Loyalty to America's Founding Principles vs. Loyalty to a President or a Party

One thing Donald Trump does a lot is demand loyalty. Indeed, I often hear Trump supporters talk about the importance of loyalty — loyalty to our President, and loyalty to his party. This world is going to hell in a handbasket, they lament, because there just isn’t any loyalty any more. And as these people fight in the trenches, often taking embarrassingly laughable partisan positions to fight for “their” side, they shed a tear for those who refuse to join them in such antics.

Loyalty can be an admirable trait, but it can also be a perversion if you’re loyal to the wrong thing or people. The key mistake people make, I think, is instilling a sense of loyalty to an organization, as opposed to the principles for which it stands.

A smart fellow named Jerry Pournelle once announced the Iron Law of Bureaucracy, which states: “In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. . . . Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. . . . The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.”

Pournelle cites as examples of those dedicated to the organization’s principles “dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.” As examples of those dedicated to the organization itself, he cites “many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.”

You get the picture. I think Pournelle’s observation is often accurate. But sometimes you need those people dedicated to the organization’s preservation — because organizations can be important — as long as they serve the principles for which they exist.

Take the military, for example. The military exists to preserve and defend the nation. This is important. For good reasons, in the military, the concept of loyalty to the organization and to the country is important. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. You can’t have a bunch of soldiers running around owing loyalty to inchoate principles, or they won’t know what orders to follow. They have to have loyalty to their comrades in arms, to their superiors, to the organization they belong to, and ultimately to the country they serve. People in the military can’t go around saying: “I disagree with this war I am being sent to, so I will remain in the organization but refuse to go.” That doesn’t work, because of the nature of the military. Either you follow orders and don’t carp about it, or you get out.

But civilian society is different. To tell someone: “if you don’t like what President Trump is doing, get out of the country” is as unAmerican as it gets.

And ultimately, civilian society is what makes or breaks a country. We believe the military is a good thing because we believe in the principles of the United States. Because we believe the country is worth preserving. We would prefer that the armies that fought for the great genocidal dictators of the 20th century had owed their loyalty to humanity and not to the monsters who gave them orders. But that will never happen. Armies will always follow orders. It is largely up to civilian society to make sure that a country follows its principles. And this requires constantly questioning those in authority.

Loyalty to America and to the flag might mean doing whatever the President says — defending his every Twitter excretion as the received Word. But those who are loyal to this country’s principles can and should question whether the people running our party or our country are promoting those principles — the reasons this country was founded.

Ultimately, if you owe your loyalty to an organization, as opposed to the principles of the organization, the Iron Law of Bureaucracy says that you aren’t necessarily working on behalf of the organization’s principles. You’re working to preserve the organization itself.

So if you’re disappointed in someone’s lack of loyalty to Trump or the flag or the GOP or whatever, understand that their loyalty may lie with this country’s founding principles, and not the current people in power at the moment.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, at all.