Thursday, September 24, 2009 71 Comments

Seasteading, without that warm glow

Having now been definitively disinvited from the Seasteading Conference, I now feel I would be extremely remiss if I did not post my complete thoughts on the matter. I promise that this will be the last discussion of seasteading at UR for quite some time.

I'll put my thoughts in the form of a conversation with Patri Friedman. Since I have not asked Patri for prior permission, I will not include his side of the conversation - just my own responses. Quote blocks have been replaced with code letters, which Patri can fill in, if he or anyone cares.

In case you are just done with this whole seasteading thing, to summarize: IMHO, seasteading is a brilliant example, in at least three regards, of What Not To Do. I persist with this business not to torment you (or Patri, or his equally excellent associates), but to illustrate general errors that anyone trying to solve the same problems is likely to make. These general errors have nothing to do with TSI or the ocean life.

Granted, seasteading is a better plan than anyone else's plan I have seen. But it is nowhere near as good as my plan - which is nowhere near good enough. Basically, everyone is understating how dire and impossible the situation is. Probably even me.

Patri: #A.


Indeed. I sincerely appreciate both the original invitation, and the time you've put into reconsidering it. I hope I've made your second decision as easy and painless as possible.

Patri: #B.


Patri, please don't take this the wrong way. But one thing that's nice about being disinvited from your conference is that now, I can say what I really think about seasteading.

If you recall, I had not exactly endorsed it. But I feel that, despite my self-destructive insistence on unconditional Carlylean veracity (note that Carlyle himself pulled this kind of trip all the time, remaining violently aloof from all position, patronage or alliance - which certainly did not render his existence any more fun; sometimes I want to invent a time machine, just so I can send him some Prilosec), my previous utterances, public and private, had portrayed seasteading in a somewhat warmer light than I feel, on reflection, it deserves.

Nothing in the picture was false. There was just a little flexfill on the face - a mild fake glow. Which now I feel the obligation to remove, for the same reason I felt obliged to revile Professor Romer. TSI, since it has chosen to wear the Ring and soar with the pigs, does not just suffer from Ring disease. It transmits Ring disease. To which I am by no means immune.

In the cold natural light of Carlylean veracity, the only problem with seasteading is that it is doomed. It is doomed because it depends existentially on a complete misconception of reality, and in particular of 20th-century history. This misconception, while part of the standard interpretation of the real world held by almost everyone in it, is nonetheless a misconception. The Romer incident illustrates it perfectly.

Perhaps you remember the original Doom, the single-player shareware version, which I was recently amused to encounter running on a seatback Linux screen on a Virgin America flight. A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I was so good at Doom that I could finish the game, slaying the Baron of Hell, without saving, and without using any weapon but the pistol. I realize that this will not impress the 21st-century gamer - but I mention it nonetheless. But the point is: you cannot win in Doom. Once you defeat the Baron and activate the pentagram, you fall into a pit containing an infinite number of demons, which destroy you in a few seconds. You are, truly, doomed. As soon as you start the game.

According to my own poor counterfeit of Carlyle's crystal ball, fate holds just this doom for seasteading. I am not saying that seasteading will fail because of this particular misconception. Many other demons could slay it first, and probably will. If it survives all the other levels, though, its endgame is the pit.

Or so I fear. I have never been wrong in this kind of prediction. But I have never made one, either. I hope I am wrong; and even if I am not wrong, trying can still be plenty of fun. Unfortunately, though, I know I am right.

The misconception appears in your use of the word "governments," plural. Your picture of political reality on Planet Three appears to be: the planet's land area is divided into 200-odd sovereign states, whose interactions are governed by international law. Its ocean is separated into territorial waters, which are controlled by the pertinent government, and international waters, which are regulated by international law. This is what everyone learns in school.

Now, you know this is not a perfectly correct picture. You know that many of the real ways in which the real world operates do not conform to this picture. You know it because you've read UR, and you knew it before there was a UR. No one with any sense believes that this is a genuine, accurate picture of Planet Three's political structure. But because this is Planet Three's nominal political structure, it remains the language in which we speak. We can still challenge it with a terrific effort of the frontal lobes; when we turn our attention elsewhere, it returns.

Take Professor Romer. To the readers of Time Magazine in 1997, he is just an ordinary person, a private citizen who teaches at an institution of higher learning, who happens to be one of the 25 most powerful people in America. (Previously, I had said "the world," but I just rechecked - not, as you'll note, that there is much difference. UR readers may also enjoy Reason's interview of Professor Romer, "poolside by his house, which overlooks a huge expanse of rolling ranchland owned by Stanford University." One can almost picture the fellatio.)

To me, the explanation is simple. Professor Romer is a senior government official. What would you expect one of the most 25 powerful people in America to be? A landscaping contractor?

Ah - but I made another little change in the quote. My mask of veracity is slipping! The quote was not: "one of the 25 most powerful people in America." It was: "one of the 25 most influential people in America."

Well, influential over what? Professor Romer could be influential over many things. Poetry, for instance, or landscaping. Or ghetto rap. So what is he influential over? Well... um... economics. And what is economics? The study of how the economy should be managed by... um... the government? So Professor Romer is (assuming the Time author is, and has remained, correct - which is a big if) influential over... the government? In what way, therefore, is the word power incorrect?

So in the pretend world, the formal world, the world implied by our use of the English language, Professor Romer is a humble teacher. In the real world, he is a government official, and a very powerful one - if not exactly one of the top 25, perhaps. (I have no idea how anyone would construct such a ridiculous ranking.)

Now, we remember our Carlyle:
It is probably the hugest disclosure of falsity in human things that was ever at one time made. These reverend Dignitaries that sat amid their far-shining symbols and long-sounding long-admitted professions, were mere Impostors, then? Not a true thing they were doing, but a false thing. The story they told men was a cunningly devised fable; the gospels they preached to them were not an account of man's real position in this world, but an incoherent fabrication, of dead ghosts and unborn shadows, of traditions, cants, indolences, cowardices,--a falsity of falsities, which at last ceases to stick together. Wilfully and against their will, these high units of mankind were cheats, then; and the low millions who believed in them were dupes,--a kind of inverse cheats, too, or they would not have believed in them so long.
So, basically: in the ghost world, the world I described earlier, the world of 200 countries and international oceans - the world that everyone thinks they live in, those dupes or inverse cheats - seasteading is, or at least might be, a viable plan. In the real world, which exists, it ain't.

In the real Planet Three, as we've seen, the government is much larger than in the ghost Planet Three. For instance, in the ghost Planet Three, Paul Romer is a private citizen. In the real Planet Three, he is a government official. He is not the only one.

And in the ghost Planet Three, USG governs America, on behalf of Americans. In the real Planet Three, an entity that includes USG plus its immense penumbra - call it EUSG - governs the world, on behalf of - God knows who. Itself, basically.

In the real Planet Three, USG is incredibly powerful. There is no reason to think that any ship or structure, anywhere at sea, will be able to sustain any nontrivial infringement of US law - especially if any part of its organizational structure includes US persons or US entities.

But EUSG is even more powerful. Because EUSG includes those nebulous and distributed forces that comprise "international public opinion." Ie, the organs which dictate international public opinion - since people, generally, are not philosophers and believe what they are told to believe. While these organs are not monolithic or hierarchically organized, they somehow magically seem to always agree with each other. The Washington Post never gets into an organizational catfight with the New York Times, or Harvard with Stanford. This, of course, is because all are ticks on the same horse - Washington - and must gallop together.

Imagine a stateless seastead city that could defy US law. You are probably fantasizing. But you might get away with it, if your seastead city had "international public opinion" on its side. Now, imagine a stateless city that could defy "international public opinion." You are really fantasizing - that is, under today's world order. You seek to change that order; you cannot assume what you are trying to achieve.

Thus the appeal of seasteading depends existentially on the very illusions it seeks to destroy. "Not a true thing, but a false thing." In the ghost universe, the oceans of Planet Three are a free space for new experiments in government. In the real universe, they are a space administered by a single government - and have been for over 200 years. Until 1914, that government was HMG. Since 1945, it has been USG. When you go to sea, you are swimming in USG's pond. Frankly, you might as well do your seasteading on Lake Superior.

Does international law assure you of this right, or that right, or the other right, at sea? No doubt Martian law also assures you of many fine privileges. Carlyle tells us: there is no right that is not also a might. Should your rights be violated, to whom will you appeal? If the judge of appeal is also the violator, or there is no judge, there is no law and no rights. More phantoms.

(You know this. In fact, you say it in your book. But knowing is one thing; realizing another.)

There are genuine lacunae in EUSG's global sovereignty. China, for instance, or Russia. These nominal nations, rebel provinces of a sort, approach something like real sovereignty - although their ruling parties are still descendants of American progressivism (ie, Communism), and they have not confirmed their independence by formally rejecting the transnational institutions of the American era. If China dropped out of the UN, we would really know that the Middle Kingdom had regrown a testicle or two.

But China and Russia are not new lacunae, and their quasi-sovereignty is maintained by one thing: military power. A seastead will never achieve military power, because it will never be allowed to start achieving military power. Terrestrial resistance to USG is conceivable under certain circumstances, preferably not including me. Naval resistance is inconceivable under any circumstance.

This is the demon-filled pit. The endgame problem with seasteading is that your "alternatives to government," your pelagic argosies, will either become sovereign, or not. Sovereignty, like virginity, being boolean.

Until you have a realistic plan to become sovereign, you have no realistic plan to escape. You can spend all the time you want, and have all the fun you want, pretending to be free. Or planning to pretend to be free. In Washington, however, they know the difference - and always will.

IMHO, no realistic plan for attaining sovereignty under the present world order can be constructed - unless it starts with one of the terrestrial provinces now known as "nations." And even then, it ain't no picnic. Old South Africa, as you may know, even had the Bomb. But what could it do against "international public opinion?" In the end, squat. Its endgame was the universal fate of all those who have opposed EUSG: unconditional surrender.

Yes, the future is infinite, and USG may weaken. It will weaken. It is already weakening. (The Boere might have had a decent chance if they'd held out another generation.) But if it gets weak enough that you can already set up your own country at sea, your goal is already in some sense achieved. We are nowhere near that level of weakness. A world in which it has arrived is so different from ours as to be unrecognizable, and no realistic plan can be made for it. Moreover, my magic snowdome tells me that any such degradation will be more catastrophic than gradual.

Thus, the promise of independence through seasteading is - if I am right - snake oil. That many people find it attractive and compelling is not evidence that it is actually an effective remedy. Most vendors of snake oil believe in their elixir, and of course TSI - if I am right - is in this class. Still, one does have an obligation not to sell snake oil.

However, it should be noted that while snake oil will not cure your cancer, it can still be remarkably tasty on a salad - especially if paired with a good balsamic. Do you want to live in a libertarian commune at sea? By all means, live in a libertarian commune at sea! Your expenses will be much higher than if you chose, say, Inyo County. But Inyo County has no bracing marine air, no enforced feeling of we're-all-in-this-together, no seagulls catching crusts off the poop deck. Heck, if your boat has good childcare, I might even apply to live there myself.

So I am certainly not advising you to give up your venture, not that you would anyway. I just feel required to warn you that it is doomed. But who knows what you will find along the way? The essential reference is Cavafy's great Ithaka:
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you are destined for.

But do not hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you are old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
Cavafy is definitely my nigga.

Patri: #C.


I have a different view of the matter - expressed in my Law of Sewage (which is not mine - if anyone knows the origin, please email me). The Cathedral indeed contains many shades. They are not shades of grey, however. They are shades of brown. A drop of wine in a barrel of sewage makes sewage; a drop of sewage in a barrel of wine makes sewage.

Of course, many professors and journalists are perfectly normal, decent people. Especially in person. The problem is not the people, but the system. The exact same thing could be said of the "people's democracies." Yet we still condemn them, and justly so. We also condemn the individuals who collaborated with them.

Suppose, for example, you were judging the life of a person who lived most of his life in East Germany. You know nothing about this person, but you are asked to fill in for St. Peter and judge him. Your first question will be: was he, in any way, involved with the government? If so, what was the nature of his involvement? Unless the first answer is no or the second is somehow mitigating, your initial judgment will be negative. You are applying the Law of Sewage.

Against sewage, total isolation is the only hygiene. You know the kind of isolation that you try to preserve between yourself and the Aryan Brotherhood? Or the kind of isolation that Professor Romer tries to preserve between himself and me? I mean that kind of isolation.

This is no more than history expects of a German in 1933-45, or an East German in 1945-89. It is not even slightly onerous. We have yet to see how history, once it can do so objectively, will judge our era and regime - but I don't expect it to be particularly kind. Do you?

Even the most well-intentioned and scholarly professor in the modern American university - your father, for instance - must be aware that he is going to work at an institution that claims to be oblivious to race, creed and color, but contains a Department of African-American Studies. Every time he thinks of this, which is as seldom as possible, he has to cringe inside and look away. He knows that there is something very deeply not-right here, and that it is getting worse rather than getting fixed.

How do you think a well-intentioned professor, a "person of good will," in the Third Reich or the Soviet bloc responded? Exactly the same way. The only difference is the magnitude. And the Modern Structure, being still extant, may not yet be guilty of its worst atrocities. (Though if you ascribe Communism and the Third World to it, these are surely more than enough.)

If you're curious about the mind of man under socialism, a long book but well worth reading is Victor Klemperer's diary from his East German period, published in English as The Lesser Evil. Klemperer, a brilliant linguist and social critic, and before the war a German nationalist, survived the Third Reich as a Jew in Germany (producing his more famous diaries, and the brilliant Language of the Third Reich), became a high-status member of the Communist regime, ending up in the East German Parliament (as an arts delegate). Everything you could ever want to know about the corruption of the mind is in these two works.

There is also a much shorter work I have recommended to you before, Czeslaw Milosz's The Captive Mind. In addition, C.S. Lewis's The Inner Ring (online) is not to be scoffed at. And please do read the Carlyle - it is genuinely relevant.

Patri: #D.


Ah! Now we are cooking with gas. Let me rephrase what you just said in terms of rings - Tolkien's, not Lewis's. Your three reasons, young Mr. Boromir, why you find it so prudent to don the Ring:

1: Seems to work perfectly - kills Orcs like a charm.
2: No adverse health effects whatsoever.
3: Can take it off any time I like.

Let me add a fourth, which you did not say:

4: Makes me feel big and warm and full of pep.

You may doubt this metaphor, but it is quite accurate. Let me explain. It is always a little bit of work to realize what the Ring's long-term adverse health effects will look like, but once you see them you know them.

There is a very simple reason why it is a bad idea to recruit seasteading supporters through the New York Times, or any other organ of the Cathedral. Assuming, for purpose of debate, that this is an approach which will be effective on an ongoing basis, and not just a curiosity of launch.

The reason again is a long-term reason. While I am not denying that using the Ring can add to your near-term success - as Rings always do - using this particular Ring makes it particularly impossible to achieve the political objective of seasteading, ie, sovereignty. Of course, we have seen above that this is impossible. Nonetheless, if you find your followers through the Times, it is impossible squared. I have heard of people doing the impossible, but never squared.

The problem is that the people you recruit in this manner will be people who read the New York Times. Now, I read the New York Times, you read the New York Times. We are not taken in by the New York Times - though resisting its pull requires our constant energy. However, if you only recruit people who read the New York Times, but are not taken in by the New York Times, you are not getting much out of its Ringly services.

Thus, a substantial percentage of the people on your ships will be people who believe in the New York Times. Are we getting warmer here? Are you starting to see how this might be an issue?

The fundamental problem is that the project of seasteading makes it easy to conflate (why is it that when I use the word "conflate" in ordinary conversation, people laugh at me?) two problems. Both are very difficult - if not impossible. But solving the first by no means implies solving the second.

The first is the problem of building a new sovereign, or at least quasi-sovereign, at sea. Or better yet, a thousand new sovereigns.

The second is the problem of building a new sovereign (or better, a thousand), with some other kind or kinds of government than exist presently in the world. To call the effort a success, you need at least one kind of sovereign: the kind you yourself prefer. You are not, after all, a Ringwraith yet - you still have a mind of your own.

We see immediately that while the first is a fun and interesting exercise, the second is your actual political goal. Whether one new nation or a thousand, if all your seastead communities are run like Ireland or Sweden or Costa Rica - ie, like all civilized governments on earth today - you have conquered the first demon pit, and still wasted all your time and energy.

You are making the classic error of assuming a normal distribution. You assume that if a thousand nations bloom, they will be a thousand different kinds of nation. Or at least two. Of course, we have two hundred nations - or "nations" - today, and they all run exactly the same operating system: Washington's, modulo various barbaric degradations.

What this tells you is that - as we've seen - these "nations" are not really independent. In the literal sense of a statistical variable. The forms of government in the "nations" of the world today are distributed all right, but they are not distributed around any absolute center. They are distributed around Washington. This cannot possibly be a coincidence.

To put it slightly differently, you are fudging the question of "sovereignty." You would do very well to look up the definition of Vattel, and stick with that. Under the definition of Vattel, Ireland and Sweden and Costa Rica are not true sovereigns; they are protectorates of USG. At best. "Provinces" is not an argument I will make, but it is not much of a stretch. In short, the "international community" is in reality the American Empire. Duh.

Therefore, if your spontaneous maritime community becomes sovereign in the same sense that Ireland and Sweden and Costa Rica are sovereign, it is (a) not sovereign at all, at least not according to classical international law; and (b) almost certain to operate under the exact same principles as Ireland and Sweden and Costa Rica, for the same reasons that Ireland and Sweden and Costa Rica operate under those principles. And if (c) your initial demographic resembles the governing caste of Ireland and Sweden and Costa Rica (and of the US), especially in the automatic credibility they ascribe to certain prestigious institutions of journalism and higher learning - your latitude for maneuver becomes extremely limited.

Why, exactly, are all civilized governments on earth run in the way they are? Because they are all run, more or less, by the New York Times. More precisely, they are run by civil servants, who were trained by professors, both of whose reward systems are administered by the New York Times. This is the direct path. On the indirect path, ten percent of the population reads the Times or a comparable highbrow organ; the other ninety gets its thought from more lowbrow intermediaries, who all read the Times and wish they worked there. Together, these paths form the Modern Structure, which if not indestructible is almost so.

The Modern Structure is certainly not confined to North America. It is, once again, global. Its physical power derives from USG's and its intellectual center is somewhere on the Atlantic seaboard, so it is safe in one sense to describe it as EUSG. But its purest realizations are in Europe. So the continent of Richelieu, Metternich and Frederick gives us "European socialism." It would not be the first time a product has been exported, then relabeled for import.

And why would all your seastead states - especially your first, which is at first your only - be operated according to the Modern Structure? Well, why wouldn't they? After all, most of your seasteaders, not to mention your investors and supporters, believe in the New York Times. Which is the Structure, at a crude approximation.

As Hume first observed, all governments are in a sense democratic. They require consent from at least their armed security forces. Public opinion always matters. An experimental community such as a seastead (if you are looking to start with a floating libertarian commune, by the way, don't miss Charles Nordhoff's Communistic Societies of the United States (1875)) is especially sensitive to it. There is nothing more fragile than a commune, although when it comes to communal cohesion being imprisoned at sea certainly doesn't hurt.

Thus, it is difficult to imagine that any first seastead can be governed in an authoritarian manner by TSI - unless, of course, TSI comes with its own ideology, and enforces it formally or socially. This could be done, and in fact I would recommend it. But it pretty much burns your bridges with the New York Times - for which the word "cult" will become both obvious and enticing. More on this later.

If disagreement is not filtered out by some such authoritarian mechanism - people will disagree. They will bicker and rebel and quit, unless you have elections. You will have those elections, and by finding seasteaders through the Times, you give the Times a vote in them. A large vote. (It already had a vote, of course, because it can move the arms and legs of USG. The enemy always gets a vote.)

By recruiting through the Times, your experiment in alternative government has stumbled into the web of adaptive, distributed Gleichschaltung that makes all Washington's ticks, or almost all, think, say and do the same things. It too becomes coordinated. In fact, I suspect it's quite likely that any successful experiment in seasteading will quickly develop a distinctly progressive flavor. It will be quite literally "alternative." Conquest's second law: any institution that is not explicitly right-wing becomes left-wing.

Great, you say - we libertarians will hop off the lefty ship, and start our own ship! A progressive seastead is better than no seastead at all. It validates the market, as we say in the Valley. And the ocean is big enough for everyone. So we can still hope for change.

True in theory, but not in practice. First of all, you have added an extremely difficult, stressful and traumatic phase to your program. The trauma is far in the future, like most consequences of wearing in the Ring. But if Conquest's second law applies (and if you doubt that it applies, try to think of a case in which it has not), seasteading will either fail by definition, or have to go through a painful process of division, purgation or self-purgation. Depending on who is in the majority.

This process itself is highly morbid and quite possibly fatal, and the sooner it is accomplished the better. Obviously, one can accomplish it immediately by starting as a right-wing extremist conspiracy - like UR. Obviously, this means no tongue baths from the Times.

If this separation is put off indefinitely, the consequences will be even worse. The mores of the emerging seasteading community (assuming that seasteading succeeds, and that Conquest's 2nd law applies) will be most decidedly progressive - like Europe, more American than America. Its collective attitude toward EUSG, or "international public opinion," will be one of complete and enthusiastic submission and collaboration. Every seastead will be green, sustainable and diverse.

And a community that attempts to violate these norms will simply not be permitted to exist. Just as all terrestrial nations must now conform to American norms. Toleration is not a historical characteristic of extreme Puritanism - of which progressivism is your current incarnation. Moreover, since USG and its navy still exist under all imagined circumstances, the mechanism for enforcement is easily apparent.

So, far from validating the market, a progressive seasteading movement may actually capture the market - permanently ruining any opportunity that may exist, and making it obviously and effectively impossible to establish any state both new and unusual. Even once seasteading is established and normal, if your fellow seasteaders fail to take your side in any dispute with EUSG, you are probably going to lose. Power has not been eradicated from the world.

A seasteading project that solves the first problem, but not the second - that becomes sovereign, but in a politically assimilated condition - has solved the hard and unimportant part of the problem, and ignored the easy and important part. It has established its temporal sovereignty. It has ignored the much more essential matter of intellectual sovereignty.

The truth about Ireland, Sweden and Costa Rica is that each of these governments is physically capable of achieving far more sovereignty than it has. It just doesn't want to. Its body, while not especially free, is far freer than its mind, which is slave to the latest Harvard fashions.

The second goal can be described as that of creating a new government (or "government alternative," or whatever euphemism you anarchists prefer), that thinks for itself. Clearly, the project of creating a new regime from scratch, via seasteading, political action, military action, or any other form of action, is a delightful alternative to the impossible task of convincing an existing government to think different.

However, the order in which TSI is proceeding is extremely peculiar in the light of this goal. One would think you would want to recruit a homogeneous base of supporters who all, or at least mostly, think different, then persuade them to go to sea. Instead, TSI recruits promiscuously, deploying the witcheries of the Cathedral and signing up whatever pops out of the pentagram.

In the parlance of today's democracy, seasteading is a "big tent." No one is turned away. Note, once again, that this is the obvious way to build any movement. More supporters are better than fewer supporters. The bigger the tent, the more people fit in it.

My advice to TSI: learn from Hitler. Or Stalin, if you prefer. Your big tent will do nothing but flap around in the wind. Said wind only blows in one direction: toward Washington. (All the trees in Fairfax County bend north.) The first thing you need is a party line. Also, when you get anywhere near governing, a shadow state.

All the really ruthless, effective political operations of the 20th century had both these things. The NSDAP, for instance, was prepared to run Germany at the flip of a switch, and so were all its extremist competitors, right and left. When you voted for any of these parties, you were voting to grant it absolute control of the state in order to implement its 25-point proposal, or whatever.

Of course, TSI is trying to create a new polity rather than conquer an existing one, but the same rules apply. Sovereignty is indivisible and ineradicable. Either you and your ideas control your new state, or someone else and their ideas do. Probably the Times.

The first thing you realize, once you compose your party line, is that followers who do not actually follow the party line are useless as tits on a boar hog. Perhaps you can trick them into giving you money, but that never lasts. You certainly don't want them on your boat - they will gang up and start outvoting you.

Thus, your operation must be selective. It must not recruit indiscriminately. Especially not through hostile propaganda organs! And when you reduce the number of supporters that fit in the inclusive big tent, to the number of supporters that fit in the exclusive small tent - ie, actually agree with you and each other - you have the number of supporters that you actually have. These are the people who are reliable and will support you in a conflict. As for the others - what do you need from them? Their money? Is it honest to take it?

For any kind of collective political action, whether capturing a state or creating a new one, a smaller, more cohesive, tightly disciplined and indoctrinated movement is much more powerful and effective than a larger, more amorphous, loosely organized and weakly indoctrinated one. Especially if the latter is heavily contaminated with actual opponents of your actual ideology - you know, the one you actually believe. (Not being a Ringwraith.)

Tolerance is not synonymous with indifference. It is easy to be tolerant while the actual points of conflict remain unimaginably remote, but since you intend to succeed, they will not always remain remote. Always better to resolve them earlier. There is always a small tent inside the big tent, because you yourself have actual opinions. (If this is not so, the battle is already lost.)

Doesn't this perspective just violate every fiber of your democratic body? If you have spent a little while at UR, you recognize this feeling of moral violation. It is the feeling that you're on the right track.

For a practical example of the problems with a "big tent," let's look at the whole "tea party" experience. For simplicity, we'll assume that the organizers got a million people for their 9/12 Washington demonstration.

It's an interesting word, demonstration. To demonstrate a gun, for instance, you can shoot a cantaloupe. The demonstration says: this cantaloupe could be your head. A demonstration in the political sense of the word says: these people are standing peacefully and holding signs, but they could be screaming like fiends, sacking offices, and giving GS-15s the Princesse de Lamballe treatment. In other words, every demonstration is an incipient mob. To demonstrate is to overawe and intimidate with the threat of potential violence.

Democracy itself encodes the threat of mob violence in the voting process. The State, as always, belongs to the strongest. Democracy models the process of mob violence, guesses who will win by counting heads, awards the state to the probable winner and skips the actual rioting.

When mob violence is no longer a possibility, the threat loses its force, and democratic politicians can be counted on to lose their power to some other structure. Here we see the first fallacy of the "tea parties," for of course the original Tea Party was exactly that: mob violence. Whereas the suburban white people who showed up on 9/12, contra your daily dose of brown-baiting, could barely lynch a fly. Individual madmen may be among them and probably are, but they are no material for a mob.

Leftist demonstrations, on the other hand, always carry their original implicit threat of mass extralegal action. Dr. King himself, or rather his speechwriters, were masters of this. The line is always: we are demonstrating peacefully, to show you how many people will be in the riot if we don't get what we want. This threat today is by no means what it was in 1968, but nor is it entirely impotent.

Thus, 9/12 fails as a demonstration of direct power. A million bipeds, even unarmed (and who says they have to be unarmed?) are one of the most dangerous things in the history of the universe. What are the million people of 9/12? A million votes. Which, frankly, is not a lot.

That said, this demonstration is doing pretty well for what it is, because - unlike most similar manifestations - it actually has a specific, unanimous demand: no "healthcare reform." Of course, "healthcare reform" is a broad and slippery thing, but the "no" is also pretty broad. This can most certainly be seen as a crude party line, of sorts.

Note, however, that this is a defensive demand. The tea partiers can organize to resist some action which was put on the table by their better-organized opponents. But they are not, actually, an organization. Therefore, this million people is not actually a weapon that can be wielded in any strategic or coherent way. They are not a mob, and not an army.

The real Washington is actually very sensitive to coalitions that are relatively small by electoral standards. Thus, for instance, the influence of exiled Cubans on USG's Cuba policy. The gusanos cannot by any means defeat Foggy Bottom, but they can dictate its policy on this one matter - within certain limits, of course - and have done so for almost half a century. It is especially sensitive to coalitions that have no organized opposition.

So: imagine the same million people demonstrating, but with a coherent offensive demand. Let's say they demanded, say, an end to race preferences in university admissions. The issue is not on the agenda. They organize, and choose to place it there. Is there any doubt that they would win?

It is probably the case that nine out of ten tea partiers hold this exact opinion - but no one will ever know. After all, they can scribble anything they want on their signs. They are a rabble, not a party. They may win on their one issue, for a time. On the scale of history, they will lose. What they would have to do to actually win is to multiply their numbers by about 10 or 20, and broaden their demand from blocking a minor policy change to creating an actual regime change. Ie, to not keep losing, they have to win the whole game in one step. Of course there is no possibility of this in the real world today.

The tea party movement, of course, has very different objectives than TSI. Still, both seek political change through collective action. Politics is one art. The advantage of cohesion over size is no secret to its practitioners. Of course, one would rather be both cohesive and large; but if you are small and cohesive, you still have a chance of becoming large and cohesive. Whereas once you lose cohesion, it is almost impossible to regain.

So why is the big tent so much more attractive? Simply, the seductive powers of the Ring. Democracy is instinctive in the human race (which of course does not make it good). Humans are built to measure their authority by their number of followers.

You yourself have invented an epithet that fits the "big tent" approach: folk activism. The desire to create the largest possible coalition, by deemphasizing differences rather than resolving them, is classic folk activism. It is instinctive politics, rather than calculated politics.

Of course, there is a second reason, which is that the Modern Structure is violently allergic to anything that looks like organized opposition - such as the above. (Interestingly, it shares this approach with the Chinese Communist Party. In modern China, you can think whatever you want, and say whatever you want. You just can't organize. Our own permanent government, while infinitely more subtle about it, is no less permanent.)

If you learn from Hitler, you will of course be made to look like Hitler, because you will look like Hitler. Times readers will be led, with little hints, to the obvious conclusion: seasteading is a plot to drown the Jews. What do seasteaders have in common? They're all white men. Why do they want to live at sea? Because Negroes can't swim. Etc, etc, etc.

One phenomenon that UR can be relied on to object to, everywhere and at every time, is presentism - the belief that the present time is somehow unique, and exempt from the patterns of history. The present time does not stand outside history. It is part of history. Professor Romer is not something special and different from Lord Cromer.

The antihistorical feature of the seasteading movement to which I object most strongly is its belief that political objectives can be achieved without political conflict. In other words, that it is possible to obtain practical independence, creating one or more new sovereigns, without fighting. That most ways of fighting (political or military) will not work is hardly lost on me, but this does not mean that any ways of not-fighting will work.

Yet there is no conclusion more congenial to the well-indoctrinated mind of 2009, which believes that conflict solves nothing. Again, this view requires a complete ignorance of history - most easily produced, in the intelligent, by an open contempt for it. History records no instance of sovereignty being created, captured, or sustained without a fight. History records novelties, of course, but the burden of proof rests quite solidly on their proponents. I would rather dispel this ignorance than take advantage of it, which is why you don't see me wearing anyone's Ring.

My view is that the first order of business, for this fight, is intellectual sovereignty. It is clearly possible to create intellectual sovereignty without temporal sovereignty - to secede in mind, not body. First, this carries its own rewards; second, it makes your political efforts much easier. Not that they will ever be easy. But the task of creating or capturing temporal sovereignty, which is impossible anyway, becomes doubly impossible if you have no idea what you're going to do with that sovereignty. Or if you do have an idea, but your so-called supporters are not privy to it.

Monday, September 21, 2009 65 Comments

UR: banned in San Francisco

My niggaz:

This week's post appears early due to special circumstances. I've just received this letter from the Seasteading Institute:
Dear Mr. Moldbug,

The Seasteading Institute appreciates controversial ideas, including many of yours. We also value rigorous debate. But we do not wish to be associated with personal denunciations against people of good will. Your recent post, "From Cromer to Romer and back again," crossed that line.

In the spirit of a constructive exchange of ideas, we encourage you to post a retraction and apology to Professor Romer. Until you do so, we are disappointed to inform you that your invitation to speak at our conference is withdrawn. We apologize for the late notice.

Patri Friedman, Executive Director, The Seasteading Institute.

p.s. We would like to clarify that this action is being taken by TSI on its own initiative, not at the request of any other party. Professor Romer has unilaterally and irreversibly withdrawn from speaking at our conference, and this triggered a re-examination of our policies and your invitation. He made no requests, express or implied, about this decision.
Ie: one of the 25 most influential people in the world decided to take his ball and go home.

I confess that when I wrote "Romer to Cromer," I had no evidence that Professor Romer was a faggot, a seducer of young women, or an asshole. I still have no evidence that he is a faggot, or a seducer of young women. Indeed, both these propositions strike me as quite unlikely; their conjunction is of course incredible. Moreover, the resolution on his TED video is wholly insufficient for me to appraise his eyeglasses, a task for which I am anyway untrained. They may well have set him back only a few benjamins. Accordingly, I apologize to Professor Romer, and to anyone else who took these baseless, unfounded accusations seriously.

My conviction of Professor Romer's intellectual dishonesty - for condemning colonialism in one breath, and trying to take credit for reinventing it in the next - was sincere, and remains intact. Let me clarify this charge for a moment. It is personal in one sense, impersonal in another.

Having devastated the Old World with fire and the sword, not to mention condemning its former colonies to anarchy and ruin, the 21st-century American professor feels no ethical obligation to acknowledge that a distinct European civilization once existed, let alone that it contained "people of good will" - such as Lord Cromer. Briefly, I will acknowledge Professor Romer's good will when he acknowledges Lord Cromer's. Hell will grow glaciers first.

This ethos is not Professor Romer's personal invention. Similarly, National Socialism was not Adolf Eichmann's personal invention. One of the admirable features of the post-Nazi Western ethos is its insistence that ethical responsibility is personal, absolute and universal. Office, especially high office, in an unethical institution can never excuse unethical behavior.

Moreover, Professor Romer has a more serious ethical burden than your average anticolonialist professor - because he is effectively proposing the restoration of colonialism. Under the rules of Western scholarship, which the American academy claims to respect and of which it is (sadly) the only living heir, this obliges him to study, understand, and cite previous work in the field. Instead, he not only fails to study his predecessors - he condemns them.

Suppose, for example, institutional geology in the 1960s had continued to reject the plate tectonics of Wegener - the last major Kuhnian revolution of which I am aware. Wegener was dismissed for his entire life as a crackpot. This dismissal might easily have remained permanent, had not the professors of this field and era retained some scrap of regard for their own intellectual honesty. Judging by the treatment its modern successor has delivered to Steve McIntyre, the field is capable of no such revolution today.

Plate tectonics nonetheless remain the truth, and the truth remains accessible to all. In an alternate 2009 in which professional geologists universally denied continental drift, and continued to mock Wegener and any common fool who noticed that Brazil fits into West Africa, any renegade geologist who realized the truth would have three options. He could say: Wegener was right. Or he could say: Wegener was a crackpot and a Nazi, as everyone knows, but he still got the right answers for the wrong reasons. Or he could simply ignore Wegener, and claim to have discovered continental drift himself.

The first option is intellectually honest. The second option is weaselly, but perhaps defensible. The third option is a crime against scholarship and history. To me, it seems that Professor Romer's choice falls somewhere between the second and third options. Thus, I am ethically comfortable in condemning him - and would be uncomfortable in condoning him. Lord Cromer does not exactly have a surplus of 21st-century defenders.

I do not expect that this non-retraction will satisfy TSI. Thus, I do not expect to be presenting at the Seasteading Conference. My apologies to anyone who chose to attend on this basis. If you email Patri, he will give you your money back.

I also offer a (much warmer) apology to Patri and TSI. Our conflict can best be summed up under the Hollywood chestnut of "creative differences." UR is simply not a good match for TSI. Our goals and ideas are similar in some ways; our tactics are very different. Despite my reclusiveness and anonymity, I am actually (like Hitler) a compelling public speaker, and it would have been fun to practice my pitch on an unsuspecting audience. Alas, it will have to happen some other time.

(Note that Professor Hanson, displaying his Buck Harkness nature once again, has a different reaction: he has offered to debate me in any mutually convenient forum. In fact, he thinks we could sell tickets - and he's probably right. This probably would have already happened, if not for the East Coast - West Coast thing. Anyone with the means to facilitate such a Tupac-Biggie throwdown should contact us, so I can cap this nigga once and for all.)

In case anyone is disappointed or confused, I want to explain the incompatibility of our approaches, and in particular the reason that TSI is so intent on wooing professors, while UR is so intent on reviling them. Had I understood the former (and had I not discovered that Professor Romer was scheduled to present at the same conference, before I posted "Cromer to Romer," but after I'd already written most of it; in general, UR posts are drafted entirely on Wednesday nights, with minimal revision) I would have refrained from calling him a faggot. For Patri's sake, not his.

While TSI is pursuing its goals in many ways at once, so far as I can tell the thrust of its PR effort is to convince at least the educated minority that seasteading is not the harebrained crackpot idea it may seem at first glance, but in fact a sensible and intelligent project which sensible, intelligent people can support or at least understand.

This goal can be summarized in the word legitimacy. Thus, by attracting Professor Romer - one of the 25 most influential people in the world - as a TSI speaker, TSI demonstrates to the educated minority that it is a legitimate endeavor, not a bunch of dangerous nutcases. The content of Professor Romer's speech, almost surely a replay of his unctuous TED talk, and its relationship to seasteading, almost surely tangential, are almost irrelevant. The half-endorsement of his presence is all that TSI requires.

(Compare this to the reason that Patri invited me in the first place, which is solely that my presentation would have been thrilling and provocative. It certainly would not have brought any institutional prestige to TSI - quite the converse, of course. Thus what we are seeing here is the tension between two incompatible goals.)

By attracting dignitaries of this caliber, TSI might well hope to attract a correspondent for the New York Times or some other reputable institution of journalism - who might well produce a report not containing the word "whackjob." Millions of people will of course read this story, and some percentage of them may decide to support or participate in TSI's endeavors. Or at least not oppose them. Therefore, by causing Professor Romer to take his ball and go home, I have materially hampered these endeavors. Dignitaries, after all, must have their dignity.

Or so, anyway, is the theory. I have some problems with this theory - but let me first explain my own. The important thing to remember is that this theory is reasonable, it may well be correct, and in any case it was not my prerogative as a guest to discount it. This is why I owe an apology to Patri, which I hope he will accept.

UR does not seek the approval of professors. It reviles them. Moreover, the more influential my target is, the more hostile I feel free to be. For example, Professor Romer is one of the 25 most influential people in the world, which makes him a faggot. Of course, he last cracked this ranking in 1997, which means he may have slipped down to the top 200 or so. Thus some milder metaphor of perversion may have been more appropriate - compulsive masturbation, perhaps. But he still includes this claim in his bio, so I feel he deserves the consequences. He can always have his flacks edit Wikipedia and take it out.

To me, the word "professor" is a historical misnomer. It implies that the individual is a sage, a teacher, and a man of learning. If you double the manly half of Professor Hanson, for instance, you will observe these qualities - and their rarity. They were also often seen in those who carried that title in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and they survive in some fields especially divorced from political purpose. Pure mathematics, for instance, or the classics.

One clue to the fact that something fundamental has changed is the almost complete absence of true intellectual debate in the modern university. Nor does this mean congeniality pervades throughout. It means that when you see the appearance of an argument over ideas, the substance beneath that argument is not that of men trying to convince each other and/or an audience. The substance is that of bureaucratic warfare. When someone criticizes your work in the modern university, he is probably trying to kill you and take your funding. His criticism is not the opening for dialogue; it is the ritual pretext for an attack.

Thus, any fool who starts such an argument, with no better reason than that he (a) disagrees with someone else, and (b) grew up reading about the age of Darwin, Huxley and Wilberforce, will be surprised to find himself on the other end of an administrative mafia war. You might as well call your opponent a faggot. It will not exacerbate his ferocity in the slightest. He is right to assume that you are probably out to kill him, and right to respond in kind. When in Rome, etc.

I attribute this change to the revolution of 1933, when progressivism captured USG - finally and for good. Without quite putting it in these two words, it was acknowledged (by paladins of the new system, such as Dewey and Lippmann - each of whom had more influence in his pinky finger than anyone living today) that democracy had failed, and effective authority over the State should depart from the politicians and come to a new set of hands: the professors.

Who, in the New Deal state, exercise triple sovereignty: they formulate public policy, direct (through their permanent friends, the journalists) public opinion, and assign (through their academic credentials) social and professional rank. Subsequent military events exported this 20th-century American caesaropapism to the entire planet - or at least, its civilized remnants.

Democratic politics, at least in the US, remains capable of resisting and interfering with public policy. But the sceptre has most definitely passed. If you gave the reins of government, the full reins, the imperium maius, to Sarah Palin, she would have no idea what to do with them. Resisting rule by professor is the beginning and end of her political philosophy, and that of her supporters. (And remember that the professors are not always wrong.)

Thus an influential professor of economics, like Professor Romer, is not best seen as a sage, a teacher, and a man of learning. He is best seen as a high-ranking official of the permanent government. Who wears the Ring accepts its consequences.

Which is both why TSI feels blessed by Professor Romer's presence, and why I feel free - compelled, indeed - to revile him. Deference to authority is a natural human quality. Chimpanzees display it. No doubt even I, in the presence of Professor Romer, would feel a mild, easily-suppressed urge to fellate the man.

Thus if we afford these Ringwraiths normal human courtesy, we afford them too much. We will shortly find ourselves on our knees. The normal human reaction to hearing a Professor Romer express ideas similar to mine, albeit in highly diluted form, is to fawn and curtsy and beg for his approval. By condemning and reviling him instead, I counter this tendency and enforce my own independence. I burn my boats, like Cortez.

UR's objective is to do for the New Deal state what Voltaire did for the Catholic Church. Sufficient exposure to UR renders, or at least should render, it impossible for the reader to take these fsckers seriously. No church can endure mockery.

A Professor Romer is your modern version of a Catholic cardinal - with powers both spiritual and temporal. But caesaropapism, once established, is a single cathedral. Its power over the mind cannot survive the loss of its power over the body. Its power over the body cannot survive the loss of its power over the mind. Both buttresses, built and joined, quickly become essential.

The New Deal state is unassailable in its temporal authority. It is not unassailable in its spiritual authority. Once enough of the right people realize that the man under the red silk hat is not a sage and a teacher and a man of learning, but - the reader may substitute her own insult - the combination cannot survive.

So there is a theory behind both tactics: UR's boat-burning, and TSI's bridge-building. It remains to compare these theories.

The choice is a matter of opinion, of course. For me, it comes down to the question: has progressivism failed? Is the New Deal state, in any way, shape or form, redeemable? Can it be repaired? Or is it totaled?

If you believe (like me) that it is totaled, reason compels you to believe that bridge-building is at best a terrible waste of time, and at worst something far worse. By accepting the legitimacy, authority and permanence of the New Deal state, you are not only putting your money on a doomed horse - you are both accepting and contributing to that legitimacy, authority and permanence. Of course, if the State is not totaled and can be repaired, this is exactly the right thing to do.

What puzzles me about the TSI approach is that its entire premise seems to assume that USG is totaled. Seasteading says: instead of devoting your good efforts to repairing USG, devote them to escaping it. Build new cities at sea, where USG cannot rule you. Making this work is a tall order for many reasons, but none too tall if the New Deal state is both irreparable and invincible (Although if it is invincible, its navy probably is too.)

Whereas to seek legitimacy from USG is to acknowledge its own legitimacy. If you woo the professors and the journalists, they will either say no or yes. If they say no, your bridge-building is wasted effort. If they say yes, the kingdoms of the earth are offered indeed. The Times can make anyone famous, important and successful. If they endorse seasteading, lo, seasteading gets a big Barry Bonds injection of Ring juice. But the ring it receives is not the One - its powers can be revoked. (No one can revoke the powers of the Times.)

So if TSI succeeds in becoming a legitimate institution, it thus subjects itself to the authority of these powers. Should it displease them for a second, its ring melts on its finger. Thus it begins by trying to escape USG, and finishes as its toy.

I find this scenario quite improbable. Ringwraiths are evil, not stupid. It is very easy to see what TSI is and is trying to do. Such a venture will never, ever be politically correct. If there was any chance of disguising it, which there probably was not, it disappeared with Peter Thiel's essay against democracy. Once a right-wing extremist, always a right-wing extremist. Your Nazgul has an impeccable sense of smell.

Curiously, there is a parallel to Professor Romer's own program. Charter cities will never, ever happen - if they do, I will fellate either the good professor, or a homeless person of his choice. (There is one place in the world where international trusteeship exists: Bosnia. Exercise for the reader: in what way is Bosnia different from the former colonial world? Hint: what three-letter word starts with "W" and ends with "G"?)

Again, the Ringwraiths are not stupid. They know colonialism when they see it. They don't like it at all. Any effort invested in diluting and disguising it is wasted. If Professor Romer's goal is to make something happen, he might as well just propose that NATO restore the Raj in Afghanistan. His chances would be the same: zero.

But making something happen is not his goal. His goal is to get good PR and climb back into that top 25, by proposing a clever idea which no one else has thought of. Hence the irresistible metaphor of nonreproductive sex. If TSI is thinking along the same lines, consciously or unconsciously, it should probably inform its supporters of the matter.

At present, the tone of TSI's coverage is this, which reflects the journalist's perception that seasteading is (a) new, (b) kind of funny, and (c) extremely unlikely to succeed. As (a) changes, the coverage will disappear. If (c) changes, it will reappear with a vengeance. Or so is my prediction.

As Hunter Thompson so memorably put it, you can't wallow with the eagles at night and soar with the pigs in the morning. UR will always be found wallowing with the eagles. TSI, while it might like to do both, would clearly rather soar with the pigs. I feel that the less luck it has in this endeavor, the greater its chance of success in the long run.

If I were running TSI, as of course I am not, I would discard the entire strategy of PR, outreach and legitimacy. What seasteading needs is not a million people who think it's a cool idea, but a thousand fanatics completely dedicated to making it happen. TSI does not need the New York Times to find these people. In fact, outreach makes it harder to identify them, because it makes it hard to separate the fanatical supporters from the casual ones.

TSI's approach reminds me of that of many software startups I've seen, and more than one I've worked for. One of the classic startup errors is going too wide, too soon. Rather than focusing on the niche market it can own and hitting it with maximum force, a startup which makes this mistake (typically egged on by low-grade VCs) tries to sell its product to the entire world, which quickly rejects it. Seasteading is a niche market if I've ever seen one.

Yes, going wide helps you raise money. But money is never free. If your strategy depends on raising money from people who found you in the New York Times, your strategy is beholden to the New York Times. If you raise money through spin, you are a prisoner of that spin. Getting in the habit of telling it straight and telling it whole may raise less money - or not - but the money you raise will be better money. Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as bad money.

Compare the strategy of seasteading to that of another notable exercise in artificial community: Burning Man. Today, Burning Man is both legitimate and successful. But it is legitimate because it was first successful, not successful because it was first legitimate. The burners did not start by founding a Burning Man Institute to promote their concept. They started by burning the Man.

My message to the seasteaders is: get out there. If you want to prove that seasteading isn't a joke, buy a boat and find a bunch of crazy people who are willing to live on it. Stop promoting; put everything into doing. Any number of eloquent essays, rigorous engineering studies, lovely websites, academic endorsements, or glowing writeups in the Times, do not add up to one genuine maritime community. Worse, they subtract energy and focus from the incredibly difficult task of creating one.

One way to think of this is to consider the long, distinguished history of prison ships. Every ship at sea past sight of land is a prison - more secure than Alcatraz. A ship without a destination is a prison ship by definition.

So the question is: who wants to go to prison? A hard problem. But not an unsolvable one. Suppose you could go to prison with forty or fifty of the coolest people in the world? Living and working together, perhaps - half Internet startup, half commune, half correctional facility. A hard problem. But not an unsolvable one - if you focus on it.

Once you have one such ship and it succeeds, you can have another. Once you have two, you can have three. Once you have three, they can tie up to each other and have a big party. Once you have twenty, it may start looking like a floating city, and someone may think of adding an immobile platform. And so on. Frankly, it would still surprise me if any such thing happened - but I would very much like to be surprised.

Will Professor Romer help you with this? Will he come live with you on your pimped-out container ship? (There's never been a better time to buy a container ship.) If he disapproves, will it keep you in port? The answers are no, and no, and no.

Enough with seasteading. Again, the essential point of disagreement is: can the New Deal state be saved, rescued, repaired, or restored? Since this is UR, my answer is the same as Carlyle's: no. And since this is UR, the week would not be complete without a lengthy excerpt. From the first Latter-Day Pamphlet, The Present Time:
Not long ago, the world saw, with thoughtless joy which might have been very thoughtful joy, a real miracle not heretofore considered possible or conceivable in the world,--a Reforming Pope. A simple pious creature, a good country-priest, invested unexpectedly with the tiara, takes up the New Testament, declares that this henceforth shall be his rule of governing. No more finesse, chicanery, hypocrisy, or false or foul dealing of any kind: God's truth shall be spoken, God's justice shall be done, on the throne called of St. Peter: an honest Pope, Papa, or Father of Christendom, shall preside there. And such a throne of St. Peter; and such a Christendom, for an honest Papa to preside in! The European populations everywhere hailed the omen; with shouting and rejoicing leading articles and tar-barrels; thinking people listened with astonishment,--not with sorrow if they were faithful or wise; with awe rather as at the heralding of death, and with a joy as of victory beyond death! Something pious, grand and as if awful in that joy, revealing once more the Presence of a Divine Justice in this world.

For, to such men, it was very clear how this poor devoted Pope would prosper, with his New Testament in his band. An alarming business, that of governing in the throne of St. Peter by the rule of veracity! By the rule of veracity, the so-called throne of St. Peter was openly declared, above three hundred years, ago, to be a falsity, a huge mistake, a pestilent dead carcass, which this Sun was weary of. More than three hundred years ago, the throne of St. Peter received peremptory judicial notice to quit; authentic order, registered in Heaven's chancery and since legible in the hearts of all brave men, to take itself away,--to begone, and let us have no more to do with it and its delusions and impious deliriums;--and it has been sitting every day since, it may depend upon it, at its own peril withal, and will have to pay exact damages yet for every day it has so sat. Law of veracity? What this Popedom had to do by the law of veracity, was to give up its own foul galvanic life, an offence to gods and men; honestly to die, and get itself buried.

Far from this was the thing the poor Pope undertook in regard to it;--and yet, on the whole, it was essentially this too. "Reforming Pope?" said one of our acquaintance, often in those weeks, "Was there ever such a miracle? About to break up that huge imposthume too, by 'curing' it? Turgot and Necker were nothing to this. God is great; and when a scandal is to end, brings some devoted man to take charge of it in hope, not in despair!"--But cannot he reform? asked many simple persons;--to whom our friend in grim banter would reply: "Reform a Popedom,--hardly. A wretched old kettle, ruined from top to bottom, and consisting mainly now of foul grime and rust: stop the holes of it, as your antecessors have been doing, with temporary putty, it may hang together yet a while; begin to hammer at it, solder at it, to what you call mend and rectify it,--it will fall to sherds, as sure as rust is rust; go all into nameless dissolution,--and the fat in the fire will be a thing worth looking at, poor Pope!"--So accordingly it has proved. The poor Pope, amid felicitations and tar-barrels of various kinds, went on joyfully for a season: but he had awakened, he as no other man could do, the sleeping elements; mothers of the whirlwinds, conflagrations, earthquakes. Questions not very soluble at present, were even sages and heroes set to solve them, began everywhere with new emphasis to be asked. Questions which all official men wished, and almost hoped, to postpone till Doomsday. Doomsday itself had come; that was the terrible truth!

For, sure enough, if once the law of veracity be acknowledged as the rule for human things, there will not anywhere be want of work for the reformer; in very few places do human things adhere quite closely to that law! Here was the Papa of Christendom proclaiming that such was actually the case;--whereupon all over Christendom such results as we have seen. The Sicilians, I think, were the first notable body that set about applying this new strange rule sanctioned by the general Father; they said to themselves, We do not by the law of veracity belong to Naples and these Neapolitan Officials; we will, by favor of Heaven and the Pope, be free of these. Fighting ensued; insurrection, fiercely maintained in the Sicilian Cities; with much bloodshed, much tumult and loud noise, vociferation extending through all newspapers and countries. The effect of this, carried abroad by newspapers and rumor, was great in all places; greatest perhaps in Paris, which for sixty years past has been the City of Insurrections. The French People had plumed themselves on being, whatever else they were not, at least the chosen "soldiers of liberty," who took the lead of all creatures in that pursuit, at least; and had become, as their orators, editors and litterateurs diligently taught them, a People whose bayonets were sacred, a kind of Messiah People, saving a blind world in its own despite, and earning for themselves a terrestrial and even celestial glory very considerable indeed. And here were the wretched down-trodden populations of Sicily risen to rival them, and threatening to take the trade out of their hand.

No doubt of it, this hearing continually of the very Pope's glory as a Reformer, of the very Sicilians fighting divinely for liberty behind barricades,--must have bitterly aggravated the feeling of every Frenchman, as he looked around him, at home, on a Louis-Philippism which had become the scorn of all the world. "Ichabod; is the glory departing from us? Under the sun is nothing baser, by all accounts and evidences, than the system of repression and corruption, of shameless dishonesty and unbelief in anything but human baseness, that we now live under. The Italians, the very Pope, have become apostles of liberty, and France is--what is France!"--We know what France suddenly became in the end of February next; and by a clear enough genealogy, we can trace a considerable share in that event to the good simple Pope with the New Testament in his hand. An outbreak, or at least a radical change and even inversion of affairs hardly to be achieved without an outbreak, everybody felt was inevitable in France: but it had been universally expected that France would as usual take the initiative in that matter; and had there been no reforming Pope, no insurrectionary Sicily, France had certainly not broken out then and so, but only afterwards and otherwise. The French explosion, not anticipated by the cunningest men there on the spot scrutinizing it, burst up unlimited, complete, defying computation or control.

Close following which, as if by sympathetic subterranean electricities, all Europe exploded, boundless, uncontrollable; and we had the year 1848, one of the most singular, disastrous, amazing, and, on the whole, humiliating years the European world ever saw. Not since the irruption of the Northern Barbarians has there been the like. Everywhere immeasurable Democracy rose monstrous, loud, blatant, inarticulate as the voice of Chaos. Everywhere the Official holy-of-holies was scandalously laid bare to dogs and the profane:--Enter, all the world, see what kind of Official holy it is. Kings everywhere, and reigning persons, stared in sudden horror, the voice of the whole world bellowing in their ear, "Begone, ye imbecile hypocrites, histrios not heroes! Off with you, off!" and, what was peculiar and notable in this year for the first time, the Kings all made haste to go, as if exclaiming, "We are poor histrios, we sure enough;--did you want heroes? Don't kill us; we couldn't help it!" Not one of them turned round, and stood upon his Kingship, as upon a right he could afford to die for, or to risk his skin upon; by no manner of means.

That, I say, is the alarming peculiarity at present. Democracy, on this new occasion, finds all Kings conscious that they are but Play-actors. The miserable mortals, enacting their High Life Below Stairs, with faith only that this Universe may perhaps be all a phantasm and hypocrisis,--the truculent Constable of the Destinies suddenly enters: "Scandalous Phantasms, what do you here? Are 'solemnly constituted Impostors' the proper Kings of men? Did you think the Life of Man was a grimacing dance of apes? To be led always by the squeak of your paltry fiddle? Ye miserable, this Universe is not an upholstery Puppet-play, but a terrible God's Fact; and you, I think,--had not you better be gone!" They fled precipitately, some of them with what we may call an exquisite ignominy,--in terror of the treadmill or worse.

And everywhere the people, or the populace, take their own government upon themselves; and open "kinglessness," what we call anarchy, --how happy if it be anarchy plus a street-constable!--is everywhere the order of the day. Such was the history, from Baltic to Mediterranean, in Italy, France, Prussia, Austria, from end to end of Europe, in those March days of 1848. Since the destruction of the old Roman Empire by inroad of the Northern Barbarians, I have known nothing similar.

And so, then, there remained no King in Europe; no King except the Public Haranguer, haranguing on barrel-head, in leading article; or getting himself aggregated into a National Parliament to harangue. And for about four months all France, and to a great degree all Europe, rough-ridden by every species of delirium, except happily the murderous for most part, was a weltering mob, presided over by M. de Lamartine, at the Hotel-de-Ville; a most eloquent fair-spoken literary gentleman, whom thoughtless persons took for a prophet, priest and heaven-sent evangelist, and whom a wise Yankee friend of mine discerned to be properly "the first stump-orator in the world, standing too on the highest stump,--for the time." A sorrowful spectacle to men of reflection, during the time he lasted, that poor M. de Lamartine; with nothing in him but melodious wind and soft sowder, which he and others took for something divine and not diabolic!

Sad enough; the eloquent latest impersonation of Chaos-come-again; able to talk for itself, and declare persuasively that it is Cosmos! However, you have but to wait a little, in such cases; all balloons do and must give up their gas in the pressure of things, and are collapsed in a sufficiently wretched manner before long.

And so in City after City, street-barricades are piled, and truculent, more or less murderous insurrection begins; populace after populace rises, King after King capitulates or absconds; and from end to end of Europe Democracy has blazed up explosive, much higher, more irresistible and less resisted than ever before; testifying too sadly on what a bottomless volcano, or universal powder-mine of most inflammable mutinous chaotic elements, separated from us by a thin earth-rind, Society with all its arrangements and acquirements everywhere, in the present epoch, rests!

The kind of persons who excite or give signal to such revolutions--students, young men of letters, advocates, editors, hot inexperienced enthusiasts, or fierce and justly bankrupt desperadoes, acting everywhere on the discontent of the millions and blowing it into flame,--might give rise to reflections as to the character of our epoch. Never till now did young men, and almost children, take such a command in human affairs. A changed time since the word Senior (Seigneur, or Elder) was first devised to signify "lord," or superior;--as in all languages of men we find it to have been! Not an honorable document this either, as to the spiritual condition of our epoch. In times when men love wisdom, the old man will ever be venerable, and be venerated, and reckoned noble: in times that love something else than wisdom, and indeed have little or no wisdom, and see little or none to love, the old man will cease to be venerated; and looking more closely, also, you will find that in fact he has ceased to be venerable, and has begun to be contemptible; a foolish boy still, a boy without the graces, generosities and opulent strength of young boys. In these days, what of lordship or leadership is still to be done, the youth must do it, not the mature or aged man; the mature man, hardened into sceptical egoism, knows no monition but that of his own frigid cautious, avarices, mean timidities; and can lead no-whither towards an object that even seems noble. But to return.

This mad state of matters will of course before long allay itself, as it has everywhere begun to do; the ordinary necessities of men's daily existence cannot comport with it, and these, whatever else is cast aside, will have their way. Some remounting--very temporary remounting--of the old machine, under new colors and altered forms, will probably ensue soon in most countries: the old histrionic Kings will be admitted back under conditions, under "Constitutions," with national Parliaments, or the like fashionable adjuncts; and everywhere the old daily life will try to begin again. But there is now no hope that such arrangements can be permanent; that they can be other than poor temporary makeshifts, which, if they try to fancy and make themselves permanent, will be displaced by new explosions recurring more speedily than last time. In such baleful oscillation, afloat as amid raging bottomless eddies and conflicting sea-currents, not steadfast as on fixed foundations, must European Society continue swaying, now disastrously tumbling, then painfully readjusting itself, at ever shorter intervals,--till once the new rock-basis does come to light, and the weltering deluges of mutiny, and of need to mutiny, abate again!

For universal Democracy, whatever we may think of it, has declared itself as an inevitable fact of the days in which we live; and he who has any chance to instruct, or lead, in his days, must begin by admitting that: new street-barricades, and new anarchies, still more scandalous if still less sanguinary, must return and again return, till governing persons everywhere know and admit that. Democracy, it may be said everywhere, is here:--for sixty years now, ever since the grand or First French Revolution, that fact has been terribly announced to all the world; in message after message, some of them very terrible indeed; and now at last all the world ought really to believe it. That the world does believe it; that even Kings now as good as believe it, and know, or with just terror surmise, that they are but temporary phantasm Play-actors, and that Democracy is the grand, alarming, imminent and indisputable Reality: this, among the scandalous phases we witnessed in the last two years, is a phasis full of hope: a sign that we are advancing closer and closer to the very Problem itself, which it will behoove us to solve or die; that all fighting and campaigning and coalitioning in regard to the existence of the Problem, is hopeless and superfluous henceforth. The gods have appointed it so; no Pitt, nor body of Pitts or mortal creatures can appoint it otherwise.

Democracy, sure enough, is here; one knows not how long it will keep hidden underground even in Russia;--and here in England, though we object to it resolutely in the form of street-barricades and insurrectionary pikes, and decidedly will not open doors to it on those terms, the tramp of its million feet is on all streets and thoroughfares, the sound of its bewildered thousand-fold voice is in all writings and speakings, in all thinkings and modes and activities of men: the soul that does not now, with hope or terror, discern it, is not the one we address on this occasion.

What is Democracy; this huge inevitable Product of the Destinies, which is everywhere the portion of our Europe in these latter days? There lies the question for us. Whence comes it, this universal big black Democracy; whither tends it; what is the meaning of it? A meaning it must have, or it would not be here. If we can find the right meaning of it, we may, wisely submitting or wisely resisting and controlling, still hope to live in the midst of it; if we cannot find the right meaning, if we find only the wrong or no meaning in it, to live will not be possible!--The whole social wisdom of the Present Time is summoned, in the name of the Giver of Wisdom, to make clear to itself, and lay deeply to heart with an eye to strenuous valiant practice and effort, what the meaning of this universal revolt of the European Populations, which calls itself Democracy, and decides to continue permanent, may be.

Certainly it is a drama full of action, event fast following event; in which curiosity finds endless scope, and there are interests at stake, enough to rivet the attention of all men, simple and wise. Whereat the idle multitude lift up their voices, gratulating, celebrating sky-high; in rhyme and prose announcement, more than plentiful, that now the New Era, and long-expected Year One of Perfect Human Felicity has come. Glorious and immortal people, sublime French citizens, heroic barricades; triumph of civil and religious liberty--O Heaven! one of the inevitablest private miseries, to an earnest man in such circumstances, is this multitudinous efflux of oratory and psalmody, from the universal foolish human throat; drowning for the moment all reflection whatsoever, except the sorrowful one that you are fallen in an evil, heavy-laden, long-eared age, and must resignedly bear your part in the same.

The front wall of your wretched old crazy dwelling, long denounced by you to no purpose, having at last fairly folded itself over, and fallen prostrate into the street, the floors, as may happen, will still hang on by the mere beam-ends, and coherency of old carpentry, though in a sloping direction, and depend there till certain poor rusty nails and worm-eaten dovetailings give way:--but is it cheering, in such circumstances, that the whole household burst forth into celebrating the new joys of light and ventilation, liberty and picturesqueness of position, and thank God that now they have got a house to their mind? My dear household, cease singing and psalmodying; lay aside your fiddles, take out your work-implements, if you have any; for I can say with confidence the laws of gravitation are still active, and rusty nails, worm-eaten dovetailings, and secret coherency of old carpentry, are not the best basis for a household!--In the lanes of Irish cities, I have heard say, the wretched people are sometimes found living, and perilously boiling their potatoes, on such swing-floors and inclined planes hanging on by the joist-ends; but I did not hear that they sang very much in celebration of such lodging. No, they slid gently about, sat near the back wall, and perilously boiled their potatoes, in silence for most part!--

High shouts of exultation, in every dialect, by every vehicle of speech and writing, rise from far and near over this last avatar of Democracy in 1848: and yet, to wise minds, the first aspect it presents seems rather to be one of boundless misery and sorrow. What can be more miserable than this universal hunting out of the high dignitaries, solemn functionaries, and potent, grave and reverend seigniors of the world; this stormful rising-up of the inarticulate dumb masses everywhere, against those who pretended to be speaking for them and guiding them? These guides, then, were mere blind men only pretending to see? These rulers were not ruling at all; they had merely got on the attributes and clothes of rulers, and were surreptitiously drawing the wages, while the work remained undone? The Kings were Sham-Kings, play-acting as at Drury Lane;--and what were the people withal that took them for real?

It is probably the hugest disclosure of falsity in human things that was ever at one time made. These reverend Dignitaries that sat amid their far-shining symbols and long-sounding long-admitted professions, were mere Impostors, then? Not a true thing they were doing, but a false thing. The story they told men was a cunningly devised fable; the gospels they preached to them were not an account of man's real position in this world, but an incoherent fabrication, of dead ghosts and unborn shadows, of traditions, cants, indolences, cowardices,--a falsity of falsities, which at last ceases to stick together. Wilfully and against their will, these high units of mankind were cheats, then; and the low millions who believed in them were dupes,--a kind of inverse cheats, too, or they would not have believed in them so long.

A universal Bankruptcy of Imposture; that may be the brief definition of it. Imposture everywhere declared once more to be contrary to Nature; nobody will change its word into an act any farther:--fallen insolvent; unable to keep its head up by these false pretences, or make its pot boil any more for the present! A more scandalous phenomenon, wide as Europe, never afflicted the face of the sun. Bankruptcy everywhere; foul ignominy, and the abomination of desolation, in all high places: odious to look upon, as the carnage of a battle-field on the morrow morning;--a massacre not of the innocents; we cannot call it a massacre of the innocents; but a universal tumbling of Impostors and of Impostures into the street!--

Such a spectacle, can we call it joyful? There is a joy in it, to the wise man too; yes, but a joy full of awe, and as it were sadder than any sorrow,--like the vision of immortality, unattainable except through death and the grave! And yet who would not, in his heart of hearts, feel piously thankful that Imposture has fallen bankrupt? By all means let it fall bankrupt; in the name of God let it do so, with whatever misery to itself and to all of us. Imposture, be it known then,--known it must and shall be,--is hateful, unendurable to God and man. Let it understand this everywhere; and swiftly make ready for departure, wherever it yet lingers; and let it learn never to return, if possible! The eternal voices, very audibly again, are speaking to proclaim this message, from side to side of the world. Not a very cheering message, but a very indispensable one.

Alas, it is sad enough that Anarchy is here; that we are not permitted to regret its being here,--for who that had, for this divine Universe, an eye which was human at all, could wish that Shams of any kind, especially that Sham-Kings should continue? No: at all costs, it is to be prayed by all men that Shams may cease. Good Heavens, to what depths have we got, when this to many a man seems strange! Yet strange to many a man it does seem; and to many a solid Englishman, wholesomely digesting his pudding among what are called the cultivated classes, it seems strange exceedingly; a mad ignorant notion, quite heterodox, and big with mere ruin. He has been used to decent forms long since fallen empty of meaning, to plausible modes, solemnities grown ceremonial,--what you in your iconoclast humor call shams, all his life long; never heard that there was any harm in them, that there was any getting on without them. Did not cotton spin itself, beef grow, and groceries and spiceries come in from the East and the West, quite comfortably by the side of shams? Kings reigned, what they were pleased to call reigning; lawyers pleaded, bishops preached, and honorable members perorated; and to crown the whole, as if it were all real and no sham there, did not scrip continue salable, and the banker pay in bullion, or paper with a metallic basis? "The greatest sham, I have always thought, is he that would destroy shams."

Even so. To such depth have I, the poor knowing person of this epoch, got;--almost below the level of lowest humanity, and down towards the state of apehood and oxhood! For never till in quite recent generations was such a scandalous blasphemy quietly set forth among the sons of Adam; never before did the creature called man believe generally in his heart that lies were the rule in this Earth; that in deliberate long-established lying could there be help or salvation for him, could there be at length other than hindrance and destruction for him. O Heavyside, my solid friend, this is the sorrow of sorrows: what on earth can become of us till this accursed enchantment, the general summary and consecration of delusions, be cast forth from the heart and life of one and all! Cast forth it will be; it must, or we are tending, at all moments, whitherward I do not like to name. Alas, and the casting of it out, to what heights and what depths will it lead us, in the sad universe mostly of lies and shams and hollow phantasms (grown very ghastly now), in which, as in a safe home, we have lived this century or two! To heights and depths of social and individual divorce from delusions,--of "reform" in right sacred earnest, of indispensable amendment, and stern sorrowful abrogation and order to depart,--such as cannot well be spoken at present; as dare scarcely be thought at present; which nevertheless are very inevitable, and perhaps rather imminent several of them! Truly we have a heavy task of work before us; and there is a pressing call that we should seriously begin upon it, before it tumble into an inextricable mass, in which there will be no working, but only suffering and hopelessly perishing! --

Or perhaps Democracy, which we announce as now come, will itself manage it? Democracy, once modelled into suffrages, furnished with ballot-boxes and such like, will itself accomplish the salutary universal change from Delusive to Real, and make a new blessed world of us by and by?--To the great mass of men, I am aware, the matter presents itself quite on this hopeful side. Democracy they consider to be a kind of "Government." The old model, formed long since, and brought to perfection in England now two hundred years ago, has proclaimed itself to all Nations as the new healing for every woe: "Set up a Parliament," the Nations everywhere say, when the old King is detected to be a Sham-King, and hunted out or not; "set up a Parliament; let us have suffrages, universal suffrages; and all either at once or by due degrees will be right, and a real Millennium come!" Such is their way of construing the matter.

Such is, alas, by no means my way of construing the matter...
Continue here, if you're hooked. As, alas, I am. A heavy task of work, indeed! But by no means to be shirked.