Thursday, May 31, 2007 19 Comments

The reconciliation of government with liberty

UR is neither a politics blog or a link blog. Frankly, citing others' work detracts from the atmosphere of maniacal solipsism I'm trying to nurture. And it offends my vanity to suggest that anyone else may have said anything before me, or said it better, or worse - both.

However, Conrad Roth's history of Western art from the perspective of podiatric mycosis is simply too audacious to go unnoticed. So is Michael Rozeff's tale of murky intrigue in the secret world of Gay Nineties geology.

And for any readers who found my vicious excoriation of 20th-century American politics a little immoderate, I have just the book for you: The Reconciliation of Government with Liberty, by John Burgess (1915, free from the Internet Archive - the Google version is very badly scanned).

I may be unqualified - in fact, I am. But some may find it easier to accept the same statements from John Burgess, JD, PhD, founder and dean of Columbia's Faculty of Political Science, "widely regarded as one of the founders of modern political science."

Of the Progressive Movement, in the concluding chapter of a 394-page book, published three years after his retirement, which sketches the story of all efforts to secure liberty in government, on every continent and for all of human history, Burgess writes:

Down to the year 1898, we had all this [limited government] in fair degree and in fuller measure than any other state of the world.

It needed some readjustments, but no radical or revolutionary changes. But it did not lend itself to an imperial policy abroad nor to a paternal programme at home. A School of Sociologists and Political Economists arose, who, impatient of the voluntary methods of religion, charity, and philanthropy, have sought to accomplish what they call social justice, the social uplift, by governmental force. There is no question that they have exercised a strong influence in directing the thought of the present, and they have taught the politicians that there is no vote-catcher in a system of universal suffrage comparable to the promise of forcing those who have to divide with those who have not or have less. The Jingo and the Social Reformer have gotten together and have formed a political party, which threatened to capture the Government and use it for the realization of their programme of Caesaristic paternalism, a danger which appears now to have been averted only by the other parties having themselves adopted this programme in a somewhat milder degree and form. All parties are now declaring themselves to be Progressives, and all mean in substance the same thing by this claim, viz.: the increase of governmental power over the constitutional Immunities of the Individual, the solution by force of the problems of the social relations heretofore regulated by influence, by religion, conscience, charity, and human feeling, the substitution of the club of the policeman for the crosier of the priest, the supersession of education, morals, and philanthropy by administrative ordinance.

And here is his prediction for the result. Remember, this dude is writing in 1915. Next to the bombastic monstrosity of today's Polygon, the regime of Woodrow Wilson was unimaginably small, simple and humble. It was libertarian beyond the wildest fantasies of the Cato Institute. But Burgess saw it differently:

And let us also profoundly reflect what may be the effect of a vast advance in governmental power and activity. In his criticism of Hasbach's recent most valuable work upon Modern Democracy, Professor Schmoller relates that when, in the year 1890, the question of social reform was being considered by the Prussian Council of State, the Emperor uttered these profound, and for so young a man, remarkable words. He said: "Das Mass ertraglicher socialer Reform ist bedingt durch die Starke der Staatsgewalt und deshalb ist bei uns Vieles moglich, was anderwarts vielleicht gefahrlich ware." That is, a permanent, stable, powerful Government, a Government standing over all classes in the Society and independent of them all, might be trusted to say how far force can be safely employed in requiring sacrifices from one class to another, but a changing, shifting Government, a Government representing either the property class, or the propertyless class, especially a Government representing the propertyless or small-property class, a Government representing the modern democracy under universal suffrage, a Government representing the class to be benefited by the confiscation and redistribution of wealth through governmental force, cannot be safely trusted with any such power. It would become a temporary despotism, which would destroy property, use up accumulated wealth, make enterprise impossible, discourage intelligence and thrift, encourage idleness and sloth, and pauperize and barbarize the whole people.

This is no idle prophecy. The whole history of the world's political development sustains it. The history of that development shows beyond any question or cavil that a Republic with unlimited Government cannot stand, that a Republic, which makes its Government the arbiter of business, is of all forms of state the most universally corrupt, and that a Republic, which undertakes to do its cultural work through governmental force, is of all forms of state the most demoralizing. If a state will have Government undertake those tasks which naturally belong, or have come through historical development to belong, within the sphere of Individual Liberty, then it must have a Government lifted so far above all class and party interests that it cannot be controlled or even influenced by any of them. But this is authority reaching from above downward and not from below upward. This is Monarchy in the original sense of jure-divino sovereignty. This is the reason for and the advantage of its existence. But, for us, this is not progress. It is for us retrogression of the most positive kind known to political history.

In the face of this consideration, it is time, high time, for us to call a halt in our present course of increasing the sphere of Government and decreasing that of Liberty, and inquire carefully whether what is happening is not the passing of the Republic, the passing of the Christian religion, and the return to Caesarism, the rule of the one by popular acclaim, the apotheosis of Government and the universal decline of the consciousness of, and the desire for, true Liberty. The world has made this circuit several times before. Are we making it again or is it only a step backward in order to get a better foothold for another advance in the true direction? Let us hope it is the latter and make it so by keeping always consciously before us as the goal of political civilization the reconciliation of Government with Liberty, so that, however, the latter shall be seen to be the more ultimate, shall be seen to be both end and means, while the former is only means. This is fundamental in the profoundest sense and there can be no sound progress in political civilization without it.
And with those words he ends his book.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 34 Comments

The Democrats: party of lies

UR is not a politics blog and I have no intention of making it one.

Not that I have anything against political bloggers. I read them all the time. Many of the blogs on the sidebar are primarily political. It's just that everyone I've ever met who had any serious interest in or engagement with politics has turned out to have some kind of major emotional disturbance or another. While I'm sure no one would consider ascribing any such description to me, I'd hate to think I was involved in exacerbating it in my readers - two or three of whom still return, like crazed swallows, each week to this soiled and desecrated nest.

However, I read this statement, by one Matthew Yglesias - apparently this is some guy who likes to review essays without having read them; perhaps he has a background in academia or journalism - and it pissed me off:

Mass market comedy, as seen in Hollywood films, strikes me as a pretty good partner for post-Goldwater conservatism. Comedy, to be funny, usually requires the skewering of the powerful in some sense. But the mass culture marketing demands that your product not actually do much to challenge prevailing ideas in the world. It’s a bit of a paradoxical situation, but it nicely mirrors the efforts of a political ideology designed to further entrench the privileges of the country’s wealthy elite and its white Christian majority and somehow do so in the name of anti-elitism.

The legend that Yglesias repeats here might be called the Central Fiction of the Democrats. It is their Dolchstoss, their Donation of Constantine, their succession of Edward the Confessor. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to reality. However, once you believe it, you are ready to slurp down more juicy lies by the hundreds.

Actually, the CFD should probably be called the CFPD, because there is no Democratic Party in the United States and there hasn't been one for at least 75 years. In my opinion, history will probably prefer to refer to our present governing party as the Pseudo-Democrats. The last actual Democrat in presidential office in the United States was probably Grover Cleveland, although a minority of historians may prefer to designate James Buchanan or even Monroe. It's also worth noting that some Democratic qualities were demonstrated by the Republicans of the "return to normalcy" period, namely Harding and Coolidge.

I refer to the Democrats as our "governing party" because of the simple fact that most people who work in government are Democrats.

This is especially true when you consider all the unofficial arms of the government, that is, the extended civil service, all those who consider themselves to occupy a position of social or otherwise public responsibility. The most prestigious tentacles of the extended civil service are the press and the educational system, and it is arguable that, at least strictly in terms of internal security, these are the most powerful organs of the Polygon.

It is a commonly-held misconception that elected politicians hold any significant power in the current Western system of government. At best they represent figureheads around which power coalesces, and you can follow the power by following the name, as if it were a small and dusty bobber attached to a large and energetic fish. I think it's pretty clear that, in most if not actually all cases, there is an actual person who corresponds to the name, and this person has an actual brain and an actual personality and is not infected or otherwise controlled by any kind of evil alien parasite lifeform. From what I can gather, elected politicians are mostly very nice and thoughtful people, much more pleasant than most of us believe.

It is a mistake to believe, however, that any of them has any particular power. They are mostly intellectual captives of their various handlers, who are smarter than them and who specialize, like computer programmers, in making themselves permanently indispensable to their employers. Any statesman of the 19th century would have sneered at these pathetic puppets and their coteries of blowdried, backbiting, half-educated clowns.

However, there are about as many "Republican" politicians as "Democratic" ones. And at least the Republicans actually are Republicans, that is, Puritan fanatics attracted by the gigantic barbecue of Henry Clay's American System and its latest heir, the New Deal. They are just not quite as bad as the Democrats, except for on a few issues, where they make up for it by being much worse.

This is how the Polygon does its thing. It is balanced in an evil-genius sort of way. No one could possibly have invented such a heinous conspiracy - it's just what happened. It is an adaptive system, an evolutionary triumph of deception. Think of it as a little slug thing in your ear, like in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." And remember that as you attempt to extract it, the slug will emit an extremely loud screaming noise. There is no way to avoid this.

In any case, back to Yglesias. Who presumably thinks he is some kind of enlightened, independent, and moderate thinker, surveying the pinnacle of history from a comfortable hammock which appears, for some reason, to be positioned on its top. In fact, he is a tool of the security forces. And so is anyone employed as a public intellectual.

(Note that I am not an opponent of the security forces! In fact, as a quick look at my archive will demonstrate, gentlemen, I am among the most pro-security writers around, well past Tory and flirting boldly with the possibility of declaring myself a Cavalier. However, the color of UR is and always will be orange - the one revolution which ever was glorious. Any connection to Blogger's default template is purely coincidental.)

In the 21st century, any writer whose work appears anywhere but his own blog is a shill. Or at least, he should be assumed to be compromised unless proven otherwise. The Internet has all the tools you need to write and be read without being beholden to anyone. If anyone rejects this independence, you have to wonder why.

In the kingdom of the slug, people do not go around telling each other that they have - or even may have - a slug in their heads. Therefore, if writers have the option of complete freedom, they have no option but to accept it. The assumption must be that every intellectual institution which exists under the Polygon, which is legitimate in its eyes, is part of it.

For example, it makes about as much sense to get your climatology from Exxon as to get your political science from the State. In fact, probably more, because Exxon can probably find a way to make money going either way, whereas the State always wants you to cherish it more.

Of course, there is no actual slug in anyone's head. But there are a variety of ways the Polygon manages public opinion in order to achieve the same general result. Most of these techniques were described quite eloquently by Walter Lippmann in 1922, and I have no reason to bore you with their repetition. Certainly, if you have the universities, the schools and the press, you can pull off just about anything.

In any case: back to the Pseudo-Democrats and their shrieking monkey-lizard, Yglesias.

The Democrats turned into the Pseudo-Democrats when they were taken over by fanatical Republicans in a series of assaults by maniacal, birdbrained religious politicians, who realized that if they shifted their allegiance to this moribund party of a failed, defeated military force, they could take it over and create a new party which was actually even more zealous than the aging, mellowing Republicans - whose corrupt and bloody-handed rule, legitimized by terrorist mullahs like Henry Beecher, John Brown and Julia Ward Howe, had made such a sick mockery of the genteel Constitution their Federalist grandfathers designed.

A series of internal party coups were led by William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt. Bryan's captured the party but not Washington. Wilson's captured Washington but eventually was forced into a partial retreat. FDR's captured the US government, thanks largely to a deceptive presidential campaign in which he ran as an actual Democrat, has never given it up, and never intends to give it up.

Historians have christened this fanatical coup with a pleasant name. They call it the Progressive Movement. This may be a good indication of how much you can trust 20th-century historians, who have tended to be, rather unsurprisingly, progressives.

Richard Gamble's recent book, The War For Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, The Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation, is an excellent guide to these sincere and goodhearted architects of evil, who helped the US Federal Government into its present habit of letting good motivations, in the form of increasingly ambitious and unrealistic attempts to erect political institutions based on unscalable and intrinsically unstable blueprints, drag it into murderous and counterproductive wars. Rothbard's essay Power and the Intellectuals: World War I As Fulfillment is a shorter treatment of pretty much the same material.

The general MO of the Progressive movement in attaining power was to cause problems, then appoint themselves to fix them. There is no better example than the Great Depression, which a few economists are starting to admit was the result of the bubble created by Progressive cheap-money policies under the early Federal Reserve.

The only reason we don't think of the Progressives' descendants, the Pseudo-Democrats, as a Christian party, is that the Pseudo-Democrats don't want us to. In fact, their theocratic ideology, progressive idealism, is the leading modern descendant of the most powerful American Christian tradition, the "mainline" Protestants, who infested New England in the early 1600 and for some damned reason have never left.

These bastards are the Roundheads, the Puritans, whatever you want to call them, and after their defeat of the last Cavaliers (to be clear, the Slave Power was no picnic either), they have reigned unchallenged in North America. And no less outside it - indeed, more. The beliefs held at Harvard, not those at West Point and certainly not at VMI, are the complacent belches of today's global transnational governing class.

If they feel some occasional Biblical pang, they sometimes call themselves "Unitarians." But they have long since discarded the encumbrance of the supernatural, and these days their opinions are simply the truth - "science" or "reason," usually. I am particularly fond of the phrase "reality-based community," which is so stupid it's almost ironic.

How repugnant can such smugness get? This is our ruling class. This is our governing party. These are the beliefs of celebrities, kings, professors, novelists, poets, painters, and musicians. All the best people lick the Democrats' prodigious and lordly asses, bowing and scraping to their ridiculous banalities - whether the planetwide spoils system they call "environmentalism," or the combination of saccharine pity with rule-by-corrupt-thug that is "postcolonialism." I'm sorry, but I simply refuse to believe that it is in any way difficult for anyone with a brain to tell which beliefs are, in the world of 2007, at least in all our cozy nests of real status and real power, fashionable - and which aren't.

The Central Fiction of the Democrats is that none of this is true. Actually, we are still living in the British Empire, under the rule of Queen-Empress Victoria, but of course a hundred years later. Prancing lords and ladies, cardinals and their catamites, sneer at us as they slide past in their Porsches, crushing the poor under their great alloy wheels. In some obscure way the British ruling class has managed to merge with the Nazis, perhaps through one of the Mitford girls, and they have been joined by the Jews, who have actually become Nazis themselves and are also engaging in their usual criminal behavior of running global financial corporations and making terrible, terrible films that appeal to the lower-classes. And so on and so forth.

One can become infinitely lost in the infinitely weird details of this bizarre mirage, which is embraced deeply and lovingly, with absolute and uncritical credulity, by basically the same people who believed in Prohibition a hundred years ago, or Transubstantiation five. (Or was that Consubstantiation? Maybe it was Consubstantiation.)

So. What Yglesias is trying to tell us in his little snarky microthought is that he speaks for the Resistance. Specifically, for the BDH faction, a plucky bunch of underdogs who struggle to defend their last few planets against the overwhelming star destroyers of the OV Empire.

This is, as I've said, a single gigantic lie. In fact, Yglesias makes a hissing noise when he breathes. He finds your lack of faith disturbing. When he gets angry, little lightning bolts shoot out of his hands, and his clone armies are hatching as we speak.

Of course, I could be an evil plotter as well. Perhaps I, too, have my clone armies. So why not take a while to make up your mind? Don't stop reading Yglesias, but read UR too. Soon I will send out orange scarfs for to wear when we make revolution.

Monday, May 28, 2007 9 Comments

Five ways to classify belief systems

I use the word kernel to mean "belief system." Kernels, like Gaul, are divided into three parts: assertions about the real world (Hume's "is"), moral judgments about the real world (Hume's "ought"), and paranormal or other metaphysical propositions (such as David Stove's wonderful ruminations on the number 3).

Everyone, no matter how smart or stupid, has exactly one kernel. However, kernels are not assigned randomly, as if in some weird Buddhist boot process. For example, your kernel is likely to show similarities to that of your parents, friends, teachers, karate masters, favorite anchormen, etc, etc.

Let's call a kernel pattern which many people share a prototype. Methodism, environmentalism, firearms practice, snake handling and Burning Man attendance are all prototypes. While there are few Methodist environmentalists who are also snake-handling marksmen and never miss a burn, various subcombinations are not uncommon.

In general we are most interested in complete prototypes, that is, kernel patterns that are broad enough to serve as identities. It is common to describe someone as "a Methodist," or (not quite in the same way) as "an environmentalist." People who match the other prototypes above may use nouns for themselves, but they're must less likely to be described or introduced as such. An incomplete prototype simply says less about you. For example, many snake handlers are also committed peace activists who drive Range Rovers and shop at Pottery Barn.

Two common examples of a complete prototype are religions, which involve convictions about one or more anthropomorphic paranormal entities, and idealisms, which involve convictions about one or more undefined universals, or ideals.

Many people consider the distinction between religion and idealism important and/or interesting, but here at UR we don't much care for it, since only metaphysical propositions can distinguish the two. You can go from religion to idealism and back simply by adding and subtracting gods, angels, demons, saints, ghosts, etc. I personally have slain many ghosts and quite a few demons, and I once kidnapped an angel and forced her at swordpoint to lead me to the altar of Thoth, where I sacrificed her for 20,000 experience points, permanent immunity to fire, and an alignment change to chaotic evil. However, this was not in real life. And even in D&D, I've never had the misfortune to encounter a god.

Therefore, we'll just use the word prototype to mean either religion or idealism. Of course one can study either forever. In fact, most scholars in history have spent most of their time investigating the twisty little passages, all alike, of one single prototype. However, since here at UR we are generalists, not Irish monks, Talmudic scribes or Koranic talibs, we will try and work a little more broadly.

Before you can really think about prototypes, you have to be able to name and classify them. One obvious analogy is the study of languages, which are transmitted from person to person in a vaguely similar way. Prototype transmission really has nothing in common with language transmission, but the metaproblems are the same: what does it mean to say, "X descends from Y?" Is a classification tree a tree, or a directed acyclic graph? Is variation continuous, or discrete? Etc, etc, etc.

Probably readers can add a few, but I can think of five ways to classify prototypes: nominalist, typological, morphological, cladistic, and adaptive.

As our example for each, let's use the movement generally known as the Enlightenment. There is no noun for people whose kernels match the Enlightenment prototype, but there should be, because this noun arguably applies to almost everyone on earth. Let's call these suspicious characters Luminists. Their sinister views can be described as Luminism.

A nominalist classification simply accepts the prototype's classification of itself. Luminists, for example, believe there is no such thing as Luminism. (This is very common.) Rather, they are simply people who have seen the light of reason. It just so happened that they all saw more or less the same light at more or less the same time. But since by definition there's only one such thing as reason, this explanation is not inherently implausible.

A typological classification distinguishes prototypes according to specific features. For example, when you distinguish between religions and idealisms - as between Christianity and Luminism - you are performing an act of typology. The flaws in this approach can be seen by the fact that a typological classification of languages tells us Old Saxon is a dialect of Early Apache, since they both have arbitrary word order and long, incomprehensible sentences. Meanwhile, a vampire bat is a grinning, hairy owl, IHOP and Domino's both serve round food, Congress is considering a new O visa for ostriches, Burmese tribeswomen and other long-necked bipeds, and Luminism is a kind of Confucian Sufi-Buddhism.

A morphological classification is like a typological classification with a clue. It attempts to construct a historical descent tree by looking at multiple points of similarity. Morphological classification tells us that Luminism is actually a sect of Christianity, because Luminists share a wide range of kernel features with many Christians, and there are even intermediate forms which can reasonably be described as Christian Luminists or Luminist Christians.

A cladistic classification also produces a historical descent tree, but it uses a completely different method. Cladistic classification ignores actual beliefs and looks only at patterns of conversion. It asks: if you are a Luminist and your parents were not Luminists, what were they? Since the answer is usually (if not always) "Christian," in this case cladistics produces the same result as morphology For obvious reasons, this is often so.

Besides the usual trees, both morphological and cladistic methods can also produce graph structure, that is, patterns of combination or syncretism. For example, both methods identify Hellenistic and Jewish roots for Christianity, with the cladistic method adding various Roman cults such as those of Augustus, Sol Invictus, and Mithra.

An adaptive classification is not interested at all in descent. Rather, it focuses on how and why the prototype succeeds. For example, Luminism, Christianity, Sol Invictus and Islam are all prototypes that succeeded (at one time or another) by virtue of being an official prototype, that is, by explaining the legitimacy of a government - helping to organize its supporters, strike fear into the hearts of its enemies, brainwash its dutiful taxpaying serfs, etc, etc, etc. But with the exception of the third, all the above have also done just fine in an unofficial capacity, so this official selection is not a complete explanation of their success.

Of course, I personally find the last three classification methods the most compelling, with my favorites being the morphological and adaptive methods. But words are just words, and anyone can look at these phenomena any way they like. And if you can suggest any additions to the list, the comments section is, as usual, open.

Sunday, May 27, 2007 6 Comments

L.E. Sissman: poet of the century

Thanks to Patrick Kurp I discovered L.E. Sissman, my new favorite 20th-century poet (edging out William Meredith by the barest nose of a nose). Kurp is of course a far better critic than I (I'll take him any day on compiler theory, however), and I incorporate his post by reference.

The quality that, for me, makes Sissman greater than the great, is his complete naturalness of voice. Ours is an age of faux-unaffected verse, of contrived pseudo-simplicity. When you read Sissman you feel the difference.

Of course, today's ironic style has its pleasures. But one of the powers that real sincerity grants you, quite unavailable to the undergraduate wit, is the power to write verse with content. Cavafy was a master of such directness, but his poems are concealed from us by language and history. Sissman died in 1976, but since our wreck of a culture has done little but rot since then, time has only exposed his prescience.

Here's a poem by Sissman - published posthumously, and probably not one of his best - that illustrates the point:

Notes Toward a 25th Reunion

"And what do you do?" Mrs. Appoplex,
Fat dam of some dim Story Street savant
In baggy Marimekko muumuu and
Barbaric Inca necklet, asks my wife
At some dream sherry party packed with ham-
Strung academics swaying gently in
The wind of Babel. "Why, just cook and fuck,"
My wife does not, so sweetly, tender in
Reply, although I wish like hell she would.
Whose world is real, for Christ's sake, anyway?
Their sculpture gallery of images
That move mechanically in circumscribed
Tangents and - this is a recording - talk
In selfsame selfsongs all the livelong day?
(I must say I have just enough of a
Foot in that world to see its tiny point
Flash in the haystack of irrelevance.)
Or my free-form theatre of absurd,
Unaugurable happenstance, in which -
For gain, my lads, for gain - we businessmen
Risk all upon a nutty and divine
Idea of weal and on our con-man's skill
To sell it to each other, I'll back that
Frail matchstick pyramid of barest will,
On which to balance, one exposes all
To the black, hithering eye of the abyss,
As realer than the static autoclave
Of academe, full of blunt instruments
Becoming sterile as they sit and steam.
And yet, when I return in steaming June
To my Reunion in the pullulant
Hive of the Yard, I'll look with shuttering
Eyes on my unknown classmates, businessmen
Who have no business with me, and greet
The likes of Mrs. Appoplex and her
Effete levée with a glad, homing cry.
The question is, what kind of fool am I?

What's amazing about this poem is that it is completely direct. It has no hidden meanings at all. There is zero Empsonian ambiguity. It is almost light verse. It is funny at several points, and Sissman's characteristic eloquence (once an ad man, always an ad man) is on display. And it contains a complete dramatic arc.

Yet it also makes a point - and an unanswerable one. You can see why Sissman is untaught, unknown, and out of print. Fortunately, you can get his collected works for $2.98 at Amazon - and I strongly recommend you do so immediately. If you don't think poetry is your thing, no one will change your mind like L.E.. And maybe if we can drive the price up to $40 or $50, someone will notice.

Friday, May 25, 2007 31 Comments

Good government as good customer service

I find it interesting how even UR readers, who certainly can't be accused of not having thought about the issue (I really have done my damnedest to drive away anyone who has no patience with large thoughts expressed at length, and I'm quite happy with the result), are very used to thinking of the relationship between state and citizen as fundamentally adversarial.

Of course, this is because it is. Clearly, no one who's still reading this blog is tempted to refer to the State as "us," or thinks it somehow constitutes a "community." Most of us are quite sick of this giant cancerous blob which wants to own our minds and tell us what to do.

Nonetheless, it continues to grow. I think it's fair to say that attempts to reverse this trend, or even to stop it, have been quite unsuccessful. Perhaps it's worth reconsidering the strategy.

My theory, which I admit is unorthodox, is that most attempts to defeat or limit the growth of the State have failed mainly because they've tended to attack it on political grounds. That is, they have proposed governmental mechanisms to limit the growth of government. It is not too hard to see why this might fail - see my latest discussion with Nick Szabo and others.

Instead, I think there is a basic economic problem that needs to be solved. To me, the growth of government looks just like the byzantine structures that evolve around any malstructured market, such as a rent-controlled housing market. Effectively, I think, libertarians who don't believe the state should exist are like New Yorkers who don't believe landlords should exist. They pay rent anyway - they just pay it in a bizarre swirl of "fees" to "brokers." And they think it's perfectly normal that in 2007, they live in an apartment with no garbage disposal.

To me, the State is simply a real-estate business on a very large scale. The economic error is in thinking that the rents (taxes) its subjects pay are payments for services - much as the New Yorker can tell you what a tiny percentage of his $500/month stabilized rent goes back into maintenance. (Typically this percentage is zero.)

What the libertarian, like the New Yorker, is neglecting, is the capital cost. The nefarious factions that control the State these days put a whole lot of work into gaining that control. They conspired for literally hundreds of years. They didn't do that for nothing. So, through their system of so-called education, they have convinced us - and, of course, themselves - that we need an enormous variety of "services" and "regulations" which they are happy to administer for lucky little us.

For the most part, these are nothing but disguised profits. And even if you can defeat the interest groups and cut off their lifelines, you create an economic vacuum which, if it can be maintained for a millisecond, will certainly be filled by some other nefarious faction. Like the New York socialist who tries to eliminate rent, you are trying to dig a hole in the ocean.

Of course there is an adversarial relationship between the libertarian and his government, just as there is an adversarial relationship between the New Yorker and his landlord. Every economic relationship which is held in disequilibrium by administrative means is, by definition, adversarial. In both cases, this battle becomes a matter of mental habit.

The New Yorker simply has no conception of what a normal relationship between tenant and landlord, based on mutual interests mutually agreed, might look like. Well, okay, he has some conception, because perhaps he has visited friends outside city limits and noticed that they have garbage disposals, walls that have been painted in the last 20 years, etc, etc.

The libertarian has no such analogy. Nowhere in the world is there a country that is run like a business. The closest examples - places like Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore - are fascinating in many ways, but hardly free from politics.

This is the point - which I don't think I've been very good at getting across - of my Fnarg examples. The goal of these examples has been to use sci-fi magic to try to ask the question: if a country was run entirely for profit, and didn't have to worry about securing itself from its enemies internal or external, what would it do?

Naturally, since the question depends on magic, so does the answer. This gedankenexperiment can't answer the question of how to fix government. But perhaps it's a piece of the puzzle.

There are two variants of the experiment. In the first, the private country is a monopoly. In the second, it's competing with other governments - a much more attractive proposition. Let's answer this one first.

Fnargland is a business. Like any business, it has no reason at all to alienate its customers. Does the barista at Starbucks spit in your coffee? The happier Fnargland can make its residents, the more it can charge them. This is basic economics.

It is also basic economics that you can't make someone happier by reducing the set of actions he or she can take. In financial terms, you can think of the right to do something as an option. There is no such thing as an option with negative value.

Therefore, the corporate administrators of Fnargland can be expected to operate their country under libertarian principles. Fnargland will ensure its customers deal fairly with each other, and otherwise leave them alone. This is both in its interest and in theirs.

(Except, of course, for the taxes. In Fnargland, taxation is not theft. Taxation is rent. Income tax, however, is extremely annoying, so perhaps a property-tax-only regime - a la Henry George - might be preferred. One benefit of this is that FnargCo's shareholders find it easy to calculate the expected return on their equity, because it will follow the presumed ascent of the property market.)

For a little libertarian "red meat," here are some freedoms I think citizens of Fnargland would enjoy. My basis for enumerating these freedoms is not that I think they're cool and I would love to live in a place where I had them - although I would - but that I can't imagine how FnargCo could have even a particle of interest in infringing them.

One, freedom of computation and communication. Fnargites can compute any function and send each other the result. Fnargland is beholden to no Mickey-Mouse copyright monopoly. The Ring protects it from any air, land, or sea assaults by the MPAA.

Two, freedom of contract and arbitration. Unless they are conspiring to commit a crime, Fnargites can make any agreement with each other, assign any arbiter to judge performance, and submit to any penalty in enforcement.

Three, freedom of medicine. Fnargites own and are responsible for their own bodies. No committees of bureaucrats are charged with telling them what pills they can and can't take, what experts they can and can't consult, etc, etc.

Four, freedom of industry. As long as they are not making weapons to assault each other, Fnargites can build anything they like any time for any reason. Fnargland is also not beholden to any patent monopolies. "Intellectual property" does not increase the value of FnargCo's real estate - quite the contrary.

Five, freedom of instruction. Bizarre as it may seem in this day and age, Fnargites are responsible for raising their own children. They may instruct them as they see fit, and own them until they choose to emancipate them.

Six, freedom of finance. Fnargland does not interfere with its customers' financial lives. In particular, it does not subsidize debt, promote "cheap money," run Ponzi schemes, etc. It also respects the right of its customers to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. (A particularly anachronistic provision.)

Obviously, these six liberties are not currently enjoyed by us poor non-Fnargites. Perhaps they are not as valuable as we crazy libertarians think, and the dripping, lava-encrusted waste of Fnargland will remain barren forever. But somehow I doubt it.

Of course, if any readers feel that FnargCo would have a motivation to infringe these freedoms, or to abuse its customers in some other appalling way, the comments section is, as usual, open. It may help to imagine yourself as some hotshot from McKinsey, suggesting new revenue measures to the skeptical board of directors.

Thursday, May 24, 2007 22 Comments

The Fnargland Grand Challenge

There are a number of unsolvable problems with Fnargocracy.

Unfortunately, none of them seem to have escaped the eagle-eyed eyes of my readers - who every day grow fewer, yet more zealous. (Seriously, I am blown away by the level of the discussion in the comments section. As an old Usenet warhorse, I suppose I'm just not in tune with this new, 21st-century Internet.)

So let's modify the problem so that, while still basically a magical thought-experiment, it at least has some practical relationship to the world we live in.

Suppose you and your girlfriend are sailing your yacht in the North Atlantic when you run aground on a new island, which is just now rising from the ocean. This island, Fnargland, while still dripping wet and entirely unarable, is quite large and curiously square - 300 miles on a side. At the population density of Manhattan, everyone on earth could move to Fnargland.

The two of you tie up your yacht on a crust of lava and go exploring. One of the first things you find, just sitting there on the rock, is a shiny golden ring. It seems to be your size, so you slip it on. "Look what I've found!" you exclaim to your girlfriend, and snap your fingers.

Of course, she instantly drops dead, which is how you know you have the Ring of Fnargl. Well, this is a bummer, but private islands are few and far between, and women are attracted to wealth and power. Grimly and sadly, you set about monetizing your new capital.

The Ring confers magic sovereignty. The bearer is invulnerable to all assault, and has the power of death against any and all comers, as long as they all on or over the territory of Fnargland and its coastal waters. Obviously, the ring and the island form a natural firm - either without the other is not worth much, but together they rock.

So you start up a startup, FnargCo, the Company of Ring and Island. FnargCo is initially private, incorporated in Delaware - it may move if needed. The idea is that the Ring is the company's property, stored in Switzerland and brought to Fnargland only as needed. Since all in Fnargland can be forced to obey it, all will obey it without being so forced.

Of course, in the start you are the majority shareholder and CEO of FnargCo, so there is no possible conflict of interest. Also, the UN, US and other large, dangerous external entities will be persuaded to recognize Fnargland, and treat it as a normal country for trading purposes, by the usual variety of payments and inducements.

Obviously, in order to produce revenue, FnargCo must welcome immigrants to Fnargland, create a legal system under which they live, and find a way to tax them. Ideally, we can make Fnargland such a desirable community that all except a few criminals and nature lovers flock there for the peace, prosperity and general good times that FnargCo is passionately committed to creating. The rest of the planet can be converted to a sort of large safari park, perhaps with the criminals filling the hunter-gatherer niche in the ecosystem.

Of course, perhaps this is not the way to maximize revenue. Perhaps we only want a few very special rich people. Or something else.

But you are the CEO. Fnargland is yours. After of course erecting a substantial obelisk for your sadly deceased girlfriend - "She Died For The Fnarg," it reads, in great obsidian letters - what is your next step? How do you attract immigrants, how do you keep them, and how do you tax them? Your goal, as always, is to maximize the value of the company's capital including distributions to shareholders.

I will post my own solution by and by. Please feel free to post on your own blog and link from the comments...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 15 Comments

The unlikely appeal of nonidealism

Thursday favors me with a link - please note that a link from Thursday is worth two or three, maybe even four, admiring notices in the New York Review of Books - and observes:
However, I would think your hope in the next generation is somewhat misplaced. Pure atheism is just too austere and unappealing a creed to ever gain much popularity, even among the elite. Young people, in particular, are just too inherently idealistic, in the larger sense, to ever embrace anything like it. They want to dream wonderful dreams and believe that they will come true. Sure, youthful rebelliousness will drive a few into the true non-Idealist camp, but not many. The hope that "the kids" will rebel against Idealism reminds me of the hope among traditionalist Christians that young people after the 60s would rebel against their parent's licentiousness, while totally neglecting the fact that such a backlash goes against the inherent tendencies of youth. Really, they actually expected young people to lead the charge against sex. Expecting young people to lead the charge against Idealism, I'm afraid, is not much less Quixotic. The best we can reasonably expect is a very mild blowback, a kind of Idealism Lite.
Expecting young people to do anything predictable is certainly quixotic. And I am only 33, which is slightly old to be a Youth Leader and far too young to know anything at all. So Thursday's comment certainly strikes at the heart of my dreams of world domination.

Please note, however, that there was once a time and a place when atheism struck a chord in the young. To be exact: in 1811, Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from Oxford for writing an atheist pamphlet.

Now let's note that Shelley was (a) a swine, and (b) not a very good poet. Worse, his beliefs, far from the nonidealism (what Thursday calls "cold atheism") that I advocate, were an almost perfect precursor of the Progressive-Idealist pap now ladled into kindergarteners everywhere.

All this is unimportant. What's important is that there is no way Shelley could get himself expelled from Oxford, or from anywhere that matters, for writing this rag now. Its sentiments, far from shocking, are profoundly jejune. ("The hypothesis of a pervading Spirit co-eternal with the universe remains unshaken.")

What would young Percy have to write to get himself in trouble with the Man these days? Well, there's one obvious option: he could be a "racist."

In fact the word "racism" is applied in almost exactly the same way, by almost exactly the same authorities, as "atheism" in 1811. It is an omnibus epithet for a tremendous variety of ideas and opinions which responsible authorities find dangerous or displeasing.

Some of these ideas are sensible and obvious. For example, one might be called a "racist" for thinking the US should have a fence on the border with Mexico, or for pondering Pinker's dangerous idea. Others are spectacularly delusional, such as racial idealism or Holocaust revisionism. The racist writing I find most disturbing is the sort that is alternately lucid and absurd, such as the work of the anti-Jewish psychologist Kevin MacDonald.

Shelley's expulsion may make a little more sense if you consider the fact that, to the people doing the expelling, "atheist" meant someone like Gracchus Babeuf. The good dons of Oxford did not intend their colleges to be plague vectors of madness and destruction. It took them a couple of centuries to realize that Shelley's "pervading Spirit" could be, if anything, even more the pillar of society than any anthropomorphic Biblical God.

I certainly don't think of myself as a racist. The concept is too broad and the connotations too nasty for the word to be useful. Nor would I advise anyone to choose selected "racist" views, even well-selected ones, and use this as a basis for adopting the bad-boy label. I do think it's a good idea to read racist books, but just because a generalist should read all kinds of stuff. After six brutal and rigorous years of training in the mountains of Tibet, the lesson of the Master, Chung-Foo, pierced me in a single penetrating scream, and now I can read books I disagree with - they who know nothing of this art, they should not scoff.

But as I've noted before, many of the Progressive-Idealist verities now being inhaled by six-year-olds everywhere are no less crazed than the racisms of the past - indeed, they often include racial idealism itself, just not the Aryanist strain of the bug. Nor are they less pregnant with the potential for epic slaughter. Au contraire - I find it much easier to imagine future massacres in the name of the Environment than the Aryan Folk, or whatever.

(It's an oddity of its own that so many can worry so hard about a reanimation of such an unfashionable ideal. In fact, it's almost as if the Progressive-Idealists were still basking in the glory of their last really good war. But nah - couldn't be. After all, they're for Peace.)

So there is an excitement to nonidealism. The excitement is in realizing that all the crap that's being pumped into your ears is exactly that. Remember that my definition of an Ideal is an undefined universal. Humanity fits this definition. So does Democracy. But Truth doesn't - it's an axiom, not a mystery. You can't think if you don't know what truth is.

The moment in which your doubts congeal into a definite picture of reality, which is yours and yours alone - except of course for everyone else in the dorm - is a classic coming-of-age experience. Ideally this is combined with powerful drugs. (My orange-robed minions are not known for their pharmaceutical inhibitions.) This is no doubt how Shelley thought when he thought about God. Such moments terrify the old and powerful, and it they should.

Realizing that Ideals are mighty strange things to believe in is a moment of logical truth. It is a difficult moment, no doubt about it, and it takes a lot of factual and philosophical background. I have endeavored to supply these goods and I will continue to do so.

But there is a matching emotional truth that demands no training at all.

Possibly the strangest thing about the way young people in the West learn to think these days is that their minds are constantly overloaded with what one might call sentiment. Sentiment is a learned emotional response. It is a kind of practiced empathy, or antipathy.

The idea of sentiment is that if we all genuinely feel the right emotional response to events in the world, this will motivate us to support good works, or to oppose evil ones. This concept is of course derived from Christianity, specifically its pietist, postmillennial Protestant strain. Progressive-Idealism has inherited it almost completely intact.

Of course, there is such a thing as genuine feeling, and there is such a thing as trained feeling. The two are quite orthogonal. A bus plunge is one thing. A bus plunge with your aunt on it is another.

The nonidealist moment is the realization that sentiment is dangerous. It is in fact a hook by which almost anyone can be manipulated in almost any direction.

For example, any side in any war is certain to be committing dark and evil deeds, because war is a dark, evil thing. Any side in any war is also certain to be suffering horribly, because war is a well-known cause of suffering. It is bad for children and other living things. Therefore there are always plausible emotional reasons to oppose War and to favor Peace.

But, of course, neither side in a war wants war and both want peace. They intend to obtain this nice commodity by winning the war. Since few wars end in a mathematically perfect tie, at least one of them will. Thus, the armies of the sentimental, which are more legion every day, can be used to support either side in a war. And typically these days they are.

In some ways, Progressive-Idealists realize this. In fact they are very concerned, indeed bizarrely concerned, about the possibility that someone, somewhere, might be manipulated into sentimental hate. Perhaps this is because artificial hate was one of the favorite tools of their favorite enemies, the racial idealists, whose blackened bones may yet be unearthed in some suburb of Dresden and spring shockingly to life, performing the Hitler salute and screaming skeletal imprecations about die Juden.

Except for these ancient foes, however, and of course their modern descendants the National Socialist Republican Workers' Party, the PIs are not all that interested in hate. Instead, their favorite sentiments are love, pity, and guilt. Quite a few songs can be built on these three simple chords, especially if you throw in just a touch of hate for the dramatic climax.

The overall sense that history will get from the Progressive-Idealist period, I suspect, is a tremendous taste of saccharine. Love, pity, and guilt are all emotions from the sweet side of the spectrum. When these emotions, which in normal life are relatively uncommon and certainly not felt every moment of every day, are turned up to 11 and pumped out the school loudspeaker in endless, repetitive patterns, the result is a sort of numbing alienation, which I'm sure is often diagnosed as ADHD. Presumably doing a pile of speed with your daily dose of the Environment or the travails of the Indigenous Peoples does something to mitigate the feeling that you're swimming in corn syrup.

What you realize as a nonidealist is that it's okay not to participate in these rites. You don't even need to deny them. You don't need to raise your hand and say "I hate the environment," or "I think I might be a racist." You can practice what Czeslaw Milosz called ketman, not only rejecting the whole ridiculous circus, but deriving real visceral pleasure from the exercise of pretending to conform with it.

And instead, you can love only the things that you yourself love, pity only the people that you yourself pity, and feel guilty only for any crimes that you yourself have committed.

In fact, you should cherish the fact that you live in a society which indulges itself in absurd political parodies of these emotions. Because when you actually feel the real things, and distinguish them from their sentimental counterfeits, you get to feel special. And everyone likes to feel special - not just young people.

Limited government as antipropertarian idealism

Nick Szabo, with his usual panache and aplomb, appears in the comments (why doesn't Blogger have permalinks on individual comments? Is there any conceivable justification for this bizarre lacuna? Or is the Googlocracy already succumbing to its great doom of Actonization? Or perhaps a corollary, in which wealth enervates, and absolute wealth enervates absolutely?), and elucidates the turbulent history of state and sovereignty in England.

Nick, again like all philosophers who are not actually SS officers, is a fan of limited government. This may have something to do with the fact that he's a scholar in the Anglo-American legal tradition, which (except for one man, Hobbes) has always stressed the rights of the many against the few. This is a noble tradition, both figuratively and literally, and when we point the rifles of reason in its direction we must experience some Burkean tremors.

Nonetheless, I have sworn the gran rifiuto and I am not about to repent. So it's worth asking: does limited government actually work? Does it aim at a desirable purpose? If so, should we expect it to achieve this purpose? As usual, I'll work praxeologically and consider any so-called "evidence" only after I've reached my conclusion.

Fortunately, these questions are easy to answer. The answers are "no," "yes," and "no."

By limited government I mean juridically self-limited government. A juridically self-limited government defines its own powers, which may in practice approach those of Fnargl, with a legal constitution interpreted by a judicial branch.

There are two classes of limitation to consider: positive (enumerated powers, unenumerated rights - every power not explicitly granted to the state is proscribed) or negative (unenumerated powers, enumerated rights - every power not explicitly proscribed is granted).

Like Nick, I prefer the former. I am a stubborn and independent person. I have no interest in allowing the State to manage the contents of my intestines. The fact that it insists on doing so is a horrendous perversion and a source of continuing amazement. The fact that, though many have remarked on the great weirdness of the whole trend, the growth continues, is a source of some concern. It suggests that many people who oppose this trend may have chosen to resist it with remedies that either do not work, or in fact exacerbate the condition. I think it's at least worth wondering whether juridically self-limited government is such a remedy.

Both positive and negative limited government have the same problem. The problem is that they rest on a magical ideal which does not in fact exist. First, there is no such thing as an independent judiciary. Second, if any such unicorn could be found, it itself would be the sovereign power.

Therefore, any system of limited government makes the state a judge in its own case.

The result is predictable. Limited government is a recipe for corrupting the judiciary. In adaptive terms, a political context of delimitationism will select against limitationist judges.

Worse, the judicial behavior most favorable to the health of the state is to remove limitations in fact, while maintaining them in theory. This deception may be wafer-thin, but however thin it is, it's more useful than no deception at all. Any pretense of legal continuity makes life harder for political forces whose goal it is to maintain or restore limited government. The result is an environment that selects for pseudo-judges who operate a deceptive system of pseudo-law.

If the resulting pseudoformalist state respects any limits, it is probably in its interest to do so. As we saw in our discussion of Fnargl, the most absolute and amoral of powers can have good reasons to restrict its own actions and obey its own restrictions. To the extent that there still is such a thing as "constitutional law," it is probably best explained by such interests.

For example, Fourth Republic (1933-) constitutional law maintains a negative theory of limited government. It enumerates rights such as freedom of the press, and guards them jealously. So jealously, in fact, that actions which would be criminal if undertaken by non-press actors are in practice legal for the press.

One could take this as a sign of the Fourth Republic's profound commitment to freedom. Or one could take it as a sign that the modern press is in practice a branch of government - effectively the "intelligence bureau" Walter Lippmann proposed in Public Opinion.

Of course, free speech in the Fourth Republic is not (at least at present) restricted to the Press. Anyone can say whatever the heck he wants, as I am doing now. However, this is not at all inconsistent with the interests of the state. It makes it harder for us to notice how much the combination of mainstream media, public education, and accredited universities resembles a comprehensive official information system. Or how little the whole system would have to change if it was in fact reorganized as a single Department of Knowledge.

In fact, what's so striking about the Fourth Republic is how much it resembles the kingdom of Fnargl. The enumerated freedoms it upholds, like freedom of speech, are conducive to its health. Those it has discarded, like freedom of contract or freedom of arms, are distinctly unsalutary. And like Fnargl, the Fourth Republic is a revenue maximizer, recently converted (under the flag of "neoliberalism") to the merits of shearing, not butchering, its sheep. Such fresh worthies as the Cato Institute now stand ready to assist it in the important and delicate task of distinguishing between wool and mutton. Presumably in the future we will all, like Markos Moulitsas, be "libertarian Democrats."

I have no objection at all to this trend. Like Deng Xiaoping, I don't care if the cat is black or white. My view is that any proposed revision of the Fourth Republic is unlikely to succeed if it implies any substantial reduction, or even reallocation, of that entity's revenue stream. This is why I favor converting the Fourth Republic into a formal company whose tenants and serfs are its present taxpayers, and whose shareholders and creditors are its present beneficiaries.

What I do object to are the lies. Fnargl ruled by the power of death. The Fourth Republic has the power of death, as well, but this is not the principal force by which it rules. Principally, it rules by tricking its subjects into believing that it exists to serve their interests. No serious person can defend this absurd proposition, but many accept it as an unconsidered assumption.

Reformalization - converting taxpayers into tenants, and beneficiaries into noteholders - is best seen as a kind of "truth and reconciliation" response to the series of coups against the law that saddled us with the Fourth Republic. It is in the Fourth Republic's interest because the Fourth Republic's information monopoly, which is the root of its power, is not sustainable in a world of peer-to-peer networks. It is in our interest because most of the Fourth Republic's abuses are the result not of its unlimited powers, but of the inefficiencies and conflicts that are inevitable attributes of an organization of unprecedented size and wealth which cannot identify or distinguish between its owners, its customers and its employees.

As we've seen, it is not difficult at all to refute the idea of limited government. There is no deductive reason to think that this design should work. There are no historical cases in which it has worked. The idea simply makes no sense at all. Yet all believe in it.

Where have we seen this phenomenon before? Hm.

What I suggest is that limited government is a form of idealism, rooted like all Western idealisms in Christianity. Specifically, it is a member of the antipropertarian family of idealisms.

Antipropertarianism is a very natural idealism that has been reinvented probably more times than anyone can count. Once you admit that all humans are spiritually equal, and a duke is no better than a beggar, it's pretty hard not to ask yourself why the duke is a duke and the beggar is a beggar. If the answer is that the duke was born a duke, whereas the beggar was a farmer until his crop failed last year, anyone who has even the slightest shred of interest in building God's kingdom on earth can see that there's a small problem here.

If you are disposed to any species of antipropertarianism, almost the first abuse you'll think of is the idea that one man, or one family, can own an entire country. (Or even the people in it - as, for example, the US alone among nations claims the right to tax its expatriate serfs.) Therefore, you will try to come up with some design in which the country is owned or controlled in some sense by its residents. You will make it not a kingdom but a community.

It is impossible to argue with the ethics of antipropertarianism. Clearly the estate of the newborn duke is arbitrary and not, in any conceivable moral sense, deserved. The reason I believe in property is simply that property prevents violence, and I hate violence. In my world, the estate goes to the duke because it is the only way to keep everyone from fighting over it.

Since the ideal of limited government - that is, the idea that sovereignty cannot be the rightful property of anyone, individual, family or corporation - has become general, we have seen an extraordinary level of violence, which appears to be connected to the question of who should control and receive the revenues of sovereignty. Law has declined and sovereignty has become much more absolute. And its behavior is often pointlessly burdensome in ways which do not seem related to maximizing revenue, and do seem related to the struggle for power.

I do not regard this as a good outcome. And I note that this result is very similar to what we get whenever any antipropertarian idealism gains currency. Property does not actually disappear. It becomes murky. It is the source of constant tension. It is informalized. It seeps deep into committees whose workings are obscured even to their members. When we ask who controls the United States, the only possible answer is that it's very complicated. The same answer applies to, say, the Gambino family.

Nick's short overview of English legal history is actually, I think, good evidence for the problems that result from poorly-formalized power structures.

By right of conquest, William I claimed allodial rights to all England - total ownership. As the commander of the conquering army, he personally approached the powers of Fnargl. It might be an overstatement to say there was no one in England who lived if William wanted him dead, but it was presumably not too much of an overstatement.

But William did not have the Finger-Snap of Death. His power was political, not physical. It was based on mastery of an organization, a mastery that was inherently informal. It certainly was not automatically inherited by his descendants.

The result was that, over time, the (informal) political powers and (formal) legal rights of the Crown diminished in a rather interesting fashion. Both political powers and legal rights decreased, broadly if not monotonically, to at least the Tudor era. As Nick points out, the Crown granted many formal attributes of sovereignty - such as franchises for private law enforcement - to various barons and other subcontractors. Ultimately such delegations are the (formal) source of our rights to, for example, defend our property against trespassers.

The problem with this process, and I would say the general reason for the demise of the whole intricate structure of medieval law, is that it became unclear whether these grants were mere delegations of power - existing so long as they served the sovereign's desires - or whether they were irrecoverable alienations, as if the Crown had, say, sold Wales to France.

In other words, a disparity arose between political and formal reality. Did the King continue to respect the rights he had granted because he wanted to, or because the grantees had become powerful enough to protect themselves against him? This went back and forth quite a few times. It was frequently submitted to the test of arms. In the end, of course, the Crown preserved its symbolic status in exchange for de facto abdication and expropriation.

The situation now is of course different. As both Nick and Kuehnelt-Leddihn note, today's "democratic" governments are far more absolute than any monarchy in history, and they brook no hint of physical opposition. This is in large part the result of changes in military reality.

I am a decentralist. I would prefer not to live in a global Fnargocracy. I would much prefer a world of tens or hundreds of thousands of absolutely-sovereign states, each competing avidly for my business.

But the facts of life is that if, in this world, all these states decide to merge into a Fnargocracy, there is nothing to stop them. No popular rebellion can succeed against a determined modern military force (colonial wars may seem to refute this proposition, but they don't - I will discuss this at great length later). The era of cobblestones and brickbats is over.

Therefore, it strikes me that the era of expropriating governments is also over. And I blame the failure of the various libertarian movements on their failure to realize this, and their insistence on trying instead for some kind of repeat of the American Revolution. The reality is that if the American colonies had somehow made it to the age of the telegraph and the machine-gun, we would be ruled by Tony Blair and his Eurocrat henchmen, now and forever.

If this is true, revenue-maximizing government is not a medieval atrocity from the past, but a permanent feature of human history whose rare exceptions are unstable and undesirable. This does not mean we have to live with the mindless, appalling institutions that rule us at present - quite the contrary. What it means is that any plan for rationalizing these institutions should avoid the fatal mistake of trying to create a vacuum of power, an error into which all systems of juridically self-limited government inevitably fall.

Monday, May 21, 2007 12 Comments

Popularchy: rule of the People

As we saw in our look at Fnargl, the Vast And Pungent One, sovereignty is best defined as independently secured real-estate ownership.

"Independent" is just the opposite of "dependent" - it means there is no higher authority you can call if something goes wrong. As one commenter (steve) pointed out, the line here is fuzzy - suppose your city-state is a member of some mutual defense league? Does this make you dependent? But the fact that there is no clear boundary is all the more reason to treat sovereign and non-sovereign rights symmetrically.

Whatever you call it, if you don't have security, you don't have property. And living on a patch of land with no clear owner is no fun at all. The point of the Thousand-Year Fnarg experiment, which hopefully will not be repeated in real life, is that if sovereignty is clearly defined and secured, many if not all of the problems we associate with unlimited government go away - because these problems are actually caused by uncertainty about who owns the government.

But how, without the Finger-Snap Of Death, do you secure a nation-sized patch of land?

Obviously, you need to defend it from external invasion. But with H-bombs this is easy - if someone invades you, you set them up the bomb. All you have to do is create a disincentive for external mischief, and nothing says "disincentive" better than an uncontrolled fusion reaction.

At least lately, most failures of sovereignty have been a result of internal attacks. A sort of shoplifting-writ-large. Your customers, tenants, subjects, "citizens" or whatever you want to call them, rise up and seize your property, forcing you to tuck a few nice things into your night bag and flee to Portofino, where you support yourself by posing for snapshots with tourists.

An awful fate - I know. These mobs are so wearisome. But fortunately, there is a solution.

It's a new system of government I call popularchy. A popularchy secures itself by making itself popular with its subjects. It trains them to love, honor and obey it.

An effective popularchy is a very secure system of sovereignty. It has no enemies - just friends who haven't seen its virtues yet. Therefore, like the Thousand-Year Fnarg, it should be free and prosperous. For example, a popularchy can permit freedom of speech, because its subjects love it. No sick, baseless slanders can shake their deep and heartfelt loyalty.

However, this is true only up to a point. If your subjects start to realize that they could seize the capital and redirect its revenues, puny as they may be - Portofino is so expensive these days - problems may arise. Of course, one may always fire upon the mob. But this rather ruins the whole effect.

A popularchy has to control the minds of its subjects. And mind control isn't mind control if the mind knows it's being controlled. What is love? What is loyalty? It must be true, it must come from the heart, most of all it must be voluntary. The popularchy is its People. To hate the popularchy is to hate the People, to be a misanthrope - to be sick, bitter, and alone.

In a good popularchy, everything powerful is fashionable. The more diligently he serves the People - that is, of course, the government, ie, you - the better a person your subject feels himself to be. Small, menial tasks, done on the People's behalf, such as washing your socks, assume a great spiritual nobility.

Obviously, stated baldly, this is ridiculous. So it must not be stated baldly.

A popularchy must above all manage the information that reaches its subjects. As children, they must learn a responsible and considered love for the People, that is, you. As adults, they should keep up to date by watching People's Television, or by reading one of the many popular newspapers, all of which are staffed with responsible journalists who love the People and report objectively on its behalf. If they are especially smart, they may attend a university where the latest questions of popular studies are eagerly debated.

It's important to constantly remind your subjects that the popularchy is theirs, that it serves them, that you are only a short and rather pudgy expression of the unity and will that is the People. One good way to handle this is to hold a ceremony called an election, in which subjects assemble to express their love for the People and their confidence in you. Since of course they are aware of your love for them, which is only the pale reflection of theirs for each other, they will respond with their usual joy and gratitude.

Elections are especially wonderful because they demoralize your opponents. If the election is run honestly - and why shouldn't it be? - everyone can see that your subjects love the People, and ignore the perpetual malcontents that exist in every society.

Sometimes, however, malicious agitators will interfere with this process. These people, as I've said - if "people" is even the word for them - will try to cast mud on the People. On you personally. Even on your family.

Your first instinct is to have their heads. Very right! You should have their heads. And you shall - figuratively, at least.

Public executions are not the thing these days. It is like shooting into the mob. Yes, a good cannonade will send them flying. But it's much better if they stand around all day in the hot sun, then go home tired and frustrated, knowing they've achieved nothing.

So there is no need to be so high-profile. Why give them a target? Why should it be you, personally, whose name is on the ballot? It's not the publicity you care about, just the revenue. As long as the voters all love the People, they can vote for someone else.

There's another political system called ochlocracy, in which these mob agitators actually do control the government. In an ochlocracy, the result of the election actually matters, and there's no way to know what the result will be in advance. Naturally this is one of the worst systems of government ever devised, because the mob will split into factions, or gangs, each of which is trying to capture the revenues of the state - usually with progressively more violent and underhanded tactics. The usual endpoint of ochlocracy is straight-out civil war. (We can see this in Iraq right now.)

Pretty much the best way to run a popularchy, therefore, is as a kind of pseudo-ochlocracy. You have the elections and the gangs and all of that. The mob agitators get their dreamworld. They are elected and enjoy gaudy titles and offices.

What they don't have, however, is any actual power. Or at least not much.

Granted, you have to give them nominal power. In theory, they could do anything, at least if they managed to all agree today. They could even go against the wishes of the People. Instead of washing your socks, for example, they could cut the ends off, so your toes would be cold.

But your subjects love you. They love you more than ever, because you have given them the election. You have abandoned your titles and offices. You are a humble citizen, no more equal than anyone else. Now more than ever, you are the People.

Also, you own the television licenses and the newspaper monopolies. And even if you didn't, it wouldn't matter. Because a reporter is a responsible journalist, and a responsible journalist loves the People. Teachers, professors, civil servants, CEOs and taxi drivers, all are one in their responsible affection for the People, that is, of course, you. Even incognito, you can't hail a cab without the driver turning around and telling you how much he loves the People - who, of course, he doesn't know is you.

If the ochlocrats (sometimes called "politicians") go against the wishes of the People, they will be out on their butts. And they know it. So they may cause a bit of trouble - maybe just enough that your subjects can see what a bad idea it would be to trust them with real power.

The real work of government, of course, has little to do with these nasty actors. And the ochlocrats are specifically, and quite firmly, prohibited from any kind of tampering with the heart of the popularchy - the educational system. They may not interfere with the newspapers, television, schools or universities, and if they try the People will have their heads for real.

So in practice, popularchy is actually a lot like Fnargocracy. Like Fnargl, it will maximize its revenue, in order best to serve the People - the People being, again, you. And like the Thousand-Year Fnarg, it will be prosperous and free, because it is stable and secure.

If anyone has any spare florins - I know, I know, frankly, servants are so greedy these days - I am available - for a very reasonable fee - to help put this system into practice.

Sunday, May 20, 2007 11 Comments

Understanding racial idealism

Lately I've been making the case that the modern world has largely replaced "religion," defined as the veneration of paranormal beings, with idealism, defined as the veneration of mysterious universal principles.

While I am not a paranormalist, I see this change as almost entirely pernicious. Gods, goddesses, saints and such tend to come with holy books and sacred myths. So religions, while they do of course change, have a certain stability - think of them as DNA viruses. Idealisms are more like RNA viruses. Idealists are constantly creating new universals and mutating the existing ones, often in the weirdest and most surprising ways.

In my last post on the subject I referred to our present official idealism as, simply, Idealism. But of course we have a specific set of ideals that we venerate - Democracy, Equality, and so on. (I think italicizing these words is a good way to underscore their murky, ill-defined nature.)

So it's probably best to pick a specific name for this faith. When naming other peoples' beliefs - which is often necessary, as people tend to believe their beliefs are simply the truth - it's a good idea to pick words that they consider complimentary, certainly not pejorative. I think a good name in this spirit is Progressive Idealism. Certainly it's hard to imagine any officer of the Polygon taking umbrage at the epithet "progressive idealist."

Okay. So the planet is a one-party state ruled by the PIs. Progressive Idealism is of course the idealism of the Allies of World War II, and the faith of today's Brahmin caste. What we know as politics is mere squabbling between Progressive-Idealist factions. Even Communism is probably best understood as a PI splinter group. Like all good parties the Progressive Idealists have a color, and that color is gray. There are no red states or blue states. There are only pinkish and bluish grays. Moreover, Progressive Idealism is a nontheistic branch of Christianity, specifically its Unitarian (American) and Nonconformist (British) sects, both of course dating back to the Puritans, who were the first to construct the integrated political, educational and religious system whose much-improved descendant now holds Planet Three in its icy, inexorable grip.

So what's the good news?

The good news is that we actually could have done a lot worse. Progressive Idealism was by no means the only idealism contending for power in the last century.

Perhaps it's just me, but I have trouble seeing how anyone can not be fascinated by the Third Reich. National Socialism developed in the most civilized country in the world, and at least before the war its popularity there was overwhelming. And its failure to dominate the planet, or at least Europe, was the result of a few military mistakes that easily could have gone the other way.

I find it extremely easy, in fact, to imagine an alternate Nazi 2007. I don't even imagine it as a Gestapo-dominated paranoid hell. Much of our historical memory of the Third Reich is, quite understandably, a memory of wartime Nazism. But if the war had gone the other way, this would be a memory of the wartime Allies, hardly a pretty picture either. Hitlerism no doubt would have moderated over time, as Stalinism and Maoism did.

For me the best way to understand National Socialism is, again, as a kind of Idealism. Instead of Progressive ideals such as Democracy, Equality, and Humanity, the Nazis venerated ideals such as Courage, Loyalty, and Aryanity (if we can use the word).

One interesting case of an ideal shared by both the 1930s Nazis and the 2007 Progressives is the Environment. Nazi environmentalism was definitely a different thing from ours, but the family resemblance is clear, and although environmentalism was hardly the most important part of the Nazi program it perhaps provides a window into their worldview.

A name for Nazi idealism that's independent of the specific organization might be Aryanism. The "Aryan race" is certainly an Ideal by my definition - an undefinable universal - because human biodiversity is clinal. And in fact the Nazis struggled mightily for a definition of "Aryan" that made any sense at all, without success. Nor, even if Nazi anthropology somehow could be persuaded to cohere, is there any way to derive such concepts as "Aryan" or "German" science or art from the whole weird mirage.

For me, the simplest way to understand the Nazi conscience is to see that Germans in the Third Reich were concerned about the Volk in almost exactly the same way their grandchildren are concerned about the Environment. Both Aryanism and Environmentalism have deep roots in the human instinct for cleanliness and purity. Once the ideal of the Deutsche Volk as a universal coheres in your mind, it's very easy to see how important it is to work for the future of the Volk, expel contaminants, and so on.

Aryanism is also more closely related to Equality than most of us would like to admit. German society before World War I was very hierarchical and aristocratic, at least by today's standard. The alliance of Hindenburg and Hitler, the field marshal and the corporal, was something new. Nazism was a lower-middle-class movement, Vaisya to the core. It certainly did not believe that all humans were equal. But it did believe that all Germans were equal. This was a revolutionary idea, and it gave Nazism quite a bit of its demonic energy.

In our Progressive-Idealist world, Aryanism is about as unfashionable as it gets. The only people who openly espouse it are criminal gangs. So it's very difficult to imagine a civilized society in which Aryanism is fashionable, exactly as Environmentalism is in our world. But of course, in 1930s Germany, so it was.

This is why Nazism still strikes us with a special horror, unlike Communism, despite the fact that Communism killed far more people. It is simply more alien and more unfashionable. Ultimately, Communism was if not a branch a close relative of Progressive Idealism, an estranged family member, misguided but "well-intentioned." Nazism was a true enemy, defined very much as a reaction to the Progressive victory of the Great War.

It's also important to remember that the mass murder of the Jews was not, by any means, a mainstream element of 1930s Aryanism. The peacetime Nazi program was to expel them, confiscating their property, which was thought in the usual undefined way to have been unfairly cheated from the German people. Therefore, the fact that most Germans supported the Nazis does not make them in any way complicit in the Holocaust (and still less their descendants). The Holocaust, a secret military operation, was the act of the people who planned and executed it.

Is it so impossible to imagine Environmentalism being used as the basis for mass murder? Our ideals of Humanity and the Environment coexist uneasily, to say the least. Today's PIs have no trouble seeing themselves as both humanist and environmentalist. There is no need for this to make any sense - Idealism never has to make sense. But perhaps future historians will regard it as a bizarre and inexplicable juxtaposition.

Saturday, May 19, 2007 39 Comments

The magic of symmetric sovereignty

Readers who find all this political theory interesting - perhaps there are four or five - may enjoy some of the debates I've been having with Nick Szabo in the comments of these posts. It's always a pleasure to cross swords with a master, even when all you get is a ghastly facial wound.

One of the issues - perhaps the main issue - that Nick and I differ on is sovereignty. Nick, like all other political thinkers, at least all those to the left of Attila the Hun, believes that sovereignty should be limited - that is, the sovereign has no right to infringe the basic legal rights of citizens.

My view is that the concept of limited sovereignty is self-contradictory and informalist. In fact, I think this limited sovereignty (of which "popular sovereignty" is one case) is one of the chief misconceptions in the Enlightenment's political toolbox. This innocent and appealing idea, in my opinion, is substantially responsible for the appalling chaos of our era.

Rather, I hold what Nick would call the totalitarian theory of sovereignty. While it's often fun to embrace the pejorative, this is an awful big word to swallow. I think a better word is symmetric - that is, for me sovereign property is just like any other.

I define sovereignty as an independently secured, or in other words primary, property right. This is in contrast to a dependently secured, or secondary, property right. The symmetric theory of sovereignty proposes that the same principle applies to both - the extent of the property right is defined by the actual powers secured.

Of course, this has the same results as Nick's "totalitarian" theory. But I think it sounds a lot nicer - don't you? Let's look at how the symmetric theory works out in practice.

Imagine I am a respectable white person who enunciates properly and is maybe a little portly, and I own a house in the suburbs. If a bunch of boyz from tha hood showz up with Tec-9s and say "out, you fat muthafucka, this our house now," my first call will be to Officer Friendly, who will arrive in some kind of an armored vehicle and enfilade the hoodlums.

This means my property right is secondary, not primary. In a sense, all I really own is an agreement with the township of Whiteville to protect my house, which is my castle, against the depredations of these colorful and militant delinquents. In fact, in the primary sense, I really own nothing at all, because Officer Friendly can just as easily confiscate the piece of paper that is my title, leaving me yelling in an undignified and pathetic way on the front lawn that used to be "mine."

So we see that primary property is very different from secondary property. In fact, the number of primary properties in the world may have peaked about 1500 years ago, and has been decreasing for quite some time. If you follow the thinking of some internationalists, there is only one primary property in the world: the United Nations, all mere nations being secondary. Of course, if Bush decides he really is Hitler, those guys will be on Riker's Island like that, so perhaps this model is a little simplistic.

However, one way to evaluate a political design is to consider its worst possible result. The worst possible result of symmetric ("totalitarian") sovereignty is an evil dictator who takes over the world and decides to torture and murder everyone in it, replacing us with his gesticulating, mustachioed clones.

Okay. I'll admit that this is not a desirable result (unless I get to be the evil dictator, in which case I at least need to start working on my mustache). So let's modify this slightly and instead look for the worst possible rational result. That is, let's assume that the dictator is not evil but simply amoral, omnipotent, and avaricious.

One easy way to construct this thought-experiment is to imagine the dictator isn't even human. He is an alien. His name is Fnargl. Fnargl came to Earth for one thing: gold. His goal is to dominate the planet for a thousand years, the so-called "Thousand-Year Fnarg," and then depart in his Fnargship with as much gold as possible. Other than this Fnargl has no other feelings. He's concerned with humans about the way you and I are concerned with bacteria.

You might think we humans, a plucky bunch, would say "screw you, Fnargl!" and not give him any gold at all. But there are two problems with this. One, Fnargl is invulnerable - he cannot be harmed by any human weapon. Two, he has the power to kill any human or humans, anywhere at any time, just by snapping his fingers.

Other than this he has no other powers. He can't even walk - he needs to be carried, as if he was the Empress of India. (Fnargl actually has a striking physical resemblance to Jabba the Hutt.) But with invulnerability and the power of death, it's a pretty simple matter for Fnargl to get himself set up as Secretary-General of the United Nations. And in the Thousand-Year Fnarg, the UN is no mere sinecure for alcoholic African kleptocrats. It is an absolute global superstate. Its only purpose is Fnargl's goal - gold. And lots of it.

In other words, Fnargl is a revenue maximizer. The question is: what are his policies? What does he order us, his loyal subjects, to do?

The obvious option is to make us all slaves in the gold mines. Otherwise - blam. Instant death. Slacking off, I see? That's a demerit. Another four and you know what happens. Now dig! Dig! (Perhaps some readers have seen Blazing Saddles.)

But wait: this can't be right. Even mine slaves need to eat. Someone needs to make our porridge. And our shovels. And, actually, we'll be a lot more productive if instead of shovels, we use backhoes. And who makes those? And...

We quickly realize that the best way for Fnargl to maximize gold production is simply to run a normal human economy, and tax it (in gold, natch). In other words, Fnargl has exactly the same goal as most human governments in history. His prosperity is the amount of gold he collects in tax, which has to be exacted in some way from the human economy. Taxation must depend in some way on the ability to pay, so the more prosperous we are, the more prosperous Fnargl is.

Fnargl's interests, in fact, turn out to be oddly well-aligned with ours. Anything that makes Fnargl richer has to make us richer, and vice versa.

For example, it's in Fnargl's interest to run a fair and effective legal system, because humans are more productive when their energies aren't going into squabbling with each other. It's even in Fnargl's interest to have a fair legal process that defines exactly when he will snap his fingers and stop your heart, because humans are more productive when they're not worried about dropping dead.

And it is in his interest to run an orderly taxation system in which tax rates are known in advance, and Fnargl doesn't just seize whatever, whenever, to feed his prodigious gold jones. Because humans are more productive when they can plan for the future, etc. Of course, toward the end of the Thousand-Year Fnarg, this incentive will begin to diminish - ha ha. But let's assume Fnargl has only just arrived.

Other questions are easy to answer. For example, will Fnargl allow freedom of the press? But why wouldn't he? What can the press do to Fnargl? As Bismarck put it: "they say what they want, I do what I want." But Bismarck didn't really mean it. Fnargl does.

In general, Fnargl has no reason at all to impose any artificial restriction on his subjects. He will impose laws only in order to prevent violence, which reduces gold production. He has no interest at all in "victimless crimes." Since he can define failure to pay one's tax as theft from him, Fnargl, the Vast And Pungent One, it turns out that he operates a very normal system of law.

It turns out that, except for the 30-40% of our economic output that disappears into his gold stash, Fnargl is actually an ideal ruler. Far from being "totalitarian," the Fnargocracy is if anything remarkably libertarian. Does Fnargl mind if you light up a jay? Not in the slightest.

Why is Fnargl's behavior so different from that of "totalitarian" dictators? What is the difference between Fnargl and the most powerful men of the 20th century, nasty pieces of work like Hitler, Stalin and Mao?

The difference is that Fnargl's primary property, Planet Three, as secured by his magic powers of Invulnerability and Finger-Snap Of Death, is secure.

In fact, Invulnerability and Finger-Snap perform basically the same service for Fnargl that Officer Friendly did for me. The reason the Thousand-Year Fnarg is peaceful and free is that we've defined Fnargl's primary right so that it works just like a secondary right. If one day, Fnargl tries to snap his fingers and it doesn't work - "damn," he says - problems will arise.

Hitler, Stalin and Mao, on the other hand, had enemies. Stalin and Mao, especially, basically operated under the assumption that everyone in the world wanted to kill them and take their jobs. After a while this was quite the self-fulfilling prophecy. Terrorist government - as in the Reign of Terror, a usage that's unfortunately lapsed - is a consequence not of absolute primary title, but of insecure primary title. It is best understood as a form of civil war.

Unfortunately, Fnargl's magic powers are beyond the reach of us earthlings. So how do we emulate the Thousand-Year (or, better yet, Eternal) Fnarg? Or is there some obvious problem with the whole idea of Fnargocracy? Readers' opinions, as usual, are welcome...

(Update: readers have posed some very cogent objections. Please see the comments.)