Monday, May 21, 2007 12 Comments

Popularchy: rule of the People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Anonymous RU said...

Congratulations on having achieved a fine understanding of the political environment. Another author who publically criticized democracy is the late John David Garcia. Note that John did not cede the word "democracy" to his opponents, so he referred to the system used in, e.g., Western countries as "Majority Rule". John held that democracies will always become socialist although in a society as libertarian as the United States, that process might take 200 years.

Note also that the book in which John criticized democracy was written when John was elderly and disabled by cerebrovascular disease. His previous book makes a better impression on the reader.

May 21, 2007 at 8:21 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 22, 2007 at 12:15 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

With both models (that is with "Fnargl" and "Popularchy") I can see the same problem: imperfect information, while a crucial and unavoidable fact of social interaction, was abstracted away.

If Fnargl has all the computational power in the world (and some more) and has a way to see all the gold and all the humans at once, he will, of course, run a planned economy in order to maximize the amount of gold with which to depart after a thousand years. There are soooo many transaction costs in a market economy, right? Gold-miners do need to eat healthy food, which someone does need to make, but they definitely don't need it to be packaged nicely and pitched on TV every five minutes: those graphics designers and marketing people are much more useful in the gold mines.

Now, if Fnargl has computational and observational constraints, then we are up to some trouble. For starters, it makes him vulnerable to coercion: while his existence cannot be threatened, his gold-supply can. People will invest considerable resources in figuring out ways to stash away gold and considerably under-state their production capabilities. Fnargl might get the impression that these Earthlings are so lazy and poor that it is a miracle that they even manage to stay alive. Actually, if Earthlings do a really good job, Fnargl might end up sitting in the middle of Sahara, convinced that the last Earthling has died 700 years ago and all the gold on the planet is already in Fnargl's possession.

Fnargl, will, of course, do what every government does: use some Earthling labor for extracting the information that he needs for him. The Thousand-year Fnargl will have its tax inspectors and spies. Which do not have Fnargl's power of Invulnerability (excercise to the reader: what if they do?). Their vulnerability to violence, however, is Fnargl's vulnerability to violence, compounded with the fact that they may not necessarily share Fnargl's enthusiasm for getting all the gold into Fnargship; corruption will ensue.

In sum, without perfect information, Fnargl's property is not secure at all and Fnargl shall thus need all the usual tools to secure it, with all their shortcomings.

The same goes for the People. Figuring out the economics of screwing things up and getting violent due to insufficient information is left as an exercise to the reader.

May 22, 2007 at 12:19 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

"All you have to do is create a disincentive for external mischief, and nothing says "disincentive" better than an uncontrolled fusion reaction."

That is only true, when you know where and whom to bomb. If external mischief manifests in a cash flow funding those bent on taking your sovereignty away, H-bombs are pretty useless.

May 22, 2007 at 9:20 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

That is only true, when you know where and whom to bomb.

And if we define sovereignty more generally as independently-secured property (not just real estate) ownership, then we can appreciate what a difficult task it is to establish clear, unchallenged sovereignty. For example, does a person own himself, or does someone else own that piece of property?

May 22, 2007 at 10:27 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Daniel -

I like your idea that Fnargl will be tricked into oblivious impotence by his human servants! Perhaps we should endow him with some Jedi mind tricks, short-range of course, to prevent this ingenious solution.

However, there is a simple way to get the graphic designers into the gold mines: pay them more to mine gold than to design nice packaging, disutility of labor included. Fnargl will put his budget into mining the way militarist rulers spend on national defense.

Of course, this exposes the main problem with the whole thought-experiment, which is that the monetary economics become unbelievably bizarre. Is the Thousand-Year Fnarg, for example, on the gold standard? Now that is a discussion and a half.

As for H-bombs, though, it's usually not too hard to know who your enemies are - and to keep your subjects from doing business with them. We have all grown far too accustomed to protracted states of quasi-war. Ideally the situation is a lot more binary.

May 23, 2007 at 1:56 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

steve - yes, especially when you consider the blurry line between debt and slavery. Libertarians have gone to great efforts to make this line look sharp, but I don't think it is.

May 23, 2007 at 2:18 PM  
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January 31, 2009 at 11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 2, 2009 at 7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! thanks a lot! ^^

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March 2, 2009 at 7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


March 6, 2009 at 9:48 PM  

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