30 May 2012

Anomaly UK Video

I mentioned that I was making a public appearance, courtesy of The Libertarian Alliance.

The video of that talk is now online

There are a few points I could add to it.

First, I think I might put a little reminder on my phone that goes off every hour or so and says "sit up straight you slob!". (The fidgeting is not remediable).

Second, my debating experience was mostly in another forum, where the main speaker would have his say, then the audience would each get a chance to make brief remarks from the podium, and finally the original speaker would have a short concluding speech. The Q&A format here was much better, and I would have been better off not trying to squeeze so much in, and allowing more time for questions, since I could make my points better in a lot of cases by making them answers to the questions. The Q&A (starting about 50 minutes in to the video) is the best part of this.

On to detail, some of what I said about existing modern democracy is a bit misleading. I talked about it being imperfectly democratic, but I don't think I emphasised sufficiently that the most important part of that is the effective power held by the unelected. The permanent government —- civil service, media, academia, finance —- are largely the real power and are more or less immune to elections. That's familiar to regular readers here, but I only touched on it in passing in the video. The permanent government can rule with the legitimacy of being part of a democratic system, but without the fear of actually being voted out. This is what makes our system work better than many existing alternatives: military dictatorship, fascism, and unlimited democracies.

The North Korea question came up. Obviously, if North Korea were well governed, I would be waving the flag and shouting from the rooftops about the benefits of hereditary rule. That is why I'm not so happy about my excuses, despite them being pretty decent excuses. The main excuse, which I don't think came out in the talk, is that the legitimacy of Kim Jong-Il and now Kim Jong-Un comes not simply from being the heir of the Great Leader, but being the heir of his socialist ideology. As such, he is still the leader of a mass party, and the same objections hold as to fascism.

One of the audience talked about 18th century England, suggesting that a weak monarch and strong parliament nevertheless led to reasonably good government. I floundered a little in response, mumbling something about a small homogenous ruling class. I think I was basically on the right lines: indeed I wrote something similar before.

If the franchise is limited in some way to a distinct minority of the population, then the chief threat to the system is from the disenfranchised. The voters will be well aware of this, and will have a clear and obvious interest in preserving the system which keeps power for their class. Such a system will be more stable than a true democracy with a universal or near-universal franchise.

18th Century English rulers had a very clear class interest, in pacifying the Scots, enclosing the commons, and for much of the period were more restrained in their internal competition for power than is normal. That probably broke down in the latter part of the century: I made reference to George III's attempts to increase his power, but I failed to draw attention to the degree to which the American Rebellion was an English Civil War; effectively a continuation of the English Civil War, in which Whigs who had accepted the Settlement of 1701 in England —- the limited monarchy, broad but established Church of England, and so on —- worked through proxies to advance a more radical puritan-republican agenda across the Atlantic. Moldbug has written extensively on the subject, and I have noted elsewhere, for instance, Viscount Keppel being elected as an anti-war MP while still serving as an Admiral.

The very old piece I wrote on the lifecycle of institutions is somewhat relevant also. The 18th century is the period where the British Civil Service was really set up. This was in part a way of competitors in the political system grabbing power into institutions they could control —- just the sort of mechanism I claim is one of main problems with divided power. However, starting from a clean slate, the institutions that were created nonetheless operated reasonably effectively for the first decades of their existence. Their mutation into the monstrosities they are today was nevertheless inevitable, despite the 19th-century reforms.

I would definitely like to do the same sort of thing again — maybe  going slightly farther afield than libertarians.

Sources I referenced in the talk (note, in some cases I referred to them in order to disagree with them):

Other Neoreactionaries


James James said...

"I have noted elsewhere, for instance, Viscount Keppel being elected as an anti-war MP while still serving as an Admiral."

I can't find this by searching site:anomalyuk.blogspot.com Keppel

Could you provide a link/more detail? This is one of those crucial minor facts, like Roosevelt's chief advisors at Yalta and Quebec being Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White respectively.

Anomaly UK said...

Wikipedia has the bare facts.

I brought it up in an email exchange with Eugene Volokh in 2004, pasted here:

The admiral in question was Augustus Keppel (later Viscount Keppel). I'm no expert in the field; I just vaguely remembered reading an article about him years ago. His story is complicated, and — judging by the differing versions on the web of the battle of 23 July 1778 — still controversial.

In brief, Keppel was court-martialled on the initiative of his political opponents for "misconduct" in the battle (in those days, misconduct in a battle meant "not winning"), was aquitted (if convicted he would probably have been executed, like Byng), published a letter opposing the war, and was followed by "nine admirals and several captains".

Sandwich claimed that Keppel's protests constituted a de facto resignation and ordered him to strike his flag. However, this expensive gesture left the Navy so bereft of commanders that Sandwich had to call up the septuagenarian Sir Charles Hardy from the governership of Greenwich Hospital to command the Channel Fleet. His inept tactics left the south coast exposed to the threat of invasion from a Spanish Armada (in alliance with France) for the first time in 200 years.

Wilhelm Durand said...

North Korea is a terrible counter-example. Nobody knows how their government actually works. Sure, the Kims claim supreme rule, but so does the President of Molossia.