Kleptocracies and How They Gain Public Support

I'm reading a very interesting book right now called Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. In it he talks about kleptocracies and how they maintain their power even though they basically take from the common people.

Kleptocracy: a government or state in which those in power exploit national resources and steal; rule by a thief or thieves; a government where officials are politically corrupt and financially self-interested; A government characterized by rampant greed and corruption.

I'm reading the Kindle version, so this is from location 4794 of 8299:
What should an elite do  to gain popular support while still maintaining a more comfortable lifestyle than commoners? Kleptocrats throughout the ages have resorted to a mixture of four solutions:

  1. Disarm the populace, and arm the elite.

  2. Make the masses happy by redistributing much of the tribute received, in popular ways.

  3. Use the monopoly of force to promote happiness, by maintaining public order and curbing violence.

  4. Construct an ideology or religion justifying kleptocracy.

Sound familiar? Here's the rest of what Diamond says about number 4:
Bands and tribes already had supernatural beliefs, just as do modern established religions. But the supernatural beliefs of bands and tribes did not serve to justify central authority, justify transfer of wealth, or maintain peace between unrelated individuals. When supernatural beliefs gained those functions and became institutionalized, they were thereby transformed into what we term a religion.

Hawaiian chiefs were typical of chiefs elsewhere, in asserting divinity, divine descent, or at least a hotline to the gods. The chief claimed to serve the people by interceding for them with the gods and reciting the ritual formulas required to obtain rain, good harvests, and success in fishing.

Chiefdoms characteristically have an ideology, precursor to an institutionalized religion, that buttresses the chief's authority. The chief may either combine the offices of political leader and priest in a single person, or may support a separate group of kleptocrats (that is, priests) whose function is to provide ideological justification for the chiefs. That is why chiefdoms devote so much collected tribute to constructing temples and other public works, which serve as centers of the official religion and visible signs of the chief's power.

Besides justifying the transfer of wealth to kleptocrats, institutionalized religion brings two other important benefits to centralized societies. First, shared ideology or religion helps solve the problem of how unrelated individuals are to live together without killing each other - by providing them with a bond not based on kinship. Second, it gives people a motive, other than genetic self-interest, for sacrificing their lives on behalf of others. At the cost of a few society members who die in battle as soldiers, the whole society becomes much more effective at conquering other societies or resisting attacks.

Very interesting! As I read this, I noticed some elements in how the U.S. is run or how certain parties are trying to steer the country. Of course, there are elements in other countries as well, but I know the U.S. better so I won't comment on them. What are your thoughts on how governments today use these methods to maintain their comfortable lifestyle at a higher rate than what the common people have?

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