Thursday, May 29, 2008 67 Comments

OL7: the ugly truth about government

Last week, dear open-minded progressive, we worked through a clean-room redesign of government. The result had no resemblance to present institutions - and little resemblance to past ones. Should this surprise you? Do you expect history's fruits to be sweet?

Today we'll look at what those fruits actually are. Perhaps you didn't spend your eleventh-grade civics class hanging out behind the goalposts smoking cheeba. (If you are still in eleventh-grade civics class, it's much more exciting if you're stoned.) Perhaps you even read the Times on a regular basis. (The Times is even more awful when you're stoned.) Perhaps you assume, by default, that the vast parade of facts poured into your head by this and other such reliable sources must constitute at least a basic understanding.

You would be incorrect in this. And we have a Mr. Machiavelli, who is to government as Isaac Newton is to physics, Barry Bonds is to baseball, and Albert Hofmann is to LSD, to tell us why:
He who desires or attempts to reform the government of a state, and wishes to have it accepted and capable of maintaining itself to the satisfaction of everybody, must at least retain the semblance of the old forms; so that it may seem to the people that there has been no change in the institutions, even though in fact they are entirely different from the old ones. For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often even more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.
So, for example, the Roman Principate, and even to some extent the Dominate, preserved the forms of the old Republic. If Rome under Augustus had had a New York Times, it would have been full of the doings of the Senate and the consuls. The Senators said this. The consuls did that. When in reality, everything that mattered went through Augustus. If the entire Senate had fallen through a manhole in the Forum, nothing would have changed - except, of course, that the illusion of the Republic could no longer be maintained.

(The Romans even had a word for a monarch - the good old Latin Rex. No Roman emperor, however dissolute, autocratic or hubristic, ever adopted the title of king. "Emperor" is simply an anglicization of Imperator, meaning "Commander" - ie, a general.)

Often when the illusion ceases to delude anyone, it persists as a linguistic convention - especially on the tongues of officials. So in British official language one still may speak as if the Queen were the absolute personal ruler of the UK, when in fact she has no power at all. No one is confused by this. It is just a quaint turn of speech. Still, it has its effect.

Power is a shy beast. She flees the sound of her name. When we ask who rules the UK, we are not looking for the answer, "the Queen." The Queen may rock, but everyone knows she doesn't rule. Parting this thin outer peel, we come on the word "Parliament," with which most of us are satisfied. This is your official answer. The Queen holds nominal power. Parliament holds formal power. But does this tell us where the actual power is? Why should we expect it to? Since when has it ever?

Power has all the usual reasons to hide. Power is delicious, and everyone wants it. To bite into its crisp, sweet flesh, to lick its juices off your lips - this is more than pleasure. It is satisfaction. It is fulfillment. It is meaning. The love of a bird for a caterpillar is a tenuous and passing attachment next to the bond between man and power. Of course power, like the caterpillar, may have other defenses - poison-filled spines, and the like - but why not start with camouflage? Why look like anything more than a stick or a leaf?

Of course, as a progressive, you have all sorts of ideas about where power is hiding. It is in the hands of the corporations, the crooked politicians, the bankers, the military, the television preachers, and so on. It would be unfair to denigrate all of these perspectives as "conspiracy theories," and it is also unfair to denigrate all conspiracy theories as false. Lenin, for instance, was a conspirator. So were Alger Hiss, Benedict Arnold, even Machiavelli himself.

Nonetheless, the best place to hide is usually in plain sight. For example, Noam Chomsky once wrote a book called Manufacturing Consent, which argues that corporations exercise power by controlling the mass media. The phrase is borrowed from Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion - a book which every progressive will do well to read. La Wik has a fine summary:
When properly utilized, the manufacture of consent, Lippmann argues, is useful and necessary for modern society because "the common interests"—the general concerns of all people—are not obvious in many cases and only become clear upon careful data collection and analysis, which most of the people are either uninterested in or incapable of doing. Most people, therefore, must have the world summarized for them by those who are well-informed.

Since Lippmann includes much of the political elite within the set of those incapable of properly understanding by themselves the complex "unseen environment" in which the affairs of the modern state take place, he proposes having professionals (a "specialized class") collect and analyze data and present the conclusions to the decision makers. The decision makers then take decisions and use the "art of persuasion" to inform the public about the decisions and the circumstances surrounding them.
Who is Lippmann's "specialized class?" Is it Chomsky's corporate CEOs? Rupert Murdoch, perhaps? Au contraire. It is folks like Lippmann himself - journalists. (Lippmann described his analysis and persuasion agency, somewhat infelicitously, as an "Intelligence Bureau.")

Thus we have two candidates for who is "manufacturing consent." It could be the corporate executives to whom the journalists report. Or it could be the journalists themselves, in plain sight. Or, of course, both - in the true Agatha Christie style. As political detectives, we may ask: which of these parties has the means, motive, and opportunity?

But I am getting ahead of myself. Starting from the usual first principles, we are attempting to understand our system of government. What one word, dear progressives, best describes the modern Western system of government?

You probably said "democracy." If you got two words, you might say "representative democracy." So our progressive scratch-monkey, Mr. Stross, explains the success of democracy in terms of its supposed advantages, here. (He actually comes surprisingly close to the truth - as we'll see in a little bit.)

Words mean whatever we want them to. But if we interpret the phrase representative democracy to mean a political system in which power is held by the representatives of the people as chosen in democratic elections, the United States is a representative democracy in just the same sense that the Roman Empire was a republic, the United Kingdom is a kingdom, and the Chinese Communist Party is communist.

In fact, dear progressive, you fear and loathe democracy. Moreover, you are right to do so. Representative democracy is a thoroughly despicable system of government. It is dangerous and impractical at best, criminal at worst. And you hate it like the poison it is.

But you don't hate it under this name. You hate it under the name of politics. Think of the associations that the words political, partisan, politician, and so on, produce in your mind. You say: George W. Bush politicized the Justice Department. And this is a brutal indictment. If you hated black people the way you hate politics, you might say George W. Bush negroized the Justice Department, and the phrase would carry the same payload of contempt.

Similarly, when you hear antonyms such as apolitical, nonpartisan, bipartisan, or even the new and truly ludicrous post-partisan, your heart thrills with warmth and affection, just as it would if you were a racist and you heard the words Nordic, Anglo-Saxon, or amelanistic. And as it does when you hear the word democracy. You certainly would never say that George W. Bush democratized the Justice Department.

And yet, when you hear the phrase "apolitical democracy," it sounds slightly off. Can we have democracy without politics? Representative democracy without politics? What would that even mean? That there are no parties, perhaps? So let me get this straight - two parties is good, one party is bad (very bad), no parties at all is - even better? La Wik has a curious page for non-partisan democracy, in which some of these issues are explored, in the typical disjointed and unenlightening manner.

This is simply one of these contradictions that we find in the modern, progressive mind. You have probably wondered, idly, about it yourself. Since, as we've seen, progressivism is an essentially religious movement, the mystery of politics, that necessary evil of democracy, slides neatly into the same lobe of your brain that was in less enlightened days reserved for the great questions of theology. How can God be three persons at once? A wondrous mystery indeed.

Two fresh yarns in the Pravda illustrate the irony beautifully. In the first (which we've linked to before), our brave reporter is positively amused to find a native tribe so benighted that they might imagine they'd be better off without democracy. In the second, our fearless correspondent is shocked that, in darkest North America, the savages are so backward and credulous as to entertain the preposterous belief that counting heads amidst the mob is a sensible way to select responsible public officials.

Let's probe a little deeper into this mystery. If the actions of our democratic governments are not to be ascribed to the venal machinations of politicians, who is responsible for them? Who, in the ideal apolitical, nonpartisan, or post-partisan state, calls the shots? We are back to the basic question of power, which Lenin once summarized as "Who? Whom?" (This made more sense in English when we still used the word "whom." What Lenin meant was: who rules whom?)

So if politicians should not rule, who - dear progressive - should? If we continue our pattern of two-word answers, the answer is: public policy.

To the progressive - rather ironically, considering the history - Lenin's question is completely inappropriate. You reject the idea that government means that "who" must "rule" "whom." Rather, you believe that government, when conducted properly in the public interest, is an objective discipline - like physics, or geology, or mathematics.

It does not matter "who" the physicists, geologists, or mathematicians are. There is no German physics, liberal geology, or Catholic mathematics. There is only correct physics, correct geology, and correct mathematics. The process and criteria by which physicists separate correct from incorrect physics is quite different from that for geology or mathematics, and none of these processes is perfect or works instantaneously. But all have an obvious tendency to progress from error and ignorance to truth and knowledge.

Needless to say, if the United States were blessed with a Department of Mathematics - honestly I'm not sure why it isn't, but we can rest assured that if this wrong is ever righted, it will stay righted - it would be thoroughly inappropriate and irresponsible for George W. Bush to "politicize" the Department's deliberations on topology, computability, game theory, etc.

Public policy, of course, must not contradict physics, geology or mathematics. But these are not its main linchpins. When we look inside the magic box of public policy, we see fields such as law and economics and ethics and sociology and psychology and public health and foreign policy and journalism and education and...

And when we look at the history of these fields, we tend to see one of two things. Either (a) the field was more or less invented in the 20th century (sociology, psychology), or (b) its 20th-century principles bear very little relation to those of its 19th-century predecessor (law, economics). We saw this two weeks ago, for example, with international law. But again, I am getting ahead of myself.

As a progressive, you regard the fields of public policy as more or less scientific. The 20th century is the century of scientific public policy. And just as there is no German physics or Catholic mathematics, there is no German public policy or Catholic public policy. There is only public policy. There is no "who." There is no rule. There is no world domination. There is only global governance.

So we see why it's inappropriate for George W. Bush to "politicize" the Justice Department. It is because the Justice Department is staffed with legal scholars. Is George W. Bush a legal scholar? Is a boar hog an F-16? When politics intrudes on the realm of science, it's more than just a violation. It's a kind of rape. One is instantly reminded of the Nazi stormtroopers, dancing around their flaming piles of books. One, if one is an American, is also reminded of the mindless jockery that ruled one's high-school years. Do you, dear progressive, have any hesitation about picking a side in this dispute? Of course not.

Thus we see the fate of representative, political democracy, which survives as a sort of vestigial reptile brain or fetal gill-slit in the era of scientific government. In classic Machiavellian style, the form democracy has been redefined. It no longer means that the public's elected representatives control the government. It means that the government implements scientific public policy in the public interest. (Public policy is in the public interest by definition.)

We may summarize the whole in Lincoln's concise phrase: government of the people, by the people, for the people. All governments are of the people (they also provide animal control). The people being what they are, by the people turns out to be a bad idea. But we can still have government for the people, which gives us two out of three, which ain't bad. Since it is both of the people and for the people, and demos after all just means people, we can keep the good old word for our modern, scientific democracy.

You may already know all this, but perhaps it's worth a brief tour of how this system evolved.

The basically criminal nature of the old, political form of democracy has been discovered and rediscovered many times in American (and before that, of course, British) history. In his American Creation, the popular historian Joseph Ellis summarizes the Founders' judgment on democracy: "an alien, parasitic force." This of course would be their judgment as of the 1790s, not the 1770s, at which point they had had plenty of experience with said parasitic force. Any premodern history of the period - I recommend Albert Beveridge's four-volume life of John Marshall (I, II, III, IV) - will show you why. There is a reason you didn't learn much about the First Republic in that eleventh-grade civics class.

The Second Republic, or Constitutional period, saw a return to government by enlightened aristocrats, first under the Federalists and later under the Jeffersonians, who rather cleverly rode a wave of mob agitation into office and then ruled in a distinctily Federalist style (a trick that would later be repeated). This era of good feelings lasted until the election of ur-politician Andrew Jackson, who among other works of genius invented the spoils system - the unabashed selection of political loyalists for government jobs.

The following period of political turmoil, while distinguished by occasional flashes of sanity (such as the best system of government finance in history) and ameliorated by gridlock between North and South, which preserved a remarkably small and simple Washington, degenerated into the mass military insanity of the 1860s. Many Northern intellectuals, such as Henry Adams, had assumed that the defeat of the Slave Power would heal all the woes of the Federal City and transform it into the shining light it was meant to be. Au contraire.

Instead, in the Union period or Third Republic, what was by 20th-century standards a remarkably limited government, but by 18th-century standards an almost omnipotent one, fell into the hands of ethnic machines, corrupt politicians, quasicriminal financiers, sinister wire-pullers, unscrupulous journalists, vested interests, and the like. History, which of course is always on the side of the winners, has written this down as the Gilded Age.

For all its faults, the Gilded Age system created perhaps the most responsible and effective government in US history. Architecture is always a good clue to the nature of power, and Gilded Age buildings, where they still stand, are invariably decorative. The country's prosperity and productivity was, of course, unmatched. Its laws were strict and strictly enforced - nothing like today's festering ulcers of crime were imaginable.

An English journalist of Tory bent, G. W. Steevens, wrote an excellent travelogue of Gilded Age America - Land of the Dollar. (It's very readable, especially if you don't mind the N-word.) Steevens, in 1898, was unable to locate anything like a slum in New York City, and his intentions were not complimentary. It's an interesting exercise to compare the hyperventilations of a Gilded Age social reformer like Jacob Riis - the title How The Other Half Lives may ring a bell - to the world of Sudhir Venkatesh. Riis's tenement dwellers are sometimes less than well-scrubbed. They can be "slovenly." They drink a lot of beer. Their apartments are small and have poor ventilation - ventilation, for some reason, seems to be a major concern. All these horrors still afflict the present-day residents of the Lower East Side, who are hardly in need of anyone's charity.

But the Gilded Age political system was, again, criminal. In other words, it was democratic. The old American system is probably best compared to the government of China today. While they evolved from very different origins, they have converged in that universal medium, corruption. Government serves as a profit center, but (unlike in neocameralism) the distribution of profits is informal. The dividends are fought over with a thousand nontransparent stratagems. Since China is not a democracy, vote-buying is not practiced there. It was certainly practiced here.

And the bosses and plutocrats were not, by and large, cultured men. Sometimes I feel this is the main objection of their enemies. The American intellectual aristocracy simply could not tolerate a world in which their country was governed by these corrupt, boorish thugs. So, as aristocrats will, they plotted their revenge.

I mentioned "reform" earlier. And Machiavelli, if you scroll back to the top, uses the same word. Of course, he simply meant "change the form of." He implies no connotations. But notice, dear progressive, your associations with the word "reform." Like "nonpartisan" and all those other good words, it is connected with the happy part of your brain. La Wik's reform page is not bad.

Politically, the deepest roots of the present regime are found in the Liberal Republicans and the Mugwumps of the early Union period. The cause they are most associated with is civil service reform, which removed the President's power to staff the civil service and replaced it with competitive examinations - which tended to select, of course, scions of said aristocracy.

La Wik has many other discussions of early progressivism: the settlement movement, the Fabians, the muckrakers. You were probably exposed to large doses of this in your 11th-grade civics class. (If you are still in 11th-grade civics class, take an extra hit for this material. You'll need it.)

It is interesting to go back and read, say, Lincoln Steffens, today. Unfortunately Google Books has failed us on his Shame of the Cities, but here is a sample. And Steffens' Autobiography (really a series of rants drawn loosely from his life) is easily obtainable. What comes through is, most of all, a tremendous sense of smugness and arrogance. Steffens, for example, will be talking to Teddy Roosevelt. A close personal friend. But the Pres doesn't always take Steffens' advice. He compromises, sometimes. That's because he's weak, or ignorant, or corrupt, or maybe all three.

Steffens' tone only works if you think of him as the underdog. But underdogs are infrequently found in the Oval Office, and hindsight indeed shows us that this underdog won. Which makes him the overdog. And while its long-departed ghost is easily recognizable in the rhetoric of, say, a Michael Moore, a brief glance at Steffens' work will show you that nothing like the political tradition he is attacking exists in the world today. (To the extent that there are ethnic political machines, they are firmly in the hands of Steffens' successors.)

Whereas Steffens' tradition has flourished. He was the mentor, for example, of Walter Lippmann. If you traced the social network of modern journalism, all the lines would go back to Steffens and his cronies. And the lines lead overseas, as well: Steffens went to Russia in 1919, and he loved it. As he wrote in 1930:
Soviet Russia was a revolutionary government with an evolutionary plan. Their plan was not by direct action to resist such evils as poverty and riches, graft, privilege, tyranny and war, but to seek out and remove the causes of them. They were at present only laying a basis for these good things. They had to set up a dictatorship, supported by a small, trained minority, to make and maintain for a few generations a scientific rearrangement of economic forces which would result in economic democracy first and political democracy last.
"Economic democracy." Contemplate this concept, dear reader. Whatever "economic democracy" may be, it certainly has nothing at all to do with the practice of entrusting control of the state to elected representatives.

Steffens then allows Lenin, whom he is interviewing, to deliver a few paragraphs on the necessity of murdering the bourgeoisie, and finally delivers his famous line:
"So you've been over into Russia?" asked Bernard Baruch, and I answered very literally, "I have been over into the future, and it works." This was in Jo Davidson's studio, where Mr. Baruch was sitting for a portrait bust. The sculptor asked if I wasn't glad to get back. I was. It was a mental change we had experienced, not physical. Bullitt asked in surprise why it was that, having been so elated by the prospect of Russia, we were so glad to be back in Paris. I thought it was because, though we had been in heaven, we were so accustomed to our own civilization that we preferred hell. We were ruined; we could recognize salvation, but could not be saved.
Indeed, what Steffens calls "applied Christianity," and UR readers will recognize as our good old friend, creeping Quakerism, is seldom far beneath the surface in his work. I think you get the drift, but let us summarize. (Note that "propaganda" is not yet a term of abuse in 1930.)
In Russia the ultimate purpose of this conscious process of merging politics and business is to abolish the political state as soon as its sole uses are served: to make defensive war abroad and at home and to teach the people by propaganda and by enforced conditions to substitute new for old ideas and habits. The political establishment is a sort of protective scaffolding within which the temporary dictatorship is building all agriculture, all industries, and all businesses into one huge centralized organization. They will point out to you from over there that our businesses, too, are and long have been coming together, merging trusts into combines, which in turn unite into greater and greater monopolies. They think that when we western reformers and liberals resist this tendency we are standing in the way of a natural, inevitable economic compulsion to form "one big union" of business. All that they have changed is the ownership, which they (and Henry Ford) think is about all that's wrong. Aren't they right to encourage the process? Aren't we wrong to oppose it?
Note this recycling of ideas through Russia. There is nothing Russian at all about the dream Steffens is purveying. It is all in Edward Bellamy. From day one, a substantial and influential section of the American intelligentsia were the patrons, intellectual and political, of the Soviet Union, which spent all eighty years of its life manfully trying to implement Bellamy's vision.

Imagine how, say, libertarians would react if Russia decided to turn itself into a libertarian utopia. Imagine how easily they might come to overlook the matter if achieving the libertarian utopia turned out to involve, oh, just a little bit of good old Russian-style killing. In self-defense, of course. Libertarians believe in self-defense. Don't they? And besides, we're just killing government officials... and so on.

Your understanding of the bond between the American aristocracy and the Soviets has been distorted by both right and left. The left has done everything possible to bury their complicity in the monstrous crimes of their Slavic epigones. The right has assisted them by misrepresenting the structure of this complicity, which was never - even in such clear-cut cases as Alger Hiss - a simple matter of treason. The American side was always the senior partner in the marriage. The prestige of their distinguished Western patrons was a key ingredient in the Soviet formula for legitimacy and internal control, and the growing staleness of the alliance contributed far more, I think, to the Soviet collapse than most today admit.

Anyway, let's briefly finish up our origin myth, which ends, of course, in 1933. An excellent history of the period is supplied by the historian (and Progressive) James Truslow Adams, who followed his four-volume March of Democracy with two volumes of yearbooks, written every year and not (so far as I can determine) edited afterward, covering each year to 1948. This provides a pleasant hindsightless feel found in few other treatments of the period. In his history of 1933, Adams reports:
Nothing much was known about Roosevelt, except his smile. As William Allen White wrote at the time of his inauguration, "we are putting our hands in a grab-bag. Heaven only knows what we shall pull out." With the disingenuousness apparently required of a Presidential candidate, his campaign speeches had not disclosed his real views...
Well, that's putting it mildly. In fact they had disclosed other views, which were not his real views. (As Marriner Eccles put it, "given later developments, the campaign speeches often read like a giant misprint, in which Roosevelt and Hoover speak each other's lines.") Apparently White, for some reason, knew the story behind the script. Of course, if you don't believe in democracy, there is no reason not to treat it with contempt.

Adams, with only a mild glaze of sycophancy, reports the results:
[FDR] was, in fact, with the help of what he considered the best expert advice, although always making final decision himself, trying experiments, and occasionally he frankly said so. In these experiments he has been motivated by two objects - one the overcoming of the depression, and the other the making over of the economic organization of the nation, the latter being what he called in his campaign speeches "the New Deal." It is this which appears - it is too soon to speak positively - his chief objective, and it is difficult as yet to judge what his conception of the new society may be. In his first year he has shown enormous courage but has, apparently, not seldom changed his point of view, as well as his advisers.

As the latter loomed large in the administration, to a considerable extent displacing the regular Cabinet in public sight, the so-called "brain trust" requires some comment. Of recent years college professors have been more and more frequently called into consultation as "experts." Hoover made frequent application to them when President; Roosevelt did the same as Governor of New York; and foreign governments have done likewise. However, they have never been so in the forefront of affairs as since Roosevelt entered the White House, and this, together with the vagueness of what the "New Deal" might signify, helped to hinder the restoration of confidence. The lack of ability to foresee the future, to say nothing in too many cases of the absence of personal integrity, had indeed thrown the "big business men," the bankers and captains of industry, into the discard, but on the other hand the American has never had much belief in the practical ability of a professor, and the "experts" have disagreed among themselves as notably as doctors are said to do.

Moreover, Roosevelt chose many of his advisers from the distinct radical or left-wing group, the names of most of them being utterly new to the public. At first among the chief of these appear to have been Professor Raymond Moley, Doctor R. G. Tugwell, and A. A. Berle, Jr., all of Columbia University, New York. In the summer of 1933 there were added to these and many others Professor G. F. Warren of Cornell, a leading advocate of the "commodity dollar," and Professor J. H. Rogers of Yale. At least twenty or thirty others could be mentioned. It is to the "brain trust" that we owe the carrying out of the vague "New Deal," or as a great admirer of the President prefers to call it, "the Roosevelt Revolution." What the final result may be, no one can yet say, but as we shall see at the end of the chapter, they have presented a staggering bill for the American citizen to pay.
Indeed. I doubt there is a more succinct history of the birth of "public policy." I date the Fourth Republic and the Progressive period to 1933.

We can read this story in two ways. We can read it as the coming of modern, scientific government in the United States. Or we can read it as the transfer of power from political democracy to the American university system - which, just for the sake of a catchy catchword, I like to call the Cathedral.

Albert Jay Nock had no doubts on the matter. Allow me to reproduce a section of his diary from 1933:
29 October -- And so Brother Hitler decides he will no longer play with the League of Nations. This leaves the League in "ruther a shattered state," as Artemus Ward said of the Confederate army after Lee's surrender. "That army now consists of Kirby Smith, four mules, and a Bass drum, and is movin rapidly tords Texis."

30 October -- Public doings in this country are beyond all comment. Roosevelt has assembled in Washington the most extraordinary aggregation of quacks, I imagine, that was ever seen herded together. His passage from the scene of political action will remove the most lively showman that has been seen in America since the death of P.T. Barnum. The absence of opposition is remarkable; Republicans seem to have forgotten that the function of an Opposition is to oppose. I say this in derision, of course, for our politics are always bi-partisan. I have talked with many people; no one has any confidence in Roosevelt's notions, but the "organs of public opinion" either praise him or are silent; and no one expects that Congress will call him on the carpet. The only certain things are that his fireworks will cost a lot of money, and that they will enlarge our bureaucracy indefinitely. Most of the big Federal slush-fund that the taxpayers will create next year will go to local politicians, nominally for "improvements," unemployment or what not, but actually for an increase of jobs and jobbery. This ought to build up a very strong machine for the next campaign, as I am convinced it is meant to do - and all it is meant to do - and no doubt it will. I notice that the new move of juggling with the price of gold has been turned over to the R.F.C. instead of to the Treasury; thus making the R.F.C. a personal agent of the President.

31 October -- To my mind, there was never a better example of getting up a scare in order, as Mr. Jefferson said, to "waste the labours of the people under the pretence of taking care of them." Our improvement, such as it is, was under way in June, and there is no evidence whatever that Mr. Roosevelt's meddling has accelerated it. One is reminded of the headlong haste about framing the Federal Constitution, on the pretext that the country was going to the dogs under the Articles of Confederation; when in fact it was doing very well indeed, as recent researches have shown. All this is a despicable trick. The papers say that in this business of meddling with the gold market, Roosevelt is influenced by the theories of Irving Fisher. It reminds me that when I was in Europe I heard that one of Hitler's principal lieutenants is a chap that I used to know pretty well; the only name I can think of is Helfschlager, and that is not right. His family are the big art-dealers in Munich - Hanfstängl, that's it. I got well acquainted with him in New York, and saw him afterward in Munich, and came away with the considered belief that he is a fine fellow and uncommonly likable, but just as crazy as a loon. I have long had precisely that opinion of Fisher. Therefore if it is true that Irving Fisher is to the front in America and Helfschlager in Germany, I think the future for both countries looks pretty dark.
Don't miss La Wik on Irving Fisher. The page demonstrates the dichotomy perfectly.

So, as so often here on UR, we have two ways to see reality. Either power has passed into the hands of the Cathedral, or it has disappeared and been replaced by mere science. "Public policy." Of course, you know what I think. But what do you think?

If we can conceive the Cathedral as an actual, non-divinely-inspired, political machine for a moment, suspending any resentment or reverence we may feel toward it, not assuming that the policies it produces are good or bad or true or false, we can just admire it from an engineering perspective and see how well it works.

First: if there is one pattern we see in the public policies the Cathedral produces, it's that they tend to be very good at creating dependency. We can observe the dependency system by imagining what would happen if Washington, DC, out to the radius of the Beltway, is suddenly teleported by aliens into a different dimension, where its residents will live out their lives in unimaginable wealth, comfort and personal fulfillment. We here on Earth, however, see the Federal City disappear in a flash of light. In its place is a crater of radioactive glass.

What would happen? Many, many checks would no longer arrive. Children would go hungry - not just in North America, but around the world. Old people would starve. Babies would die of easily preventable diseases. Hurricane victims would squat in squalor in the slums. Drug companies would sell poison, stockbrokers would sell worthless paper, Toys-R-US would sell little plastic parts designed to stick in my daughter's throat and choke her. Etc, etc, etc.

Washington has made itself necessary. Not just to Americans, but to the entire world. Why does Washington want to help the survivors of Cyclone Nargis? Because helping is what it does. It dispenses love to all. Its mission is quite simply to do good, on a planetary basis. And why does the government of Burma want to stop it? Why turn down free help, including plenty of free stuff, and possibly even some free money?

Because dependency is another name for power. The relationship between dependent and provider is the relationship between client and patron. Which is the relationship between parent and child. Which also happens to be the relationship between master and slave. There's a reason Aristotle devotes the first book of the Politics to this sort of kitchen government.

Modern Americans have enormous difficulty in grasping hierarchical social structures. We grew up steeped in "applied Christianity" pretty much the way the Hitler Youth grew up steeped in Hitler. The suggesting that slavery could ever be or have been, as Aristotle suggests, natural and healthy, is like suggesting to the Hitler Youth that it might be cool to make some Jewish friends. Their idea of Jews is straight out of Jud Süss. Our idea of slavery is straight out of Uncle Tom's Cabin. If you want an accurate perspective of the past, a propaganda novel is probably not the best place to start. (If you want an accurate perspective of American slavery, I recommend Eugene Genovese's Roll, Jordan, Roll, which is a little Marxist but only superficially so. No work like it could be written today.)

Legally and socially, a slave is an adult child. (There's a reason the word emancipation is used for the dissolution of both bonds.) We think of the master-slave relationship as usually sick and twisted, and invariably adversarial. Parent-child relationships can be all three. But they are not normally so. If history (not to mention evolutionary biology) proves anything, it proves that humans fit into dominance-submission structures almost as easily as they fit into the nuclear family.

Slavery is an extreme, but the general pattern is that the patron owes the client protection and subsistence, while the client owes the patron loyalty and service. The patron is liable to the public for the actions of the client - if they offend, he must make amends. In return, he has the right, indeed the obligation, to regulate and discipline his clients. He is a private provider of government. Thus Aristotle: slavery is government on the micro-scale. Heed the Greek dude.

So comparing the social paternalism of Washington to the classical relationship between master and slave is not at all farfetched, or even particularly pejorative. And if it is pejorative, it is because the 20th-century imitation often seems to resemble less a functional paternal bond than a dysfunctional one: less parent-child than parent-teenager. With many of Washington's clients, foreign and domestic, there is plenty of subsistence and even protection, but precious little loyalty, service, discipline or responsibility.

We are now in a position to understand the relationship between Washington and Rangoon. Rangoon (I refuse to call it "Yangon" - the idea that a government can change the name of a city or a country is a distinctly 20th-century one) refuses to accept the assistance of the "international community" because it does not want to become a client.

You'll find that any sentence can be improved by replacing the phrase "international community" with "State Department." State does not impose many obligations on its clients, but one of them is that you can't be a military government - at least not unless you're a left-wing military government with friends at Harvard. The roots of the present Burmese regime are basically national-socialist: ie, no friends at Harvard. Burma cannot go directly from being an enemy to being a rebellious teenager. It would have to go through the helpless-child stage first. And that means the end of the generals.

(One reason the Jonah Goldbergs of the world have such trouble telling their right from their left is that they expect some morphological feature of the State to answer the question for them. For anyone other than Goldberg, Stalin was on the left and Hitler was on the right. The difference is not a function of discrepancies in administrative procedure between the KZs and the Gulag. It's a function of social networks. Stalin was a real socialist, Hitler was a fake one. Stalin was part of the international socialist movement, and Hitler wasn't. But I digress.)

What, specifically, will happen if Burma admits an army of aid workers? What will happen is that they'll make friends in Burma. Their friends will not be the people in power - not quite. But they will probably be close to it. Thus the ties between the "international community" and all kinds of alternatives to the generals will be strengthened. Since the latter's position is already precarious at best, much better if a few of the victims have to eat mud for a month or two. They will fend for themselves in the end. People do.

And why is Washington playing this game? Just because it does. In that golden city are armies of desks, each occupied by a dedicated public servant whom the Cathedral has certified to practice public policy, whose job it is to care about Burma. And he or she does. That's what Washington does. As George H. W. Bush put it, "Message: I care."

When our patron's suffering clients are actually American citizens, this pattern - as Nock predicted, correctly - generates votes. Before the New Deal, vote-buying in America was generally local and informal. Retail, you might say. After 1933, it was wholesale.

But however much of a client it becomes (I really can't imagine the generals can hold out that much longer), Burma will never export electoral votes. Statehood is unimaginable. So why does Washington continue to molest the generals, in pursuit of the love and fealty of the Burmese people? Just because it does. There is adaptive value in "applied Christianity." That adaptive value derives from its domestic application. There is little or no adaptive value in restricting the principle to domestic clients, and it involves a level of conscious cynicism which is not compatible with the reality of progressivism. So the restriction does not evolve.

Thus the neo-Quakerism which supplies the ethical core of progressivism, and is evangelized with increasingly relentless zeal by the Cathedral's robeless monks, is completely compatible with the acquisition and maintenance of political power. Not only does the design work - I find it hard to imagine how it could work any better. Which does not mean that "applied Christianity" is evil, that the Burmese generals are good, or that their suffering subjects would not be better off under Washington's friendly umbrella.

Second, let's observe the relationship between the Cathedral and our old friend, "democracy." Since 1933, elected politicians have exercised minimal actual control over government policy. Formally, however, they have absolute control. The Cathedral is not mentioned in the Constitution. Power is a juicy caterpillar. Maybe it looks like a twig to most of us birds, but Washington has no shortage of sharp eyes, sharp beaks, and growling bellies.

We can see the answer when we look at the fate of politicians who have attacked the Cathedral. Here are some names: Joseph McCarthy. Enoch Powell. George Wallace. Spiro Agnew. Here are some others: Ronald Reagan. Richard Nixon. Margaret Thatcher.

The first set are politicians whose break with the Cathedral was complete and unconditional. The second are politicians who attempted to compromise and coexist with it, while pulling it in directions it didn't want to go. The first were destroyed. The second appeared to succeed, for a while, but little trace of their efforts (at least in domestic politics) is visible today. Their era ends in the 1980s, and it is impossible to imagine similar figures today.

What we see, especially in the cases of McCarthy and Powell (the recent BBC documentary on Powell is quite good) is a tremendous initial burst of popularity, trailing off into obloquy and disrepute. At first, these politicians were able to capture large bases of support. At least 70% of the British electorate was on Powell's side. This figure may even be low.

But Powell - Radio Enoch aside - never had the tools to preserve these numbers and convert them into power. Similar majorities of American voters today will tell pollsters that they support Powellian policies: ending immigration, deporting illegals, terminating the racial spoils system. These majorities are stable. No respectable politician will touch them. Why? Because they cannot afford to antagonize the Cathedral, whose policies are the opposite.

Recall La Wik's simple summary of the Lippmann system:
The decision makers then take decisions and use the "art of persuasion" to inform the public about the decisions and the circumstances surrounding them.
Of course, all politicians in all Western countries depend on the official press to promote and legitimize their campaigns. Powell and McCarthy had no direct channel of communication with the Powellists and McCarthyists. They had to rely on the BBC and on ABC, NBC and CBS respectively. It's rather as if the US attempted to invade the Third Reich by booking passage for its soldiers on the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The OP (known to most bloggers as the "MSM") is part of the civil-service complex around the Cathedral - call it the Polygon. An institution is in the Polygon if it defers to the Cathedral on all disputable questions. Because to a devotee of the Cathedral, its perspectives are beyond question, no two devotees can disagree on any serious matter - unless, of course, both sides of the disagreement are represented in the Cathedral itself. And the Cathedral is not exactly noted for disagreeing with itself. At least, not from an external perspective.

You will not see the Times attacking Harvard, for example, or the State Department. They all have the same ant smell, as it were. The Times is not formally a government institution, as the BBC is, but it might as well be. If American journalism were coordinated into a Department of Information - as it was in World War I and World War II - and journalists were granted GS ranks, very little in their lives would change. As civil servants, they would be exactly as immune to political pressure as they are at present, and they would have exactly the same access to government secrets that they have at present.

The Cathedral's response to these dissident politicians thus took two forms, one fast and one slow. Both would have been effective; together, they were devastating. First, the "art of persuasion" - more dramatically known as psychological warfare - convinced their supporters that the politicians themselves were sick, awful, and weird, and so by extension was anyone who followed them. Second, the Cathedral itself adapted to the doctrines of Powell and McCarthy by making opposition to them an explicit tenet of the faith.

Since the Cathedral educates the world's most fashionable people, and since it holds power and power is always fashionable, Cathedrism is fashionable more or less by definition. Of course, if you were fashionable, you knew instantly that Powell and McCarthy were on the slow boat to nowhere. But the unfashionable are always the majority, and they are not unfashionable because they choose to be. They are unfashionable because they can't pull off fashionable.

As it became clear to all that Powell and McCarthy were "not done," their fans disappeared. Their bases of support had been a mile wide and an inch deep. Their attacks on the Cathedral were pathetic and doomed, like taking on the Death Star with a laser pointer. Personally, both men were mercurial and unstable - Powell was a genius, the last real statesman in British politics, while McCarthy was an old-school hard-drinking politician with Roy Cohn on his team - and it is no surprise that none of their colleagues emulated their suicidal bravado.

As for the second class, the Thatchers and Nixons and Reagans, in terms of their own personal outcomes they were smarter. They attacked the Cathedral not across the board, but on single issues on which their support was overwhelming. Sometimes they actually prevailed, for a while, on these points - Reagan got his military buildup, Thatcher got deregulation, Nixon defeated North Vietnam.

Of course, the Nixon administration also created EPA, initiated the racial spoils system, and imposed wage and price controls. Thatcher got Britain inextricably into the EU. And so on. These semi-outsider politicians provide a valuable service to the Cathedral: while opposing a few of its policies, they validate all the others as a bipartisan consensus, which everyone decent is obligated to support. They thus do the heavy lifting of persuading their supporters, who probably wouldn't read the Times even if they did trust it, to change with the changing times. And the times are always changing. And we just can't not change with them, can we?

To the extent that democratic politics still exists in the Western world, it exists in the form of the two-party system. The parties have various names, which they have inherited from history. But there are only two parties: the Inner Party, and the Outer Party. It is never hard to tell which is which.

The function of the Inner Party is to delegate all policies and decisions to the Cathedral. The function of the Outer Party is to pretend to oppose the Inner Party, while in fact posing no danger at all to it. Sometimes Outer Party functionaries are even elected, and they may even succeed in pursuing a few of their deviant policies. The entire Polygon will unite in ensuring that these policies either fail, or are perceived by the public to fail. Since the official press is part of the Polygon and has a more or less direct line into everyone's brain, this is not difficult.

The Outer Party has never even come close to damaging any part of the Polygon or Cathedral. Even McCarthy was not a real threat. He got a few people fired, most temporarily. Most of them were actually Soviet agents of one sort or another. They became martyrs and have been celebrated ever since. His goal was a purge of the State Department. He didn't even come close. If he had somehow managed to fire every Soviet agent or sympathizer in the US government, he would not even have done any damage. As Carroll Quigley pointed out, McCarthy (and his supporters) thought he was attacking a nest of Communist spies, whereas in fact he was attacking the American Establishment. Don't bring a toothpick to a gunfight.

McCarthy never even considered trying to abolish the State Department - let alone State, Harvard, the CFR, the Rockefeller Foundation, and every other institution in the same class. By my count, if you lump all his efforts together with the entire phenomenon of McCarthyism, you get about 10 milli-Hitlers. (And not even Hitler, of course, succeeded in the end.)

An essential element in the "art of persuasion" is the systematic propagation of the exact opposite of this situation. Devotees of the Inner Party and the Cathedral are deeply convinced that the Outer Party is about to fall on them and destroy them in a new fascist upheaval. They often believe that the Outer Party itself is the party of power. They can be easily terrified by poll results of the type that Powell, etc, demonstrated. There are all kinds of scary polls that can be conducted which, if they actually translated into actual election results in which the winners of the election held actual power, would seriously suck. That's democracy for you.

But power in our society is not held by democratic politicians. Nor should it be. Indeed the intelligentsia are in a minority, indeed they live in a country that is a democracy, indeed in theory their entire way of life hangs by a thread. But if you step back and look at history over any significant period, you only see them becoming stronger. It is their beliefs that spread to the rest of the world, not the other direction. When Outer Party supporters embrace stupid ideas, no one has any reason to worry, because the Outer Party will never win. When the Inner Party goes mad, it is time to fear. Madness and power are not a fresh cocktail.

And thus we see the role of "democracy" in the Progressive period. Stross says:
Democracy provides a pressure release valve for dissent. As long as the party in power are up for re-election in a period of months to (single digit) years, opponents can grit their teeth and remind themselves that this, too, shall pass ... and wait for an opportunity to vote the bums out. Democracies don't usually spawn violent opposition parties because opposition parties can hope to gain power through non-violent means.
This is the theory. But since elected politicians in the Cathedral system have, as we've seen, no real power, what we're looking at here is not a pressure release valve, but a fake pressure release valve. The regular exchange of parties in "power" reassures you, dear voter, that if the State starts to become seriously insane, the valve will trip, the bums will be thrown out, and everything will return to normal.

In fact, we know exactly what Washington's policies twenty years from now will be. They will certainly have nothing to do with "politics." They will be implementations of the ideas now taught at Harvard, Yale and Berkeley. There is a little lag as the memes work their way through the system, as older and wiser civil servants retire and younger, more fanatical ones take their place. But this lag is getting shorter all the time. And by the standards of the average voter forty years ago, let alone eighty, Washington already is seriously insane. What is the probability that by your standards - as progressive as they may be - Washington forty years from now will not seem just as crazed? Fairly low, I'm afraid.

And this brings us to the third point about the public policy apparatus: while appearing unconscious of its audience, it adapts to it. This is the most incriminating point, because there is no good explanation for it, and the trend is quite ominous if projected outward.

Take the recent decision of the California Supreme Court, who have just discovered that the state's Constitution allows people of the same sex to marry. As a matter of policy, I have no objection at all to this. Quite the contrary. I think it's an excellent and sensible policy. I do, however, have an interest in where this policy came from.

This is what, in the 20th-century progressive public-policy world, we call "law." The craft of the lawyer used to be the craft of discovering how the words of a law were intended, by the officials who ratified the law, to imply that one's client was in the right. I think it's fairly safe to assume that the drafters and ratifiers of the California Constitution and its various amendments had no such understanding of their work. (Try reading the actual decision. It's a fascinating hunk of boilerplate.)

Nonetheless, the drafters wrought better than they knew. The practice of drafting laws which are vague to the point of meaninglessness, then empowering "judges" to "interpret" them, is simply another way of abolishing politics. Congress legislates this way all the time. All they are doing is to transfer the power of legislation to a more private body, which is not subject to public scrutiny and the other painful woes of politics. The great thing about the gay marriage decision is that no one in California has any idea who made it. I think there are nine people on the California Supreme Court. Who are they? How did they get their jobs? Who the heck knows? No one seems to care at all.

The US Constitution was the first and greatest offender in this department. Its drafters did not even agree on such basic matters as whether a state could leave the Union. In practice, it made the Supreme Court the supreme legislative assembly, which over the last 200 years (mostly over the last 50) has created a body of decisions, perfectly comparable to Britain's unwritten constitution, that we call constitutional law. The idea that this legislative corpus can be derived in some mystical, yet automatic, way from the text of the Constitution is preposterous, and no one holds it.

Instead we have the Living Constitution, which always seems to live to the left. I've never heard anyone, not even the most deranged fundamentalist, propose reinterpreting the Constitution to provide rights to fetuses, an obvious corollary of this approach - if the Inner Party and the Outer Party were symmetric opposites, and the "life" of the Constitution was powered by political democracy.

Of course it is not. It does not rest in formal interpretation of texts. It rests in ethical judgments. It is the job of the legislator to make ethical judgments, and the California Supreme Court is doing its job. It's a pity it has to carpool with such a large bodyguard of lies, but that's the modern world for ya.

And we know where these ethical judgments come from. They are Inner Party judgments, and the Inner Party's ethics are Christian, Protestant, and Quaker in their origins. Fine. We all need ethics, and "applied Christianity" will do as well as anything else. What interests me is when these ethical judgments come about.

Imagine, for instance, that the California Supreme Court had decided in, say, 1978, that it was unethical - I mean, unconstitutional - for California to prohibit its male citizens from marrying each other. Is this a thinkable event? I think not. And yet the court's writ ran just as far and was just as powerful in 1978 as in 2008. And ethics, surely, have not changed.

The Living Constitution does not adapt with changes in ethics. It adapts with changes in public opinion - as long as that public opinion is shifting in the direction of "applied Christianity." Public opinion was ready for abortion in 1973 - barely. It was ready for gay marriage in 2008 - barely. It was not ready for gay marriage in 1973. What will it be ready for in 2033? One can see this as a noble concession to the great principle of democracy. One can also see it as the Cathedral getting away with whatever it can get away with, and nothing else.

Larry Auster, probably the most imaginative and interesting right-wing writer on the planet, who also happens to be a converted fundamentalist Christian with all the theopolitical baggage that you, dear open-minded progressive, would expect from such a person, has a good term for this: the unprincipled exception. Briefly, an unprincipled exception is a policy that violates some absolute principle of ethics held by the policymaker, but is not openly acknowledged as such a violation.

For example, dear progressive, why is racism wrong? Racism is wrong because all humans are born simply as humans, having done nothing right or wrong, and it is incompatible with our deeply-held ethical principles to mark these newborn babies with indelible labels which assign them either privileges or penalties which they have not earned. Such as the privilege of being able to drink at sparkling-clean water fountains marked "Whites Only," or the penalty of having to go out back to the horse trough.

We hit that one out of the park, didn't we? Okay. So why is it ethical to label newborn babies as "American" or "Mexican," due to nothing but the descent and geographical position at birth of their parents, and give the former a cornucopia of benefits from which the latter is barred - such as the right to live, work, and drink from drinking fountains in the continental United States? What makes Washington think it is somehow ethical to establish two classes of human, "Americans" and "Mexicans," based only on coincidences of birth that are just as arbitrary as "black" versus "white," and treat the two completely differently? How does this differ from racism, Southern style?

You think this is ugly? Oh, we can get worse. Let's suppose the US, in its eagerness to treat these second-class humans, if not quite as well as possible, at least better than we treat them now, establishes a new guest-worker program which is open only to Nigerians. Any number of Nigerians may come to the US and work.

There are certain restrictions, however. They have to live in special guest-worker housing. They have to go to their workplace in the morning, and return before the sun sets. They may not wander around the streets at night. They must carry special guest-worker passes. Obviously, they can't vote. And they are strictly prohibited from using all public amenities, including, of course, drinking fountains.

Is it a more ethical policy to have this program, or not to have it? If you think no Nigerians could be found to take advantage of it, you're quite wrong. If you have the program, should you cancel it, and send the Nigerians home, to a life of continued poverty back in Nigeria? How is this helping them? On the other hand, our program has all the major features of apartheid. And surely no-apartheid is better than apartheid.

There is a very easy resolution to this problem: adopt the principle that no person is illegal. This rule is perfectly consistent with "applied Christianity." It is taught at all our great universities. It is implied every time a journalist deploys the euphemism "undocumented." And I'm sure there are dozens of ways in which it could be incorporated into our great Living Constitution. There is only one problem: the people are not quite ready for it.

But perhaps in thirty years they will be. Perhaps? I would bet money on it. And I would also bet that, by the time this principle is established, denying it will be the equivalent of racism. Us old fogeys who were born in the 1970s will be convulsed with guilt and shame at the thought that the US actually considered it ethically acceptable to turn away, deport, and otherwise penalize our fellow human beings, on the ridiculous and irrelevant grounds that they were born somewhere else.

So the Cathedral wins coming and going. Today, it does not suffer the political backlash that would be sure to ensue if the Inner Party endorsed opening the borders to... everyone. Still less if it actually did so. (Unless it let the new Americans vote as soon as they set foot on our sacred soil, which of course would be the most Christian approach.) And in 2038, having increased North America's population to approximately two billion persons, none of them illegal, and all living in the same Third World conditions which it has already inflicted on most of the planet, our blessed Cathedral will have the privilege of berating the past with its guilt for not having recognized the obvious truth that no person is illegal. Ain't it beautiful?

It is. But I have been talking about this Cathedral thing for long enough that I'm not sure you believe it really exists. Well. Do I have a treat for you.

It's not news that I believe the Cathedral is evil. And since it's 2008, you'd expect evil to have not only a name, but a blog. And sure enough it does. Evil's name is Timothy Burke, he is a professor of history (specializing in southern Africa) at Swarthmore, and his blog is Easily Distracted.

The great thing about Professor Burke is that he appears to have a conscience. Almost every post in his blog can be understood as a kind of rhetorical struggle to repress some inner pang of doubt. He is the Good German par excellence. When people of this mindset found themselves in the Third Reich, they were "moderate Nazis." In Czechoslovakia or Poland they "worked within the system." Professor Burke is nowhere near being a dissident, but there is a dissident inside him. He doesn't like it, not at all. He stabs it with his steely knives. He can check out any time. But he can never leave. His position is a high one, and not easy to get.

The entire blog is characterized - indeed it could serve as a type specimen for - the quality that Nabokov called poshlost. Simply an embarrassment of riches. I am saddened by the fact that, as a new parent, I cannot devour the whole thing. But as a case study, I have selected this. The whole post is a treat, but I am especially tickled by the line:
I am drawn to procedural liberalism because I live in worlds that are highly procedural and my skills and training are adapted to manipulating procedural outcomes.
"Manipulating procedural outcomes." My entire post - maybe even my entire blog - reduced to three words. If you want to know how you are governed, this is it: you are governed by manipulating procedural outcomes. It's perfect. It belongs on someone's tomb.

But don't even click on link if you are not prepared to work up a little steam. Barack Obama's handling of his grandmother was brutal, perhaps, but it really has nothing on the job Professor Burke does on his mother-in-law:
When I talk to my mother-in-law, I often get a clear view of its workings, and the role that mass culture (including the mainstream media) play in providing fresh narrative hooks and telling incidentals to its churnings. In the last two years, for example, every time I talk to her, she wants to return to the story of Ward Churchill. Or she wants to talk about how terrible crime is. Or about the problem of illegal immigrants. And so on. These are immobile, self-reproducing, stories. Their truth in her mind is guaranteed by something far outside the actualities and realities that compose any given incident or issue.
"These are immobile, self-reproducing, stories." I desperately, desperately, want his mother-in-law to find this post, read it, and slap Professor Burke very hard across his overgrown thirteen-year-old face. But I doubt it'll happen.

"Their truth in her mind is guaranteed by something far outside the actualities and realities that compose any given incident or issue." Can even this awful sentence do justice to the twisted mind of Timothy Burke? To the Cathedral as a whole, on which he is just one small gargoyle on a minor, far-flung flying buttress? Dear open-minded progressive, I invite you to read this post - or anything else on Professor Burke's remarkably revealing blog, if you remain undecided - and ask yourself again:

Do I trust the Cathedral? Do I consider it a source of responsible, effective public policy? And, in the long term, is it secure?

Next, we try and figure out what to do if the answer turns out to be "no."

Thursday, May 22, 2008 92 Comments

OL6: the lost theory of government

[If you're using Firefox and you see a gray box in the middle of the post, it is Blogger strangeness. Click on the post title and it goes away.]

The best way to understand government is to assume everything you know about it is nonsense. Or so at least I claimed last week. Let's demonstrate it by solving the problem from scratch.

Growing up in the modern Western world, you learned that in all pre-modern, non-Western societies, everyone - even the smartest and most knowledgeable - put their faith in theories of government now known to be nonsensical. The divine right of kings. The apostolic succession of the Pope. The Marxist evolution of history. Etc.

Why did such nonsense prosper? It outcompeted its non-nonsensical competitors. When can nonsense outcompete truth? When political power is on its side. Call it power distortion.

And why, dear open-minded progressive, do you think your theory of government, which you did not invent yourself but received in the usual way, is anything but yet another artifact of power distortion, adapted to retain your rulers in their comfortable seats?

Probably because there is a categorical difference between modern liberal democracy and the assorted monarchies, empires, dictatorships, theocracies, etc, which practiced the black art of official mind control. The priests of Amun tolerated no dissent. They flayed the heretic, the back-talker, the smartmouth, and stretched his still-living flesh to crack and writhe in the hot African wind, till the hyena or the crocodile came along to finish him. But now they are all pushing up the asphodels, and Google hasn't even thought about deleting my blog.

You think of freedom of thought as a universal antibiotic, a sure cure for power distortion. It certainly allows me to post my seditious blasphemies - for now.

But as a progressive, your beliefs are the beliefs of the great, the good and the fashionable. And as we've seen over the past few weeks, power can corrupt the mind in two ways: by coercion, or by seduction. The Whig, the liberal, the radical, the dissenter, the progressive, protests the former with great umbrage - especially when his ox is being gored. Over the past four centuries, he has ridden the latter to power. He is Boromir. He has worn the Ring and worked it. And it, of course, has worked him.

Today's late Whiggery, gray and huge and soft, lounges louche on its throne, fastened tight to the great plinth of public opinion that it hacked from the rock of history with its own forked and twisted tongue. The mass mind, educated to perfection, is sure. It has two alternatives: the Boromir-thing, or Hitler. And who wants Hitler? Resistance is more than useless. It is ridiculous. The Whig cackles, and knocks back another magnum of Mumm's.

And a few small rats wear out our incisors on the stone. Today we'll learn the real principles of government, which have spent the last four centuries sunk under a Serbonian bog of meretricious liberalism. ("The funk... of forty thousand years.") This is a bit short for a UR post, but parenting is a bit of a time sink. We'll have to wait until next week to see what government is today.

The two, of course, have nothing to do with each other. Nor is this likely to change soon. Nor can you do anything about it. So why bother? Why think about government?

The only defense I can offer is Vaclav Havel's idea of "living in truth." As a fellow cog in the global public supermind, you are bombarded constantly and from every direction with the progressive theory of government, with which all humans who are not ignorant, evil or both must agree by definition, and which makes about as much sense as the Holy Trinity. If you are ready to be the nail that sticks up and is hammered down, you can be a "conservative," which ties up a few of the loose ends, and unties others. It also makes you a social pariah, unless most of your neighbors are named "Earl."

This shit is stressful. Most of us already have stressful lives. Do we need it? We don't. The nice thing about understanding government is that it gives you an off button for the endless political yammering. While it may replace this with a bit of despair as regards the future, the future is a long way off. And not entirely without hope, but that's another post.

In any case: government.

First, let's establish what a government is. A government is a sovereign corporation. It is sovereign because its control over its territory is not subject to any higher authority. It is a corporation because it has a single institutional identity. All governments in history fit this definition, unless their sovereignty is compromised by some stronger power. In this case, that power is the true sovereign, and your analysis should be aimed at it.

Second, what makes a government good or bad? The easiest way to think about this problem is to think subjectively. Assuming you have no power over the government's decisions, under what kind of government would you prefer to live? Given two governments A and B, what would make you move or want to move from A to B, or vice versa?

The key is that we are evaluating a government based on what it does, not what it is. As Deng Xiaoping - probably the greatest statesman of the 20th century - put it: "Who cares if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice?"

The subjective approach asks whether the government catches mice. It does not ask who the government's personnel are, or how they are selected, or how they are managed. Perhaps they are all Dinka warriors from the middle of nowhere, Sudan, chosen for their impassive visages as they execute the brutal Dinka ritual of auto-hemicastration with no implement but their own fire-hardened fingernails. If they govern well, so much the better.

Your subjective desires for government may be different from mine. They probably are. In a world of good governments, subjective preferences would reduce to the trivial and cosmetic. If I am in the market for fast food and I see a Burger King next to a McDonalds, I will go with the King. Why? Does it matter?

Fast food is an fine metaphor for government. You'd think managing a sovereign corporation is probably more complicated and difficult than operating a fast-food chain. Heck, operating a nonsovereign US state is probably harder than flipping burgers. And if B is harder than A, you'd think anyone who can pull off B would ace A.

But if I saw a McDonalds next to a Calmeat, Mickey would be my man. Of course, there is no Calmeat. We do not live in a world where the State of California sees fit to operate restaurants, fast or otherwise. There is no state burger. Even as an open-minded progressive, however, I'm afraid you will have to concede that if there was a Calmeat, it would either be either horrible or horribly overpriced, and probably both.

Why? It will become obvious, if it isn't already. But what it tells us - if this isn't already obvious - is that we don't live in a world of good government. California is better-governed than nine-tenths of the Earth's surface. And there is no way its government could flip a decent burger. As Mark Twain put it:
Omar Khayam, the poet-prophet of Persia, writing more than eight hundred years ago, has said:

"In the four parts of the earth are many that are able to write learned books, many that are able to lead armies, and many also that are able to govern kingdoms and empires; but few there be that can keep a hotel."
Twain's quote does not strike me as authentic - but I quail at the notion of Calstay. In any case: not only do we not live in a world of good government, we live in a world of disastrously bad government. If the 20th century does not go down in history as the golden age of awful government, it is only because the future holds some fresher hell for us.

So we are not concerned with the subtleties of good government. We are not interested in excellent government. It would be nice, but we would be satisfied with mere competence - perhaps with whatever enables McDonald's to survive in a world that contains not only BK but also In-n-Out, even though its burgers taste like boiled cardboard. Our goal is the mere basics.

Here are the basics: a government should be secure, effective, and responsible. None of this is rocket science. The only secret is that there is no secret.

Let's define and analyze these qualities individually, assuming the others in each. When we explain how to make a government responsible, we'll assume it is secure and effective. When we explain how to make it secure, we'll assume it is effective and responsible. Etc.

Let's start with effectiveness. Effectiveness is the ability to accomplish what you're trying to do. Under what design is a government most effective?

We can think of effectiveness as a measure of good management. A well-managed enterprise hires the right people, spends the right amount of money on them, and makes sure they do the right things. How do we achieve effective management?

We know one simple way: find the right person, and put him or her in charge. This single, frail being, our administrator, holds final decision-making authority - the Roman imperium - over budget, policy, and personnel.

In the military world, this is called unity of command. In the (nonsovereign) corporate world - and in the nonprofit world that opposes it - this individual is the CEO. Even that most anarchic of human endeavors, the open-source project, tends to follow the administrator design.

Why does individual administration work? When said individual is a douche, it doesn't. There is no reliable formula for good management. But there are many reliable formulas for bad management. A better question is: why does management by committee not work?

Divided control of any human enterprise tends to fail because of a phenomenon generally known, around the office, as politics. Politics always emerges when management breaks down. An individual manager, with undivided control of some enterprise, can only succeed by making the enterprise succeed. Replace one manager with two - the unorthodox administrative design known as "two-in-a-box," a disaster I personally have experienced - and either has a new way to succeed: making the other fail. The more cooks, the worse the broth.

In every human endeavor outside government itself, undivided administration is well known to produce optimal results. If Peet's could beat Starbucks, Southwest JetBlue, or In-n-Out Mickey D's, by adopting a "separation of powers" or a "constitution" or some other architecture of leadership by consensus, one of them would certainly have tried it.

Contemplate, dear friends, the great heap of rococo procedural ornamentations that have replaced the simple principle of personal decision in the modern Western government. Montesquieuean separation of powers is the least of it. Outside the military, in which the principle of command still functions to some extent, it is simply impossible to find anyone with unified responsibility for getting anything done. And even military officers, while they have some vestiges of imperium - rapidly being sucked away by the judicial system - seldom control anything like their own budgets, and have zero power over personnel.

So: the modern aversion to individual management cannot be motivated by effectiveness. Undivided administration is more effective, period. We can only explain the penchant for collective decision-making as a function of responsibility or security. It is hard to see how it has anything to do with security. It must be a matter of responsibility.

But, in a system where no individual can be connected reliably with any success or failure, where is the responsibility? As none other than Woodrow Wilson put it, in 1885:
It is quite safe to say that were it possible to call together again the members of that wonderful Convention [of 1787] to view the work of their hands in the light of the century that has tested it, they would be the first to admit that the only fruit of dividing power had been to make it irresponsible.
Wilson himself, of course, had a great deal of undivided power. Nor did he use it responsibly. When we think of sovereign executives, we tend to think of bad examples. We think of Hitler, not of Frederick the Great. We don't think of Sultan Qaboos or Lee Kuan Yew or Hans-Adam II. If you think this is a coincidence, think again. But perhaps a thought-experiment will help.

Washington, especially since it governs not only the United States but also most of the world, is just too huge to serve as a good thought-experiment for government. It's easier and more fun to think in terms of California, if California could somehow be a sovereign state. Assuming security and responsibility, how could we produce effective government in California?

The answer: find the world's best CEO, and give him undivided control over budget, policy and personnel. I don't think there is any debate about it. The world's best CEO is Steve Jobs.

Which would you rather live in: California as it is today, or Applefornia? Which would you rather carry: the iPhone, or the Calphone? I rest my case.

So let's segue into responsibility. Assuming a government is responsible and secure, we know how to make it effective: hire Steve. But how do we make it responsible?

Steve, after all, is a turbulent fellow. He is moody at best. He could easily go around the bend. And he is already a notorious megalomaniac, a tendency that total imperium over the Golden State - including its new military forces, whose heads are shaved, whose garb is white linen, and whose skill in synchronized martial-arts demonstrations is unmatched even on the Korean peninsula - can hardly ameliorate.

A responsible, effective government has three basic parts. One is the front end: all the people who report to Steve. Two is the middle: Steve himself. Three is the back end: the people Steve is responsible to.

Apple itself, like all public corporations in the modern system, has a two-level back end: a board of directors, elected (in theory) by a body of shareholders. There is no reason to copy the details of this system. Corporate governance in the US today is nothing to write home about. It is the principles that matter.

Call the back end the controllers. The controllers have one job: deciding whether or not Steve is managing responsibly. If not, they need to fire Steve and hire a new Steve. (Marc Andreesen, perhaps.)

This design requires a substantial number of reasonably cogent controllers, whose collective opinion is likely to be trustworthy, and who share a single concept of responsibility.

What happens if the controllers disagree on what "responsible" government means? We are back to politics. Factions and interest groups form. Each has a different idea of how Steve should run California. A coalition of a majority can organize and threaten him: do this, do that, or it's out with Steve and in with Marc. Logrolling allows the coalition to micromanage: more funding for the threatened Mojave alligator mouse! And so on. That classic failure mode, parliamentary government, reappears.

Call a controller model with a single shared concept of responsibility coherent. How, with an impossibly fuzzy word like "responsibility," can we round up a large number of intelligent individuals who share a common definition? The task seems impossible. And our whole design relies on this coherent back-end.

Actually, there's one way to do it. We can define responsibility in financial terms. If we think of California as a profitable corporation, a capital asset whose purpose is to maximize its production of cash, we have a definition of responsibility which is not only precise and unambiguous, but indeed quantitative.

Moreover, this definition solves a second problem: how do we select the controllers? If our controllers are the parties to whom the profits are actually paid, and their voting power is proportional to the fractions they receive, they have not only a shared definition of responsibility, but an incentive to apply that definition in practice.

We have, of course, reinvented the joint-stock company. There is no need to argue over whether this design works. It does. The relevant question is: in the context of government, does this financial definition of responsibility actually match the goal we started out with?

In other words: will an effectively managed government (remember, we are assuming security and effectiveness), which is responsible only in the sense that it tries to maximize its profits in the infinite term, actually provide the good customer service that is our goal? Will it catch mice for us? Or will it flay us, and hang us out to dry, etc?

As a progressive, you consider undivided government ("dictatorship") the root of all evil. It is impossible to enumerate the full list of reasons behind this belief. It's like asking you why you prefer a romantic candlelight dinner for two at a simple, yet elegant, French restaurant, to being dragged alive behind an 18-wheeler at highway speed until there is nothing on the rope but a flap of bloody skin. When we add the abominable and astonishing suggestion that said government should actually turn a profit, we reach maximum horror. But if we are not willing to question even our deepest beliefs, our minds are hardly open.

First, it helps to remember that profitability is hardly antithetical to good customer service. Again, try the restaurant analogy. If all restaurants were nonprofits, do you think we would have better food, or worse? How does a nonprofit restaurant differ from Calmeat, which has no institutional incentive to keep its diners coming back? Perhaps if the restaurant is a small cooperative run by people who really love food, it will continue to shine. California is not a small anything, and my own interactions with its employees have revealed no such passion.

Second, I suspect that your deepest fear about undivided government is that it will in some way prove sadistic. It will torment and abuse its residents for no reason at all. Perhaps, for example, Steve will decide to massacre the Jews. Why not? It's been done before!

Think about this for a minute. Steve is responsible to his controllers, who evaluate his performance based on his stewardship of one asset: California. The value of California is the sum of the value of its shares. If one goes up or down, so does the other.

Which is worth more? California, or California infested by Jew-eating crocodiles? Which can be made to produce more revenue? The former, clearly. Jews pay taxes. Crocodile dung doesn't. And from the perspective of either Steve or the Jews, what is the difference between crocodiles and stormtroopers? At least the former will work for free.

Perhaps this is skipping ahead slightly, but one way to understand why Stevifornia will not be sadistic and aggressive is to explain why the Third Reich and the Soviet Union were. Sadism was not profitable for Hitler or Stalin - not that they cared, all that much. But they cared a little. Money meant power, and Hitler and Stalin certainly cared for power.

The sadistic side of these states is best understood as part of their security model. Hitler and Stalin were not gods. They could not shoot lightning bolts or resist bullets. They rose to and stayed in power by ruthless intimidation, up to and certainly including murder. Stalin didn't kill all those Old Bolsheviks because they had bad breath or had made passes at his wife. In the 20th century's "totalitarian" states, murder foreign and domestic was an essential strut in the Leader's security design. We will not be reproducing this element. But I digress.

Third, as a progressive, you think of government as a charitable institution. You think of its purpose as doing good works. And indeed, today's governments do many good works. They also do many things that are not good works but purport to be, but that is beside the point. Let's assume that all its good works are good indeed.

Clearly, good works are not compatible with turning a profit. It is easy to see how California improves its bottom line by refraining from the massacre of Jews. It is hard to see how it improves its bottom line by feeding the poor, healing the lame, and teaching the blind to see. And indeed, it doesn't.

So we can separate California's expenses into two classes: those essential or profitable for California as a business; and those that are unnecessary and wasteful, such as feeding the poor, etc, etc. Let them starve! Who likes poor people, anyway? And as for the blind, bumping into lampposts will help them build character. Everyone needs character.

I am not Steve Jobs (I would be very ill-suited to the management of California), and I have not done the math. But my suspicion is that eliminating these pointless expenses alone - without any other management improvements - would turn California, now drowning in the red, into a hellacious, gold-spewing cash machine. We're talking dividends up the wazoo. Stevifornia will make Gazprom look like a pump-n-dump penny stock.

And suddenly, a solution suggests itself.

What we've done, with our separation of expenses, is to divide California's spending into two classes: essential and discretionary. There is another name for a discretionary payment: a dividend. By spending money to heal the lame, California is in effect paying its profits to the lame. It is just doing it in a very fiscally funky manner.

Thus, we can think of California's spending on good works as profits which are disbursed to an entity responsible for good works. Call it Calgood. If, instead of spending $30 billion per year on good works, California shifts all its good works and good-workers to Calgood, issues Calgood shares that pay dividends of $30 billion per year, and says goodbye, we have the best of both worlds. California is now a lean, mean, cash-printing machine, and the blind can see, the lame can walk, etc, etc.

Furthermore, Calgood's shares are, like any shares, negotiable. They are just financial instruments. If Calgood's investment managers decide it makes financial sense to sell California and buy Google or Gazprom or GE, they can go right ahead.

So without harming the poor, the lame, or the blind at all, we have completely separated California from its charitable activities. The whole idea of government as a doer of good works is thoroughly phony. Charity is good and government is necessary, but there is no essential connection between them.

Of course, in real life, the idea of Calgood is slightly creepy. You'd probably want a few hundred special-purpose charities, which would be much more nimble than big, lumbering Calgood. Of course they would be much, much more nimble than California. Which is kind of the point.

We could go even farther than this. We could issue these charitable shares not to organizations that produce services, but to the actual individuals who consume these services. Why buy canes for the blind? Give the blind money. They can buy their own freakin' canes. If there is anyone who would rather have $100 worth of free services than $100, he's a retard.

Some people are, of course, retards. Excuse me. They suffer from mental disabilities. And one of the many, many things that California, State of Love, does, is to hover over them with its soft, downy wings. Needless to say, Stevifornia will not have soft, downy wings. It will be hard and shiny, with a lot of brushed aluminum. So what will it do with its retards?

My suspicion is that Stevifornia will do something like this. It will classify all humans on its land surface into three categories: guests, residents, and dependents. Guests are just visiting, and will be sent home if they cause any trouble. Residents are ordinary, grownup people who live in California, pay taxes, are responsible for their own behavior, etc. And dependents are persons large or small, young or old, who are not responsible but need to be cared for anyway.

The basic principle of dependency is that a dependent is a ward. He or she surrenders his or her personal independence to some guardian authority. The guardian holds imperium over the dependent, ie, controls the dependent's behavior. In turn the guardian is responsible for the care and feeding of the dependent, and is liable for any torts the dependent commits. As you can see, this design is not my invention.

At present, a large number of Californians are wards of the state itself. Some of them are incompetent, some are dangerous, some are both. Under the same principle as Calgood, these dependents can be spun off into external organizations, along with revenue streams that cover their costs.

Criminals are a special case of dependent. Most criminals are mentally competent, but no more an asset to California than Jew-eating crocodiles. A sensible way to house criminals is to attach them as wards to their revenue streams, but let the criminal himself choose a guardian and switch if he is dissatisfied. I suspect that most criminals would prefer a very different kind of facility than those in which they are housed at present. I also suspect that there are much more efficient ways to make criminal labor pay its own keep.

And I suspect that in Stevifornia, there would be very little crime. In fact, if I were Steve - which of course I'm not - I might well shoot for the goal of providing free crime insurance to my residents. Imagine if you could live in a city where crime was so rare that the government could guarantee restitution for all victims. Imagine what real estate would cost in this city. Imagine how much money its owners would make. Then imagine that Calgood has a third of the shares. It won't just heal the lame, it will give them bionic wings. But I digress.

So we move on to our third essential: security. (Note that this is Arnold Kling's objection to the above design, which I've given the cute name of neocameralism.)

Security is the art of ensuring that your decision process cannot be compromised by any force, domestic or foreign. Steve, for instance, is entirely indifferent to the opinions of Stevifornians, except inasmuch as those opinions affect his quarterly numbers. This is the ideal "type 3" state: you think what you want, and Steve does what he wants. The government neither controls public opinion, nor is controlled by it.

If nothing quite like a neocameralist government has ever existed in history, the reason is not hard to figure out. How do you secure an intricate decision mechanism like the above? What happens if the controllers decide to fire Steve, and Steve doesn't want to go? How does Steve remain in power if a million Stevifornians storm the presidential palace, and the guards side with the crowd and turn their guns around?

Fortunately, we do not have to design a solution that will protect Charles X (no relation to Malcolm) from the machinations of the treacherous Marmont. The neocameralist state never existed before the 21st century. It never could have existed. The technology wasn't there.

Secure neocameralism depends on a cryptographic decision and command chain (CDCC). Once the world has cryptographically secure government, it will wonder how it ever lived without it.

In the world of today, the security of all governments is dependent on mere personal loyalty. The US Army could take over Washington tomorrow, if it wanted to. It certainly cannot be compelled to obey the President, the Supreme Court, the Congress, or anyone else. It so happens that the US military has a strong tradition of loyalty - a tradition that was tested, for example, in the case of the Bonus Army. Would today's Army fire on an American mob? Especially a mob that shared its political orientation? Hopefully we will not find out.

The only reason that we accept this appalling and dangerous state of affairs is that we don't know there's an alternative. But there is, actually - in the form of permissive action links. This is an old Cold War design that implements the command side of a CDCC, for nuclear weapons only. (The control codes are in the President's pocket.)

In a full CDCC government, the sovereign decision and command chain is secured from end to end by military-grade cryptography. All government weapons - not just nukes, but everything right down to small arms - are inoperable without code authorization. In any civil conflict, loyal units will find that their weapons work. Disloyal units will have to improvise. The result is predictable, as results should be.

Cryptographic command of the military has a critical effect on political dynamics: it makes public opinion irrelevant. Today, even the most militaristic of military despotisms has to invest considerable effort in persuading, cajoling or compelling the public to support it, because the army is inevitably drawn from that public. Witness Marmont, who decided his chances were better with Orleans than Artois.

This is the final blow in the elimination of politics. Men enter politics because they have a lust for power. Good men as well as bad men lust for power, and sometimes it does happen that good men lust for power, seize it, and use it to do good things. But it is more the exception than the rule. And the lust for power is an eminently practical one - if no power is available, no one will bother to scheme for it.

Take Apple, for example. Mac users, such as myself, are tied to its vagaries. For example, the battery for the MacBook Pro is shite. It's disposable. I believe it may actually be made of toilet paper, chewing gum, and old paper clips. I go through two a year, and I hardly use them.

How do I cope with this appalling injustice? I deal. Why do I deal? Because even if I went on to the right forums and whipped up a screaming mob and persuaded them to march around and around and around 1 Infinite Loop, chanting slogans and burning old batteries, I know that it would have absolutely no impact on Steve's handling of the problem. (Which I suppose he doesn't think is a problem at all.) In fact, it would probably make him more stubborn.

There is simply no way for anyone outside Apple to influence Apple's decision process by the use of force. Apple is not sovereign. It does not have a white-robed black-belt army. It relies on the security forces of Uncle Sam, or at least Cupertino. But the problem is solved, anyway. And I consider this a good thing.

Cryptography applies to the back end as well: the decision side. If the controllers vote to refuse to renew Steve's key, and anoint Marc instead, Steve will no longer have command of the army. He won't even have command of his office door. He will have to call security to let him out of the building. (If you doubt that this is technically feasible, it is.)

Once we realize that 21st-century technology is needed to implement the neocameralist design, we understand why good old cameralism, Frederick the Great style, was the best that previous centuries could do. What Whigs call absolute monarchy (and non-Whigs just call monarchy) collapsed the controllers and the administrator into a single royal person, solving the decision problem quite neatly - and introducing a nasty biological variable into the responsibility mix. And on the command side it relied on loyalty, which was not always there.

Was royalism a perfect system? It was not. But if we imagine a world in which the revolutions and civil wars of the last four centuries had never happened, it is hard not to imagine that world as happier, wealthier, freer, more civilized, and more pleasant. At least if you're an unregenerate Jacobite like me.

Continue to part 7...