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