Thursday, July 2, 2009 67 Comments

Secession, liberty, and dictatorship

While still delirious in my slow recovery from (I kid you not) the Pig Flu, I seem to have decided to do a UR post for Patri Friedman's Secession Week superevent. This would explain the UR philosophy of secession - reaction in one state, as it were - and be written for a totally naive and unsuspecting audience, simply falling on them like a falcon on a duck.

Later on, well again, I repented. But it was too late. In my computer files, I found the opaque, fragmentary and erroneous MSS. below. Make of it what you will.

Secession! The word has a definite bite to it. We can't even start to talk about secession without acknowledging the harsh toxic charge bestowed upon the word by the Confederacy, of whose sins we are all guilty. This could be punk, or just nasty - depending on your point of view.

If you are interested in a fresh look at the Confederate episode, the archive contains many excellent older sources. If not, your opinion (whatever it may be) has no particular bearing on the question of 21st-century secession - this is a standard legal term for the separation of sovereign entities, as in, say, the Velvet Divorce of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I believe the velvet in question was not cut in pillowcases and sheets.

Furthermore, even if we disregard the details of the cause, there is a crucial qualitative distinction between the 21st-century secessionist and his weird uncle from the 1860s. Whereas your Confederate was nothing if not a Southern patriot, your modern secessionist is not motivated by nationalism or tribalism. For example, while I as a Californian would love to see California strike out on its own, or better yet on several owns, in this I am not motivated by any "Californism" or "Franciscism." These ideologies do not exist, and nor should they.

Fortunately, they cannot exist, because the polities themselves do not exist. The 20th century left America with little true political geography. A 21st-century "state" is an arbitrary administrative subdivision, not a community or polity in any sense. Multiple tribal communities, between which social connectivity is the exception, certainly exist in America today. But they are not organized along state lines, or any convenient border. They are castes, not polities.

For example, even that most distinctive of states - Texas - contains all American types. As a matter of culture, red-state Texans are not particularly different from red-state Ohioans or Oregonians. Nor are Austin hipsters particularly different from San Francisco hipsters. Conclusion: secession of any or all American states is not a way to redraw political borders to match tribal, cultural, or linguistic boundaries.

So the weird uncles might ask: well, then, why bother?

Tribalism excluded, I see only one remaining reason to either talk about secession, or actually carry it out: the tantalizing project of creating a new sovereign structure from a clean-room design in the 21st century. When implemented on existing populated territory (rather than via dynamic geography), this can be described as a reboot.

If one favors the secession of California, it is not because one feels the Schwarzenegger administration has done such a great job that it should be promoted to full sovereign stature, like the PLO. It is because one feels that the way California is being governed is entirely wrong. It is completely and utterly misguided. The political institutions of California are not in any way susceptible to repair. Rather, they require complete replacement.

And for any such thing, they cannot remain joined at the hip to Washington, DC. If one favors a reboot of California, secession is obviously a prerequisite, simply because Federal law is such an important part of the process of state government. All of USG at once could reboot, of course, or all the states could reboot separately, or California could just decide on its own that it's too cool for school. For the purpose of this essay, we'll consider only California.

But: besides a reboot, is there any other reason to secede? I can't think of much.

The problem with a reboot is that there is always some old regime in your way. Said old regime typically does not want to depart this earthly bourne. And yet: anything that can't go on forever, won't. And when it stops going on, what will the event look like? My guess: a reboot.

Just so it's clear what we propose to terminate, let's briefly look at the old regime as it exists in California (and every other state). Why is Sacramento (or any state government) what it is? Why does it do what it does?

In the system of government that has brought California, once an international synonym for prosperity, promise and paradise, to its knees, there are three general decision sources: popular tradition, corrupt interests, and official expertise. The first is politically Republican; the third is politically Democratic; the second is bipartisan. Briefly, they all suck.

First source: popular tradition. Among uneducated white people, ie Republicans, there remains some hazy folk memory, vague, idealized and distorted, of the way California (and America in general) was governed when it was a synonym for prosperity etc. This tradition was once a governing tradition, equipped at the top end with an elite that had the talent and experience to rule. You can see it in, say, the McKinley administration, or as late as the Harding-Coolidge reaction. San Francisco is covered with wonderful, wildly incongruous, Late High American Fascist statuary from this era.

Regardless of their merits as a governing caste, the people who erected these statues are dead. Their modern equivalents, such as any are, are no one's definition of a new ruling elite. Michael Savage is no Chauncey Depew. Any system of thought that must tailor its clothes, even reluctantly, to this audience is unlikely to turn out a suit that fits well on the truth.

Like the political thought of the late Unionist era, modern mainstream or "neo-" conservatism is an endless goldmine of truths, half-truths, insights, myths, and evasions. Conservatism can be very informative. It should not be swallowed as a pill. It requires processing and filtration. Like anything, however, it is easily believed in its entirety by fools. And a lot of fools vote.

The increasingly proletarian nature of the modern conservative movement produces a corresponding puerility, fatal to any attempt at sovereign gravitas. This pattern of prolation is seen everywhere in the late Right: the decline from Robert Taft to Sarah Palin, Enoch Powell to Nick Griffin, Metternich to Hitler, Sir Edward Carson to Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair. Is this the meme train you want to be on? Is this the mandate of heaven, or the manhole to hell?

Second source: corrupt interests. Venality is by no means inconsistent with good government - indeed, the quality of government in the UK seems to have declined almost in lockstep with personal conflicts of interest. Britannia became mistress of the world in an era in which both offices and elections were regularly bought and sold. Personal venality, for all its faults, tended to unify the interests of office and officeholder, and often increased responsibility.

But corruption today tends to consist of institutional conflicts of interest, which exhibit none of this benign quality. Besides, not even UR is perverse enough to idealize corruption. We will leave this decision source condemned by definition.

Third source: official expertise. By far the most significant source of decisions in the modern American system of government is something called public policy. In the 20th century, it was discovered that the task of governing, thought in all previous centuries to be an art requiring wisdom, talent and experience, is in fact a science, like chemistry or card-counting. This set of sciences is often described as the social sciences, a slippery name if I ever heard one.

For every class of decision a modern government makes, from diplomacy to economics to issuing fishing licences, there exists a caste of scholars in the social sciences, carefully selected for their race, gender, intelligence and/or political reliability, who use the methods of science - which, as you may know, split the atom and put a man on the moon, and is absolutely infallible - to divine the correct public policy. None of these professors is in any way, shape or form responsible for the success or failure of these policies - generally the latter. I swear I am not making this up.

Moreover, our scholars have mastered the instruments of public communication. They are treated as generally infallible sources by individuals known as journalists, who tell the public (or those of the public who still listen to them, rather than Michael Savage) what to think, hence how to vote.

This third decision source is in general the primary positive force in government today. Public-policy scholars generate a set of policy options, which can be promoted or resisted by the first two means. Even corruption, being sly by definition, inside the Beltway generally goes cloaked in the form of scientific public policy. Policy also flows into the legal system, of course, through the invisible cloaca of case law. Because its power is not seen as power per se, it can seep in through every crack.

It is here that we must part company with many of our naive, but reasonable, readers. If you are an educated progressive of normal, moderate opinions, you are probably operating under the belief that the basic problem with the system of government you observe, whose bad results are by now apparent to all, is that the third source (which is proper and legitimate) is constantly being thwarted and frustrated by the first and second (which are improper and illegitimate).

Au contraire, mon frere! America has been in the grips of the third source - the logothetes, the scientocrats, the professional planners of men - for three quarters of a century. The true rulers of our country are the professors, the journalists, the mandarins. Any feeble twitch of resistance from the continent squirming in their talons is promptly magnified, through these exquisitely sensitive and powerful information organs, into the most hideous and awful oppression. Leading you to the belief system above - so convenient to this mode of mastery.

And in this age - the age of the New Deal and the Brain Trust, neither yet ended - what has become of America? Well, for example, before the Brain Trust, Detroit was America's fourth largest city. After 75 years of progressive public policy, it is a charred, savage ruin. Who, exactly, is responsible for this? Herbert Hoover? The Liberty League?

Inasmuch as the first and second sources - politics and corruption - have played a significant role in the period, that role has often been to moderate, test and restrain the river of lunacy flowing out of the ivory tower. But the net effect of these sources remains negative, because their continued existence - however minor - allows a regime which is predominantly that of public policy and social science to evade responsibility for its own epic incompetence, as demonstrated obviously and beyond any doubt by actual results.

But I digress. Suffice it to say that while none of these decision sources is entirely without redeeming value, each of them, considered on its own and a whole, is a foul mound of goo. And we know that all three swirled are no tasty dish, for this is Sacramento as she is today. It makes no sense at all to speak of reforming this sundae. It is clearly due for replacement. Hence secession and reboot.

I feel it is wise to forget, for a while, the problem of how exactly to terminate the old regime. How does California secede? It doesn't. Any actual effort toward this goal is clearly not practical at the moment, and it is as unnecessary as it is premature. The first question to be answered is: what should replace the old regime?

What do you reboot to? You uninstall Windows, and install what? It is difficult to see why anyone would even begin to favor a reboot without a very clear answer to this question. If you would like to see a reboot and you don't have some other OS you prefer (yes, I'm aware that I am mixing my system-software metaphors), perhaps you should reconsider your advocacy.

Clearly, the sovereign structures we inherited from the 20th century are not in perfect working order. We know what they are. It sucks. What should they be? What is the New California? If the three decision sources of the old regime are incompetent beyond restoration, how does the new regime decide what to do?

If we design a new government from scratch, we at least have a stab at this very tough question. If the design is actually implemented, our guess is tested. Its results should astonish and strike mute the naysayers. Of course, they could also be horrendous and/or comedic, which means we stabbed wrong.

But wait: the idea of designing government from scratch is ridiculous. When establishing a true sovereign structure, responsible to no one but God or the Devil, we can't go around stabbing wildly in the dark. No matter what geeks we are, we must think within some box, some set of standards, some political tradition. Humans have been forming territorial political structures since well before we were chimpanzees. No fundamental innovations in this field are possible.

Worse, if we assume we are thinking from scratch, we are probably just preserving unconscious assumptions which may in reality be entirely untested. For example, you may think you are thinking from scratch, but you probably think that democracy is good, and dictatorship is evil. Has anyone ever seriously tried to convince you of the converse? If not, have you examined both sides of the question to the best of your ability? That's what I mean by "assumption."

So we need a collective anchor to imagine from. But we also need to think without assumptions. We need to break from tradition; we need to preserve it. The conflict is a classic design tradeoff. There is no perfect resolution.

One compromise, however, is to design the political institutions of the New California not according to the standards and traditions of government known to present public opinion - which are largely in keeping with the government California has now, which has failed - but according to some past, foreign, or otherwise alien tradition of government. (We then may face a more difficult problem of accomplishing this change. But we have agreed that the subject is out of scope.)

Since the alien tradition is an authentic sovereign tradition and a product of genuine human experience, it is no mere contrivance of geeks. But since the alien tradition is alien and hence utterly different, installing it represents a complete break with the entire way of thinking that brought Sacramento to its present abyss.

Since it is alien and hence extremely weird, no one can be tempted to leave its assumptions intact by default. Since it did exist, it is human and it will contain errors, omissions and anachronisms. Since it does not exist, no one need feel any pressure to mindlessly adopt or preserve these errors, omissions and anachronisms. Etc.

Perhaps when some think of an alien tradition, they think of modern Europe, ie, Brussels. For example, California might bloom again if it used more of that "European airport" font, and had soothing blue road signs marked in kilometers.

Alas, this fails the alien test (as well as a few others). It is customary and understandable, though incorrect, among Americans of both political hues to consider the present European political tradition as somehow European. But "European socialism" is simply the export version of American progressivism, as installed in 1945 by the victorious bureaucrats of OWI and State. It is the thinking of Harvard in 1945 - of John Kenneth Galbraith, say. In short: our old friend, public policy.

The American public-policy tradition is often purer and more recognizable in its new European home because all its native enemies were exterminated - not by intellectual means. But it is not even slightly alien, and nor can it be honestly described as European or (worse) "international." At best you could call it Anglo-American, thanks to the Fabian influence.

There is nothing European about the EU, except that its offices are in Europe and most of its employees were born on that continent. As a matter of political tradition, not place of birth, you know who's European? Metternich is European. You know who's not European? George Ball is not European. Reimporting this invasive weed, and calling it a reboot, is like injecting yourself with your own leukemia and calling it a bone-marrow transplant.

Oh, no. There are no extant alien political traditions. In 2009, all is American, with occasional mutations and introgressions. For instance, the ideology of al-Qaeda is the ideology of Third World revolutionary nationalism, with a light Koranic glaze. The ideology of Third World revolutionary nationalism is the ideology of James P. Warburg, with a bandanna. And the image of John Brown is also easily recognized in the men with the box cutters. One could perhaps quarrel over the mullahs of Qom - but do we need to?

No: for a truly alien tradition, we can look only to the past. Fortunately, there exist these things called "books," which people used to read before there was TV. Many of these books were written in the past. And the excellent people at Google have chosen in the wisdom and goodness of their hearts and wallets to put almost all the pre-1922 archive on line.

For good open-source reasons alone, we must choose some tradition whose major works are largely pre-1922, and available in English. So another obvious option jumps to mind: the tradition of the American Founders, which meets both these constraints. Indeed the writings of these gentlemen are readily available - and even somewhat well-known.

This is an absolutely terrible idea - for three simple reasons:

First: we are misinterpreting the alien test. While it's true that the American political tradition of 1789 was unrecognizably different from ours (as measured by the governments they produced), the two cannot possibly be alien, because ours is descended from it.

Second: we know there was something wrong with the American political tradition of 1789 - because it evolved into the one we have now. If we somehow manage to evolve the clock back, why won't it just spin forward again?

Third: such a transition cannot possibly be an effective reboot, because every major American political ideology today believes (in one way or another) itself to be the true and proper heir of the American political tradition of 1789. Despite the ridiculous historical and political gap between the Founders and all extant American ideologies. (Consider, for instance, Thomas Jefferson's position on race relations.)

It's easy for your arbitrary belief system to connect itself to the Founders. If the Founders agree with you, you are following in the footsteps of the Founders. If the Founders disagree - they would have changed their minds. Americans have spent two centuries learning to play this blithe little game, great sport of a wonderfully Jesuitical nature, and has allowed each of the various modern American ideologies to craft its own Founders and its own Old Republic.

The events of the late 18th century in North America are fascinating. Recovering the actual story behind the various layers of myth is a difficult exercise of dubious present relevance. In such a minefield of snares and delusions, nothing can be done. It is quite possible that the institutions would work perfectly if cleansed from two centuries of accumulated propaganda. Or not. In any case, the task is pointless and impossible.

Any restoration of the Old Republic, no matter how well-intentioned, will end up as yet another autologous cancer transplant. The same old nasties will sneak back in, powdering their hair and wearing their three-cornered hats, claiming to be just as patriotic and American-spirited as anyone else. It's certainly not that they don't know how.

To prevent this exploit, we see, our alien political tradition must be truly alien. Whatever the New California is, it is not New unless it is genuinely un-American. It is the foreignness of the alien tradition that allows all sensible people to regard it sensibly, clearly and afresh.

Perhaps the most sophisticated approach now popular was that devised by Murray Rothbard, the inventor of modern libertarianism. Many, if not most, modern secessionists are libertarians. While this philosophy has many fine qualities, and I myself followed it for many years, I do not believe it is a viable intellectual foundation for a reboot. Let me explain why.

Libertarianism is at least no more than a cousin of the American tradition. Rothbard chose to revive the British tradition that in the 19th century was commonly known as Manchester liberalism, rename it classical liberalism - presumably to prevent Morrissey from flooding unexpectedly into our heads - and reintroduce it into the 1970s. Rothbard was a titan and this was one of his many titanic works, but it did not really have the results intended.

First, libertarianism is not alien enough. Although the Manchester liberals (intellectuals like Mill and Spencer, politicians like Cobden and Bright) were a primarily British movement, they were also the present incarnation of the English Radical party, who were America's sponsors in Whitehall to begin with.

Thus we see genuine links to libertarianism in the Founding - and thus we repeat the entire tawdry process of reinventing our own Founders. Libertarianism is inescapably invested in the fatal, fruitless battle of political mythology. It cannot avoid pretending to be the True American Way, because it has a real case for this title. It thus descends, willing or not, into the swamp of symbolic flag-waving. (To be fair, Rothbard's four-volume history of the early colonies is a fascinating read, but its judgments should be swallowed with salt.)

But this is a comparatively trivial point. Regardless of whether you accept the alien strategy, the real faults of libertarianism, as a vehicle for a reboot, are easy to demonstrate logically. First, though, let's talk about its virtues.

First: Libertarianism correctly identifies one pathological symptom of the 20th-century state: sovereign bloat. The government is way, way too big. It employs too many people, it intrudes into far too many things, it makes far too many rules. This cannot be healthy. It isn't.

Second: Libertarianism is no mere geekfest, because it can claim genuine experience in power - broadly speaking, the middle to late 19th century in both Britain and the United States. Cobden and Bright were not victorious in all their causes, but certainly in many. Mill and Spencer were not Mao and Marx, but they were remarkably influential. For example, I know for a fact that San Francisco once had eleven independent, private cable car companies, so I know that private transportation systems can work in the real world.

Third: Libertarianism appeals to the most basic human political belief, the desire for personal independence. It is impossible to give words like freedom or liberty negative connotations. Thus, libertarianism should be popular as well as desirable.

Having acknowledged these virtues, let us see the vices.

First, libertarians often argue that libertarianism is a moral necessity. Through various Jesuitical tricks of the tongue, your Rothbardian is always deriving ought from is. The merits of Hume aside, I have seldom found this approach an effective means of proselytizing. You'll note that socialists, too, believe that socialism is a moral necessity. There are a lot more socialists than libertarians.

Second, if we disregard the possibility that it is divinely ordained, libertarianism fails as a reboot vehicle because it is an outcome rather than a design. The assertion that the New California will be libertarian is like the statement that the bridge you are building will stay up. Will it? How do you plan to make it do so? The United States was supposed to be libertarian, too, and we see what happened to that.

Other than an unhealthy fascination with overlapping jurisdictions, an even more unhealthy fascination with actual anarchy, and a healthy distrust of democracy, libertarianism contains no ideas at all on the subject of constitutional design. It cannot be interpreted as an instruction sequence for a reboot.

Third, even as an outcome, libertarianism reduces to tautology. Suppose you are a libertarian. You must, therefore, believe that libertarianism is (generally) prudent government. That is, a prudent government is likely to be minimal and confine itself mostly to achieving security. I am happy to agree with this as well.

But in this case, why not just insist on the whole shebang - prudent government? If we can write some magic incantation that restrains the New California from any un-libertarian act, why not write the incantation slightly more broadly, and restrain it from any imprudent act? Is there some reason that one incantation would work, and another fail?

Fourth, you'll note that libertarianism is a sort of formula for government. To the orthodox believer, whatever the question, free trade is always the answer. I will buy "generally," but I will not buy "always." Prudence does conflict with libertarianism, and prudence must win.

No job worthy of a human can be removed from human hands. And the task of governing is perhaps the most human of all, which is why Shakespeare wrote all those plays about kings. Show me someone with a formula which can replace a human, and I will show you a quack. To get any job done right, find people who are good at it, and give them both authority and responsibility. Government is not exempt from this basic observation.

But divided-authority regimes often find themselves adopting these quack formulas, because such organization is constantly in search of agreement between contending factions. It is always easier for A and B to agree on a decision formula, than to award the decision to A or B. Indeed, any division of authority involves some such formula - for instance, to implement Montesquieu's good old separation of powers, we must define "legislative," "judicial" and "executive."

Fifth - and worst of all, though most subtly - libertarianism will always fail as a revolt against progressivism, because libertarianism contains, at its core, a shard of pure Left. This gives it power, or the semblance thereof. But it is a mistake, like using the Ring against Sauron, and just as fatal.

Cobden and Bright were Radicals, ie, leftists. The party of the left, on the bottom, or on the top is always the party of chaos. Out of power, it vandalizes; in power, it tyrannizes. All leftist ideologies generate power - the believer implicitly joins a coalition, whose goal is to wield collective force. This is basic chimpanzee politics.

Since the simplest form of power is the power to destroy, leftist forces tend to come to power in a a flurry of institutional destruction. But since some things do need destroying, it is easy to identify positive side effects of the process. This must not be mistaken for evidence that leftism is a good idea.

Manchester liberalism, as a branch of the English Radical tradition, was an ideology of the left. It generated its power through an economic attack on the old landed aristocracy of England, including any and all medieval economic and political survivals. Once that aristocracy, which had guided the sceptered isle to its position as the queen of nations, was fully vandalized and liberal intellectuals were firmly in the saddle, libertarianism no longer helped the Radicals achieve power, but prevented them from gaining more. It was thus a liability, not an asset, and thus it disappeared. So did Britain's greatness, of course.

Thus, we blow up libertarianism. What is left? Nothing. Where are we going with all this?

What we've shown so far is that all the obvious plans for constituting the New California are, in a word, half-baked. We don't see a realistic and coherent alternative to keeping things as they are. We have no viable ideas at all for the New California, and what we have learned is no more - and no less - than this: the perfect nature of our ignorance.

This is not surprising, because we are still resisting genuine change. All the traditions we've examined so far can be, and typically are, marketed as restorations, not replacements, of the American political tradition. From a sales perspective, this is perhaps ideal - but why are we selling, when we don't have a product?

From an engineering perspective, this constraint is constantly shooting us in the foot. California is seceding not because the American system of government is a success, but because it is a failure. Why are we restoring, when we set out to reboot? Why, for our alien tradition, are we looking only at branches of the broad Anglo-American liberal democratic tradition, when this is the design that failed us in the first place?

We need to broaden our minds and start looking at the illiberal, anti-democratic, un-American opponents of the traditions we have been considering. After all, the liberals of the 19th century shared one broad belief: that American democracy was the wave of the future, that its vices were ephemeral and its virtues eternal, that the whole world should learn from it and blossom. They, no less than their opponents, agreed that America was an experiment in government. They were confident that this experiment would succeed. They would have been comfortable in allowing their beliefs to be judged by this success. Should we condescend to them, by overlooking this?

When California secedes, it renders its verdict: the experiment has not succeded. The American political tradition is not a winner. America remains an excellent place full of excellent people. It has many assets. Washington is not one of them. Nor is Sacramento. Moreover, when the American system of government is exported, the results seem either mediocre (Europe) or disastrous (Latin America, Africa, etc).

Therefore, we conclude that if America seemed successful in the past, it succeeded not because of American democracy, but despite it. The past apparent success of the American experiment was in fact due to the unique situation of America: a vast, empty continent with a self-selected, energetic and intelligent population of voluntary immigrants. So we ask: who predicted this? Not the liberals, classical or otherwise.

In our search for reboot traditions, we have missed an important criterion. We have forgotten to ask, using the benefit of hindsight, who was right. Exhibit A: UR's favorite 19th-century sage, Carlyle. From the dark heart of Carlyle, the Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850):
But there is one modern instance of Democracy nearly perfect, the Republic of the United States, which has actually subsisted for threescore years or more, with immense success as is affirmed; to which many still appeal, as to a sign of hope for all nations, and a 'Model Republic.' Is not America an instance in point? Why should not all Nations subsist and flourish on Democracy as America does?
Deduct what they carried with them from England ready-made, -- their common English Language and that same Constitution, or rather elixir of constitutions, their inveterate and now, as it were inborn, reverence for the Constable's Staff; two quite immense attainments which England had to spend much blood, and valiant sweat of brow and brain, for centuries long in achieving; -- and what new elements of polity or nationhood, what noble new phasis of human arrangement, or social device worthy of Prometheus or of Epimetheus, yet comes to light in America? Cotton crops and Indian corn and dollars come to light; and half a world of untilled land, where populations that respect the constable can live, for the present, without Government: this comes to light; and the profound sorrow of all nobler hearts, here uttering itself as silent patient unspeakable ennui, there coming out as vague elegiac wailings, that there is still next to nothing more. 'Anarchy plus a street constable:' that also is anarchic to me and other than quite lovely!

I foresee too that, long before the waste lands are full, the very street-constable, on these poor terms, will have become impossible: without the waste lands, as here in our Europe, I do not see how he conld continue possible many weeks. Cease to brag to me of America, and its model institutions and constitutions. To men in their sleep there is nothing granted in this world: nothing, or as good as nothing, to men that sit idly caucusing and ballot boxing on the graves of their heroic ancestors, saying "It is well, it is well!" Corn and bacon are granted: not a very sublime boon, on such conditions; a boon moreover which, on such conditions, cannot last! No: America too will have to strain its energies, in quite other fashion than this; to crack its sinews, and all but break its heart, as the rest of us have had to do, in thousandfold wrestle with the Pythons and mud demons, before it can become a habitation for the gods. America's battle is yet to fight; and we, sorrowful though nothing doubting, will wish her strength for it. New Spiritual Pythons, plenty of them; enormous Megatherions, as ugly as were ever born of mud, loom huge and hideous out of the twilight Future on America; and she will have her own agony, and her own victory, but on other terms than she is yet quite aware of.
Now: one can be forgiven for not quite following this. Easily forgiven! But whatever Carlyle meant by enormous Megatherions, as ugly as were ever born of mud - a shiver runs down our spines, the unmistakable sense of prophecy confirmed.

And the water clears slightly when we watch Carlyle address our exact problem:
The practical question puts itself with ever-increasing stringency to all English minds: Can we, by no industry, energy, utmost expenditure of human ingenuity, and passionate invocation of the Heavens and Earth, get to attain some twelve or ten or six men to manage the affairs of this nation in Downing Street and the chief posts elsewhere, who are abler for the work than those we have been used to, this long while? For it is really a heroic work, and cannot be done by histrios, and dexterous talkers having the honor to be: it is a heavy and appalling work; and, at the starting of it especially, will require Herculean men; such mountains of pedant exuviae and obscene owl-droppings have accumulated in those regions, long the habitation of doleful creatures; the old pavements, the natural facts and real essential functions of those establishments, have not been seen by eyes for these two hundred years last past! Herculean men acquainted with the virtues of running water, and with the divine necessity of getting down to the clear pavements and old veracities; who tremble before no amount of pedant exuviae, no loudest shrieking of doleful creatures; who tremble only to live, themselves, like inane phantasms, and to leave their life as a paltry contribution to the guano mountains, and not as a divine eternal protest against them!
What these strange Entities in Downing Street intrinsically are; who made them, why they were made; how they do their function; and what their function, so huge in appearance, may in net-result amount to, --is probably known to no mortal. The unofficial mind passes by in dark wonder; not pretending to know. The official mind must not blab; --the official mind, restricted to its own square foot of territory in the vast labyrinth, is probably itself dark, and unable to blab. We see the outcome; the mechanism we do not see. How the tailors clip and sew, in that sublime sweating establishment of theirs, we know not: that the coat they bring us out is the sorrowfulest fantastic mockery of a coat, a mere intricate artistic network of traditions and formalities, an embroiled reticulation made of web-listings and superannuated thrums and tatters, endurable to no grown Nation as a coat, is mournfully clear!
In other words: a clean slate and adult supervision. What more could we ask for?

The irony of Carlyle's owl-droppings and guano-mounds, of course, is that the British state of the mid-19th century was by any standard one of the most efficient and effective in history. And yet: no running water was forthcoming. And no prophet is now necessary to detect the presence of substantial bird manure.

This is just a taste. We could entertain ourselves all afternoon with Carlyle. All year. And nor is he the only illiberal, anti-democratic, un-American thinker of the 19th century. Not by a long shot! Carlyle happens to be such a titanic figure that his name could not quite be airbrushed out of intellectual history, but needless to say he has no living heirs.

Our alien tradition, broadly described, is the classical European tradition of political thought. This is a deeper, faster and colder river than the American democratic tradition, which largely rejects all pre-American political thought - even the Greeks and Romans, whose opinion of democracy was much the same as Carlyle's. "Plato? Aristotle? Socrates? Morons." That would be you, O worshiper at the altar of the People.

The most accessible examples of the classical tradition are not Continental but British, and date to the Victorian and Edwardian eras. They are aristocratic, monarchist, imperialist, colonialist. They are, as promised, deeply strange and troubling, and imperfect in many regards. But they are alien, no doubt of it, and real.

The classical tradition of political thought is a great one, and we could discuss its pros and cons forever. Let's just take an example, however. As libertarians - that is, people who believe that minimal government is good government - we seek metrics for the weight of the State. One obvious such metric is the ratio of governors to governed, ie, civil servants to serfs.

And who is the grand champion in this category? I have not run the numbers - but one strong candidate must be the British Raj, in which a century ago 250 million Indians were governed by 1000 Englishmen. Without computers, etc. If we could apply the same ratio to the New California, which admittedly is a big if, it would be the size of a large startup. Minimal enough for ya?

So, without exploring the classical tradition further, let me simply state and explain its result, as I see it. Which is this: there is only one structure of government that can save California, and only one worth seceding for. That structure is dictatorship.

California needs a dictator - a single man or woman, who wields absolute and undivided authority. And is not afraid to use it. Of course, our dictator must be prudent. Here is our shortening of the way to prudent government: a prudent dictator. Some things are just simple.

After antiquity, the towering figure in classical political thought is Machiavelli. So don't take it from me. Take it from the Discourses on Livy:
But we must take it as a rule to which there are very few if any exceptions, that no commonwealth or kingdom ever has salutary institutions given it from the first or has its institutions recast in an entirely new mould, unless by a single person. On the contrary, it must be from one man that it receives its institutions at first, and upon one man that all similar reconstruction must depend. For this reason the wise founder of a commonwealth who seeks to benefit not himself only, or the line of his descendants, but his State and country, must endeavour to acquire an absolute and undivided authority.
Ie, if you want to reboot, you need a dictator. Do Californians want a New California? Then they need to get it together, strap on a pair of balls and hire themselves a dictator.

Or if you cling to our modern professors, ponder the oxymoron of phronetic social science. As I suspect Professor Flyvbjerg is aware, there is one fast path to phronesis (ie, prudence): a phronetic dictator. Certainly few phronetic committees, processes, "sciences," etc, are known to history. Thus we might describe dictatorship as the auteur theory of government.

Our toxic charge is back with a vengeance. If you are an average American, there is no form of government you more despise than dictatorship. And for the average libertarian, this goes double. As we've seen, libertarianism has a left-wing core. And nothing is more right-wing than a freakin' dictator.

(On the bright side, if secession is starting to sell because of, not despite, its hard historical bite, what could be even more punk? But remember also that dictatorship was a perfectly normal institution of the Roman Republic. If you need to be a total fag about it, try a faux Roman pronunciation, eg, rhymed with "lick that whore.")

Note that we could use a euphemism. We could say that California needs a "CEO," or that it should be "run like a startup," or that it should report to a "single plenary administrator." All of these would mean exactly the same thing. But this is where you get into creepy, because you're sugaring the pill. A dictator is a dictator. You have to just suck it up and take the punch. California needs a dictator - a prudent, responsible dictator, of course.

Where do you find a prudent, responsible dictator? An excellent question. Let us answer.

To the extent that there is anything like reason behind your fear and loathing of dictators, you might answer that a dictator ordered the Holocaust. Very true. You might also mention that not only did this dictator conceive himself as restoring the European tradition from the slings and arrows of Anglo-American democracy, but he was also a considerable fan of none other than - Carlyle. Indeed the line from Carlyle to fascism is not at all hard to trace.

And what of it? The line from Carlyle to socialism is not at all hard to trace, either - as La Wik puts it:
These ideas were influential on the development of Socialism, but - like the opinions of many deep thinkers of the time - are also considered to have influenced the rise of Fascism.
Thus we may charge Carlyle not only with Hitler, but also with Stalin. Both dictators! You see what these dictators do.

Of course, we are on equally safe ground in noting that both Hitler's party and Stalin's originated as political parties, and reading both genocidal maniacs as accidents of democracy. We may also note that the first two attempts at post-Greek democracy produced the Articles of Confederation and the Reign of Terror, ie, a failure and a disaster. Surely confirming the conventional view. So why did anyone keep trying?

In reality, the 20th century is an especially bad century to draw examples from. History records personal government as more the rule than the exception, and it records only one Hitler. It also records only one Elizabeth I, only one Frederick II, and only one Pitt the Elder. If we must restrict ourselves to the last century, we see one Lee Kuan Yew, one FDR (who did not quite hold personal undivided authority, but close), and one Deng Xiaoping. What generalizations can possibly be drawn from this set? None at all. Social science is not much for individuals.

What we do know, from the Hitler example, is that an imprudent, incompetent or irresponsible dictator is dangerous. But data is not needed to tell us this. Logic tells us just the same. Indeed, if history tells us anything, it tells us that bad government is extremely unsafe. In accepting the risks of a reboot, we accept this fact.

The difference between an airplane that flies, and one that crashes and burns, may be as small as a single untightened nut. The difference between a toxic drug and a safe one may be one atom. Have past airplanes crashed? They have. Do we fly? We do. If a pharmacologist tests a drug and finds that it works but is toxic, does he discard the whole mechanism? Or does he search for a similar drug, which works but isn't toxic?

But enough of this hairsplitting. Let's look at how New California works as a dictatorship. We will assume that you, the reader, are supervising this process in some slightly divine capacity.

First, you must find your dictator. Or Dictator - dignity demands the majuscule. And while the position is gender-neutral beyond a doubt, some pronoun is demanded, and our discussion will be softer and more pleasant if we select the distaff.

To find your Dictator, use some objective if crude responsibility test to select the right 50% or so of California's most responsible, adult citizens. A good test will find responsible citizens from all backgrounds and generations. Let's say X is an objectively responsible citizen of California if X owns a house, is a college graduate, is a veteran, or is married with children. Obviously, not everyone responsible is caught in this filter and not everyone irresponsible is excluded. It is a broad and arbitrary test. Life in the New California will be glorious, but it will not be fair.

Persons found on this test are dubbed proprietors. Collectively, the proprietors are the Foundation. The proprietor's membership right in the Foundation is an F-share. An F-share is not a human right - after the initial distribution, no more are created. The Dictator is responsible to the Foundation, which selects through some elective process a Board, which hires some expensive executive-search consultant to help it find a Dictator. Candidates should have extensive management experience in other dynamic, diverse world-class enterprises.

Initially, the F-shares are nontransferable and pay no dividend. The Dictator is politically responsible (through the Board) to the Foundation. In much the same sense that Hitler was politically responsible to the Nazi Party. Without actual superpowers, a dictator can be absolute, but not irresponsible.

Note the difference here: the Foundation isn't the Nazi Party. It is perhaps best to think of it as an extremely large jury. The responsibility test not only renders this jury much more reliable, but disrupts all political structures that existed under universal suffrage. It is especially important that no new F-shares be issued, because this will quickly land you right back at universal suffrage. Proprietorship is a coincidence, not a human right.

Over time, this political responsibility is designed to convert itself into financial responsibility. Under the Dictatorship, New California will blossom, because the financial interests of its proprietors will correspond to the personal interests of its residents - just as in any business. If financial efficiency is assumed, it can be presumed that the Dictator will act to maximize property values in the New California, ie, more or less turn the state into Monaco with national parks. The old California will be a distant memory, and not a very pretty one.

Thus, perhaps after five years (once the finances are cleaned up), the F-shares start paying dividends, and perhaps after another five they become transferable and exchange-traded, and perhaps after another ten they can be held outside California. When you sell an F-share, of course, the vote (and the honorary title of proprietor, which confers no other rights) go with it.

This design starts as the time-honored constitutional design of timocracy, which in Rome, Athens, and Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries proved stable and brilliantly successful. It segues (if the timocracy so approves, of course) into a more daring modern design of my own, neocameralism, which tries to emulate the great success and scalability of the joint-stock corporation at the sovereign level.

If the Foundation does not, upon reflection, approve of this latter scheme, it can stay a timocracy. As John Jay (if you must have a mugwump) put it: "A country should be governed by those who own it." And whatever he meant by this, he meant what I mean, or if he didn't he would have changed his mind.

Thus you have your Dictator. Now: point her at the owl-droppings.

Unlike the pathetic, shrunken Austrian who holds the position today, the Dictator starts on day one with full plenary power over every arm, branch or tentacles of the old state of California. If her first act is to order the LAPD to arrest the ex-Governator and throw him in Alcatraz, they will no doubt take great pleasure in exactly this act. If the mayor of LA wants to tag along in the same jailbus, there is plenty of room on the Rock. When she fills up the Rock, there's always Modoc County. The Dictator is a dictator, not a clerk. She is responsible to the Foundation, to her own conscience, and to no one else's rules or regulations. This is the whole point of sovereignty.

That said, the Dictator takes the grasp-the-nettle view on security. She believes that firmness prevents anger. Dictatorship is like parenting: any failure to enforce authority damages it. Conflict is the result of weakness, not strength. The Dictator never makes this mistake. Because she has the power to govern New California as a police state, she has the freedom to operate it as a libertarian utopia.

Outside security, the Dictator's task is essentially that of a corporate turnaround specialist, perhaps with some additional postgraduate training in exorcism, asbestos removal and crime-scene sanitation. Her goal is to understand the reality of the enterprise that is California; remove all nonproductive organs; identify all state debts, and convert debts paid in services to debts paid in cash; and yes, even expand the enterprise, where that is appropriate. (If nothing else, there will be a lot of unemployed civil servants who can be moved to barracks and used for glorified yard work, WPA style.)

It is probably best to assume that none of the agencies in Sacramento will be preserved in its present form. An easy way to start with that assumption is to put the headquarters of the New California somewhere else, such as San Francisco. A new civil service, of top startup quality, must certainly be hired. Perhaps some Googlers could be drafted.

But I want to focus on security, because this is most people's concern when it comes to living under a Dictatorship. Should the residents of the New California feel secure?

For example, suppose your resident is a Jew. The Dictator could turn into Mrs. Hitler, and order him (and all other Jews) killed. Of course, the Board would probably stop her some time before this... but. I can certainly imagine scenarios under which this design goes south, especially if it stays in the timocratic mode. On the other hand, all these scenarios seem to pass through democracy as the first breakdown stage.

Indeed the main danger in this design is that it will degrade into democracy - for instance, the Foundation will develop factional patterns which will propagate into the Board. The Dictator will then lose genuine independence and become a factional tool. This is ruinous, of course, and will probably lead in the long run to universal suffrage, as factions compete for new voters. The transition to a financial, rather than political, model of control is the main mechanism that prevents this failure mode, which can indeed lead (in the long, long, long run) to Hitler.

Thus your residents should feel quite secure against the deadly catastrophe of insane government, because in the New California they are living under a regime with strong engineering guarantees that the government will be basically sane. They will note that this was not the case in the past. The comparison will definitely not escape anyone.

We now must ask: are the residents of California secure against sane government? This is a far more interesting question. The answer is, of course, that it depends on your resident. It also depends on your definition of security.

The theory of sovereign security under which the Dictator (who is nothing if not sane) operates is a needs pyramid, much like Maslow's hierarchy. When you can't breathe, drinking is irrelevant. When you are dying of thirst, you have no interest in eating. When you are dying of hunger, you have no interest in sex. And so on.

In the Dictator's book (small, and red), there are four levels of sovereign security. These are peace, order, law, and freedom. Once you have each one, you can work on the next. But it makes no sense to speak of order without peace, law without order, or freedom without law.

Peace is simply the absence of war. The Dictator's first goal is to achieve peace, preferably honorably and with victory. There is no telling what wars New California will be embroiled in at the time of its birth, so I will decline to discuss the matter further. But in war, of course, there is no order; war is pure chaos. Thus we see our first rule of hierarchy.

Once peace is achieved, the Dictator's goal is order. Order is a subtle concept, but it can best be understood by postulating the Dictator as a god: omnipotent and omniscient. Direct rule of will by an actual, omnipotent, omniscient, real live god constitutes ideal order.

The Dictator is not a god. So her definition of order is slightly reduced. The Dictator need not know or control everything; she does not see every sparrow fall, she cannot pluck any one blade of grass. Nor does she need to. However, her order is defective if her authority or awareness is resisted, or in any significant way incomplete.

(Note that the Dictator's power is no greater and no less than that held by the present authorities. They, too, cannot be resisted. All limitation of government, if it is not weakness and disorder, is consigned to the prudence of human officials. The Dictator is prudent, too, and there is a lot less red tape in her office.)

Here are some random facts about the present California which, I feel, are violations of order. The major cities are full of racist paramilitary gangs. Large sections of them are unsafe at night. Other sections are unsafe by day. Millions of people are in California illegally. California has no secure list of the people who are authorized to reside there, nor does it know the addresses and occupations of its residents, nor does it have their biometric identities. If an unlocked bicycle is left on the street, it will be stolen. Many Californians are idle and not independently wealthy. Many schools approach the zoological. Graffiti is everywhere, as is garbage. Etc, etc. (You'll note that by the global standards of 2009, California is actually quite orderly.)

To the residents of the New California, after a few years of the Dictatorship, any of these phenomena would be as shocking as the sight of a live rhinoceros walking down the street. More to the point, they would be about as shocking as the exact same phenomena would to the residents of California in 1909. The Dictator's theory is that all recent earthquakes in California are caused by these individuals spinning in their graves. Her regime should thus end this menace as well.

(Libertarians: note that at present, your risk of having your human rights violated by a private actor is much greater than your risk of having your human rights violated by a state actor. Which hurts more? A cop hitting you over the head with a club, or a mugger hitting you over the head with a club? In my mind, they hurt about the same. Thus, as a libertarian, my most serious complaint against the State is not any alleged abuses of the security forces, but its tolerance of widespread anarchy and disorder - by several orders of magnitude.)

Once order is achieved, the next step is law. Obviously, the old laws of California were entirely abrogated by the establishment of the Dictatorship, with which they are quite inconsistent. In establishing order, the Dictator does not need law. She has direct command of the security forces. Again, there is no law without order - our second rule of hierarchy.

With order, law can be restored. But few lawyers, and no non-lawyers, can be found who believe that the present legal system of California is fair, efficient, and just. Therefore, one of the Dictator's first priorities is to recodify the law - taking another tip from Frederick the Great. In fact, Frederick's code (or a later successor) might be an excellent starting point. You are rebooting, after all.

A sovereign operating under the rule of law is not, contrary to several centuries of Whig horsepucky, a sovereign bound by the rule of law. It is a sovereign which chooses to abide by the rule of law. It declares a consistent and stable set of rules by which everyone in New California, Dictator included, can live and work and play nice with each other.

Ideally, because New California is in a state of order, the Dictator does not need to deploy her prerogative, which is her sovereign right to violate her own law. By maintaining this blissful state, the Dictator does not abandon the prerogative and allow it to decay (as Charles I did), but reaffirms and justifies it. If order threatens to lapse, the LAPD is still on line 1.

Finally, from law we reach the ultimate state: freedom. As libertarians know, freedom is the state of minimal government. Once the Dictator has turned California into Prussia, she feels free to relax and let everyone chill out a little. New California is a money-making proposition, but it is also California. It doesn't pay to be too uptight.

Obviously, without law there can be no freedom - our third rule of hierarchy. One can live a perfectly normal life in a pure police state under martial law, but it is always ever so slightly stressful.

A Dictator attentive to the goal of freedom will be constantly pruning the edges of the law, trimming it back, reducing it, creating more space for personal self-actualization, giving residents more and more privacy guarantees. Without, of course, jeopardizing her achievement in creating law and order in the first place.

Freedom, like anything else in government, is an art. Californians today simply have no idea of all the ways in which their life is made duller, more rigid, and more monotonous by unnecessary rules. For example, the rules by which businesses are forced to play, of which their customers know nothing, limit the types of business that exist. Overconstrained building codes ensure dull, monotonous and expensive buildings. Etc, etc, etc.

But freedom is not a function of "rights." (It is certainly not a function of your political power.) It is a function of your actual personal independence. Similarly, privacy (which is a form of freedom) is a function of your actual personal security. If the Dictator will not tell you what to do, if she will not snoop into your desk drawer or your car or your computer, in what sense is it an injury to you that she could tell you what to do, she could snoop? Isn't your skin a little thin?

Thus we see the paradox of the Dictatorship: freedom achieved through authority. This is a paradox quite alien to Anglo-American political thought, but well-known in the East. "Confucius compares a virtuous prince to the North Pole in which he finds himself: he does not move, and everything turns around him." Our Dictator is of course that virtuous prince - or princess.

This simple principle of wu wei is the instinctive spirit behind libertarianism. Once we understand it as the pinnacle of the sovereign's pyramid of needs, we can see the easy but fatal mistake the libertarian makes.

Quite simply, (policy) libertarians mistake disorder for freedom. They believe it is possible to make government smaller, and achieve wu wei, by weakening and dividing sovereign authority.

While this is in some senses true - disorder can certainly be quite a liberating experience - it never lasts. In the short term there can be such a thing as benign anarchy, but in the long term never. And since power is easy to divide, but hard to unify, the long-term result is always more duplication, less unity of authority and responsibility, and a bigger, nastier government. Thus the attempt to quash the monstrous Megatherions is the exact food on which they thrive.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

we know there was something wrong with the American political tradition of 1789 - because it evolved into the one we have now. If we somehow manage to evolve the clock back, why won't it just spin forward again?

From the perspective of 2009, either 72 or 145 years of reasonably good, libertarian government (depending on whether you think things went wrong in 1860 or 1933) seems like a pretty good deal. Moreover, things might not play out in the same way, if we assume that people are capable of learning from past mistakes. (OTOH one could argue that the bad things would happen even faster, since evil men will see how the system was perverted in the past.)

What we do know, from the Hitler example, is that an imprudent, incompetent or irresponsible dictator is dangerous.

The USA is proof that an imprudent, incompetent or irresponsible democracy is also dangerous.

July 2, 2009 at 6:38 AM  
Anonymous tenkev said...

Mencius, I am grateful everytime you post. Insightful as always.

July 2, 2009 at 7:00 AM  
Blogger newt0311 said...


"From the perspective of 2009, either 72 or 145 years of reasonably good, libertarian government (depending on whether you think things went wrong in 1860 or 1933) seems like a pretty good deal."

Yeah... but the Roman Good Emperors gave four centuries of good government and that does not even include some of the earlier roman emperors like Augustus who were similarly adept rulers. The British kings also provided good government for hundreds of years. Why settle for a measly 1.5 centuries?

July 2, 2009 at 10:02 AM  
Blogger Blode0322 said...

It is especially important that no new F-shares be issued, because this will quickly land you right back at universal suffrage.

Well, this I don't quite agree with, or maybe I'm misreading. No new F-shares should be created arbitrarily, sure. No new ways of getting an F-share should be created, sure. But it seems like if the rules for what gets you an F-share are stable, new F-shares are not a bad thing. For example, using the suggested franchise:
... an objectively responsible citizen ... owns a house, is a college graduate, is a veteran, or is married with children.
... F-shares would be expanded if home ownership increased (a good thing), college graduations increased (probably a bad thing), completed military terms of service increased (probably a good thing), or marriage increased or divorces decreased (good things).

Rewarding good behavior with a franchise is a good thing. No one is going to give away voters or pay soldiers just to make them allied voters. However, people will (and do) dumb down college curriculums to further spread around the (heavily degenerated) benefits of academic credentialism (which is why I would favor scrapping that means of obtaining the franchise).

Anyway, I can't figure out what happened to heredity. I though Moldbug was a big fan of hereditary rule, but I guess on every other day he's more of a fan of corporate rule. Alas.

July 2, 2009 at 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why settle for a measly 1.5 centuries?"

Mainly because resetting to 1788 is much more achievable than installing a dictator. A Roman Emperor for California? Come on. The Roman Emperors were "good government"? Mmmmkay.

July 2, 2009 at 10:29 AM  
Anonymous tenkev said...

The Roman Emperors were "good government"? Mmmmkay.

According to Gibbon or Machiavelli, Yes.

July 2, 2009 at 10:41 AM  
Blogger nazgulnarsil said...

sih between various factions of para-military thugs. the police hitting me over the head is only distinguishable from random thugs hitting me over the head by the fact that I might be able to get away with shooting the thugs.

July 2, 2009 at 10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Roman Emperors were "good government"? Mmmmkay.

According to Gibbon or Machiavelli, Yes."

By which they meant "good" compared to the anarchy that prevailed after the fall of the empire, and compared to the squabbling city-states of renaissance Italy. I think we can set the bar for "good government" higher than that.

Some Roman Emperors were good, but many were horrible. If MM can come up with a process for ensuring that only "prudent" persons become dictator, he might have something.

July 2, 2009 at 10:49 AM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

Your statistics on colonial India are off. It is true there were only 1000 official civil servants, but in 1867 there were also 12000 in the full time uncovenanted civil service, 50,000 in the army, and some unknown number in the service to the princes still governed about half of British India (modern India, Bangledesh, and a little of Pakistan) up until independence.

This is still a remarkable ratio compared to modern America where ~15% of the workforce is directly employed by the government and god only knows how many are employed indirectly or as contractors. And I mean god only knows to be taken literally. the Government officially does not keep track of the number of contractors it hires, and even if it wanted to it couldn't keep track of the number of people (e.g. tax attorneys) who only have jobs because of government action.

July 2, 2009 at 10:59 AM  
Anonymous dj_moulin said...

I'm highly sympathetic to MM's anti-democracy standpoint, but not to his believe in the good governance of a joint-stock corporation.

If, for the last 100 years, USG's foreign policy had been run for the explicit benefit of Boeing and Coca-Cola, would any policies have been different?

Same question with regard to domestic policy and GM and Wal-mart.

July 2, 2009 at 1:21 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...


No, Really. There were lots of Good Roman Emperors. I don't know that I'd go in for 4 centuries -- at least not concurrently, but they did a damn fine job. If there were more "bad Emperors" it's because very few "bad Emperors" ruled for very long.

Because Rome (even in the Empire) was still at least partially a Timocracy (thanks for showing me that term, MM), the Senate had exactly no problems killing the living fuck out of a bad Emperor (the army, too, but one should always expect a military coup and behave properly in regards to ones soldiers).

And it's neither easy nor likely to reset either to the late 18th century or to a new timocracy cum neocameralist state. Since we KNOW that the US Constitution has no provisions against devolution into democracy, why would we choose it again? Definition of insanity and all that.

July 2, 2009 at 1:25 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...


Well GM was/is hamstrung by insane political rules and unions.

So let's look at the (relatively less) regulated Wal-Mart. In the face of inflation, prices at Wal-Mart have continually gone down. Seriously, y'all. Pound Puppies (which are still sold after like 25 years) are either the same price or cheaper than when I was a kid (depending on the sale day). TVs and computers might as well be free compared to their prices 20 years ago. Clothes are the same price.

Sure food and some other things (shoes? hello what the hell?) are more expensive (especially when branding comes into it) but not in all cases (Chef Boyardee -- a dollar a can when I was 10, a dollar a can now).

Yet Wal-Mart continues to make buckets of money. Wal-Marts are clean and orderly (especially compared to any other sort of establishment run by the same sort of folks).

Moreover, Wal-Mart runs roughshod over a lot of corporations, flexing its muscles and being pretty damn powerful.

If it were a country (and they got rid of those damned fluorescent lights) I'd even want to move (or at least vacation) there.

Now let's talk about an even better run corporation, like Google or Microsoft or Publix or Johnson & Johnson or Pixar. If Google took over California, wouldn't you move there as soon as it was possible? Hell, I'd personally arrange for the removal of every Florida politician by this evening if it meant that by tonight the folks at Pixar would be running the state.

July 2, 2009 at 1:33 PM  
Anonymous tenkev said...

If, for the last 100 years, USG's foreign policy had been run for the explicit benefit of Boeing and Coca-Cola, would any policies have been different?

Same question with regard to domestic policy and GM and Wal-mart.

Corporations are not for the benefit of their shareholders, not other corporations. Ergo, your example fails miserably.

July 2, 2009 at 1:33 PM  
Anonymous tenkev said...

Wow, lots of errors in my last post. Let me give it another try.

Corporations are run for the benefit of their shareholders, not other coporations. Ergo, your example fails miserably.

July 2, 2009 at 1:35 PM  
Blogger hobbomagic said...

More generally, MM is gravely misunderstanding what makes capitalism work. It is not just the profit motive, but the existence of multiple competing entities. If Walmart becomes less efficient and raises prices I can go to the Target across the street. But according to MM’s own definition, the sovereign is the sole provider of security. This means that if its services start to decline, I have no choice but to keep buying them. MM tries to handwave this by postulating a neo-cameral world of competing city states, but switching countries is much harder than switching where you shop.

There is also the problem of scale. A sovereign entity is going to be large by definition, and the larger the entity gets the worse the internal politics are. Look at GM. When build quality started to decline the knowledge that this was happening went through the classic stages of uncomfortable truths. Problems were first ignored, then covered up. When things got to bad to ignore or deny, scapegoats were found. It only survived through the 90s by cornering the market on SUVs and using those profits to keep everything else alive on life support. You can blame the government and the unions all you want, but the fact of the matter is that ALL human institutions have internal politics, and the politics at GM made it easier for the people in charge to slowly slide into oblivion than to save themselves. Does anyone have any doubt that a theoretical Cal-corp, after many decades of prosperity, would behave exactly like GM management in the 70s?

We say private companies are motivated by profits, but really they are just institutions doing what institutions do, trying to keep themselves alive and growing. Profits are a means, not an end. The neo-cameral state though does not have any fear of death. It has nuclear weapons to keep other states out. Even states as badly run as North Korea and Zimbabawe are able to extract enough surplus to keep the leaders comfortable. With no possibility of institutional death, the neo-cameral state cannot be said to be seriously disciplined by market forces. The only restraints on its behavior will be cultural, which is exactly the problem MM is trying to get around. This “solution” is no better than the libertarian one, and a lot riskier.

July 2, 2009 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

GM is a non-example because of government intervention and unions.

July 2, 2009 at 2:10 PM  
Anonymous tenkev said...


As consumer preferences in government will not be uniform, it is very likely that multiple competing entities will exist.

Just because it is harder to change countries does not mean it won't happen or that it won't be a significant restraint on the government's behavior. Realize that government's now place many hurdles/redtape for immigrants that would not be in place if countries were competing for citizens as customers.

Also, a significant portion of any government's revenues is based on the amount of capital in the country and capital is very liquid.

July 2, 2009 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger Porphyrogenitus said...

The problem with the reboot to an alien tradition from the past is roughly identical to your rationale for not returning to 19th century liberalism of either the American or British variety - they either evolved into what we have now or were defeated and replaced with what we have now.

If there is no guarantee that a restoration to 18th century Constitutionalism or 19th century Manchester Liberalism won't simply devolve again into the mess we have now, identically there is no guarantee that a restoration of the past "alien" tradition (I note you borrow examples from Britain) won't likewise decay into the morass we have now.

A board and foundation might encourage such a degeneration into decadence rather than prevent it.

Anyhow I don't disagree with your diagnosis of the current situation, and marrying authoritah with accountability/responsibility is certainly required.

Also for some reason I'm reminded of John W. Campbell's "A Constitution for Utopia".

July 2, 2009 at 3:49 PM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

As consumer preferences in government will not be uniform, it is very likely that multiple competing entities will exist.

MM assumes that the desire for security is universal. There will definitely be competition over means, but not ends.

Just because it is harder to change countries does not mean it won't happen or that it won't be a significant restraint on the government's behavior. Realize that government's now place many hurdles/redtape for immigrants that would not be in place if countries were competing for citizens as customers.

Geography matters. Moving is a big deal, and if your country is poorly governed it will lower the value of your property, making moving even harder. Competition between geographic entities will never be as good as competition between entities in the same space. Imagine how retail competition would work if every store owned the exclusive right to sell things withing a certain geographic radius. You'd definitely get some competition, but not nearly as much as you do now.

Voting with your feet can help, but I do not think it is sufficient. The 11 states that touch the great lakes used to produce something like 20% of GLOBAL gdp. They're so poorly managed that the region is now called the rust belt. People have spent the last 40 years moving to the middle of the desert and building entirely new cities rather than do business in the Northeast, but New York, PA, and Illinois still have more people today then they did when they were at their peak. California is just about the worst place to business in the country, but people will keep moving there because the weather and scenery are so great. American states obviously lack incentives that are as good as a neo-cameral state's, but I doubt the neo-cameral incentives are good enough to overcome human inertia and they are likely to have their own unintended consequences.

July 2, 2009 at 4:37 PM  
Anonymous Lupo said...

Jesus sufferin' Christ, your long-windedness has not changed one bit over the last decade. Your political arguments haven't changed much either from when you were a liberal goth kid. You have some original ideas, but like many intelligent individuals, you don't understand people.

Sure; elect a dictator -what could be simpler? What could be more idiotic, honestly? You may have noticed there are various African and Asian despotic lands who are governed in this fashion; some of them even elected their dictators in analogous ways to the one you suggest. Yet, they remain lousy places to live. Why? Because the character of their nations is defective. America used to be a decent place for people to live, because it had a decent culture which believed in itself. Now it's becoming a third world hell hole, more or less out of cultural decadence, funded in a way you've already identified. America's character has been destroyed in the same way British people used to destroy the social fabric of their colonial subjects. Yes, you have to kill the social class of people who are doing this, though at this point, the process is probably irreversible. Everybody wants their MTV.
Until Americans become as repressed and tight laced as they were in the early 20th century, it's only going to get worse. Ditto Europe. Electing a dictator didn't help the Romans after Sulla, because the Romans were as incapable of governing themselves as modern people are. Electing a dictator made them worse.

If you want to look at how one might go about returning to order and civilization, do some histiography as to how the raucous British under the early Hanoverian kings turned into the staid Victorians and Edwardians. Or, if you must, check out Lee Kwan Yew and Park Chung Hee's campaigns for cultural decency -though honestly, these are bad examples, even though they have the advantage of their being well chronicled. At least you'd be thinking in the right direction. And go read some Burke for heaven's sake. Fantasizing about daddy dictator setting the world to rights for you isn't going to get you anywhere but into the booby hatch.

July 2, 2009 at 4:41 PM  
Blogger Blode0322 said...

I'd love to read Moldbug's replies to some of this stuff. I know with flu symptoms, coups to plan, and babies to cuddle Moldy won't have time, but ...

The main criticism of the Articles of Confederation seem to be: it lacked a national judiciary, the Confederation lacked taxation power, state-controlled security forces had little incentive to cooperate and no central structures to help them do so, and there was no real way to make a state comply with a Confederal law.

I'd love to hear what Moldbug's specific criticisms would be of a reboot to the Articles of Confederation with:
(a) smaller states (i.e., Texas, California, Pennsylvania, New York, etc., broken up),
(b) taxation power for the Confederal government, either a strictly rate-limited property tax or simple capitation (an interest of mine that I can't get anyone on this site to play ball with me on),
(c) a Confederal judiciary chosen by competitive examination,
(d) a limited Confederal military establishment (I'd limit it by size, say, a fraction of the US population, or by giving a tenth of its employees a high minimum salary, so they could only hire generals and a small staff, to be supplemented by any officers the states wanted to spare).

July 2, 2009 at 7:30 PM  
Anonymous josh said...

Even without competition, a responsible government in the sense MM means it (if such a thing is even possible), would be limited to extracting monopoly level profits. In another post, MM, compares democracy to a tragedy of the commons, and makes an analogy to overfishing by the various factions who can't be sure that resources will still be around to be extracted tomorrow. So even a non-competitive responsible government would be an improvement. Of course many tiny jurisdictions would still be optimal.

July 3, 2009 at 7:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Libertarianism appeals to the most basic human political belief, the desire for personal independence. It is impossible to give words like freedom or liberty negative connotations. Thus, libertarianism should be popular as well as desirable."

This view is not "alien enough" but is as American as Lady Liberty.

Arguably, history shows the desires for personal honors, the will to dominate, theological concerns and nepotism are more basic political motivators than personal independence.

Negative connotations for liberty are evident in its cognates, as in the phrase "took liberties with your daughter" or the word "libertine."

"You're awfully free with your disdain" points to an example of freedom abused.

-A. Nonny Nonny

July 3, 2009 at 8:44 AM  
Blogger Blode0322 said...

Of course many tiny jurisdictions would still be optimal.

I did some math, and it looks like, if Plainland was a bunch of city-states each the size of Rhode Island, there would be three thousand of them. But then again, as I was mumbling in some other thread - there is an 8-county cluster the size of Israel, with a combined population of 30,000.

30,000 is pretty small for any sort of state. I'd say, when creating city-states, we should adjust area for population density. Put a 200,000 population floor on the city-state, as well as a 7,000,000 population ceiling. (The latter is to accommodate NYC, of course. I don't think it would be practical to put Brooklyn and Queens in different states, though it may be practical to put Staten I. in one of its own.)

Politically, you may want to have to have randomized, rotating membership in the North American governing body. (Unless you didn't have such a body - no Confederation at all. That may be Moldbug's position but it's not mine.) Another option would be to do some sort of House-Senate compromise, with city-states represented in the national legislature per population, but with major matters (tax increases, creations of new departments, treaties)* always referred to the states where each state has one vote. The latter process would be a kind of veto-only Senate but there'd be no need for any Senators in the national capital, the states could just take a vote in their state capitals however they wanted.

* Note that there is no reason to make the reversals of these (tax increases, abolitions of departments, maybe even abrogations of treaties although I would be against that) similarly difficult to pass.

July 3, 2009 at 9:54 AM  
Anonymous pastort said...

yo, mencius moldbug got a shout out in a blog post today on Lew Rockwell:

July 3, 2009 at 10:12 AM  
Blogger Black Sea said...

"The 11 states that touch the great lakes used to produce something like 20% of GLOBAL gdp."

I count eight states bordering the Great Lakes: Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania. Still, that's a dramatic statistic, if accurate.

July 3, 2009 at 9:39 PM  
Anonymous Bearded Spock said...

Attempting to design a system of government that works well is akin to designing a type of poison that's healthy. It's a contradiction in terms because the State can only function by using or threatening violence and that instantly makes it worse than anything (like disorder) that it was created to deal with.

Until the Nonaggression Principal becomes the highest social value, tyranny will always intrude. We simply can't make exceptions to the "don't use or threaten force unless in self-defense" rule.

We do not have the right to initiate violence, so we can't delegate that "right" to a state or a dictator, benevolent or otherwise.

July 4, 2009 at 12:00 AM  
Blogger newt0311 said...


Violence and coercion are a fact of human society. If a government doesn't use them, private actors will. Good government design is simply minimizing the absolute amount of violence and coercion in society and it does not seem to be served by a lack of government.

July 4, 2009 at 8:08 AM  
Anonymous tenkev said...

Until the Nonaggression Principal becomes the highest social value

Ha! Don't hold your breath.

July 4, 2009 at 8:28 AM  
Anonymous Bearded Spock said...

So, in other words:

Murder and rape are facts of human society. If the government doesn't use them, private actors will.

??? WTF?! I'm not the one proposing some kind of utopia, technocratic or otherwise. I am simply saying that civilization is more civilized when violence and the threat of violence in minimized to the extent that it's possible to do so.

proposing the use of force (and not even as a last resort!)to solve problems is the knee-jerk reaction of the lazy and ignorant with no considerations for the unintended consequences.

July 4, 2009 at 9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bearded Spock:

I'm not the one proposing some kind of utopia, technocratic or otherwise. I am simply saying that civilization is more civilized when violence and the threat of violence in minimized to the extent that it's possible to do so.

Agreed. How do we get from here to there? There have been one or two libertarian states and they both degenerated into democracies. As MM pointed out, 100 years ago common sense was basically libertarian (if you were to classify thought by today's standards).

proposing the use of force (and not even as a last resort!)to solve problems is the knee-jerk reaction of the lazy and ignorant with no considerations for the unintended consequences.

Pretending that everyone will abide by an agreement (the non-aggression principle) when it is in the best interest of everyone to breach that principle is the ultimate in wishful thinking. Libertarianism would work with a different human nature? The only thing that works in this world is incentives. Democracy gives people (very) bad incentives. MM makes a very persuasive case that a hereditary monarch has better incentives. Same for a timocracy. Same (but less persuasive) for a secure dictator (succession is important).

Libertarian government is an outcome; the key question is the structure. Basing a government on a promise isn't a very strong structure.

-Steve Johnson

July 4, 2009 at 11:06 AM  
Blogger newt0311 said...


Since you seem intent on arguing the point:

So, in other words:

Murder and rape are facts of human society. If the government doesn't use them, private actors will.

??? WTF?!

Fine. Name me a single society which has not had murder(/homicide) committed either by private actors or state actors.

I'm not the one proposing some kind of utopia, technocratic or otherwise.

Proposing a utopia is exactly what you are doing. You expect all people to disavow the use of violence when it is often in their very interests to do so. Exactly what incentive do they have to do so?

I am simply saying that civilization is more civilized when violence and the threat of violence in minimized to the extent that it's possible to do so.

So am I. If you look at my statement, I used pretty much the same words. I just don't think that getting rid of government will get us there.

proposing the use of force (and not even as a last resort!)to solve problems is the knee-jerk reaction of the lazy and ignorant with no considerations for the unintended consequences.

Ad homimen (in this case, accusing me of laziness and ignorant of unintended consequences) is not an argument. Could you please point out some of these unintended consequences that have not been discussed or how I (or MM) have been lazy?

July 4, 2009 at 11:27 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Bearded Spock wrote: "Attempting to design a system of government that works well is akin to designing a type of poison that's healthy."

Paracelsus observed five hundred years ago that the difference between a medicine and a poison was all in the dose. And isn't this still so?

A little bit of opium will dull pain, reduce fever, lower blood pressure, and relax the musculature. These symptoms having been palliated, the patient's own regenerative powers - the 'vis medicatrix naturæ' - can more easily bring about his healing. A lot of opium, on the other hand, will reduce his fever to room temperature, and his blood pressure to 0 over 0. Between the extremes of therapeutic and lethal dosage lies the danger of addiction.

Government, rather than religion (pace Marx) is the opiate of the people. Given sparingly, it might be beneficial, but with continued dosage over time, addiction develops. With it comes the phenomenon of tolerance, which calls for ever larger doses to achieve the desired effect. Continuing on such a path will lead to the grave, but withdrawal is painful, and it's very difficult to kick the habit. This is where the U.S. and western Europe find themselves today.

July 4, 2009 at 12:10 PM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

Black Sea> Maybe you have to include a few extras like New jersey, Iowa, and Missouri, but its roughly accurate. They produced the lions share of American GDP when America was producing the lions share of global GDP.

July 4, 2009 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

Paracelsus observed five hundred years ago that the difference between a medicine and a poison was all in the dose.

It's worth mentioning, though, that Paracelsus was probably the second greatest quack in history. His favorite prescription was mercury salts, which are almost always harmful, although less so in small doses.

Sometimes a poison is just a poison.

July 4, 2009 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Bearded Spock:

"Rights" are a construct. Please deal with reality if at all possible.

July 5, 2009 at 9:33 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

George, it's worth observing too that doctors learn what cures and what kills by experimenting. That's why it is called 'practising' medicine. Somehow practice never quite makes perfect.

Certain mercurials were considered quite useful long after Paracelsus's demise. Calomel was a useful purgative, with antiseptic effect in the lower bowel. 'Blue pill,' 'grey powder,' and 'grey oil' were preparations of elemental mercury, which can be ingested in gross quantities without exhibiting great toxicity. Martindale and other pharmacerutical authorities continued to recommend mercurials as efficacious for the treatment of gonorrhoea right up through the nineteen-thirties, when antibiotics replaced them. Of course, water-soluble mercury salts and many organomercurial compounds are nastily toxic. Thimerosal (which those over a certain age will remember as 'merthiolate,' dabbed by mothers and school nurses on our childhood abrasions and cuts) is one that isn't. It still used as a preservative in certain vaccines. There has been a hubbub about its supposedly causing autism in children, but this is far from proven, and even vaccines not containing it are also claimed to cause autism.

July 5, 2009 at 1:19 PM  
Blogger Alrenous said...

I think I've found a basic conflict. On the Mencius side we have people who think security is primarily for protection of the citizen from criminals and invasion. On the other, we have people who think security is primarily for protection of power against citizen uprisings.

It is difficult for me to imagine a violent F-share recipient revolt, even though from the second perspective the state would primarily be interested in stripping power from these individuals.

On the other hand, it's undeniable that dealing with criminals seems to be a tiny part of any state's activity, modern or, as far as I know, otherwise.


Hey Ludo, you really need to tone it down. I almost didn't read your comment, and I would have missed out.

What could be more idiotic that trying to change someone's mind by calling them an idiot?

July 5, 2009 at 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For all this talk about restoring pre-1922 standards, Moldbug is but another political rationalist. He want a neoconservative proposition nation, but on a smaller scale. I fail to see how his plan is more workable that the libertarianism he rightly opposes.

BTW, the idea that the US and UK were libertarian societies in the 19th Cent. is romantic and silly.

July 5, 2009 at 6:15 PM  
Anonymous Zdeno said...

Pardon the off-topic comment, but I'd recommend everyone in the React-o-sphere have a close look at Transformers 2.

Michael Bay has the US military commit treason and violate orders from the POTUS. The prez, who is named in the film as Obama, makes a bad call, and the smart, reasonable military guys sensibly ignore it. The audience is clearly meant to side with the USAF in this conflict.

According to google, Michael Bay is indeed a Republican. Hmmm.


July 5, 2009 at 11:27 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...


Oh, could you get arrested in the 19th century for not mowing your lawn or smoking pot or doing any number of things?

How likely were you to get searched by police?

Did you need your passport or other ID with you at all times?

July 6, 2009 at 7:16 AM  
Blogger master_of_americans said...

"Libertarians: note that at present, your risk of having your human rights violated by a private actor is much greater than your risk of having your human rights violated by a state actor. Which hurts more? A cop hitting you over the head with a club, or a mugger hitting you over the head with a club?"

(the following evidence is anecdotal). Having lived most of my life, from birth to adulthood, in Chicago (not the suburbs), the sum total of money stolen from me by force by non-state actors is less than one dollar (it was all I had in my pocket at the time). My parents, too, have lived decades in Chicago and have never been robbed of anything by non-state actors. I've never been hit over the head by a criminal or by a cop, but the cop's buddies have been dipping into my pocket regularly for years. There have been times when I felt physically unsafe due to ruffians, but there have also been times when I felt physically unsafe due to police.

So, no, I don't think this assertion is at all obvious. That said, I imagine it is nevertheless correct, despite my personal experiences. At least with the police, if ruffians and police are both around at the same time, I'm glad the police are there, whereas I don't really expect the ruffians to protect me from the police. A police officer stopped me in a dark alley at 1 AM the other morning, and I'm glad it was not a Latin King instead. Etc., etc. I chalk up my relative lack of fear of the state to the fact that I have lucked into a citizenship that gives me a remarkably equitable relationship to the state, which is a valuable and rare commodity indeed; schemes which involve messing around with this arrangement in order to make the state more powerful relative to me do not immediately strike me as appealing.

July 6, 2009 at 8:23 PM  
Anonymous micau said...

This post is the latest in a long series conclusively demonstrating that Mencius Moldbug suffers from what's commonly known as "Software Engineer Social Retardation Syndrome (SESRS)". Symptoms include having high levels of technical capacity and ability, and high logical aptitude, accompanied by an utter, complete lack of social intelligence, ability, and skills. To put it simply, those afflicted are social retards. This leads them to completely ridiculous and erroneous conclusions regarding the proper course of social and political development.

Attempts to overcome this severe disability through humanistic pursuits such as reading/composing poetry, reading obscure historical texts, and speculating about social, cultural, and political matters in long winded blog posts have so far failed spectacularly, as demonstrated by Moldbug's unsuccessful attempts.

July 6, 2009 at 10:28 PM  
Blogger master_of_americans said...

One more thing: how does the assertion that "Dictatorship is like parenting: any failure to enforce authority damages it. Conflict is the result of weakness, not strength. The Dictator never makes this mistake. Because she has the power to govern New California as a police state, she has the freedom to operate it as a libertarian utopia," square with, to take just one example, the ongoing riots/protests in Ürümchi against Chinese rule? Chinese rule in Xinjiang is not strong enough? If only they had more power to enact a police state, Xinjiang would become a libertarian utopia?

July 6, 2009 at 11:28 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

Annotate this article over at

July 7, 2009 at 2:37 AM  
Anonymous Katto said...

I've just started reading some of these postings, and I agree, democracy may have run its course. But Mencius (or anyone familiar with his writings, in case he doesn't see this or have time to respond), what is your proposed alternative form of government? Could someone link to the page or pages wherein Mencius describes his solution to democracy? Or does he limit himself to diagnosis only?

July 7, 2009 at 3:45 AM  
Anonymous recule said...

Mencius, democratic politics is chimp politics, but dictatorial politics is chimp politics as well.

You would do well to read Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, who's written about how dictatorships are faced with various political forces, competition/rivals, constituents, incentives just as democracies are.

Here's some good Econtalk posts with him:

You can take the man out of the chimp, but you can't take the chimp out of the man.

July 7, 2009 at 6:49 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...


Um, didn't you read it in the article?

MM's answer is Monarchy. Preferably the dictatorial form -- but he wants 1 person to be responsible for the state.

Problem is he still hasn't solved the two major problems with monarchy -- getting rid of bad monarchs and the problem of succession (which, I suppose are just two parts of one problem).

July 7, 2009 at 8:31 AM  
Blogger Blode0322 said...

Moldbug's analysis is less useful than it could be. He's discussed so many alternatives - from the military restoring the Constitution, to restoring the Stuarts / Prince of Liechtenstein, to the Patchwork (multiple nuclear-armed common-stock city-states).... I think the dictator idea is a modification to the Patchwork, but really I still don't get it.

Monarchy usually seems to mean a hereditary head of state, not an absolute head of state. If there is an important board of directors, the autocrat would seem to be less-than-absolute, although I suppose she might be near-absolute. But if the autocrat is chosen by the board it's not monarchy in the conventional sense either. Sounds to me more like a near-autocratic plutocratic junta. A mouthful.

Just to put a spin on the tennis ball:

For this thought experiment, imagine three options. Option One, chosen for the wealth-generating crime-laden megalopoles, would be to go Moldbug. There would be some kind of national law requiring the management in those towns to get certain results, but there would be little interference in how they got there. The only real rules would be: no residents of the city could own stock, the board of directors would have to meet elsewhere, the city management corporation would have a strictly limited jurisdiction to rule in, etc. So would have sort of a Singapore-style government making the city super-attractive to visitors, who'd be willing to pay, probably with some sort of entrance fee and/or sales taxes, to go there. The city could also levy property taxes on self-assessed property.

Option Two would be for areas which took a sudden liking to hereditary rule. A new aristocracy could be formed nationwide by some big independent group. They could combine an IQ score, a criminal background check, and an assessment of contributions (patents, military service, publications), and give each applicant family a score. Then they could assign everyone old-fashioned noble titles, which would attach permanently to a certain area based on wherever the family had owned property the longest. The titles would pass down by absolute primogeniture or whatever. Whatever states wanted to could transform part of their legislature into a local house of lords.

Option Three would be closer to the status quo - i.e., the "republican form of government" guaranteed by the US Constitution.

That approach would be much clearer and more flexible than the verbiage Moldbug has spent on the matter.

July 7, 2009 at 9:21 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

but Menc's assertion is that option 3 always leads to what we have today (which, though better than South Africa, is a far cry from where [according to MM] we should be).

His argument is that with options 1 or 2, reengineered to avoid pitfalls, we would be better off.

July 7, 2009 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Blode0322 said...

True, but I'm not sure Option 3 in one province would corrupt Options 1 or 2 in another province. If it would, then I'm not sure national borders would stop the corruption either, in which case we're pretty much screwed, since attaining a worldwide libertarian dictatorship thingamajig seems like a whole new level of implausible.

Really, it's difficult to make the case that Jeffersonian proprietor-government always leads to Jacksonian mob-government without indulging in teleology and/or historicism, which is something I thought Mencius was against.

Talk of social-reform momentum will always confuse me. If you were against 16-year-olds voting, and 18-year-olds were banned from voting, you might oppose granting the vote to 18-year-olds because it would "inevitably lead" to 16-year-olds voting (and then on to toddlers voting). If you were in favor of 20-year-olds voting but neutral on 18-year-olds voting, and 16-year-olds were permitted to vote, you might oppose banning 18-year-olds from voting on the grounds that it would "inevitably lead" to 20-year-olds being barred from the polls.

Everyone is sure all the slopes are slippery, only no one can agree which way it is that gravity pulls.

The really sad thing is, our "laboratories of reform" are all closed for business. The states are all governed almost identically. When I mention that Nebraska has a unicameral legislature, this comes across to my typical listener as bizarre, inexplicable, even otherworldly. 'How could Nebraskans have come up with something so weird?' It's fun to "suggest" the council-manager system (that I "invented" as an alternative to the mayor-council system) for city government. 'No way it would work ... it's just too weird.' People are unfamiliar enough with the forms of government they live in that they consider the status quo to be a reform - and a bizarre one at that.

Anyway, the point is, yes, democracy is a failure, and yes, its entrenchment will prevent Moldbuggian reboot just as it prevents right-leaning reform, "structural libertarianism", etc.

July 7, 2009 at 12:07 PM  
Blogger nazgulnarsil said...

shouldn't energy be directed towards increasing aggregate IQ? Trying to engineer a working, responsible, efficient government in a world where the average person has serious difficulty with basic reading comprehension and math skills seems like a fool's errand. You may as well try to engineer an efficient government for chimpanzees.

July 7, 2009 at 8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blode0322 :

"Everyone is sure all the slopes are slippery, only no one can agree which way it is that gravity pulls."

The slopes slip in the direction of fragmenting power.

People don't give up micro slices of power (like the vote) but diffused power holders will give up a fraction of their power in exchange for other goods. Once the power is given away, it stays where it is. This explains the expanding franchise: first property owners, then all males, then females. Now we're moving into the territory of criminals and non-citizens being granted the vote.


shouldn't energy be directed towards increasing aggregate IQ? Trying to engineer a working, responsible, efficient government in a world where the average person has serious difficulty with basic reading comprehension and math skills seems like a fool's errand.

Except that democratic governments engineer low IQ populations because they interfere less in the process of governing. Look at the population importation in the United States and Europe. Think it's an accident that low IQ people are paid to emigrate and native low IQ populations are paid to reproduce?

-Steve Johnson

July 7, 2009 at 9:56 PM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

@Zdeno: i also noticed, when the smarmy politico was saying "all options are being considered" wrt turning Sam over to the Decepticons, that no one would for a minute have believed Bush capable of such a thing. It's too early to tell for sure whether Obama is, but Clinton proved it explicitly and repeatedly, so the assumption has to be yes.

July 8, 2009 at 12:19 AM  
Anonymous tenkev said...

shouldn't energy be directed towards increasing aggregate IQ? Trying to engineer a working, responsible, efficient government in a world where the average person has serious difficulty with basic reading comprehension and math skills seems like a fool's errand. You may as well try to engineer an efficient government for chimpanzees.

You just can't give less intelligent beings as much freedom as intelligent people. Dumb people are still smarter than smart machines at many tasks, and cheaper too. You just have to limit their freedom much more. Hence, Thomas Carlyle's support for slavery.

July 8, 2009 at 9:54 AM  
Blogger PD Quig said...

Yawn. I admit to lapsing into quantitative chemistry class reveries from 35 years ago about two thirds of the way through this.
How about this: back in the 1960's when California had great public schools, parks, and a public infrastructure the envy of the world, the state was focused. The Legislature didn't concern itself with what kind of light bulbs we used, what kind of sex we had, what kind of car we drove, whether we consumed transfat, or whether our kids drank soda. Ad nauseum ridiculorum.
Perhaps this is the inevitable trajectory of full-time legislators. Probably. It's also probably the inevitable trajectory of those who feel that they know what's best for everybody else... otherwise known as liberal or progressive.
There. That wasn't so hard, now was it? 9,959 words fewer than you to get to a more rational answer. Remind me to never use an operating system that you author or maintain.

July 8, 2009 at 2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I fell asleep before the end. Was there anything in all of this about the fact that California is no longer a republic or democracy?

Under representative government generally, the majority rules. Yes, certain minority rights (free speech, religous liberty, etc.) might be taken off the table, but, basically, the legislature is free to make all laws it sees as necessary. The most coveted power, historically, has been the power of the purse. The legislaure is in charge of taxing and spending, on a majority rule basis. And it jealously guards this power.

And here is where CA has gone off the tracks. Under Prop 13, your legislature can't raise taxes on a majority rule basis. A super majority is required. And that being the case, an obstructionist, anti tax lobby in a relatively few number of districts can keep the whole State from raising the revenue the majority thinks it needs. Meanwhile, that majority, using the same tactic as the Prop 13 backers (ie initiative and referendum) and conventional legislation, keeps voting for more spending.

So, put it all together, and what do you have? The power to spend, without the power to tax, which leads to excessive borrowing, which, in the lean times, can lead to bankruptcy. And that's the long and short of it.

Many, many other US States are caught right now in the same basic crises as CA is. Revenues have shrunk to the point where they can't cover existing spending. The rest of the States though, however painfully, can muddle through. They can cut some government services and raise some taxes. I believe a quick survey of the States will show that virtually all of them are employing some combination of these two remedies this year.

But not California. Because your government can't raise taxes. A clear majority of your citizens supports a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. But the Prop 13 enabled obstructionists won't go along with it. And the majority won't go along with doing it all with spending cuts.

Which is why I agree with your Governor--you need a Constutitonal Convention and new State Constitution. It should either get rid of iniative and referendum altogether or it should clearly make the basic legislative functions, like taxing and spending immune from I and R. Restore representative government and the budget problem can be solved.

July 8, 2009 at 8:13 PM  
Anonymous Katto said...

So, MM's proposed alternative to democracy is authoritarianism of one kind or another. Yawn.

Sounds fine to me -- if democracy is a proven failure, then we might as well go back and try some of the other proven failures (because all forms of government turn into disasters sooner or later), since there's really nothing to lose in the long run. I am for ANY radical change in the form of government for the same reason as George Carlin: The more radical the change, the more entertaining it would be to watch. As Carlin himself said: "I frankly don't give a fuck how it all turns out in this country -- or anywhere else, for that matter."

So do what you want, Moldbuggers, get on the news and make it interesting.

July 8, 2009 at 11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow ... a yawn, an "I feel asleep", and another yawn. And all for different reasons!

California isn't a democracy because the legislature can't raise taxes with, say, 52% of legislators voting for the tax increase? Did I get that right?

And the measure that caused that was voted on directly by the people? And it killed representative democracy? I've heard plenty of people say that direct democracy is real democracy and representative democracy is not real democracy, but I've never heard anyone say the opposite. Nor have I heard anyone say that taxes in California are too law. And finally, I've never heard anyone say that while cutting spending is really painful, raising taxes is politically easy as pie.

July 9, 2009 at 9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"California isn't a democracy because the legislature can't raise taxes with, say, 52% of legislators voting for the tax increase? Did I get that right?"

Uh, yeah, that'a about it. Democracy means rule of the people. And that means majority rules. But, in CA, tax increases need 67% (not 52%) approval in the legislature. So, one third of the legislators can block any tax increases. Which means that an antitax lobby highly organized in less than 40% of the legislative districts can effectively block all tax increases. That's not democratic.

"And the measure that caused that was voted on directly by the people?"


"And it killed representative democracy?"

Pretty much, yeah. As I stated before, the power of the purse is the historical heart of representative government. Without spending AND taxing power, a government is not really sovereign. Like the Continental Congress or Articles of Confederation government.

"I've heard plenty of people say that direct democracy is real democracy and representative democracy is not real democracy, but I've never heard anyone say the opposite."

I've "heard plenty of people say" a lot of things too. But that doesn't make them true, valid or persuasive. The reality is that the combination of direct and representative democracy in the CA system leads to chaos, and is a dismal failure.

"Direct democracy," California style, allows highly organized, well-funded, pressure groups to present issues in simplistic, one-sided ways. It caters to the lowest common denominator, eg "I don't wanna pay anymore taxes." The desire to curb or "freeze" taxes, while still anti-democratic in the long run (today's Initiative and Referendum majority dictates to next year's, next decade's, and next century's majority) might (and I stress the word "might") make some sense if there was a mechanism for ensuring consistency. But there isn't. So, yeah, of course, the voters are going to vote themselves low taxes. But they are not going to vote themselves low spending. That was never part of the deal. No initiative is ever passed limiting spending. Nor is it even practicable to produce a State governmental annual budget on the basis of I and R. So, while in theory, the democratic credentials and pedigree of the I and R process seem unimpeachable, in practice, it leads to compelete irresponsibility.

Prop 13 passes, but so does deficit spending every year. The State borrows money to make up the difference. Until a recession/credit crunch like we now have occurs, and it can't borrow anymore.

"Nor have I heard anyone say that taxes in California are too law."

I've never heard anyone say it either. But I have heard non sequitors before, and I know one when I read one. Did I say CA taxes were "too low?" I'm not saying CA taxes are "too low" (or "too high," for that matter) in the abstract. I am not even advocating for or against a "high service/high tax" state government, or for or against its opposite, "low service/low tax."

The point is that taxes should keep pace with expenditures, whether the level of expenditures is too high, too low, or "just right."

"And finally, I've never heard anyone say that while cutting spending is really painful, raising taxes is politically easy as pie."

Once again, I've never heard it either. But I'm not even sure where you are coming from here. Both cuting spending and raising taxes are always painful, neither is ever "easy as pie." Not did I say otherwise. In fact, that's the whole point, raising taxes is difficult, difficult enough even when only a majority is need to do so, but almost impossible when a supermajority is needed. So, you have gotten it exactly wrong. And you have ignored the fact that all of the other States caught in the same situation as CA is now are doing both--cutting spending and raising taxes. That's because they can.

July 9, 2009 at 4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"shouldn't energy be directed towards increasing aggregate IQ? "

Great idea, genius. Why don't you come down to the Berkeley City Council meetings some time to see how well that's been working out for us.

July 9, 2009 at 5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It misleading to suggest that political systems, democracy, ideology, or public policy are at fault, when behind all of these so-called 'systems of thought' (vagaries, mostly) is one glaring, much larger failure - that of human rationality itself.

What makes more sense is organizing the polis around geographic boundaries and urban development. Human organization should not be defined from the top down – even the state itself is not a single black and white entity (except in writing) Society is made out of feedback loops of language, culture, and production, and recycling/dispersal of energy flowing in and out of economic abstractions and material goods. Everything you discuss is abstract, ideological, and inimical to the goal of having a dynamic and healthy society.

What befell the Romans, was not a failure of politics, but of technology. They poisoned themselves through the architecture they constructed around themselves.

I see wonderfully articulate and erudite reasoning here, but I don’t really see any evidence of having learned from past mistakes.

Libertarianism has a tendency to blind people to the reality of a world that is only divided into borders because those of a dictatorial temperament chose to make it so.

California won’t benefit from being an island. Covering your eyes doesn’t make the rest of the world go away.

July 11, 2009 at 6:36 AM  
Blogger Dan Kurt said...

re: " nazgulnarsil said...
shouldn't energy be directed towards increasing aggregate IQ?..."

IQ is part of the problem. My life in family (super high IQ father, sister, wife, son), school (Honor HS, Ivy League including 2 Ivy post Docs) and work ( this is where brains really count ) has shown me that IQ has one main downside: hubris. Hubris make getting along rather hard and cooperation oh so unlikely. I am approaching my 70s and as I look back over my life, I see so many missed opportunities that slipped away because my smarts ( as well as other actor's brains ) prevented mutual actions from benefiting all concerned. Having "all the answers" blinds one from the truth seen in hindsight.

Here is an example of the problem of too much IQ in a society:

"Meccania to Atlantis - Part 12: Swallowed by Leviathan
From the desk of Takuan Seiyo on Sun, 2009-06-07 10:32
Basic Russian for crash test dummies

Recently, I was at a boomer backyard barbecue in Boston.The males had Ivy League degrees and high incomes evident in subtle ways. The wives who were white had the perfect cheekbones and teeth that only generations of breeding and expensive maintenance can produce. The nonwhite wives had PhD’s instead.

The host in a Yes We Can T-shirt sneezed. 'Barack you!' said a preppie-looking man, and explained with a broad smile that it’s a new locution replacing 'Bless you.'

I walked up to the Obamapod and said, 'I like your barackhlo line.'

'It’s Barack you,' he said, with the typical linguistic obtuseness of the American born-and-bred, of which genus he turned out to be a prize specimen. A Harvard MD, native of North Carolina, smart and personable, he told me how he grew up in a genteel and racist home where only the N-word was used to refer to Afro-Americans. He also said that since Barack Obama’s election he was at last able to breathe.

Come to think of it, the Arabic root of Barack, barakha, does mean blessing, and 'barack sie!' is what Europeans will soon be wishing to each other too, instead of Gesundheit! But I did not go into that with my new Boston buddy, nor told him that barackhlo is the Russian word for junk."

Dan Kurt

July 11, 2009 at 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are younger than 24, I think you can be forgiven for this. Sadly, I doubt that is the case. As noted by virtually every other commenter, this was far too long and obtuse for the point you were trying to make, if there was one at all. I wouldn't know; I got bored and gave up about halfway through. You seemed more interested in proving something about yourself, through arcane references and words unnecessary to the task, than making any particular point.

July 15, 2009 at 2:09 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Nice post.

I tend to agree that a dictator/monarchy style government would be more efficient and quite possibly better for the average everyday Joe than what we have now.

However, I believe Aristotle had it right. Humans, without special and specific training in governance, from the earliest days of childhood are bound to mess it up. It's human nature.

I fear that now matter what form of government we install, it will only last a matter of time.

July 15, 2009 at 10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the question of the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch — you seem to have a proprietary encoding of the Umlaut in the link, BTW — you may not be aware that the Austrian version is much older:

Seeing the concise, clear ABGB and the cruft it has since accumulated under lesser governments was one of my major steps to becoming a monarchist.

The Hohernzollern pests, those shameless Prussian climbers, just ripped the idea off after they had ruined the good Reich and replaced it with a sad Piefke simulacrum — which was itself followed by the vile abomination that ruined the brand, number 3.

Incidentally, since it fits here: Of course you're much more educated and intelligent than me, so I'm on very thin ice, but I'm not sure if you're correct to even consider the second empire ancien regime at all. To me, the Prussian rise looks more like a revolution by deracine climbers from the outskirts of the civilized world. Of course, the Hohenzollern were old nobility, but apart from that it looks almost a modern-type revolution, including the piggybacking on mass-nationalist sentiment.

July 18, 2009 at 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Billare said...

Come to think of it, the Arabic root of Barack, barakha, does mean blessing, and 'barack sie!' is what Europeans will soon be wishing to each other too, instead of Gesundheit! But I did not go into that with my new Boston buddy, nor told him that barackhlo is the Russian word for junk.

I laughed for at least a good half-hour at that last punchline. Thank you for that one.

July 25, 2009 at 4:43 PM  

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