Thursday, February 19, 2009 63 Comments

A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations (part 6)

So at least we have a theory of the Modern Structure. But a theory is not a picture. History is a story, not a pile of facts. If history is a necklace, theory is the string. Now, some beads.

Let's remind ourselves again what we mean by the Modern Structure. We mean the structure of actual political power - ie, influence over official action - that exists today in the OECD countries, and is obviously of Anglo-American origin. Regardless of nominal boundaries, it appears to coordinate policy not just in the United States, but throughout the Western world.

This design is called by in the modern English language democracy, although the Modern Structure is only one of many possible power structures that can evolve out of an attempt to achieve that impossibly-unstable fantasy state of homogeneous power distribution. But surely it is fair to say that if we oppose the Modern Structure, we oppose democracy. So the latter is two things; we oppose them both.

You are surely familiar with the democratic history of American democracy. Note that - as expected - it is a story of thrilling victories, sinister villains, and dashing heroes. Frankly, this fungal mass has spent far too long in your left parietal lobe. Today, it meets our diesel-powered Water Pik. Taste the pain, hyphae! You sleep tonight in a jar.

To enter the skull, we'll use the same methods we used on the American Rebellion: a minimal number of open primary sources, of the utmost crispness and flavor. (This poses some problems after 1922, when copyright kicks in, but we'll try to manage.)

But the American Rebellion (which belongs more to British than American history) is not quite part of the story of the Modern Structure. While the Structure's ideological roots are older than Jesus, its organizational roots go back a mere century and a half. So this is all we must explain.

So: we are Martians. We know nothing. But somehow, still, we speak English. And our time-traveling spaceship has landed in New York in 1859. Where are we? What is this place, anyway?

Our first step in understanding the America of 1859 is to observe it. However, we are not actually Martians and we have no actual time machine, so we cannot observe it directly. Therefore we must rely on history.

Obviously, a large quantity of work, scholarly and nonscholarly, on the period has been and continues to be produced. If you have read the entire series to this point and you are not aware that 21st-century democratic history is an extremely unreliable guide to the America of the 1850s, I commend you for your obtusity. You might want to try a different blog, such as Instapundit. It is certainly a challenge to excise your so-called knowledge of the period completely, but it does no harm to at least try to take the challenge.

In the absence of a time machine, I prefer to rely on a single reliable report from a single alien. Or foreigner, at least. I see no reason to start with an American description of America. Let us be introduced by a stranger, and a decent, trustworthy stranger at that. In reading history, we must decide whom to trust; let us start by making this decision easy. I have just the man: Charles Mackay.

Sometimes I like to rate sources on a scale of 1 to 4. 1 is pure propaganda, the devil's work on earth, to be read only with heavy welding gloves. 2 is the usual human state of gullible sincerity. 3 denotes generally strong perception with occasional systematic flaws. 4 is a good source. Thomas Hutchinson, for example, is a 4.

Mackay is best known for his Extraordinary Popular Delusions, still quite popular on Wall Street. His American letters were written almost twenty years later. They are written in a whimsical voice quite suited to a large Victorian audience, but this is easy to get past. Mackay is, in short, a 4, and I commend to you his Life and Liberty in America (vol. 1, vol. 2).

I'm afraid Life and Liberty is mandatory reading, but it reads extremely fast (and the Canadian material, of course, can be omitted). Mackay simply tells you what he saw and what he thought of it. His ideas are typical of a moderate English liberal at the time, which of course makes him wonderfully reactionary for now. I can't imagine a better host.

My first response to Mackay's travelogue is that the America he is writing about is, um, actually, alive. There is no sign of any tetrodotoxin. There are no zombie banks, zombie theaters, or even zombie politicians. If you absolutely have no time for anything beyond a sample, read Mackay's chapter 3 - Broadway By Night.

What would you pay for a ticket to Broadway, 1859? Just to spend a night there? Imagine Mackay traveling to the New York of 2009. How is our Broadway by night? Not bad at all - by the standards of 2009. (And pretty damned good by the standards of 1979.)

I suspect he'd think Manhattan had been subjected to some kind of awful experiment in mass psychiatric medication. Everything has become grim, gray and slovenly. Not to mention that "life and property" are no longer anywhere near what Mackay would consider "very safe." (Being a Londoner of the Victorian era, by "very safe" he means "completely safe" - the presence of a human predator on the streets being slightly more likely than that of an escaped leopard.)

And this is Broadway, then and now. Now, consider his description of St. Louis. What would Charles Mackay make of St. Louis today? What do you make of St. Louis today? (Or Detroit? Consider what this news crew found... in what was once America's fourth largest city.) And then there's Mackay's New Orleans...

But there is another difference between 1859 and 2009: modern technology. We have it. They didn't. So: imagine Mackay's America, plus iPhones and satellites and nuclear power. Now you see the true measure of the gap. It's a little like comparing America, 2009, to Belarus, 2009.

Mackay leaves us with two mysteries, to be answered below.

First, our story is a mystery, because it is the story of a crime. A century and a half of democracy has wreaked unbelievable devastation on a place and people once considered by far the most promising on earth. No mere ecological pollution could possibly compare. USG has left America a shattered wreck.

Her industries are gutted and vanished. Her finances are ruined beyond imagining. Her old cities, but for a few, are dirty, dangerous, unlivable. Millions of feral, armed savages, perfectly decivilized, run wild in her streets. Her famous social fabric is shredded, her famous voluntary institutions defunct, her population bored, lonely, atomized. Her small towns have rotted, turned into strip-malls, or both. (Her birds, however, are remarkably well-protected.)

Granted, the rest of the world is even worse. (This is not a coincidence.) Granted, many of her suburbs are bland but livable. Granted, pockets of some cities have been partly restored. True, things seemed to improve after the '70s. But when we ponder this graph, we realize that even even this may be a forgery - a late, illusory bloom, like that of Czechoslovakia and Hungary in the '80s.

The entire recovery from the '70s was built on a tripling of private debt. The analogy to the Warsaw Pact is by no means misleading - as we'll see. Perhaps the best way to put it is simply to say that the United States has never quite recovered from the Great Depression.

Note that there was a Great Depression before the Great Depression. Lord only knows what this one will be called. The system is economically capable of reflating and restarting credit expansion. But it does not appear to be politically capable of any such drastic action, nor would its subsequent stability be clear if it was.

And yet: this is not the Soviet Union. There is no Party. The free and open nature of the system is unambiguous. Power, for perhaps the first time in history, is fully decentralized. And even though the Modern Structure cannot survive the concerted disapproval of half its subjects, they show little sign of even understanding what it is, let alone the effort required to remove it. If this is not a mystery, what is?

And we take another mystery from Mackay - a strange word, easily passed over as a mere quirk. It is not. Indeed it may be the key to American history.

Suppose you were referring to a German. Any German. Or Germany as a whole, or in her military capacity. Might you be tempted, in this situation, to use the metonym Fritz? Suppose that across the street was a Russian, Russia, the Red Army, etc, etc. Might you say Ivan?

You will notice that such metonyms do not exist for all nations. There is no equivalent for Britain or the United States, for example - the national characters of John Bull and Uncle Sam are well known, but no one thinks of calling a random Briton John or a random American Sam, as with Fritz and Ivan.

But actually - this isn't true. There is a national metonym for the US. Or rather, was.

The name is Jonathan - which you will see all over Mackay. And it works just like Fritz and Ivan. For example, in Wanderings in West Africa (vol. I, vol. II), Burton writes:
No one seems to visit Lagos for the first time without planning a breakwater. About three years ago an American company proposed to make floating breakwaters, upon the condition of receiving the harbour dues for twenty years; Jonathan, however, was refused.
Jonathan is the American company. Weird, huh?

But there is nothing strange about having a national metonym. What is strange is that the dog would not bark in the night - that a national metonym could just disappear.

How and why would such a linguistic change occur? What would it take, for example, for us to forget that Germans are called Fritz? And this is the English word for an English-speaking people, and not a minor one. How could it just disappear?

For an exhaustive investigation of the Jonathan phenomenon, see this historian. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that even Wikipedia has a page for Brother Jonathan - though not a very informative one.

The answer is that Brother Jonathan is a derogatory caricature of America and Americans. Brother Jonathan has two basic tendencies. One, he is completely uncultured - a participle best translated from the Russian nyekulturny. Two, he has a nasty reputation for hypocrisy, religious cant, and general pharisaism, as well as a talent for creative legal interpretation.

Writers who say Jonathan, as one might expect, are generally of the British persuasion. They are generally not fans of the great American experiment. Which explains why their names, their work, and their idioms are not generally known to you.

But this can only be part of the answer. There have been America-haters as long as there has been an America. Half Columbus's crew took one look at the place and decided it was barely fit for dogs. And there are still America-haters - more than ever, indeed.

And these America-haters do not say "Jonathan." So when did they stop, and why? Let us hold this second mystery in our teeth, like a dog with a spare bone, and introduce our second witness: Charles Francis Adams, Jr.

Adams, as UR readers may know, is my favorite American historian. I don't always agree with his opinions, but my confidence in his sincerity, diligence and perception is absolute. With his lineage he had nothing to prove, and he (like his more famous brother Henry) was socially connected to all the major political and literary figures of the day. Chuck, in short, is a 4.

We introduce Adams as a historian of American ideas. Our story, after all, is the story of USG and how it makes the decisions it makes. This is a story of ideas and institutions, orbiting each other like a binary star: institutions follow ideas, and ideas follow institutions. And institutions, of course, fight wars. The winners survive, with their cloud of ideas. The losers - don't.

While it is by no means unique, the roots of the Modern Structure can be observed admirably in a single Adams essay. The piece, An Undeveloped Function, is his 1901 address as president of the American Historical Association. An Undeveloped Function is a history of American political ideas from 1856 to 1901. I regard it as completely trustworthy.

The whole thing is fascinating, but the money quote, perhaps, is in the middle:
Twelve presidential canvasses, and six great national debates have thus been passed in rapid review. It is as if, in the earlier history of the country we had run the gamut from Washington to Van Buren. Taken as a whole, viewed in gross and perspective, the retrospect leaves much to be desired. That the debates held in Ireland and France during the same time have been on a distinctly lower level, I at once concede. Those held in Great Britain and Germany have not been on a higher. Yet ours have at best been only relatively educational; as a rule extremely partizan, they have been personal, often scurrilous, and intentionally deceptive. One fact is, however, salient. With the exception of the first, that of 1856–1860, not one of the debates reviewed has left an utterance which, were it to die from human memory, would by posterity be accounted a loss. This, I am aware, is a sweeping allegation; in itself almost an indictment. Yet with some confidence I challenge a denial. Those here are not as a rule in their first youth, and they have all of them been more or less students of history. Let each pass in rapid mental review the presidential canvasses in which he has in any degree participated, and endeavor to recall a single utterance which has stood the test of time as marking a distinct addition to mankind's intellectual belongings, the classics of the race. It has been at best a babel of the commonplace. I do not believe one utterance can be named, for which a life of ten years will be predicted. Such a record undeniably admits of improvement. Two questions then naturally suggest themselves: To what has this shortcoming been due? Wherein lies the remedy for it?

The shortcoming, I submit, is in greatest part due to the fact that the work of discussion has been left almost wholly to the journalist and the politician, the professional journalist and the professional politician; and, in the case of both there has in this country during the last forty years, been, so far as grasp of principle is concerned, a marked tendency to deterioration. Nor, I fancy, is the cause of this far to seek. It is found in the growth, increased complexity and irresistible power of organization as opposed to individuality, in the parlance of the day it is the all-potency of the machine over the man, equally noticeable whether by that word "machine" we refer to the political organization or to the newspaper.

The source of trouble being located in the tendency to excessive organization, it would seem natural that the counteracting agency should be looked for in an exactly opposite direction—that is, in the increased efficacy of individualism. Of this, I submit, it is not necessary to go far in search of indications. Take, for instance, the examples already referred to, of Mr. Schurz and President White, in the canvass of 1896, and suppose for a moment efforts such as theirs then were made more effective as resulting from the organized action of an association like this. Our platform at once becomes a rostrum, and a rostrum from which a speaker of reputation and character is insured a wide hearing. His audience too is there to listen, and repeat. From such a rostrum, the observer, the professor, the student, be it of economy, of history, or of philosophy, might readily be brought into immediate contact with the issues of the day. So bringing him is but a step. He would appear, also, in his proper character and place, the scholar having his say in politics; but always as a scholar, not as an office-holder or an aspirant for office. His appeal would be to intelligence and judgment, not to passion or self-interest, or even to patriotism. Congress has all along been but a clumsy recording machine of conclusions worked out in the laboratory and machine-shop; and yet the idea is still deeply seated in the minds of men otherwise intelligent that, to effect political results, it is necessary to hold office, or at least to be a politician and to be heard from the hustings. Is not the exact reverse more truly the case? The situation may not be, indeed it certainly is not, as it should be; it may be, I hold that it is, unfortunate that the scholar and investigator are finding themselves more and more excluded from public life by the professional with an aptitude for the machine, but the result is none the less patent. On all the issues of real moment,—issues affecting anything more than a division of the spoils or the concession of some privilege of exaction from the community, it is the student, the man of affairs and the scientist who to-day, in last resort, closes debate and shapes public policy. His is the last word. How to organize and develop his means of influence is the question.
If the Modern Structure had a manifesto, this might be it.

No, I have not suddenly become a fan of the Structure. My goal is to explain how this awful, goat-horned beast came into existence. My answer: it was invented by some of the best people in the world, for some of the best reasons in the world. To me, this fact only highlights the absolute, bone-chilling horror of the situation.

Charles Francis Adams, Jr. was what they used to call a Mugwump. It is indeed to the Mugwumps that we owe the Modern Structure. Their experience is highly instructive.

Notice the theme of An Undeveloped Function, which is that democracy doesn't work. Bryan Caplan avant la lettre, you might say. Adams reveals that the political debates of the late 19th century, which are of course a miracle of perspicacious compared to hope 'n change, do not take place on an intellectually meaningful level.

We need to bear in mind the formative experiences of Adams, Schurz, and the other Mugwumps. They were members of a genuine aristocracy of the mind - one described with gentle ridicule by Mackay:
Boston is the great metropolis of lecturers, Unitarian preachers, and poets. Perhaps for poets, it would be better to say rhymers or versifiers; and I make the correction accordingly. The finest churches in the city—with the tallest and handsomest spires, and the most imposing fronts and porticos, belong to the Unitarians. Lecturers have been so richly endowed by the Lowell bequest, that the Bostonians, over-belectured, often experience a feeling of nausea at the very suggestion of a lecture, or worse still, of a series of them; and as for poets and poetesses, or, as I should say, rhymers and versifiers, both male and female, their name is "legion upon legion." In walking along Washington Street, and meeting a gentlemanly-looking person with a decent coat and a clean shirt, the traveller may safely put him down as either a lecturer, a Unitarian minister, or a poet; possibly the man may be, Cerberus-like, all three at once.
It's essential to remember that in the 19th century, America was not the intellectual center of the world. That center was London. A Schurz and an Adams could be on the same page, though one was a Rhinelander and the other a Bostonian, because both were fully au courant with the latest brand of intellectual enlightenment as fermented in London. Ie, the liberalism of 1848 - whose intimacy with low-church Protestantism is no secret to the UR reader. Thus their fervor exhibits a kind of provincial excess, a fanaticism above and beyond the call of duty - a quality with which the modern American is unfamiliar. The rest of the world has no such luck.

To the enlightened Northerner, the antebellum United States presented a distressing spectacle. Washington, paralyzed by the struggle between North and South, was by postwar standards miniscule and stultified. This produced intense intestinal discomfort in the lecturers, Unitarian ministers and poets, who were quite conscious that (a) America, in theory, was supposed to be the bleeding-edge of human liberty and progress; (b) America, in practice, was the home of slavery and an isolated backwater.

The war, whose coming both Adams and Schurz were quite enthusiastic about, was supposed to change this. (At least if the North won.) Rather than being sequestered in the stiff and idle hands of Southern aristocrats and their traitorous Northern allies, the full energy of Washington would pass to said lecturers, Unitarian ministers, and poets.

It did not work out that way. The North won and Washington burgeoned, but the expanded, empowered Washington became not the domain of poets, but that of machine politicians, bloviating demagogues, and corrupt interests - in a phrase, the Gilded Age. (Mark Twain had an even better phrase: the Great Barbecue.)

Bear in mind: from the perspective of 2009, the period between Reconstruction and the Progressive Era looks like one of the best periods of government in American history. For example, it is responsible for much of the best American architecture - always a telling issue. It was also the age in which American industrial supremacy, since destroyed by its 20th-century successors, was born. Not at all perfect, but hardly all bad.

Government by competing corrupt interests - the present system in many countries today, including Russia and China - is not at all without its virtues. While the corrupt interests, by definition, conflict with the interests of the whole, at least they are all basically in the business of making money. This keeps their heads on a certain plane of reality, and precludes any incentive for wanton, rampant destruction.

But it's also pretty easy to see why the Great Barbeque did not please the likes of a Charles Francis Adams, Jr. He was a true American aristocrat, and so were his fellow Mugwumps. While I do not always agree with the Mugwumps, I seldom feel the need for a shower after reading their books. This is not always so for their successors.
As I have also, more than once already, observed, this Association is largely made up of those occupying the chairs of instruction in our seminaries of the higher education. From their lecture rooms the discussion of current political issues is of necessity excluded. There it is manifestly out of place. Others here are scholars for whom no place exists on the political platform. Still others are historical investigators and writers, interested only incidentally in political discussion. Finally some are merely public-spirited citizens, on whom the oratory of the stump palls. They crave discussion of another order. They are the men whose faces are seen only at those gatherings which some one eminent for thought or in character is invited to address. To all such, the suggestion I now make cannot but be grateful. It is that, in future, this Association, as such, shall so arrange its meetings that one at least shall be held in the month of July preceding each presidential election. The issues of that election will then have been presented, and the opposing candidates named. It should be understood that the meeting is held for the purpose of discussing those issues from the historical point of view, and in their historical connection. Absolute freedom of debate should be insisted on, and the participation of those best qualified to deal with the particular class of problems under discussion, should be solicited. Such authorities, speaking from so lofty a rostrum to a select audience of appreciative men and women could, I confidently submit, hardly fail to elevate the standard of discussion, bringing the calm lessons of history to bear on the angry wrangles and distorted presentations of those whose chief, if not only, aim is a mere party supremacy.
Well, that worked. We certainly can't say the "scholar or investigator" is "excluded from public life." No worries on that front.

What Adams and the Mugwumps are asking for is no less than the creation of a new power structure, a "lofty rostrum," which is above democracy - which supersedes mere politics, which makes decisions and policies much as Adams and his friends would have - in the light of reason and science, the "calm lessons of history," not the mad psychological battlefield of the torchlight election parade.

The result is our Modern Structure, of course. The dream made real. The Mugwumps won. Yet somehow, all the diseases Adams diagnoses seem worse then ever. What happened?

What happened is that Adams and his friends, as members of an aristocratic intellectual caste, true Platonic guardians, Harvard-bred heirs to the American dream, had been disempowered. Sidelined, in fact, by grubby street politics of a distinctly Hibernian flavor. This could not have been expected to make them happy. It did, however, render them pure - because even if the Carl Schurzes of the world had been inclined to corruption, which they were not, competing with the James G. Blaines of the world in that department was simply out of the question.

So the Mugwumps believed that, by running a pipe from the limpid spring of academia to the dank sewer of American democracy, they could make the latter run clear again. What they might have considered, however, was that there was no valve in their pipe. Aiming to purify the American state, they succeeded only in corrupting the American mind.

When an intellectual community is separated from political power, as the Mugwumps were for a while in the Gilded Age, it finds itself in a strange state of grace. Bad ideas and bad people exist, but good people can recognize good ideas and good people, and a nexus of sense forms. The only way for the bad to get ahead is to copy the good, and vice pays its traditional tribute to virtue. It is at least reasonable to expect sensible ideas to outcompete insane ones in this "marketplace," because good sense is the only significant adaptive quality.

Restore the connection, and the self-serving idea, the meme with its own built-in will to power, develops a strange ability to thrive and spread. Thoughts which, if correct, provide some pretext for empowering the thinker, become remarkably adaptive. Even if they are utterly insane. As the Latin goes: vult decipi, decipiatur. Self-deception does not in any way preclude sincerity.

Ideas are not individuals. They do not organize, have meetings in beer halls, wear identically colored shirts, practise the goose step or chant in the streets. However, to ambitious people the combination of good and altruistic intended effects, with evil and self-serving actual effects, is eternally attractive. We can describe policies exhibiting this stereotype as Machiavellian.

The Modern Structure exhibits a fascinating quality which might be described as distributed Machiavellianism. USG under the Modern Structure enacts large numbers of policies (such as "affirmative action") which are best explained in Machiavellian terms. However, there is no central cabal dictating Machiavellian strategies, and actors in the Structure do not feel they are pursuing evil or experience any pangs of conscience.

Under this pattern, the intended effect of the policy is to inflict some good or other on America, the rest of the world, or both. The actual effect of the policy is to make the problem which requires the policy worse, the apparatus which formulates and applies the policy larger and more important, etc, etc. In other words, the adaptive purpose of the actors is to maximize their own share of sovereignty. The side effects are at least parasitic, and at worst far worse.

Most people's share of sovereignty is zero. However, many aspire to make policy who will never get there, just as many aspire to play in the NBA. Since Machiavellian thinking tends to become the corporate culture of all powerful institutions, and since the ambitious naturally tend to emulate the thinking of the powerful, the natural perspective of the ambitious becomes Machiavellian. In a meritocratic oligarchy, where power is open only to those who succeed in contests of intellectual strength, the natural perspective of the intelligent is Machiavellian.

In other words: Machiavellian ideas are adaptive in a competitive oligarchy, because they allow members of that oligarchy to feel good about themselves while in fact looking out for number one. However, if the same exact people are completely disconnected from power and have no chance of regaining it, these same ideas will dwindle and die out, their intrinsic stupidity soon revealing itself.

Once again, we see the failure to solve the quis custodiet problem. The classic mistake is to pass power to some new institution, already extant but hitherto uncorrupted. It appears worthy of power because it is worthy of power, being uncorrupted. However, it is uncorrupted only because it has not yet held power. Handed power, it becomes corrupt, and the problem repeats.

So it was not the intelligence or education of the Mugwumps that shielded them from the corruption of power, but solely their (temporary) irrelevance. When that irrelevance was reversed, the consequence was a new system of government by deception - the Modern Structure - which is not, unlike the coarse populist mendacity of the Gilded Age, transparent to anyone of any intelligence or education.

The Modern Structure is just as sophisticated as Charles Francis Adams, Jr., and no less slippery, mendacious or corrupt than James G. Blaine. It is subject to all the woes of the system it replaced, but its new system of deception is impenetrable enough to convince even most of the most intelligent that up is actually down. It is, in short, a perfect disaster.

And, to make a long story short: the Mugwumps begat the Progressives. And we live, still, in the Progressive or progressive era - big or small P. Progressivism, big or small P, being the religion of government in our time, the distributed delusion of our atheistic theocracy. The mortar, as it were, in the Modern Structure.

The path from Adams to Obama is relatively straight. Along this path, three big things happen.

One, the influence of elected politicians over the actual process of government decreases. This represents the ongoing triumph of the Modern Structure over its ancestor. Indeed the charge that elected officials have excessive influence over government is a routine form of scandal, despite the obvious and never-explained weirdness of the charge.

At least, when the elected official in question is a Republican. Democratic politicians have no influence at all over government, because they consider their work entirely symbolic - they exist just to keep the Republicans out while the civil servants do their jobs. A vote for the Democrats is a vote for the Structure and against politics. Sadly, this is a perfectly sensible choice.

As late as the 1940s, enormous executive authority was concentrated in the White House. Harry Hopkins, FDR's last Svengali, who was perhaps America's last CEO (and also perhaps a KGB agent), could hire a million men in a month and get projects off the ground in weeks. Try that now, Barack & Co. These guys can't even get a website up. Welcome to Brezhnevland.

The result of the impotence of democratic politicians is voter apathy. Obviously, since the whole thing is a game and the actual policies depend little or not at all on their choice, it is more and more difficult to motivate the faithful. Enlightenment spreads, like a cancer. Bureaucrats sweat.

However, because voters have no actual process by which they change the system, they disconnect from politics rather than pursuing it by other means. No power, no attraction. They are successfully subdued and subjugated, as the Structure desires. Thus this ubiquitous sense of empty, ineffectual resentment - a sensation familiar to all those who remember the Eastern bloc.

Two, institutions become more and more corrupt, grossly misdirecting resources in obviously self-serving ways, and becoming utterly incapable of doing anything like their jobs. This is obviously the inevitable result of unaccountable institutions, of which we now have quite a few. And the Mugwump civil-service state is a synonym for unaccountability.

In particular, when the power loop includes science itself, science itself becomes corrupt. The crown jewel of European civilization is dragged in the gutter for another hundred million in grants, while journalism, our peeking impostor of the scales, averts her open eyes.

Science also expands to cover all areas of government policy, a task for which it is blatantly unfit. There are few controlled experiments in government. Thus, scientistic public policy, from economics ("queen of the social sciences") on down, consists of experiments that would not meet any standard of relevance in a truly scientific field.

Bad science is a device for laundering thoughts of unknown provenance without the conscious complicity of the experimenter. Bad news. That it's the best you can do is not good enough. The good news, however, is that Marcus Aurelius seemed to do a pretty good job of running the Roman Empire without any science whatsoever.

Three, perspectives of blatantly religious origin flourish - notably low-church Protestantism, which as the Christian analogue of anarchism is always ready with an inexhaustible armory of Machiavellian memes for the world of fractured, competing sovereignty. Basically, the Modern Structure is the trisomal spawn of three Juke mothers: 18th-century democracy, Mugwump scientific bureaucracy, and ecumenical mainline Protestantism.

This Time article is my standard justification for the third. If you want more detail, here is what these same people were doing a generation earlier. We see them in freeze frames crawling into USG's skull, like Khan's worm into Chekov's ear, leaving the empty, powerless husk of formerly private religious organizations such as the YMCA - once, believe it or not, a force in the land.

And this is the Modern Structure: the predictable product of a botched surgery on the Republic, a (second) attempt to do away with democracy without actually doing away with democracy. (The first was the Constitution itself.) When will people learn? Not soon, I fear.

This explains the first Mackay mystery. Readers should feel free to try their hands at the second - the mysterious disappearance of Brother Jonathan. Another Adams essay, A National Change of Heart, might assist you in the process. The solution, which may just be obvious, will appear next week - when we will add more beads to our string, and finish the awful tale of the Structure.

63 Comments:

Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

It is found in the growth, increased complexity and irresistible power of organization as opposed to individuality, in the parlance of the day it is the all-potency of the machine over the man, equally noticeable whether by that word "machine" we refer to the political organization or to the newspaper.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Singularity. Too bad we weren't paying attention when it happened.

February 19, 2009 at 5:27 AM  
Anonymous Beran Panasper said...

Suppose you were referring to a German. Any German. Or Germany as a whole, or in her military capacity. Might you be tempted, in this situation, to use the metonym Fritz? Suppose that across the street was a Russian, Russia, the Red Army, etc, etc. Might you say Ivan?

You will notice that such metonyms do not exist for all nations. There is no equivalent for Britain or the United States, for example - the national characters of John Bull and Uncle Sam are well known, but no one thinks of calling a random Briton John or a random American Sam, as with Fritz and Ivan.


There is a British one: Tommy!

With his lineage he had nothing to prove, and he (like his more famous brother Henry) was socially connected to all the major political and literary figures of the day. Chuck, in short, is a 4.

Normally someone "socially connected to all the major political and literary figures of the day" has to be a 1. Do not read this book unless it is in a glove box!

Government by competing corrupt interests - the present system in many countries today, including Russia and China - is not at all without its virtues. While the corrupt interests, by definition, conflict with the interests of the whole, at least they are all basically in the business of making money. This keeps their heads on a certain plane of reality, and precludes any incentive for wanton, rampant destruction.

Well, no. The competing corrupt interests are not in the business of making money, they are in the business of transferring money from the politically unconnected to the politically connected. It's like putting Paulie Cicero in charge of the restaurant - Paulie "makes money" but the restaurant gets run into the ground and is eventually burned down for the insurance. Corrupt interests never add value, they only subtract, and the end result is always destruction. The only issue is how long the parasite can drain the host before killing it.

The Modern Structure exhibits a fascinating quality which might be described as distributed Machiavellianism. USG under the Modern Structure enacts large numbers of policies (such as "affirmative action") which are best explained in Machiavellian terms. However, there is no central cabal dictating Machiavellian strategies, and actors in the Structure do not feel they are pursuing evil or experience any pangs of conscience.

Bah, nobody commonly thought of as "evil" every feels he is pursuing evil or feels pangs of conscience. Hitler, Stalin, Mugabe, Pol Pot, all the real bastards think they are doing what is necessary or what is forced on them or what, in fact, they think is good (e.g. liquidation of Jews or class enemies).

February 19, 2009 at 6:27 AM  
Blogger Alrenous said...

I know I'm supposed to be disgusted that Americans think they have basically no national character, but honestly it just makes me laugh.

Just like educated progressives have no prejudices; they came to all their thoughts by pure reason.

Cuz you know, that's a feasible project.


Mencius' scale is pretty crude. Mine goes over 100, where a newspaper is 2 and Mencius gets around 90. On the other hand I'm not entirely sure what it's measuring.


The resonance amplification of the Machiavellian side of certain ideas is the main driver behind anarchist philosophy. I repeat myself, but; the goal is to achieve security without resorting to these mechanisms.

It would help to quantify the difference. Why does certain organizational mendacity work when individual mendacity is self-defeating? Presumably one feedback is attenuated while another is created, but which ones?

Once quantified, the design of a noncorrupting institution would become trivial.


The result of the impotence of democratic politicians is voter apathy.

And yet they're just as self-deceived. Go ahead, ask one whether they should vote or not. Machiavellian enlightenment, this is.


I wonder what journalists would be capable of if they weren't so assiduously avoiding anything resembling thought.


That Aurelius can do Roman empire without controlled experiments inevitably means we can learn from uncontrolled experiments. Certainly more finicky and ambiguous, but far from impossible.

So the argument goes that your security provider is uniquely positioned to extort from you, because; who exactly are you going to appeal to stop them? (Hence Mencius' characterization of anarchism as 'competing sovereignties.')

Well, all right. Let's try something else. Pure libertarian state; an army prevents invasion to some region, presumably taxes, and is otherwise completely hands-off. A capitalist paradise in the worst sense of the term. Pure wild west scenario. Now, lets see if any other kinds of firms can extort from you absent someone to appeal to.

If so, then obviously I'm wrong. If not, sadly there's more work, because it's not immediate that the delivery of security is equivalent to any other type of delivery, but if Aurelius can run Rome better than chance, then we can figure it out at better than chance.

As usual, I'm not thinking a state the size of the US or Russia. Just maybe a city or two.

February 19, 2009 at 6:42 AM  
Anonymous Bearded Spock said...

Alrenous, you can't have a pure libertarian state. Limited government is impossible because the state uses its rule-making power to alter the rules that limit it's power.

February 19, 2009 at 8:48 AM  
Anonymous Zdeno said...

"However, because voters have no actual process by which they change the system, they disconnect from politics rather than pursuing it by other means"

I disagree. It is true that the USG has devolved a large portion of its power to the civil service bureacracy, PS unions, etc. but voters still have the potential to be powerful. In an earlier post, you made the point that even if elected, Ron Paul wouldn't be able to smash the Leviathan in one night, or even one term. True. But what about 5 consecutive terms of Ron Paul and others like him? Here's a thought experiment: Suppose 60+% of the American electorate read and generally agreed with UR. Would they really be powerless?

I'm not commenting on the feasibility of pushing UR-type thoughts on a plurality of US citizens, but the diagnosis of powerlessness-derived apathy is incorrect. Voters' stupidity is the problem.

Although shortly, we will hit a critical mass of the electorate being composed of civil servants, the criminal underclass and the educrats. Once that happens, the rational self-interest of the 50+% of voters who depend on government handouts for their daily bread will negate any restraints that ever existed on the gradual slide towards collapse.

February 19, 2009 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Alrenous said...

Well, that just becomes part of the experiment, now doesn't it?

If indeed that happens, and I don't see it happening on relevant timescales for only two cities, then I start again with a different experiment, having narrowed down the issues.

February 19, 2009 at 9:52 AM  
Anonymous The Undiscovered Jew said...

USG has left America a shattered wreck.

Her industries are gutted and vanished. Her finances are ruined beyond imagining. Her old cities, but for a few, are dirty, dangerous, unlivable. Millions of feral, armed savages, perfectly decivilized, run wild in her streets. Her famous social fabric is shredded, her famous voluntary institutions defunct, her population bored, lonely, atomized. Her small towns have rotted, turned into strip-malls, or both. (Her birds, however, are remarkably well-protected.)


Mmm, Ok.

But do the social, as opposed to financial, problems you describe originate from the design of the federal governmnent, or does their origin lay in faulty assumptions vis a vis human nature and mankind's cognitive capacities?

The roving bands of minorities are allowed to rove because the government is operating from the assumption of neuro-blank slate/nurturist/equality of outcome dogma.

Since MM likes to meditate on alternative styles of government, let's assume for the sake of conversation the Feds give up on blank slatism principles, but otherwise the same structures of the US government are left in place, ie, separation of powers, the civil service, the whole shmeer.

Suppose we replace blank slatist assumptions with HBD organizing principles. Imagine Charles Murray or Sailer as Secretary of Education.

How much better would life be with HBD incorporated into public policy?

Odds are it would go superbly. There would be no need to change the structure of the USGov much because policy would be formulated under scientific principles with a firm basis in reality rather than the current setup where policy is based on pipedreams that have no basis in scientific reality.

February 19, 2009 at 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Johnny Rebel

Billy Yank

February 19, 2009 at 10:25 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

The typical caricature of Brother Jonathan is indeed familiar from a whole crew of nineteenth-century British writers, most famously Dickens (in "Martin Chuzzlewit") and perhaps most entertainingly by the deliciously-named Fanny Trollope (mother of the novelist Anthony).

While this typically British view of Americans has not altogether disappeared, it is worthwhile to consider why it mostly has. I call as a witness Sir Peregrine Worsthorne:

"For whenever I go to restaurants in London and find myself pleasantly surprised by the civilised consersational level, and by the attractive and stylish clothes being worn at the adjacent tables, those responsible always turn out to be Americans. Likewise, when I go swimming at my expensive Thames-side country club - whose members are mostly drawn from Thames Valley residents - and notice, to my delight, an elegant blonde streched out on her chaise longue reading Kafak, she too is invariably an American. Again, in my experience, the people who speak the best English on the 'Today' programme, and the people who look and sound the most civilised on television and radio programmes generally, are also almost always Americana (occasionally European, but almost never British). It never used to be so. It used to be the Americans who looked and sounded common. No longer. Today they seem and sound to be the only people who deserve an upward glance - an impression confirmed by my visits to America itself. Whereas in Henry James's day, sophisticated Americans came to Britain to experience a superior quality of life in all its aspects, todat it would make more sense for sophisticated Brits in search of the same, to go to America."

["In Defence of Aristocracy" (2004), pp. 166-7]

I am not sure the decay of the American academy is attributable to backflow from the foetid sewer of demotism to the pure reservoir of intellect via the check-valveless plumbing between the two. Today's diseases of the mind originated long before the pipeline was laid.

February 19, 2009 at 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Her industries are gutted and vanished. Her finances are ruined beyond imagining. Her old cities, but for a few, are dirty, dangerous, unlivable. Millions of feral, armed savages, perfectly decivilized, run wild in her streets. Her famous social fabric is shredded, her famous voluntary institutions defunct, her population bored, lonely, atomized. Her small towns have rotted, turned into strip-malls, or both. (Her birds, however, are remarkably well-protected.)

"He has plundered our seas....etc." and about as accurate.

February 19, 2009 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger nazgulnarsil said...

Alrenous asks *I wonder what journalists would be capable of if they weren't so assiduously avoiding anything resembling thought.*

what springs to mind is A Parliament of Whores.

February 19, 2009 at 2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But do the social, as opposed to financial, problems you describe originate from the design of the federal governmnent, or does their origin lay in faulty assumptions vis a vis human nature and mankind's cognitive capacities?"

The problem is that there is no force that steers the Cathedral towards truth. The Cathedral is only steered towards beliefs that lead to more power for the Cathedral.

Over time, this leads to more and more destructive falsehoods being accepted. ZGD (zero group differences) dogma is a perfect example. It has all sorts of effects that benefit the Cathedral but there's one giant one: the discrediting of psychometric examination.

Psychometric exams are banned basically because they disprove ZGD. Psychometric exams could easily substitute for all non-technical bachelor's degrees but they're unpalatable because of the crimestop embedded in all right thinking people.

You can't imagine a world where the Cathedral doesn't veer into dangerous and damaging error. That's the nature of the Cathedral.

-Steve Johnson

February 19, 2009 at 4:56 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

Don't just read between the lines. Write between the lines of this article over at Thiblo.com.

February 20, 2009 at 7:50 AM  
Anonymous The Undiscovered Jew said...

You can't imagine a world where the Cathedral doesn't veer into dangerous and damaging error. That's the nature of the Cathedral.

True, but the Cathedral wasn't originally cooked into the 1787 constitutional cake.

The Cathedral sort of naturally developed on its own and integrated itself into government policy over a period hundreds of years by promoting ideas appealing to politicians.

This is why I don't believe Moldbug is correct to say there is something wrong with separation of powers or the organization of the US government.

The modern woes come from a faulty ZGD belief system that conveniently gives politicians, "intellectuals", media mandarins, civil service liberals, social workers, do gooders, professors and other scum to micromanage human affairs.

It is very hard to justify leftist social engineering if human nature is too a good extent non-malleable. Hence the promotion of Human Neurological Conformity since the progressive era.

And hence the reason the left fears sociobiology/HBD; genetics will prove that to a great extent traditional forms of human social/cultural organization are a reflection of mankind's inbuilt neuro-psychological nature and that leftist attempts to violate this inherent nature are mostly doomed to fail.

Without HNU, the progressives can't intellectually justify their policies, even policies which have little to do with race.

February 20, 2009 at 9:33 AM  
Anonymous Leonard said...

Without HNU, the progressives can't intellectually justify their policies, even policies which have little to do with race.

Counterexample: "climate change". It has nothing at all to do with HNU, but it can justify interventions into the economy as large as anything ever has. Keynesian economics is another such bad idea, although it is at least plausible linked to HNU.

Your error is thinking that bad ideas, in the environment of the Cathedral, cause bad outputs. No, the problem is that the Cathedral is a resonance chamber of sorts, which only amplifies bad ideas. Thus, even if there are no bad ideas to begin with, eventually someone comes up with one, and it's off to the races.

February 20, 2009 at 9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look, the problem with the USG or any "representative democracy" system of government is that it's a myth. It's not possible to have a "democratic republic", what you have is an oligarchy that bamboozles the citizenry into believing they have some political power in order to prevent rebellion. You have concentrated power but distributed responsibility. Distributed responsibility is no responsibility. You can't "split" responsibility because it is a binary state: either you are responsible, or you are not. More than one person can be responsible, but that means you are all, individually, responsible. You can't be "2%" responsible in other words.
Separation of powers into 3 branches means each branch has 33% responsibility for the function of government. Which is meaningless. Election of multiple lawmakers means that we have a couple hundred people "responsible" for "making a law", all of whom were "elected" thus passing on the "responsibility" to thousands more. If a law is untenable whom do you petition to change it? Not the Supreme Court - they can't change the law, they can only interpret it. The answer is nobody. There is no person whom you can point to who has both the responsibility to ensure the law is just, and the power to change it. And THAT is why the system is fucked. Mencius is absolutely right.

A legitimate, law-giving government is one in which the right and responsibility of giving laws are all found at one node. The means of doing so can be distributed - an elected council to advise on the best laws, and a military to enforce them, for example. But the responsibility for decision-making must rest solely with the decision-maker.

-- Dirtyrottenvarmint

PS - In general it's best to follow Mencius' preference of not using ambiguous ideologically-charged words. "Libertarian" is one of those. Some of us are quite certain that a purely "libertarian", and also absolutely powerful government is possible. Others of you have a different definition of what "libertarian" means. We can all be subjectively correct, but since we're not speaking the same language, we're just wasting our time.

February 20, 2009 at 12:11 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

I think, MM's world view should be re-calibrated to better match reality by an actual trip to Belarus.
If you take the extremely favorable geographic locations at the choke-points of international shipping away from Singapore and Dubai, you get Belarus. The arbitrary sovereign cannot hope to attract massive foreign investment (due to geographical constraints), so he doesn't even try. Instread, he focuses on staying popular with whom he can and keeping everyone else in check.

February 20, 2009 at 2:33 PM  
Blogger C. Van Carter said...

"When an intellectual community is separated from political power...(etc.)"

See "From Salon to Guillotine: Augustin Cochin’s Organizing the Revolution" by F. Roger Devlin, page 7 in particular.

February 20, 2009 at 2:38 PM  
Blogger xlbrl said...

Brother Henry had the same sentiments. He wrote to Charles in 1905--
'The lives of our contemporaries fill our bookshelves, and not one of them offers a thought. Since the Civil War, I think we have not produced one figure that will be remembered a life-time. What is more curious, I think the figures have not existed. The men have not been born.'

But this is all wrong. They did not exist because they were not needed.
The intellectual could not bear to be ignored. He would make himself needed.

So, it was the Mugwamps that prepared the way for the Franfurt School. I didn't know.

February 20, 2009 at 8:46 PM  
Anonymous The Undiscovered Jew said...

Counterexample: "climate change". It has nothing at all to do with HNU, but it can justify interventions into the economy as large as anything ever has. Keynesian economics is another such bad idea, although it is at least plausible linked to HNU.

Good point.

We could say, "the Left supports scientific ideas that conviently justify any progressive government manipulation of man, the economy, society, science and the environment; and one of the major scientific justifications for modern leftist social engineering is HNU."

Your error is thinking that bad ideas, in the environment of the Cathedral, cause bad outputs. No, the problem is that the Cathedral is a resonance chamber of sorts, which only amplifies bad ideas. Thus, even if there are no bad ideas to begin with, eventually someone comes up with one, and it's off to the races.

Then one major hope is to use the internet as an alternative/competing resonance chamber.

February 21, 2009 at 9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then one major hope is to use the internet as an alternative/competing resonance chamber.

That is why the Cathedral is going to create a new internet which they can better control.

"A more secure network is one that would almost certainly offer less anonymity and privacy. That is likely to be the great tradeoff for the designers of the next Internet. One idea, for example, would be to require the equivalent of drivers’ licenses to permit someone to connect to a public computer network."

You want to be secure, don't you? You don't mind having a license to use the internet, do you? You're willing to give up anonymity and privacy in order to be secure, aren't you? Of course you are!

February 21, 2009 at 12:11 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

The previous Anonymous said:
That is why the Cathedral is going to create a new internet which they can better control...You want to be secure, don't you? You don't mind having a license to use the internet, do you? You're willing to give up anonymity and privacy in order to be secure, aren't you? Of course you are!
Um, which version of the Internet do you think fits in better with Moldbuggism: the sloppy kind we have now, which permits anonymity and arbitrary forms of group formation, or the new kind in which anonymity and privacy have been eliminated? Freedom of speech and especially of organization are the opposite of virtues in Moldbugistan, which prefers stability and absolute concentration of power. Keep in mind this is the same guy who was on the side of the Chinese Communist Party and against the Tienanmen Square protesters. He's no more a libertarian than he is a liberal. You fanboys ought to have a minimal familiarity with what you are parroting.

February 22, 2009 at 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, which version of the Internet do you think fits in better with Moldbuggism: the sloppy kind we have now, which permits anonymity and arbitrary forms of group formation, or the new kind in which anonymity and privacy have been eliminated?

Well, it depends. Do you mean Moldbuggism in exile or Moldbuggism in power? What the revolutionary wants when he's in Siberia and what he wants when he's in the Kremlin are two different things. When Moldbug is in exile, he wants the first kind of internet, because his ideas will never propagate under the second kind of internet. When Moldbug is in power, he wants the second kind of internet so that order and stability are maintained, and the loathsome remaining tendrils of Cathedral thought cannot sprout into a foul new plant.

February 22, 2009 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Cleanthes said...

Moldbug believes peace is better than war and that security is better than angst.
In a nutshell, Moldbug has never read Kierkegaard and has no contact with or understanding of the existential insight.

February 22, 2009 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger Alrenous said...

Oh please, and your comment is supposed to help, is it?

Did Kirkegaarde just blatantly state that all his opponents were wrong, too?

If not, you're not much of a Kirkegaardeian either.

February 22, 2009 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Cleanthes said...

Mr. Alrenous,
I'm no Kierkegaard - the man wrote thousands of words a day for many years. I succumb to drive-by commenting on internet blogs, but seldom more than once a month.
I agree with you that Moldbug scores as a 90 on a adjusted-for-finite-understanding 100 point scale (not quite your scale supra, but close.) Yes, many an internet troll does not understand the despair inherent in commenting on blogs with which one has either contempt or a vandal's sentiment. All I can say is, I am not such a one. I would not have read this thread did I think it wrong or stupid.
I would prefer to bolster Moldbug's argument in some way and had I supporting argument for Moldbug, I would have posted it. Alas, I can only point to where Moldbug's understanding falls into the 10 percent error that I perceive. Were I criticizing Zeus, I would need to be more cautious, because of the mediation between the finite and the infinite.
Which explains my Kierkegaard reference...
You write, "Did Kirkegaarde just blatantly state that all his opponents were wrong, too?".
Of course not. That, too, would be misunderstanding the mediation between the infinite and the finite. Kierkegaard viciously and blatantly attacked SOME of his opponents, especially toward the end of his life in his magazine The Moment. Earlier in his life, he called an opponent a gob of snot. I like that one. He criticized out of the fear of impending death; of worry for his opponent's immortal souls; and, alas, sometimes from the sickness unto death, namely despair/sin.
Moldbug has serious Hegelian tendencies. It often leads him to flights of historical determinism. Because he also likes to bait Clio with detailed revisionist constructs, I continue to read him. Moldbug understands Culloden as it relates to politics. This is very valuable to me as an internet-addicted putz. But, in a larger sense, Moldbug wants to establish peace and security in a non-messy, finite way. There's no scope for a leap of faith. There's only scope for preliminary degrees of irony. It is in this that Moldbug falls astray.
To restate: war is better than peace; angst is better than security; life is better than death. Biographers overstate Kierkegaard's disdain for Hegel but not for later-day Hegelians. If roof tiles fatally fell on their heads as they went about their important business, then Kierkegaard would laugh at the great cosmic joke.

I feel the need to add something more, something maybe Moldbug himself would appreciate. The world did not really go wrong with the American Revolution. The world went wrong with the publication of Wilfred Owen's poem, Dulce et Decorum Est in 1920 and the world's acceptance of this poem's irony as somehow profound. Horace, the source of Owen's allusion, understood irony much better, as did Socrates, not coincidentally, one of only two major philosophers to have seen combat.
The failure of deeper irony explains the 20th century, the New Deal, Richard Nixon, Monica Lewinsky and much, much more. (it's possible machine gun technology excuses some of this)

Would Flora Macdonald like Moldbug?

February 22, 2009 at 5:45 PM  
Blogger Alrenous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 22, 2009 at 5:52 PM  
Blogger Alrenous said...

Let me try that again.

See? Now I'm actually rather glad I decided to take you on, even though you added exactly nothing to support your original thesis, you added all sorts of context I find extremely necessary.

The world went wrong with the publication of Wilfred Owen's poem, Dulce et Decorum Est in 1920 and the world's acceptance of this poem's irony as somehow profound.

But you're against historical determinism, so no it didn't.

I don't really have anything else to say, though. Enjoy your...angst.

February 22, 2009 at 5:53 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Yeah, trolling is a pretty pathetic activity, which is why I have mostly stopped doing it. But since I poked my nose into this thread, here's something else: Dubai, often touted here as a model of good governance (or something like that), is collapsing along with the fauxconomy that built it:

Short of opening a Radio Shack in an Amish town, Dubai is the world’s worst business idea, and there isn’t even any oil. Imagine proposing to build Vegas in a place where sex and drugs and rock and roll are an anathema. This is effectively the proposition that created Dubai - it was a stupid idea before the crash, and now it is dangerous.

February 22, 2009 at 6:29 PM  
Blogger Alrenous said...

Dubai threatens to become an instant ruin,

As in, call me when it actually does.

Also, try to rule out American interference because they feel threatened by it, since it's rather noisily spreading the idea that not-democracy can work.

Finally, no, actually, it's not. It's an example of a place we could learn from, not an example of a place we should necessarily emulate.

Similarly, Mencius talks glowingly of the Stuarts...but doesn't actually propose pure monarchy.

Dubai is a place for the shallow and fickle.

Um, oh no? Is that seriously the best you can do?

Dubai may indeed become a ruin. A democracy would be moribund by now. However, we won't know if Dubai is lethally wounded until it actually dies.

February 22, 2009 at 6:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Dubai fails, it demonstrates that good government does not always lead to success. Poor government, on the other hand, always leads to failure. The USA will soon be a notable, world-historical example of this.

February 22, 2009 at 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Lawful Neutral said...

Yeah MT, article on Dubai in the NYT instantly made me think of Moldbug.

Debtor's prison? Yeah, that's pure Fnargl. Fines for speech that "damages the country’s reputation or economy"? I thought they weren't supposed to do that for some reason I'm still not sold on.

February 22, 2009 at 10:24 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

As for keys in ignition at Dubai airport, this is a rumor that has been planted around December 2008, but it isn't true. At best, it is urban legend, at worst deliberate information warfare.
That is what my friends in Dubai say.
The local newspaper actually mentioned 11 cars (not 3000) and even that information is highly suspect.

February 23, 2009 at 1:38 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

The quoted source also gets Terminal II and Terminal III wrong, by the way.

February 23, 2009 at 1:38 AM  
Anonymous Lawful Neutral said...

D.A.Nagy:
Information warfare? Now that's interesting! Now that you mention it, the NYT piece did have some pretty slippery wording:

"newspapers have reported that more than 3,000 cars sit abandoned in the parking lot"

Newspapers have reported? Aren't you a reporter Mr. Worth? Aren't you in Dubai?

"the Palm Jumeira [...] is said to be sinking, and when you turn the faucets in the hotels built atop it, only cockroaches come out."

Mr. Nagy, if this is an information warfare campaign, who's responsible and why?

February 23, 2009 at 2:33 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

LN: Look, I don't even know if this is urban legend or information warfare (or anything in between) and you are asking me to explain it to you?
I wish I could. I am only cautioning poeple against taking everything from MSM at face value, especially if you have reasonably inexpensive means to fact-check.

February 23, 2009 at 5:58 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

A piece of advice to armchair pundits:

Dubai, Belarus, Iran, England, Russia and China are located on this same Planet Earth we all live on, and neither of the countries listed above is particularly dangerous for tourists. It is not too difficult to go there and see stuff for yourself instead of relying on hearsay, if you are interested. If you are not interested then don't pretend (and don't kid yourself) that you are and admit (to yourself, first and foremost) that you have no idea what goes on over there and you don't care either. There is nothing wrong with that attitude and a bit of extra honesty is always refreshing. In the XXIst century, a regular reader/watcher of a major news outlet cannot be considered well-informed.

February 23, 2009 at 6:06 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

D Nagy -- OK, there is information warfare going on. By who? And, flawed though the MSM may be, are we really to believe some dude on the Internet who is repeating secondhand stories from anonymous friends, over a signed newspaper article? Seriously. The NYT may be full of shit but the Internet rumor mill is full of shit to the 100th power. Going to Dubai to do our own on-the-ground investigation is not in the cards for most of us, so we have to rely on information channels. Constructing a better channel than the Times is an interesting challenge, still unsolved.

BTW, here is an NPR story (yeah yeah I know, Cathedral etc) that also contains the 11 cars number you cited and attributes it to government sources -- speaking of information warfare, who has the biggest stake in it?

February 23, 2009 at 10:02 AM  
Anonymous PA said...

Mtraven - the bloggers' value with relation to MSM lies in two areas:

1) Exposing buried news, like the pattern of black-on-white crime, for example; their primary news sources are usually local newspapers et al, that aren't read by the wider public.

2) Logic-checking: for example, Sailer's picking apart of Gladwell / Jared Diamond / NYT editorials, etc.

February 23, 2009 at 10:52 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

A few random observations:

MM made quite clear his historical antecedent when he wrote, in one of the previous installments of the current series, that he would have been happy with Elizabeth I, James, or either Charles, or even with Oliver Cromwell. That antecedent is Hobbes, whose views of government were formed by the turmoils leasing up to the English civil war. When the hope he had placed in Charles I came to its ultimate disappointment, he then adhered to Cromwell - the particular individual was not important, only that he should be the sole repository of authority. Of course, MM is not a pure Hobbesian - he is tempered by Austrian economics, and influenced, perhaps a bit too much, by science-fiction.

Absolutism should not be confused with totalitarianism. The absolutist monarchies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were not totalitarian. In fact they allowed personal freedoms to their subjects that modern democracies in many cases do not to their citizens. Whether this was so simply because they lacked the technology that twentieth-century totalitarianism employed to such repressive effect, or whether there is a deeper philosophical distinction to account for the difference, is an interesting question.

Historically, absolute monarchy in Europe was an artifact of the seventeenth century. Mediæval monarchs may have had a theoretically absolute authority, but in practice it was circumscribed here by the church, there by the nobility and gentry, and elsewhere by burghal governments, to which past monarchs had conceded - or had, in fact, sold to them outright - certain juisdictional 'liberties.' Thus a barony included criminal jurisdiction over property crimes (infangthief and outfangthief, pit and gallows), and if it was a lordship of regality, over the 'pleas of the crown' (basically encompassing all felonies except for treason). It included the right of presentation to ecclesiastical livings therein situate (advowsons). Burghs of barony or of regality enjoyed corporately the same jurisdictions as did the corresponding individual tenants-in-chief of the crown.

Lord Dacre (Hugh Trevor-Roper) explored the rise of absolutism in several essays, especially "The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century." He identified its cause as the growing burden of the Renaissance courts, in which an "officer class" (comparable to MM's "Brahmins") had burgeoned. This officer class was unlike the old landed nobility and gentry that derived its station from feudal military service. They were courtiers and what we would now call bureaucrats, who exercised legal and economic authority on behalf of the crown, and whose wealth came either from fees they were able to exact from the public for performing their functions; from economic rents granted by the crown (such as the monopolies on the sale of sweet wines, granted by Elizabeth I to the earl of Essex, or on music-printing and the sale of ruled music paper, granted to her court composers Tallis and Byrd); and from influence-peddling, kick-backs, and other timeless sorts of political corruption.

The costs and burdens of the officer class came to crises that were resolved differently in different countries. In France, Richelieu managed to contain them and simultaneously to suppress the rebellion of the landed gentry (the Fronde) against them. As a result Louis XIV was able, upon coming of age, to embark upon a long career of personal rule that his Stuart cousins Charles II and James II viewed with admiration and not a little envy.

Matters in Britain did not proceed à la mode de France. Laud and Strafford could not contain simultaneously bring under control the officer class and the Puritan party in English ecclesiastical politics. When the latter made common cause with the covenanting party in Scotland, and with a significant faction among the gentry, who were put upon for countless exactions by the officer class, the royalist cause was doomed.

Though the resolutions of common problems differed significantly between Britain and France, one aspect they shared was the marked reduction of the former officer class. Trevor-Roper notes that one indication of this was that Baldassare Castiglione's book 'Il cortegiano" ("The Courtier") went through many editions throughout the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and was translated into many languages including English, but was not thereafter reprinted until it became a subject for academic study in the late nineteenth century. "The Courtier" was in effect a manual for the officer class, and by the mid-seventeenth century, its intended readership had fallen to pieces.

Of course, there was another contemporary manual, written by Niccolò Machiavelli, "Il principe." As MM observes, "... the natural perspective of the ambitious becomes Machiavellian. In a meritocratic oligarchy, where power is open only to those wh succeed in contests of intellectual strength, the natural perspective of the intelligent is Machiavellian."

"Il cortegiano" and "Il principe" are opposite faces of the same glittering medallion - or perhaps better, Castiglione provides the trinket's superficial gilding, and Machiavelli the massive substrate. Long after the pleasing but nonetheless fausse dorure of the former has been rubbed away, the solidity of the latter persists. It is a testimony to the vulgarity of our era that its élite officer class cocks a snook at the polite manners and social polish that might make them even slightly endurable. These things are instead identified as snobbish, un-egalitarian, and peculiar to a former, and now reviled élite class (MM's "optimates"). The President of the United States sees fit to appear at his Inaugural Ball in a strange combination of white tie with an ordinary dinner jacket, the First Lady in an outfit that might not be out of place at a high school prom, and the chattering classes fawn over their elegance - it will be a second Camelot!

I am very far from sure that MM's prescription of joint-stock absolutism is the cure for our present malaise; his diagnosis - if I understand it correctly - seems quite troublingly perceptive. The malaise is a plague from long ago, the growth of a burdensome and unproductive, though very smart and smartly self-serving officer class. The difficulty lies in bringing the infectious parasite under control without killing the patient.

Hobbes lived in an age of heroic treatments, when venesections and clysters ranked high in the physician's armamentarium, and syphilis could only be cured by protracted exhibition of mercurials to the point of ptyalism. Besides, the patient was then in the vigor of youth, and his constitution was not so debilitated as it is today. Even edulcorated with Austrian adjuvants, as Viennese kaffee can be mit schlag, the present doctor's dose may yet prove too bitter, and is likely not to be swallowed.

February 23, 2009 at 2:26 PM  
Anonymous The Undiscovered Jew said...

The absolutist monarchies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were not totalitarian. In fact they allowed personal freedoms to their subjects that modern democracies in many cases do not to their citizens. Whether this was so simply because they lacked the technology that twentieth-century totalitarianism employed to such repressive effect, or whether there is a deeper philosophical distinction to account for the difference, is an interesting question.

I've always viewed the classical Western European monarchies as Upper Class Christian Oligarchies rather than authoritarian in the Oriental or Fascist sense of the word.

February 23, 2009 at 3:03 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Michael S wrote "Historically, absolute monarchy in Europe was an artifact of the seventeenth century".

Sixteenth, actually (absolute monarchies started then with Denmark). He also doesn't mention the part played by the significant costs of Ireland and the New World driven bullion deflation in events in Stuart England.

February 23, 2009 at 5:46 PM  
Anonymous spirit said...

> OK, there is
> information warfare going on. By
> who?

By MSM

> And, flawed though the MSM
> may be, are we really to believe
> some dude on the Internet who is
> repeating secondhand stories
> from anonymous friends, over a
> signed newspaper article?

Who cares if an article is signed?
Does it mean anything?

> Seriously. The NYT may be full
> of shit but the Internet rumor
> mill is full of shit to the
> 100th power.

It doesn't matter. Shit is shit if it is to 1st power or to 100th power. So when you mindlessly cite NYT without checking, you bring shit to Moldbug's fine blog

> Going to Dubai to do our own on-
> the-ground investigation is not
> in the cards for most of us, so
> we have to rely on information
> channels.

That's bogus logic. People who truly interested in something will always find ways to get information, to confirm facts etc. If you don't care, then you cannot claim that your (random) source of information is reliable

> Constructing a better channel
> than the Times is an interesting
> challenge, still unsolved.

It is may unsolved to you, because you don't care. People who care will find people, ask them, cross-check the facts etc. It works the same for almost every area. If a person is really interested in programming, Dubai, bike-racing, Belarus or any other field of interest then the person will find ways to get good information without that newspaper crap

February 23, 2009 at 9:45 PM  
Anonymous spirit said...

Talking about the economic situation in Dubai, I don't see how its economy may go bad in the sense of bankruptcy or something horrible like that. They did a great job developing very cheap and useless piece of desert and creating a modern city with good infrastructure out of it.
The sovereign debt of Dubai is peanuts, also Dubai is backed by Abu-Dhabi.

February 23, 2009 at 9:58 PM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

@michael s: did you learn to read from the 1911 britannica? i may wax sarcastic now and again, but i am seriously in awe of your ability to turn a phrase.

February 24, 2009 at 1:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And hence the reason the left fears sociobiology/HBD; genetics will prove that to a great extent traditional forms of human social/cultural organization are a reflection of mankind's inbuilt neuro-psychological nature and that leftist attempts to violate this inherent nature are mostly doomed to fail."

The sleeping giant of the left is genetic engineering. Mark my word. Leftists ARE generally smart. They will eventually come around to accepting our biological underpinnings and when they do, it'll be tyrannical. It won't be used to bolster humanity. They'll use it to blanket engineer entire parts of humanity "for the good of mankind" and to keep things "equal".

They will engineer breeding, aggression and warfare, greed, competitiveness, hierarchy, 'whiteness'. All things leftists hate. They WILL try eliminate them from humanity (look at how much progressive blogs, feminist blogs, or even the NYT for goddsakes, have a collective orgasm every time some popsci writer pens an article about the end of 'males' and the future of females and genetics. It's like reading a bizarro world wherein there is a new school called "marxist biology").

February 24, 2009 at 2:10 AM  
Anonymous josh said...

Micheal,

That was nice. Do you blog?

February 24, 2009 at 5:22 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

P.M. Lawrence - Absolute monarchy may have started in Denmark in the sixteenth century, or in Russia at about the same time under Ivan the Terrible - who suppressed the boyar class, by which he had been maltreated in his youth, and whom he detested, supplanting it in power with a class of men (the oprichniki) personally loyal to him. This action paralleled the later suppression of the Fronde in France and the undertaking of personal rule by Louis XIV. Be all this as it may, Denmark and Russia were both comparative backwaters amongst the states of central and western Europe. The real growth of absolute monarchy as a prevalent form of government took place in the seventeenth century. As Trevor-Roper pointed out, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Aristotelian ideal of mixed monarchy, under which governmental authority was shared between the monarch and the estates of clergy, noblesse, and burghers, was the norm. By the century's end it was almost entirely extinct.

"The significant costs of Ireland" were incurred by the English crown in order to support its burgeoning officer class. The typical way in which such people were rewarded was not by direct payment but by grants of land or of jurisdictional authority (often tied together) that enabled their recipients to enjoy fees, rents, or 'the profits of justice.'

Resources of this kind available to the sovereign in England or Scotland ran scarce after the secularization of ecclesiastical lands and revenues had been completed. Ireland was a new frontier for such exploitation, both under the Tudors (Elizabeth sent Essex thither, and his subsequent failures were the beginning of his end), and then for ambitious Scots after the succession of James Stuart to the English throne.

You will recall that the title of baronet was invented by James, and baronetcies were sold outright by him, to raise funds for the crown - promising in return either properties in Ireland or in Nova Scotia, both of which were howling wildernesses. The Irish adventure explains why the first of these classes of baronets display a canton of the Red Hand of Ulster on their coat-armour.

I should not describe the consequence of sixteenth-century importation of gold and silver from the New World as a 'bullion deflarion.' Rather it caused an inflation which left the established salaries paid to crown officers, historically modest, almost worthless. The poverty of the church, that great desideratum of reformers, was achieved as its accidental consequence. In the reign of Charles I, the Anglican bishop of Aghadoe enjoyed an emolument of £2, while the bishop of Cloyne had five marks. James I had endowed the Irish church with £76,000, but it all went to rapacious courtiers.

Undiscovered Jew - I agree with you that European absolute monarchies were not like modern totalitarianism or 'oriental despotisms' past or present, but in practice were oligarchies tempered by Christian morality. The distinction between them and the earlier oligarchy of the Renaissance officer class was that the oligarchs were more dependent upon the sovereign's favor and had a greater personal loyalty to him. Their intellectual discipline was also different, substantially because of the Jesuits. as Trevor-Roper writes:

"The secret of the Jesuits lay in their modernity. Like Marxist-Leninists today [1979], they had studied the mechanics of power and understood the arcana imperii. They had captures, and then converted to the use of the court, the most up-to-date ideas, making them noth fashionable and safe. By their teaching, the sceptical reason of Erasmus wasd converted into orthodox casuistry, the uninhibited statecraft of Machiavelli into ideologically justified 'reason of state', and the individual Renaissance courtier of Castiglione was replaced by the sophisticated identikit servant of the Counter-Reformation prince." ["The Culture of the Baroque Courts," in "Europäische Hofkultur im 16 u. 17 Jahrhundert," v. I (1981)]

My only difficulty with your description of "Upper Class Christian Oligarchies" is the slipperiness of the phrase "upper class." Was there ever an oligarchy that was not "upper class"? If an oligarchy does not begin as an upper class it surely becomes one in short order. Wealth soon acquires power, or power wealth; the two do not stay separate for long. The Roman emperor Claudius, frustrated with the vanity and ambition of the senatorial order, created a Roman civil service staffed with freedmen. After a few generations the descendants of these people found their way into the highest reaches of Roman society. Louis XIV forced the old nobility of France to dance attendance on him at Versailles while placing the effective authority of government in the hands of a middle-class civil service directed by Colbert, the son of a merchant family. Yet Colbert looked well after his own fortune, had himself created marquis of Seignelay, and obtained the maritime ministry for his eldest son, while his second son was consecrated archbishop of Rouen and his third son made marquis of Ormoy and superintendant of public buildings.

The new élites, in other words, conformed to the outward standards set by the élites that preceded them. What is distinct about the present officer class - MM's Brahmins - is that it has broken this pattern. Not only does it not adhere to the manners and mores of older élites, it makes a show of repudiating all their works and ways.

Defenders of the Brahminate would no doubt like to claim that it differs in these and other respects because it is a true meritocracy. There is much evidence to the contrary. Membership in previous élites required no less, and possibly more intelligence, worldly wisdom, and application to duty than does membership in today's Brahminate. Mediocre or unpolished heirs to aristocratic titles certainly existed, but they did not succeed as officers of the state, whether in the courts of Renaissance princes or in those of Counter-Reformation absolute monarchs.

The curriculum of a courtier was based on the pattern first laid out by Quintilian in his "Institutio oratoria" for the children of the Roman upper classes, and revived by Renaissance humanism. The Christianity of the age required a much more detailed understanding of theology than most professed Christians have today, while manners and social polish were cultivated as described by Castiglione and many others. Ability to play a suitable musical instrument such as the lute or viol was essential. Finally a gentleman had to possess a modicum of military skills such as fencing and horsemanship. Becoming proficient in all these accomplishments was a demanding business. The ideal of the age was to perform difficult tasks with apparent effortlessness, a capacity for which there was a special word ("sprezzatura"). I doubt that many academics, journalists, or bureaucrats today could meet such standards.

We must seek the reasons for the character of today's élite class elsewhere. Here I think Matthew Arnold's division of the world into two great factions, one of barbarians and the other of philistines, is of some significance.

From the rise of Charlemagne to the end of World War I, the western world was governed by the descendants of barbarians. After all, the European aristocracies trace their origins back to hairy old Merovech, whom one would probably not wish to invite into one's parlour. They represent a barbarianism civilised by wealth, comfort, and the passage of time.

Philistines have throughout history risen against the barbarians or their descendants, but the latter - until 1918 - always managed to prevail, in some cases by co-opting and domesticating the more promising philistines. What we have seen in the twentieth century is the triumph of philistinism.

Evidence abounds - particularly in the arts, architecture, and music. Barbarians love luxury and sensual gratification - as much of it as possible, between battles. The descendants of barbarians were patrons of Leonardo, Correggio, Michelangelo, van Dyck, and Rubens; of Andrea Palladio, Inigo Jones, Louis Levau, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, Sir Christopher Wren and Sir John Vanbrugh; of Byrd, Monteverdi, Stradella, Biber, Purcell, Bach, Haydn, and Mozart.

The first instinct of philistines during their periodic risings has been to try to spoil beautiful things, as the Roundheads did to Jones's banqueting hall, or the Jacobins to Versailles. The Bolsheviks, perhaps conscious of their own aesthetic poverty, spared such treasures of the former régime in Russia as the Mariinsky theatre, but here in the United States the victory of philistinism has been almost total. We need only consider what passes here for high art, music, and public architecture. The quality of what remains from previous ages is noticeably higher than what is generally being produced today.

The principal characteristic of the philistine is iconoclasm. Barbarians, contrary to the usual stereotype, did not destroy the beautiful. They plundered it, because they recognized its value. Philistines, on the other hand, have a zeal to wreck. This is true whether they are primitive Arabs, bent on defacing 'graven images' forbidden by their Koran, Puritans like Sherfield wrecking stained-glass windows or pipe organs, or twenty-first century university professors and museum curators. Such folk are far more dangerous than any barbarians.

February 24, 2009 at 1:35 PM  
Blogger nazgulnarsil said...

do you have a blog Michael S? your perspective is refreshingly broad.

February 24, 2009 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger Cleanthes said...

Michael S writes: "Philistines have throughout history risen against the barbarians or their descendants, but the latter - until 1918 - always managed to prevail, in some cases by co-opting and domesticating the more promising philistines. What we have seen in the twentieth century is the triumph of philistinism."

Is this determined, do you think, in a Hegelian sense?
Or just the random, powerful consequences of strange events? Countries have put their military strength into the hands of a teenage girl... That actually worked out, and stopped the philistine Burgundians.
More recently, philistines won out when Wilfred Owen's poem won acclaim, (see me supra), hehehehe.

February 24, 2009 at 5:41 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Michael S. wrote "Be all this as it may, Denmark and Russia were both comparative backwaters amongst the states of central and western Europe. The real growth of absolute monarchy as a prevalent form of government took place in the seventeenth century. As Trevor-Roper pointed out, at the beginning of the seventeenth century,"

Granted, but it was still a 16th century artefact, in that it was first made in Europe then, first put into practice. You can even find theoretical discussion of it then, in Macchiavelli's comparisons with Turkey.

'"The significant costs of Ireland" were incurred by the English crown in order to support its burgeoning officer class'.

That is incorrect. Those were secondary, following and deriving from an increased commitment to Ireland for other reasons, particularly to secure a strategic flank against being used by Catholic powers and/or providing a sanctuary for local interests that were linked to English struggles and might intervene, as they had in various civil wars up to the War of the Roses. So the main objectives were to secure strongholds and maintain the allegiance of the existing Anglo-Irish.

"I should not describe the consequence of sixteenth-century importation of gold and silver from the New World as a 'bullion deflarion.'"

The thing itself can be called either a bullion driven inflation, or a deflation/depreciation of bullion. While it did cause the effects described to embryonic public servants, the most significant was to another: what the Crown could afford from the wider public, particularly in the way of armed forces.

"If an oligarchy does not begin as an upper class it surely becomes one in short order. Wealth soon acquires power, or power wealth; the two do not stay separate for long... Louis XIV forced the old nobility of France to dance attendance on him at Versailles while placing the effective authority of government in the hands of a middle-class civil service directed by Colbert, the son of a merchant family. Yet Colbert looked well after his own fortune, had himself created marquis of Seignelay, and obtained the maritime ministry for his eldest son, while his second son was consecrated archbishop of Rouen and his third son made marquis of Ormoy and superintendant of public buildings."

To the very end of the Ancien Regime, the older Noblesse de Robe looked down on this newer Noblesse de Plume.

"From the rise of Charlemagne to the end of World War I, the western world was governed by the descendants of barbarians"; true but misleading, because "After all, the European aristocracies trace their origins back to hairy old Merovech..." is false. The oldest noble families of France actually trace their origins back to noble families of the later Roman Empire that accommodated themselves to and intermarried with those barbarians.

February 24, 2009 at 8:16 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

P.M. Lawrence: Machiavelli's references to Turkey are not forethoughts of European absolute monarchy, because that never was the same as oriental despotism. In Turkey all subjects were effectively slaves of the sultan, and much of the administrative class was prevented from rising to the status of an hereditary elite because it was made up of eunuchs. The ascendant sultan customarily had all his (half-) brothers strangled, in order that he should have no rivals. Such aspects differentiated oriental despotism from even the most thorough of the Christian autocracies of early modern times. And that one - we must note - was Russia, which was and is still at best only half-European. For this reason, the Russian embassy to the court of Elizabeth I was regarded as ridiculous by her sophisticated courtiers, and was made sport of by Shakespeare.

Noble genealogies alleged to trace back to Roman times were fabrications of the late middle ages, intended to impart the lustre of antiquity to the families that commissioned them. We find these genealogies first appearing at about the same time the customary law of northwestern Europe, which was of Frankish or other Germanic origin, began to be 'Romanized.' Both phenomena were reflective of the rediscovery of classical Latin texts in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. One of the genealogies from this period that has been widespread since then purports to go back to that L. Calpurnius Piso who was consul in 27 AD (Plin. Ep. III. 7. xij). No modern genealogist of my acquaintance regards it as reliable. Such lineages are best described as 'legendary,' like those purporting to go back to Egyptian pharaohs, Jewish patriarchs, figures from the Trojan war, or the gods of Norse mythology (I have seen a genealogy listing 'Odin of Asgard' as an ancestor!). Annius of Viterbo was responsible for some of these spurious lineages, and was exposed as a forger by Scaliger in the sixteenth century.

On the other hand, just about all the old English nobility can documentably be demonstrated to descend from John of Gaunt or one of Edward III's other sons. These lines go back to Charlemagne and thence to Clovis. Most of the French nobility tie into the Valois and Vermandois lines stemming from Henry I and going back through Hugh Capet to Charlemagne and Clovis. The house of Lorraine (Lothringen) descends from Lothar, a great-grandson of Charlemagne (the legend on which Wagner's opera 'Lohengrin' is based is a very distorted recounting of the origin of the house of Lorraine). From Lothar the Burgundian and Flemish nobility largely descend. The noblesse of Scotland have many French and Flemish connections. I am quite familiar with these lines since my mother descends from Isabel, a bastard daughter of William the Lion, who was married to Robert de Ros, one of the sureties of Magna Charta.

In short, we can documentably trace the ancestry of the European noble class no farther back than the Salic Franks. Of course, this class absorbed other elements as well. The Normans who gave rise to William the Conqueror, for example, were originally "Northmen" of Scandinavian origin, as were the Rurikid royalty of Muscovy. The latter tied into the Capetian line by the marriage of Anna Jaroslawna of Kiev (a descendant of St. Vladimir) to Henry I of France, and they were progenitors of all the royal houses of Europe. And so on... look them up in the Gotha.

Ireland was granted to the English crown by Pope Adrian IV temp. Henry II, long before the Reformation, so 'securing a flank against being used by Catholic powers' is not a sufficient explanation of English efforts to bring it under control. Those efforts, on the other hand, have always been marked by the use of grants first to English feudal nobles and then to the Renaissance officer class to give incentive to their prosecution of the effort. The Tudor-Stuart venture in Ireland was just the last revival of that effort. The gain of property both for the crown and for its retainers was always a primary motive for conquest in mediæval and early modern times. Indeed, the Reformation only gained royal and aristocratic patronage because of the potential it offered for a transfer of wealth from the church to secular hands. Henry VIII was uninterested in reforming the theology or liturgy of the English church. Mass was said in Latin according to the use of Sarum until after his death. The nominally Lutheran reformation has a similar history in Sweden, etc.

More recent creations of nobility were often looked upon as parvenus by the more ancient families, whether in France or elsewhere. Im Germany the Uradel looked down on the Briefsadel. Even so, they were ultimately absorbed into a common upper class, often when impoverished scions of the older nobility married rich heiresses of newer families. The old principle was that three generations were necessary to make a gentleman of blood. Indeed, one of the helms used in Spanish heraldry distinguishes an 'hidalgo of three generations' from a mere gentleman of coat-armour.

Do you not agree that there is a sharp discontinuity between the settled manners and mores of all the older élites, and the behavior of the present one? And is not the latter more properly called philistine than barbarian?

February 25, 2009 at 2:18 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Michael S. wrote "Machiavelli's references to Turkey are not forethoughts of European absolute monarchy, because that never was the same as oriental despotism".

This is to misunderstand the process. Machiavelli - like many other thinkers, who sometimes did it without knowing it - drew inspiration from other sources and reworked it. He wasn't specifically advocating that, he was advocating a state in which nobody had a power base independent of the Prince but all relied on him. I was not describing the Ottomans, but Machiavelli's reworking.

"In Turkey all subjects were effectively slaves of the sultan, and much of the administrative class was prevented from rising to the status of an hereditary elite because it was made up of eunuchs".

That was the naive hope, but at least two dynasties in the world were founded by eunuchs, through their extended kin: the Attalids of ancient Pergamum, and the Qajars in Persia (18th - 20th centuries).

"Noble genealogies alleged to trace back to Roman times were fabrications of the late middle ages, intended to impart the lustre of antiquity to the families that commissioned them".

No doubt many were, but nevertheless the various almanacs accept some, which have been independently verified as existing then (the 4th century ones, that is). Whether the continuity is fictitious or not, on the one hand it is still "tracing back", and on the other, we do know that the process did occur since feudalism wasn't a simple seizure but involved reciprocity, with lands and other obligations being given up for protection and other obligations. It's not whether we can trace the lines back, it's whether they did (and do). It's analogous to how one of the noble families of Moorish Spain was set up by marrying a Gothic heiress (Sarah, I believe), which is known as she travelled to the Caliph to sue for her inheritance which her relatives wished to keep back from this alienation to the newcomers.

"Ireland was granted to the English crown by Pope Adrian IV temp. Henry II, long before the Reformation, so 'securing a flank against being used by Catholic powers' is not a sufficient explanation of English efforts to bring it under control".

That is a misunderstanding, too. It describes a legitimation, not a motive, and it is looking at an earlier period when the other sort of motive was the driver, to maintain control over the settlers. It was never "to give incentive to their prosecution of the effort" but to co-opt that effort (compare and contrast with Scotland, where those newcomers remained separate from those who wished to co-opt them).

"The gain of property both for the crown and for its retainers was always a primary motive for conquest in mediæval and early modern times".

Certainly, but that is what is sometimes called a "twofer". The first driver was as I described - much as were the efforts of the brothers Henry I and Robert of Normandy to gain control of each others lands, it was both to get them and to head off being got by them.

February 25, 2009 at 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

P.M. Lawrence - I am afraid that this discussion is in danger of losing sight of the forest for the (family) trees. Whatever some members of previous elites may have believed about their ancestry, wherever absolute monarchy of the style that flourished in seventeenth-century Europe began, etc., my main point remains -

Is there not a sharp discontinuty between the settled manners and mores of all previous élites, and the behavior of the present one?

In the past, rising élites tended to follow the precedents set by their predecessors, with the result that (for example) the middle-class brewers and ironmasters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who grew rich, used their wealth to buy country estates, take up fox-hunting and driven-bird shooting, fill their houses with paintings by old masters, become JPs and MPs, and marry into the local squirearchy. Despite being parvenus, they or their heirs not infrequently ended up as knights, baronets, or peers. This was not only true in Britain, though my example is cast in British terms - it had its parallels throughout Europe.

On the other hand, the present élite - the one MM has called "Brahmin" - has rejected the heritage of previous élites wholesale. As Jonathan Clark has written, "For them, History did not deliver Utopia and History is therefore to be abolished."

This is something new and strange. Am I not correct in calling the phenomenon philistine rather than barbarian?

February 26, 2009 at 12:03 PM  
Anonymous anon1 said...

Michael S, so far your conversation has been brilliant (and I too wonder if you have a blog), but I think you are wrong on one point: Our current elites drive the illicit trade in antiquities.

This is the main point of recent books like 'Thieves of Baghdad' (a book about a lawyer/reserve mil officer who was tasked with tracking illicit antiquities that were looted post-Iraq invasion, know where many of them ended up? Western museums and private collections of western elites) and the other book is 'Stealing History' by Roger Atwood, which comes to the same conclusion.

How would you marry up your view as the elites as philistines, with this other view from the world of archaeology and crime that elites actually like these arts?

February 27, 2009 at 1:11 AM  
Anonymous anon1 said...

Although I will add to my last point, that the elites who fuel the illicit trade in antiquities don't give a shit where the antiquities come from, as long as they have it for status purposes (which may very well support your point in some way). And obviously you're a well-read fellow, and are familiar with the idea of provenance and the problems it brings with buying up any old trinkets that some middlemen is peddling: it invalidates the context of the artifact i.e. where it was from, how it was found etc. So maybe there is some form of differing behavior to other elites in the past (the victorian era British come to mind with all the archaeological and geographical explorer elites, who would have had an appreciation of such artifacts).

February 27, 2009 at 1:21 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Anon1 - thanks for the compliment. I don't have a blog. I used to say I didn't because of laziness, but then it is not as if I haven't put some effort into comments on UR. Maybe I just find it easier to join a conversation than to start one.

MM's first description of the castes of modern society included two élites, the rising one (Brahmins) and the declining one (Optimates). I liked this better than his later classification because it seemed to me to embody the same aperçu one finds in the writing of Vilfredo Pareto, James Burham, and Sam Francis, namely that politics is to be viewed as a clash of élites or at least élite factions, one of which is always grasping for power (Pareto's foxes) and the other trying to hold onto it (Pareto's lions).

Most art museums in this country were founded by members of the old Optimate élite. Some continued to reflect its interests and values consciously until very recently - e.g., the Metropolitan Museum of Art under Philippe de Montebello, who just retired. Many others do so more out of inertia than by intention. I suspect the latter are the sorts of museums that have acquired looted antiquities. There always have been, and still are, rich private collectors who like expensive trinkets. Whether they have discernment and value them for reasons other than their expense and function as 'status symbols' is another question.

Frederick Lewis Allen, in his biography "The Great Pierpont Morgan" (1949), gives an account of

".,..Morgan sitting with Cortesi in the anteroom of the Borgia apartment at the Vatican, waiting for a talk with the Papal Secretary of State, Cardinal Merry del Val. The cardinal keeps them waiting half an hour, but Morgan does not mind; now for once he talks volubly and eloquently, pointing out to Cortesi the masterly handling of light and shade in the frescoes by Pinturicchio which adorn the room. A messenger from the cardinal comes in with apologies for the delay; Morgan sends word that the cardinal must not mind, that he is perfectly happy where he is, and only wishes that he had a bed so that he could lie on his back and study the frescoes the better."

Can you imagine any of the current captains of industry and finance doing or saying anything comparable?

I should also say that the academic study of antiquity is far from dead, but its motives and ends are not the same as in the past. The humanists of the Renaissance studied the works of Greek and Roman antiquity for their content, which was new to them and in which they found both the beautiful and the useful. They unearthed sculptures and other artifacts and imitated them when making new art. They created opera in an attempt to revive the choral drama of the ancient Greeks, with all the magical effects imputed to music by Plato and Iamblichus. Although classicism fell into lesser hands later, and descended into gerund-grinding, the moral and aesthetic elevation it was intended to convey were never forgotten. Just four decades ago, my high-school Latin teachers were still quite conscious of it.

If you look into a modern academic journal of classical scholarship, you won't find anything in it that extols the moral guidance of the philosophy of Plato or Aristotle, or the style of the poetry of Theocritus or Vergil, commends Xenophon or Caesar as suitable guides to the soldier, or Vitruvius as an authority on building construction.

It will instead be replete with 'deconstruction,' an effort to use works of ancient literature or art to demonstrate the "scholars'" theories about imperialism, class conflict, sexuality and gender roles, or some other dreadful academic hobby-horse ultimately derived from Frankfurt-school Marxism.

The heritage of western civilization has its uses to modern philistinism. Rather than being prized for its high worth, as it was by former generations, to them it is, as popery was to the Puritans, a fruitful source of negative examples.

February 27, 2009 at 11:50 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Michael S. wrote "Is there not a sharp discontinuty between the settled manners and mores of all previous élites, and the behavior of the present one?"

I believe that is largely true, if you are talking of the USA in particular. But on the one hand, élites elsewhere have not made that shift so much, and on the other, they never were that settled (look up the history of the cravat, or slashed clothing in the Renaissance, or the Persianising influence felt at the French court in the 18th century).

February 28, 2009 at 1:26 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

P.M. Lawrence - the discontinuity is certainly marked in the U.S., and maybe I overemphasize it because I live here in the midst of it. But I believe it is also present in Britain, of which Worsthorne says -

"...Snobbery has been turned on its head, Instead of what used to be called the lower classes aspiring to the accents, clothes, manners and tastes of what used to be called the upper classes, the uper classes now aspire to the accents, clothes, mannersd and tastes of the lower classes. [*Instance: Tony Blair's adoption of an estuary accect.}" ("In Defence of Aristocracy" [2004], p. 215)

There is a name for this - "nostalgie de la boue." And it seems to me that it is a phenomenon throughout the western world. The late Gianni Versace, for example, dressed women to look like whores, and charged his wealthy clientele vast prices for it.

This is unlike the past vogues for cravats, slashed clothing, or things Persian that you mention. The two former became fashionable because they had military (hence honorable) associations, and the last because it was exotic. They were not dredged from the domestic lower depths.

Besides, the exotic Persian shah Thamas Kuli Khan becomes quite a civilized French gentleman in Rameau's "La Coulicam," just as the Turkish marching bands of 1683 were Austrianized by the Emperor Leopold's court composer J.-J. Fux in his "Turcaria," and later by Mozart in his "Entführung," the rondo alla Turca, etc. - like black Turkish coffee with a lot of Viennese "Schlag."

Any taint of crime or vice rendered a style immediately unfashionable in the past. Consider how the Jacobean vogue for yellow starch ceased abruptly after the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. Anne Turner, one of his killers, had been the first person in England to dye her collar and cuffs yellow. Mistress Turner was executed in 1615, and Sir Edward Coke, C.J., specifically gave instructions that 'as she was the person who had brought yellow starched ruffs into vogue, she should be hanged in that dress, that the same might end in shame and detestation" - which it promptly did.

Contrast this with the present, when rap 'music' and the dress and mannerisms of black thugs from the welfare slums are eagerly bought by white suburban teenagers! Shame has disappeared, detestation is out of the question. Nostalgie de la boue reigns.

February 28, 2009 at 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 6, 2009 at 5:15 AM  
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March 7, 2009 at 5:42 AM  
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March 9, 2009 at 11:17 PM  
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March 9, 2009 at 11:26 PM  

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