A Republic, If You Can Keep It

The interlocking achievements of Kurt Gödel, which revolutionized the rigorous understanding of logic, arithmetic, and time, are not of a nature that wins ready popular acclamation. There is nevertheless a broadly factual story about him that has attained some notable level of popularity, and it is one that connects suggestively with the core concerns of his work. At the website of the Institute for Advanced Study (where Gödel was based from 1940 until his death in 1978), Oskar Morgenstern’s recollection of the episode in question is recorded:

[Gödel] rather excitedly told me that in looking at the Constitution, to his distress, he had found some inner contradictions and that he could show how in a perfectly legal manner it would be possible for somebody to become a dictator and set up a Fascist regime never intended by those who drew up the Constitution. I told him that it was most unlikely that such events would ever occur, even assuming that he was right, which of course I doubted.

But he was persistent and so we had many talks about this particular point. I tried to persuade him that he should avoid bringing up such matters at the examination before the court in Trenton, and I also told Einstein about it: he was horrified that such an idea had occurred to Gödel, and he also told him he should not worry about these things nor discuss that matter.

Many months went by and finally the date for the examination in Trenton came. On that particular day, I picked up Gödel in my car. He sat in the back and then we went to pick up Einstein at his house on Mercer Street, and from there we drove to Trenton. While we were driving, Einstein turned around a little and said, “Now Gödel, are you really well prepared for this examination?” Of course, this remark upset Gödel tremendously, which was exactly what Einstein intended and he was greatly amused when he saw the worry on Gödel’s face.

When we came to Trenton, we were ushered into a big room, and while normally the witnesses are questioned separately from the candidate, because of Einstein’s appearance, an exception was made and all three of us were invited to sit down together, Gödel, in the center. The examiner first asked Einstein and then me whether we thought Gödel would make a good citizen. We assured him that this would certainly be the case, that he was a distinguished man, etc.

And then he turned to Gödel and said, Now, Mr. Gödel, where do you come from?

Gödel: Where I come from? Austria.

The examiner: What kind of government did you have in Austria?

Gödel: It was a republic, but the constitution was such that it finally was changed into a dictatorship.

The examiner: Oh! This is very bad. This could not happen in this country.

Gödel: Oh, yes, I can prove it.

To the great advantage of intelligence on earth, Gödel did not in the end disqualify himself from residence in the USA through this disastrously over-accurate understanding of its constitution. Evidently, despite everything that had happened by 1947, detailed attachment to the constitution had not yet become a thought-crime.

Today, emphatic attachment to the US Constitution is restricted to the decent i.e. lunatic fringe of the Outer Party, and even crankier outliers. Hardcore libertarians tend to dismiss it as a distraction, if not a malign incarnation of statist degeneracy (when compared to the less Leviathan-compatible Articles of Confederation). Reactionary realists of the Moldbug school (in all their vast multitudes) are at least as dismissive, seeing it as little more than a fetish object and evasion of the timeless practical question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? If constitutions are realistically indefensible, both in principle and as a matter of brutally demonstrated historical fact, what significance could they have to any cold-eyed analysis of power?

Since the overwhelmingly bulk of present USG activity is transparently unconstitutional, the skeptical case largely makes itself. Presidents mobilize congressional support to appoint Supreme Court justices whose principal qualification for office is willingness to conspire in the subversion of the constitution, to the deafening applause of a pork-ravening electorate and their intermediary lobbies. How could that plausibly be resisted? Perhaps that was Gödel’s point.

In fact, no one really knows what Gödel’s point was. Jeffrey Kegler, who has examined the topic carefully, leaves it open. “Apparently, the ‘inconsistency’ noted by Gödel is simply that the Constitution provides for its own amendment,” suggests a “gravely disappointed” Mark Dominus, who “had been hoping for something brilliant and subtle that only Gödel would have noticed.” Dominus draws this tentative conclusion from Peter Suber’s Paradox of Self-Amendment, where it is stated more boldly:

Kurt Gödel the Austrian logician understood that an omnipotent AC contained the risk of tyranny. Gödel studied the U.S. constitution in preparation for his oral citizenship examination in 1948. He noticed that the AC had procedural limitations but no substantive limitations; hence it could be used to overturn the democratic institutions described in the rest of the constitution.

Suber adds: “A desire to limit the amending power, or to make it more difficult — not the same thing — shows a distrust for democracy or a denial that in general the people deserve what they get.” (We’ll get back to that later.)

This is conceptually persuasive, because it harmonizes Gödel’s constitutional concerns with his central intellectual pre-occupation: the emergence of inconsistencies within self-referential formal systems. The Amending Clause (Article V, section 1) is the occasion for the constitution to talk about itself, and thus to encounter problems rigorously comparable to those familiar from Gödel’s incompleteness theorems in mathematical logic. Despite the neatness of this ‘solution’, however, there is no solid evidence to support it. Furthermore, self-referential structures can be identified at numerous other points. For instance, is not the authority of the Supreme Court respecting constitutional interpretation a similar point of reflexivity, with unlimited potential for circularity and paradox? This insight, highly-regarded among the neo-reactionaries, recognizes that the constitution allows – in principle – for a sufficiently corrupted Supreme Court to ‘interpret’ its way to absolute power (in conformity with a constitution that has sublimed into pure ‘life’). Insofar as a constitution allows for its own processing, it must – ultimately — allow anything.

Moldbug asks us to accelerate through this formal tangle, cutting the Gordian knot. “Sovereignty is conserved,” he repeats, insistently, so the occasions when power undertakes to bind itself are essentially risible. Of course the final custodian of the constitution is a constitutionally unrestrained dictator. That’s simple Schmittian sanity.

With all due contempt for argumentum ad hominem, it can probably still be agreed that Gödel was not a fool, so that his excited identification of a localized flaw in the US Constitution merits consideration as just that (rather than an excuse to bin the entire problematic). The formal resonances between his topically disparate arguments provide a further incentive to slow down.

Whether in number theory, or space-time cosmology, Gödel’s method was to advance the formalization of the system under consideration and then test it to destruction upon the ‘strange loops’ it generated (paradoxes of self-reference and time-travel). In each case, the system was shown to permit cases that it could not consistently absorb, opening it to an interminable process of revision, or technical improvement. It thus defined dynamic intelligence, or the logic of evolutionary imperfection, with an adequacy that was both sufficient and necessarily inconclusive. What it did not do was trash the very possibility of arithmetic, mathematical logic, or cosmic history — except insofar as these were falsely identified with idols of finality or closure.

On the slender evidence available, Gödel’s ‘reading’ of the US Constitution was strictly analogous. Far from excusing the abandonment of constitutionalism, it identified constitutional design as the only intellectually serious response to the problem of politics (i.e. untrammeled power). It is a subtle logical necessity that constitutions, like any formal systems of comparable complexity, cannot be perfected or consistently completed. In other words, as Benjamin Franklyn fully recognized, any republic is precarious. Nothing necessarily follows from this, but a number of things might.

Most abruptly, one might contemplate the sickly child with sadness, before abandoning it on the hillside for the wolves. Almost every interesting voice on the right seems to be heading this way. Constitutions are a grim joke.

Alternatively, constitutionalism could be elevated to a new level of cultural dignity, in keeping with its status as the sole model of republican government, or truly logical politics. This would require, first of all, that the necessity for constitutional modification was recognized only when such modification made the constitution stronger, in purely formal, or systemic terms. In the US case, the first indication of such an approach would be an amendment of Article Five itself, in order to specify that constitutional amendments are tolerated only when they satisfy criteria of formal improvement, legitimated in exact, mathematical terms, in accordance with standards of proof no different than those applicable to absolutely uncontroversial arguments (theorems). Constitutional design would be subsumed within applied mathematics as a subsection of nonlinear control theory.

Under these (unlikely) circumstances, the purpose of the constitution is to sustain itself, and thus the Republic. As a mathematical object, the constitution is maximally simple, consistent, necessarily incomplete, and interpretable as a model of natural law. Political authority is allocated solely to serve the constitution. There are no authorities which are not overseen, within nonlinear structures. Constitutional language is formally constructed to eliminate all ambiguity and to be processed algorithmically. Democratic elements, along with official discretion, and legal judgment, is incorporated reluctantly, minimized in principle, and gradually eliminated through incremental formal improvement. Argument defers to mathematical expertise. Politics is a disease that the constitution is designed to cure.

Extreme skepticism is to be anticipated not only from the Moldbuggian royalists, but from all of those educated by Public Choice theory to analyze ‘politics without romance’. How could defending the constitution become an absolute, categorical or unconditional imperative, when the only feasible defenders are people, guided by multiple incentives, few of which align neatly with objective constitutional order? Yet, how is this different from the question of mathematical or natural scientific progress? Are not mathematicians equally people, with appetites, egos, sex-driven status motivations, and deeply defective capabilities for realistic introspection? How does maths advance? (No one can seriously deny that it does.) The answer surely lies in its autonomous or impersonal criteria of excellence, combined with pluralistic institutions that facilitate Darwinian convergence. The Gödelian equivalence between mathematical logic and constitutional government indicates that such principles and mechanisms are absent from the public domain only due to defective (democratic-bureaucratic) design.

When it comes to deep realism, and to guns, is there any reason to think the military is resistant by nature to constitutional subordination? Between the sublime office of Commander in Chief, and the mere man, is it not obvious that authority should tend to gravitate to the former? It might be argued that civilization is nothing else, that is to say: the tendency of personal authority to decline towards zero. Ape-men will reject this of course. It’s what they do.

Between democracy, monarchy, anarchy, or republican government, the arguments will not end soon. They are truly ancient, and illustrated in the Odyssey, by the strategy of binding oneself against the call of the Sirens. Can Odysseus bind himself? Only republicans defend the attempt, as Gödel did. All of the others let the Sirens win. Perhaps they will.

[Tomb]
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Quibbles with Moldbug

To be a reactionary, minimally speaking, requires no more than a recognition that things are going to hell. As the source of decay is traced ever further back, and attributed to ever more deeply-rooted – and securely mainstream — sociopolitical assumptions, the reactionary attitude becomes increasingly extreme. If innovative elements are introduced into either the diagnosis or the proposed remedy, a neo-reactionary mentality is born.

As the United States, along with the world that it has built, careers into calamity, neo-reactionary extremism is embarrassingly close to becoming a vogue. If evidence is needed, consider the Vacate Movement, a rapidly growing dissident faction within the 0.0000001%. This is a development that would have been scarcely imaginable, were it not for the painstakingly crafted, yet rhetorically effervescent provocations of Mencius Moldbug.

From Moldbug, immoderate neo-reaction has learnt many essential and startling facts about the genealogy and tendency of history’s central affliction, newly baptized the Cathedral. It has been liberated from the mesmerism of ‘democratic universalism’ – or evangelical ultra-puritanism – and trained back towards honest (and thus forbidden) books. It has re-learnt class analysis, of unprecedented explanatory power. Much else could have been added, before arriving at our destination: the schematic outline for a ‘neocameral’ alternative to the manifestly perishing global political order. (On a trivial etiquette matter: Moldbug politely asks to be addressed as ‘Mencius’ — comparable requests by Plato Jiggabug and Siddhartha Moldbucket have been evaded too.)

Moldbug scrupulously distances his proposals from any hint of revolutionary agitation, or even the mildest varieties of civil disobedience. Neocameralism is not designed to antagonize, but rather to restore order to social bodies that have squandered it, by drafting a framework compatible with the long-lost art of effective government. (‘Long-lost’, that is, to the West – the Singapore example, among those of other city states and special economic zones, is never far removed.) Neocameralism would not overthrow anything, but rather arise amongst ruins. It is a solution awaiting the terminal configuration of a problem.

The neocameral program proceeds roughly as follows:

Phase-1: Constructively disciplined lamentation

Phase-2: Civilization collapses

Phase-3: Re-boot to a modernized form of absolute monarchy, in which citizens are comprehensively stripped of all historically-accumulated political rights

Despite its obvious attractions to partisans of liberty, this program is not without its dubious features, a few of which can be touched upon here whilst rehearsing the Moldbug case for Neocameral government in slightly greater detail. Stated succinctly and preliminarily, our reservations drift into focus when that guy on a white horse appears. Where exactly does he come from?

To answer ‘Carlyle’ would be easy, and not exactly inaccurate, but it would also miss the structural coherence of the issue. Moldbug refuses to call his neocameral dictator a ‘national CEO’ (which he is), preferring to describe him as a ‘monarch’ (which – as a non-dynastic executive appointee — he isn’t), for reasons both stylistic and substantial. Stylistically, royalism is a provocation, and a dramatization of reactionary allegiance. Substantially, it foregrounds the question of sovereignty.

Moldbug’s political philosophy is founded upon a revision to the conception of property, sufficient to support the assertion that sovereign power is properly understood as the owner of a country. It is only at this level of political organization that real property rights – i.e. protections – are sustained.

Property is any stable structure of monopoly control. You own something if you alone control it. Your control is stable if no one else will take it away from you. This control may be assured by your own powers of violence, or it may be delegated by a higher power. If the former, it is secondary property. If the latter, it is primary or sovereign property.

The sovereign power (sovereign corporation, or ‘sovcorp’), alone, is able to ensure its own property rights. Its might and rights are absolutely identical, and from this primary identity subordinate rights (to ‘secondary property’) cascade down through the social hierarchy. Neocameralism is nothing but the systematic, institutional recognition of this reality. (Whether it is, in fact, a ‘reality’ is a question we shall soon proceed to.)

Perhaps surprisingly, Moldbug’s conclusions can be presented in terms that recovering libertarians have found appealing:

Neocameralism is the idea that a sovereign state or primary corporation is not organizationally distinct from a secondary or private corporation. Thus we can achieve good management, and thus libertarian government, by converting sovcorps to the same management design that works well in today’s private sector – the joint-stock corporation.

One way to approach neocameralism is to see it as a refinement of royalism, an ancient system in which the sovcorp is a sort of family business. Under neocameralism, the biological quirks of royalism are eliminated and the State “goes public,” hiring the best executives regardless of their bloodline or even nationality.

Or you can just see neocameralism as part of the usual capitalist pattern in which services are optimized by aligning the interests of the service provider and the service consumer. If this works for groceries, why shouldn’t it work for government? I have a hard time in accepting the possibility that democratic constitutionalism would generate either lower prices or better produce at Safeway …

In order to take a step back from this vision, towards its foundations, it is useful to scrutinize its building blocks. When Moldbug defines property as “any stable structure of monopoly control” what is really meant by ‘control’? It might seem simple enough. To control something is to use, or make use of it — to put it to work, such that a desired outcome is in fact achieved. ‘Property’ would be glossed as exclusive right of use, or instrumental utilization, conceived with sufficient breadth to encompass consumption, and perhaps (we will come to this), donation or exchange.

Complications quickly arise. ‘Control’ in this case would involve technical competence, or the ability to make something work. If control requires that one can use something effectively, then it demands compliance with natural fact (through techno-scientific understanding and practical skills). Even consumption is a type of use. Is this historical variable – vastly distant from intuitive notions of sovereignty – actually suited to a definition of property?

It might be realistic to conceive property through control, and control through technical competence, but it would be hard to defend as an advance in formalism. Since this problem thoroughly infuses the topic of ‘might’, or operational sovereignty, it is also difficult to isolate, or parenthesize. Moldbug’s frequent, enthusiastic digressions into the practicalities of crypto-locked military apparatuses attest strongly to this. The impression begins to emerge that the very possibility of sovereign property is bound to an irreducibly fuzzy, historically dynamic, and empirically intricate investigation into the micro-mechanics of power, dissolving into an acid fog of Clauswitzean ‘friction’ (or ineliminable unpredictability).

More promising, by far – for the purposes of tractable argument — is a strictly formal or contractual usage of ‘control’ to designate the exclusive right to free disposal or commercial alienation. Defined this way, ownership is a legal category, co-original with the idea of contract, referring to those things which one has the right to trade (based on natural law). Property is essentially marketable. It cannot exist unless it can be alienated through negotiation. A prince who cannot trade away his territory does not ‘own’ it in any sense that matters.

Moldbug seems to acknowledge this, in at least three ways. Firstly, his formalization of sovereign power, through conversion into sovereign stock, commercializes it. Within the neocameral regime, power takes the form of revenue-yielding property, available for free disposal by those who wield it. That is the sole basis for the corporate analogy. If sovereign stock were not freely disposable, its ‘owners’ would be mere stewards, subject to obligations, non-alienable political responsibilities, or administrative duties that demonstrate with absolute clarity the subordination to a higher sovereignty. (That is, broadly speaking, the current situation, and inoffensively conventional political theory.)

Secondly, the neocameral state exists within a patchwork, or system of interactions, through which they compete for population, and in which peaceful (or commercial) redistributions — including takeovers and break-ups — are facilitated. Unless sovereign stock can be traded within the patchwork, it is not property at all. This in turn indicates that ‘internal’ positive legislation, as dictated by the domestic ‘sovereign’, is embedded within a far more expansive normative system, and the definition of ‘property’ cannot be exhausted by its local determination within the neocameral micro-polis. As Moldbug repeatedly notes, an introverted despotism that violated broader patchwork norms – such as those governing free exit — could be reliably expected to suffer a collapse of sovereign stock value (which implies that the substance of sovereign stock is systemically, rather than locally, determined). If the entire neocameral state is disciplined through the patchwork, how real can its local sovereignty be? This systemic disciplining or subversion of local sovereignty, it should be noted, is the sole attraction of the neocameral schema to supporters of dynamic geography (who want nothing more than for the national government to become the patchwork system’s bitch).

Thirdly (and relatedly), neocameralism is floated as a model for experimental government, driven cybernetically towards effectiveness by the same types of feedback mechanisms that control ‘secondary’ corporations. In particular, population traffic between neocameral states is conceived as a fundamental regulator, continuously measuring the functionality of government, and correcting it in the direction of attractiveness. The incentive structure of the neocameral regime – and thus its claim to practical rationality — rests entirely upon this. Once again, however, it is evidently the radical limitation of local sovereignty, rather than its unconstrained expression, which promises to make such governments work. Free exit – to take the single most important instance — is a rule imposed at a higher level than the national sovereign, operating as a natural law of the entire patchwork. Without free exit, a neocameral state is no more than a parochial despotism. The absolute sovereign of the state must choose to comply with a rule he did not legislate … something is coming unstuck here (it’s time to send that white horse to the biodiesel tanks).

Neocameralism necessarily commercializes sovereignty, and in doing so it accommodates power to natural law. Sovereign stock (‘primary property’) and ‘secondary property’ become commercially inter-changeable, dissolving the original distinction, whilst local sovereignty is rendered compliant with the wider commercial order, and thus becomes a form of constrained ‘secondary sovereignty’ relative to the primary or absolute sovereignty of the system itself. Final authority bleeds out into the catallactic ensemble, the agora, or commercium, where what can really happen is decided by natural law. It is this to which sovereign stockholders, if they are to be effective, and to prosper, must defer.

The fundamental point, and the reason why the pretender on the white horse is so misleading, is that sovereignty cannot, in principle, inhere in a particular social agent – whether individual, or group. This is best demonstrated in reference to the concept of natural law (which James Donald outlines with unsurpassed brilliance). When properly understood, or articulated, natural law cannot possibly be violated. Putting your hand into a fire, and being burnt, does not defy the natural law that temperatures beyond a certain range cause tissue damage and pain. Similarly, suppressing private property, and producing economic cataclysm, does not defy the natural law that human economic behavior is sensitive to incentives.

Positive law, as created by legislators, takes the form: do (or don’t do) this. Violations will be punished.

Natural law, as discovered by any rational being, takes the form: do what thou wilt and accept the consequences. Rewards and punishments are intrinsic to it. It cannot be defied, but only misunderstood. It is therefore absolutely sovereign (Deus sive Natura). Like any other being, governments, however powerful, can only comply with it, either through intelligent adaptation and flourishing, or through ignorance, incompetence, degeneration, and death. To God-or-Nature it matters not at all. Natural law is indistinguishable from the true sovereign power which really decides what can work, and what doesn’t, which can then – ‘secondarily’ — be learnt by rational beings, or not.

Moldbug knows this – really. He demonstrates it – to take just one highly informative example — through his insistence that a neocameral state would tend to tax at the Laffer optimum. That is to say, such a state would prove its effectiveness by maximizing the return on sovereign property in compliance with reality. It does not legislate the Laffer curve, or choose for it to exist, but instead recognizes that it has been discovered, and with it an aspect of natural law. Anything less, or other, would be inconsistent with its legitimacy as a competent protector of property. To survive, prosper, and even pretend to sovereignty, it can do nothing else. Its power is delegated by commercium.

It is surely no coincidence that Cnut the Great has been described by Norman Cantor as “the most effective king in Anglo-Saxon history.” As Wikipedia relates his story:

His accession to the Danish throne in 1018 brought the crowns of England and Denmark together. Cnut held this power-base together by uniting Danes and Englishmen under cultural bonds of wealth and custom, rather than sheer brutality.

Most importantly:

Henry of Huntingdon, the 12th-century chronicler, tells how Cnut set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet “continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.'”

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Left Singularity

Winter is coming

Leftists are not troubled by the fear that the masses might revolt against the left, but rather each leftist fears he might fail to keep up with the ever changing line, find himself a few years, or weeks, or days behind the current ever changing political correctness, and find himself deemed a rightist. // Which historically halts only in bloodshed. There is no equivalent right singularity, as repressive right wing regimes forbid interest in politics, while repressive left wing regimes command interest in politics. // The left singularity is the same each time in its approach to infinite leftism, but differs chaotically and surprisingly each time in its ending short of infinite leftism. — James A. Donald

What we worry about most is that we’ll see a vicious cycle develop: poor governance hurts the economy, which radicalizes and polarizes public opinion, which leads to worse governance and worse economic outcomes… and so on down the line. — Walter Russell Mead

21st Century politics sees no need for truth. When government believes itself to be responsible for the economy and convinces the people of that, it has put itself into a box. …When recessions occur … it causes government to pursue policies which reinforce its lies. It is these policies which created the current economic crisis in the first place.– ‘Monty Pelerin’ (via Zero Hedge)

Dark Enlightenment begins with the recognition that reality is unpopular, so that the ‘natural’ course of political development, under democratic conditions, is reliably based upon the promise of an alternative. Pandering to fantasy is the only platform that delivers electoral support. When the dreams turn bad it is politically obvious that they have not been held firmly or sincerely enough, their radicalism has been insufficient, and a more far-reaching solution is imperative. Since either deliberate or merely inertial rightist sabotage is clearly to blame, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

This syndrome, essentially indistinguishable from political modernity, calls for a cybernetic theory of accelerating social deterioration, or self-reinforcing economic repression. The trend that dark enlightenment recoils from demands explanation, which is found in the diagram of Left Singularity.

A singularity, of any kind, is the limit of a process dominated by positive feedback, and thus driven to an extreme. In its pure mathematical expression, the trend is not merely exponential, but parabolic, asymptotically closing upon infinity in finite time. The ‘logic of history’ converges upon an absolute limit, beyond which further prolongation is strictly impossible. From this ultimate, impassable barrier, dark enlightenment retrogresses into political history, prophetically inflamed by its certainty of the end. Unless democracy disintegrates before the wall, it will hit the wall.

“Increased repression brings increased leftism, increased leftism brings increased repression, in an ever tighter circle that turns ever faster. This is the left singularity,” Donald writes. The principal dark hypothesis is evident: on the left slope, failure is not self-corrective, but rather the opposite. Dysfunction deepens itself through the circuit of disappointment:

As society moves ever leftwards, ever faster, leftists get ever more discontented with the outcome, but of course, the only cure for their discontent that it is permissible to think, is faster and further movement left.

It is necessary, then, to accept the leftist inversion of Clausewitz, and the proposition that politics is war by other means, precisely because it retains the Clausewitzean tendency to the extreme (making it ‘prone to escalation’). This is the reason why modern political history has a characteristic shape, which combines a duration of escalating ‘progress’ with a terminal, quasi-punctual interruption, or catastrophe – a restoration or ‘reboot’. Like mould in a Petri dish, progressive polities ‘develop’ explosively until all available resources have been consumed, but unlike slime colonies they exhibit a dynamism that is further exaggerated (from the exponential to the hyperbolic) by the fact that resource depletion accelerates the development trend.

Economic decay erodes productive potential and increases dependency, binding populations ever more desperately to the promise of political remedy. The progressive slope steepens towards the precipice of supreme radicality, or total absorption into the state … and somewhere fractionally before then, either before or after it has stolen everything you own, taken your children, unleashed mass killing, and descended into cannibalism, it ends.

It can’t eat the Petri dish, or abolish reality (in reality). There is a limit. But humanity gets a chance to show what it’s capable of, on the downside. As Whiskey commented (on this Sailer thread): “This Enlightenment is ‘Dark’ because it tells us true things we’d rather not know or read or hear, because they paint a not-so-lovely picture of human nature at its rawest.” Progress takes us into the raw.

Gregory Bateson referred to cybernetic escalation as ‘schismogenesis’, which he identified in a number of social phenomena. Among these was substance abuse (specifically alcoholism), whose abstract dynamics, at the level of the individual, are difficult to distinguish from collective political radicalization. The alcoholic is captured by a schismogenetic circuit, and once inside, the only attractive solution is to head further in. At each step of life disintegration, one needs a drink more than ever. There goes the job, the savings, the wife and kids, and there’s nowhere to look for hope except the bar, the vodka bottle, and eventually that irresistible can of floor polish. Escape comes – if it comes before the morgue – in ‘hitting bottom’. Escalation to the extreme reaches the end of the road, or the story, where another might – possibly – begin. Schismogenesis predicts catastrophe.

Hitting bottom has to be horrible. A long history brought you to this, and if this isn’t obviously, indisputably, an intolerable state of ultimate degradation, it will carry on. It isn’t finished until it really can’t go on, and that has to be several notches worse than can be anticipated. Left Singularity is deep into the dregs of the floor polish, with everything gone. It’s worse than anything you can imagine, and there’s no point at all trying to persuade people they’ve arrived there before they know they have. ‘Things could be better than this’ won’t cut it. That’s what progress is for, and progress is the problem.

That which cannot continue, will stop. Trees do not grow to the sky. This does not, however, necessarily mean that freedom will be restored and everything will be lovely. The last time we had theocracy, we had stagnation for four hundred years.

The explosive expansion of spending and regulation represents a collapse of discipline within the ruling elite. The way the system is supposed to work, and the way it mostly did work several decades ago, is that the American Federal Government can only spend money on something if the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President agree to spend money on that thing, so no government employee can be employed, except all three agree he should be employed, so the government cannot do anything unless all three agree that it be done. A public servant, and indeed his entire department, was apt to be fired if he pissed off anyone. Conversely, the individual was free to do anything, unless all three agree that he be stopped from doing that thing. We are now approaching the reverse situation, where for an individual to do anything requires a pile of permissions from diverse governmental authorities, but any governmental authority can spend money on anything unless there is near unanimous opposition to them spending money.

Obviously this cannot continue. Eventually the money runs out, in that we shall have a hyperinflationary crisis, and revert to some other form of money, such as the gold standard. As that happens, the increasingly lawless behavior of the rulers against the ruled will become increasingly lawless behavior of the rulers against each other. Civil war, or something close to civil war, or the dire and immediate threat of civil war will ensue. At that point, we will have the political singularity, probably around 2025 or so. Beyond the singularity, no predictions can be made, other than that the results will be surprising …

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The Dark Enlightenment (Part 4)

Re-running the race to ruin

Liberals are baffled and infuriated that poor whites vote Republican, yet voting on tribal grounds is a feature of all multi-ethnic democracies, whether [in] Northern Ireland, Lebanon or Iraq. The more a majority becomes a minority the more tribal its voting becomes, so that increasingly the Republicans have become the “white party”; making this point indelicately got Pat Buchanan the sack, but many others make it too.

Will it happen here [in the UK]? The patterns are not dissimilar. In the 2010 election the Conservatives won only 16 per cent of the ethnic minority vote, while Labour won the support of 72 per cent of Bangladeshis, 78 per cent of African-Caribbeans and 87 per cent of Africans. The Tories are slightly stronger among British Hindus and Sikhs – mirroring Republican support among Asian-Americans – who are more likely to be home-owning professionals and feel less alienated.

The Economist recently asked if the Tories had a “race problem”, but it may just be that democracy has a race problem.
— Ed West (here)

Without a taste for irony, Mencius Moldbug is all but unendurable, and certainly unintelligible. Vast structures of historical irony shape his writings, at times even engulfing them. How otherwise could a proponent of traditional configurations of social order – a self-proclaimed Jacobite – compose a body of work that is stubbornly dedicated to subversion?

Irony is Moldbug’s method, as well as his milieu. This can be seen, most tellingly, in his chosen name for the usurped enlightenment, the dominant faith of the modern world: Universalism. This is a word that he appropriates (and capitalizes) within a reactionary diagnosis whose entire force lies in its exposure of an exorbitant particularity.

Moldbug turns continually to history (or, more rigorously, cladistics), to accurately specify that which asserts its own universal significance whilst ascending to a state of general dominance that approaches the universal. Under this examination, what counts as Universal reason, determining the direction and meaning of modernity, is revealed as the minutely determined branch or sub-species of a cultic tradition, descended from ‘ranters’, ‘levelers’, and closely related variants of dissident, ultra-protestant fanaticism, and owing vanishingly little to the conclusions of logicians.

Ironically, then, the world’s regnant Universalist democratic-egalitarian faith is a particular or peculiar cult that has broken out, along identifiable historical and geographical pathways, with an epidemic virulence that is disguised as progressive global enlightenment. The route that it has taken, through England and New England, Reformation and Revolution, is recorded by an accumulation of traits that provide abundant material for irony, and for lower varieties of comedy. The unmasking of the modern ‘liberal’ intellectual or ‘open-minded’ media ‘truth-teller’ as a pale, fervent, narrowly doctrinaire puritan, recognizably descended from the species of witch-burning zealots, is reliably – and irresistibly – entertaining.

Yet, as the Cathedral extends and tightens its grip upon everything, everywhere, in accordance with its divine mandate, the response it triggers is only atypically humorous. More commonly, when unable to exact humble compliance, it encounters inarticulate rage, or at least uncomprehending, smoldering resentment, as befits the imposition of parochial cultural dogmas, still wrapped in the trappings of a specific, alien pedigree, even as they earnestly confess to universal rationality.

Consider, for instance, the most famous words of America’s Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights …” Could it be honestly maintained that to submit, scrupulously and sincerely, to such ‘self-evident’ truths amounts to anything other than an act of religious re-confirmation or conversion? Or denied that, in these words, reason and evidence are explicitly set aside, to make room for principles of faith? Could anything be less scientific than such a declaration, or more indifferent to the criteria of genuinely universal reasoning? How could anybody who was not already a believer be expected to consent to such assumptions?

That the founding statement of the democratic-republican creed should be formulated as a statement of pure (and doctrinally recognizable) faith is information of sorts, but it is not yet irony. The irony begins with the fact that among the elites of today’s Cathedral, these words of the Declaration of Independence (as well as many others) would be found – almost universally – to be quaintly suggestive at best, perhaps vaguely embarrassing, and most certainly incapable of supporting literal assent. Even amongst libertarian-slanted conservatives, a firm commitment to ‘natural rights’ is unlikely to proceed confidently and emphatically to their divine origination. For modern ‘liberals’, believers in the rights-bestowing (or entitlement) State, such archaic ideas are not only absurdly dated, but positively obstructive. For that reason, they are associated less with revered predecessors than with the retarded, fundamentalist thinking of political enemies. Sophisticates of the Cathedral core understand, as Hegel did, that God is no more than deep government apprehended by infants, and as such a waste of faith (that bureaucrats could put to better use).

Since the Cathedral has ascended to global supremacy, it no longer has need for Founding Fathers, who awkwardly recall its parochial ancestry, and impede its transnational public relations. Rather, it seeks perpetual re-invigoration through their denigration. The phenomenon of the ‘New Atheism’, with its transparent progressive affiliations, attests abundantly to this. Paleo-puritanism must be derided in order for neo-puritanism to flourish – the meme is dead, long live the meme!

At the limit of self-parody, neo-puritan parricide takes the form of the ludicrous ‘War on Christmas’, in which the allies of the Cathedral sanctify the (radically unthreatened) separation of Church and State through nuisance agitation against public expressions of traditional Christian piety, and their ‘Red State’ dupes respond with dyspeptic outrage on cable TV shows. Like every other war against fuzzy nouns (whether ‘poverty’, ‘drugs’, or ‘terror’), the outcome is predictably perverse. If resistance to the War on Christmas is not yet established as the solid center of Yuletide festivities, it can be confidently expected to become so in the future. The purposes of the Cathedral are served nonetheless, through promotion of a synthetic secularism that separates the progressive faith from its religious foundations, whilst directing attention away from the ethnically specific, dogmatic creedal content at its core.

As reactionaries go, traditional Christians are generally considered to be quite cuddly. Even the most wild-eyed fanatics of the neo-puritan orthodoxy have trouble getting genuinely excited about them (although abortion activists get close). For some real red meat, with the nerves exposed and writhing to jolts of hard stimulation, it makes far more sense to turn to another discarded and ceremonially abominated block on the progressive lineage: White Identity Politics, or (the term Moldbug opts for) ‘white nationalism’.

Just as the ratchet progress of neo-puritan social democracy is radically facilitated by the orchestrated pillorying of its embryonic religious forms, so is its trend to consistently neo-fascist political economy smoothed by the concerted repudiation of a ‘neo-nazi’ (or paleo-fascist) threat. It is extremely convenient, when constructing ever more nakedly corporatist or ‘third position’ structures of state-directed pseudo-capitalism, to be able to divert attention to angry expressions of white racial paranoia, especially when these are ornamented by clumsily modified nazi insignia, horned helmets, Leni Riefenstahl aesthetics, and slogans borrowed freely from Mein Kampf. In the United States (and thus, with shrinking time-lag, internationally) the icons of the Ku Klux Klan, from white bed-sheets, quasi-Masonic titles, and burning crosses, to lynching ropes, have acquired comparable theatrical value.

Moldbug offers a sanitized white nationalist blog reading list, consisting of writers who – to varying degrees of success – avoid immediate reversion to paleo-fascist self-parody. The first step beyond the boundary of respectable opinion is represented by Lawrence Auster, a Christian, anti-Darwinist, and ‘Traditionalist Conservative’ who defends ‘substantial’ (ethno-racial) national identity and opposes the liberal master-principle of nondiscrimination. By the time we reach ‘Tanstaafl’, at the ripped outer edge of Moldbug’s carefully truncated spectrum, we have entered a decaying orbit, spiraling into the great black hole that is hidden at the dead center of modern political possibility.

Before following the Tanstaafl-types into the crushing abyss where light dies, there are some preliminary remarks to make about the white nationalist perspective, and its implications. Even more than the Christian traditionalists (who, even in their cultural mid-winter, can bask in the warmth of supernatural endorsement), white identity politics considers itself besieged. Moderate or measured concern offers no equilibrium for those who cross the line, and begin to self-identify in these terms. Instead, the path of involvement demands rapid acceleration to a state of extreme alarm, or racial panic, conforming to an analysis focused upon malicious population replacement at the hands of a government which, in the oft-cited words of Bertolt Brecht, “has decided to dissolve the people, and to appoint another one.” ‘Whiteness’ (whether conceived biologically, mystically, or both) is associated with vulnerability, fragility, and persecution. This theme is so basic, and so multifarious, that it is difficult to adequately address succinctly. It encompasses everything from criminal predation (especially racially-charged murders, rapes, and beatings), economic exactions and inverse discrimination, cultural aggression by hostile academic and media systems, and ultimately ‘genocide’ – or definitive racial destruction.

Typically, the prospective annihilation of the white race is attributed to its own systematic vulnerability, whether due to characteristic cultural traits (excessive altruism, susceptibility to moral manipulation, excessive hospitality, trust, universal reciprocity, guilt, or individualistic disdain for group identity), or more immediate biological factors (recessive genes supporting fragile Aryan phenotypes). Whilst it is unlikely that this sense of unique endangerment is reducible to the chromatic formula ‘White + Color = Color’, the fundamental structure is of this kind. In its abstract depiction of non-reciprocal vulnerability, it reflects the ‘one drop rule’ (and Mendelian recessive / dominant gene combination). It depicts mixture as essentially anti-white.

Because ‘whiteness’ is a limit (pure absence of color), it slips smoothly from the biological factuality of the Caucasian sub-species into metaphysical and mystical ideas. Rather than accumulating genetic variation, a white race is contaminated or polluted by admixtures that compromise its defining negativity – to darken it is to destroy it. The mythological density of these — predominantly subliminal – associations invests white identity politics with a resilience that frustrates enlightened efforts at rationalistic denunciation, whilst contradicting its own paranoid self-representation. It also undermines recent white nationalist promotions of a racial threat that is strictly comparable to that facing indigenous peoples, universally, and depicting whites as ‘natives’ cruelly deprived of equal protection against extinction. There is no route back to tribal innocence, or flat, biological diversity. Whiteness has been compacted indissolubly with ideology, whichever the road taken.

“If Blacks can have it, and Hispanics can have it, and Jews can have it, why can’t we have it?” – That’s the final building block of white nationalist grievance, the werewolf curse that means it can only ever be a monster. There’s exactly one way out for persecuted palefaces, and it leads straight into a black hole. We promised to get back to Tanstaafl, and here we are, in late Summer 2007, shortly after he got ‘the Jew thing’. There isn’t anything very original about his epiphany, which is exactly the point. He quotes himself:

Isn’t it absurd that anyone would even think to blame Christianity or WASPs for the rise of PC and its catastrophic consequences? Isn’t this in fact a reversal of the truth? Hasn’t the rise and spread of PC eroded the power of Christianity, WASPs, and whites in general? Blaming them is in effect blaming the victim.

Yes, there are Christians, WASPs, and whites who have fallen for the PC brainwashing. Yes, there are some who have taken it so deeply to heart that they work to expand and protect it. That’s the nature of PC. That is its purpose. To control the minds of the people it seeks to destroy. The left, at its root, is all about destruction.

You don’t have to be an anti-Semite to notice where these ideas originate from and who benefits. But you do have to violate PC to say: Jews.

That’s the labyrinth, the trap, with its pitifully constricted, stereotypical circuit. “Why can’t we be cuddly racial preservationists, like Amazonian Indians? How come we always turn into Neo-Nazis? It’s some kind of conspiracy, which means it has to be the Jews.” Since the mid-20th century, the political intensity of the globalized world has streamed, almost exclusively, out of the cratered ash-pile of the Third Reich. Until you get the pattern, it seems mysterious that there’s no getting away from it. After listing some blogs falling under the relatively genteel category of ‘white nationalism’, Moldbug cautions:

The Internet is also home to many out-and-out racist blogs. Most are simply unreadable. But some are hosted by relatively capable writers … On these racist blogs you’ll find racial epithets, anti-Semitism (see why I am not an anti-Semite) and the like. Obviously, I cannot recommend any of these blogs, and nor will I link to them. However, if you are interested in the mind of the modern racist, Google will get you there.

Google is overkill. A little link-trawling will get you there. It’s a ‘six degrees of separation’ problem (and more like two, or less). Start digging into the actually existing ‘reactosphere’, and things get quite astoundingly ugly very quickly. Yes, there really is ‘hate’, panic, and disgust, as well as a morbidly addictive abundance of very grim, vitriolic wit, and a disconcertingly impressive weight of credible fact (these guys just love statistics to death). Most of all, just beyond the horizon, there’s the black hole. If reaction ever became a popular movement, its few slender threads of bourgeois (or perhaps dreamily ‘aristocratic’) civility wouldn’t hold back the beast for long.

As liberal decency has severed itself from intellectual integrity, and exiled harsh truths, these truths have found new allies, and become considerably harsher. The outcome is mechanically, and monotonously, predictable. Every liberal democratic ‘cause war’ strengthens and feralizes what it fights. The war on poverty creates a chronically dysfunctional underclass. The war on drugs creates crystallized super-drugs and mega-mafias. Guess what? The war on political incorrectness creates data-empowered, web-coordinated, paranoid and poly-conspiratorial werewolves, superbly positioned to take advantage of liberal democracy’s impending rendezvous with ruinous reality, and to then play their part in the unleashing of unpleasantnesses that are scarcely imaginable (except by disturbing historical analogy). When a sane, pragmatic, and fact-based negotiation of human differences is forbidden by ideological fiat, the alternative is not a reign of perpetual peace, but a festering of increasingly self-conscious and militantantly defiant thoughtcrime, nourished by publicly unavowable realities, and energized by powerful, atavistic, and palpably dissident mythologies. That’s obvious, on the ‘Net.

Moldbug considers the danger of white nationalism to be both over- and understated. On the one hand, the ‘menace’ is simply ridiculous, and merely reflects neo-puritan spiritual dogma in its most hysterically oppressive and stubbornly mindless form. “It should be obvious that, although I am not a white nationalist, I am not exactly allergic to the stuff,” Moldbug remarks, before describing it as “the most marginalized and socially excluded belief system in the history of the world … an obnoxious social irritant in any circle which does not include tattooed speedfreak bikers.”

Yet the danger remains, or rather, is under construction.

I can imagine one possibility which might make white nationalism genuinely dangerous. White nationalism would be dangerous if there was some issue on which white nationalists were right, and everyone else was wrong. Truth is always dangerous. Contrary to common belief, it does not always prevail. But it’s always a bad idea to turn your back on it. …While the evidence for human cognitive biodiversity is indeed debatable, what’s not debatable is that it is debatable …[even though] everyone who is not a white nationalist has spent the last 50 years informing us that it is not debatable … 

There’s far more to Moldbug’s essay, as there always is. Eventually it explains why he rejects white nationalism, on grounds that owe nothing to conventional reflexes. But the dark heart of the essay, lifting it beyond brilliance to the brink of genius, is found early on, at the edge of a black hole:

Why does white nationalism strike us as evil? Because Hitler was a white nationalist, and Hitler was evil. Neither of these statements is remotely controvertible. There is exactly one degree of separation between white nationalism and evil. And that degree is Hitler. Let me repeat: Hitler.

The argument seems watertight. (Hitlertight?) But it holds no water at all.

Why does socialism strike us as evil? Because Stalin was a socialist, and Stalin was evil. Anyone who wants to seriously argue that Stalin was less evil than Hitler has an awful long row to hoe. Not only did Stalin order more murders, his murder machine had its heyday in peacetime, whereas Hitler’s can at least be seen as a war crime against enemy civilians. Whether this makes a difference can be debated, but if it does it puts Stalin on top.

And yet I have never had or seen anything like the “red flags” response to socialism [“the sense of the presence of evil”]. If I saw a crowd of young, fashionable people lining up at the box office for a hagiographic biopic on Reinhard Heydrich, chills would run up and down my neck. For Ernesto Guevara, I have no emotional response. Perhaps I think it’s stupid and sad. I do think it’s stupid and sad. But it doesn’t freak me out.

Any attempt to be nuanced, balanced, or proportional in the moral case against Hitler is to entirely misconstrue the nature of the phenomenon. This can be noted, quite regularly, in Asian societies, for instance, because the ghost of the Third Reich does not occupy central position in their history, or rather, their religion, although – as the inner sanctum of the Cathedral — it is determined to (and shows almost every sign of succeeding). A brief digression on cross-cultural misunderstanding and reciprocal blindness might be merited at this point. When Westerners pay attention to the ‘God-Emperor’ style of political devotion that has accompanied modern totalitarianism in East Asia, the conclusion typically drawn is that this pattern of political feeling is exotically alien, morbidly amusing, and ultimately – chillingly — incomprehensible. Contemporary comparisons with laughably non-numinous Western democratic leaders only deepen the confusion, as do clumsy quasi-Marxist references to ‘feudal’ sensibilities (as if absolute monarchy was not an alternative to feudalism, and as if absolute monarchs were worshipped). How could a historical and political figure ever be invested with the transcendent dignity of absolute religious meaning? It seems absurd …

“Look, I’m not saying that Hitler was a particularly nice guy …” – to imagine such word is already to see many things. It might even provoke the question: Does anybody within the (Cathedral’s) globalized world still think that Adolf Hitler was less evil than the Prince of Darkness himself? Perhaps only a few scattered paleo-Christians (who stubbornly insist that Satan is really, really bad), and an even smaller number of Neo-Nazi ultras (who think Hitler was kind of cool). For pretty much everybody else, Hitler perfectly personifies demonic monstrosity, transcending history and politics to attain the stature of a metaphysical absolute: evil incarnate. Beyond Hitler it is impossible to go, or think. This is surely interesting, since it indicates an irruption of the infinite within history – a religious revelation, of inverted, yet structurally familiar, Abrahamic type. (‘Holocaust Theology’ already implies as much.)

In this regard, rather than Satan, it might be more helpful to compare Hitler to the Antichrist, which is to say: to a mirror Messiah, of reversed moral polarity. There was even an empty tomb. Hitlerism, neutrally conceived, therefore, is less a pro-Nazi ideology than a universal faith, speciated within the Abrahamic super-family, and united in acknowledging the coming of pure evil on earth. Whilst not exactly worshipped (outside the extraordinarily disreputable circles already ventured into), Hitler is sacramentally abhorred, in a way that touches upon theological ‘first things’. If to embrace Hitler as God is a sign of highly lamentable politico-spiritual confusion (at best), to recognize his historical singularity and sacred meaning is near-mandatory, since he is affirmed by all men of sound faith as the exact complement of the incarnate God (the revealed anti-Messiah, or Adversary), and this identification has the force of ‘self-evident truth’. (Did anybody ever need to ask why the reductio ad Hitlerum works?)

Conveniently, like the secularized neo-puritanism that it swallows, (aversive) Hitlerism can be safely taught in American schools, at a remarkably high level of religious intensity. Insofar as progressive or programmatic history continues, this suggests that the Church of Sacred Hitlerite Abomination will eventually supplant its Abrahamic predecessors, to become the world’s triumphant ecumenical faith. How could it not? After all, unlike vanilla deism, this is a faith that fully reconciles religious enthusiasm with enlightened opinion, equally adapted, with consummate amphibious capability, to the convulsive ecstasies of popular ritual and the letter pages of the New York Times. “Absolute evil once walked amongst us, and lives still …” How is this not, already, the principal religious message of our time? All that remains unfinished is the mythological consolidation, and that has long been underway.

There’s still some bone-fragment picking to do among the ashes and debris [in Part 5], before turning to healthier things …

[Tomb]

The Dark Enlightenment (Part 1)

Neo-reactionaries head for the exit

Enlightenment is not only a state, but an event, and a process. As the designation for an historical episode, concentrated in northern Europe during the 18th century, it is a leading candidate for the ‘true name’ of modernity, capturing its origin and essence (‘Renaissance’ and ‘Industrial Revolution’ are others). Between ‘enlightenment’ and ‘progressive enlightenment’ there is only an elusive difference, because illumination takes time – and feeds on itself, because enlightenment is self-confirming, its revelations ‘self-evident’, and because a retrograde, or reactionary, ‘dark enlightenment’ amounts almost to intrinsic contradiction. To become enlightened, in this historical sense, is to recognize, and then to pursue, a guiding light.

There were ages of darkness, and then enlightenment came. Clearly, advance has demonstrated itself, offering not only improvement, but also a model. Furthermore, unlike a renaissance, there is no need for an enlightenment to recall what was lost, or to emphasize the attractions of return. The elementary acknowledgement of enlightenment is already Whig history in miniature.

Once certain enlightened truths have been found self-evident, there can be no turning back, and conservatism is pre-emptively condemned – predestined — to paradox. F. A. Hayek, who refused to describe himself as a conservative, famously settled instead upon the term ‘Old Whig’, which – like ‘classical liberal’ (or the still more melancholy ‘remnant’) – accepts that progress isn’t what it used to be. What could an Old Whig be, if not a reactionary progressive? And what on earth is that?

Of course, plenty of people already think they know what reactionary modernism looks like, and amidst the current collapse back into the 1930s their concerns are only likely to grow. Basically, it’s what the ‘F’ word is for, at least in its progressive usage. A flight from democracy under these circumstances conforms so perfectly to expectations that it eludes specific recognition, appearing merely as an atavism, or confirmation of dire repetition.

Still, something is happening, and it is – at least in part – something else. One milestone was the April 2009 discussion hosted at Cato Unbound among libertarian thinkers (including Patri Friedman and Peter Thiel) in which disillusionment with the direction and possibilities of democratic politics was expressed with unusual forthrightness. Thiel summarized the trend bluntly: “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

In August 2011, Michael Lind posted a democratic riposte at Salon, digging up some impressively malodorous dirt, and concluding:

The dread of democracy by libertarians and classical liberals is justified. Libertarianism really is incompatible with democracy. Most libertarians have made it clear which of the two they prefer. The only question that remains to be settled is why anyone should pay attention to libertarians.

Lind and the ‘neo-reactionaries’ seem to be in broad agreement that democracy is not only (or even) a system, but rather a vector, with an unmistakable direction. Democracy and ‘progressive democracy’ are synonymous, and indistinguishable from the expansion of the state. Whilst ‘extreme right wing’ governments have, on rare occasions, momentarily arrested this process, its reversal lies beyond the bounds of democratic possibility. Since winning elections is overwhelmingly a matter of vote buying, and society’s informational organs (education and media) are no more resistant to bribery than the electorate, a thrifty politician is simply an incompetent politician, and the democratic variant of Darwinism quickly eliminates such misfits from the gene pool. This is a reality that the left applauds, the establishment right grumpily accepts, and the libertarian right has ineffectively railed against. Increasingly, however, libertarians have ceased to care whether anyone is ‘pay[ing them] attention’ – they have been looking for something else entirely: an exit.

It is a structural inevitability that the libertarian voice is drowned out in democracy, and according to Lind it should be. Ever more libertarians are likely to agree. ‘Voice’ is democracy itself, in its historically dominant, Rousseauistic strain. It models the state as a representation of popular will, and making oneself heard means more politics. If voting as the mass self-expression of politically empowered peoples is a nightmare engulfing the world, adding to the hubbub doesn’t help. Even more than Equality-vs-Liberty, Voice-vs-Exit is the rising alternative, and libertarians are opting for voiceless flight. Patri Friedman remarks: “we think that free exit is so important that we’ve called it the only Universal Human Right.”

For the hardcore neo-reactionaries, democracy is not merely doomed, it is doom itself. Fleeing it approaches an ultimate imperative. The subterranean current that propels such anti-politics is recognizably Hobbesian, a coherent dark enlightenment, devoid from its beginning of any Rousseauistic enthusiasm for popular expression. Predisposed, in any case, to perceive the politically awakened masses as a howling irrational mob, it conceives the dynamics of democratization as fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption. The democratic politician and the electorate are bound together by a circuit of reciprocal incitement, in which each side drives the other to ever more shameless extremities of hooting, prancing cannibalism, until the only alternative to shouting is being eaten.

Where the progressive enlightenment sees political ideals, the dark enlightenment sees appetites. It accepts that governments are made out of people, and that they will eat well. Setting its expectations as low as reasonably possible, it seeks only to spare civilization from frenzied, ruinous, gluttonous debauch. From Thomas Hobbes to Hans-Hermann Hoppe and beyond, it asks: How can the sovereign power be prevented – or at least dissuaded — from devouring society? It consistently finds democratic ‘solutions’ to this problem risible, at best.

Hoppe advocates an anarcho-capitalist ‘private law society’, but between monarchy and democracy he does not hesitate (and his argument is strictly Hobbesian):

As a hereditary monopolist, a king regards the territory and the people under his rule as his personal property and engages in the monopolistic exploitation of this "property." Under democracy, monopoly and monopolistic exploitation do not disappear. Rather, what happens is this: instead of a king and a nobility who regard the country as their private property, a temporary and interchangeable caretaker is put in monopolistic charge of the country. The caretaker does not own the country, but as long as he is in office he is permitted to use it to his and his protégés’ advantage. He owns its current use – usufruct– but not its capital stock. This does not eliminate exploitation. To the contrary, it makes exploitation less calculating and carried out with little or no regard to the capital stock. Exploitation becomes shortsighted and capital consumption will be systematically promoted.

Political agents invested with transient authority by multi-party democratic systems have an overwhelming (and demonstrably irresistible) incentive to plunder society with the greatest possible rapidity and comprehensiveness. Anything they neglect to steal – or ‘leave on the table’ – is likely to be inherited by political successors who are not only unconnected, but actually opposed, and who can therefore be expected to utilize all available resources to the detriment of their foes. Whatever is left behind becomes a weapon in your enemy’s hand. Best, then, to destroy what cannot be stolen. From the perspective of a democratic politician, any type of social good that is neither directly appropriable nor attributable to (their own) partisan policy is sheer waste, and counts for nothing, whilst even the most grievous social misfortune – so long as it can be assigned to a prior administration or postponed until a subsequent one – figures in rational calculations as an obvious blessing. The long-range techno-economic improvements and associated accumulation of cultural capital that constituted social progress in its old (Whig) sense are in nobody’s political interest. Once democracy flourishes, they face the immediate threat of extinction.

Civilization, as a process, is indistinguishable from diminishing time-preference (or declining concern for the present in comparison to the future). Democracy, which both in theory and evident historical fact accentuates time-preference to the point of convulsive feeding-frenzy, is thus as close to a precise negation of civilization as anything could be, short of instantaneous social collapse into murderous barbarism or zombie apocalypse (which it eventually leads to). As the democratic virus burns through society, painstakingly accumulated habits and attitudes of forward-thinking, prudential, human and industrial investment, are replaced by a sterile, orgiastic consumerism, financial incontinence, and a ‘reality television’ political circus. Tomorrow might belong to the other team, so it’s best to eat it all now.

Winston Churchill, who remarked in neo-reactionary style that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter“ is better known for suggesting “that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” Whilst never exactly conceding that “OK, democracy sucks (in fact, it really sucks), but what’s the alternative?” the implication is obvious. The general tenor of this sensibility is attractive to modern conservatives, because it resonates with their wry, disillusioned acceptance of relentless civilizational deterioration, and with the associated intellectual apprehension of capitalism as an unappetizing but ineliminable default social arrangement, which remains after all catastrophic or merely impractical alternatives have been discarded. The market economy, on this understanding, is no more than a spontaneous survival strategy that stitches itself together amidst the ruins of a politically devastated world. Things will probably just get worse forever. So it goes.

So, what is the alternative? (There’s certainly no point trawling through the 1930s for one.) “Can you imagine a 21st-century post-demotist society? One that saw itself as recovering from democracy, much as Eastern Europe sees itself as recovering from Communism?” asks supreme Sith Lord of the neo-reactionaries, Mencius Moldbug. “Well, I suppose that makes one of us.”

Moldbug’s formative influences are Austro-libertarian, but that’s all over. As he explains:

… libertarians cannot present a realistic picture of a world in which their battle gets won and stays won. They wind up looking for ways to push a world in which the State’s natural downhill path is to grow, back up the hill. This prospect is Sisyphean, and it’s understandable why it attracts so few supporters.

His awakening into neo-reaction comes with the (Hobbesian) recognition that sovereignty cannot be eliminated, caged, or controlled. Anarcho-capitalist utopias can never condense out of science fiction, divided powers flow back together like a shattered Terminator, and constitutions have exactly as much real authority as a sovereign interpretative power allows them to have. The state isn’t going anywhere because — to those who run it — it’s worth far too much to give up, and as the concentrated instantiation of sovereignty in society, nobody can make it do anything. If the state cannot be eliminated, Moldbug argues, at least it can be cured of democracy (or systematic and degenerative bad government), and the way to do that is to formalize it. This is an approach he calls ‘neo-cameralism’.

To a neocameralist, a state is a business which owns a country. A state should be managed, like any other large business, by dividing logical ownership into negotiable shares, each of which yields a precise fraction of the state’s profit. (A well-run state is very profitable.) Each share has one vote, and the shareholders elect a board, which hires and fires managers.

This business’s customers are its residents. A profitably-managed neocameralist state will, like any business, serve its customers efficiently and effectively. Misgovernment equals mismanagement.

Firstly, it is essential to squash the democratic myth that a state ‘belongs’ to the citizenry. The point of neo-cameralism is to buy out the real stakeholders in sovereign power, not to perpetuate sentimental lies about mass enfranchisement. Unless ownership of the state is formally transferred into the hands of its actual rulers, the neo-cameral transition will simply not take place, power will remain in the shadows, and the democratic farce will continue.

So, secondly, the ruling class must be plausibly identified. It should be noted immediately, in contradistinction to Marxist principles of social analysis, that this is not the ‘capitalist bourgeoisie’. Logically, it cannot be. The power of the business class is already clearly formalized, in monetary terms, so the identification of capital with political power is perfectly redundant. It is necessary to ask, rather, who do capitalists pay for political favors, how much these favors are potentially worth, and how the authority to grant them is distributed. This requires, with a minimum of moral irritation, that the entire social landscape of political bribery (‘lobbying’) is exactly mapped, and the administrative, legislative, judicial, media, and academic privileges accessed by such bribes are converted into fungible shares. Insofar as voters are worth bribing, there is no need to entirely exclude them from this calculation, although their portion of sovereignty will be estimated with appropriate derision. The conclusion of this exercise is the mapping of a ruling entity that is the truly dominant instance of the democratic polity. Moldbug calls it the Cathedral.

The formalization of political powers, thirdly, allows for the possibility of effective government. Once the universe of democratic corruption is converted into a (freely transferable) shareholding in gov-corp. the owners of the state can initiate rational corporate governance, beginning with the appointment of a CEO. As with any business, the interests of the state are now precisely formalized as the maximization of long-term shareholder value. There is no longer any need for residents (clients) to take any interest in politics whatsoever. In fact, to do so would be to exhibit semi-criminal proclivities. If gov-corp doesn’t deliver acceptable value for its taxes (sovereign rent), they can notify its customer service function, and if necessary take their custom elsewhere. Gov-corp would concentrate upon running an efficient, attractive, vital, clean, and secure country, of a kind that is able to draw customers. No voice, free exit.

… although the full neocameralist approach has never been tried, its closest historical equivalents to this approach are the 18th-century tradition of enlightened absolutism as represented by Frederick the Great, and the 21st-century nondemocratic tradition as seen in lost fragments of the British Empire such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai. These states appear to provide a very high quality of service to their citizens, with no meaningful democracy at all. They have minimal crime and high levels of personal and economic freedom. They tend to be quite prosperous. They are weak only in political freedom, and political freedom is unimportant by definition when government is stable and effective.

In European classical antiquity, democracy was recognized as a familiar phase of cyclical political development, fundamentally decadent in nature, and preliminary to a slide into tyranny. Today this classical understanding is thoroughly lost, and replaced by a global democratic ideology, entirely lacking in critical self-reflection, that is asserted not as a credible social-scientific thesis, or even as a spontaneous popular aspiration, but rather as a religious creed, of a specific, historically identifiable kind:

… a received tradition I call Universalism, which is a nontheistic Christian sect. Some other current labels for this same tradition, more or less synonymous, are progressivism, multiculturalism, liberalism, humanism, leftism, political correctness, and the like. … Universalism is the dominant modern branch of Christianity on the Calvinist line, evolving from the English Dissenter or Puritan tradition through the Unitarian, Transcendentalist, and Progressive movements. Its ancestral briar patch also includes a few sideways sprigs that are important enough to name but whose Christian ancestry is slightly better concealed, such as Rousseauvian laicism, Benthamite utilitarianism, Reformed Judaism, Comtean positivism, German Idealism, Marxist scientific socialism, Sartrean existentialism, Heideggerian postmodernism, etc, etc, etc. … Universalism, in my opinion, is best described as a mystery cult of power. … It’s as hard to imagine Universalism without the State as malaria without the mosquito. … The point is that this thing, whatever you care to call it, is at least two hundred years old and probably more like five. It’s basically the Reformation itself. … And just walking up to it and denouncing it as evil is about as likely to work as suing Shub-Niggurath in small-claims court.

To comprehend the emergence of our contemporary predicament, characterized by relentless, totalizing, state expansion, the proliferation of spurious positive ‘human rights’ (claims on the resources of others backed by coercive bureaucracies), politicized money, reckless evangelical ‘wars for democracy’, and comprehensive thought control arrayed in defense of universalistic dogma (accompanied by the degradation of science into a government public relations function), it is necessary to ask how Massachusetts came to conquer the world, as Moldbug does. With every year that passes, the international ideal of sound governance finds itself approximating more closely and rigidly to the standards set by the Grievance Studies departments of New England universities. This is the divine providence of the ranters and levelers, elevated to a planetary teleology, and consolidated as the reign of the Cathedral.

The Cathedral has substituted its gospel for everything we ever knew. Consider just the concerns expressed by America’s founding fathers (compiled by ‘Liberty-clinger’, comment #1, here):

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%. — Thomas Jefferson

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!— Benjamin Franklin

Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. — John Adams

Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their death. — James Madison

We are a Republican Government, Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of democracy…it has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny…— Alexander Hamilton

More on voting with your feet (and the incandescent genius of Moldbug), next …
Added Note (March 7):
Don’t trust the attribution of the ‘Benjamin Franklin’ quote, above. According to Barry Popik, the saying was probably invented by James Bovard, in 1992. (Bovard remarks elsewhere: “There are few more dangerous errors in political thinking than to equate democracy with liberty.”)

[Tomb]