Building vs. Mobilizing

The modern idea of a politician's job is (in part) that (s)he ought to develop and propose improvements, to build a better government for the people. The idea is that this convinces additional voters and enables the most useful politicians to gain and hold political office.
Politicians even in modern democracies rarely follow this desirable pattern, though. Instead, they spend a substantial share of their energy especially during election campaigns on "firing up" pre-existing followers. The build-up of the political base is often considered to be less decisive than the mobilisation of the already existing political base.

This is very interesting even in a blog as this, for there are similarities to warfare. The modern idea of warfare is that forces shall be built up for (or preferably against) warfare. This sounds self-evident, but it wasn't always so. Up until medieval times, many kings weren't really able to build up forces. They had their vassals and vassal's vassals and the latter's servants. Preparations for warfare were often not so much about improving their equipment, horses, training or quantity as about ensuring their loyalty so enough would join the banner when the king calls.
This was even more extreme 2,000+ years ago when such codified leader-follower relationships didn't really exist. The leaders had to convince other men to join for a campaign, and had likely zero influence on which kind of equipment they brought along, or what kind of training they had. Leadership back then wasn't about building strength; it was about firing up the base in order to mobilise enough supporters for the moment of decision.

Just as in modern elections.

It's noteworthy that even as of today, the old warband model and the old behaviour patterns are still relevant. The rebels in Syria did not follow a pre-existing feudal model or were based on pre-existing government institutions. They developed bottom-up, and I suppose a close study would reveal patterns known throughout almost all known history. The very same patterns might also be of great utility not only in understanding what's going on elsewhere, but whenever we ourselves face great organisational challenges.

2009-12 Natural, self-organised units?
2010-10 Self-organization; Online gamer clans and Germanic warbands
2012-08 More on self-organisation



  1. You want that job as a politician. Which strategy does pay off - building or mobilizing?
    Building does serve as a tool for mobilizing your support, but it's just one of many tools for mobilization. Politicians good at mobiliation do often build, but building usually does carry higher risks of enmity mobilization and loss of political position.
    The day to day work of politicians is maintenance and administration. Building structures are extraordinary efforts out of the ordinary. German conservatives pretty well understand this janitor approach, while their social democratic opponents are rather architects (this is no judgement on who is the better politician).

  2. 'Maintaining' a building suggests that it is unarguable worthwhile keeping 'as is'.

    Improving such structures or replacing them with new concepts is typically driven by the challenges that have been arbitrarily imposed on those inhabiting/using the building.

    In politics, 'maintaining' arbitrary inequities attracts those happy to maintain as 'janitors' since personal advantages are thus preserved.

    Once inequities such as political access, political and economic opportunities are recognized also as inherently self-reducing/self-limiting/self-denigrating even to those who claim to enjoy them, then it is time for architectural thinking - from minor alterations over adding a wing to in rare cases a complete tear-down.

    And that would suggest a natural advantage for the architects.... assuming they know what wrong with the structure...and assuming they know how to correct that challenge.

    Just sweeping up dust-bunnies would always amount to going 'AWOL - Absent Without Leave - due to a lack of vision and can-do. And that really favors 'Architects' outlook - assuming they know...

  3. Newt Gingrich "built" the process that saw Bush elected twice.
    He turned a North East old money prep school party in to a deep south small government home school party.
    He started in 1980.

    Building support takes decades.
    Because its not so simple as getting people to vote for you. Its about identifying a large none voting block and converting your party to their flag.

    Its no accident that Obama is a Yale educated law student, without Gingrich, he'd've been running a republican ticket.

    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_strategy