14 December 2013

A Scale-Free model of reactionary order

@Outsideness asks for a scale-free model of reactionary order. What he means by this is, why do neoreactionaries of the Moldbug variety recommend central authority within a single state, but many small independent sovereign states in the international realm. If one central authority is good for the state, why isn’t it good for the world?

A case for independent sovereign states can be made on ethno-nationalist grounds: there is such a thing as a people, and the customs of one people are not the customs of another people. If another people’s customs are incompatible with my people’s customs, then put a border between us and minimise the conflict.

The Moldbuggians are not primarily ethno-nationalists, however. Patchwork is not a vision of distinct nations, but of distinct states, small and potentially multi-national.

Why small states? @Outsideness suggests: Is it not Moldbug’s ultimate conclusion that domestic authority is parasitic upon global anarchy, which trains it through exit? Meaning, the absolute rulers of states are required to make their realms attractive to live in, in order to compete for productive inhabitants with rival states. If a state grows large enough that exit becomes difficult—through effective border control, or non-existence or scarcity of rivals—then rulers will be more extractive towards their populations.

Hence the request for a scale-free theory. If two (or more) sovereigns within the Kingdom of California are a bad thing, but several sovereigns within the continent of North America are a good thing, where is the line drawn, and why?

My take is that, attractive as Patchwork is, a world of small states would not be stable or sustainable. The Moldbug post linked above, and the three preceding it, describe a world-system of joint-stock sovereign authorities enabled by mechanical, cryptographic enforcement technologies, which I see as not fundamentally impossible, but fragile and highly implausible. If you reject the internal state structure of Patchwork, as most neoreactionaries do, you probably lose the external structure also.

Historically, small states have tended to be swept up by empires. The surviving small states, have survived as compromises between empires—buffer zones or bargaining chips. Thereafter, they have often been exceptionally successful, but their integrity has depended either on agreements between others of the “if you don’t try to annex it, we won’t either” type, or on being a de facto protectorate of an empire that simply can’t be bothered with ruling it actively. That situation assumes that there will be empires; in a world of only small states, some will, by union or conquest, become empires, and the independence of others depends on the action of the empires.

Why not one empire then? That is what the logic of neoreactionary monarchy suggests.

The prediction of rational rule leading to world government is parallel to the old Marxist one of capitalism leading inevitably to monopoly, and I think the flaws of the one argument are essentially the flaws of the other—Change and Diseconomies of Scale.

The Marxist argument is actually correct, in isolation. The example I always used to use to discuss this was zip fasteners. Two companies making zip fasteners will make less profit than one, because the one will be able to extract monopoly rent, and reduce inefficient duplication. And indeed it came to pass, ten years ago when I used to talk about this, that practically every zip fastener in the world was made by one company. I would ask whoever I was talking to about the subject to check the clothing they were wearing, confident that they would find the letters “YKK” on the handle of the zip.

The punchline was that the world zip-fastener monopoly was so economically insignificant, that it was run as a sideline by a Japanese architectural manufacturing company. Because the industry fit the Marxist model—everyone knew how to make zippers, they had been made the same for decades, they were the same in every country—the profit margins had become negligible, and there was little incentive for anyone to compete with YKK for the market. In fact, the argument doesn’t even work any more: zippers are more often plastic than metal, and more variety of products and of manufacturers have emerged.

I think the same considerations apply to states. Microstates suffer from economies of scale in external defence, and outside a variety of niches, are likely to fall to larger, more efficient states. But the returns to scale diminish, and while a state with a population of a billion may still have an advantage over one with a population of a hundred million, other factors could very easily outweigh that advantage. (The ethno-nationalist considerations alluded to earlier serve as one of those other factors).

If the world develops in a way favourable to neoreaction, I would expect the international climate to remain recognisable. There will still be empires, still largish states which have factors such as physical geography or ethnicity preventing them from enlarging or being absorbed, still small states surviving because it’s not worth the cost or inconvenience of annexing them. Probably there will be a good deal less wars fought for the sake of warm fuzzy feels.

Finally, while the option of exit is desirable and beneficial, the neoreactionary argument does not absolutely require it. A world state would presumably be secure enough that he would have no reason to diversify his assets by extracting value from his subjects and investing that value elsewhere; rather, his returns would be maximised by allowing the value of his subjects to grow, which is a good situation to be in for the subject.

30 November 2013

The Crime Rates thing

One of the problems reactionaries draw attention to, as an example of the ineffectiveness of the modern state, is the threat of crime.

To this, progressives respond with statistics showing that incidences of crime per capita have been on a general downward trend for the last few centuries. Stephen Pinker recently published a book on this point, and anti-reactionaries are, understandably, making a big deal of it.

There are various measurement difficulties with crime rates, but Pinker isn’t a climate scientist, and so it’s not likely that all the measurement errors are going in the same direction.

Are perceptions of increased danger just wrong, then? They could very plausibly be the product of media sensationalism and hightened expectations. But I have doubts that frequency of crime, particularly frequency of crime per thousand of population, are really the right measure.

After all, fear of crime isn’t a passive, background thing. You don’t sit and worry that you’re going to be mugged before your next birthday. You worry when you walk home from the railway station at night. Fundamentally, you worry when you go out of a highly protected area.

So the intensity of your worry depends on what the risk is of going out of a protected area for a time. If people are doing that much less often than they used to, then it might have got more dangerous to do so, yet incidence of crime will be down.

There are a few reasons why people might be doing dangerous things less often. Many people have cars, which are mobile fortresses with lockable doors. That’s our old friend, advances in technology masking other problems. It might be that some areas that were dangerous are now safe. That would be a geniuine improvement, a real diminution of crime and the threat of crime. It might be that some unsafe areas are now so unsafe that people rarely go there at all, which would actually be an increase in the threat of crime, without showing in the statistics. Then there’s the scale question:

Fleet Street in London is still Fleet Street. It’s the same length it was when Pepys walked down it, from Ludgate Circus to Chancery Lane.

If crime rates are the same as they were a hundred years ago, does that mean there should be the same number of crimes on it, or a higher number in proportion to the change of population? Or in proportion to the change of population divided by the change in the total length of road? But should that be all road, or important town-centre type street? Society does not scale linearly.

It would be interesting to see a town that stayed approximately the same size over decades, and look at its crime statistics, to eliminate these difficult scaling factors. But a town that stayed the same size would almost certainly have changed its role, relative to other towns. Not so helpful.

One thing that occurred to me is a football match. A big match is like a temporary town — in population, it’s the size of a small town. Is a football “town” the same size as a hundred years ago, and is it more or less violent?

Oh. The answer is that it’s smaller, because the level of violence had grown so much by the 1980s that the government forced reductions in stadium capacity, along with other measures.

That’s one indication that, isolated from scale effects and technology, violence has become worse.

Of course, history goes on: football stadiums are now less violent than they were in the 1980s, and for all I know less violent than they were in the 1930s, because they have become highly-policed zones.

The simple summary: there is no simple summary. Waving the hand and talking about “more crime” is wrong, at least relative to population. Some areas of life have become less policed, while some have become extremely heavily policed, and much safer. The things we do that expose us to risk of crime have changed, partly due to technology, partly due to bigger towns and cities, and partly due to social changes. If you want to show that some particular activity has become more dangerous today than in the past, concentrate on that — specific evidence is somewhat clearer than aggregate statistics. Moldbug’s “Map of areas a person can walk alone in confidence” is the right general approach (thanks to @lexcorvus for the link).

Update. I still don’t feel that I’m hitting the nail on the head. I feel that crime is something that should be at the edge of society. We have expanded — scaled — society, but we are measuring crime rate relative to the volume, not the size of the edge. A sort of square/cube law error.

28 November 2013

Failure Modes of Monarchy

OK, so a couple of outside websites have stirred the murky pool of neoreaction — a welcome development, I think.

Because of the angle they came at it from (via Mike Annissimov, via Scott Alexander), they rather overstated the importance of monarchism to neoreaction. Monarchy is important as a point of comparison, but it is only one possible approach among several for a neoreactionary future.

Having said that, Anomaly UK is where future monarchy gets seriously proposed, so I’ve pulled together what I think are the main failure modes of monarchy, to put the dangers in the proper perspective. Most of them have been discussed here before, so this is largely an exercise in consolidation and better explanation.

By “failure”, I mean either that the system collapses and is replaced with something else, or that the system survives but is very unpleasant to live under.

There are some failure modes that are common to all systems of government: any system can be invaded by foreigners, or be overthrown by a demagogue. Monarchy, because its distinctive feature is the lack of selection applied to its rulers, and the lack of regular mechanisms for replacing them, has, or is perceived to have, its own peculiar failure modes. Here they are:

  1. King is an evil psychopath
  2. King is a liberal
  3. King is uninterested, politics ensues
  4. King is sick, insane or senile
  5. King is a child
  6. Succession is unclear
  7. King has odd ideas short of insanity


Evil Psychopath — I can't think of any. Democracy (particularly one-party democracy) seems to have a far stronger track record of putting evil psychopaths in power than monarchy does.

Liberals — this has historically been the major failure mode. The solution is to permanently discredit democracy and liberalism. The Roman Republic managed to achieve that for Europe for over a thousand years, so I’m optimistic on this point.

Uninterested — this was a major concern throughout the monarchical period, but I struggle to think of examples, at least from English history. Edward II maybe? That’s a long way back.

Sick or insane — this has been troublesome. Modern medicine greatly reduces the risk: the best-known examples have been the result of syphilis or other treatable conditions. Senility is a major worry for a modern monarchy, though.

Child — again, historically a big worry, but not common: it hasn’t happened in England since Edward VI. Better health makes it less likely. The British royal family currently has three generations of mature adults available.

Unclear succession — again, better health makes shortage of heirs a very minor concern. Disputed legitimacy might become an issue: even with the availability of genetic testing, there is the question of who does the testing and whether they are trusted. My impression is that while disputes over legitimacy or rules of succession are not that rare historically, they are usually cover for some deeper underlying problem, often religious.

Odd ideas — this seems like a worry. Historical examples are again scarce, though. Most odd ideas can be indulged as hobbies at miniscule cost to a modern nation.

The most dangerous odd idea is liberalism; such a damaging and plausible outcome that I already listed it separately. Most European monarchies did in fact succumb to liberal kings. The next most serious threat is religion. If the king adopts a minority religion, or even the majority religion with too much enthusiasm, he risks stirring dangerous levels of opposition. The Stuarts’ problems mostly stemmed from this (though the reformation in Europe necessarily made things difficult for them). My solution is antidisestablishmentarianism.

The common element in many of the perceived dangers of monarchy relate to what the intentions of the monarch will be. The intentions of monarchs seem to nearly always be to preserve his kingdom intact for his family, to be remembered as a success, and, quite often, to get laid a lot.

These motives can cause problems — heavy-handed policing employed against even remote threats to the regime, wasteful vanity projects — are common to all forms of government, particularly democracy. The failure modes that really are specific to monarchy are well-understood, and steps to avoid them have been taken — it is well-known that the chief responsibility of the young royal is to produce more than one legitimate heir at a relatively decent age.

We see this today in the non-ruling royal families of Europe, along with a relatively recent development, that elderly monarchs are routinely either abdicating in favour of their children, or less formally delegating to them. This is an important response to modern longevity. A monarch with strong family loyalty who found himself incapacitated by illness would be likely to do the same.

A tight family group provides these benefits to a monarchy, but if the family is relied on as the most trusted set of allies for the monarch, then family members are going to be competing to some extent for power and influence. This is normal, and happens under every form of government. The fact is that members of a royal family are closer to having a common long-term interest than members of other ruling organisations — political parties, civil service departments or military commands, and so are less likely to be destructive in their competition.

10 November 2013

Neoreaction and dynasties

There was an amusing little tiff on Twitter last week illustrating one of the choices in the neoreactionary position.

Marko Sket admiringly posted a quote from Vladimir Putin:

If minorities prefer Sharia Law, then we advise them to go to those places where that’s the state law. Russia does not need minorities. Minorities need Russia, and we will not grant them special privileges, or try to change our laws to fit their desires, no matter how loud they yell ‘discrimination’

This led to some exploration of the idea of Putin becoming a proper Tsar, put first by @CarlosEstebanRD, and whether he has sons, etc.

While kicking over the possibilities and difficulties, Arthur R. Harisson chimes in with:

Why are we going around choosing kings? Maria Vladimirovna is the Empress. End of story. Crown her.

So there we have it: does neoreaction mean a strong, realist leader like Putin taking on more of the beneficial aspects of traditional rule, such as a secure hereditary succession, or does it mean the literal restoration of long-deposed dynasties like the Romanovs?

Neo? Paleo?

I don’t think there is really any deep division. On the one hand, none of us would object to crowning Duchess Maria if the opportunity arose. On the other, it’s pretty hard to be any kind of monarchist without accepting at least retrospectively a rare replacement of one dynasty with another.

The division, such as it is, comes only from the great distance to be travelled to restore hereditary rule via either path, the old or the new. As @MarkoSket pointed out

[Putin proclaiming himself] would be a rift into Russian society. Putin still rely on the support of the inheritors of Soviet privileges ... Putin and Siloviki derive their internal legitimacy as inherited accomplices in the real Russian Czar murder

While on the other side, Duchess Maria says (my emphasis)

I affirm my belief that legitimate hereditary monarchy is the only form of government that is divinely ordained, and I am convinced that it is compatible with any age, including our own, and could be suitable for and useful to our multi-national country. At the same time, I understand that, right now and for the foreseeable future, the restoration of the Monarchy is premature, and I categorically reject any possibility of a Restoration without the consent of the People. Only the free, informed, legally-formulated, and all-national expression of the will of the People could authorize a rebirth of the monarchy that existed in Russia between 862 and 1917.

Formidable obstacles on both paths. To talk about reconciling the two paths, e.g. by marrying off one of Putin’s mysterious daughters to Grand Duke Gerogii Mihailovich, is to pile more fantasy onto the already improbable.

Finally, the very concept of converting an explicitly republican government to a hereditary one is, so far as I know, as yet unproven. Neither Tumbledown Dick nor North Korea’s current dynasty provide happy precedent. I read recently that Hosni Mubarak was planning to have his son Gamal succeed him as president, but obviously that did not work out.

31 October 2013

What Happened in the Sixties?

Point 5 of Nydwracu’s Priority Research Areas for Neoreaction is: “What happened in the ‘60s?”

My guess would be: the death of conservatism. Except that that probably happened in the 1950s, and the sixties were a delayed reaction to the fact that progressivism no longer had any organised opposition.

The familiar neoreactionary story is that progressives have long had the upper hand, certainly since the death of Queen Anne in England, and from the very beginning in the American colonies. Modern leftism is simply descended from the whigs.

However, though they were dominant throughout the period 1714 – 1960, they were never entirely unchallenged. There were still Tories in positions of influence who maintained a coherent traditionalist political philosophy, and who (in the later period) accomodated with the age of democracy without ever accepting its assumptions.

That political force was dying in England by 1945. It was routed and destroyed by 1957. After two hundred years of advance by overcoming conservative opposition, progressivism was left completely unconstrained. Scattered discontents remained, but, without a living conservative movement or philosophy to draw from, they were not able to make arguments that would satisfy anyone.

Progressives responded by driving out potential rebels — first from academia, always a centre of progressivism but soon owned by them exclusively, and then from organised religion.

What we think of as “the sixties” was the gradual realisation by progressives that they could get away with anything. Every door they pushed on swung open, and there was a decade of exuberant pillage.

The end came as they gradually adapted to the fact that they were now the establishment, and needed to produce some measure of moderation from within. They started to address their contradictions among themselves: many of today’s basic political and cultural assumptions were decided somewhat arbitrarily in that 1970s settlement. (That, for instance, is where paedophiles failed to make the cut as a protected victim group). The recessions of the 1970s injected a note of realism into economic policy, and the enfeebled Conservative Party reenergised itelf, but basing its new opposing philosophy on classical liberalism rather than conservatism.

It was hard for me to understand the process, because, being born after the sixties, an actual conservative movement is something I have never seen. It was on its last legs in the first half of the century, but it really existed. This biography of Anthony Eden gives some clues as to what it looked like: patrician, honourable, suspicious of America, and doomed. There were presumably others like Eden, but today there are none.

This has obviously been a very anglocentric account. I would guess that the story for France would be fairly similar, though I don’t know, but that America was a bit different. The outcome seems to have been much the same in all three.

16 October 2013

King Barack

Last week, I described the US Government Shutdown as a breakdown of the pretence of separation of powers — a seizure by the president, with the support of the Cathedral, of the powers that were theoretically supposed to be reserved to the legislature.

Then, in the following post, I claimed that the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature is the worst idea of the world.

So, if Obama is grabbing absolute power for himself, like Charles I did... am I not a supporter of Charles I? Should I not be raising the standard and the cry, “God Save King Barack”?

Up to a point. There are two, related, differences between King B and King C. One is that Charles was open about what he was doing. He didn’t resort to procedural fiddles, he said he was King by divine right and was entitled to raise taxes without the say-so of any parliament. Maybe some of his historical justifications were not quite honest, but he was fighting not just for the practice of autocratic rule, but for the principle of autocratic rule. The second is that he actually was the rightful King of his people. (As an aside, I must recommend the Address to the Russian People by Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, an excellently well-reasoned defence of monarchy). There are relatively few people in America who believe in the idea of monarchy, and I suspect that approximately none of them would recognise Obama as King.

Remember that Charles I lost. It would have been better if he had won, but since he didn’t, it would possibly have been better if he had been less ambitious, and laid the foundations for a later consolidation of royal power. If Obama could command with Royal authority, that might be OK, but he can’t, so that’s that.

What next, then? Over the twentieth century, American democracy provided government that was, by the standards of its time, better than average. True, by historical standards it was disastrous, but as the twentieth century goes, it functioned relatively well. Like any functioning democracy, it relies on two things: the people believing they are in charge, and the people not really being in charge.

As I explained, the root of the current troubles is that from 2008 onwards, the illusion of the voters actually having control has been grievously damaged, and the result of that damage has been the Tea Party. The pieces in Salon that @Outsideness describes as really going over the edge come over as perfectly reasonable if you take the basic assumption that the Cathedral has a right to rule unimpeded by mid-continent know-nothings.

“Even if these organizations lost their funding from Wall Street or the Chamber of Commerce, they could rely on donations from the Tea Party base, the vast mass of conservative voters and activists throughout the country who don’t share a scintilla of big business’s fondness for the status quo.” — Elias Isquith

As much as such a sentiment, from a soi-disant “democrat”, utterly begs to be mocked without reservation or mercy, a reactionary has to admit that it is a plain and accurate description of a disaster in progress. For all the problems that the establishment‛s rule has produced, giving more power to the voters isn’t really a solution. It might produce short-term benefit by curbing the current fiscal insanity, but what next, once the voters realise they can genuinely make demands of the government? What happens to all the rest of the empty rituals of a two-party system, if enemies of the establishment really control a party? The democratic institutions are not robust enough to handle actual conflict. They depend in every case on “gentlemanly” cooperation between the parties, and would crumble under the pressure, as they do when installed in countries without a local Cathedral to run them.

The system can fail in two ways: the voters could actually take power, or they could learn that they cannot take power. Either way, the sole virtue of democracy — that it pacifies the mob with the illusion of power — will be lost. Some of the establishment are realising that: Democracy After the Shutdown

It’s by no means a likely outcome, but the dropping of the pretence of democracy could be the way out. Certainly not in the form of King Barack I, but it is conceivable that the Democratic Party and the moderate rump of the Republicans could merge into a kind of “Committee of National Unity” (for the duration of the emergency, natch) that would eliminate Tea Party votes through some procedural mechanism, rule unopposed and evolve into something like the modern Chinese Communist Party.

The one-party state is not an ideal form of reactionary government, but if we allow the claim that fake-democracy was one of the more successful governing structures of the twentieth century, then by the same standard the Chinese model is about the best of a bad lot for the twenty-first. There is always the possibility of it developing further into some kind of monarchy.

11 October 2013

The Power to Tax...

I really didn’t intend to obsess over the US government shutdown, which is not of great importance.

However, while I was distracted catching up on some pulp monarchist fiction, @Outsideness has only gone and threatened to carry a modified form of Montesqiueuan separation-of-powers into the neoreactionary era.

I think that is a terrible mistake. The British, of course, were going through the process of abandoning the separation of legislature and executive while the US constitution was written — Queen Anne appointed Tory Ministers in spite of Whig Parliaments, but by the 1830s this was recognised to be unworkable, and any Prime Minister who could not win a vote of confidence would resign. The legislature owned the executive.

Against this, @Outsideness points out, reasonably, that the USA has not been the worst-governed nation over the last couple of centuries, so mere association with the treasonous blackguards of 1776 is not quite sufficient to dispose of the idea of separating tax-raising and policy into different bodies. If it is such a bad idea, how did the US manage with it up until 2012?

One way is that, because both the House of Representatives and President have both been elected by the same electorate, they have tended to be mostly in step. The periods of “gridlock” when they have been in opposition have generally been recognised as temporary, so the limits of the powers of each side were not fully tested, both sides assuming that a period of united government would follow at some point. (It’s interesting that the concept of “gridlock” has disappeared from the lexicon over the last six months — it is something that can only happen to white presidents, not to The Holy One. The disappearance of gridlock is one of the reasons I take the current process to be a permanent shift in constitutional arrangements).

Another has been the unusually legalistic attitude of Americans: more than any Europeans, including British, they tend to accept that something should be done just because it is the rule, whether or not it iseems like a good idea. Presidents before Obama accepted that they could not do much — certainly not anything very expensive — against the will of Congress. The “balance of power” between the executive and legislature could last as long as it was not tested.

The other reason why separation of powers worked longer in the US than in Britain is that the US government was not always the government of the US. In the division between the States and the Federal government, the “Keep the lights on” functions were predominantly State concerns, until the mid-20th Century.

The idea of assembling a government from independent self-perpetuating institutions is not one I would dismiss out of hand. There are strong echoes of the role of the medieval Church. But dividing the taxing institution from the domestic policy-making institution is either a sham or a shortcut to civil war.

Where, then, did it come from? My assumption has always been that the origin of the House of Commons is that it embodied the people whose active cooperation was needed in order to practically gather taxes in 11th to 16th Century England. The King ran his tax demands through them because if they, out in the country, chose to be obstructive about assessing and gathering the tax, he simply wasn’t going to get any. The small to medium landowners handed over their portions to the Royal Treasury without a fight because they knew that everyone else was paying on the same basis, and they weren’t just being landed on and raided, which is what it would look like if the King raised taxes without going through any kind of collective.

By the time of King Charles the Martyr, it was no longer clear that this was the case, and so Parliament’s control over taxation had gone from being a practical physical power to being a constitutional entitlement. As such, it could be lost and needed to be fought for.

Since the ensuing fight was, by my measure, where progressivism first started to obtain power in the world — to become a party rather than an occasional aspiration, I strongly suspect that the separation of powers of taxation and executive is the worst idea in the world.

That is all.

10 October 2013


It’s not the role of the neoreaction to get too occupied by current affairs. The day-to-day obsessions of domestic and foreign policy are mostly irrelevant to our concerns; we must set our sights on a larger scale and a longer term.

The US Government shutdown, however, is a somewhat larger event, in which the actual forces shaping events ought to show themselves, and which we must be able to account for as a test and a demonstration of our theories.

I have not seen such an account, except for James Donald’s tightly constructed argument that, on the part of the Republican Congressional leaders at least, the conflict is a sham.

Even accepting Jim’s thesis, the wider story still needs explaining and putting into context.

There is a kind of dynamic equilibrium of politics under the Modern Structure. The Cathedral moves left at a controlled pace. It drags the political establishment behind it. The parties and the media drag the backward mass of the people behind them.

The last 15 years, under the Bush and Obama administrations, have seen an increase in the rate of expansion of the economic activity of the Federal Government beyond the previous rate. We can think of the old rate of leftward drift as the equilibrium rate, though of course that’s oversimplifying a complex situation.

That departure from the equilibrium rate of advance produced the Tea Party, by damaging the illusion that flyover country could oppose what was happening simply by supporting the Republican side of the political class.

The belief of the political classes in Washington today, received from the Cathedral, is that the White House is the government, and the House of Representatives is somewhere between a historical curiosity and a large lobbying firm. The motive for this is that the Presidency is easier for the Cathedral to control (particularly when it is in the hands of a leftist of weak character).

Leading Republicans, accepting the Cathedral position that the President is allowed to make domestic policy, but with their lucrative jobs threatened by the Tea Party, are adopting the fake-aggressive position described by James Donald.

Once they lose, the right of the Presidency to rule alone will be established. Congress will be a dead letter.

It is still just possible that the Cathedral could attempt to revive Congress at some later time if they need to restrain an uncooperative president. But I would consider that unlikely — for a start, there’s no indication where an uncooperative president would come from.

The change in the constitutional roles of Congress and the Presidency that we are looking at the middle of is a prime illustration of the way the Modern Structure achieves major advances. There is plenty of noise, but no meaningful debate: the case for the new constitution consists primarily of shocked outrage that anyone could consider retaining the old one.

From a European perspective, it looks most like the situation when a new Treaty extends the powers of the European Union. In those cases at least there is a debate at the time, but once it is accepted, it is done for ever, and can no longer be considered negotiable. If a country like Denmark or Ireland votes down a change, then there is a much-resented delay while a new vote is arranged, and then finally the new consititution can be considered finished. It is then beyond any challenge. To suggest in France at any time since 1993 that the Maastricht treaty be rolled back would be utterly extremist, though it passed in a referendum by a vote of 51% to 49%, and Denmark needed two attempts to get the right answer.

From the American standpoint, it more concretely resembles the McCarthy period. McCarthy believed that the permanent US government was following a foreign policy at odds with that publicy avowed by the elected government, and that that was a crime. The facts and the law were on his side, but the Cathedral wasn’t, and his defeat meant that the question was settled: elected bodies no longer had any claim to control the State Department. The current conflict is about taking the power to control the Federal Government’s spending policy out of the hands of the elected body.

(Correction: according to Congressman Devin Nunes, the president does not have the power to spend as much as he wants on whatever he wants — he can be stopped if a supermajority in both houses of Congress opposes him. So that’s all right then.)

None of this makes much difference in the long run. It is not as if Congress was ever a serious constraint on the steady march towards communism. I just think that it’s a big enough change in the system’s own terms to require an explanation.

03 October 2013

Kingdom 2037 discussion

Kingdom revisited

Konkvistador brought up Kingdom 2037 on twitter yesterday, and elicited a few comments.

@admittedlyhuman was turned off by the idea of criticism of the King being illegal. I would refer her to, for instance, the recent article at Theden on Georgia’s Rose Revolution, or to my thinking on Bo Xilal. The state has to protect itself against revolutionaries, and has to do so efficiently enough to not turn into a police state. The most efficient method is not to wait for enemies to build a mass movement and then take the mass movement on in a fair fight — it’s to make the existence of such a mass movement unthinkable so nobody ever starts it.

That doesn’t mean that the most efficient way is to listen into everyone’s private conversations and drag Fred Bloggs in front of the Star Chamber because he said the King has a big nose. I’m not talking about going the full Thai, nor about prohibiting discussion of the merits of alternative policies. It is only the position of the King that is beyond criticism.

That was the only criticism made which I reject outright.

Mike Anissimov and C-LAR noted that a total tax level of 25% was high, since medieval monarchies ran at around 10%. 10% is a good target for the running costs of the state. But medieval monarchies often ran deficits, which had a destabilising effect. They also started out (at least in England) with very large landholdings, which were gradually depleted. A King in 2037 needs to be accumulating assets, not exhausting them. A new landed aristocracy has to be built, and that will not come cheap. In the very long run, I would expect taxation to fall to close to zero, and the administration to be funded from the profit on the royal estates, since even low levels of taxation will cost more in terms of impairment of asset values than they bring in in revenue, but in the medium term those estates have to be built up, stability has to be bought, and 25% is still a good deal less than modern people are used to.

I mentioned on twitter that the King has to compete for allies with revolutionaries who can promise to tax at 50% and deliver the profits to their supporters. The whole point of advocating monarchy as an ideal is that he does not have to compete on equal terms, but he still needs to be a strong figure, and a 17th-century beggar-king borrowing to pay his tailor’s bill is not a strong figure.

C-LAR was also concerned about immigration, and the adverse effect on “the proles”. Again, this is a legitimate worry, addressed in the commentary article. The phrase “not tightly restricted” is perhaps misleading: I never imagined open borders or unlimited immigration; that undesirables will be kept out goes without saying.

However, I think that even quite high levels of immigration can be beneficial provided that cultural integration is expected, and the immigrants do not become a politically significant bloc. The idea of an income tax specifically on foreigners (it may not be clear from the original article that I do not expect ordinary people to be paying income tax) is for symbolism as well as revenue: immigrants are permitted to live in the country, they are not entitled to live in the country. I pointed on twitter to my later article on Antidisestablishmentarianism, which is another example of the idea that the majority native culture is openly and concretely privileged over foreign and minority cultures.

In the end, immigration is a practical question, not a matter of principle. If it causes more trouble than it’s worth, cut it down.

Added: Further discussions on Twitter

Before addressing the tax situation, I need to make something explicit that should be obvious but hasn’t been mentioned: the level of tax is entirely up to the King. There is no “man behind the curtain” forcing a 25% limit on him: the only reason for him to moderate his demands is the fact of the long-term value of the country to him being higher if its economy is allowed to flourish, and of high taxes restricting that flourishing. If he believes that the economy will benefit from massive state investment projects funded by a 40%-50% tax level, that is what he will do. I think that would be a mistake, but there’s nothing to prevent it. The whole point of the system of government I’m sketching out here is to make the sovereign as safe from rebellion as possible; it would be dishonest for me to try to say, “obviously nobody would tolerate a 30% income tax, the King would be removed immediately”.

Anyway, @DocCLAR was very interested in the details of taxation. As discussed above, I’m suggesting a level of taxation around midway between what we have now and what is actually necessary to run the state. I don’t have very strong views on the actual manner of taxation, but the main considerations are the distorting economic effects of the tax, and the cost of administering and enforcing it. I had suggested Land Value Tax plus an assortment of duties and tariffs on specific goods, plus the income tax on foreigners. The thinking behind that is that LVT is relatively non-distorting, and maintaining information on the ownership and estimated value of land, while not free, is something that is reasonable and useful for the government to do anyway. I dislike general income taxes and sales or value added taxes, because they need the government to check the value of everyone’s day-to-day business in order to assess, which is both expensive and intrusive.

The reason for putting more weight on the administrative cost of taxation than on the economic impact is that the economic impact can be reduced by reducing the tax level, whereas heavily administrative taxes create a de facto tax floor by needing to collect an amount justifying the existence of an organisation of the size necessary to administer it. So while a general sales tax would be less economically distorting than, say, a fuel tax, it would require a much larger bureaucracy to collect.

Again, the reason for suggesting a (by reactionary standards) high level of immigration is that rich immigrants attracted by efficiency and stability can be a source of state revenue that doesn’t require the government to interfere economically with the mass of the population.

Tariffs are another easy-to-adminster source of revenue, but would interfere with the idea of England recovering its position as a world trading hub. I don’t completely rule tariffs out, depending on circumstances.

I’m more concerned with these governing principles than with the details of tax policy, which is not my area of expertise. Any questions anyone has about the mechanisms, advantages, and alleged drawbacks of LVT can probably be answered by searching on Mark Wadsworth’s blog.

It turned out @DocCLAR was largely concerned with the tax question in the context of central versus local government. For England I don’t think the question arises — England has been ruled as a single tax jurisdiction for almost a thousand years, give or take the farcical failed experiment of local councils over the last century. I’m taking on plenty in drawing up a blueprint for my own country; there are enough American neoreactionaries to do the equivalent work for theirs.

There is, of course, the possibility of the United Kingdom surviving in some form into the neoreactionary era. I don’t really see any practical mechanism of real devolved power; following the logic of the Act of Union, Wales and Scotland would be under the full authority of the King, though his rule in Scotland might well be adapted to Scotland’s different traditions. An alternative of an independent but friendly Scotland would be perfectly workable. A hostile Scotland working with the International Community to Restore Democracy to England, on the other hand, would be a probably-fatal problem; I don’t think a 2037 regime could survive the internal conflict that war with Scotland would produce.

It seems a little unlikely that after any large upheaval the English King would continue to rule Northern Ireland. There are conceivable circumstances, on the other hand, where the British Isles become reunited. Ireland, though, like the USA, cannot easily present monarchy — still less an English monarchy — as a return to the nation’s traditions, so that’s also a problematic contingency.

28 September 2013

Thinking about Urbit

OK, I've been driving myself nuts trying to work out how Urbit does I/O when it's implemented using Nock and Nock doesn't do I/O.

It's now the middle of the night and I think I've got it.

Since it's not in the Nock spec, and the Nock spec is defined in terms of nouns, it can only be hidden in the implementation of a noun.

A naive reading of the spec suggests there are two kinds of noun:

  1. a literal value (arbitrary-size integer)
  2. a pair of nouns

The only way it can work is if there are at least four kinds of noun

  1. a literal value
  2. a pair of nouns L and R
  3. the stream of input events
  4. a nock invocation on a pair of nouns A and F

Further, the "opcode 2" reduction in the Nock evaluator is not implemented by recursing the Nock evaluator, but by returning a type 4 noun.

A type 3 noun "counts" as a pair, where L is the next event in the input stream and R is another type 3 noun

The runtime creates a type 4 noun where A is a type 3 noun and F is the system-implemented-in-nock

It then calls a native function output(n) on the noun it created.

output(n) looks at the type of n. If it's type 1, it treats it as an output event and "performs" it.

If it's type 2, it calls output on L, then on R

If it's type 4, it runs the Nock evaluator on it and calls output() on the result.

Can anyone who's looked into the vere source tell if that is about right?

06 September 2013

South Place Ethical Society

For another look at Victorian progressivism, let’s take the South Place Ethical Society. Like the Boden Professorship, it is something I tried to discuss on twitter as a demonstration of the pre-Marxist flowering of harmful progressivism, but I was not able to make my case clearly, and I also made a serious factual error, which I will come to below.

In this instance my route to the subject is not a Featured Article, but my own reminiscences: twenty years ago, I considered myself a Secular Humanist, and went so far as to join SPES (as it then was).

The history of the Society is recorded on both its own website and Wikipedia. It started as a non-conformist church in 1787, became unitarian, and then discarded any belief in a personal god, becoming an “Ethical Society” in 1888.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, the society was associated with campaigns for free education, abolitionism, and womens’ rights. The central aim was to encourage the major churches to follow their example, rejecting belief in the supernatural in favour of secular ethics.

If Max Müller was at the prestigious, respectable mainstream of intellectual progressivism at this time, South Place was the slightly iffy fringe. Think of it as Chomsky to Müller’s Krugman. You could suggest that the members were perhaps taking things a bit too far, without losing your own standing as a right-thinking person, but it was still influential. From its website:

'The great and the good'! It would take up too much space here to list all the famous people who have occupied the Society‘s platform and been reported in its journal during all these years, but here is a more-or-less random selection: Felix Adler, Norman Angell, William Archer, A J Ayer, Annie Besant, C Delisle Burns, Herbert Burrows, W K Clifford, John Drinkwater, G W Foote, John A Hobson, Laurence Housman, Fred Hoyle, Julian Huxley, T H Huxley, Cyril Joad, Margaret Knight, Peter Kropotkin, Joseph McCabe, William Morris, Gilbert Murray, H W Nevinson, S K Ratcliffe, John M Robertson, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, Leslie Stephen, Graham Wallas, Sidney Webb, Rebecca West and Israel Zangwill.

My original intent in bringing up the society on twitter was to make two points — first, that today’s progressivism was approaching at a rapid pace throughout the nineteenth century, and wasn’t something triggered in the twentieth. I think that is well supported: the destruction of the family, of the church, of the idea of hierarchy, were all deliberate projects embarked on by influential people in the Victorian era.

My second intended point was that the evolution of a protestant sect into atheist leftists was something home-grown in Britain in the 19th Century, and not a foreign import. That claim is not borne out by a study of the society’s history. On the contrary, from 1864 to 1897, which includes the period when it ceased to be a nominally Christian church and became an explicitly non-religious society, it was run by two American ex-Unitarians: Moncure Conway, after whom the society’s premises and now the organisation itself is named, and Stanton Coit, who organised the wider “Ethical” movement in Britain. Their intellectual inheritance comes straight from Emerson’s Transcendentalism, and their activist background was abolitionism. Conway “was asked by American abolitionists to go to London to convince the United Kingdom that the American Civil War was a war of abolition”.

I never heard about the Society’s American roots during my membership, but then US connections were not popular with British leftists during the administration of the first Bush, so it is not that surprising they preferred to emphasise Fabian connections — which were close: this quote is from the Ethical Movement article:

The short lived Fellowship of the New Life, established in 1883, furnished the London Ethical Society with much of its membership when it disbanded. Those who did not join the Ethical Society made their way to the much more politically active Fabian Society, which was itself a direct offshoot of the Fellowship.

Though I am backpedalling on my claims that Britain produced a form of extreme leftism in isolation, the importance of the Fabian Society is hard to exaggerate.

Ultimately, the Ethical Movement slightly overreached — its aim of explicitly converting churches to open atheism was not quite subtle enough. That, perhaps, is the purpose of the “slightly iffy fringe”, to make the progressive mainstream look moderate. But all its practical goals were accomplished in the long run.

05 September 2013

The Boden Professor of Sanskrit election, 1860

It's normal to label Wikipedia as part of the liberal propaganda system, which of course it is, but its sheer breadth of scope makes it impossible to turn it into a coherent lie, so a lot of information comes through it that right-thinking people would prefer was kept quiet. Further, I get the faint impression that someone in influence is pushing in a faintly reactionary direction — something that comes through most strongly in the choice of historical “featured articles” that are selected daily.

I was particularly fascinated by the featured article of the 7th of August, The Boden Professor of Sanskrit Election, 1860. That drew comment in some quarters as an amazingly minor and trivial piece of history to be unexpectedly well-documented, but to me, involved as I was in the long and difficult debate within the reactionary movement about the origins of cultural relativism, anti-racism and multiculturalism, it was a bombshell.

That it is not a minor or trivial piece of history is clearly evident from reading the Wikipedia article itself. The merits of the candidates were hotly disputed, the campaigns carried on in national newspapers, recognised on both sides as part of the “culture war” that is today so often denied. When the forces of conservatism won, the law was changed to prevent another such embarrassment occuring in future.

In this story, Max Müller represents the progressive establishment. He was a German Lutheran. His father was a poet, his grandfather a prime minister of Anhalt-Dessau. He wrote a dissertation on the Ethics of the Jewish philosopher Spinoza.

The Wikipedia story presents him as the downtrodden outsider, facing the great entrenched power of tradition and conservatism with nothing but his superior scholarship. The details make clear that everyone important was on his side: senior academics, The Times, the East India Company, and even senior Anglican clergymen, while his opponent Monier Williams relied for his victory on the old rural landowning class, out of power except in a few anachronistic areas such as the Convocation of Oxford University, to which they had shown up as part of the routine of their upbringing. They were due — overdue, in the view of the powers of the time — to be disenfranchised, and in due course were. As Müller himself wrote to his mother, “all the best people voted for me, the Professors almost unanimously, but the vulgus profanum made the majority”.

The social basis of conservatism and progressivism was also represented by the two men: Williams, son of an officer in the East India Company’s army, Müller, grandson of a European Prime Minister.

What’s remarkable about the election is not simply that it was an episode in the culture war between advancing universalism and retreating traditionalism, but that it was openly so, and that it was debated in terms of which side should win the culture war. It was universally understood that the line taken by Oxford University in this matter was of crucial importance for the future. There is no suggestion of academia being remote or isolated from the key cultural and political battlefields:

The Professorship is not for Oxford alone.
It is not for 'The Continent and America'.
It is for India.
It is for Christianity.
Let us then Vote for the man who is well-known and loved in India, and who, even by the voice of his opponents, is declared to be a trustworthy depositary of the Christian interests of a Christian Foundation.

Today, Müller’s Wikipedia article is three times the length of Williams’, and includes this gem:

The designer Mary Fraser Tytler stated that Müller’s book Chips from a German Workshop (a collection of his essays) was her “Bible”, which helped her to create a multi-cultural sacred imagery.

Christopher Minkowski is the current Boden professor of Sanskrit (under the 1882 rules that removed control of the chair from the Convocation of Oxford graduates and brought it under the control of the University authorities). In his inaugral lecture in 2006, he made reference to the history of the professorship, contrasting the intent behind its original endowment — promotion of missionary Christianity in India — with the contrary attitude represented by Sir William Jones, founder of the Asiatick Society in Calcutta in 1784. Minkowski describes Jones as “the most prominent articulator in his day of a universalizing Enlightenment ideal, believing that the study of the cultural artefacts of ancient civilizations, and especially of India’s ancient civilzation, could provide instruction and edification for modern people. At the same time, he argued that it would be in the interests of good government in India for British rulers to understand the culture of those whom they ruled, and to govern as much as possible through pre-existent cultural forms.”

As to what Wikipedia says about Jones, well, I have to stop somewhere, and he looks well worth an article in his own right. Tutor to the future Earl Spencer (later Home Secretary), friend of Benjamin Franklin and supporter of American independence are minor asides in his biography

Back to Müller and Williams, I don’t want to oversimplify; a claim that Williams represents tradition and Müller the nascent Cathedral is more than supportable, but is subject to interesting qualifications. The mid-nineteenth century in England was the period where the progressive elite was privately shrugging off Christianity as a source of truth for their own use, while not yet abandoning it as the basis of the social order. Williams’ faction is therefore not simply the Tory opposition to progressivism, but also elements of the Whig side whose ideology still centred on the Christian religion rather than the new progressive morality that was beginning to separate itself from it. There was still a large overlap between puritan morality and progressive ideology, but differences were appearing, and the new multiculturalism was one of them. Thus, the bishops were for Müller, while the missionaries were for Williams.

The contradiction survives today in the Church of England and other protestant denominations — pockets of socially conservative Christians sending missionaries to convert the heathens to the True Faith, in spite of a hierarchy over them dedicated to social justice, respect for other religions, and the political debates of the day

18 July 2013

Bureaucracy and Power

In my previous post discussing the tension between Bureaucracy and Aristocracy, I was not actually describing two forms of government, but three.

The ‘tension’ is between bureaucratic centralism, where a central authority rules through appointed officials, and aristocracy, where offices belong to a noble class who have some guaranteed degree of independence from the central power.

What we actually have today is neither one nor the other, but a self-perpetuating and largely unaccountable bureaucracy. It is not quite yet a true aristocracy, though it is well on the way, but it is nearly immune from “political influence”, to the degree it is sometimes openly demanding such immunity.

So when Spandrell comments that there is no alternative to rule by bureaucracy, I am not quite sure what he means. Certainly we have had no aristocratic rule in a modern country for a couple of centuries; the dominant ideology has been set against it. However, it does not seem impossible to have a bureaucracy under genuine central control. I get the impression that prior to World War II, the governments of Britain and the USA were mostly in control of their bureaucracies: they could fire officials and dictate policy.

Moldbug’s interpretation of US history is that the FDR Government was entirely in sympathy with the bureaucracy, and effectively did not end as later governments were not able to divert the Civil Service from the path that FDR set it on.

In Britain, the Civil Service seems to have gained power over approximately the same period, due to a combination of the destruction of the old ruling class in the Great War, and the arrival of Labour politicians, outsiders to the government system, who the Civil Servants were both willing and able to defy.

My answer, therefore, is that it is possible for a government to rule through a bureaucracy, rather than being ruled by it, and that this was the normal situation prior to 1918, and to a lesser degree even up to 1945. If the government were no longer subject to elections and media opinion, it would be in a much stronger position to impose its will on the bureaucrats.

As for aristocratic rule: if the existing civil servants were to mainly hire their own children, we would be there — it is conceivable that we could have a de facto aristocracy within a decade or two. Replacing the existing bureaucracy with a different aristocracy, such as the old titled families of Britain, is more far-fetched; but given (somehow) the total ideological sea change that it would require, there are no practical obstacles to it functioning.

Democracy affects the tension between the centre and the bureaucracy in two major ways: as above, the precarious position of elected politicians weakens them vis-a-vis their permanent officials (Moldbug’s “rotor/stator” point). Second, the employment of very large numbers of low-ranking officials becomes one of the main forms of vote-buying. The junior officials do not have direct power over policy in the sense that senior civil servants do, but they have democratic power over questions relating to their continued employment and working conditions. In Britain particularly, the Labour party is now overwhelmingly the party of state employees. Without votes, the block power of junior state employees would be vastly diminished.

Admin note: anonymous commenting is now enabled for the blog

17 July 2013

Five Tensions

While pondering the tricky questions that have come to be debated within the reaction — such things as the conservation of sovereignty, I was struck by this lecture in a series of Harvard’s online learning that I’ve been working through on Chinese history.

This lecture, covering the Han dynasty, raises a lot of the questions that we’ve already been looking at about how power should be organised in a reactionary state.

(It doesn’t provide answers, which doesn’t matter since I’m not all that concerned with what Harvard thinks the right answers are, but it’s a good look at the questions).

The key slide is 25:

  • centralization versus regionalism
  • feudalism versus bureaucracy
  • hereditary right versus merit
  • military versus civil interests
  • inner court versus outer court

The lecturer says, “None of these institutional tensions ... is ever stabilized perfectly in Chinese history”

As important as these tensions are, I don’t think there are clear-cut answers to them, even to the closely-related second and third tensions which I’ve previously written about in some detail. I didn’t do more than critique the progressive position which is unequivocally in favour of bureaucracy over feudalism and meritocracy over hereditary right. In attacking that position I did not establish that the reactionary state should adopt the wholly opposite position.

In the absence of simple answers, we can nevertheless talk sensibly about how a reactionary state would handle the tensions.

This whole discussion exists in the context of the long comment chain at Outside In which considered the nature of limitations on power or sovereignty. Crucially, we do not believe we can design a solution to the problems of government. We are not writing a legal constitution for a supreme court to enforce. What I am hoping to produce is constitutional writing in an older sense: a description of how a good government works, that influential people can point to when a question that it addresses becomes relevant, and say, “as described in the collected writings of AnomalyUK, this development which seems to be happening is harmful and should be resisted; rather, the current problems should be addressed in this other way”. It’s not guaranteed to work, but nothing else possibly can. It’s what I mean when I talk about the war of ideas.

To demonstrate, consider yet again the tension between feudalism and bureaucracy.

The reactionary argument for bureaucracy is the Moldbuggian one that power should be undivided. If subordinates serve at the whim of the sovereign, there is no struggle for power between the subordinates and the sovereign, and therefore no policies adopted for their effect on the balance of power between the two, rather than for their overall effect on the realm. Establishing powers of subordinates that can be exercised in defiance of the sovereign historically tends to lead to civil wars between barons and the crown, and to stripping of assets by aristocracies who get all the benefits of seizures, while the long-term benefits of respecting private property of commoners accrue generally.

The reactionary argument for feudalism is that undivided power is an unrealistic aim; that underlings will in fact be able to exercise power in private interests, since limitations of knowledge and time mean they can never be supervised sufficiently, and therefore, on formalist principles, their powers should be established and exercised openly. This actually reduces the conflict over the extent of their powers compared to the case where the powers are informal and exercised surreptitiously. Further, establishing a formal class of aristocrats stabilises the system by giving a large body of powerful people an interest in preserving it. It breaks the link between educational institutions and political patronage that defines today’s cathedral.

There’s a lot more that can be said on both sides, and it’s worth doing, but for now that serves as an example of how to look at the tensions. In teasing out the arguments, we can link them to circumstances, and show what circumstances favour particular approaches and solutions.

It is easy to see how a state can move between bureaucracy and feudalism. Starting from bureaucracy, if the sovereign is unwilling or unable to overrule his officials, they will consolidate their power, and collectively take control over selection of entrants to their ranks, eventually reaching the stage of being able to hold offices within families. Conversely, a stronger sovereign will bypass established families and institutions, and divert influence to appointed officials of his own choosing, loyal to him personally. Both of these courses are familiar.

What I have argued for most recently is a formally established but weak aristocracy. That would not be immune from either being bypassed or growing more powerful, subject to circumstances and personalities. The justifications for it are:

  • It provides a pool of officials under higher than normal expectations of loyalty and good behaviour
  • Hereditary privileges are a reward for loyalty and achievement
  • It prevents some other institution with an important purpose from becoming a de facto aristocracy

If a strong king can rule well without relying on the aristocracy, that is probably a good thing, but the three justifications above become three dangers. His successors may not have his advantages, and therefore may struggle to find trustworthy underlings either among a disgruntled aristocracy or a competitive and anonymous commons. The powerful may scheme to find ways to privilege their descendants if there is no approved path to do so. Other institutions (educational, media, military) could acquire aristocratic pretensions and compromise their proper function in doing so. If these things start to happen, the cause should not be a mystery.

10 July 2013

The Modern Structure

Moldbug’s coining “The Cathedral” has caught on and been the subject of much debate, but his other term “The Modern Structure” less so, which is a shame.

The Modern Structure is the constitution of the United States of America, in the sense that that term was originally used — a description of how the government of that country operates. Other Western Democracies have very similar constitutions.

The centre of the Modern Structure is the Civil Service. They actually carry out the business of government.

In theory, they are under the control of Politicians, but in reality the politicians are at most peers of the civil service, and in many cases completely subservient.

In theory again, the Politicians are controlled by the Electorate. However, the influence of the Electorate is slight: enough to tip the balance occasionally when the issue is close, but not to dictate anything. Further, on any issue, the majority of the electorate are completely ignorant, and depend on the media for information about the issue and how they should vote.

Meanwhile, business has at least as much influence on the politicians, and additionally has direct influence on the civil service (through lobbying and other forms of corruption).

In terms of power over government policy, then, the map of influences look something like this:

That is less than half the story, however. In the long run, what matters is not how the noisy controversies of the moment get resolved, but rather what is or is not controversial in the first place. That is the matter of the dominant ideology — what all the people in this network believe about what is and what should be.

The ideology is not fixed: it has changed enormously over mere decades. Who has influence over ideology?

The high status of the organs of the modern structure make them significant, but there are other important influences, and other directions of influence within the network.

This diagram shows the flows of ideological influence. For this purpose I have broken out of “Education” the most crucial organ of ideological influence — “Elite Academia”. This is where ideology comes from.

It is true that, in a sense, everything influences everything else. However, a fully-connected undirected graph has little information content, so the diagram only shows what I think are the biggest influences on what people believe.

I have left out business from the ideology diagram. My view is that while business and lobbyists are able to significantly affect policy, they has very little influence on what people believe. They perhaps have the capability of causing such influence, but in practice businesses are primarily in competition with each other, and it is much more profitable for each player to spend his influence on favouring his own narrow interests rather than on promoting a general business-oriented ideology. To the extent that a business-oriented ideology exists, it is developed by enthusiasts, and funded more by a few eccentrics such as the Kochs rather than by moneyed interests as a whole.

However, this is a disputed point, so here's the diagram with them added back in, and with the Conservative media broken out from the respectable media.

With or without business interests, it is in the network of ideological influence that we see “The Cathedral” — Elite Academia and Respectable Media — at the core. Ideology flows out from them.

It should go without saying, that this is not intended to be the last word: it is my interpretation of what is mostly general knowledge, and there is a lot of room for refinement, correction and expansion.

25 June 2013

Conservation of Sovereignty

Nick Land wants us to get to the bottom of the Moldbuggian precept, “Sovereignty is conserved”.

The response has been a lot of wrangling about definitions. But it doesn’t look like being resolved, so I’d rather bypass it and get to specifics.

There are two things that Moldbug might mean. The first is that someone is always supreme: that if you attempt to limit the sovereignty of the nominal sovereign, someone else becomes sovereign in his place. (The second is that sovereignty can be divided but still “add up” — I will not address that here).

When he talks of the “Council of Nine”, the first meaning is what he appears to intend. The president is not sovereign: he is subject to law. Who decides what the law is? — The Supreme Court. Do they have untrammelled sovereignty? — in theory not, since they also are subject to law. But they decide what the limitations are on their own power, not only on the President’s. Therefore, in reality, they are sovereign.

Does this sovereignty mean they are all-powerful? Clearly not. Their power can only be exercised through the bureaucracy, the police, the army, and there are instructions they could issue that would not be obeyed.

Then again, that is true of every sovereign, up to the most absolute of monarchs.

Nevertheless there is a difference, in that an instruction of the Supreme Court might be defied because its subjects believe it has exceeded its legal role. A truly absolute monarch might be defied for other reasons, but not for that reason.

It is not clear to what extent historical monarchs were considered truly absolute in that sense. The question of whether a monarch was in theory subject to some law, though there was no formal body that could impose it on him, seems to have been an open one through British history, with arguments made on both sides. My impression is that the less absolute view generally had the upper hand, at least from Magna Carta on.

Note this is the position in favour of “sovereignty is conserved” — the conclusion is that the sovereignty that the US Supreme Court has is the same as the sovereignty that Henry VIII had. Not perfect or complete, but supreme over any formal rival.

At the same time, it makes the conservation of sovereignty less interesting. It means that a ruler still has practical limitations on his power, in spite of his sovereignty. The nature and scope of those limitations are matters of great interest, but are excluded from the question of sovereignty.

The question that follows is: what is the effect of denying legal sovereignty to the role of "leader". On one hand, it might be nothing: whoever has the legal sovereign is the leader, and a purported leader without sovereignty is an empty figurehead. On the other hand, it might be significant — the practical limitations on a sovereign who is supposed to be a judge rather than a leader are different from the case where the sovereign and the leader are the same person.

12 June 2013

Unimportance of Policy

My vision of a reactionary future is a state with a secure but small government, that insists on its own sovereignty but is otherwise light in touch; that supports norms of traditional social behaviour but does not enforce them; that is tolerant of both home-grown and immigrant minority subcultures but does not permit them to attempt to impose themselves or their sensitivities on the traditional culture of the country.

I think that will work well. I want it because I think it will work well. If I am wrong, and it works badly — under-regulated businesses pauperise the bulk of the population; immigrant ghettoes subvert the native culture and cause crime and disorder; other problems I have not anticipated — then I don’t want it.

Among those of us who call ourselves reactionaries, there are some with very different visions of a reactionary society. If one of them, like me, says that they wish to see their vision realised because it will work well, then we are allies, in spite of our conflicting visions, because the reactionary principle we share is that neither they nor I get to decide how a good society is to be achieved. That is a matter for the legitimate sovereign, not for votes or opinion polls or TV debates.

I do not hold it at all likely that a newly-installed reactionary regime will immediately establish a state exactly according to my particular vision. So be it. A reactionary ruler has a precious attribute that no non-reactionary ruler can have: his legitimacy is independent of his policy.

If a ruler imposes heavy wealth taxes, and they drive investment out of the country, and jobs disappear, and the people become poorer, and his revenues fall, he can shrug, and say, “that turned out badly”, and reverse the policy. If a group of radical Wiccanists buy a couple of square miles of land, set up a private village, permitted by the policy of religious freedom, and then start sneaking out to bomb churches, the government can ban their organisations and require specific licensing for any new religious community. In neither case will the U-turn in policy undermine the right of the government to keep on governing.

This shit is difficult, and I don’t expect anyone to get it right first time. One of the great problems of democracy is that those in power (whether formal or informal) largely achieve it by associating themselves with specific policies, and are therefore subject to overwhelming incentive to hold those same policies regardless of evidence. The shift of power from politicians to academics was intended to solve this problem, but it only resulted in turning academics into politicians, their academic positions tied to the policies they support, and no more able to recant an error than an elected representative. A climatologist radically changing his estimate of the climate sensitivity is in exactly the same position as a Member of Parliament crossing the floor of the house.

If a new King comes to absolute power, and adopts policies that I think are bad, I will wait for him to see the bad effects, and fix the policies. He is far more likely to be responsive to reality than is a sprawling institutional structure that admits acolytes to its ranks on the basis of their loyalty to the political campaigns of the moment. That is the fatal flaw of the Modern Structure: by tying legitimacy to particular policies, it produces policy based on what sounds good in an ivory tower, not on what pleases Nature or Nature’s God when it is applied.

Questions of policy are relevant to reactionaries only as demonstrations of the failings of the Modern Structure to recognise failure and respond to it.

Admittedly, the question of what “working well” means is not quite as clear-cut as I would like. It’s conceivable that the ruler could decide that the policies I want are working badly, when it seems to me they are working well. We are all so used to dealing with politicians who will swear blind that obvious catastrophes are triumphs that I think we tend to overestimate this problem. A sovereign who benefits from real success and is harmed by real failure is, in my judgement, far more likely to assess success and failure more reasonably than a politician who benefits only from the popular perception of success. The key difference is that a secure King cares what his subjects think of the country, not what they think of him. He may still prefer the effects of policies that are not my own favourites, but if he does then they are almost sure to be good enough. Good government is very difficult, and satisficing is a perfectly sane approach.

Update: I just saw nickbsteve's latest. He makes a related point: that while it is in the nature of the Cathedral to make factual errors, the particular factual errors it makes are not the most important thing, compared to the mechanisms that cause it to make those errors. I would say that the particular failing of the Cathedral is not the fact of its making errors, but its relative inability to correct them, for the reasons above.

04 June 2013

Lots of Clubs

My answer to the question, “what should reactionaries actually do?” has been, “build a theory”. I’ve made the argument, over a few years, that any kind of actual political activism is harmful. The elite need to be converted, not defeated, and directly challenging them for power will never achieve that.

However, that answer is very unsatisfying for some people. There are people out there who want to get rid of democracy and politicians, but are not inclined to write books or follow a dozen blogs worth of reactionary theory. Their obvious outlet would be a fascist movement, but some may understand the shortcomings and flaws of that approach.

People who are looking for the Modern Structure to be replaced when it fails by something more traditional should, most of all, get together. This is Heubeck again, but even his “book clubs” are too narrow an approach. Video clubs, sports clubs, craft clubs, dining clubs — any of these contribute to the culture as long as they stick to three rules: have some kind of traditionalist orientation, be selective in membership, and prohibit political participation.

Obviously, with there not being a hierarchy to give orders, some of these clubs could fall away from virtue and become democratic, fascist, or just clubs. Is that worse than not forming them? Today we have nothing; if we succeed in this, we can start to weaken the democratic culture at its edges.

There are those who say, that since we are in favour of hierarchy, that our movement should start by being hierarchical — as if the first step in overthrowing democracy is for someone to appoint himself King, and then look for subjects. It won’t work that way. The people have to want a King before they can have one. Not that this is a bottom-up movement, either: the people will demand a King when the elite tell them to. Influencing the elite will be a slow process, but the major aim is to make the unthinkable thinkable, and having numbers of ordinary respectable people is a way to do that.

Shunning politics is the most important value. That means not just parties and elections, but single-issue campaigns, demonstrations, and the like. Adding more fascists just tells the elite that they need to crack down harder on fascists. Adding more normal-seeming people who just chuckle when you talk to them about political issues and say they don’t care for pretending to know how to rule a country, they’d rather just have a King, might have a small creeping effect on what ideas are considered unthinkable.

Publicity is a different matter. Once you have a viable organisation, it is good to get some exposure, but the exposure should be centred on the club’s activity. The anti-political aspect should be an incidental matter.

There is a catch there, in that selective membership may be illegal in some jurisdictions. In that circumstance, it is necessary to be less formal. The club should have no assets, no bank account. It can still have officers, but paperwork should be minimised, expenditures should be raised on an ad-hoc basis, any bookings of premises or equipment should be done as a personal transaction by a member. If the club is attacked by the authorities for not being inclusive enough, do not whine or fight, just go away, and go informal. (If the club is just criticised, not actually attacked, shrug and carry on). Both the attack and the lack of response serve our purpose — they show that the members are just ordinary people who are not political extremists, but who want to socialise in a way that is not allowed or approved by the state.

If it does start to go wrong — progressives are accidentally admitted and start to take over — deal with the problem quietly or not at all. Better to abandon it, wait a few months, and start again, than get in a big public split between “right-thinking people” and “extremists”. The same if the club becomes associated with right-wing activists. Politics cannot be allowed. It’s just about OK for members to vote in elections if they’re quiet about it, but it must be prohibited for a member to be publicly associated with any party or campaign.

The fact that these clubs are neither talking shops for theorists nor political cadres does not mean than the members need to be stupid. At the very least, the “no politics” rule needs to be defended. The members should know who the reactionary theorists are, and should be aware that the brazen competition for power between interest groups is both a barrier to solving the real problems of the state, and a necessary feature of democracy. They should know that they are excluding themselves from the political process not out of defeatism, but as a method of undermining the legitimacy of the régime.

That is not much to ask. Just this morning, @UK_Resistance, which appears to be a straightforward nationalist account, tweeted, “Proud to be disenfranchised working class”. I was impressed. Recognising and accepting disenfranchisement is the way of creating an alternative basis of legitimacy for a non-progressive ruler.

The Jack Donovan quote used by the Radish is another strong way of putting it: “I’m not advocating apathy. I don’t want you to stop caring. I want you to stop believing. I want you to withdraw your consent. The best thing you can do for your country — for the men around you, for the future — is to let the system tear itself apart.”

30 May 2013

Chances of success

What are the Reaction's chances of success? An answer given by several commenters in Foseti’s big thread is: none. The Cathedral is too strong.
“not only does the Cathedral monopolise status (whilst also being kind of grey and awful in most people’s eyes, I’d say), but things that identify as ‘right’, and overtly countenance inequality, authority, tradition etc. have been consistently losing for hundreds of years. Sensible people steer clear of loser ideologies.” — James G
“there is absolutely no way any contrarian ideas can ever be ‘made cool’ in today’s world. The Cathedral has an absolute iron monopoly on manufacturing cool, and trying to counter its propaganda machinery with your own attempts at ‘cool’ is like challenging all the demons of Hell hoping that you’ll scare them away by saying ‘boo’ loudly.” — Vladimir
“The ‘serious people’ are conditioned to run from anything that even smacks of reactionary thought. The ‘serious people’ would like nothing better than to see our ideas outlawed. There’s precious little status to be found here…” — survivingbabel
I think that assessment underestimates both the intensity of actual practical ineffectiveness of the establishment, and how recent a phenomenon that lack of effectiveness is. We hold that the underlying ideological faults in the establishment go back centuries, and the truth of that should not blind us to the fact that up until a few decades ago, it was nevertheless practically very effective.
During the time that it was, despite its philosophical flaws, able to successfully run a civilisation, it was indeed very hard to attract well-socialised people to a rival ideology. That period is over, and what was previously impossible is now becoming a realistic goal.
See, for instance, the flourishing of radical Islam within Europe. Islam is not, in fact, a progressive ideology. True, progressives are forced by their ideology into giving it more space and encouragement than they ought, but that is not the same thing as actually wanting liberal youths to convert to a political belief system that involves religious law, patriarchy, strictly enforced rules about sex, etc. etc. Islam wins by exploiting the contradictions in progressivism.
The liberal ideology is also forced to make concessions to us. They claim to believe in science, in free political debate, in respect for the individual. When they defy those principles to attack us, they weaken themselves.
And, at the same time, their failures are becoming bigger and more obvious. Take one example: at some point in our lifetime, it will become obvious to everyone that the great Global Warming scare was false. When that happens, the debates that happened, the books that were written, will still be around in memories and on bookshelves. This is a new thing — by the time that the failures of, say, female suffrage or decolonisation had become obvious, the accurate predictions made in advance had become obscure and mostly forgotten. After twenty years, the argument over AGW is still current, and in twenty years time, the scientific establishment will be completely discredited by it.
There are numerous other areas where things are not only worse than ever before, but getting worse at an increasing rate. The speed of disaster is the crucial thing: it outstrips the Cathedral’s ability to rewrite history. Given enough time between a failed policy and its results, the policy can be painted as a right-wing aberration committed against the better judgement of progressives, or else so totally established that any alternative is unthinkable, despite the failure of the chosen policy. That works over a scale of fifty years, but not over fifteen.
The only thing that can save the Cathedral is conservatism, a moderating of the headlong progressive rush that can slow the rate of failure down so that the old methods will work. That has happened before when the rate of leftward movement became dangerous to the whole structure. But, while the effectiveness of its rule has deteriorated, the ability of the left to emasculate and marginalise conservatism has increased. The chances of a Thatcher or Reagan appearing in the next decade or so to slow the rate of decline and provide a scapegoat for some of the failures looks very slim.
The worse things get, the more likely it is that some serious conservatism might appear to staunch the bleeding. If it can’t happen in ten years, maybe it will happen in twenty. But if it can happen, that means that the Cathedral’s monopoly of cool, and, more importantly, respectability, has already frayed. If a long-excluded conservatism can gain status, then so can we. And if it can’t then the decline continues to gather pace and the failings of the state continue to become more obvious.
In the end, we don’t need to beat the left. We only need to beat the right — a much easier goal. The only thing that can save The Cathedral is conservatism. We can stop it.

29 May 2013


I wrote before, that while religion can be a force for reaction, Religion, or at any rate Christianity, should not be the primary basis of a reactionary state. There are too many factions (even within nominally hierarchical churches like the Catholic Church). If the mechanisms for resolving religious disagreement come to dictate government policy, that perverts religion and destabilises government.
The liberal approach to this problem is to separate church and state — to guarantee the church's independence from the state. This can be fairly workable, but it can reach absurd lengths: the currently dominant interpretation in the USA is that the state cannot act in any way out of religious motive. No genuinely religious person would willingly tolerate that, and it has only come about because the irreligious, or, more accurately, the adepts of a religion that has managed to classify itself as a non-religion, have taken all power in the state. (It also interprets a 220-year-old law in direct contradiction to the way it was understood and followed for the first 150 years of its existence, which is an insult to logic and to the concept of law, but that’s not important right now).
The problem with separation is that church and state become rivals. Bishops can become a dangerous example of the kind of over-mighty subject I wrote about two years ago — people with substantial real power that is not formalised within the state. My recommendation for other “mighty subjects” is to require them to accept a state position of honour which puts them under supervision by the sovereign. This is problematic in the case of a clergyman who can properly claim to be serving a higher power than the sovereign.
The solution that England found was to put the whole church under the nominal control of the state. That doesn’t mean that the Queen is the High Priestess, and she doesn’t routinely rule on doctrinal matters, but it does mean that in the case of a serious disagreement between church and state, state wins. If you don’t want an actual theocracy, that is what has to happen.
In order to work, the relationship between church and state has to go both ways. If the church is to survive under state control, the sovereign, and the large part of the leaders of the state, have to be supporters of the church.
There is still room for religious freedom, but that’s not the same as all religions being treated equally. If you want to be high in government, you should be a member of the established church, or else be very exceptional. If your dissenting religion involves human sacrifice, or advocates overthrowing the state or the established church, then it will be suppressed like any other criminal or seditious organisation.
It is in the interest of state and society for there to be an established religion in which the majority of the population participate. Normal behaviour should include regular religious observance.
There might even be a case for small fines for non-observance. Or maybe better, the state-backed social insurance / welfare system could be run through the church — dissenting churches can go and set up their own. There is great social value in giving the nation a venue of shared ritual, and atheists can put up with sitting through an hour of drivel once a week, particularly if they know they are not the only ones just going through the motions. Just think of all the other things you sit through for the sake of fitting in socially.
Note that, like many reactionary proposals, this one is targeted at a particular people in a particular place. The Church of England would probably not be appropriate for a small research/manufacturing-oriented colony on a seastead. It is appropriate for England. The principles underlying the argument are more broadly applicable, and even the seastead should have some established pattern of ritual.