19 November 2012

How Democracies End (maybe)


I have a theory about Weimar Germany. It’s unencumbered with much in the way of evidence, but I did cover the subject at school, and I can remember bits.

The popular theory, which I’ve alluded to previously, is that the big event was this chap Hitler. He was some supernatural weirdo from Hell, who, like a false prophet, inspired the normal, liberal people of Germany to give up their democratic birthright and follow his dreams of securing lebensraum for the master race, etc, etc.

Then there’s that slightly odd bit where he didn’t actually win the election, but he did fairly well and it sort of counted as near enough, so he was declared Chancellor and allowed to take over everything in sight. It kind of seems like some sort of dodgy conspiracy, but it’s not obvious whose.

 My theory, grounded on the above, is that by — what are we talking, 1933? — democracy had so completely, utterly, failed that nobody, least of all those actually running it, could stomach it carrying on one year longer. The only question was what to do instead?  There were communists kicking around, but that wasn’t an attractive idea for the ruling class. And there was this Hitler dude, and while he had a bunch of somewhat fruitcake ideas, he seemed to have support, he was serious about changing things, and at least he wasn’t a commie. What else was there?  Even the leading democratic politicians didn’t have any better idea than letting him have a go.

 There was one other option, of course. As I linked to once before, it is claimed that President Hindenburg, in his will, indicated a desire to restore the Hohenzollern monarchy.

An interesting irony of history is that this, had it happened, would surely have been seen by the Allies / International Community as an outrageously aggressive, warlike, and unacceptable development. In comparison, the extension of powers held by a prominent politician, in order to deal with a crisis, seemed far less dangerous.

 It's a cool story. I fear that if I had learned my O-level history better, or forgotten less of it, I would see some obvious flaw in it, but I really don’t have time these days to relearn it.

18 November 2012

Another turnaround

Half Sigma linked to this piece by Eric Posner pointing out that what we think of as the "American" absolutist attitude to free speech is really only half a century old.

I bring it up not to comment on Posner's argument about the desirability of censorship of hate speech, or Half Sigma's warning about the likelihood of a liberal-majority supreme court outlawing swathes of HBD and other blogging, but simply, like the sexual habits of 1970s DJs, as an example of how quickly the commonplace can become unthinkable, and the unthinkable commonplace.

Hitchens vs Paddick


I happened to find myself with Wednesday evening free (a few weeks ago), so I coughed up ten quid to see Peter Hitchens debate Brian Paddock over the drug laws at St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street.

The subject isn’t one which interests me greatly, but I find Hitchens always worth reading and I work nearby, so I went to see him in action.

The debate centred entirely on cannabis. Hitchens’ thesis, stacked in £17 hardbacks on a table by the door, is that cannabis is much more dangerous than is generally supposed, and is at least comparable in harm to what are recognised as “hard” drugs.

Interestingly, Paddock (a former senior London police officer who has run unsuccessfully for Mayor the last two elections), agreed that cannabis is very dangerous to young people. He implied that the risks of severe psychological damage coming from cannabis use were lower than Hitchens had suggested, but both of them were very reluctant to quantify, both agreeing that accurate statistics of either use of or harm from cannabis are difficult to come by.

Hitchens has a very strong argument on the frequent comparison of drug prohibition with US alcohol prohibition, which is that alcohol prohibition did not ban possession or consumption of alcohol. I confess that that fact had never really registered with me. The argument that flows from that is that if you actually want to stop consumption of alcohol or cannabis, you have to ban it, and mean it, and that current drug policy is repeating the mistake of prohibition.

The weakest point of Hitchens’ argument was not really explored, but he claims, first, that cannabis has been effectively legal for forty years, and, second, that once it has been legal and widespread, it is practically impossible to get rid of it. By that logic, it is already too late.

I threw a question in towards the end, but by that point the questions were being gathered in batches, and neither speaker addressed it. I asked if either of them could explain why, when substances such as tobacco, salt and butter are being more restricted on health grounds year by year, it is even on the agenda that this one product, cannabis, be subject to more relaxed regulation, against the general trend.

There were some right morons in the audience. The first questioner went into a tedious, pointless rehashing of the best-known arguments on the subject, taking almost as long as the seven minutes each speaker was allotted to make their initial case.

 Ultimately, the reason I don’t find the subject so interesting these days is because I rather suspect that a sane and efficient state could ban dangerous drugs effectively, or legalise them, and do better either way than we do. The precise details of how HM Government screws up drug policy just make for another tedious sordid history. Drug prohibition fails because of the astonishing inefficiency of the legal system — a simple arrest, conviction and sentencing for cannabis possession ought to take about one man-hour of police time and maybe three man-hours of lawyers and another three for administrative court staff. I get the impression it is about ten times that level, which makes the whole process unworkable. Alternatively, drugs could be legal if people had to take responsibility for their own welfare, but the toxic state dependency culture turns drugs which can be enjoyed in moderation by people who have serious responsibilities into life-destroying obsessions for those who have nothing else to do. My pet obsession, the infantilising of 15-25-year-olds, makes them  particularly susceptible.

The real problems we see both from the “War on drugs” and from drug abuse flow not primarily from drug policy, but from other failings of the state.

17 November 2012

Executions in North Korea


I take this as an encouraging sign

North Korean army minister 'executed with mortar round'

As a supporter of the principle of absolute monarchy, I do not believe that the problem with North Korea is that it has a hereditary ruler. Indeed, now in the third generation, I would expect to see the benefits of hereditary rule to be starting to show themselves.

So far I have been disappointed. North Korea’s government remains terribly bad. As I have written previously, I attribute this to the fact that, while hereditary, the government does not rest on the principle of hereditary right. Its political formula is built on a form of Marxism, and while the extra stability given to it by its ad-hoc monarchism has served to preserve it well beyond the normal lifespan of Marxist states, it doesn’t confer the full advantages of an explicitly hereditary system.

What I am interested in, when it comes to the guessing-game of looking at the politics of North Korea, is whether the Marxist-politburo “scientific” government or the early-modern Monarchical government has the upper hand. The first is bad, the latter good.

The story that has leaked out of North Korea is that Kim Chol has been executed for unfeelingly carrying on with high living during the mourning period for the late King, Kim Jong-Il, and further, that the young King, Kim Jong-Un, was so outraged that he demanded “no trace be left”. Therefore the unhappy vice-minister was stuck out in a field to be blown up with heavy weaponry.

That is seriously badass — we’re talking Tudor. The vital points are that (a) the offence was against the Royal Line, not the state or the politburo. And (b) the punishment was driven by personal anger, not a scientific principle of government. The Soviet Union was famously practical and humane about executing the deviationists, this is the opposite. Finally, it suggests that, if there is still some kind of internal power struggle going on — perhaps a continuation of some struggle over successsion — those with power are determined to win it absolutely. These three elements all point to better government for North Korea going forward.

Does this mean I want future King William V indulging in such Bond-villan escapades, come the Restoration? In extremis, yes. If senior, trusted members of the administration back the wrong side in a civil war, there is much to be said for going 16th-century on their arses. In peacetime, not so much. A good administration is one where the rule of law can be counted on. Once it is established that the King can rule by personal whim, he has little need to, since he will gain more by running a successful state.

Of course, with North Korea, it is not clear that the best thing would be for the government to improve. If the government failed and collapsed, the natural outcome would be a reunification under the South Korean government, which has an enviable track record over the last half century.

However, South Korea's government has only one way to go, and that’s down. It is not twenty years since the country stepped onto the democratic conveyor belt, and it is not reasonable to expect the quality of governance that the DJP exercised to continue into the future. That doesn’t mean we should expect rapid decline in the quality of life there — One of the major misunderstood patterns of history is that secure autocracy produces peace and prosperity and, enjoying wealth and freedom, the subjects, associating wealth and freedom with the ruling class, expect that as they have the wealth and freedom of the ruling class, they should gain political power as a natural consequence. The autocrat is replaced or shackled, and the momentum of the former peace and prosperity produces a flourishing of improved life that the new regime first unfairly takes credit for, and then gradually proceeds to destroy.

Those who benefit most from their government are least loyal to it.

So, the story coming out of North Korea is consistent with a hereditary ruler cementing his dominance over rival power centres within the régime. That is by no means the only explanation, so any optimism should be very tentative.

16 October 2012

Integrating Theory and Practice


Alan Roebuck has found an essay by Eric Heubeck, “The Integration of Theory and Practice”.

It addresses the most difficult of questions: what to actually do about progressivism, given that conservative democratic politics is self-defeating.

Heubeck’s approach is to fight primarily on the battleground of culture. Traditionalists must find each other, and build informal and formal institutions in order to escape the progressive institutions and break their cultural dominance.

The practical starting point he puts forward is the study group, for determined traditionalists, and the book club, to broaden the reach of the movement and increase its base.

I’m not certain about the whole book club thing, but the ideas behind it certainly make sense. Ideas become respectable when you can actually see people practicing them. And as I’ve said before, reactionary ideas currently suffer more from lack of respectability than from lack of persuasiveness.

The difficult thing is how much to compromise to build the start of a movement. There are a reasonable number of people around who oppose multiculturalism, widespread promotion of promiscuity, large-scale benefits culture. There are very few who oppose the democracy and egalitarianism that produced them. Trying to organise with the first group will create a merely conservative organisation, not a genuinely reactionary one. But there aren’t enough of us to create reactionary organisations — just a few hundred that can be identified at this point, scattered across the Anglosphere.

For the Heubeck strategy to be workable, we need a larger base to build on. We don’t need anything like the numbers required for actual political work, but we need sufficient density that supporters can interact with each other. If a town of 100,000 has 10 people who can form a study group, the strategy is up and running.

I seem pessimistic about this — if I’m over-pessimistic, that’s because of another problem: many of the people we do have aren’t exactly clubbable. Possibly I’m over-generalising from my personal situation, but the movement as it exists on the internet seems to consist primarily of Angry Young Men and Computer Nerds. As one of the latter, reaching out to form a group of people to meet regularly and build social connections with is slightly outside my core compentence.

However, Heubeck wrote his article while Mencius Moldbug was still developing a WAP browser. The internet does now give us at least the capability to connect in spite of our pitifully low density (and our inferior social skills), though I don’t believe that can replace the sort of activity Heubeck proposed. The point of the social catalysis is to become visible and relevant to the people around us, a living demonstration that the existing culture is not the only way to think and live.

The thing that would make this work would be if I were missing something: if the real movement is not the nerdy ex-libertarian bloggers, but some other, larger section which we can join up with. That could be, but I don’t know who they are, at least in England. The churches are if anything the hard core of progressivism. The BNP/EDL type nationalists do not seem to exhibit anything in the way of real conservatism, and are so persecuted that allying with them is strategic suicide anyway.

The somewhat contradictory* connection between the reactionary worldview and the more thoughtful element of the Game/PUA community is promising in terms of bringing leadership skills into scope.

The biggest obstacle is that the enemy understands the strategy, having practiced it so succesfully itself. Any open advocacy of traditional thought, however mild and however limited the context, will be attacked. Employers, venues will be put under pressure. But that’s the reason this is so necessary: right now, speaking out against changing a currently in-force law is enough to get you suspended from a job. The reason why it’s possible for the progressive establishment to sack people for supporting a law that it isn’t currently possible for them to change is that their dominance of the culture is accepted even where it isn’t liked.

The biggest reason for optimism is that rejection of democracy, in particular, is gaining ground rapidly. We might not quite have the critical mass yet to start adopting the Heubeck strategy, but we could be ready quite soon.


* The contradiction is defined in a tweet by Heartiste, who is largely responsible for the connection between the two groups: “Like Obama, I carry a duality. I intellectually know paleo right policies are better for the nation, yet I prefer to live liberally”

03 October 2012

Jimmy Savile

There's a lot of mystified chatter around these days along the lines of, “How did Jimmy Savile get away with it”. There are some fun theories (David Icke is on form there), but the truth is at once boringly prosaic and shocking.

In the 1960s and 70s, being into teenage girls wasn’t a big deal.

It wasn’t exactly respectable, but DJs weren’t respectable anyway. It wasn’t legal, but neither was drink-driving, and everybody in those days did that.

Being into teenage boys was a bit worse, but that’s because homosexuality was not well-regarded. Stories about choirmasters or scoutmasters or latin masters who were a bit too friendly with their charges were common jokes. Not shocking, “alternative” jokes, but boring, mother-in-law, Benny Hill, variety show jokes.

I think messing about with pre-pubescent girls or boys was another matter, but Hugo Rifkind’s story, from Savile’s autobiography, where he keeps a runaway remand school girl home overnight, was not the sort of thing someone with a reputation for being a bit rough and wild anyway would be shy of admitting.

This is another example of those changes in attitude that are so severe and sudden that the culture just blanks out that things were ever different, leaving odd inexplicable anomalies like Jimmy Savile, the friendly childrens’ entertainer and sex-case. 

28 September 2012

Even more Meritocracy


I carelessly ventured into the issue of meritocracy versus static class hierarchies, but the volume of relevant comment and even current events since has been more than I can cope with.

I learned, for instance (from Felix Salmon), that the term “meritocracy” itself is only 50 years old, and was coined by a critic, the Labour politician Michael Young (Baron Young of Dartington). Judging by an old Guardian article I found, his criticisms are not identical to mine, but there is considerable overlap.

chris dillow pointed out that even an ideal free market is only a rough approximation to meritocracy, quoting Hayek: “the return to people’s efforts do not correspond to recognizable merit.”

Separately, a post at conservativetimes made the point that historical aristocracies did not see themselves in opposition to merit, rather, the aristocrats believed that they were the best people.

By “merit” in this context, we generally understand skill, knowledge, hard work. In those terms, the theory that hereditary aristocrats are the most meritorious is not very convincing. Advantages in education and upbringing can give them an edge in ability, but not necessarily a large one. The meritocratic claim, that you will get more of whatever qualities you are looking for by opening access for the widest possible population, is much more reasonable.

Since the term “meritocracy” post-dates aristocracies, they clearly didn't think of themselves exactly that way in any case. The term they used for their exclusive quality was “nobility”. Does that get us any closer to understanding them? What does it mean to be noble? This needs looking into.

However, defining nobility to embrace a broader element of virtue, the case is still weak. Even if aristocrats are on average more virtuous, itself a highly dubious proposition, there are surely many lesser-born among the most virtuous. I still think it makes sense to assume that the distinguishing quality of an aristocrat is loyalty to the existing order.

Spandrell commented that there is very much solidarity among the ruling elite, at least in Mediterranean societies. It may be that I underestimated this even for Britain, perhaps because my context at the time was the hyper-competitive environment of electoral politics. Capitalists and civil servants perhaps exhibit more cohesiveness. This needs looking into.

On a related note, Bryan Caplan wrote a very good blog post, addressing the obvious and important question, “Why is democracy tolerable?”. He cites research that finds, that where the opinions of the rich and the rest differ, policy overwhelmingly tends to follow the opinions of the rich. That could be a point in favour of Spandrell’s “upper class solidarity” argument, though the rich having more power than the poor is not in contradiction with either meritocracy or aristocracy/oligarchy.

Helen Rittlemeyer’s post addresses the mechanisms of the changes in the Western ruling classes. The point is that, while the ruling class always admitted some new blood, the result was that the incomers learned and adopted the culture and values of the existing rulers. In recent decades, the flow of “meritocratic” new blood has been sufficient to swamp the old culture. There is an obvious parallel there to the conventional wisdom around mass immigration; that there is a maximum rate that allows for integration of newcomers into a society.

Of course, all this brings us to the major news story of last week: the incident of the Government Chief Whip being rude to a policeman. While it’s impossible not to at least raise an eyebrow at the media weight the affair has received, I must admit that it is more interesting to me than goings-on in Syria and Libya or the latest bickerings over the Spanish bailout.

Philip Blond’s argument chimes with Rittlemeyer’s, that Mitchell represents the “new” ruling class who have the power of the old one without the culture. Of course, Mitchell’s position has some relevance: if the popular view of the Chief Whip’s role is accurate, then getting people to do what he tells them by bullying them, swearing at them, belittling them and threatening them is not Mitchell’s hobby, it is his job. The incident is more akin to a Formula One driver speeding on the motorway out of habit than to a footballer partying with underage girls out of an exaggerated sense of entitlement and self-importance, though it has qualities of both.

For Rittlemeyer’s take to be applicable, it does not matter whether Mitchell himself is “old blood” or a meritocratic climber. The claim is not that that the ruling class contains incomers who do not have the old mores, it is that the old mores have been destroyed by the culture (or lack of culture) of the incomers, and now not even the old blood still retain them. (Blond contrasts Mitchell with Boris Johnson as an example of the old-style elite, but Johnson is self-consciously eccentric, and not necessarily a good example of any wider body).

20 September 2012

Meritocracy and other bad ideas


Referring to my 2037 piece, I said:
when it comes to any kind of power, loyalty is more important than exceptional ability. That’s not to say that incompetence is OK, but if your system of government depends on having people of exceptional ability, then it’s broken. Instead take the most competent people from the pool of those brought up to privilege and loyalty, and if they’re not good enough to, say, run a car company, the solution is not to have a government car company... The motto of the civil service should be “Good Enough for Government Work”
Commenter newt0311 objected that “real power always ends up with the exceptional”, and that if the elite is no longer composed of the exceptional, the civilisation dies. My immediate response was that the elite might need the best people, but the government doesn’t.

That’s what I had in mind when I wrote “good enough for government work”; that the middle management of the state administration should not be sucking up top talent that would contribute more to the common good in the productive sector. That’s only half the argument, though; my initial point was that the most senior people had to be trustworthy, and it is better to compromise on ability than bring in people who cannot be counted on to be loyal.

The loyalty factor does not necessarily go away outside the government itself. I wrote that “If you have real power, you will be expected to positively show loyalty”, and that includes those outside the state.

(In itself, that is admittedly a questionable idea: the problem is that market competition could be corrupted by participants attempting to get their competitors into trouble. I think that’s a small risk compared to the massive rent-seeking that goes on under democracy, but it’s a worry).

So, is newt0311 right; does civilisation require that exception people be in control?  I don’t see it. If the elite systematically excluded those of exceptional ability, that would leave a superior “shadow elite” with an argument for, and the ability to, replace the ruling elite. That would be a bad situation. I’m not arguing for excluding the exceptional, nor for ignoring the value of ability. I am only claiming that there are other important factors to balance it.

To put my case in the simplest form, the single hardest thing for civilisation to achieve is to coordinate people effectively. Doing so does require individuals of great ability, but more than that, it requires trust. That, as I wrote before, is the solution to the “lobotomised by activity” problem that we see in both Nick Clegg and Barack Obama. Thus I advocate that the elite select first on the basis of insiders — people who have a stake in the system and can be trusted, and then choose for ability within that.

(An aside: “being from a good family”, which is more or less what I mean by “insider”, is not in itself a sufficient guarantee of loyalty. For more sensitive positions, more evidence than that will be needed. But it’s a good start, and it also provides a way to get other evidence: the employer will know people who know the candidate, and be much better able to gauge their character than in a meritocratic system.)

Our current form of government is effectively the opposite. We are ruled by people of exceptional ability, in the public and private sectors; every position is open to anyone, and the winners are those who have beaten their rivals in the most demanding contest. However, they then represent themselves, with varying degrees of credibility, as ordinary people. Also, because they have all come through highly selective processes, they have no connections to each other, and are still competing and fighting each other at the highest level of government.

This leads to the “arrogance and recklessness” problem I discussed some time ago: not only is each individual selected for ability over reliability, but they are in a peer group that is immersed in the idea that second-best is a disgrace. That produces the “champion or bust” attitude that has caused so many of our recent disasters. A soupçon of meritocracy is a manageable thing when added into a culture of in-group loyalty. When meritocracy becomes the culture, it is time to head for the bunker.

(The other problem, of course, is what their exceptional ability actually is. They’re not necessarily the best people for doing their jobs; they are the best at getting their jobs. But the premise of the discussion is that ability is ability; these are exceptional people.)

15 September 2012

Obama’s Way


Michael Lewis’s piece in Vanity Fair, based on spending time with President Obama last year, is absolutely essential reading.

I've seen some comments on twitter to the effect that the piece is basically out to make Obama seem like a nice guy. Well, that’s Michael Lewis’s schtick; he blends the big story with a feel for the personalities of the subjects. He does it very well; I got held up writing this, because it reminded me I never got around to reading The Blind Side, and that caused me to waste a day.

Obama probably is a nice guy, but that's not the big story, and it isn’t all that important either way.

There are two stories in the article; first the atmosphere of the presidency, and second the decision to overthrow Gadaffi.

The atmosphere is familiar, particularly reminding me of Nick Clegg saying he feels “lobotomised” by working in government, with the “frenetic” pace of politics leaving him with no time to think. Lewis says Obama “has the oddest relationship to the news of any human being on the planet. Wherever it starts out, it quickly finds him and forces him to make some decision about it: whether to respond to it, and shape it, or to leave it be. As the news speeds up, so must our president’s response to it”.

An incidental point is Lewis’s judgement that “He badly underestimated, for instance, how little it would cost Republicans politically to oppose ideas they had once advocated, merely because Obama supported them.” To me that is just a sign of someone who doesn’t understand politics very well. (Some have suggested that Obama is some kind of cynical political operator, based on his participation in the famously grubby Chicago political machine. But that may overestimate his role there — he may well have been a piece on the board there, rather than a chessplayer).

Lewis represents as exceptional and courageous Obama’s refusal to make a snap decision on whether to support a no-fly zone over Libya in March 2011. Rather than deciding in one meeting, he demanded a second meeting with alternative actions suggested that, unlike a no-fly zone, would actually work.

And so to the second big story. If Lewis’s account is to be believed, the decision to take out the Libyan army on the road to Benghazi, thereby destroying the Libyan state and producing a revolutionary government, was made entirely on the basis of the humanitarian issue caused by the steps Gadaffi would be likely to take to regain control of Benghazi. The arguments made against decisively taking the rebel side in the civil war were purely based on the cost and the risk of tying up further US military resources. The question of who would take over Libya and what they would do afterwards doesn’t seem to have arisen; rather, “The ghosts of 800,000 Tutsis were in that room.” The mind boggles.

But, from Obama’s position, the decision was made in a few hours here and there. I have put more time into deciding whether to buy a DVD.

The overwhelming fact is the constraint of available time. Any person, of whatever ability and whatever theoretical power, can be made impotent just by keeping them busy. And if the only decisions which are referred to the top level are the ones which are so well-balanced as to be 50-50, the leader might just as well toss a coin.

Therefore, the only real way to gain power is as a group: one leader and a few loyal sidekicks. The sidekicks have the real power, because they have time to think. The leader is effectively their frontman.

Alternatively, the leader can take one issue, allowing a sidekick to handle everything else. That’s the setup described in Heinlein’s The Man Who Sold The Moon, and referred to by Fred Brooks in The Missing Man-Month.

13 September 2012

Commentary on "Kingdom 2037"


OK, so I've written the first example of what I think should be in the Reactionary Library. I feel tempted to make a big deal of it, and then I remember the problem, that it's not very good. I'm making it a separate post (to follow), because the idea is it's supposed to stand on its own, but it doesn't, so here's a load of supporting commentary. Responses & comments can come here, so I'll close off comments on the article itself and point them here.

It talks about a scenario where an openly absolute Windsor monarchy has been established in England (more likely England & Wales, maybe Great Britain or Great Britain & Northern Ireland, but that's one of many points not addressed). It doesn't talk about how that happened, which is more important and more difficult.

The first part emphasises the continuity with the traditional monarchy, while no continuity with the last 300 years of prime ministerial government. There should be no trace of the House of Commons, because even if it had value it would be a focus for recreating some kind of democracy. I originally wanted to leave the House of Lords out too, but I want the important people of the country to see themselves as insiders, with duties to the system, so formalising their role is helpful.

The reason for the important people having hereditary peerages is that, when it comes to any kind of power, loyalty is more important than exceptional ability. That's not to say that incompetence is OK, but if your system of government depends on having people of exceptional ability, then it's broken. Instead take the most competent people from the pool of those brought up to privilege and loyalty, and if they're not good enough to, say, run a car company, the solution is not to have a government car company. The Victorian meritocratic civil service was exceptionally effective, but it was a step down the wrong road. The motto of the civil service should be "Good Enough for Government Work" (what's that in Latin?)

The idea of the King abdicating in old age is tricky: I've argued against it in the past, because it isn't traditional and it creates uncertainty and possibly faction. I don't think it's really avoidable, though. In the past monarchies had a lot of problems with infertility and with heirs inheriting at a very young age; in the modern world those difficulties should be very rare, but kings partly-incapacitated with age will be more of a problem than ever before. It's more important, though, that there's no authority that can impose it. It has to be the king's own decision.

I've written before on the idea of the oldest child, male or female, inheriting. Also not traditional, but probably for the best.

My idea for the most senior administrators is that they have already "made it". They are not struggling to hang on another year, they get the wealth and status, and they get to keep them, even if they are replaced.

A lot of this stuff is about public attitude rather than systems. The highest aim of an ambitious person should be to establish a dynasty which will remain important for generations. It's not as easy to see how that works in a modern volatile economy as in an agricultural society where land ownership was reliable long-term wealth.

The point I'm trying to get to is where the King's senior people are insiders rather than players. They work for the system because it is their system and because it is their duty.

The alternative is for them to be professionals rather than aristocrats, consultants rather than politicians, hired on contracts. I don't think that's as desirable, but it may be easier to get to.

The military thing is fairly obvious, I think, given the already existing relationship between the Royal Family and the military. It gives the system extra stability.

When it comes to economics, everything depends on what the world economy is actually going to be like in 25 years. The biggest question is what economic value do unskilled workers have? In the max-automation scenario, they are probably valueless, but it becomes cheap to effectively institutionalise them. If some of my speculations on AI turn out correct, they could be useful as supervisors of machines. Since their role would be to provide motivation and direction for the computer systems, it would be more important for them to be "good people", trustworthy and loyal, than to be particularly skilled. This is a reversal of the 20th century view of human capital: we have spent 200 years trying to get people to be better machines — in this scenario the machines will be machines, the people need to be better people.

For the purposes of the exercise, I've stipulated less economic change than is really probable, but there have to be some assumptions, and they might as well be familiar ones for now.

That means some kind of welfare safety net is essential. The key is to get rid of entitlements. If you're going to be supported by other people, there has to be some reason why they would want to support you. If you go out of your way to make yourself unpleasant, as far as I'm concerned you can starve.

I wouldn't be surprised if things were more like they are now; with low taxes and light regulation, there should be jobs for nearly everyone. In that case the welfare problem would be a lot easier.

For taxation, I'd rather have less tax and all from land, but in this medium-term scenario, Royal wealth is power, and I don't think it's safe to keep it all "re-invested" in the economy. I'm also not sure it's possible to raise 25% of GNP from land taxes. It should be possible to find a few things that can be conveniently taxed to raise about 10%, without unduly distorting the economy.

I didn't get to monetary policy. Neoreactionaries tend to be Austrians, and I lean that way myself, but I don't see that restoration implies Austrianism. A restoration is going to be cautious, where it can be, and a radically different monetary policy, such as a gold standard, isn't all that cautious. So it's an option, but I'll leave the question for the moment.

Legal system is straightforward. There is some tension between making sure the authority of the king is unchallenged, and ensuring the administration is consistent and predictable enough that the country is an attractive place to live and do business. At the end of the day, though, it is very strongly in the King's interest to achieve the latter.

A well-run state would be such a rare thing that it would attract huge numbers of foreign rich. That is an economic bounty that would go a long way to securing the new regime against its many enemies, but there is a risk that the native population might start to be marginalised or ignored. I am seriously worried about social problems, particularly if there is a large bottom segment of the native population which fails to adapt and ends up in deep poverty, while extremely rich foreigners flood in. On the other hand, I believe a comfortable unconditional safety net is too corrupting to society.

Ultimately, no blueprint can protect the native population if it truly doesn't have any value to contribute. The monarch's legitimacy comes from being King of the English, not simply owner of an island. Again, the military would tend to be a stabilising force in terms of the status of the people. If the military starts being run by foreign mercenaries, we have a problem.

A social conservatism is part of the overall project, but I've shied away from explicitly establishing it. My thinking is that merely ceasing to promote and subsidise immorality will be sufficient to move things in the right direction, whereas attempting to impose a traditional family structure will stir up a lot of trouble. I didn't answer the question of exactly who keeps a child if the recognised parents split up, which is quite important.

There is no reason to allow people to go around openly trying to overthrow the state. But real censorship of information is practically impossible. Subversive ideas will circulate, but subversive organisation will not be tolerated.

Of course, if all it consists of is a tiny group of extremists, it's not worth acting against them. It's more likely though that there will be significant foreign-backed democracy movements.

The handling of private arms is a compromise between efficient policing and containing rebellion. Private arms are normally allowed, but commanding armed men is reserved to the state and its chosen allies.

The general principle here is that ordinary people are free, but those closer to power are subject to greater suspicion. If you have real power, you will be expected to positively show loyalty. In historical monarchies, it generally wasn't the peasants who landed in the Star Chamber or its equivalent.

The actual activity of the Royal Family took little work, as it is basically compatible with how it has functioned since the Abdication. The aim is to preserve the family and its position, and the method of doing so is much the same even if the position is elevated.

 Read the article here

Kingdom 2037


(see previous article for commentary)

It is 2037

William V is King and Ruler of England. He lives in Buckingham Palace and is guarded by soldiers in fancy uniforms.

He has 5 children, the eldest is heir apparent.

The old Parliament Building houses his personal art collection. It is not open to the public. The House of Commons is abolished. The House of Lords no longer meets regularly, but is summonned to a 1-day meeting every two years at a Royal residence, and ad-hoc committees are appointed, usually meeting by videoconference.

Adminstration

Downing Street is demolished. Government offices are in Whitehall. Essentially the entire central government fits in a few office complexes near Green Park.

The Lord Chancellor is chief administrator of the government. He is answerable to the King. It is not clear to outsiders what are his positions that are approved by the King, and what are the King's positions represented by him. He has a peerage, which like all peerages is hereditary. He has been rewarded for his service with the peerage, if he did not already have it, and with an estate to go with it. His heirs will probably tend towards the King's service themselves. Government service is open to all classes, but those with familial ties have a significant advantage.

The official salary of the Lord Chancellor is high but not spectacular: in 2012 terms, maybe GBP250,000.

Defence

The King is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. He has a Chief of General Staff — a personal appointment. In peacetime, the Lord Chancellor has no detailed responsibility for the armed services or for foreign policy. The army is possibly a bit bigger than strictly necessary, and is directly associated with the monarchy. That said, there will not be a large army if there is no foreign threat that requires it.

Economy

Government can intervene in the economy, but will do so either tentatively or on a small scale. Poor relief will not officially be from government, but via "Royal charity" funded mainly or partly from the King's personal revenues. Any government employment schemes would be on the same basis, as private business owned by the King.

Justice and Police are government functions funded from the government budget. The distinction between government spending and the King's personal spending and expenses isn't fundamentally meaningful, but it distinguishes areas that are run according to publicly defined rules from those which are essentially under personal supervision.

Health and Education would be largely private with some charity. Both would be nearly unregulated. Customers without assets could contract to supply labour via a hospital or school, if that can be made profitable.

If England is one of the first countries to move in this direction, it would become a magnet for the global rich. If the world economy moves in the direction of greater automation and few productive jobs for low-IQ/low-skilled workers, then personal service is likely to be a growth area.

(Personal service is currently depressed due to the low status which results from the present-day "system"-oriented theory, and also due to high taxes and a general culture which admires rebellion).

Taxation runs at about 25% of GNP. About half of this is raised from taxes on land, and there are also sales taxes on a selection of goods, and turnover taxes on a selection of businesses. The government runs to a budget, which is paid for out of the tax revenue, and the surplus goes to the King. The King accumulates land and financial assets, and spends a substantial amount on the welfare charities.

Immigration is not tightly restricted, but the King's charities prefer to support citizens than foreigners, and would help with resettlement abroad in preference to supporting immigrants. Foreigners can live and work freely, but are subject to an income tax.

Law

The legal system and trial by jury is retained, but formalities are reduced and the discretion of judges enhanced. PACE is abolished. All reporting restrictions on court procedings are abolished, including those relating to family law. The highest court is a royal audience.

Legislation is passed by royal decree. An advisory committee of Lords and senior lawyers is appointed by the King.

Marriage is not legally recognised, but adults can publicly take responsibility for children. It is a crime to maltreat the children in one's care. If poverty is used as a defence for such maltreatment, forced adoption can be ordered by the court. If necessary, there may be state orphanages, but they would be run cheaply and the expectation is that family or a charity would do a better job.

Private citizens are permitted to use force to keep the peace. They are allowed to carry weapons, but this is not a fundamental right, and individuals can be ordered not to go armed by competent authorities. Organised armed bodies are required to have a Royal charter, which can be withdrawn. Some private security companies have such charters and provide armed guards. The guards have no special legal powers beyond those of independent citizens, though.

Communications

There is a small state-run media consisting mostly of official announcements. The ceremonial of monarchy is maintained.

Private media are not subject to any special regulation, but it is a serious criminal offense to oppose the King's rule. Criticism of government policy is allowed and individuals or groups may publicly petition the King, but criticism of the system of government is sedition. Also, to combine any crime, such as vandalism or obstruction, with complaints about policy, thereby constitutes sedition.

Foreign content which breaches these rules can be transmitted and indexed, but not specifically promoted.

Police officers are organised along similar lines to today, with each officer holding a Royal Warrant. Their role is to preserve the King's Peace and protect the realm from internal enemies.

Authorities may only demand information or other cooperation from private parties via a limited system of court warrants. However, state investigators are not restricted from using whatever non-intrusive methods of intelligence and evidence-gathering they can find. Rules of evidence are oriented only towards the reliability of the evidence in question.

Local Administration

The government is mostly centralised, but each county has a local office which organises roads, planning, water & sewerage, and anything else that remains a locally-provided service. These offices report to the Lord Chancellor and are centrally funded, but consult locally.

Succession

The King will probably abdicate in old age, though it is up to him. His eldest child will succeed, and is brought up to do so. The younger children know that there is a risk of being called upon.

Long Live The King!

(comments please on the related commentary post)

09 September 2012

A Consumer of Theory


The thing in the last post about politicians being consumers of theory reminded me of something. I read "Dreams of My Father" a couple of months ago. I found it very thought-provoking.

Strangely, the least important thing about the book is that its author later became U.S. President. The fascinating aspects are quite independent of that. The book is the best account I have read of the life of a small-time politician: the business of politics and the kind of person who participates in it. On the other hand, the book doesn't tell us that much about the second Barack Obama, the one who became Senator and President. He is a later creation.

Anyway, Obama is a perfect example of a consumer of political theory: he neither has a political theory of his own, nor is primarily motivated by theory. His motivation is "be important by helping black people", and he simply picks the first theory off the top of the pile and follows it. Even where he can clearly see the shortcomings of the theory, he doesn't attempt to innovate or look elsewhere, because that's the theory he has, and that's the movement he's part of. His choices are to carry on or to give up.

That's why it's so important to have a theory out there, rather than a handful of inchoate principles.

08 September 2012

The Library

Candide and anonymous commenter suggest in comments that my programme of a few posts back just looks like an excuse to w—, let's say waffle, on the internet instead of doing real work.

On the contrary, it is a project that demands a lot of work aimed at some measurable deliverables.

True, I followed my post with some very typical "waffle on the internet" posts on human nature. They do not advance the project in the slightest, however.

The Project is to define the methods of moving from a collapsed liberal order to a secure, effective, responsible government.

Since there are many forms of collapsed liberal order, there will probably need to be many methods. Because a newly-created government is by definition not stable, there will need to be methods to maintain the government in place, without sacrificing effectiveness or responsibility.

If anyone fancies it, we could have methods to move from still-functioning liberal government to a stable, effective, responsible government. I can't see it myself, but I'm open to suggestions.

What do we have so far? Very little. We have some very iffy sketches from Moldbug: the "True Election", the "Reboot". We have a couple of historical Restorations to look at. Examples of fascist or Marxist takeovers might provide a few clues, but are unlikely to be usable as-is.

I don't think it's too much to ask, in the case of a national bankruptcy or a disputed election, what happens next? Do those who are left call on a retired statesman, a general, the Queen? Do they appoint Lords Lieutenants to administer in their name, or Barons to rule as independent subordinates? Is a committee of airline pilots appointed to oversee?  What will the universalists be doing at the same time, and how will our aims be achieved instead of theirs?

We need a library of this stuff. Even if, when the time comes, it doesn't really work as a user-guide because of general unpredictability, it will enable those who follow it to look as if they know what they're doing, which in terms of public opinion will be of more benefit than our waving a banner around and looking like loonies would be today.

The kind of people who end up with power are generally not theoreticians, or even motivated by political theory. They are consumers of theory, and will seize on a theory that serves their purpose at the time. Having a ready-to-wear theory available on the shelf would be enough to put neoreaction in the game.

That is the project. Unlike neoreaction itself, it needs a good and respectable name — something like "Restoration Library" (that one's taken by some Christians, but it's a starting point). Something with an arbitrary component might be better for uniqueness and recognisability — "The Caddington Library of Restoration", say.

There is a huge amount to do, but we can make a start. If we were anywhere near ready, the library should actually be printed as books. Mind, by the time we actually are nearly ready, the credibility benefit of paper might have gone.

For now, it's just a matter of creating and collating the material. Presentation can wait. Some selectivity will be needed even now, though nothing we have currently is very good, it isn't worthwhile to weigh ourselves down with any old tripe that fits the criteria, such as Breivik's blueprint for civil war.

This is an ambitious project, but I think it is genuinely a feasible route to implementing our principles. Marxism's successes in the 20th Century didn't come because its theories were overwhelmingly persuasive; they came because Marxism had theories and nobody else did.

And in any case approaching the principles from this direction really brings home how far they are from anything anyone could actually act on. I have written half an essay on one example of what a restored royal government of Britain might look like in 20 or 30 years' time, and it's hard work, even with generous helpings of wishful thinking. Backtracking from that to how it could have come about will be even more difficult.

04 September 2012

Laws not Men

Per my earlier post, I think one of the major changes of the last couple of hundred years is that the previously normal role of subordinate has become denigrated and almost eliminated, and the previously exceptional role of loner has become idealised and made normal.

The force behind this epoch-making change is liberalism's love of system. In the enlightenment view, there is no need for a hierarchy of authority such as was believed to be necessary from Aristotle to Charles I. Rather, there are just rules, and if everyone follows them order will result.

Classical liberalism is the purest and simplest form of this. If non-aggression and private property are protected, then everyone can be free and the emergent phenomena of economics will provide security and prosperity. It is an exquisitely beautiful theory, concentric spheres in Ptolemaic perfection.

However, between difficulties eliminating the last vestiges of hierarchy, and widespread dissatisfaction with some of the results, the beautiful theory has never succeeded entirely. The mainstream liberal response has been to lump epicycles onto it. Collective defence, clean air, fair contract terms, anti-drunkenness, poverty relief. By now, the system has epicycles on its epicycles: it provides patent monopolies to encourage innovation, then competition law to restrain the monopolies. The self-evident beauty of the original liberal conception is entirely gone.

To complete the analogy, I should now propose a Copernican alternative. Alas, if there is such a thing, I have not found it. All I can offer is going back to the order of being, to the sun rising in the morning because some dung-beetle god has rolled it around the sky. Scrap the system, the Civil Procedure (Amendment No.2) Rules 2012 that will finally make the orbits work out: let's just pick someone and put them in charge.

The astronomical analogy is important though, because that, by many accounts, is how the enlightenment came about. Natural Philosophy showed that an interfering deity was not necessary to explain the world, and that a system of impersonal natural law did a better job. By analogy, the natural philosophers felt that the King and his minions were not necessary to order human society, and a few impersonal laws would work better.

The flaw was they did not ask where the idea of the interfering deity came from in the first place. I suspect that the analogy first went in the other direction: men assumed that the ordering of nature mirrored the ordering of a well-functioning human society: that because men need to have a ruler in charge, and followers loyal to him, the natural world also must be obeying the directions of some ruling consciousness.

I say a solar system and a human civilisation are just different. No God is needed to make the sun rise, but a King is needed to make a civilisation function successfully.

Leaders, Followers, Outsiders

In the ancestral environment, there were probably three basic strategies a man could follow. He could be a leader, a follower, or an outsider.

The most desirable role is that of leader. The leader tells other men what to do, and impresses the girls in the process. There can't be all that many leaders, but the "Genghis Khan effect" suggests we are all disproportionately descended from those few.

Leaders have followers, and followers can have descendants too. I think simple observation is quite sufficient to show that many men are easily persuaded to follow a leader. The tendency towards governments which emphasise the personality of a leader suggests it is easier to get people to follow a leader than to follow an ideology or a set of abstract rules.

Not everyone is a leader or a follower though. There is a third role as someone who does not seek to lead others, but tries to avoid being led. I would guess that in the ancestral environment there was frequently an option of leaving the band, either with a woman or managing to retain access to one or more. It is a risky strategy, but potentially a very successful one.

In the modern environment, heading for the frontier is rarely an option, but it is easier than ever to reject all authority in society without being geographically separate from it. In medieval society, the only "outsider" roles were beggar or hermit, but today, in addition, we have freelancers, independent businessmen, the unemployed; indeed, even in employment the norm is to deny any personal authority belonging to employers or hierarchical superiors. Being under personal authority, as opposed to some rulebook, is seen as demeaning and inferior.

So we have a strange reversal: in political activity, people are nominally supposed to be adherents to some theory or ideology, but tend instead to offer loyalty to a leader. In productive activity, most people are nominally answerable to some superior, but bridle at that and prefer to see themselves rather as performing an abstract function.

What could explain this contradiction? I have a couple of ideas. First, the statesman on the television is likely to be a far more charismatic figure than the pointy-haired boss in the office next to the cubicles. He is selected from a large pool mainly for that value. In other words, large-scale media distorts our perception of what is a worthy leader in the same way that some argue it distorts our perception of what is a worthy mate. Also, loyalty to a political figure is a fake kind of followership: unlike the office General Manager, the politician isn't going to directly tell you what to do. By analogy, the charismatic TV politician is to our innate sense of loyalty what a cupcake is to our innate sense of nutrition. The status of entertainment celebrities may be another aspect of the same tendency.

Alternatively, it may simply be that leadership was always something relevant to warfare and politics, while productive activity was more a matter of men acting independently or in voluntary cooperation. When we slot into the "follower" role, we expect to be led in raiding the next band, but we look for food on our own and hunt to display our own skill and courage. (Note I'm following the mainstream methodology of anthropology here, which is a technique I call "making shit up").

Still with the making shit up, while a precivilised band probably followed a leader, at least for political purposes, I doubt it had middle management. The role of follower of one but leader of others may be an innovation driven by larger social groups in the last few millennia, and an awkward compromise in terms of our social instincts.

The replacement of direct personal loyalty with celebrity-worship is a very modern phenomenon, but at the same time the culmination of a centuries-long process. That is worth another post.

03 September 2012

The Neoreactionary Programme

I've not been sure, in the years since I started reading Mencius Moldbug and moving towards neoreaction, that we neoreactionaries really exist. Is this really a school which has a future, or is it just a wild idea of a handful that has probably always been around and probably always will be without going anwhere?

However, it seems that our enemies have noticed us, so it looks like the anti-enlightenment is a thing that exists. Since we exist, what is our programme?

The main thing about the neoreactionary programme is that there isn't one. A programme is something a political movement has, and we are not a political movement, we are an anti-political movement.

The nearest thing we have is what Moldbug put forward as The Procedure

Step 1: Become worthy
Step 2: Accept power
Step 3: Rule!!1!

We are not competing for power, we are preparing to accept power.

The time is not yet ripe for power to come into neoreactionary hands. It is fortunate that the time is not ripe, because neoreactionaries are not ready.

Indeed, we're not, or at least I'm not, even preparing to accept power personally. If we win, we will not rule, but our ideas will. The people who rule will probably be the same bastards who rule now, but with better ideas and a better political formula. After all, the idea of neocameralism is that rich people have power. The idea of monarchy is that the hereditary King has power. Neoreactionaries are in the business of producing theories for other people to rule by. I don't want to be a Royal Advisor, let alone a King, but I hope that some Royal Advisor will have read my blog.

Our activity for the present is not to enact our ideas, or even, primarily, to spread our ideas. It is to improve our ideas. What we have is little more than a set of principles: a loosely-connected collection of features of a good society. For example:
  • Competition for power is illegitimate
  • Equality is a false goal
  • The hierarchy of security needs: peace, order, law, freedom.
  • Government requires personal responsibility
The difficult question is what social structures can exist which would exhibit these features. I reject Moldbug's neocameralism as unstable. I suggest absolute monarchy as the alternative, but not with very great confidence. I advance the idea in order to test it: to understand how it might fail, and to search for alternatives.

For the last couple of months, I have been hanging out more with libertarians — more than I did when I actually was a libertarian. I've been doing that to talk to them about my ideas, in order to refine and improve them. I can talk to libertarians because I used to be one, and I can explain neoreaction as a development of libertarianism because for me that is what it is*. I am not talking to them in order to convince them (though I wouldn't mind that); I am talking to them in order to get their criticisms. And I'm not looking specifically for libertarian criticisms, it's just that they're the easiest for me to talk to. (Does that mean I'm looking for my keys under the lamppost? Probably).

(When I was a libertarian, participation in libertarian meetings was a bit pointless: "You think drugs should be legalised and taxes should be lower? So do I. No, actually I don't drink.")

So stage 1 of the Procedure is still in progress, and the essence of it is to improve our ideas to the point where they have a good chance of actually working. That means explaining how a neoreactionary ruler can resist challenges, and how neoreactionary principles can be applied in various plausible scenarios of future systemic breakdown. We really want a lot of detail on this — the equivalent of at least tens of books — and we need it to be good. (The list of principles I scribbled above could use some work, too).

Propaganda really isn't a priority. In the sort of scenarios where success is feasible, public opinion will be very fluid, and a small group who know what they're doing will be able to carry the public with them to the degree necessary.

It is worth keeping in mind that knowledge of the faults of democracy already exist in the public consciousness, just dormant or buried under strata of habit and conventional wisdom. It's not necessary for us to actively argue that (a) the present government is terrible, and (b) the other lot are more or less equally bad. Most intelligent people already accept both. We only have to wait for those facts to become relevant. At that point the task will not be to attack the old system, it will be to show a feasible and superior alternative. That's what we should be preparing for.

 *Of course, it doesn't have to be. One could come to neoreaction from mainstream conservatism, or from distributism, or from nationalism. In theory it would be possible to come via a kind of luddite environmentalism, but that would probably create a lot of friction.

11 August 2012

Louise Mensch

I maintain that day-to-day party politics is completely unimportant. Because of that, when the name "Louise Mensch" kept cropping up on twitter I didn't know anything about her: I gathered that she was an MP, and more or less got it straight in my head that she was a Tory, and that was about it until she hit the headlines this week for resigning to spend more time with her family.

It was only at that point that I discovered she was a successful novelist, writing books under the name "Louise Bagshawe" which I have seen people reading on the train.

Having missed the fuss when she ran for and won the seat of Corby, I was not in a position to make the link to Esther Rantzen, who ran as an independent in my own constituency (and therefore had come to my attention).

In the context of Rantzen, I wrote:

I have suspected for a while that media figures are capable of moving into politics very successfully, through the more normal mechanism of joining major parties rather than running as independents. In the long run, the question is not so much whether celebrities will be able to win seats in parliament, as why they would want to.

Had I known what was going on in Corby, I might have said something prophetic...

05 July 2012

Lobotomised

The most significant effect of the coalition has been to bring into the highest level of government people who have little investment in maintaining the pretences about the way the system works.

This is because, as with the Liberals 35 years ago, the merest contact with the reality of government has made the Liberal Democrats unelectable for a generation. Nick Clegg's importance will hit zero on the day that the date of the next election is announced.

I've commented about this before, when Clegg forgot to pretend that as "Deputy Prime Minister" he was supposed to be "running the country" when Cameron was away.

His comments on being "lobotomised" by the demands of his position are familiar to anyone who reads politicians' memoirs, but the impact has always been lessened by the passage of time between the experience and its publication. "Things are different now", "he's just bitter, every political career ends in failure" etc.

Here is a man still not only at the peak of his achievement, but at the peak of what he could ever reasonably imagined he would achieve, all but saying that it is worthless, that responding to events so dominates activity that whatever he actually believes, whatever he was elected to do, is irrelevant.

This is no accident. One of the most overlooked facts in modern life is the time that it takes for a person in authority to understand a question and decide on an answer. (This is as true of business as it is of politics). The only way for a leader to function is by delegation, and it only works if he can delegate to people he trusts. There are two ways to do it. Either you choose someone to deal with an issue who you believe is the best person to understand and decide on that issue, in which case your power is fully exercised in making that appointment, or you choose someone who you believe will honestly and accurately inform you of the most salient elements of the situation so that you can make the decision that you would have made had you time to do it all yourself.

The first of these paths is never possible for a democratic politician. The appointment of subordinates cannot be made on the basis of their effectiveness in their position, because keeping power requires trading favours, and positions of subordinate power are the most important favours that the politician has to offer. Positions must be awarded primarily on the basis of who is to be favoured, not on who is best for the job.

The second path is rarely achievable either, for the same reason. Occupiers of subordinate offices are potential rivals, and can be expected to act in their own interests, not in yours. The normal expectation is that they will use their greater knowledge of the issue in question to manipulate you to the decision they want, rather than help you to the decision you would want.

This is the SNAFU principle. It says that hierarchy doesn't work, because "Communication is only possible between equals".

I do not say that the second path is impossible, though, because I do not believe the SNAFU principle is completely true. There is a phenomenon so unfamiliar to the 1970s Discordians who formulated the SNAFU principle that, radically open-minded as they were, they failed to take it into account. That is personal loyalty.

If a leader has followers who are personally loyal to him, and do not have independent ambitions for themselves, they can be trusted to assist his decision-making. Such loyalty is scarce, but the most effective political leaders have managed one or two loyal followers among their tail. Blair had Alistair Campbell. Thatcher had, I think, Keith Joseph, Willie Whitelaw, possibly Norman Tebbit. They both were able to have substantially more effect on government as a result.

Clegg, of course, has no such effect. There is nobody in the entire world who is personally loyal to Nick Clegg, with the possible exception of his wife - and he would not be allowed to make her a minister. For that matter, I rather doubt that Cameron has anyone either.

I don't want to overstate or oversimplify: such personal loyalty is never total or unconditional, and cannot be perfectly verified. It is not a magic formula that will result in effective organisation. But it is real, and it helps, and it is reasonable to conclude that we could have a lot more of it if we were to respect it as something useful and admirable. Instead, there is a tendency to see it as questionable or even corrupt. We hear that executives (in the public or private sector) should be selected for intrinsic personal qualities, rather than for their external relationship with their superiors.

The end result is that Nick Clegg is made helpless by being surrounded by rivals and enemies, and doesn't even see that as the root of his problem, because that is how politics is supposed to be.

This is the flip side of this post from February, where I looked at the relationship of personal loyalty from the follower side. There, I argued that having a personal tie to a superior had a beneficial effect on the long-term, moral behaviour of a subordinate. Here I claim that having a loyal subordinate increases the effectiveness of a leader.

08 June 2012

Anomaly UK Realtime

An experiment:  Because I don't get the time to write half the articles I'd like to on this blog, I'm shoving the half-finished, the TODO pile, and some rough notes onto a separate blog Anomaly UK Realtime.  Some of the scribbles there might yet make it to here as proper articles, but most probably won't.  Currently I have brief pieces up on Tanistry, the abolition of a parish council in Lincolnshire, and whether everyone should learn to program.


07 June 2012

The unthinkable


I wrote in the last post that the unthinkable can become thinkable shockingly fast.

We can see an example of that on any day's news at the moment. As the current Private Eye reports, in 2002 the Mirror Group Chairman held a lunch, at which the then Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan made a speech featuring jokes about various celebrities, based on the voicemails he had heard. These included even references to messages between then England manager Sven Goran Eriksson and former TV weathergirl Ulkrika Jonsson, who was present at the event.

Private Eye is bringing it all up to prove the dishonesty of all those who are now denying that they knew or suspected anything at all of such outrageous activity as phone-hacking going on. But to me the fact that they're now hiding it is much less significant than the fact that only ten years ago they didn't feel any need at all to hide it. Almost overnight (and I particularly noticed how sudden it was because I left the country for three weeks in 2011 and it happened while I was away), what had previously been taken for granted became a huge scandal.

Another example was raised recently — that within living memory, leading US evangelical Christians were in favour of legalising abortion. I read an article a month or two back which explained how, like the 2002 Mirror Group lunch, writings of prominent protestants have been dropped from the narrative, not because they're embarrasing to the people involved, but because they simply does not make sense in the context of the narrative as it is presented today by everyone.

The conventional wisdom, as modulated by the popular media (but I'm not  sure their role is all that vital) is governed by the following constraints.

  • Everyone wants to say something interesting
  • Nobody wants to be seen to be wrong
  • People have very short memories

The result is that there are remarkably few public arguments about substance. It is much more effective, whether you are a media pundit or a political practitioner, to show that you are the most in tune with the conventional wisdom than to claim that the conventional wisdom is wrong. Since everyone important agreed with the conventional wisdom of five years ago, it is in nobody important's interest to remind people that it's the opposite of what everyone agrees with today.

Where there are disagreements, the number of things that have to be assumed on all sides — because they are part of the current conventional wisdom — but which are blatantly untrue make realistic argument about the facts impossible. So instead, we have emotional arguments about meaningless abstractions — things like "Austerity" or "Europe", that are safely divorced from the things that are actually going on, and can be consistently supported or opposed while one fictional narrative after another sweeps through the newspapers.

(It is also safe to argue about weak foreign countries. It doesn't matter what's really going on in Bosnia or Egypt or Syria: we can have an argument about who to kill, based on our fantasy conventional wisdom, and nobody who matters will ever know or care what was actually happening.)

There is, at the same time, a kind of debate among the elite that deals with facts rather than imaginary narratives, but it is not independent of the fantasy. It would be nice to think that the people who really run things could get together at a Bildeberg meeting or something and actually try to work out what real solutions exist for real problems, but if that was ever the case, it probably isn't now. I rather suspect that that was always an aspiration for those meetings rather than a reliable achievement.

As I said in a comment recently, P.R. is fundamental to government. Most of the hard problems in government are about how you get group X to accept A or group Y to support B. Many of the people who rise high in the elite are those who are able to solve those hard problems, and in many cases I suspect they are good at that because they honestly believe the fantasy narratives. If the media and the mob were really having their strings pulled by a secretive cabal of cynical technocrats, things would probably work a lot better than they do. It's much more likely that the tail is wagging the dog.

But the upshot of all this is that democracy can be thrown under the bus just as quickly and as decisively as The News of the World and Yugoslavia were. It doesn't even have to be for a good reason. By 2017, saying we should still have elections for government would be as odd as saying that journalists guessing celebrities' voicemail passwords isn't a big deal or that Yugoslavia was a sovereign country and forcibly breaking it up from outside was illegal.

Unfortunately, while I can see that it could happen, that's not the same as knowing how to make it happen. Predicting herd behaviour, contra Isaac Asimov, is probably the hardest thing there is.

 It might be worth collecting a list of huge non-partisan shifts in belief.


  • I've mentioned previously the idea that humanitarian political action can only be taken with UN approval. That went from not being suggested at the time of the bombing of Belgrade, to being generally accepted by the buildup to the 2003 Iraq invasion.
  • The notion that children up into their young teens can never be left unsupervised (as opposed by Lenore Skenazy) has arrived somewhere in the last 20 years, not sure exactly where.
neutrino-cannon contributes:




01 June 2012

Thoughts on the Diamond Jubilee


I saw a post recently attacking constitutional monarchies (can't find it now, I think it was one of the Ortho types). There is also an article by Sean Gabb, specifically criticising HM Queen Elizabeth

Both articles are correct on the facts. A constitutional monarchy is, for practical purposes, a republic, with all the faults of a republic

Further, the Queen's practical influence over the last sixty years has been, as far as we are able to tell, smaller than it could have been and harmful in its direction.

 Does that mean that neoreactionaries should stand against the celebrations of the second Diamond Jubilee in British history?  Of course not.

 The value of our monarchy is not in the effect the monarch has either on public opinion or on the government —- both are negligible. The value is as a reminder and as an alternative. Some day this war's gonna end. One day, maybe one day soon, though I don't hope for it, democracy will fall apart: due to lack of electricity or money, unresolvable election disputes, exposure of criminal entaglement of all of them, civil war among the progressivists, or some other Black Swan I haven't even thought of. When it does, we will need a ruler with some other basis of legitimacy. And we have one, ready to hand.

If it does happen soon, the new ruling monarch will, like Juan Carlos in 1975, not doubt see himself as a caretaker, overseeing the handover to a reconstituted democratic regime. But it doesn't have to be that way. That is where we come in, between now and then: our role is to  make the concept of restored monarchichal rule an alternative.

That's not so very far-fetched. Democracy could go out of fashion. Try just dropping into conversation the suggestion that Her Majesty (or the Prince of Wales or the Duke of Cambridge) could not actually be worse as a ruler than Gordon Brown or David Cameron, and quite a few will accept the point. That doesn't make them Royalists —- they still see the idea as unthinkable, but not as actually bad. The unthinkable can become thinkable very quickly if the right noises are made publicly (I have another article planned about that).

I wrote much the same thing on the occasion of the Duke of Cambridge's wedding. My argument is that the actual merits of members of a constitutional monarchy are not relevant. They, like the rest of us, are products of a liberal democracy. The choice of both the Queen and the Prince of Wales to concentrate their public attention on matters of great unimportance (the Commonwealth and the environment, respectively) is one forced on them by their situation. Could they have done better?  Undoubtedly. But you restore monarchy with the Royal Family you have, not the one you might wish to have.

I suppose there is another path, the only one open to republics, to start from scratch: let somebody rule absolutely, and start a dynasty. It could work. It's not at all preferable, though: the first King must actually be a politician, and the politics is likely to stick: the North Korea precedent again. It would be easier for a republic to adopt monarchy if a constitutional monarchy could make a success of it first.

Failing that, probably the best bet for a republic is total collapse, and a recapitulation of the phylogeny of monarchy via anarchy, warlordism and feudalism. Possibly this is what John Robb has in mind when he talks about neofeudalism —- I've not quite been able to understand him. The whole process needn't take longer than a couple of generations, provided technology doesn't regress too far on the way.

Restoration of a constitutional monarchy to an absolute one seems a much smoother process.

07 May 2012

Organisational Dynamics II


Bloody Shovel writes some complementary things about my Employment Policy post.

The comments run off into the direction of the pathologies of organisations, Nydwracu citing Robert Anton Wilson.

The SNAFU principle is real enough, but the central issue Shovel is emphasizing is not that; organisations like the education system fail at their nominal purpose not primarily because they are uninformed or incompetent (though they generally are), but because their real purpose is not their nominal purpose. Their real purpose is to survive and grow. C. Northcote Parkinson is more to the point than RAW.

(That's not a complete opposition; the reason that RAW says that communication is only possible between equals is because otherwise the interests of the subordinate are not the interests of the superior. Whichever way you put it, the root problem is the agency problem.)

In the modern world, we have two treatments for Parkinson's Law: one which sometimes works and one which never does.

The one that sometimes works is market competition. An organisation which has to fund itself in the market must succeed in satisfying its market or go out of business and be replaced. Big, powerful organisations have crumbled in the face of competition, and many others have reformed themselves effectively to avoid that fate.

But not every organisation has to compete. Government power exists and will always exist, and is a far more reliable nourishment. Not only do the inevitable organisations of power —- the parties, the security forces, the tax-collectors —- feed on it, but organisations which would otherwise have to compete in a market seek to secure government lifelines. Bankruptcy, Carlyle wrote, will bring down all falsehoods, but in the case of governments, rather too late for most of us.

To restrict government-fed organisations to their proper purpose, therefore, another treatment must be used. The one we rely on is to create a second organisation to regulate the first. This never works, for reasons too obvious to labour. First you create (or take over) a school. Then you create a board to control the school. Then an education authority to control the board. Then an inspectorate to control the education authority. The end result is you have four organisations pursuing their own agendas instead of one.

I can suggest possible better solutions to the problem, but not without a context. The normal context of any policy suggestion is the framework of organisations that make up modern government. The policy suggestion is then aimed at some organisation in that framework to carry out. In this case, that is obviously nonsensical. Appointing a single absolute ruler is not in itself a solution to the problem of organisations, but it is at least a context in which solutions can be meaningfully suggested. That, then, is the context I assume in making suggestions. As far as what "we" do now, in the current context, my answer is passivism: we merely remark that the problems are not treatable in this context.

The alternative I suggest, in the context of absolute rule, is to do, as far as possible, without organisations.

Tim Worstall made a revealing little post about the GSM cellular communications standard. An Observer article remarked that the group of European telecommunication companies which established the standard was "the kind of intergovernmental initiative that drives Ukip nuts". Worstall, a (former, I think) UKIP press officer, is baffled by the suggestion that opponents of the EU, a permanent transnational government, would be opposed to an ad-hoc agreement (including non-EU members such as Norway and 1993 Finland) to carry out a single task. It should not be baffling; the institution-centric worldview of the political mainstream simply does not allow it to see the vital difference. That is a sufficient explanation for the state we are now in.

A wise ruler would not delegate permanent power or independence to any organisation. The principle should be that any organisation can be abolished by one person, and most should have a defined life. Obviously, an organisation can be abolished in theory and in reality just reconstituted under another name: the important principle is not to be dependent on an organisation so that it is able to do that. It is not likely that a ruler can avoid depending on anything, but it is better to depend on a person than on an organisation. Let the depended-on person build and destroy ad-hoc organisations the way the ruler does; the responsibility stays with him. It is better to depend on a lieutenant you know (and ideally have chosen) rather than on bureaucrats you cannot even name.

That sounds almost impossible, but we are conditioned by a world of large organisations dedicated to surviving and growing. It obviously entails a sacrifice to not have large permanent organisations, but the benefits could be still larger. After all, in commerce, there is an enormous sacrifice of efficiency involved in the duplication of functions by competing firms, and more sacrifice of efficiency in the destruction caused by bankruptcy of failed competitors. But in commercial fields the benefits of limiting the growth of cancerous dysfunctional organisations seem to consistently outweigh the very significant costs. The same may be true of government by temporary ad-hoc organisation.

03 May 2012

The Breivik Trial


Have I written about Breivik at all? I don't think so. Whenever I try I end up with something so wide-ranging and rambling that I can't finish or satisfactorily edit it. His story touches on my themes in so many different ways.

He's also something of an embarrassment. In claiming the "neoreactionary" label, I am in a sense grouping myself with whoever else puts a return to traditional forms of government on a modern theoretical basis. I would argue that fascism doesn't count as a neoreactionary theory, but it's not easy to exclude Breivik.

I've read his "compendium"; well, read quite a lot of it and skimmed all the rest. There's some sense there, along with the major error I originally started this blog to oppose: a huge overestimate of the actual and potential power of Islam in the West. (And along with an inordinate fascination with medals.) I answered the question  Is Europe Becoming Islamicised with a "no" in 2004 and I stand by that.

The reason I haven't posted before to make this point is that, after all, I know very little about Norway. Maybe it really is as bad there as Breivik claims: what standing do I have to claim otherwise?

However, my self-restraint from describing conditions in Oslo has not been reciprocated by Breivik, who in his defence speech described my home town of Luton as a "war zone" containing "no go areas".

Now I am not here to sing the praises of Luton in all its glorious multicultural harmony. It's a rough old place, not without conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims. I have reported on the Begum case, the violent demonstrations, the odd leaflets, and the (thin) connections with islamist terrorism. But there are not no-go areas. I walk through the back streets of Bury Park after dark with less trepidation than past the nightclubs of the town centre. It was a rough town long before the Muslims got here, and the police constable who was murdered a few years ago was knifed by a schizophrenic Nigerian, not by some jihadist.

As I said all those years ago, Islam is used as a proxy by the universalist ruling elite with which to attack those aspects of traditional culture which native Europeans cannot be simply persuaded to abandon. Breivik obviously understands this to some extent: it is the reason he directed his attacks at white politicians rather than Muslims.

(Incidentally, the same immigration strategy can, and on occasion has, been used by conservatives to manipulate the culture: immigrants could be used to encourage patriarchy and disciplined child-rearing. But we are ordered to accommodate some aspects of immigrant culture, while others are hidden or treated as a problem, and it is clear who is giving the orders).

Indeed, Brevik's own operational competence is an indication of where the balance of power between Westerners and Islam lies: by himself, with no funding, he did more damage than the eight Al-Quaeda trained and funded operatives who attacked London in July 2005. If we ever really have to fight Islam on our own ground, it will be easy. But I don't think we will.

Rather, I suspect that at some point when the elite have no more use for the Muslims they will turn on them as they habitually do to their allies. At that point the immigrants will be driven out or forced to conform to the new culture, their free pass to to retain outmoded privileges like freedom of religion and independent exclusive institutions withdrawn.

So while Breivik is right about the existence of a universalist attack on European culture, he is mistaken in making Islam such a central aspect of it.

Since I am in part defending Breivik's position, I must address the violence question —- could action such as his ever be justifiable?

All serious politicans are willing to kill people in a good cause: that is why all governments have armies and armed police. Most are willing to kill innocent people in a good cause: that is how we get policies like the bombing of Libya.

Of course, Breivik was not acting on behalf of a state —- does that make his violence automatically wrong?  The mainstream of thought idolises the armed rebels whose causes it agrees with. So it can't oppose Breivik on that basis. Rather, it probably relies on the fact that the state Breivik opposes is democratic as a reason why his violence cannot be acceptable.

However, as he himself pointed out during his trial testimony, the democratic states will always take steps to ensure that views like his will not be able to advance through democracy.

So, working on widely-accepted principles, it all comes down to his views — violence against the innocent in order to overcome a state which does not allow a legitimate method to remedy its failings is, apparently, justifiable, but is Breivik actually on the path to remedy the Norwegian state's failings?

Er, no. I don't think he has any realistic idea of what would be a better state, and I'm sure his one-man war is not going to help create it even if he has.

But that is my judgement of his political position — one based, unlike those of most journalists who have written on the matter, on actually reading what he wrote. And, for that matter, since this shit is difficult™, a judgement that might still be wrong.

In any case, while fighting an unjust state is right according to modern mainstream principles, it is not right according to reactionary principles. Reactionaries do not believe in a right to choose one's government, by vote or by terrorism.

As to Breivik's vision, while he said that he "gave up on democracy", he has not given up on democracy in the way I have given up on democracy. He meant that he had given up on being able to solve what he sees as the immediate problems through Norway's existing democratic processes. He doesn't, as I do, see democracy as the problem in itself, the thing that must be got rid of. Like so many others, he has fallen into the trap of believing that democracy can be "fixed".

But my real problem with him goes further than that. He wants to build an organisation —- the PCCTS —- to fight for power on behalf of European culture. I think that cannot work. It is the fight for power itself that is the root of the problem, and by joining it you are chasing the enemy into the abyss. That is as true of fighting with carbombs and shooting sprees as it is of fighting with demonstrations and election campaigns. By being an organisation that fights for power, you become a certain kind of organisation —- you succumb to the vicious logic of propaganda and coalition-building. You also, if you succeed, come to compromise with the system and in return become implicated in its inevitable failure. No good can come of it.

What on earth can we do, if we cannot fight for power? I do like to be original, but all of this is pure Moldbug. It is the Steel Rule. We become worthy of power, and wait for it to be given to us. Or we raise children and grandchildren who will be worthy of power, and wait for it to be given to them. This is not a short-term project, but neither is Anders "2083" Breivik's. It's a long shot, but so is his and as Moldbug wrote, if we fail, we have done no harm, which cannot be said of a terrorist campaign.

When a system collapses, power is given away. Everyone who is fighting for power with any success is already part of the current system. When the system fails, power will be given to someone else.

Looking at it another way, there are two narratives describing what has happened to European civilisation. One is that there is a somewhat conscious movement, which Moldbug first dubbed "Crypto-Calvinism", then "Ultra-Calvinism", and finally "Universalism", which has continuously dominated English-speaking society for centuries, and utterly conquered Europe in 1945, and which has some ideological principles that have been consistent throughout (such as that humans are all fundamentally the same), and others that have become ever more extreme (such as Limited Monarchy to Constitutional Monarchy to Republic to Democracy to Universal Suffrage). The elite holding these beliefs have steadily pulled the resisting masses behind them.

The other narrative, also due to Moldbug, is the cold mechanical one. Since the end of divine-right Monarchy, the logic of the struggle for power pushes an ever-wider splintering of power, as people and groups seize what fragments of influence they can, and hold on to them. Responsible decision-makers are replaced by committees, working groups become institutions and own little bits of power, and all this fragmented power is directed by factions in the unending struggle, not for any external public or even private benefit.

Breivik describes the first narrative, though he doesn't recognise how far back the universalists go. And the narrative is real: the infamous former Labour speechwriter who said that the British government of which he was a part deliberately and surreptitiously multiplied immigration "to rub the Right's nose in diversity" was making as blatant a declaration of culture war as it is possible to imagine.

But the second narrative is real too, and that is what Breivik does not understand. That is why he thinks that universalism can be defeated by shooting a sufficient number of universalists in the head. But universalism hasn't won for all these years because of divine providence, or by Dawkins' "mysterious movement of the zeitgeist", but because the logic of competing for power favours it over reactionaries.

Breivik is obviously sane*, and obviously right that a Norwegian state that was sane and honest would execute him without blinking. The Norwegian state is not sane or honest. It is incapable of sustaining or defending itself in the very long term. That is a fact to be deplored, not, as Breivik sees it, one to be taken advantage of. When the collapse comes, the duty of replacing the old order will fall not to those who accelerated its demise, but to those who expected and explained it without accepting any responsibility for it.


* What about the probably-fictional organisation of which he claims to be a member?  I am not sure whether it exists, but I am sure Breivik knows. If it doesn't, then it is not a delusion, rather it is a deliberate lie for the sake of propaganda: it is easier to recruit followers to an already-established organisation than to one which is yet to practically exist.