Tuesday, June 19, 2007 34 Comments

Friction in theory and practice

In my first post I defined "violence" as the combination of conflict and uncertainty.

This was a mistake. Not that the analysis was wrong, but the practice of redefining words like "violence," with their inalienable emotional connotations, is rhetorically foul. It makes me think of the egregious George Lakoff, who wrote a whole book to define "freedom" as everything that is sweet and good and true, at least in George Lakoff's opinion. And then of course there's Barack Obama. And so on.

So let me work back over this idea, as bloggers always must (who reads archives, anyway? A blog is not a book), and use a different word: friction.

(I figure "friction" is fair game, because I don't think anyone has any strong feelings good or bad about friction in the abstract. It is true that many of us have suffered from friction - for example, through chafing. On the other hand, it makes our brakes work and keeps us from falling on our asses, and the prospect of eradicating it from the earth seems both improbable and unappealing. Therefore we can, I hope, regard it with some small calm.)

Conflict exists whenever two men (or women) want the same thing, but only one can have it. Economists call this a scarce resource. Scarce resources are everywhere. My car, for example, is a scarce resource.

Uncertainty exists whenever it is difficult to predict the outcome of a conflict. For example, you might want my car. (This is only because you haven't seen it.) But it has an ignition lock and I have the title, and the full military power of the United States is on my side. (This is only because it doesn't know me.) So it's easy for both of us to predict that your chance of obtaining my car without my consent is quite small.

But if we lived in, say, Gaza City, things might be different. For example, suppose you were an adherent of the People's Front of Gaza, an extremist terrorist gang, whereas I paid dues only to the peaceful, moderate and democratic Gazan Popular Front. If the former rose up and drove the latter into the sea, it's certainly possible that there might be someone you could speak to on the subject of "my" car.

And it's quite possible that I would feel the need to accept this fait accompli. In which case, although there was friction between the PFG and the GPF, there is none between us. The car is now yours, as once it was mine. Nothing says we can't be perfectly civil about it.

However, it's also possible that I might have a cousin - or two - in the PFG. And if any such uncertainty exists, the result is friction: we both expend effort toward resolving the conflict in our respective directions. We may expend some ammunition as well. Or we may just expend time, vocal cords, bribes, and innumerable cups of tea. In any case, this labor is unproductive by any conceivable definition of productivity.

In theory, it's important to distinguish between uncertainty, which is incalculable risk, and probability, which is calculable. For example, if both of us could agree on a probability of the car's eventual disposition - let's say 70% for me, 30% for you - we'd find it easy to compromise. 30% of a car is not so useful, but we could agree to have it appraised and I could give you 30% of the market price. (Of course, this would be a contribution to the victorious people of Gaza, not a mere bribe, kickback or shakedown.)

But calculable probabilities are pretty rare in practice. (Prediction markets can help with this, but bear in mind that a market price is just an average opinion, not a magic 8-ball. Nonetheless, I always wonder why some brave soul hasn't set up prediction markets for judicial decisions.)

In a frictional conflict, both sides may estimate a probability. But since uncertainty exists, there is no reason for their calculations to match, and so no reason for their respective estimates of success to sum to 100%. It's only human nature to overstate one's own chances. And in conflicts between organizations - such as states, companies, or even People's Fronts - it is almost inevitable. So the joint expected value can be, and typically is, 150%, 180%, etc. Leaving a lot of room for noble sacrifice.

Note that this is a very different theory of "violence" than the prevailing progressive-idealist or ultracalvinist view, which of course is basically Christian, and attributes all violence and other bad behavior to the fact that not everyone is Christian enough. Of course our ultracalvinists generally do not put it this way, being not Christians but crypto-Christians.

But "violence" in the philosophy of the New York Times, Obama, Lakoff and the like seems to always be the result of one of three things: (a) violations of the Golden Rule, ie the "cycle of violence" theory; (b) justified violence, a natural response to poverty etc, as in Obama's Quiet Riot Theory ("I bring not peace, but a sword"); and (c) any other psychological aberrations, inexplicable failures to be enlightened, and other forms of medieval ignorance, all of which would vanish at once if we could just get an NPR station in Gaza City.

The point of the friction model is that friction is rational. Therefore, it cannot be eradicated by missionaries, no matter how many Bibles they have discarded. In terms of its intellectual parentage - or, as doubters may prefer, pathology - the frictional model of violence is best seen as a case of Misesian praxeology, falling in Rothbard's categories B2b-c, C and D (basically, politics, war and game theory).

(It's important to note that praxeology does not assume "rationality" in the dumbed-down Homo oeconomicus form sometimes peddled by university economists. It does not attempt to construct any objective definition of utility. It defines subjective rational preference as the consequence of any intentional act. Action reveals a preferred state of the world. For example, to a Misesian, a suicide bomber in a Starbucks can be rational, if the fact that he presses his little red button is the result of the fact that he wants to turn a world that contains a man in a cafe, into one that contains a mess of ball bearings, blood and charred Frappucinos. However, if he has Down's syndrome and is whacked out on magic mushrooms, and has no idea what will be the result of pressing the button or why he should care, he is not rational. Nonrational acts certainly cause problems - there will always be an undiagnosed schizophrenic or two, lurking behind you in the subway. But most suicide bombers, I believe, are of the former variety.)

In case all this theory is too dry, let's look at some actual forms that friction takes in the real world today. As Clausewitz for one observed, the lines between these flavors are never sharp. Nonetheless they are different enough to deserve their own terms.

Friction in the general case can be defined as war. In war, we use any means that may be effective to achieve our objectives. For example, you want my car? I want to shoot you. Bang. Before, problem. Now, no problem. Maybe I get my cousins together and we shoot your family, too, pour encourager les autres.

Of course, this is the Gaza City scenario. In San Francisco, these means would not only be ineffective - they would be counterproductive. (This, I feel, is one of the reasons these places, with such similar Mediterranean climates, seem so different.) Instead, if we could construct any kind of uncertainty as to who owned the car, we'd probably settle it with a lawsuit, which takes our friction into the realm of politics. In politics, we use nonforceful methods to pursue our claims, but the effect at least as it pertains to the car is the same - one of us gets it, and there is no way to tell in advance which one of us it will be.

Politics can be defined as limited warfare. For example, you can see a democratic election as a form of civil war, in which both sides agree to settle the conflict by simply counting soldiers. While this is a long way from a war in which tank battles are legitimate but poison gas is not, the principle is the same, and no qualitative line can be drawn between the two. You cannot separate force from non-force, militants from civilians, etc, etc.

It would be iconoclastic of me to stand up for poison gas, but this would be taking il gran rifiuto slightly too far. While arms limitation is not my favorite mechanism for controlling friction (I prefer the rule of law), it certainly works, and there is much to be said for it. The trick is making sure that there is no incentive to escalate.

For example, despite the barbaric and pointless attacks on civilians perpetrated by both sides in World War II, poison gas was never used in combat, which I attribute to the fact that each side was prepared to deploy it almost instantly if the other did. So no advantage but a very temporary surprise could be obtained by resorting to this measure, and even that advantage would be more than canceled by the political consequences. (The story may be apocryphal, but apparently chemical warfare was almost initiated as a result of German interceptions of American signals ordering vast quantities of "GAS," ie, of course, petrol, to North Africa.)

A fascinating species of friction, quite popular in the current era, is something called asymmetrical warfare. In asymmetrical warfare, the two sides play by different rules, which often lends a remarkable uncertainty to a conflict whose outcome would otherwise be clear. For example, in extreme cases of asymmetrical warfare, one side has to obey rules that are essentially those of a police department, whereas the other is almost perfectly laissez-faire.

A fellow by the name of Carl Schmitt, whose main claim to fame is that he was a Nazi, wrote an interesting if frustrating essay called Theory of the Partisan, inflicted on the world in 1962. The piece is full of bizarre Teutonic mysticisms (you can take the boy out of Prussia, but you can't take Prussia out of the boy), and not really readable as such. But it is a peek at the modern era from a very non-modern perspective. Such things may not interest others, but for some reason they always fascinate me.

One of Schmitt's concepts (which he attributes to the far more obscure Rolf Schroers) is the "interested third party." The interested third party is basically whoever it is that is keeping your asymmetric (or "partisan") war asymmetric. In other words, it is the political ally of the weaker, laissez-faire force, which ensures that its escalations are not rewarded with corresponding counter-escalations which would nullify the advantages they provide.

This is such a sensitive topic (notice that I'm not mentioning any examples - not that I fear the subject, but it deserves its own post) that even the word "ally" is contentious. When most people think of an "alliance," they think of two sides openly and knowingly cooperating to implement one vision of a result, like the US and Britain in WWII, or two sides agreeing on a limited set of interests, like the US and Russia in WWII. (As Churchill said in 1941, "if Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.")

However, as long as the actions of two parties advance each others' interests, they can be considered allies, even if their philosophies of the world are so utterly opposed that they cannot afford the luxury of any such favorable reference. The enemy of your enemy is your friend, and the same goes for the political opponent of your enemy, the enemy of your political opponent, etc, etc. Perhaps we can venture a neologism and define this kind of hands-off alliance as a paralliance. Partners in a paralliance will often cooperate quite unconsciously, without any institutional realization that their success is due to their odd bedfellow.

Another flavor of friction is, of course, crime. The distinguishing feature of crime is that it has no vision of establishing a monopoly of power - unlike politics and war, it does not aspire to create a new status quo in which it is the dominant order. Instead, it is opportunistic and local. However, it is quite good at reappropriating vehicles, livestock, and other movables.

Again, there are no clear lines between any two forms of friction, and crime is often indistinguishable from guerrilla warfare. Many criminals in many societies have thought of themselves as quasi-warriors. In an ideal society, all crime would be committed by psychopaths, ie, people with no objective theory of right and wrong, but this has seldom been the case. When crime is motivated by political aspirations, let's call it paracrime.

As with its cousin, asymmetric warfare, paracrime generally cannot exist without an interested third party, which shields it from the repressive, escalating response that its political opponents would otherwise inflict. This situation bears some resemblance to what the late Sam Francis described as anarcho-tyranny, although I'm not sure Francis had a very clear conception of the forces that create and stabilize this species of paralliance. (Although I share his admiration for James Burnham, and am sympathetic to many of his diagnoses, I find few if any of Francis's prescriptions to be of any use.)

Finally, the last important form of friction is pure tyranny, that is, repressive government in the vein of Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong Il, the wartime Third Reich, etc. This is sometimes called "totalitarian" government, though I think that term, strictly on the basis of its linguistic roots, should be extended to any state which exercises legislative omnipotence, or omnipotence with a few carved-out exceptions as with a "bill of rights."

Tyranny is often misunderstood, which is not surprising, as few of us have lived in tyrannical states. Even the Soviet Union of Khrushchev and Brezhnev is far closer to present-day Western forms of government than to the murderous system of Stalin. A common error, for example made by Ayn Rand, is to identify tyranny and monarchy, which in fact are quite unrelated political forms - all they share is the coincidence of personal rule. We may not all know it, but we'd almost all rather live under the "autocratic" and "absolutist" tsars than under Stalin.

In my opinion, tyranny is best seen as a sort of static civil war. The tyrant's office differs from the monarch's in that the latter's legitimacy is assured by law, whereas the former's is a matter of personal power and prestige. Every servant of a tyrant is a potential usurper - the military tyranny of the late Roman Empire, in which no emperor was safe from his own bodyguard, is an excellent example.

Tyrants may repress their subjects out of sadism. It is certainly easy for them to acquire this taste. But they also do so out of necessity, because if they relax their grip for a minute they will be overthrown. Stalin had excellent rational reasons for purging the Old Bolsheviks, as Hitler did for purging the SA. A tyrant cannot allow any center of opposition to develop.

Tyranny, in other words, is essentially informal and unstable. At least in the modern era, they tend to evolve into juntas, which tend to evolve into oligarchies, which tend to evolve into democracies. The paths of Russia and China after Communism are good examples. With each of these steps, legitimacy and internal security increase, and the state becomes stronger and harder to overthrow. Unless Gaza is your idea of fun, a strong and secure state is a good thing.

(Perhaps the principal error of modern libertarians is their failure to distinguish between weak government and small government. My ideal government is extremely small, extremely efficient, and extremely strong - its authority cannot be challenged. It does not repress its citizens not because it is physically incapable of repression, but because repression is, far from being in its interests, directly opposed to them. But this too is a separate post.)

In future posts I'll look more at some of these forms of friction, and ways to resolve them.

34 Comments:

Anonymous Michael said...

I begin with your observation that "a tyrant cannot allow any center of opposition to develop." The consequence of this, as we have observed in many tyrannies, is that an efficient tyrant exterminates not only every opponent, but everyone he sees as capable of being an opponent. This leaves him surrounded by sycophants, whose only expertise is in flattery and grovelling. The quick collapse of the Iraqi army both in the first Gulf War and then at the beginning of the current one shows how effectively Saddam purged his forces of anyone with ability, even down to the level of the NCOs (who are really the men that keep an army running).

The instability of tyranny is that in it everything depends upon the skill and strength of the tyrant. You distinguish between tyrannies like those of Stalin and the absolutism or autocracy of the tsars, and I agree with you that I'd rather have lived under the tsars rather than Stalin, but the principle at work is still the same.

Absolute monarchs like Nicholas II or Louis XVI fell because they were inefficient in their absolutism. They did not destroy the centers of opposition to their rule and were accordingly replaced by more efficient absolutists. If Nicholas II had possessed the vigor of Nicholas I, the Mensheviks would have met the fate of the Decembrists, and the Bolsheviks would have been strangled at birth. If Louis XVI had been as astute a monarch as Louis XIV had been, the Girondins would have been dealt with as the Frondeurs had been, and the Jacobins could never have arisen.

The comparative strength of the British monarchy over many centuries has been that it shared its power with enough people so that they all had something to lose by any radical change in the social order. When the foundation is broad enough, the capstone is firmly supported and very hard to dislodge.

Through exercise of the monarch's function as the fount of honour, the British aristocracy was able, as Pareto says a successful élite must be, to absorb and co-opt rising talent. Thus, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, rich sugar planters from the West Indies bought country estates in the south of England, and within two generations their heirs were belted earls. In the nineteenth century prosperous brewers, hard-nosed colliery owners and ironmasters, and bankers or brokers grown rich in the City, in due course received knighthoods and baronies. Conjoined as they were between the covers of Burke's or Debrett's - and often between those of the marital bed - with families that came across the channel in the appanage of William the Conqueror, these "new men" came to see their interests as common with the latter. This effectively removed any serious challenge to the basic political order, so that, in the words of Lord Talbot, "a Ministerial Whig and a State Tory, when in power, are so exactly alike in their conduct that my discernment is not sufficient to distinguish one from the other."

Indeed, the stability of this arrangement survived until the rise of the Labour party, and its nominal framework is still in place. The purveyors of meretricious pop culture retire on their residuals to country manors and take up driven shooting, while even superannuated Labour hacks still covet the accolade, or even better, a coronet. It is probable that the old British élite will do a better job of co-opting such folk in the long run than the dying American patriciate will do with those you have identified as Brahmins.

June 20, 2007 at 12:04 PM  
Anonymous George Weinberg said...

Well, you're covering a lot of ground here. Let's try to break this into pieces.
Uncertainty exists whenever it is difficult to predict the outcome of a conflict.
Ok, but it's important to remembber that this is not just a question of which side is stronger but also how much pain each side is willing to endure in order to achieve their goals, and that will often strongly depend on ideas of morality. In your car example, it's quite easy to imagine someone being willing to go to more effort to retrieve a stolen car than the car is objectively worth, or to go to a fair degree of effort to prevent the theives from enjoying the use of his car even if it doesn't result in the car being returned, simply because having the car stolen fills him with moral outrage. People are like that. But the theif would be much more likelt to look at things from a more straghtforward cost-benefit anlysis.

I don't think that you can accurately describe peoples' actions without acknowledging that most people have a concept of "rightful" ownership, and that this concept strongly influences their actions. In particular, the SF cops will take your side against a car theif, not just because they aren't aware what a nogoodnik (by their standards) you are, but because it isn't relevant. Posession notwithstanding, you ARE the owner of your car.

to a Misesian, a suicide bomber in a Starbucks can be rational
Maybe, maybe not. You can't know what's going on in anyone else's mind anyway, so although it's probably possible in principle to construct a set of green-sky delusional beliefs according to which a maniac's actions make sense, I'm not sure there's any practical advantage in doing so.

In asymmetrical warfare, the two sides play by different rules, which often lends a remarkable uncertainty to a conflict whose outcome would otherwise be clear.

I think this is somewhat backwards. In order for two sides in a conflict to agree on any set of rules, the sides have to be sufficiently similar that a breakdown of the rules would not significantly favor one side over the other. Thus, in WW2 the sides were able to agree not to use poison gas, but could not agre not to bomb each other cities, since the latter would be particularly unfavorable to whichever side has a stronger air force at the time.

Unless Gaza is your idea of fun, a strong and secure state is a good thing.
I don't think so, I think the troubles in that region of the world are largely due to the culture of the people involved. I think the government of Syria is reasonbly stable, but I wouldn't want to live there either. Converesely, I think you can find histrical examples of times and places where there was scarcely any government to speak of but levels of violence were pretty low.

BTW, welcome back :-)

June 20, 2007 at 12:51 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

We have been looking forward to reading your words, Mencius. Welcome back!

After reading this post, I finally understand what you mean by "ultracalvinism".

You claim, "The tyrant's office differs from the monarch's in that the latter's legitimacy is assured by law, whereas the former's is a matter of personal power and prestige." I disagree - unless we relax the definition "law" so that it encompasses the Torah, Aztec cosmology, Confucian classics, Communist "theory", and every other system of legitimation in human history. Some parts of what people considered to be "law" in ancient monarchies would be incomprehensible nonsense to people in the English-speaking world today.

I think that the unifying attribute of all monarchies is that they are sustained by an aura of divine mystery around the ruler. People fear tyrants for rather ordinary reasons (bodily mutilation, confiscation of property, slavery, rape, death). People fear monarchs for all of the same ordinary reasons, but their fear is compounded by supernatural concerns. It is a crime to disobey the tyrant, but it is a sin to disobey the monarch.

A ruling dynasty begins as a tyranny and evolves into a mature monarchy. A Stalinist personality cult marks the attempted transition from tyranny to monarchy. (Of course, people these days are not so easily fooled; they know that beneath the resplendent clothing of monarchy there is still a naked ugly tyrant.)

Your spelling of "oeconomicus" with the digraph offends me greatly. I can't explain why. Perhaps the digraph functions as an ideological marker?

June 20, 2007 at 4:25 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

So the joint expected value can be, and typically is, 150%, 180%, etc.
Not if they are rational. This is an indication of people systematically over-estimating. I don't know what the Misesian praxeological position on probability is, but that's the Bayesian one. There is, of course, meta-rationality of how much thought you should give to probabilities and the utility you derive from inaccurate beliefs though.

I agree with you on the importance of a state being small rather than weak. Weak states aren't replaced by anarcho-capitalism and Rothbardians like to imagine, but another state that turned out to be stronger than the forces of the old regime. I might perhaps use the phrase "limited government" to indicate a state that performs competently in the areas in which it has any place being and elsewhere not at all, except that you already condemned that as anti-propertarian. I am confused as to why you included our country's Bill of Rights as being totalitarian. If you can't distinguish between the United States even when the Constitution is most disregarded and those totalitarian states, there is little use in the word "totalitarian".

It is a bit unfortunate that the terms "tyranny" and "dictatorship" have become so value-loaded. In the classical (pre-Christian) era a tyrant was one who seized power through force. The Spartans could thus be committed anti-tyrants (they liberated Athens, resulting inadvertently in Athenian democracy) while having a near-communist military state that made all either a soldier or slave. A dictator was one whose word was law which the Roman Republic elected during times of emergency. Some of them, like Cincinnatus might be considered quite benevolent and competent.

June 20, 2007 at 4:31 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

michael,

I agree with most of what you say, as usual, but I must defend the distinction between the tsars and Stalin.

It is not just that Nicholas II fell, the Romanov monarchy fell. Undoubtedly (I highly recommend the memoir of his cousin, Grand Duke Alexander), the personal qualities of Nicholas II had much to do with this event.

But Nicholas II was not overthrown by Grand Duke Alexander, or by any other Romanov. This is because Russia, like the other European monarchies of its day, had a stable system of succession. Whereas Stalin did not - witness the fate of Beria.

Think of the difference between King/Queen and Crown in the British system. The King or Queen is mortal, the Crown is a perpetual corporation. The Crown's chain of command is dictated by law - the law of succession. This may be weird and biological, but at least it's unambiguous.

Any regime can be overthrown - monarchical, democratic, tyrannical - and if it's weak and it has enemies, it will be.

Also, while the British royal family has survived, I'm not sure I'd say it has maintained power. It shared power with so many people that in the end it had none left to share.

I think power in the UK has shifted for the moment to the extended civil service (Sir Humphrey Appleby, etc), as in the rest of the West. The House of Lords "died in the dark" in 1911, and if it is ever resuscitated I suspect it will be as something more like a House of Professors.

June 20, 2007 at 7:35 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

George,

I am glad to see that going off for a week does not drive away the thoughtful!

Most of your comment I agree with, but I think it is beside the point given this:

You can't know what's going on in anyone else's mind anyway, so although it's probably possible in principle to construct a set of green-sky delusional beliefs according to which a maniac's actions make sense, I'm not sure there's any practical advantage in doing so.

You are still working with an objective "blue-sky" definition of rationality here. The advantage of Mises' subjective definition is that it is strictly simpler and more powerful: it does not require us to decide whether the sky is blue or green. Calculating the wavelength of ozone scattering is easy - calculating the effects of a suicide bombing, and deciding whether or not they are "good" in any objective sense, is not. The great merit of the Mises formulation is that it keeps us out of this tarpit.

As for emotionally held concepts of right and wrong, the desire to punish evildoers, they certainly exist, and they do not violate Misesian rationality.

If you want to commit gross bodily mayhem on me for saying "oeconomicus," it does not matter whether or not you can explain why - it is inseparable from the conclusion that you prefer a world in which my fat, pompous face has been smashed in to one in which it hasn't been. Just as you prefer a world in which you are the proud owner of a 1999 Cougar with a broken sunroof and a missing front license plate, to one in which you aren't.

If people want to hurt each other, no formal social structures can stop them. The point of an engineering approach to law and politics is to give them as few incentives, and as many disincentives, to mayhem as possible.

(And I agree - the digraph is snooty. I think the problem is just that I've been spending too much time with Henry Thomas Buckle's History of Civilization in England. But note that it would be even more snooty if I dug up the proper Unicode glyph for it, and I reserve the right to do exactly that - especially if any mayhem ensues.)

June 20, 2007 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

George -

Sorry, a scrolling error - it was steve who was offended by "oeconomicus." My apologies! Steve, all the same comments apply to you :-)

steve -

I absolutely do consider these things law, no matter how crazy. I am not familiar with Aztec law, but I assume it was pretty crazy. The same, however, can be said for the Salic law, especially if you are a feminist. For me the "spirit of law" is formalization, not righteousness or even sanity.

You certainly are right about the aura of mystery, though no government has ever failed to use this tool - democratic, tyrannical or otherwise. One of my main points is that I think mysterious government can actually be done without, although this is certainly too radical for most.

But Stalin's cult of the personality certainly surpassed that of any previous leader by miles, however, so this is not a complete definition. I think the key difference is legalism, as you mention yourself - and see my reply to michael above.

June 20, 2007 at 7:58 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

You should check out the Misesian position, it would interest you greatly. When actual incalculable uncertainty exists, there is no reason at all for both sides to agree on the same result.

Bayesian inference is all very well, but it too (like prediction markets) is a tool rather than a magic 8-ball. You can use either to try to decide the outcome of the war in Iraq, but in both cases it is garbage in, garbage out, and the flavor of garbage you get out will simply depend on the flavor you put in - the definitions of priors etc in the Bayesian case, the opinions of the participants in the prediction-market case. (I'm sure you've read Feynman's tale of the Emperor of China's nose, a problem on which Bayesian inference is equally ineffective and for much the same reasons.)

I do think there is little use in the word "totalitarian," but if it means anything it means a state with unlimited powers. The Bill of Rights (really Footnote Four) system of rights is certainly better than nothing, but it is (a) enforced by the government itself, and (b) it carves out negative exceptions to an otherwise open set, which is very different from a government of positively enumerated powers as specified in 1789. Nick Szabo is great on this particular point.

I agree very much with your historical points on tyranny and dictatorship.

June 20, 2007 at 8:07 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

george,

Also, on Syria etc, see the state run by Evelyn Baring in Egypt - quite livable by all accounts. Syria is basically a Corleone mob state, just with a secure mob. But this sort of security can only get so far.

I agree that people are not interchangeable, and who they are makes a difference. But the weird 20th-century idea that government employees have to be natives of the country they govern, which is wholly unsupported by reality, is responsible for many, maybe even most, of the pernicious effects of this reality.

June 20, 2007 at 8:11 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

I think I should rephrase my statements about uncertainty and agreement. Initially unbiased but ignorant people will come up with estimations that may be high or low by random factors. When they realize that another person substantially disagrees with them, this is a piece of evidence that will shift their estimation. Aumann's Agreement theorem predicts that Bayesian rational people will random-walk to agreement. There are a series of posts on that at http://www.overcomingbias.com/disagreement/index.html, with "Agreeing to Agree" being the first relevant one from the bottom.

This does assume that people want to have accurate beliefs, if you find killing more suitable than random-walking toward agreement neoclassical economics would still predict you would do that. Some people seem to have an inaccurate idea of the neoclassical definition of rationality and it subjectivity (see John Thacker's comment and those he is replying to here).

The Bill of Rights is an addition to the Constitution. It is not the only place where negative rights are spelled out. The Constitution prohibits Congress from doing a number of things, such as passing bills of attainder or ex post facto laws or suspending habeas corpus in times other than under rebellion or invasion, and all these are "enforced by the government itself". The Federalists did argue at the time that it would make people think the only rights were those spelled out (which is why the 9th Amendment was added), but I have to side with the Anti-Federalists, who actually wanted to preserve freedom by limiting government versus the Federalists who quickly set about loosely interpreting the Constitution to a drastic extent. Most importantly I think is the Schelling effect: I can't rely on judges to claim I have the rights I want, but having the phrase "freedom of speech" ingrained in people's heads and enshrined in what is nearly a sacred document does wonders. If a government restricted by a Bill of Rights is still "totalitarian", when has there ever been a non-"totalitarian" government?

Bad news for democracy skeptics like you and me: some new studies show that rather than being weakly negatively correlated with growth, democracy may be significantly and positively linked with growth. I found the link from Marginal Revolution. I haven't read enough of them to give an opinion yet. Do you just disregard this as being nonsense empiricism or do you do any Bayesian updates upon encountering such evidence?

June 21, 2007 at 1:08 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

You are right to point out that the principle of monarchical succession makes the Crown, as a legal entity, distinct from the personal rule of the monarch. Nonetheless, the distinction between formal monarchies and arbitrary tyrannies on this point is not so clear cut as you would like to suggest. The natural tendency to favor one's children has made the dictatorship of Syria an hereditary property of the Assads, and that of North Korea of the Kims. That the latter should happen in a society supposedly dedicated to Marxism shows that human nature can still trump the most rigid ideology (we also note that Fidel Castro during his illness has handed off power to his brother, in a sort of regency).

Nor is any of this without historical precedent. Napoléon, who is in many respects the prototype of the modern dictator, when he was not content with being first consul, made himself emperor, and tried to assure the succession of his son, brothers, and in-laws. Time alone can tell whether the houses of Assad, Kim, or Castro will do any better than that of Buonaparte.

It seems to me that what the British royal family, and the other remaining crowned heads of the world have done, is something very familiar in the economic sphere: they have traded the control of an illiquid asset for liquidity, in the process ceding almost all of their control. It is no different than in the case of a large family-owned business which goes public, allowing the owning family to cash in on its market capitalization.

The British, Belgian, and Dutch royal families, in particular, are very rich indeed. As to the first two, it could be said that the Saxe-Cobourgs have done very well for themselves in the past 200 years, considering that their common ancestor the duke of Saxe-Cobourg-Saalfeld, went bankrupt in about 1795, and his duchy was placed under a form of receivership within the Holy Roman Empire. As for the last, we need only recall that the duke of Alba, when he began his campaigns in the Protestant parts of the low countries, derided William the Silent and his followers as "gueusards" (beggars). Now sitting on a controlling interest in Royal Dutch Shell, Philips NV, and others, the house of Orange might well respond, "lang leve de gueuzen"! One might not be able to order anyone's head cut off, but being a king is still not a bad life in the 21st century.

The same might be said of the peerage. Did the House of Lords "die in the dark" in 1911? What happened then was that the Lords lost their ability to defeat a piece of legislation absolutely, being permitted only to delay it for five years (within which time the dissolution of the sitting Parliament would certainly come about). This was hardly a victory for the aristocracy, but it was one step in what has been a largely successful anabasis. I suppose the latter began in 1832 with parliamentary reform, which took away the absolute control that large landowners had over the membership of the House of Commons. The landowners suffered another blow with the repeal of the Corn Laws, but this simply signalled the rising power of industrialists and financiers, who were soon enough co-opted into the aristocracy themselves.

If 1911 was a significant defeat for the British élite of the time, they certainly didn't act as if it was; the effective control of British foreign policy remained firmly in the hands of the coteries around the Lords Salisbury and Milner until after World War II. The memoirs of John Buchan (Lord Tweedsmuir) and Carroll Quigley's "The Anglo-American Establishment" shed considerable light on this period.

The first serious challenge to this aristocratic hegemony came after World War II with the Labour government of Bevan and Cripps. It was at this time that punitive taxation of high incomes and estates was instituted, resulting in the phenomenon of "pauper peers." It is hard to imagine this as anything but the consequence of the terrible toll two world wars had taken upon Britain, with the loss of so many young men in two succeeding generations. In contrast to what we observe in our society today, in which the children of affluent families largely avoid military service, there was a disproportionately high number of casualties amongst titled Britons (mostly "Hons.," or children of peers) in both world wars. It is not hard to see why when one considers that the rôle of a subaltern was to lead the soldiers in his command "over the top," probably into machine-gun fire, while armed with nothing more than a swagger stick. The class that supplied the proconsular service of the Empire was decimated, and the costs of Empire itself could no longer be met by an exhausted society. Churchill was thrown out and a definitive Labour ministry installed, with the results we all know.

Even so, it is still almost as good to be an aristocrat as it is to be a king. The punitive tax regime in Britain was relieved, some of it even before Thatcher, and a look at the prices of country properties as listed in "The Field" or "Country Life" shows that the market for them is vigorous. Again, the phenomenon of exchanging control for liquidity is evident.

Incidentally I have to put in a good word here for "the Field." Apart from its coverage of the obvious, hunting-shooting-fishing subjects, it contains some of the best commentary on British politics I have read (including a fine article by the Earl Peel on Blair's "reform" of the Lords) There is in addition a variety of had-to-categorize articles and a good deal of very British humor. "The Field" was founded by the novelist Robert Surtees, a contemporary of Dickens and Thackeray, who was in his time esteemed their equal as a writer, and this distinction alone makes it an unusual survival in the world of journalism.

June 21, 2007 at 10:16 AM  
Anonymous George Weinberg said...

You are still working with an objective "blue-sky" definition of rationality here. The advantage of Mises' subjective definition is that it is strictly simpler and more powerful

I think I'm not being clear. If you could somehow know what someone's beliefs and goals are, you could at least to an extent predict a person's actions whether or not those beliefs correspond to reality and the goals seem sensible. But you can't. Further, taking peoples's word for it as to what they think and want is often unreliable. Although it's possible to invent some set of beliefs and goals according which an individual's actions and goals make sense, one could invent as many different ones as one cares to, with no way of determining which (if any) correspond to reality.
For example, in the case of suicide bombers, I think that most suicide bombers are not individuals who spontaneously decide to become suicide bombers, but are members of a group and are assigned to become suicide bombers. If this is the case, then it's at least possible that a substantial fraction of suicide bombers are assigned their duty, not because the bombing itself is intended to acheive anything, but because it's a convenient way for the group leader to rid himself of individuals he considers undesirable. This "theory" is completely useless, because it makes no testable predictions, particularly not with weasel expressions like "a substantial fraction".

As for emotionally held concepts of right and wrong, the desire to punish evildoers, they certainly exist, and they do not violate Misesian rationality.

Of course not, but it's important that they exist, and that although they're not universal, they aren't arbitrary either and they take a long time to change. For people to be willing to accept certificates of ownership from some authority as proof of actual ownership, assignment of those certificates will have to correspond quite closely with peoples' ideas of rightful ownership. Similarly, for people to be willing to obey laws, let alone volunatrily assist in enforcing laws, the laws must be in pretty good accord with peoples' ideas of right and wrong.

Time generally creates authority (for most people), so for example "The Constitution" is considered authoritative even by many who would acknowledge that process by which it was ratified was illegitimate at the time, and that the current "interpretation" is at gross variance both with what it was originally intended to mean and what it actually says. But an arbitrary "new constitution" would not be accorded the same respect, even if it was de facto largely a case of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss".

June 21, 2007 at 1:32 PM  
Anonymous George Weinberg said...

tggp, I think you're trying to apply a theorem to an inappropriate region.
Here's the money quote:
mutually respectful, honest and rational debaters cannot disagree on any factual matter once they know each other's opinions.

but of course in the case of conflict the opposing parties are not honest with each other, and are probably not mutually respectful either. Given that each party hypothetically could gain an advantage by bluffing, it's not in the least surprising that at least some times each thinks the other is bluffing.

June 21, 2007 at 1:39 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

I'm afraid my belief that mathematical social science is, at best, pointless nonsense, will not yield quickly to any agreement theorem :-)

Aumann's theory is really a classic of this genre, because it assumes not only common priors, not only objective rationality, but most important, mutual trust between the disagreeing parties.

Talk about assuming a can opener!

If history affords you any example of the kinds of frictions I describe above in which these conditions pertained, or even came close to pertaining, and in which the friction nonetheless continued, a bottle of Laphroaig will be in the mail to you tomorrow.

Of course if Aumann's conditions pertain compromise will occur. The observation is obvious. From the perspective of anyone with any practical purpose, all the Greek letters he massacres in this award-winning effort to demonstrate that the sky is blue gave their little inky curlicues in vain.

Again, this is classic social science. John Horgan has called the practice of constructing math problems based on analogies to the real world, without any interest in arguing the strength and relevance of the analogy, "mathematical science fiction." It's hard to overlook the good old word "numerology," however.

Whatever you want to call it, this horrendous pest has overrun all kinds of useful fields, replacing healthy tissue with vast neoplastic colonies of second-rate mathematicians.

(What academics call programming language research, for example, is mathematical science fiction - specifically an extension of the work of Russell, Church, Frege etc on foundational metamathematics. It is certainly possible to build programming languages around these structures (the lambda calculus and its many variants), but this does not make them essential, and they are extremely intricate and hard to learn. The result is rather like defining a car as a jet engine with wheels, and the entire direction has been about as successful and productive as tokamak fusion research. Which hasn't stopped or even seriously threatened its funding. But then, why would it?)

In any case, numerology persists because it works wonders on the easily impressed. There is a wonderful example of this rhetorical stratagem in Plato's Republic, book 8: search for "4900". This might be described as a sort of proof by intellectual intimidation.

There are two equally worthless kinds of social science. One is mathematical science fiction. The other is worthless statistical reasoning derived from uncontrolled experiment.

Of course all "natural experiments," such as those that correlate democracy with prosperity, etc, are uncontrolled. It is a good idea to reread Feynman's essay on cargo cult science every few years, to remind oneself of the perils of uncontrolled experiment. It is not just useless, but epistemologically dangerous.

The general effect of both of these forms of pseudoscience is massive epistemic corruption. In particular, they have a nasty tendency to transmit unquestioned assumptions through calculations which preserve the same assumptions in the output, lending them the bogus patina of science - the "garbage in, garbage out" effect.

Now of course there is a very good reason democracies are prosperous. They are prosperous because what we call democracies are in fact theocracies or ideocracies, and these forms of government are quite effective when it comes to internal security. The relationship between internal security and prosperity should be obvious.

However, as a Bayesian prior for the proposition that no more efficient internal security system than theocracy or ideocracy (both, mind you, dependent on massive systematic delusion, or at the very least emotional manipulation) can be designed, this tells you precisely nothing. Actual thought will have to be invoked in order to address this problem.

Basically, all of these formal reasoning techniques are mathematical attempts to solve an AI-complete problem. As such they are doomed to failure, at least when they have to compete with human common sense. Bayesian inference is pretty good at detecting spam, but it is nowhere near as good as just looking at the message. Spam filtering is quite a good use case for these kinds of low-power automated reasoning. But such cases are rare.

So when you elevate this style of mathematical reasoning to vast social importance and try to deploy it against praxeology, the effect - at least for the praxeologist - is sort of as if you pulled out your taekwondo graceful spinning roundhouse kicks, in a cage fight with one of the Gracie brothers. My impulse when confronted with this George Mason stuff is just to grab its leg and break it, an approach I find perfectly sporting and almost universally effective. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

There are certainly useful results of game theory - Nash equilibria, Schelling points, etc. But all of these tend to be very easily explicable in plain English (as can even Aumann's, as Hanson shows). The idea that propositions which can only be expressed in mathematics can somehow serve as an aggregate description of human thinking, which is inherently amathematical, and its consequent behavior, really doesn't have much more to recommend it than the idea that our behavior is influenced by our birth stars.

June 21, 2007 at 6:20 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

george,

One can certainly question whether an actor's actions are well-calculated to achieve their intended goals, especially their long-term goals. If this is the objective definition of rationality you have in mind, I have no problem at all with the argument.

However, this is sufficiently different from enough other definitions of the word as to add more heat than light. Perhaps the word "rational" is simply overdue for the lexical graveyard.

It is indeed important that law exists - it serves as a Schelling point to maintain agreement. I will say quite a bit more about this. Basically, though, the Schelling force is sort of the social equivalent of the Van der Waals bond - ie, a weak one. It is sometimes strong enough to maintain agreements, but rarely strong enough to compel them. It does not create itself and it must not be allowed to get out of sync with reality.

June 21, 2007 at 6:31 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

As for limited government, I don't at all object to negative prohibitions. They are a good plan B if plan A - positively enumerated powers - fails.

The Federalist objection to a bill of rights, while it may have been disingenuous, was certainly prescient in this regard.

The US was originally a government of enumerated powers, and is now an omnipotent state with a few enumerated restrictions (the key document is not the Bill of Rights, but Footnote Four). This transition, whatever its merits, was not accomplished legally. I regard these facts as historically incontrovertible, but of course anyone is welcome to dispute them.

June 21, 2007 at 6:37 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

michael,

As usual a fascinating point: the de facto abdications of these royal families, or what are generally assumed to be de facto abdications, were in fact de facto buyouts.

If only we could do the same for Kim Jong Il!

It would be interesting to see if the Assads can acquire any kind of historical legitimacy. My guess is not. The Kims certainly have some, but not much compared to any European monarchy (international consensus plays a large part).

I still think New Labor will have its last laugh on the Optimates. But you also seem to know more about this than me, in a suspiciously Aumannesque way :-)

I like the look of The Field - it reminds me of the toffs in "7 Up" etc...

June 21, 2007 at 6:41 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

It is certainly possible to build programming languages around these structures (the lambda calculus and its many variants), but this does not make them essential, and they are extremely intricate and hard to learn.

Mencius, I'm surprised by your disdain for programming language research! Don't you admire formal systems that are well-defined, minimal, and powerful? Formalism is our best counterattack against Platonism!

June 21, 2007 at 7:50 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

steve:

If you don't think there's anything simpler and more precise than the lambda calculus...

I mean, how large is the definition of Standard ML? I believe it's an entire book, isn't it? And is Haskell even formally defined? It isn't, is it?

No - there are more things under heaven and earth than they know at LtU. And I ship no vapor, so I will say no more.

June 21, 2007 at 10:36 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

Hi Moldy,

I have just returned from vacation in Belarus. A very interesting country, even from the PoV of this post.

Welcome back!

Moldy, please, explain, why you don't trust your instincts? On one hand, you write:
"So I am not advocating Fnarglocracy. I do not support Fnargl. If I am ever standing there with some kind of a sharp instrument and I see his shield flicker, there will be green goo all over the place." On the other hand, there are the last few paragraphs of this post.

Also, it does not matter what kind of government we'd prefer; strong, secure and small government may not even be possible in a world, where effective weapons and all the other tools of warfare are readily available and cheap. Not to mention that our instincts are very strongly opposed to an authority that cannot be challenged and there are good reasons for that.

You might prefer San Francisco to Gaza City (I would, too), but do you seriously think that Gaza is more likely to become SF than vice versa?

Just watch the social innovations that the defeated US military will bring home from Iraq (michael, let me point out that Saddam's army has not capitulated and is actually about to win the war against "the greatest military power in human history"; on some occasions they may even choose to don their uniforms).

I think that our energies are better channeled into preparing for a world in which the monopoly for violence is technically impossible to maintain, where minorities can inflict unacceptable damage on the majorities and are therefore not willing to accept majority decisions simply out of fear of being overwhelmed in conflict, where the only secure possessions are the ones which you can hide well from all those who would want to take them, etc.

Yet, life goes on and I am sure that there will be ways to make it enjoyable.

June 23, 2007 at 11:08 AM  
Anonymous nick said...

I'd add (if it hasn't been mentioned already) that monarchical rule and succession not only was encoded in law, but that it operated by the same basic law as other property rights. To abrogate the royal jurisdiction or succession was to abrogate the same laws of the land that protected every family's property -- both political property (rights to use legal force -- monarchs often had nothing like a monopoly on legal use of force) and economic property.

The modern romantic view of monarchy and nobility, that it was primarily a matter of devotion and gallantry and ritual, while it is probably an important part of the puzzle, misses this basic point about the laws of political property -- property rights to use legal force -- a less romantic but far more imporant concept which has been lost to the modern world.

June 23, 2007 at 2:57 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

At least two posters repeat the grotesque phrase, "enforced by the government itself". But there is no such thing as "the government". So what in the heck are you talking about? Try thinking and writing formally, with actually existing entities and legal categories, please.

While many unfortunate things have happened to the U.S. Constitution, a few fortunate things have happened also. One of the very fortunate things is called the Incorporation Doctrine. This gives us a group with much more professional training and experience, as well as far more secure political property rights, than just about any other political office in the U.S. -- our tenured federal judges and justices -- various authorities to check an almost completely independent set of people wielding political powers (the States) against many abuses of law enforcement that violate various individual rights. While there are plenty of things to complain about in every political system, and MM is quite good at identifying and complaining about the many flaws of modern democracies, the Incorporation Doctrine of the 14th Amendment -- which has an analog in the extraordinary jurisdiction of the old royal courts over the old franchises -- is one beautiful baby that should not be thrown out with the dirty bathwater.

June 23, 2007 at 3:29 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

nick,

With your first point I agree completely. I don't think one American out of a thousand understands that monarchy was a property right. While this state of affairs predates the word "brainwashing," it cannot be interpreted as anything else.

As for "enforced by the government itself" - if the US Government is not a distinct legal entity, what in the world is? I'm not sure what you mean by this one.

One of the many structural components of the US political system which has rusted to powder is the old "right of rebellion."

The combination of "right of rebellion" and "popular sovereignty" made a certain formalist sense, in the sense that powers and rights must always be aligned.

The problem is that the right of rebellion assumes the power of rebellion, which today's military technology has pretty much erased. So the whole mechanism is broken, and "popular sovereignty" just means the People support the State. Out with the old boss, etc.

But before this happened, you could actually say that the Bill of Rights, say, was enforced by "the people." And this was a meaningful statement. Now it is not.

As for the Incorporation Doctrine, I actually agree - and this is despite the fact that, as Raoul Berger showed, it is entirely ahistorical.

(As was the Lochner reading, although since states are explicitly enjoined in the original Constitution from infringing the obligations of contract, I'm really not sure why the Old Court needed the 14th to guarantee freedom of contract. Nick?)

The fact is that we live in the Fourth Republic, not the Second. It would be a wonderful coup to revert the Constitution and its amendments to their original meaning, surely outweighing the loss of the Incorporation Doctrine. But it would be a coup nonetheless.

June 23, 2007 at 5:26 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Daniel,

Welcome back! I'm sure Belarus is, indeed, fascinating...

I don't believe in Fnarglocracy for one simple reason: Fnargl is taking Earth resources off of Earth. That gold belongs to us, the People of Earth. And I am an Earth Patriot, so sic semper tyrannis!

But in any real-life emulation of the Pax Fnargiana, Fnargl's dividends will instead be going to other Earthlings, as they do today (considering the vast list of state beneficiaries). These shares are their property - why should I begrudge them?

Moreover, there are actually plenty of very mundane ways to replicate Fnargl's power of instant death. For example, you could require all members of the military (or even just all officers) to wear a tamper-resistant wireless tracking device with a small explosive charge. Perhaps as a neckband or collar.

The willingness to die in service is already assumed by any military officer - it is in fact a badge of pride. And mounting a coup is pretty hard when the board of directors can have your head blown off with a signed HTTP request...

June 23, 2007 at 5:33 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

I guess I'm the only one here wary about the "incorporation doctrine" and the ignoring of section 5 of the 14th amendment. This might help give some justification for that.

I also don't think your explosive collar idea will work. Wouldn't that just help turn the most idealistic officers into suicide bombers?

June 23, 2007 at 9:33 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

Don't get me wrong - I think genuine political decentralization is great. But I can see Nick's side of the argument as well, because it was not the Fourteenth Amendment that ended political decentralization in North America, it was Grant and Sherman. Given that the states post 1865 are in practice provinces, restraint has its virtues.

Suicide bombers are a lot less dangerous than rogue colonels, and they are not effective by themselves - their goal is to influence a political system, not to win a direct military victory. No politics, no problem.

June 23, 2007 at 10:49 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

MM: "As for "enforced by the government itself" - if the US Government is not a distinct legal entity, what in the world is? I'm not sure what you mean by this one."

The U.S. federal government is certainly not "the government", even though plenty of people on this continent (even outside of the U.S.) are taught to think of it as such. What is so difficult about the concept of federalism? And furthermore about sheriffs, county courts, city police, security guards, shopping mall prison cells, and the right of residents to shoot burglars? About the idea that there is no such thing, in the U.S. or most other places, as a "monopoly of force"?

Vague nonsense-phrases like "the government" are preposterously out of place in any philosophy that wants to stress formality and accuracy in our descriptions of law and politics. All of the above purveyors of legal force are distinct and well defined, and a good formalist should let us know which one he is talking about.

And as my discussion of the Incorporation Doctrine pointed out, when government is plural, powers are well separated and procedures are well defined, the laws governing government itself are not "enforced by the government itself" -- rather distinct governmental entities enforce various subsets of them on other such entities. Much that our federal courts do, and indeed the best of what they do, such as the 14A incorporation cases, involves such cross-enforcement.

MM: "The combination of "right of rebellion" and "popular sovereignty" made a certain formalist sense, in the sense that powers and rights must always be aligned."

Rebellion and sovereignty are aligned only in a mob.

MM: "But before this happened, you could actually say that the Bill of Rights, say, was enforced by "the people." And this was a meaningful statement. Now it is not."

The Bill of Rights was never enforced by a mob. Those provisions came primarily from statutes that codified the holdings of a long line of English court decisions, generally originating in the arguments of defense lawyers. These rights have always been enforced, when they have been enforced, by trained, experienced, and generally tenured judges. Mobs have always violated them, often in the most violent ways, as with the French Revolution and its "Rights of Man."

"since states are explicitly enjoined in the original Constitution from infringing the obligations of contract, I'm really not sure why the Old Court needed the 14th to guarantee freedom of contract. Nick?)"

The Contract Clause was interpreted to mean that States could not make laws that apply retroactively to already formed contracts. It wasn't taken to mean that States couldn't restrict the form of future contracts, e.g. with minimum wage or maximum hour laws.

As for Lochner, it's a very long story, but here is the very short version.

June 28, 2007 at 7:40 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

nick,

What makes the US government a distinct legal entity, at least in my book, is that it cannot defy itself. Federalism is a very nice idea, but the question was long since settled by military means.

Specifically, the governing council of the US is the Supreme Court. If the Court orders President Bush to stand on his head and say "boo," he has to stand on his head and say "boo." If this isn't sovereignty, what in God's name is it?

Formalism for me is about describing the actual structure of power in formal terms. When you describe not the actual structure of power, but what it should be, what it once was, etc, etc, you remove your capacity to formalize the reality and condemn it to the murky world of informal power.

When I use the word "enforce," I mean exactly that - "enforce." That is, I mean using force to ensure an outcome. In this sense of the word, a judge does not enforce anything - he commands others to enforce. "Mr. Marshall has made his decision..."

I am no fan of the "right of rebellion," or of mob politics in general. But the idea was certainly taken seriously by the Revolutionary generation - how could it have been otherwise?

That is probably the right interpretation of the Contracts Clause, as I believe it was motivated by bad state-government practices such as debt cancellation. But, of course, reading it otherwise would be a minor peccadillo by the standards of 20th-century constitutional law.

Have you read Berger's Government by Judiciary? Of course I am very sympathetic to Lochnerian reasoning, but I am also sympathetic to original meaning, and I really don't see the case that the Fourteenth was meant to do all these wonderful things.

June 29, 2007 at 11:30 PM  
Blogger 信次 said...

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January 31, 2009 at 11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 2, 2009 at 7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 2, 2009 at 7:42 PM  
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March 6, 2009 at 5:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 6, 2009 at 9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 6, 2009 at 9:57 PM  

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