Monday, December 31, 2007 8 Comments

Poem for the new year

De rerum natura: this is why a cypress,
Grown on a windy rock, will find its trunk
Curved to the shape of a long-shanked fishhook,
A straight line shot sideways from the ground

To swing hard sunward just before it peaks.
The young bark, lime green with fertilizer,
Cries fiat lux and lines between two points,
And learns quick; in a foot you'll see him turn

His further son to that simple child's course,
Hoisted human for a sail, pissing off the wind,
That hits head on: and pivots mast from roots
To divide his own airflow by sine of theta,

For that old thing which to name is to invite,
As you notice with a chance to get acquainted,
Comes with teeth and claws more brown than red.
Whatever she eats, it changes color as it dries.

Thursday, December 27, 2007 22 Comments

Benazir Bhutto: mob hit in Pakistan

I usually avoid mentioning current events. It attracts too many readers. However, Benazir Bhutto has just been whacked in Pakistan, and since I have discussed Pakistan in the past, I thought I'd say a few words.

Memo to Washington: this is what happens when you let the Times run your foreign policy.

According to some early reports, which may of course be wrong, Ms. Bhutto was actually assassinated twice. First she was shot in the head by a sniper, and then a little later her whole entourage was blown up by a suicide bomber. You can't say these people aren't thorough. Of course, using multiple assassins isn't exactly a new idea, but it's always impressive when more than one gets through. You might say it sends something of a message.

Who whacked Benazir Bhutto? And why? Obviously, I have no idea at all. (All rumors that I, or the select group of international arms executives, oil sheiks and gold speculators I advise, are involved in any clandestine activities, are unsubstantiated.*)

Let me start, however, by explaining the power dynamics of Pakistan. You probably already know this and if you don't I discussed it earlier, but it is certainly worth refreshing.

Political power in Pakistan is shared among a huge variety of parties, gangs, cliques, alliances, mafias, liberation fronts, Islamic sects, human-rights groups, military units, and the like. All of them have one goal: to maximize their capture of the economic production of the Indus River basin. You may think of this area as a shithole, and it would be going too far to say that you are utterly wrong, but it is also a traditionally prosperous and influential region. It continues to be inhabited by many productive and civilized individuals. And anyone who owns or commands any share in its government or revenue can become almost arbitrarily wealthy.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the Pakistani movements are presently aligned in three major factions. None of these factions has yet been able to defeat either of the others. However, each has its own vision of a Pakistan in which it prevails totally, and any of them could win.

The first and simplest faction is the Pakistani military. Call it PakMil. PakMil's assets are a (relatively) cohesive command structure, military superiority in all conventional conflicts, and a fat-walleted, well-muscled Western patron in the US DoD.

In PakMil's vision of the future, Pakistan looks a lot like Singapore or Dubai. It is a peaceful, wealthy country with strong internal order and as little politics as possible. PakMil retains many organizational traditions from the British Empire, which had it survived would surely have maintained the Indus River basin in just this manner.

Unfortunately, PakMil is the weakest faction in Pakistan. At least, I think it's the least likely to win. PakMil's problem is that its American patron is on the Republican side of the fence (ie, it is a client of the Red Empire), and historically this is not a stable position. Ask Ngo Dinh Diem, Ferdinand Marcos or Fulgencio Batista how well that one worked out. To be identified as a client of the Red Empire, a horrible dictatorship etc, and survive, your regime pretty much needs to be sitting on a trillion barrels of oil. Which PakMil ain't. (See my advice for PakMil, which I think is still pretty much valid.)

PakMil is of course losing strength because of the decline of the Bush Administration, which is now completely moribund and nonoperational. George W. Bush has about as much influence in Washington these days as the Pope. If not a little less. (Certainly less than Bono.)

The second faction in Pakistan, intermediate in power (ie, probability of victory) is the Westernist faction: journalists, human-rights groups, lawyers, professors, and other well-heeled, well-educated mouth-flappers. Let's call the Westernist polity NGOstan.

In the vision of NGOstan, Pakistan turns into New Jersey. That is, it becomes a normal Third World country with a lot of corruption, but a government that is basically stable and secure, and has no significant enemies foreign or domestic. Such as, for example, India or Sri Lanka. While this state of affairs is by no means as profitable as the Dubai state of affairs, it still provides plenty of cash for all kinds of people. It also generates more government jobs, which is not an insignificant factor in that part of the world. (Or any part of the world.)

NGOstan is (or was) of course Bhutto's faction. Its chief claim to fame is that it is sponsored by the Western establishment, ie the State Department, the Times, etc, etc. It is clean and sweet and true. At least, relatively clean and sweet and true.

Obviously, it is not a secret that Bhutto herself was a mob queen, at least that many of her associates were gangsters, but the Westernists had an easy solution for this. If they needed to come across as especially clean and sweet and true, they could just condemn Bhutto as a mob queen. She was not offended, at least not unusually offended. You think she didn't know she was a gangster? So, for example, this article by Jemima Khan did not terminate the membership of Imran Khan as a leading capo in NGOstan. If Musharraf goes down, there will be plenty for everyone to eat.

The main disadvantage of the Westernists - as we've just seen - is that they have no significant military or paramilitary arm. They have loose connections to a wide variety of small-time gangsters, and they have a powerful base in the feudal Pakistani political parties. I'm sure Bhutto knew people who knew people who could get somebody whacked, but a really sustained campaign of terror and murder was just beyond her.

Since no one will ever be able to capture and hold Pakistan without some real muscle, the NGOstanis have only two options. One is to capture the military, the other to depend on the Islamists. Since they weren't born yesterday, they work both angles. Obviously, this is a dangerous strategy, and obviously it has not worked out for the best.

Capturing and commanding PakMil is the only viable exit strategy for NGOstan. It is never a good idea to assume that powerful people are stupid, and I'm sure the human-rights groups recognize that if it's them against the mullahs, the mullahs will kick their asses. We are talking about a country which is next door to Iran, after all.

However, NGOstan needs the Islamists, because it cannot succeed without causing trouble, and the only people who can cause trouble in Pakistan are the Islamists. If there is no trouble in Pakistan, Pakistan gets no press in the West. People forget about it. And if Pakistan gets no press in the West, all of its human-rights groups and journalists and lawyers and other people who are good and clean and true might as well be on the dark side of Uranus for all the good their fancy Harvard and Oxford connections will do.

Obviously, the Islamists are our third faction. Call them Talibstan. There is very little to say about the Talibstanis, but my guess is that they will win in the end. Probably after an intermediate victory by the Westernists, exactly as in Iran.

The Islamists are the natural winners because, as today's events proved, they are the baddest motherfuckers between the Hindu Kush, the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean. These niggaz make the Russian mob look like the Catholic Church. They are to the Crips as the Crips are to the Salvation Army. To MS-13 as MS-13 is to the Moose Lodge. We're talking about some stone cold thug killaz, and the smart money has to be on them.

The Islamists were suspicious of Bhutto because of the possibility that she might ally with Musharraf, and NGOstan and PakMil would get together and hunt them both down. Clearly, this is Washington's official, bipartisan, centrist plan. It has little chance of working, because NGOstan has no incentive to eradicate Talibstan unless it attains full and permanent control over PakMil, and PakMil can frustrate this objective simply by refusing to fight Talibstan whenever civilian politicians seem to be gaining control over the Pakistani military.

But this alliance between State, Defense, Bhutto and Musharraf, while about as durable as a pile of eggs, was obviously serious enough to worry some people. And, as we've seen, these people are not exactly given to restraint. So Bhutto was walking a very delicate tightrope. She had to ride to power on the wave of Islamic terror. This is a very funky wave, full of logs, dead hogs and used tires, and you certainly don't want to wipe out on it.

It's essential to remember that within the Pakistani opposition to Musharraf, that there is no precise division between Westernist and Islamists. For example, Nawaz Sharif has ties to Westernist forces and ties to Islamist forces. There are people who have positioned themselves between Sharif and Bhutto, people who are between Sharif and Mullah Omar, etc, etc.

There is also a continuum between Musharraf and the Islamists, Musharraf and Bhutto, etc, etc. All of these allegiances can shift with the tides of fate. When affairs of state are decided by factions organized on the basis of opinion, opinions become remarkably flexible. This is not to say that there are no genuine convictions at all in Pakistan, but it is more or less impossible for an outside observer to distinguish them with any degree of confidence. What is very clear is that no two of the three groups can truly share power, and once one of them collapses either another will follow, or the conflict between the remaining two will become even more violent.

My guess is that Benazir Bhutto's death makes some people in the Islamist movement happy, and some people unhappy. I suspect that the same can be said for the Pakistani military. Since these feelings are relatively private, you will probably not be able to read about them in the New York Times, or at UR for that matter. All will feign sadness. But some will be laughing, deep down inside. If you are under some illusion that modern politics, let alone modern Pakistani politics, is anything like a fit occupation for honorable gentlemen or ladies, I fear you are setting yourself up for nothing but disappointment.

When this whole idea of Bhutto returning to Pakistan started to crop up, I exchanged some emails on the subject with a friend of mine who is from Pakistan via Dubai. While my correspondent is 100% Westernized, his parents are not. And right up until Bhutto actually got off the plane, by his report, they were confident that no such thing could happen. Because the people at the State Department could not possibly be so stupid.

One interesting way to review these events is to read a series of articles on Pakistan that have appeared in the Times since my first post on the crisis. I am not going to go into as much detail this time. I think the general concept ought to be clear.

First, on November 6, we have this op-ed by (or supposedly by) Bhutto herself, Musharraf's Martial Plan:
In this piece, Pinkie, or at least Pinkie's people, make the standard demands. Surrender or be crushed. Etc, etc. And they roll out the standard argument, which is that suspending habeas corpus is not only an ineffective way to fight a civil war, but actually counterproductive:
The United States can promote democracy — which is the only way to truly contain extremism and terrorism — by telling General Musharraf that it does not accept martial law, and that it expects him to conduct free, fair, impartial and internationally monitored elections within 60 days under a reconstituted election commission.
Tell it to Seward's little bell, kids. But no, Pinkie's love for Pakistan is so great that she has no concern for her personal safety:
Very conveniently, the assassination attempt against me last month that resulted in the deaths of at least 140 people is being used as the rationale to stop the democratic process by which my party would most likely have swept parliamentary elections.
Ya think? In a best-case scenario, I imagine Benazir Bhutto as a sort of Pakistani Carmela Soprano, kind of semi-consciously turning a blind eye to her husband's profession. In that case, I suppose I should feel a little sympathy, and my real anger should be at the power brokers behind her pointless and astoundingly dangerous career as a political mafia queen.

Okay. So we move on to November 17, and this equally meretricious piece by David Rohde, Envoy Elicits No New Promises. Note that this is not an op-ed or even "news analysis." This here is hard news:
I am particularly fond of the detail that Ambassador Negroponte met with General Kaylani alone. It's sort of as if Little Carmine had dispatched Johnny Sack to meet privately with Paulie Walnuts. After which, Tony would have the privilege of a meeting with both of them.

I'm also enchanted with this sentence:
The move — which General Musharraf has said is an effort to curb terrorism — is widely seen by Pakistanis as an effort by the increasingly unpopular ruler to cling to power.
I am quite confident that whoever is the next leader of Pakistan, he or she will not be clinging to power, like a rat on a floating board. Rather, I would like to think that Pakistan will experience a period of actual political stability. Somehow, I'm not sure Mr. Rohde's efforts (I momentarily mistyped his name, and started to wonder if he was also responsible for the Jameson raid) have made that more likely.

I also wonder: there is such a thing as a mob lawyer. Is there such a thing as a mob journalist? The mind boggles.

Despite the promising headline above, in the month after Ambassador Sacrimoni's visit, Musharraf and/or his people caved. He promised to step down as army chief and did. He promised elections, and banned Sharif while allowing Bhutto to run. He ended the state of emergency. The only steps he refused to take were those that obviously would have signaled the end of his regime and of PakMil as an independent power, such as restoring the suspended judges.

We quickly saw the truth of the matter on the alliance between Pinkie and the Islamists. On December 12, Carlotta Gall, who is well-named indeed, recounted a truly tear-jerking tale, Picture of Secret Detentions Emerges in Pakistan:
No more Fort McHenry for the little Sewards of the Hindu Kush! I'm afraid that these days, if Pakistan wants to detain people like the murderers of Daniel Pearl - whom Carlotta Gall may well have known in person - it won't just be able to starve them to death and toss them on a garbage heap. It will have to give them a five-star, gold-plated trial, with enough lawyers to invade Nepal. I'm sure Angelina Jolie will be happy to pay for all this.

So why not just let your prisoners go instead? If you have to play by these rules, why play at all? Just sit tight, things will go to hell, and the rules will change back again. They have to. If they don't, it's definitely time to buy those Emirates tickets.

Oh, I'm sure a few of these detainees are "innocent." But frankly, the Romans had it right when they said that the law is silent in time of war. If your country is invaded by an enemy army, you can't arrest every soldier wearing the wrong uniform, and charge them with trespassing. And the same applies even if the enemy adopts an urban guerrilla strategy.

What's going on in Pakistan is war, and the concept of "guilt" and "innocence" is not even meaningful in war. Your enemies are not criminals. They are enemies. The criminalization of war, the move to redefine every war as a police action, creates nasty, interminable and recurring conflicts that cannot be won.

As Edward Luttwak points out, all guerrilla wars, urban or rural (urban guerrilla is a common euphemism, meaning terrorist) can be won by detaining every human being who might possibly be an enemy, holding them securely until the war is over and the winner is clear, and then releasing them without punishment. Like, duh, man. Which has more negative impact on innocent civilians: internment in a civilized detention center, or involvement in a civil war?

As Trinquier wrote in Modern War, the service that the Westernists are performing on behalf of the Islamists is an absolute military necessity:
Modern warfare is a new experience for the majority of our fellow citizens. Even among our friends, the systematic conduct of raids will run into opposition, resulting generally from a total lack of understanding of the enemy and his methods of warfare. This will often be very difficult to overcome.

For example, the fact that the enemy's warfare organization in a single city may consist of several thousand men will come as a surprise even to the majority of high administrative functionaries, who thought sincerely that they were dealing with only a few isolated criminals.

One of the first problems encountered, that of lodging the individuals arrested, will generally not have been anticipated. Prisons, designed essentially to accommodate offenders against common law, will rapidly become inadequate and will not meet our needs. We will be compelled to intern the prisoners under improvised, often deplorable conditions, which will lead to justifiable criticism our adversaries will exploit. From the beginning of hostilities, prison camps should be set up according to the conditions laid down by the Geneva Convention. They should be sufficiently large to take care of all prisoners until the end of the war.

By every means - and this is a quite legitimate tactic - our opponents will seek to slow down and, if possible, put an end to our operations. The fact that a state of war will generally not have been declared will be, as we have already indicated, one of their most effective means of achieving this. In particular, they will attempt to have arrested terrorists treated as ordinary criminals and to have members of their organization considered as minor peacetime offenders.

On this subject, the files of the Algiers terrorist organization divulged some particularly interesting documents. "We are no longer protected by legality," wrote the chief of the Algiers F.L.N. in 1957, when the army had taken over the functions of the police. "We ask all our friends to do the impossible to have legality re-established; otherwise we are lost."

Actually, the peacetime laws gave our enemies maximum opportunities for evading pursuit; it was vital to them that legality be strictly applied. The appeal was not launched in vain. Shortly thereafter, a violent press campaign was unleashed, both in France and abroad, demanding that peacetime laws be strictly adhered to in the course of police operations.
That's life in the big city, kids. If your spectacles were more rosy, I am sorry to have to break it to you. Please do not blame the bearer of bad news.

Next, we have the anonymous and stentorian voice of the Times editors themselves (could even Pinch have taken an interest?), on December 22, in an aptly-titled editorial - Weakening Pakistan:
This is the pure voice of power. When it has its dudgeon up, the Times does not ask. It tells. When it is displeased, it says so frankly. One does not make little jokes with the Times.

But perhaps someone there does have a sense of humor. On Christmas Eve, a whole gaggle of Timesmen and Timeswomen - perhaps already salivating about the Pulitzers to come - suggest that perhaps Mushie's revenue stream from the US taxpayer should be cut off, in U.S. Officials See Waste in Billions Sent to Pakistan (sometimes you just can't make these headlines up):
I think this makes the relationship pretty clear, wouldn't you say?

And finally, we have the Times obituary for Pinkie, obviously written well in advance, and not bad at all - Benazir Bhutto, 54, Lived in Eye of Pakistan Storm:
I love the bit about Zardari being the "Nelson Mandela of Pakistan." Perhaps more the Jacob Zuma of Pakistan. But might the label be more apt than it seems? Surely a topic for another day.

(* - No, I do not really advise a select group of international arms executives, oil sheiks and gold speculators. Although perhaps it's not too late to start! If you are reading UR and you happen to be an international arms executive, oil sheik, or gold speculator...)

An explanation of democratic centrism

The political belief system of most normal people in the Western world is well-described, I think, by the phrase democratic centrism.

This belief system is democratic because it assigns unconditional positive valence to the word democracy. A rule of the modern world is that anything which can get away with describing itself as democratic will do so. The fewer Kevin Bacon steps between you and democracy, the better. Granted, I have never seen any breakfast cereal, personal hygiene product or mobile phone which managed to associate itself with democracy, but I'm sure it's not for lack of trying.

For example, most people today would agree with, or at least take no offense at, the suggestion that in a democratic country, it's important for corporations to be socially responsible. Perhaps we can allow this wonderful phrase, socially responsible, to hang in the air for a moment. It certainly has earned its delicious, bacony odor of democracy.

Obviously, neither the word democracy nor any of its multitudinous declensions, conjugations, and obfuscations can convey any information in any reasonable discussion between civilized and intelligent people. To define something as democratic is to define it as good, leaving us face to face with Hume's ought - the ultimate rhetorical dead end. At this point, one might as well just have it out with cavalry swords. (The only practical use I can imagine for democracy is as an ingredient of fun, contrarian labels, such as antidemocratist.)

So we are left with centrism. What is centrism? And why do so many people believe in it?

A centrist is anyone who believes in the concept of objective public policy. Another way to say this is that a centrist is someone who believes in the science of government.

To the centrist, government is not just one thing. It has a kind of metaphysical binary structure. Its staff is divided into two classes, elected officials and career professionals. Or if you prefer to be negative, politicians and bureaucrats. The gap between these tracks is about as bridgeable as the gap between vanilla ice-cream and Mongolian beef. And the two have completely separate responsibilities: elected officials make political decisions, career professionals set public policy.

Isn't this weird? I mean, does anyone who holds any position in this entire system ever stop to think about how bizarre this situation is? If by some wild off-chance you ever happen to have been employed in the actual productive economy, can you imagine working in a company whose organizational hierarchy was divided into political and professional categories? Surely if it was any way to run a railroad, at least one railroad in history would have been run this way. Perhaps one of our readers is familiar with some such animal.

(If you read the New York Times regularly, you will note that decisions which are driven by politics are often bad ones. Whereas policies formulated by experts tend to be good. Isn't this interesting? Is the New York Times generally right about this, or generally wrong?)

Anyway, it's easy to explain why centrism is a fallacy.

First, there is no conceivable categorical distinction between political and apolitical actions or decisions. Since the real world cannot be controlled or predicted, since we never step in the same river twice, every decision made by every organization which operates successfuly on the real world is a judgment call by definition. All decisions are executive and discretionary.

In particular, there is no such thing as scientific public policy. Public policy and science have no more in common than lawn tennis and animal husbandry. It is impractical to conduct any controlled experiment on the real world, human or natural. Economic remedies cannot be tested, diplomatic strategies cannot be modeled, military tactics cannot be verified, ecological outcomes cannot be predicted. At least not in any way that can claim Popperian falsifiability - and thus immunity to the tides of groupthink and general human folly.

Ergo, there is no "objective" or "nonpartisan" or "apolitical" basis for any public policy - even in departments often regarded as "scientific." Perhaps it is possible to define any policy whose motivation does not depend on pseudoscience (pseudoscience being anything that claims to be science, but ain't) as "scientific." But this is (a) hardly a high bar, and (b) yields results with no relationship to the conventional concept of "scientific" public policy.

For example, the absorption spectrum of CO2 is a matter of physics. The concentration of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere is a matter of chemistry. But absent infinite computer time or other magic superpowers, the climate sensitivity of the Earth cannot be calculated by any falsifiable procedure. Moreover, it is impossible to construct any conceivable objective conclusion as to why it should be "good" or "bad" for Earth, or even just for us poor schmucks who happen to live on it, to be warmer or colder than it is now, whether as a result of geoengineering by CO2 release or aerosol emissions, or variations in solar output, or UFO exhaust, or whatever. Therefore, climate policy is a value judgment of an unforecastable outcome, and any suggestion that it can be formulated "objectively" is comical at best. Reasonable people can disagree on the subject, and will always be able to.

So why is this belief in apolitical government - especially, of all things, apolitical democracy - so prevalent? There are several interesting answers to this interesting question.

We can start by observing that the illusion of objective policy creates an objective center for any system of government built around it. If you are a democratic centrist, you believe that an intelligent visitor from Saturn, knowing no more and no less about Earth history than we do, would come up with exactly the same structure of government as that we see in Washington today. Perhaps our Saturnian would withdraw from Iraq, perhaps there would be a few tweaks to energy policy, perhaps he would revitalize the Department of Health and Human Services with new performance-oriented metrics for a more efficient budget process. But, basically, he would look on what he saw and find it good.

In other words, his political perspective is essentially that of Dr. Pangloss. Our democratic centrist is no more than a believer in the status quo. His arguments are not arguments. They are excuses. Perhaps they are valid excuses. But we have no reason at all to assume so.

To the democratic centrist, the burden of proof always rests on whoever disagrees with him. (For example, anyone with proof of racial equality should forward it at once to Jim Goad.) There is no reason to even bother debating under such conditions. All attempts at rational conversation terminate in the democratic equivalent of "but Brawndo has electrolytes."

The rest of us, who due to some cosmic computer fuckup have retained our compos mentis, can see quite easily that the democratic center is not absolute or objective. Because, above all, if it was absolute or objective, you would kind of expect it would stay in the same place. And, um, it, um, doesn't.

In other words, if our Saturnian's political philosophies remained unchanged, he could not be a centrist on his first visit in 1907, and remain a centrist on his second visit in 2007. The centrist ideas of 2007 were held only by dangerous extremists in 1907. The centrist ideas of 1907 are held only by dangerous extremists in 2007. This does not preclude the possibility that either the 1907 center or the 2007 center is right, but it does preclude the possibility that both are. And they could just as well both be drifting way out in head-case space.

For example, as Peter Hitchens writes in his fascinating if somewhat mistitled Brief History of Crime:
So, before showing that something enormous and damaging has happened to English society since the Second World War, it is worth quoting an astonishing footnote from Jose Harris's social history of Britain before the First World War, Private Lives, Public Spirit: Britain 1870-1914:
A very high proportion of Edwardian convicts were in prison for offences that would have been much more lightly treated or wholly disregarded by law enforcers in the late twentieth century. In 1912-13, for example, one quarter of males aged 16 to 21 who were imprisoned in the metropolitan area of London were serving seven-day sentences for offences which included drunkenness, 'playing games in the street,' riding a bicycle without lights, gaming, obscene language and sleeping rough. If late twentieth-century standards of policing and sentencing had been applied in Edwardian Britain, the prisons would have been virtually empty; conversely, if Edwardian standards were applied in the 1990s then most of the youth of Britain would be in gaol.
As it happens, 1913 was a fairly bad year by the standards of the time, with 98,000 serious offences recorded. This level would not be surpassed again until 1920 when the total rose to 101,000 after a wartime truce during which annual crime tallies sank to as low as 78,000 in 1915. Even convicts were reported to be showing patriotic zeal as they broke their rocks. Measure this against the figure of 2,521,000 recorded in 1980 and, even when you grant that the population had risen from 36 million to 49 million, the figures could be from different planets as well as from different eras.
Now, since I am a child of the late 20th century, the idea of a prison term for saying "fuck" does not strike me as sensible. On the other hand, one can scarcely regard a 2000% increase in crime as evidence of effective, scientific public policy. Surely the aficionados of scientific government in 1907 did not preface their promises with the caveat that, while the New Jerusalem that was to come would have this and that and the other thing, it would also come with, oh, 20 times as much crime. (Even setting aside the defining-down of "crime.")

Democratic centrism draws a sort of N-dimensional bullseye on policy space. Everything that the State does now, the center of the eye, is bipartisan, centrist, apolitical public policy. As we drift away from this magic vertex, our policies become first politicized, then radical or extremist. And when we see that this bullseye moves over time, that we have no reason to believe it is in any way correlated with reality, that in fact we have quite a bit of evidence that at least in the past it has been thoroughly delusional, we realize that we are dealing with a very weird, scary thing.

So, if we reject the self-framing of democratic centrism, if we refuse to accept this phenomenon on its own terms, we need to find another explanation of the movement that is simpler and makes more sense. Democratic centrism exists. It may not tell us anything useful about the world, but it is a part of reality and its existence at least can be explained.

One straightforward question is "where did it come from?" In American politics, the concept of centrism dates at least to the Greeleyite Liberal Republicans of 1872. (It's a little difficult to detect before then - perhaps there is some Prussian heritage, as many American intellectuals of the period studied in Germany.)

Perhaps the founding achievement of American democratic centrism was the Pendleton Act of 1883, which ended the spoils system and established a civil service which was effectively independent of democracy - excuse me, I mean, "politics." Another important milestone was Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion (1922), which perhaps best represents the birth of objective journalism - ie, of our present regime in which journalists consider themselves civil servants, responsible to "the public" rather than to their readers.

But this does not explain why we have democratic centrism, rather than nothing, or rather than something else.

One interesting clue is that, while this center does not appear to remain continuously in the same place, it does not appear to wander unpredictably, either. Over the last century at least, the American political center (and thus the US Federal Government) has moved in a direction which can be generally described as progressive. There have been occasional mild reversals of the trend - for example, in the 1920s, the 1950s and the 1980s - but even across these nadirs, we see the secular (no pun intended) curve. The same ideas that were centrist in the 1980s tended to be progressive in the 1950s, and radical in the 1920s.

Readers of UR are, of course, quite familiar with this trend. But what could explain it? I have talked quite a bit about what happened, but much less about why it happened.

First, we should never disregard the possibility that the progressive migration of the center is simply a passage out of darkness and into light, a gradual escape from delusion. This narrative is sometimes described as Whig history. By definition, to be a Whig is to believe in Whig history, and here at UR we do try to respect the reader's beliefs.

Moreover, it is easy to see how Whig history could be true. The truth has an obvious advantage over any delusion: everyone wants to believe the truth, no one wants to be deluded. So perhaps people were deluded in the past, and are just now getting over it.

If Whig history is true, this does not validate the fallacious, Panglossian philosophy of absolute centrism. But it suggests that the center of today just happens to either have arrived at an accurate perception of reality, or is in the process of arriving at it.

The latter possibility is especially interesting. It suggests the interpretation that an accurate view of reality is, if anything, far more progressive than today's worldview. If the causal motor of Whig history is simply best described as progress, there is no reason to believe that this process should stop in the present.

Indeed, it would be surprising if the relationship between increasing progressivism and general enlightenment had a nonmonotonic maximum precisely at the center point of contemporary American politics. The whole strange journey from Teddy Roosevelt to Nancy Pelosi was, as per Pangloss, for the best, but any continuation into Dennis Kucinich land would be a sad story of decline. Is it possible? Sure. But it seems unlikely. So many sensible people, having grown up on Whig history, extrapolate logically and end up as progressives in today's sense of the word. (It's worth noting that my father's parents, who were in fact card-carrying Communists, described themselves as progressive for their entire adult life.)

But is there an alternative to Whig history? There is. I'm not aware that the phrase "Tory history" is much used, but surely it would not displease the likes of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. (I have recommended this book before, but it's been a while. It really is essential reading. Although perhaps I should worry that after you read K-L, UR will seem like a cheap plastic imitation.)

Finding a way to convey the Gestalt of Tory history to readers in our uber-Whiggish age is definitely a bete noire of this blog. I don't believe I have done it. Perhaps it is simply impossible for a modern reader to simply grok Tory history, in one tremendous mental flash. However, the possibility is so seductive that I can't stop myself from trying.

One possible flash can be obtained by reading this LA Times article about Vladimir Putin's pet youth group, Nashi. (For registration, I use and recommend BugMeNot.)

Russia today is actually an independent country, which is pretty cool. I don't get the impression that it is particularly well-governed, but it could be a lot worse. Ideally, the mafias which run Russia today will coalesce into a more coherent entity, less like the New York mob and more like Singapore or China, and neocameralist incentives for good government will start to replace informal incentives for corrupt government. I wouldn't necessarily bet on this happening, but I wouldn't necessarily bet against it, either.

And Nashi is a fascinating phenomenon. It is best categorized as a pro-government activist group. Somehow, members of Nashi manage to be simultaneously rebellious and official. Does this remind you of anything? Anything at all?

We have many reasons to be thankful for Russia. Chekhov, Bulgakov and Brodsky are three. But one great reason to love Russia is that Russian history so often mirrors the political tropes of the West, but in a particularly crude, obvious and Russian way that makes their true nature especially apparent.

From the perspective of Tory history, progressivism is to Nashi as you and I are to the benthic and vagile California sea hare, Aplysia. Aplysia has something like ten neurons, each the size of a large asparagus stalk. I exaggerate, slightly. But just as Aplysia is the perfect research organism in which to develop a basic understanding of the neuron, Nashi is a perfect way to understand the fascinating phenomenon of pro-government activism.

It's especially helpful that Nashi, being basically a fascist movement, is aligned directly against Western progressivism. (Nashi's perception of the US State Department as its primary natural enemy strikes me as quite accurate.) So, for example, we hear:
Talking to Nashi members offers a sample of the kaleidoscope of fears that swirl in Putin's Russia. An alleged U.S. plot to infiltrate politics, get hold of natural resources and shatter mighty Russia into smaller, more easily managed countries is a recurring theme.
As a resident of San Francisco, perhaps the world's most progressive city, I find the phrase "kaleidoscope of fears" quite evocative. Especially when it comes to "swirling." San Franciscans have no swirling fears of the US State Department, but they certainly compensate in some other departments.

And then we have the money quote:
Nashi, the largest and most prominent of the youth groups, is heavily wrapped up in the concept of upward mobility. Many of the youths have been lured to Moscow with promises of yuppie dreams; they view Nashi as an investment in their careers, akin to joining the right fraternity at a U.S. university.
Of course, progressivism has nothing at all to do with upward mobility. The other day I was at a Christmas Eve dinner party, where all the other guests (except of course Mrs. Moldbug, whose agility at Ketman is unrivaled) were hardcore progressives, and someone was wondering out loud how Angelina Jolie manages to be involved in so many good causes. "Because she's obviously just so... shallow."

"Perhaps it has something to do with her PR people," I suggested. "I mean, they're not exactly going to tell her to endorse the Burmese junta, for their energetic maintenance of public order, are they?" Ketman is not exactly my strong point.

"I guess." I really did get the impression that this woman believed supporting progressive causes was some great sacrifice on the part of Brangelina. But why wouldn't she? I'm sure Brad and Angelina believe it, as well.

Of course, progressives also think of themselves as anything but pro-government. And how is this neat trick accomplished?

Welcome to our old friend, objective public policy. Progressives can think of themselves as bravely resisting an oppressive regime, because they oppose the Bush administration, which is political, and support the Federal civil service, which is professional and scientific. When they think of "the government," they think exclusively of the former, which seems to invest a considerable amount of its energy on frustrating the efforts of the latter. Needless to say, this is nothing but a vicious attack on democracy. At a certain point, all ya can say is wow.

The parallel between Nashi and progressivism gets even tighter when we realize that, although progressives are not acting in the service of any present leader whose personality cult can be compared to Putin's (for one thing, you can't really have a personality cult unless you have a personality, which pretty much disqualifies all living American politicians), we get a far better signal when we compare the American past to the Russian present.

In case it's not obvious who I'm talking about, try these four links: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Note that there is a discrepancy between Wikipedia's version of the Greer incident and the Nazi version - according to the Nazis, the Greer had dropped depth charges before the U-boat fired a torpedo. With all due respect to Dr. Goebbels, I think I'll go with La Wik on this one.

But when we look at the overall exchange, I don't think the picture leaves us feeling too good about Whig history. What's astounding about the American side of this exchange (there is nothing surprising in the fact that the Nazis, having truth on their side, could just stick to it) is not just the sheer volume of blatantly fraudulent inventions, not just the almost perfect inversion of reality, not just the incredibly crude and paranoid tone of the speech (doesn't it make Rush Limbaugh sound like Adlai Stevenson?), but the fact that the intended audience was the American electorate. And, by all historical evidence, this was exactly the sort of material they lapped up. (If this period interests you, there is more here.)

Imagine a Russia 70 years from now in which all significant intellectual movements are descended from Nashi. All teachers, professors and journalists grew up on the Nashi definition of reality. For most of them, their parents probably did as well. In fact, the Nashism of 2007 is remarkably tame compared to the Nashism of 2077. Anyone in 2077 who even begins to question that Putin saved Russia from disaster at the hands of George Soros and the State Department is simply a nut, a crank, an extremist.

Do I think Nashi and Putinism will actually survive until 2077? Of course not. It's Russia, after all. On the other hand, we still have the New Deal to kick around.

So here is our brief explanation of democratic centrism. First, centrism is a misnomer, because when we examine the movement over time we see that it moves gradually in a progressive direction. What we are looking at is democratic progressivism. The "center" is just the center of its shifting window at the present time.

Second, progressivism is a form of pro-government activism. Unlike Nashi, progressivism does not revere any living ruler. Its faith in the State is given entirely to the professional civil service. The mechanism by which it delegates this faith is the strange concept of apolitical government, which makes about as much sense as a cheeseburger without the cheese.

Third, democratic progressivism is not "democratic" in the classic sense of representative democracy, ie, wherein the government is managed by elected politicians. As we've seen, democratic progressives despise politics and all its works, unless of course the political process produces "leaders" who nourish and support the civil service, in which case they are wise and visionary statesmen.

The trick is that progressives are absolutely right about this. Political democracy is a disastrous system. As James Madison wrote:
Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
Madison was referring to direct democracy, Athenian style. His judgment of this form was indeed shared by his contemporaries, who could hardly avoid noticing the rather striking connection between the destruction of Athens and its adoption of democracy. But in the rest of Federalist 10, Madison goes on to explain how representative or indirect democracy will not suffer the same consequences:
A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union.

The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.
You will frequently hear people, often otherwise very perceptive people, telling us that "the US is not a democracy, but a republic." Next time you hear this, ask the wise sage who is speaking what exactly a "republic" is. Perhaps he will explain that republic is from the Latin res publica, ie, government. Ask him to give you an example of a government which is not a republic. Perhaps he will come up with a monarchy. In this case, thank him politely for explaining that the US has no king, ideally without revealing that you knew that already.

Here we have it straight from James Madison: a republic is different from a democracy because the former (a) has elected representatives, and (b) is bigger. This will have the following effects:
The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.
Elected politicians will be wise and noble.
Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.
At least, wiser and nobler than the people who elected them.
On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.
Ya think?
The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter by two obvious considerations:
Isn't it funny how bigger always turns out to be better?
In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude. Hence, the number of representatives in the two cases not being in proportion to that of the two constituents, and being proportionally greater in the small republic, it follows that, if the proportion of fit characters be not less in the large than in the small republic, the former will present a greater option, and consequently a greater probability of a fit choice.
The more people you have, the more wise and noble people you have. Duh. World elections now! What are we waiting for?
In the next place, as each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens in the large than in the small republic, it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried; and the suffrages of the people being more free, will be more likely to centre in men who possess the most attractive merit and the most diffusive and established characters.
I'm afraid we've learned a lot about the "vicious arts" since then.
The other point of difference is, the greater number of citizens and extent of territory which may be brought within the compass of republican than of democratic government; and it is this circumstance principally which renders factious combinations less to be dreaded in the former than in the latter. The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.
If we adopt the Constitution, there will be no national political parties. The country is just too big. Besides, even if there are national parties, they will be weak and disorganized.
The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.
"Duh-huh, duh-huh. He said Confederacy. Duh-huh."

So much for Little Jimmy Madison, political sage. With geniuses like this, who needs fools? It's obvious why Ron Paul wants to restore the Constitution. Because it worked out so well!

As I explained last week, the actual form of government in the US at present is a massarchy, ie, a state whose legitimacy is dependent on the mass of public support. Democratic centrism is the ideology that legitimizes the state. Of course, one of the main activities of said state is to teach its free, independent citizens how great democratic centrism is. Everyone loves a self-licking ice-cream cone.

Electoral politics is quite vestigial in a modern massarchy. Polling is a far more efficient and reliable way to measure support. The EU, in which politics plays an even more negligible part, is a perfect example. It is quite tricky to convince people that they can have democracy without politics, but most of the work has already been done and the project is clearly practical.

One easy way to understand how the US power structure actually works is to adopt the hypothesis that the strongest institutions are the most stable and permanent. For example, in a conflict between Microsoft and the New York Times, who would win? One can imagine a situation in which the NYT triumphed and Microsoft was no more. Whereas it is impossible to imagine any force, short of the US military if its patience somehow turns out to be less than eternal, which could destroy the Times.

(People who talk about declining newspaper revenue have no clue. The NYT is an NGO which happens, for reasons that are basically historical, to be sponsored by a publishing corporation. If said corporation were to disappear from the face of the earth and Times reporters had to be supported by grants and foundations, like every other NGO in the world, do you really think they'd have trouble raising money?)

When we forget NGOs (they're called "NGOs" because of how easy it is to forget that they're not part of the State) and look only at the US government proper, stability is easy to find. The civil service and the judiciary cannot be replaced by any force short of God. Ergo, we would expect to see that they have most of the power, and I believe this is indeed the case.

What remains is largely in the hands of Congress. And it is not distributed evenly across the members of that august body. It is in the hands of the committee staffs and the committee chairmen. Congresspersons are technically politicians and can be replaced, but they also have a 98% incumbency rate, and I don't believe this is lower for committee chairs. Furthermore, when a chair dies or (theoretically) loses an election, his or her replacement is chosen not by lottery but by seniority, preserving general institutional continuity.

By changing the majority party, voters can also replace all the committee chairs en bloc. This has been known to happen, most recently in the '90s. It is these changes of party that really show us how close to the "center" both Republicans and Democrats are. To judge by their actions, the incentives affecting the Republican Congress did not seem to differ particularly from the incentives affecting the Democratic Congress. I think a few minor programs were abolished or restructured. But I could be wrong.

For obvious reasons, voter interest in Congressional elections tends to be negligible. In fact, by 19th-century standards, voter interest in all elections is negligible. There is simply no modern counterpart to the great mob upheavals that were 19th-century elections. Perhaps this has something to do with the depoliticization of government. However, to the extent that Americans care about elections at all these days, they care about Presidential elections.

The President is nominally the chief executive of the Federal government. But a real chief executive controls three levers of management: budget, policy, and personnel. The White House has no budgetary power other than the veto. Domestic policy is generally prescribed by law, or what at least is called "law," which is written in very vague terms by Congress and refined by judges and agency experts. Civil servants are completely insulated from political selection or promotion. The White House does select political appointees who are nominally the senior officers in their various departments, but their ability to steer the civil service ship is minimal and their temptation to "go native" is unending.

As late as the 1860s, as the debate over the Tenure of Office Act shows, the President was believed to have unchallengeable power to hire and fire all Federal officials. This did not work out well, and it shortly disappeared. Even in the '30s, FDR could promote a political general like George Marshall directly from brigadier to Chief of Staff. Like so many of FDR's executive decisions, this would be unthinkable today.

The Presidency today is perhaps best compared to the British monarchy as of 100 years ago. It is gradually becoming an entirely symbolic institution. Today there are still substantial exceptions to this pattern, but the pattern is clear.

The influence of politics is probably doomed to decrease over time, because politics sucks. Electoral politics is a disastrous way to run a railroad. Any politicization of government tends to have immediate negative effects on its performance. As anyone who recalls Sir Humphrey can testify, the permanent government has the motive, the opportunity, and the propensity to exacerbate these effects, and so the cycle continues.

So this is what it means to be a democratic centrist: it means you support, cherish and revel in your loyalty to a permanent government which is immune to electoral politics. Like Mary's little lamb, you follow it wherever it goes. Because you are a centrist, you believe the decisions of this Beamtenstaat are scientific and objective, whereas really it is just a bunch of people playing their usual hominid power games.

And why is democratic centrism so popular? Because as in Russia, all the State has to do to persuade large numbers of young, energetic people to support it is to create a situation in which pro-government activists are more likely to succeed - professionally, socially, and financially. In Russia, its methods are conspiratorial, heavy-handed and crude. In the West, they are anything but. But perhaps this is a discussion for another week.

I hope everyone out there is having a happy Winterval. I suppose it behooves me to report that, last Thursday, Mrs. Moldbug and I went to City Hall and made it official. This is not really an excuse for the large pile of unanswered email that still towers oppressively over my inbox, or the large number of highly perspicacious comments that deserve a response. But perhaps it will serve as some sort of lame excuse.

Thursday, December 20, 2007 35 Comments

Neocameralism and the escalator of massarchy

It is very hard to show that any new form of government is superior to that practiced now. It is even harder to show that any new form of government is superior to any practiced ever.

Nonetheless, unless these problems are not just hard but actually unsolvable, innovation in the form of government is possible. It is worth noting that government in history has ever encouraged its subjects to believe that it could be innovated away. Which is a rather straightforward explanation of the fact that few have ever believed it possible. Which does not make the proposition true, but does suggest one way in which it could be true.

Certainly, the very idea of innovation in government should not frighten you. If it does, there is no point at all in thinking about government. This is conservatism to the point of mental disorder. I simply cannot contend with it, and I refuse to try. If you cannot set yourself outside your own beliefs and prejudices, you are not capable of normal civilized discourse.

Today's post, despite its precious, neologistic title, is about one of our favorite subjects here at UR, democracy. Most people are conservatives with respect to democracy. They like it, they want to conserve it, they consider it sacred and holy and good.

And perhaps, of course, it is. I mean, even Churchill - hardly history's picture of a democrat - said, "democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the others."

Of course, Churchill also drank a fifth of Scotch every day. Perhaps he was drunk. Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps he was lying. Perhaps he was both wrong and lying. Perhaps he was so lying, so wrong, and so drunk that he actually turned out to be right. Perhaps he was an Armenian. Perhaps...

As Jimmy Cliff put it in The Harder They Come, who can know this thing? So why shouldn't we take a minute or two, and actually think about it? (Google Analytics, which I certainly trust no more than I trust Churchill, informs me that the average time per page on UR is four minutes. Which means either that our average reader is a faster reader than me, or that a lot of people are going "Hm," and then skimming. Or both.)

Surprising as it may seem, there's actually is an easy way to show that any new form of government Y is superior to today's brand X. Simply present a convincing picture of Y, then present an egregious escalator by which Y devolves into X. An egregious escalator is a sequence of historical events, each of which is in some way egregious - demented, fraudulent, retarded, barbaric, predatory, psychopathic, or otherwise nasty - by which one thing turns into the other. Since no number of wrongs can make a right, X must be more egregious than Y, which makes Y superior to X.

Of course, we are making large, broad judgments here. It is impossible to entirely eliminate all forms of nastiness from every human affair. On the other hand, if you can't just agree that Nazism and Communism were nasty, you must get water on the brain every time it rains. Any fool can keep an open mind. UR's readers do not strike me as nonjudgmental people.

Also, the procedure above is a bit too direct for me. To avoid pressing political hotbuttons, and to make the argument more modular, I prefer to show that Y can devolve into Z, and Z is equivalent to X.

So we'll start by showing that neocameralism can devolve, through a series of nasty steps, into a system called massarchy. Massarchy is of course our Z. But we will not spoil our suspense by considering it further.

Note that the steps in an egregious escalator need not be inevitable, or even plausible. They just need to be undesirable, ie, egregious. The only axiomatic assumption we have made so far is that nastiness obeys a total order - if B is more nasty than A and C is more nasty than B, C must be even more nasty than A. If you differ on this, we have different definitions of nasty - to say the least. And I must ask you to take with your nasty, and somewhere else click.

So, for example, if an egregious step is absolutely physically impossible, we don't care at all. We can just introduce aliens into our Gedankenexperiment. They can fly in on their big silver Frisbees and fuck all kinds of random shit up.

Let's start with my ideal world - the world of thousands, preferably even tens of thousands, of neocameralist city-states and ministates, or neostates. The organizations which own and operate these neostates are for-profit sovereign corporations, or sovcorps. For the moment, let's assume a one-to-one mapping between sovcorp and neostate.

Let's pin down the neocameralist dramatis personae by identifying the people who work for a sovcorp as its agents, the people or organizations which collectively own it as its subscribers, and the people who live in its neostate as its residents. Secondary corporations which it sponsors are its subcorps. Nonprofit organizations which operate with its permission are its suborgs. Illegal organizations are illorgs.

Residents fit into two classes: patron and dependent. Dependents are not legally responsible, and are under the authority of their patrons. There is no dependent without patron, although subcorps or suborgs may act as patrons. The neocameralist state is not a charitable organization, but it has no reason not to tolerate a genuinely apolitical charity.

Since patrons generally act in place of their dependents, we need not consider the latter from a political perspective. So any politically relevant person P, with respect to any sovcorp S, can be marked or unmarked with three bits of state: subscriber, agent, patron.

For example, it is generally unhealthy to have a large quantity of patron-subscriber overlap. When a sovcorp's patrons and subscribers are the same people, the conflict of interest is inherent. Actions which harm most or all subscribers may turn out to benefit some or many patrons. Do you want to go there? You don't. (But perhaps we'll see what happens if you do.)

Every patch of land on the planet has a primary owner, which is its sovcorp. Typically, these owners will be large, impersonal corporations. We call them sovcorps because they're sovereign. You are sovereign if you have the power to render any plausible attack on your primary property, by any other sovereign power, unprofitable. In other words, you maintain general deterrence.

(Sovereignty is a flat, peer-to-peer relationship by definition. The concept of hierarchical sovereignty is a contradiction in terms. More on this in a minute.)

The business of a sovcorp is to make money by deterring aggression. Since human aggression is a serious problem, preventing it should be a good business. Moreover, the existence of unprofitable governments in your vicinity is serious cause for concern, because unprofitable governments tend to have strange decision structures and do weird, dangerous things.

(Nuclear deterrence (mutual assured destruction) is only one small class of deterrent designs. To deter is to render predictably unprofitable. Predictably unprofitable violence is irrational. Irrational violence is certainly not unheard of. But it is much, much rarer than you may think. Most of the violence in the world today is quite rational, IMHO.)

General deterrence is a complex topic which deserves its own post. For the moment, assume that every square inch of the planet's surface is formally owned by some sovcorp, that no one disagrees on the borders, and that deterrence between sovcorps is absolute.

This does not solve the problem of constructing a stable sovcorp. The central problem of governance is the old Latin riddle: who guards the guardians? The joint-stock corporate design solves the central problem by entrusting guardianship in the collective decisions of the corporation's owners, voting not by head but by percentage of profit received.

The joint-stock model is hundreds of years old. It is as proven as proven can be. Anyone who questions its potency in producing profit and annihilating waste and graft might as well believe in the international Jewish conspiracy while they're at it. (I mean, anyone can be a world socialist. Isn't it much cooler to be a National Socialist? Did you ever know anyone who got kicked out of high school for believing in the UN?)

However, in the sovereign context, the corporate joint-stock ownership and decision structure faces serious challenges which do not exist for a conventional secondary corporation.

In the conventional secondary corporation, the control of the owners is unchallenged and unchallengeable, at least as long as the sovereign's rule of corporate law is functioning properly. The corporation is incorporated under the oversight of a sovereign protector, or sponsor. This is what makes it a secondary corporation.

The sponsor of a secondary corporation manages the relationship between owners and directors, and directors and managers. The ideal sponsor does not tolerate any hanky-panky in these relationships, and nor does it insert its own weird ideas about how the company ought to be run. The owners are in absolute control of the directors, the directors are in absolute control of the managers, period.

In a properly sponsored corporation, whatever the details of its organizational structure, authority flows in one direction. It does not go around and around in a big tangle, it does not reverse its course like a tidal river or a broken sewage valve, it certainly does not ferment in big lagoons like industrial pig waste.

No. Not just in a properly sponsored corporation, but in any healthy corporation, primary or secondary, power flows down and profit flows up, and this flow never stops in either direction. Think of the two paths as xylem and phloem, arteries and veins, water and sewer, etc, etc.

As Bernard Bailyn points out in one of his footnotes, classical political thought concurred in considering imperio in imperium, ie, internal subauthorities powerful enough to resist or even control the center, a political solecism. In case you are not too special to have ever worked in a cube, you are probably aware that imperio in imperium is a solecism in Powerpointia as well. One small difficulty, however, is that imperio in imperium means basically the same thing as separation of powers. Hm.

Internal management in modern Western corporations is pretty good. At least by the standards of modern government, imperio in imperium is nonexistent. (It should not be confused with the normal practice of internal accounting, which does not in any way conflict with an absolute central authority and a single set of books.)

In a secondary corporation, external management - the top two layers, shareholder to director and director to executive - are and must be regulated, or at least overseen, by the sovereign sponsor. As one might expect, external management these days is not as healthy as its internal counterpart. Boards are infested with inside directors, voting is intentionally obfuscated, CEOs and CFOs often manage to cheat shareholders. While I am hardly an expert in the subject, from my casual standpoint it doesn't look like American corporate law and governance deserves any grade above a C. Perhaps some commenters will beg to differ.

Still, the US is almost certainly the most efficient, least corrupt sovereign sponsor in the world today. Wall Street has one regulatory mechanism which actually works, and forces managers to act in the interest of investors. This is the takeover. One can separate sponsors into those which generally allow takeovers, and those which generally don't. As a very broad statement, the latter are not to be trusted. And America is the original home of the takeover.

In the context of sovcorps, the idea of a takeover starts to sound suspiciously like violence. Which we thought we had eradicated, permanently, for good. But violence is hard to eradicate. If you suspect that you may not have gotten rid of it, you probably haven't. So it's worth taking another look at the fascinating problem of sovereign corporate governance.

Briefly, there are two options for sovcorp governance on a neocameralist patchwork planet. One is cross-listing and the other is cryptogovernance. In cross-listing, sovcorps list on each other's secondary exchanges, taking great care to select only the most reputable sponsors, and demanding a backdoor in which they can switch sponsors at the slightest hint of weirdness.

Cross-listing can probably be made to work. However, it is dangerous as a single line of defence. For an ideal sovcorp, it should be combined with some degree of cryptogovernance.

Cryptogovernance is any system of corporate government in which all formal decisions are endorsed and verified cryptographically. A sponsor can still be very useful for cryptogovernance, but it is not required. Shareholders in a cryptogoverned corporation - known as subscribers - use private keys to sign their contributions to its governance. They may or may not be anonymous, depending on the corporation's rules.

If you are an American, have you ever wondered what the letters SA, or similar, which you see all the time in the names of European companies, mean? They mean "anonymous society." If this strikes you as weird, it shouldn't.

(Unfortunately, in the wonderful real world of today, anything even remotely resembling anonymous cryptogovernance is known as "money laundering" by our friends in Washington. Therefore, I do not recommend you run out and try it. If you do, you certainly should not use real money. The first rule of the successful reactionary: never annoy authority.)

The neat thing about cryptographic government (which is actually much easier than it sounds - we're talking a few thousand lines of code, max) is that it can be connected directly to the sovcorp's second line of defense: a cryptographically-controlled military.

Cryptographic weapons control, in the form of permissive action links, is already used for the world's most powerful weapons. However, there is nothing in principle preventing it from being extended down to small arms - for example, with a radio activation code transmitted over a mesh network. Military formations loyal to the CEO will find that their weapons work. Rebel formations will find that theirs don't. The outcome is obvious. Moreover, the neocameralist state has no incentive to deal kindly with traitors, so there is no way for an attacker to repeatedly probe the system's weaknesses.

The one difficulty with cryptographic weapons control is that it fails, and devolves into simple military rule, if the authorization keys are kept anywhere near the weapons. Weaponholders can gather unlocked or noncryptographic weapons secretly, and use them to arrest the keyholders - for example, the directors of the sovcorp.

The solution is simple: keep the sovcorp's directors, or whoever has ultimate control of the highest grade of military keys, outside the sovcorp's neostate. Even if the CEO himself rebels, along with all of his subordinates, any formation loyal to the directors can defeat them. The result is internal military stability.

This result does depend on the planetary neocameralist patchwork. If this degrades, perhaps thanks to mergers and acquisitions, into a few giant megasovcorps, it will be at risk. How does the neocameralist patchwork avoid this horrendous fate?

One way is for subscriber covenants to prohibit chain states, or suspicious combinations of shares that might result in a chain state. However, since in a cryptogoverned state the subscribers hold absolute power, they cannot be forced to obey these covenants. They can sell every share in the sovcorp to Google if they like. Leading to a terrifying new era of permanent global Googocracy. Yikes! Me not like so much.

The solution here is the patrons. The key is that the less monopoly power a sovcorp holds, the more it has to fear competition, and the lower its primary rents ("taxes") will be. In other words, if its patrons do not have the practical option of switching to a competitor, it will be possible to extract more money from them.

(A rational monopoly neostate still has no motivation to personally abuse its patrons. It would always rather tax than abuse, and why not just forget the abuse altogether? And once you do this, all you have is a baroque tax structure, which is abusive in itself. So this will go as well. Of course, if some patron is causing a security problem, abuse is assured.)

Therefore, just as patrons prefer a neostate which maintains the rule of law and does not make sudden, unexpected demands on their person, they will prefer a neostate that requires its subscribers to show that they are individual private investors who are not residents. If the sovcorp fails to enforce this restriction, it will be treated like any neostate in which a breach of legality occurs - instant real-estate price collapse. (No, not every resident needs to flee with children and suitcases for the sovcorp's subscribers to taste the pain. There is pretty much no way to spin a collapse in the price of your only capital asset as management success.)

This covenant effectively acts as a poison-pill defense, preventing acquisitions friendly or hostile. A truly hostile attacker, who uses fronts to purchase shares, will find that the value of the purchased business is much lower than the price paid, because the acquisition is illegal by the neostate's own internal law. So the mechanism requires no external enforcement. It works by deterrence, like any other effective defense.

The cost of the covenant is that, since it eliminates the takeover as a guarantee of effective governance, it requires active participation of the subscribers in corporate control. Of course, the subscribers will probably find it desirable to nominate independent proxies. Aside from takeovers, proxy voting does not really work in any corporate governance system in the world today, but I feel this just reflects incompetent regulation on the part of sponsors. It could work, it should work, and in the absence of takeovers, subscribers will have an incentive to make it work.

So we have constructed what I think is a reasonably convincing stable sovcorp, and by extension a stable design for a planetary patchwork of sovcorps. There are still a few little loopholes we have not covered, but hopefully the commenters can describe them.

Now let's break one of our neostates - call it "New Frisco" - and try to make it into a massarchy. Whatever that is.

The first step is simple. The CEO of New Frisco's sovcorp, Friscorp, manages to find some way to hack the directors' keys. As a result, she becomes an absolute monarch - not CEO, but Queen of New Frisco. Friscorp, it is her. She unifies ownership and control in a single person. No leader in the English-speaking tradition has been this powerful since Elizabeth I. At least.

If the Queen is acting in her own best interest, she will end the experiment here. She is now the sole subscriber of her own sovcorp. She is also the sole director. The original subscribers have been thoroughly pwned by her egregious hack, whatever that may be (perhaps the aliens helped). They now have no role to play. They can curl up in a ball and cry. Waah.

Therefore, the Queen's best decision is to sell New Frisco to a new set of subscribers, using the usual IPO process. As part of any such IPO, she will almost certainly have to resign. She is not exactly what you'd call trustworthy. Would you hire her? I wouldn't hire her. And hopefully this new sovcorp, which to honor the utter blandness of government in the neocameralist era we'll call Nextcorp, will come with a new set of encryption routines.

However, she does not do this. This is not because she is acting in her own best financial interest. This is because she is an ironclad bitch and she loves power, and no amount of cash can substitute, in her own personal opinion, for the sheer awesomeness of being Queen of New Frisco. I mean, it's not like she's short of money, anyway.

However, the Queen fails to notice something else, which is that the encryption keys that control her military are compromised. Just as she hacked the directors, her generals hack her. They cannot obtain the keys, but they can break the system so that no keys are needed to operate their weapons. While no other neostate in the world will allow the sale of more weapons to a failed neostate whose military control framework has broken down, the generals of New Frisco have all the weapons they need for the moment. They certainly have enough to arrest the Queen and have her shot at once, which they do. New Frisco is getting ugly.

The generals are now in command. New Frisco becomes a classical military despotism. Probably at this point it becomes difficult for patrons to leave New Frisco. It certainly becomes difficult for them to leave with all their assets.

In theory, it is possible for normal social existence and economic activity to continue in a basically normal way under a classical military despotism. Portugal under Salazar, Spain under Franco, Mexico in the Porfiriato are all good examples. Military rule, or militarchy, is still one of the closest governmental forms to neocameralism, and if there was such a thing as a stable militarchy it would be quite satisfactory.

However, militarchy is not stable. The problem is that the generals can only rule for as long as the soldiers are willing to follow them. And also there is the question: which generals?

The difference between militarchy and neocameralism is that militarchy is informal. The only way to know who the soldiers will follow is to have a coup and see what happens. Ambiguity of power raises its ugly, ugly head.

If they are acting in their best interests, therefore, the generals will do what the Queen should have done, and get out while the getting is good. They should construct a new subscriber structure by issuing shares, probably pro-rated by rank, to the entire military. The military can then sell those shares, probably gradually over time, and neocameralism reasserts itself.

However, they do not do this. Perhaps they are ignorant, or pigheaded, or something. These conditions have certainly been noted in military men. So the egregiousness continues.

The generals therefore take the second best option, and convert their militarchy into an oligarchy. The present government of China is an excellent example of an oligarchy. An oligarchy is an informal system of government in which militarchy has broadened to include all influential individuals in the state. When soldiers govern, the distinction between soldiers and administrators disappear. The oligarchical system of sovereignty works by convincing potential leaders that they are more likely to succeed by staying in the tent, rather than outside of it. Any one-party state is essentially an oligarchy.

In its modern form, at least, an oligarchy tends to take the form of a hierarchical pyramid with not one leader, but a committee, council or parliament, at the top. Like all governments, it distributes its profits in the form of power and money. Some people like power, some prefer money. You certainly cannot buy the former with the latter - at least, it is never a simple transaction.

Everyone in a oligarchy is always jockeying for position. The informal personal conflicts within an oligarchy can often be poisonous, but at least they are political only in the sense of "office politics." That is, they do not involve the banner-waving tropes of mass politics. So oligarchies, too, can be quite satisfactory places to live and work.

All of today's governments, whether proto-neocameralist such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, or post-democratic as in the US and Europe, contain significant oligarchical elements. That is, their decisions are affected by many people who often have no formal decision-making position, or whose formal position inadequately describes their real influence.

For example, the Western bureaucratic system operates under the delusion that there is some distinction between "political" and "nonpartisan" government. The latter can therefore be conducted by permanent officials who are unaffected by elections, as well as by NGOs which are not even formally part of the state. As long as the system can sustain the illusion that the political officials are making all the real decisions, and the nonpartisan ones are only carrying out technical directives, the present Western model combines some of the political advantages of massarchy with some of the administrative advantages of oligarchy.

Massarchy becomes necessary because oligarchy is unstable. Once we enter the oligarchical phase, it become clear to everyone anywhere near New Frisco that its power base (which would be its subscriber base, if formality had not broken down) is expanding at a rapid and uncontrollable speed. Therefore, the patrons start to get in on the action. They are, after all, right there. And they are no more noble than anyone else.

Massarchy is any system of government in which those who hold power are confirmed by the allegiance of the masses, or at least some segment of them. Political power is always hierarchical, and political leaders and factions always gain power by building a critical mass of supporters, or clients. The rise of massarchy under the Gracchi marked the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic.

An interesting question is why, considering the ineffectiveness of unprofessional mobs in combat against professional soldiers - especially in the modern military era, but the profession of soldier is hardly new - popular mass is at all relevant. Why does it matter who has the biggest mob? Doesn't it just boil down to who has more divisions?

It doesn't. And the reason it doesn't is that soldiers don't just follow their generals. They tend to have personal connections in one mob faction or another. Thus, the size of the mob indicates the number of divisions who are likely to agree with it. Soldiers, like everyone else, want to be on the winning team, so the headcount of the mob becomes a Schelling point.

Massarchy is best defined as a system of government in which the opinions of residents are captured and controlled by one or more political factions. One easy way to capture a resident's opinion is to dangle the possibility of plunder generated by political cooperation. Especially when said plunder is distributed in the form of both power and wealth - for example, in the form of government jobs - opinion, responding to the great human capacity for flexible self-interest, will swing in its favor.

The inevitable consequence of massarchy, therefore, is a strange systematic distortion of popular opinion, in which residents (perhaps at this point we had better call them citizens) adopt not those theories of government and society which are most accurate, but those which are most likely to win power. These tend to be those theories which tend toward expanding the State, increasing its revenue and authority, etc.

In a massarchy, expansive theories of the State tend to prevail over contractive theories, through the natural process of political entrepreneurship. If you are a leading supporter of an an expansive theory of government and your faction gains power, you are likely to get a job out of it. If your faction holds contractive theories and it wins, there are more likely to be layoffs. Thus, if the probability of victory is equal, you are always better off joining the expansive forces. Thus expansive forces tend to win, another good reason to join them.

Remarkable as this may sound, massarchy demands that every adult citizen of a state support some political faction and maintain some theory of government. You can eat cheese, you can even be a connoisseur of cheese, without knowing anything about how cheese is made, having some opinion of who should and should not be making your cheese, etc, etc. In a massarchy, everyone is expected to be a cheesemeister. If they fail at this task, the result is bad cheese. Fortunately, most of today's massarchies do not actually inflict government cheese on most of their citizens, but the fate is not difficult to imagine.

It is only natural that in a massarchy the most influential individuals become those who influence public opinion. The course of future decisions in a massarchy will be set by its journalists and professors. Those who wish to "change the world," ie, exercise power, will aspire most to these roles.

The aphorism that academic politics is "so bitter, because the stakes are so small" is an easy misapprehension of this situation. Actually, academic politics is the most important thing in the world. In policy debates in a massarchy, the only card that trumps Popular Opinion is Science, and this card is not infrequently played. Massarchy corrupts science just as it corrupts popular opinion: by favoring the victory of views which lead to more expansive programs of government, regardless of their accuracy.

Massarchies also seem to develop large extra-governmental agencies which are not formally part of the State, but nonetheless are influential in setting policy. In the early phases of a massarchy, formal administrators can exercise enormous amounts of power. However, this attracts the jealousy of other administrators. The compromise is often to adopt a formal process by which decisions are made. The result of the process is typically determined by extra-governmental players which succeed in presenting themselves as impartial experts.

The modern massarchy senses public opinion largely through the mechanism of polling, ie, random sampling of its residents' opinions. Before polling was technically practical, it relied on the more primitive system of periodic elections. Officials produced by these elections still exist, and are often still relatively influential. However, for obvious reasons, they are only in a position to influence policy for such time as polls confirm their popularity.

In future, periodically elected politicians in a massarchy will probably become completely symbolic, as they largely have in the EU. Polling is quite sufficient for a stable massarchy, and much less subject to strange feedback effects. The State simply has to be able to track the polls and not deviate too far from them, or its security will be at risk.

Fortunately, since the State controls its citizens' education in a massarchy, its risk of losing control over public opinion is minimal. Massarchies can thus be relatively stable for long periods of time. However, they tend to deteriorate over time, due to the permanent "leftward" bias that favors expansive over contractive theories of government. And if the State does lose control over the mass mind, an accident which can happen due to the extremely low and continually degenerating quality of government that massarchy provides, it can degenerate into the only worse form of government, brutarchy.

A brutarchy is a massarchy in which public opinion is not merely molded by "education," but actually compelled by brute force. In this extremely nasty and unstable structure, public opinion turns against the State, and its system of indoctrination is not sufficient to turn it back. The residents are permanently disenchanted.

However, because violence prevents them from expressing their actual opinion on the nature of the State, residents of a brutarchy can never be absolutely sure that most other residents of the brutarchy agree with them. Their collective opinion remains unknown and cannot be verified. It is thus of no military significance. The security forces, which typically include a substantial plainclothes contingent, remain in power. When this situation breaks down (one recalls the East German crowds chanting Wir sind das Volk!), the brutarchy falls.

Note the considerable difference between a militarchy and a brutarchy. It is easy to confuse these forms, but it is also unforgivable. A militarchy, whose political power is unquestionably rooted in the barrel of the gun, need not bother itself with propaganda. It need not care what its residents think. As the Duke of Wellington put it: pour la canaille, il faut la mitraille. (Note that mitraille means grapeshot - a machine gun is la mitrailleuse, a later invention, but one which I'm sure would have delighted the Duke even more.)

A brutarchy knows that if its soldiers ever learn that its residents despise it, they will refuse to shoot into the mob and instead overthrow the regime. Thus, the difference between militarchy and brutarchy is the loyalty of the army. In a militarchy, the army's loyalty is to the regime, the Leader, the junta, or even just the military itself. In a brutarchy, the army is loyal to the People - a cult which your average militarchy works very, very hard to discourage.

Brutarchy is nasty not only because it does nasty things, but also because it is very difficult for anyone in a brutarchy - even the nominal leader or leaders - to defuse and rewind back toward a healthy neocameralist model. The trope in which more expansive theories of the State tend to defeat less expansive ones does not lose its power with the transition from massarchy to brutarchy. These theories tend to simply detach from reality, and the mental world of a brutarchy is a world of lies and delusions, even more than in a massarchy. Returning to stable government without some kind of violent upheaval becomes almost impossible.

To me, at least, the most perverse fact about massarchies (including brutarchies) is simply that the first distortion they must bring their residents to believe, whether by "education" or by compulsion, is that massarchy is the optimal form of government. A massarchy which fails in this task is not stable. It remains after all a massarchy, and its residents will terminate it.

We have yet to demonstrate that this "massarchy" thing is the same form of government that most of us were brought up to call democracy. But this post is getting long. And perhaps readers find the point obvious and uncontroversial. If not, I hope they will say so...