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.”