go gentile into that Dark Night, like they have in Britain. Congress is starting to realize that, but they don't yet feel it in their gut. Come November, they will.

TOTWTYTR said...

Terrific, just terrific. You've summed up everything that frustrated voters are feeling right now.

The fact that incumbents are no longer safe from challengers in their own party signals a sea change.

Obama might have pioneered use of new media in his '08 campaign, but he can't control it in '10. Ironically he helped to kill the legacy media that adored and helped him so much.

10,000 blogs across the nation can shape opinion more effectively than a 100 TV networks and big city newspapers.

As Instpundit called it, "An Army of Davids".

Anonymous said...

There is alot of truth in that BP, but I don't think the problem is 'they the politicians', it is we the people.

In a democracy like ours we only have ourselves to blame. We have exactly the gov't we deserve.

Consider - that black moron in the Whitehouse got there on a campaign that would have gotten a white man laughed out of the race. It was more important to America to have a black president rather than one that can lead. The repubs may not be saints, but America chose an inexperienced, rhetoric spouting empty suit and a drunk for their POTUS and VP when they could have had a war hero and a hockey mom.

Well America, you are living the Democrat dream America and serves you right.


Hunsdon said...

Great stuff, Borepatch. I'm a little snowflake from the upcoming Tamalanche.

jetfxr69 said...


Let the Tamalanche commence!!

Ed Foster said...

Borepatch: May I add more kind words? That is what I would have liked to have written if I had the time and work ethic. Brilliant essay, and I'll be sharing the link with everyone I know who has a claim to gray matter.

staghounds said...

This is a GREAT, a TRULY GREAT, instructive metaphor.

The phalanx had a loooong run, a thousand years later it was still part of the battle lines in the English Civil and Thirty Years' Wars.

Gatekeepers versus gatebreakers is one of the very few basic human dramas.

Hill Street Blues and Tom Foley presaged this storm, what, twenty five years ago?

The first gate breakers are almost always seduced by the city, instead of tearing down the other gates.

And the rank and file gate breaker assistants lack long term drive.

This fight is far from even the "end of the beginning" stage.

And, Don- great work, pandering to our enemies!

SpeakerTweaker said...


Now that's revolutionary. Not the type that involves buying up all the AR mags at Brownell's (but hey, if you have the money...). This is the type of revolutionary process that is real, applicable, and very, very possible.

Batten down the hatches if/when the time comes, but Legions are what we can do right now.

Very, very well said, sir.


Ken said...

Excellent work, Borepatch. It works again and again, too. An echo of the legion and the phalanx can be heard in what Gustav Adolf did to the tercio. Once people get on top, they tend to forget what it was that got them there.

DaddyBear said...

Outstanding post. The government should be reminded that they serve at our discretion. Neither party has been putting the country ahead of politic for a very, very long time, and a ground swell of anti-incumbent sentiment is just what is needed to swing them back towards their job of representing us instead of trying to get reelected and score political points.

Stan said...

When left with nothing but bad chooses on the ballet, I have decided I will write "NO CONFIDENCE" rather than voting for just another either party stooge.

Anonymous said...

Past time (WAAYYYYY past time) to return to the concept of the citizen-statesman and kill off the concept of the professional politician (but we have the expeeeeriance. . . )

B Woodman

Anonymous said...

Yep! Bob Bennet is out.

Orin hatch is next.

B Wooodman

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