Wednesday, February 25, 2009 37 Comments

Lycidas' Bull

Lycidas' bull, big as a house!
Lycidas died. We got his bull.
The town showed up and clapped.
With an iron chain we chained him

To an oak as old as Cromwell.
A green hill of wooden stone,
Elephant-fat. But Lycidas' bull
Would not submit. He bellowed

Awfully at night, raged and roamed,
Ripped the earth and all around him.
(He missed Lycidas, the poor thing.)
At last he collapsed, and slept a week.

But his iron chain had sawn the oak.
When he woke it cracked. Where he went,
Big as a house, he towed that tree.
And many were torn in its twigs alone.

Then we stood; took heart; and forged
A new chain for the bull of Lycidas,
Of carbon-fiber and black titanium.
We pinned him with levers. We bent

His neck. We riveted his chain
To a redwood older than Columbus.

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.

Friday, February 13, 2009 32 Comments

Puffs of smoke from the gold volcano

I thought it would be nice to take a break from sounding like one of Plato's lesser-known, even-more-evil competitors, and note the latest in the eternally fascinating and bizarre gold-dollar system.

In the dollar's favor, gold lease rates appear to have stabilized. (Ie: either this signal was only a glitch, perhaps due to LIBOR weirdness, or it was countered effectively by policymakers). Moreover, as expected in a recession, true jewelry consumption has crashed.

In the East, at least, it is hard to separate luxury from investment jewelry, but even gold investors of the Oriental persuasion seem to operate on an intrinsic-value theory: they feel that the stuff has some natural price as a commodity, and they tend to buy when it is cheap and not when it is not. As we have seen, this is not rational - the rational gold investor is a momentum investor. However, this demand pattern is real and unlikely to change any time soon.

And "Western investment demand" is keeping the gold price in dollars relatively high. Perhaps a more accurate description is perhaps capital flight to gold - or, here at UR, moving to Moldenstein. To paraphrase Milton Friedman, perhaps it's just obvious that you can't have a heavily-bleeding global reserve currency and a free market in the precious metals.

Of course, as per the paradoxical logic of monetary commodities, this is true only if everyone knows it. Perhaps you are familiar with the paradox (familiar to every CTY veteran) of the blue-eyed islanders. As we enter 2009 there is a simple, mechanical trigger analogous to the stranger's arrival: any dumb, statistical screen for financial assets that outperformed in 2006, 2007 and 2008 will put gold somewhere near the top of the page. Moreover, it is obvious that the market for monetary gold is anything but saturated - even most rich people still have none. Doh.

So, while it appears to me from my cursory perusal of the mainstream press, that more people are beginning to understand gold, readers should bear in mind that (a) this too might be a glitch; (b) the debt market is a Rube Goldberg machine which may suddenly, if enough gasoline is poured into it and a sufficiently large blowtorch is applied, restart for no obvious reason; (c) even if people understand things, they can subsequently be made to un-understand them; and (d) the fact we continue to have a free market in said precious metals is a function not of USG's wisdom, but of its weakness - a quality never to be relied upon in one's enemies.

That said, the statistics for early 2009 are fairly impressive. Gold flow into the SPDR trust alone, for example, is at almost 200 tons for the last month. Ie: six billion dollars. Ie: roughly equal to planetary gold production. On February 11th and 12th, the flows were 40 and 35 tons - a billion dollars a day. This is almost real money. (Briefly: gold flows into to the trust when, if gold did not flow into the trust, the price of SPDR gold would exceed the futures-market price.) Furthermore, while God only knows what they are backed with, precious-metals bank accounts are reportedly proliferating in Russia.

This trend is not sustainable at its present level. It must either accelerate, or terminate. In retrospect, it will look like either a real signal, or a real glitch.

If the latter, the gold price carries a heavier monetary premium than at any time since 1980 - at least. It has more monetary support and less support from the traditional market, ie Hindu brides, and it will collapse more sharply. Gold can flow out of monetary caches, as well as in. Just so ya know. (And besides, it is always a contrary indicator when UR mentions gold.) In retrospect, it will look as if gold has experienced another 1980 bubble and collapsed.

If the former, it will look like Exter's pyramid has finally rolled tip down. This, like everything, will appear obvious and inevitable in retrospect. (There is probably no one at the New York Fed who remembers John Exter, but I'm sure his collected memos remain in the files.) I would not be surprised to see some political changes accompany any such monetary earthquake.

Computing any level for a fully-monetized gold price is number abuse. Gold price in what? By definition, your denominator has gone AWOL. However, perhaps a ballpark guess can be constructed by comparing annual global gold production, which while elastic is not as elastic as one might think, to annual global savings.

Certainly, until incremental monetary demand is consistently absorbing all new production, the gold rocket is still, in some sense, sitting on the launch pad. And so it is. There is some steam or something, however, emerging from the base. Either this is nothing, or it means the rocket is about to take off, or it means the rocket is about to fall over and blow up. It's your call, dude.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 42 Comments

A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations (part 5)

I feel we are ready for our portrait of USG in the large - what she is, and how she came to be.

Obviously, I can't conceal my opinion of the beast before us. Perhaps Goya put it best:


Goya left no captions for his Black Paintings, so we have no way of knowing whether or not he meant to call this one Democracy. Events of the last week, however, have shown that Goya got one thing wrong. The black-robed figure is no goat at all - but a great, horn-crowned hog.

But in speaking so ill of any great thing, we must speak with great precision and care. What, exactly, is our hog-devil? In what coarse sty was it spawned? And what foul work betrays it?

For example: if USG has any material existence, it must in some sense consist of the people who work for it. Both my parents and my stepfather were career employees of USG. If they ever donned robes and animal masks for any dark, nocturnal rite of evil, they've hid it well.

While it's true that the average USG employee is probably not best described as a sensible, decent and capable person, exceptions are everywhere. And USG has no shortage of tentacles in which the exception becomes the rule - notably, the military.

For example: if we despise USG, what shall we make of its flag? As we know, the storied banner of the Republic is no more than the corporate logo of a malstructured sovereign. Liquidate the corporation, and what becomes of its brand? Shall the Stars and Stripes wave nevermore o'er the windy air? Yet where are the E.F. Huttons of yesteryear?

The answer is simple. Sovereign corporations are not to be liquidated. Sovereign liquidation means anarchy, and there is no political form more dangerous. In small doses or in large, anarchy is destruction of capital. Those who worship it, pray to a goat.

Peter Oliver and Thomas Hutchinson, America's reactionary founding fathers, often called their party the "friends of government," and perhaps a systematic opposition to anarchy (with its inevitable concomitant, anarcho-tyranny) could describe itself as archism. For example, when you start spouting Moldbuggian nonsense and people accuse you of being a fascist, you can say, no, actually, I'm an archist. Will it keep your neck from the rope? Doubtful, but try it anyway.

USG is by no means an inherently unprofitable operation. It is anything but a candidate for liquidation. All it needs is new management. All assets and operations are preserved - at least, until the new management figures out what to do with them. This certainly includes the flag, and all other heraldic attributes of sovereignty. These are part of USG's capital, and no small part.

No - the program of the archist is not destruction, but restoration. A more palatable synonym, perhaps, for our grand design of thorough and uncompromising reaction, which will reforge the sword of the State and spread peace, order and security across the democracy-scarred earth. Indeed you will learn to welcome your new, reactionary overlords... but I digress.

Our quarrel with USG, obviously, is not with the American continent or its population, nor with USG's employees; and nor with its symbols. So what remains? Why the Goya?

Answer: the hog-devil in USG is its constitution. Note the small c. Sadly, it is impossible to salvage the word constitution, small c, from its Orwellian fate. But we will pretend to try for a moment - if just to parse the scene of the crime.

Like most American political doxology, the word constitution comes from British politics. (In general, if any American wants to understand any phenomenon in American history pre 1940 or so, a good exercise for clearing the mind is to see it again through the eyes of London.)

Britain, of course, is famous for its unwritten constitution - a phrase which strikes the worm-gnawed American brain as oxymoronic. In fact, unwritten constitution is a tautology. It is our written constitution - or large-C Constitution - which is a concept comical, impossible, and fundamentally fraudulent. Please allow me to explain.

England had a constitution well before America had a Constitution, and De Quincey (whose political journalism is remarkably underrated) defines the concept succinctly:
...the equilibrium of forces in a political system, as recognised and fixed by distinct political acts...
In other words, a government's constitution (small c) is its actual structure of power. The constitution is the process by which the government formulates its decisions. When we ask why government G made decision D1 to take action A1, or decision D2 not to take action A2, we inquire as to its constitution.

Thus the trouble with these written constitutions. If the Constitution is identical to the constitution, it is superfluous. If the Constitution is not identical to the constitution, it is deceptive. There are no other choices.

It's easy to show that the latter is the case for USG. For example, the two-party system is clearly part of USG's constitution. But not only does the Constitution not mention political parties, the design notes indicate an intention to preclude them. Obviously this was not successful.

For another example, American law schools teach something called constitutional law, a body of judicial precedent which purports to be a mere elucidation of the text of the Constitution. Yet no one seriously believes that an alien, reading the Constitution, would produce anything like the same results. Moreover, the meta-rules on which constitutional law rests, such as stare decisis, are entirely unwritten, and have been violated in patterns not best explained by theories of textual interpretation. Thus the small 'c' in constitutional law is indeed correct.

In retrospect, the written-constitution design is another case of the pattern of wishful thinking that appears over and over again in the democratic mind. From the perspective of a subject, political stability is a highly desirable quality in a sovereign. We should all be ruled by governments whose constitution does not change. The error is to assume that this outcome can be achieved by simply inscribing a desirable constitution. This is a quick dive off the pons asinorum of political engineering, the quis custodiet problem.

If the constitution is in fact stable, inscribing it (while a prudent clerical task) makes it no more stable. If the constitution is not in fact stable, the equilibrium of forces can shift away from the original intent of the designers, and the inscription becomes a fraud.

An obstacle, in fact, to any real understanding of the actual constitution. Which, as we'll see, is so heinous that it needs every bit of camouflage it can get. And thus the bug becomes a feature.

But this distinction is too important to hang on a single capital. So let us discard the old word, and pick a new one to mean what De Quincey meant, the equilibrium of forces: structure. USG, though damned, is great, and merits the majuscule. And because it changes - though not much, these days - we must specify the period.

Thus we have a new name for our robed boar-god: the Modern Structure (MS). Today, we're going to examine the nature and origins of the MS. Both will be found equally foul.

First, let's describe the fundamental engineering flaw in the MS. This bug is so easy to see that even the New York Times can see it. Of course, our columnist is addressing the governance of fish, not hominids, but note that nothing in his logic depends on scales, gills, or fins:
Since the mid-’50s, economists who study fisheries have basically understood the fate that has befallen these waters. They call it the tragedy of the commons.

If a fish population is controlled by a single, perfectly rational agent — an idealized entity economists refer to as “the sole owner” — he or she will manage it to maximize its total value over time. For almost every population, that means leaving a lot of fish in the water, where they can continue to make young fish. The sole owner, then, will cautiously withdraw the biological equivalent of interest, without reducing the capital — the healthy population that remains in the sea.

But if the fish population is available to many independent parties, competition becomes a driving concern. If I don’t extract as much as I can today, there’s no guarantee you won’t take everything tomorrow. Sure, in a perfect world, you and I would trust each other, exercise restraint, and in the long run, grow wealthier for it, but I’d better just play it safe and get those fish before you do. The race for fish ensues, and soon, the tragedy of the commons has struck.
Ie: if you are a fish, you want all fish to be owned by a King of Fishermen. So long as our fisher king is rational, this "single owner" will govern his fisheries with a strong and kindly hand, maximizing returns over an infinite time horizon, bringing peace, freedom and prosperity to cod, pollock, and sea-bass alike.

But if we fracture this coherent authority into two competing authorities, each can gain by stealing fish from the other. The more authority is fractured, the more predatory it becomes. Thus, the infallible recipe for a sadistic and predatory state: internal competition for power. (Hominids, unlike fish, respond well to fences, so geographical fragmentation is not inconsistent with coherent authority - the ocean partitioned, as it were, into artificial lakes.)

Congratulations. You've just rediscovered the logic of Sir Robert Filmer - just 321 years too late. (Lord Wharton's puppies, indeed!) And where, dear Times reader, does this place you on the political spectrum?

Well - let's say that Barack Obama is yellow light, and John McCain is green light. George W. Bush is blue light. Trent Lott is violet. Pat Buchanan is ultraviolet. Hitler is an X-ray. Filmer is a freakin' gamma ray shot out of some vast, galaxy-munching black hole on the other side of the friggin' universe. He's so right-wing, you need special equipment just to observe him.

And yet: the logic works the same for fish as for people. And we can see it work for fish. We have the pictures. In the New York Times. Pretty little sea cucumbers, flourishing, under the care of wise Indian chiefs.

And note, strangest of all, that your democratic mind, or parasite, or whatever it is, believes in exactly the opposite principle. Not coherent authority - but fragmented authority.

For example: Montesquieu's little device, "checks and balances." More generally, you are instinctively distrustful of any concentration of sovereign authority into one hand or a few, and instinctively trustful of political architectures that involve as many actors as possible in the choice and formulation of government policy.

Which is exactly the right way to ensure that you, as subjects of said government, are trawled into undersea deserts by mile-long bottom-scraping Taiwanese gill-nets. As indeed we see. What explains this remarkable, centuries-old divergence between logic and opinion?

There's an easy answer. Consider the incentives of the fishermen in an ocean under fractured authority. They are not friends. Each strives to strip the sea before his neighbor arrives. But there is one principle they can agree on: that fragmentation of authority is good.

Why? Because any consolidation of authority must involve stripping at least one player of the power to fish. Any consensus that this is undesirable is a basis for cooperation among all, and is likely to achieve social popularity, regardless of truth. Hominids have been living in tribal societies for the better part of ten million years. They are very good at cooperation games.

For example: if political power is split between Commons, Lords, and Crown, it is easy to construct a settlement in which each of Commons, Lords, and Crown acknowledges the division of authority and promises not to infringe it. While each party will of course struggle to evade this settlement and gain absolute power - note that we don't hear much from the Lords or the Crown these days - the doctrine of benign fragmentation is one all can endorse, even though it is the converse of truth.

Acton was exactly wrong: it is not absolute, but partial power that corrupts. More precisely, it is partial authority not formally matched with partial responsibility. Formal shareholders experience no such conflict of interest - that is, their interests do not conflict with each others', nor with the interests of the firm as a whole. And corruption depends on conflict of interest.

For example: if the "sole owner," our Fisher King, decides to sell out to a giant Japanese conglomerate, said conglomerate will run the fishery in just the same way. Its shareholders are not likely to descend on the reef with their own spearguns - and if some try, the rest will stop them. Few corporations afford any special treatment to shareholders who are also customers.

Of course, we are assuming that actors in this structure respond rationally to incentives. But these relationships exist in the real world today, albeit without the sovereign twist, and they appear to be conducted for the most part sensibly. We are certainly not making the mistake of appealing to anyone's philanthropic motives, although one can expect that in an environment of peace, order and security, genuine philanthropy will flourish.

Thus we see a feedback loop between the idea of fragmented power, and the structure itself. Those who hold some fragment of power are natural believers in the fragmentation of power, because in any return to coherent authority all but one fragment-holder must be dispossessed. Believing in their cause, they will work to further it, and destroy any concentrations of authority.

Fragmentation of authority already exhibits a ratchet effect. Power fractures easily. Those with it are human; they grow old, retire, die. Power must be passed on, and it is as easy to pass to many as one. It is a sweet thing, however, and not often relinquished. And for the fragments to come back together, one with power must transfer that power to another with it. This happens easily as a consequence of violence, and not easily otherwise.

Thus we see two unidirectional effects - ratchets, arrows, etc - that should lead, as time advances, to fragmentation of sovereign authority. Boltzmann's law, anyone?

Indeed it is quite reasonable to describe coherent (or, in democratic parlance, "absolute") authority as orderly, and divergent (or, in democratic parlance, "plural," "open," "inclusive," etc) authority as disorderly. The trend from coherent to divergent is thus a case of entropy.

Cancer, corrosion, infection, and putrefaction are all entropic processes. If the gradual decline, across the last two centuries, of coherent authority (in democratic parlance, "progress") belongs on this list, I feel the Goya analogy is at least half sold.

Note, for example, the predicted endpoint of fragmentation: universal suffrage. At the start of the entropic process, the State has one owner, guardian, and trustee: the Crown. At the end of the process, an equally microscopic sliver of authority is entrusted to every resident who, without too much comedy, can be portrayed as capable of using it responsibly.

In a universal-suffrage democracy, the voter is quite literally a part-time government employee. Unpaid, untrained and unmanaged, he nonetheless has his place on the org chart. (From the archist perspective, this is the fundamental error of confusing the guests with the staff.)

Thanks to our fish logic, we would expect universal-suffrage democracy to manage its capital very badly. We would expect to see a high level of autopredation in this system, with coalitions of voters cooperating to strip-mine the sea in which they themselves swim, Peter robbing Paul and Paul robbing Peter, etc, etc.

And, despite this result, we would still expect to see the doctrine of fragmentation widely espoused and propounded. And in both cases, experience matches deduction.

So the ritual self-congratulation of democracy, the entire theory of progress, is a fraudulent edifice constructed to rationalize what is in fact a decline. Thus we should see a decrease in the quality of government, and especially in the cohesion of authority, across what the official story describes as periods of great progress.

And we indeed see this effect. For example, across the 20th century, we see crime rates in Great Britain rise by roughly a factor of 50 (offenses per capita known to the police). If this isn't a breakdown in both quality of government and cohesion of authority, I don't know what is. Similarly, the period has experienced unprecedented progress. South Africa has also experienced great progress in the recent past, and we see how that worked out.

But is all this sufficient to explain USG? Obviously, USG is a universal-suffrage democracy - despite hanging chads, archaic Constitutional doohickeys, minor campaign-finance irregularities, etc. And obviously, it is quite disorderly and becoming more so. So is this a sufficient description of the Modern Structure? Have we solved the problem?

Sadly, we're not even close. We have hardly lifted the hem of Goya's beast. Even if you are an experienced reader of UR, the facts of the matter are far more horrible than you imagine. I mean: what else was the 20th century? A horror story. Why should we expect any regime which owes its existence to, say, um - the 1930s - to be any good at all?

But I am skipping ahead. First the theory - then the experience.

To describe a sovereign structure as a universal-suffrage democracy (USD) is to describe it incompletely. The set is somewhat bounded, but not so much as the democrat imagines. If X times 0 is 0, what is X?

The problem is that what we might call a pure democracy, a system in which actual power is distributed in exactly the same proportions that the democracy distributes nominal power, is so unstable and unlikely a proposition as to be ridiculous. If you doubt this, I recommend a tussle with Limits of Pure Democracy, by W.H. Mallock (hat tip: Deogolwulf). Mallock will beat you - kick your ass, break a chair over your head, and throw you out of the ring. Just so you know.

Therefore, when we describe a structure as a USD, we know it is not actually a USD. Rather, there exists some actual structure (of power, ie influence over government policy) into which the USD, which being pure can only exist for a femtosecond, has degenerated. The nominal structure of the USD remains, as camouflage.

Remember, what we seek is not our quarry's official org chart, but its real one. We do not want to know that everyone has one vote - we knew that. What we want to know is why USG does, or does not, do the things it does or does not do. (We are as interested in inaction as in action.)

Lenin, like Hitler an evil man but a nonnegligible philosopher of government, put it neatly:
Who? Whom?
This loses a bit of its bite in 21st-century English. In a language with actual pronoun declensions, Lenin was asking: who rules whom? Ie: who is stroking himself hard; who is bending over and greasing up? Sadly, this is indeed the great question of our time.

But before we answer it, we should leave democracy with a parting compliment or two.

The first thing we should note is that, in a world in which they have destroyed all competitors, democracies appear to succeed because the form is inherently stable. Unfortunately, this is not because the people are inherently wise, but simply because it is inherently very difficult to retrieve them from their present Svengalis.

This gives the government a heavy base, as it were, rendering it quite hard to dislodge. Of course, as the thing rots, we will come to regret this feature more and more.

But democracy has genuine virtues. Perhaps Froude wrote the best epitaph for the system:
Democracies are the blossoming of the aloe, the sudden squandering of the vital force which has accumulated in the long years when it was contented to be healthy and did not aspire after a vain display. The aloe is glorious for a single season. It progresses as it never progressed before. It admires its own excellence, looks back with pity on its earlier and humbler condition, which it attributes only to the unjust restraints in which it was held. It conceives that it has discovered the true secret of being 'beautiful for ever,' and in the midst of the discovery it dies.
In the arts of decadence - sex, drugs and rock 'n roll - democracies excel. If only for these, the second half of the twentieth century will never be forgotten. We need not imagine the level of punitive austerity and reeducation that would need to be inflicted on Western society to make it forget the Rolling Stones and everything after. Possible, surely, but hard to recommend.

Another way to state Froude's thesis is to describe democracies as obtaining their energy by breaking the strong molecular bonds of their authoritarian predecessors. Similarly, fire obtains its energy by breaking the strong molecular bonds of wood. You'll note that the democracies do not seem to have much energy left, and indeed there is not much left of the wood.

Had the Anglo-American democratic movement somehow been defeated, had the fire been put out, in time these bonds might have loosened on their own, as sovereigns became more secure and ceased to fear the mob. Or they might not have. It is difficult to know. In any case, this does not constitute an argument for a continuation of democracy, because by the '90s all possible avenues of decadence had been quite thoroughly explored. Our society has nothing to learn and nothing to prove in the arts of vice. Therefore, we can move on.

Also, while there are many advantages to taking the authoritarian, autocratic and aristocratic European governments of the 18th and 19th centuries as a general template for the 21st, the reactionary must remember that all of these regimes were, in a word, Continental. Generally, the farther east you went the worse they got - and wogs, as we all know, begin at Calais. Read, but don't necessarily imitate. Reflections of a Russian Statesman is great winter beach reading, for example, but it is difficult to forget that one of Pobedonostsev's patent medicines for democracy was the Black Hundreds.

To find anything like an pure autocrat of good English stock you have to go back to the Tudors and Stuarts. While there is nothing wrong with that (I'd take either Henry, Elizabeth, James, or either Charles back in a millisecond - heck, I'd take Oliver Cromwell. Or Thomas Cromwell. Or Richard Cromwell...), the time gap becomes considerable. It is difficult to extrapolate from a country with hogs in the streets to one with iPhones.

Democracy also has a special talent for making its enemies stupid and evil. If we observe the success of democracy in the last two centuries, we need not understand its causes to understand that anyone who was not with the program had to be a serious hard-ass to even try to survive.

For example, democratic movements tended, for reasons we will see shortly, to be very good at capturing the elites of any society. It is never easy to fight the best with the worst, and necessity alone has corrupted many if not most anti-democratic movements in the past. Moreover, opposition to evil does not constitute an automatic hall pass to Heaven. Hitler opposed democracy and democracy is evil, but Hitler is not in Heaven.

Therefore, for obvious reasons, just as democracy is an insufficient description of a political structure, so is opposition to democracy. Be careful in unconditionally endorsing opposites. In general, my feeling is that no opposition to democracy can succeed until it casts out all the motes in its own eye, regardless of the beams in USG's - and by 'motes' I mean offences against the truth, not offences against the State. However, this may be influenced by my bias in favor of a movement that recaptures the State by democratic, rather than military, means. No set of misconceptions is a practical obstacle to military action.

Lastly, we need to remember that democracy is not dead, but only dormant. The minds of the hundred million part-time officials who constitute USG's voter base are not, at present, particularly relevant to USG's actions. However, just as the military continually delegates its sovereignty by failing to pull a coup, democracy can awaken and return to power at any time.

For example, if Americans elect a President who promises, in his platform and campaign, to assume full executive authority and rule by command, suspending or even terminating constitution and Constitution alike, this exact program will almost certainly occur. If courts demur, the security forces are very likely to obey the President rather than the courts. He would owe them one for this, of course, but this is normal. They would probably be allies already. Unless it is not a military but a comedy troupe, any military works on the principle of command, and will endorse what it recognizes.

Of course, this requires the intellectual capture of a large number of hominids, whose opinions on the subject are extremely fixed and whose intelligence and education are not, on average, impressive. While this is obviously not easy, new tools are changing the battlefield. Consider, for example, the power of Facebook groups as a technique for democratic organization. The game is young.

So, while no good can be expected of normal political participation in the Modern Structure (with the important exception of petitioning the authorities, and organizing such petitions), it is worthwhile to understand the otherwise vestigial system of democracy, which may be in some way reactivated as a temporary stage in whatever process is required to terminate it.

But let us get back to peeking under the great goat-hog's robes. Fortunately, the answer, though terrifying, is not complicated at all.

A democracy is a government in which public policy is controlled by public opinion. Fine. Wonderful. We knew that. Who controls public opinion?

Duh. Popular opinion is in general a reflection of public education. It is certainly true that there are certain statements that the public cannot be educated to believe. It may be impossible to convince a healthy human population, for example, that red and blue are the same color. But almost everything short of this has been tried, and it tends to work. And while there are always deviants, outliers in an election are irrelevant by definition.

So: who educates the public?

Our answer is simple: the Jews. (Sorry, Jew-haters. Just kidding.) But seriously, we should note who else took exactly the same line of thinking:
Just as a man's denominational orientation is the result of his upbringing, and only the religious needs as such slumbers in his soul, the political opinion of the masses represents nothing but the final result of an incredibly tenacious and thorough manipulation of their mind and soul.

By far the greatest share in their political 'education,' which in this case is mostly designated by the word 'propaganda,' falls to the account of the press. It is foremost in performing this 'work of enlightenment' and thus represents a sort of school for grownups.
That would be - yes - Adolf Hitler. So, as you can see, we are on dangerous ground here. We must be careful where we put our feet; there is no other answer. For what it's worth, my feeling is that Herr Hitler is personally responsible for all the world's problems today. Perhaps we'll explore this delicate issue, Nazism, next week.

One does not have to be a Nazi, however, to believe that popular opinion tends to match public education. In other words, people believe what they are told to believe - sometimes minus a little stubborn deviation, electorally negligible.

So, to combine Lenin's question with Hitler's answer, we ask: if the People control the State, who controls the People? The teachers. And who controls the teachers? Hm. What an interesting question. We'll have to think about that one.

But I do hope I haven't activated anyone's crimestop with these terrible, terrible thoughts. Note: we are no longer asking a philosophical question. We are asking an administrative question. The answer is not a matter of logic, but of fact.

You see, there is another way to classify governments. We can define them in terms of the means that those in power use to prevent those not in power from taking said power away. Since pure democracy is impossible, there are always those on the inside and those on the outside. For example, USG has a permanent civil service which no power in Washington can purge, restructure, or otherwise attack. If that isn't the inside, what is the inside?

The chief distinction in this category is between sovereigns that hold their positions by the tactics of physical warfare - that is, conventional military and law-enforcement methods, which allow the State to manage the physical actions of its subjects - and those which hold their positions by the tactic of psychological warfare - that is, information management, which allows the State to manage the thoughts of its subjects.

Of course, all sovereigns require physical security. Therefore, the only question is whether they use psychological security as well. As we'll see, permanent psychological warfare is an essential aspect of the Modern Structure, which is a big part of why I have so much trouble with it.

If we exclude the possibility of pure democracy, we see instantly that every democracy must be a psychological-warfare state. Most people get their opinions from others. If public opinion commands the power of the State, the power to inform is the power to command the State. Just as you will seldom find a stack of twenties on the sidewalk, this power will not just be waving around in the breeze. Someone will capture it, and hold it until it is torn from their hands.

Even if you have not been reading UR long and remain a good democrat, it disturbs you to see the resemblance between political communication and commercial advertising. This is because you know the latter consists largely of psychological-warfare tropes (as per Bernays, Lippmann, and the like). Their goal is not to inform you, but to control your behavior. You know this. And yet...

What is psychological warfare, exactly? What do we know about psychological warfare in modern American history?

As it so happens, I have an expert on the line. His name is James P. Warburg, and he is (or, thankfully, was) crazy as a loon on 2CB, more evil than a Komodo dragon, and almost as rich as the Pope. But yea, he knew whereof he spoke, because before he wrote Unwritten Treaty (1946) Warburg had been a big wheel at OCI and OWI. Bearing in mind that he is a pathological liar, let's hear his definition of "psychological warfare:"
In addition to the destruction of enemy morale, the functions of a psychological warfare agency in time of declared or actual war include: the maintenance of home morale; the maintenance of the confidence of the peoples of friendly or allied nations; and winning the sympathy of the peoples of neutral countries.

All these assignments are carried out by the implantation of carefully selected ideas and concepts. These ideas and concepts are neither necessarily true nor necessarily false. In fact, whether they are true or false makes no difference whatsoever, so long as they successfully serve to create the desired state of mind. It follows that there is no validity whatsoever to the widely held belief that propaganda consists by definition of the spreading of lies. There is equally little justification for the belief that the propaganda of "decent," democratic nations should be "the truth and nothing but the truth."

There is a dangerous popular confusion, particularly in this country, between propaganda and information. This confusion arises from the fact that we are novices at psychological warfare even though we are experts in the techniques of propaganda. No other nation is as skilled in sales propaganda, or advertising, as we. No other nation indulges in orgies of political propaganda to the extent that we do once in every four years, when we elect a President. And yet, in spite of our familiarity with some of the techniques of psychological warfare, we are unfamiliar - even after this war - with the use of these techniques as an adjunct of modern warfare. Perhaps just because we are so familiar with the use of propaganda for peaceful domestic purposes, we seem unable to avoid applying to its use in wartime the moral standards of peace.

It cannot be stated with sufficient emphasis that information is one thing - propaganda quite another.

The purpose of spreading information is to promote the functioning of man's reason.

The purpose of propaganda is to mobilize certain of man's emotions in such a way that they will dominate his reason - not necessarily with evil design.

The function of an information agency is to disseminate truth - to make available fact and opinion, each carefully labeled and separated from the other. The aim of an information agency is to enable as many people as possible to form their own individual judgments on the basis of relevant fact and authoritative opinion.

The function of a propaganda agency is almost the exact opposite: it is not to inform, but to persuade. In order to persuade it must disseminate only such fact, such opinion, and such fiction masquerading as fact as will serve to make people act, or fail to act, in the desired way.
Etc. I think you get the idea. Bear in mind, however: this man is not to be trusted. (I have several works of James P. Warburg. Almost every sentence he writes is mendacious and creepy, usually in some awful, strange and surprising way.)

Do click that Wik link for the Office of the Coordinator of Information. Isn't that just about the creepiest name for a government agency you've ever heard? Isn't it even creepier that the page tells you nothing at all about who was coordinating what information, or why? The CIA link is even better:
The office of the Coordinator of Information constituted the nation’s first peacetime, nondepartmental intelligence organization. President Roosevelt authorized it to

collect and analyze all information and data, which may bear upon national security: to correlate such information and data, and to make such information and data available to the President and to such departments and officials of the Government as the President may determine; and to carry out, when requested by the President, such supplementary activities as may facilitate the securing of information important for national security not now available to the Government.
Is that creepy, or what? It's like the intro to some kind of bad period thriller, with Kevin Bacon and Matt Damon. "Supplementary activities." In other words, what we are looking at here is basically FDR's private secret service. If you assume its attentions were primarily directed at America's soon-to-be enemies overseas, I'm afraid you assume too much.

But the most interesting descendant of OCI is not OSS/CIA, but another pair of acronyms - OWI/MSM. Yes, that's right. Our lovely "mainstream media" is not, of course, a hierarchical organization reporting to the hidden Elders of Journalism. However, modern journalism is descended from such a hierarchical organization. That organization was the Office of War Information, OWI.

OWI, in the grand scheme of history, is not that important. National Socialism also managed its population with psychological-warfare techniques, and indeed for Nazi Germany Lenin's question is easily answered. "Who" is Hitler; "whom" is everyone else. Goebbels answered to Hitler, and every line in every German newspaper, radio broadcast and movie was in principle (and often in person) edited by Goebbels. Neither Elmer Davis nor even George Creel ever had anything like Goebbels' personal authority over content.

Indeed, the problem with Lenin's question in recent American history is that the answer seems to trail off into nowhere. Who informs the public? Journalists, schoolteachers, professors. Who tells schoolteachers what to say? Professors. Who tells journalists and professors what to say?

No one. Au contraire - they are specifically immune from even the hint of any such authority. The trail of power disappears. The river goes underground. And we see that we live in the "open society," exactly as advertised. Ah, bliss was it in those days to be alive. And bliss is it still, I guess.

The comfort of this realization disappears instantly, leaving only an icy, sinister chill (the same fascination, perhaps, felt by the well-dressed woman at the right of the painting) when we observe three facts.

Fact #1: no one tells journalists and professors what to say. Also: no one tells them what to do. Also: if they come into conflict with any other institution of government, they appear to win - always in the long run, if not always in the short.

Does this indicate that they are bystanders in the game of sovereignty? Or players? If, when journalists and politicians conflict, the politicians always go down in flames and the journalists always walk away without a scratch, who exactly is wearing the pants in this place?

The sovereign power is the power that is above all other powers. We have just located it. You probably knew this anyway, of course. But in case you didn't - hey, it's never too late.

The status of journalism as sovereign was confirmed when the Post and the Times defeated the Nixon administration, and established that the press could and the President could not break the law with impunity. That is, the right to leak (for legitimate journalists) became part of the Modern Structure, and the right to corrupt the political system with minor skulduggery (for Presidents) disappeared. As late as the Johnson Administration, it was the other way around.

Do note the elegance of this outcome. You would expect any supreme power, for example, to be strongly hardened against any kind of attack, and strongly camouflaged against even the recognition that here lies the Ring of sovereignty. Sauron has his Orcs as well, of course, but he spares no precaution in offense or defense.

Thus, in the American version of the Modern Structure, the press and the universities are actually outside the government proper. If they were actual government agencies - in a Department of Truth, perhaps - they could be no more potent, permanent and unaccountable.

And they would also be instantly recognizable as the most powerful agencies on the block. They would become targets, as the BBC is. The BBC has many defences against any counterattack from the feeble, dying, but still nonnegligible political system - but the New York Times has even more. (And if it needs mere money, Carlos Slim's pockets remain quite deep.)

Fact #2: journalists and professors have not one, but two, connections to power.

The information organs secure their authority by their control of public opinion. It is this power that makes the journalists and professors' own opinions important. It is why they matter. However, the cycle of power from professor to election is, though certain, not fast. One would expect a more direct connection, and indeed one finds it.

Journalists and professors are part of the larger matrix of permanent power in the Modern Structure, which we can call the extended civil service. It is extended because it includes not only the civil service proper - formal government employees - but also all those who consider themselves public servants, including journalists, professors, NGOistas, etc. Note that regardless of the formal details, the same superiority to politics is enjoyed by all.

And, importantly, it is one social network. Thus, for a faithful follower of the Party, there is never any doubt about what policies or ideas are legitimate or illegitimate. In the form of "public policy," power flows directly from Cathedral to Congress, often leaving public opinion a decade or two behind. There is no reason to worry. The people, as always, will catch up with their leaders.

Fact #3: journalists and professors never go to war with each other. This is by far the strangest and most important of our facts.

Surely, since a journalist is one thing and a professor is another, you would expect a natural factional conflict between them. At least. You would also expect various internal factions of journalists and professors to form. They don't.

While you will find occasional weirdness out at the contemptible fringe, the core of the legitimate press and the legitimate university system is remarkably homogeneous. For example, it is impossible to pick any one of the Ivy League universities and declare objectively that this school is either more progressive, or more conservative, than the others. Subject to individual, disorganized variation among professors, all are the same. And the same is true of news desks at the major centers of journalism.

Moreover, when compared to their historical predecessors, we do see change. Any Ivy League school of 1969, or at least its professoriate, would appear quite conservative if teleported to 2009. No doubt there are quite a few students in 2009 who would prefer to attend such an institution, but it does not, of course, exist.

In other words, what we don't see is any hierarchical coordinating authority. But what we do see is actual coordination. Even though the Modern Structure has no central authority to guide it - no Goebbels, no Beria, no sinister, imaginary cabal of Jews, Communists, or even bankers - it nonetheless seems to be able to maintain a remarkably tight party line. And thus, it can "change," in the familiar pattern of "progress."

In fact, ideological consistency within the information authorities (which, here at UR, we often call the Cathedral) in the Modern Structure seems if anything tighter than its equivalent in the Warsaw Pact. Factions often emerged within Communist parties in the Leninist tradition. If there are any in the Cathedral, they are not visible to the general public.

Of course, professors may form factions that disagree on areas within their fields - string theory, for instance, versus loop quantum gravity. But this tiny rift is of no structural significance to the Cathedral as a whole. It does not jeopardize its control over the political system.

So what is the source of this anomalous coordination? Actually, we have seen the effect already in the fragmentation of power. When power fragments informally, those who hold the fragments cooperate best with their peers by regarding the fragmentation as progress, not decay. The suggestion that the fragmentation should be reversed is dangerous to everyone.

In the Modern Structure, this spontaneous, decentralized coordination is seen across the information organs. These, being aware of the fundamentally informal and in a sense even illegitimate nature of their power, are very sensitive to the prospect of losing it. This prospect is in reality remote, but the fear is easy to generate. And that fear (of a "populist" or anti-Cathedral political revival, from Joe McCarthy to Sarah Palin) is one more organizing principle.

Thus, thoughts, perspectives and facts which favor, justify or defend this system of government which conducts psychological warfare against its own subjects, the Modern Structure, are adaptive, and those which oppose it are maladaptive. And thus, an information machine without any central administration self-coordinates and achieves effective censorship.

As a good democrat, of course, you have been taught to fear systems of this class only in the case that they have an evil genius, or at least a cabal, behind them. Thus "conspiracy theories." But in fact, you should find a decentralized, self-coordinating system, one in which ideas are filtered and organized by memetic evolution rather than intelligent design, far more creepy and dangerous.

For one thing, it is a heck of a lot harder to shut down. And, as we've seen, the result of the filtering process is not always a good one.

This is the truth at the bottom of the Modern Structure: it is out of control. It is best seen as a mindless and automatic beast. Its capacity for destruction is obvious. The only way to stop it is to kill it, and there is no obvious way to kill it. And its tendency is to get worse, not better.

But this is getting long. Next week, we'll do a little more history and see exactly how America, and then the world, ended up in the hands of Goya's black goat-hog.