Archive for July, 2008

Grant’s Tomb

July 24, 2008

Horny-handed scions of the soil,
Loggers, and adult children of oil,
May visit here, and leave their souls.
Confirm them, soldier, in their roles.

Review our serried generals of peace,
Braided and squabbling for office.
Award them stars for being bright,
Hard-working, careful, and polite.

Gifts from the gods are gifts to own;
Generals are men. Our gifts are loans.
Blue, bearded Ulysses, our drinker,
Our only patron saint of failure,

I may yet stop by with open hands.
Try and be closed for maintenance.

OLXIV: rules for reactionaries

July 17, 2008

Dear open-minded progressive, I hope you’ve enjoyed this weird excursion.

We all like to think we have open minds, but only a few of us are tough enough to snort any strange powder that’s shoved under our noses. You have joined that elite crew. Fourteen weeks ago you may have been a mere space cadet. Today you are at least a space lieutenant, perhaps even a captain or a major. And what fresh galaxies remain to explore!

UR will return on August 14, 2008. But first: the solution.

Well, first the problem. This is a blog, after all. We can’t really expect everyone to have read all the back issues. Repetition is a necessity, and a virtue as well. A true space lieutenant, surprised by the Slime Beast of Vega, has his acid blaster on full-auto and is pumping a massive drug bolus into its sticky green hide before he even knows what’s happening. His reaction is not thought, but drill – the apotheosis of practice.

Our problem is democracy. Democracy is a dangerous, malignant form of government which tends to degenerate, sometimes slowly and sometimes with shocking, gut-wrenching speed, into tyranny and chaos. You’ve been taught to worship democracy. This is because you are ruled by democracy. If you were ruled by the Slime Beast of Vega, you would worship the Slime Beast of Vega. (A more earthly comparison is Communism or “people’s democracy,” whose claim to be a more advanced form of its Western cousin was perfectly accurate – if we mean “advanced” in the sense of, say, “advanced leukemia.”)

There are two problems with democracy: the first-order and the second-order.

The first-order problem: since a governed territory is capital, ie, a valuable asset, it generates revenue. Participation in government is also the definition of power, which all men and quite a few women crave. At its best, democracy is an permanent, gunless civil war for this gigantic pot of money and power. (At its worst, the guns come out.) Any democratic faction has an incentive to mismanage the whole to enlarge its share.

Without quite understanding this problem, Noah Webster, in his 1794 pamphlet on the French Revolution, described its symptoms perfectly. Webster was writing during the quasi-monarchist Federalist restoration, when Americans had convinced themselves that it was possible to create a republic without political parties. The Federalists held “faction” to be the root of all democratic evils – much as their progressive successors are constantly yearning for a “post-partisan” democracy. Both are right. But complaining that democracy is too political is like complaining that the Slime Beast of Vega is too slimy.

Webster wrote:

As the tendency of such associations is probably not fully understood by most of the persons composing them in this country, and many of them are doubtless well-meaning citizens; it may be useful to trace the progress of party spirit to faction first, and then of course to tyranny.
[…]
My second remark is, that contention between parties is usually violent in proportion to the trifling nature of the point in question; or to the uncertainty of its tendency to promote public happiness. When an object of great magnitude is in question, and its utility obvious, a great majority is usually found in its favor, and vice versa; and a large majority usually quiets all opposition. But when a point is of less magnitude or less visible utility, the parties may be and often are nearly equal. Then it becomes a trial of strength — each party acquires confidence from the very circumstance of equality — both become assured they are right — confidence inspires boldness and expectation of success — pride comes in aid of argument — the passions are inflamed — the merits of the cause become a subordinate consideration — victory is the object and not public good; at length the question is decided by a small majority — success inspires one party with pride, and they assume the airs of conquerors; disappointment sours the minds of the other — and thus the contest ends in creating violent passions, which are always ready to enlist into every other cause. Such is the progress of party spirit; and a single question will often give rise to a party, that will continue for generations; and the same men or their adherents will continue to divide on other questions, that have not the remotest connection with the first point of contention.

This observation gives rise to my third remark ; that nothing is more dangerous to the cause of truth and liberty than a party spirit. When men are once united, in whatever form, or upon whatever occasion, the union creates a partiality or friendship for each member of the party or society. A coalition for any purpose creates an attachment, and inspires a confidence in the individuals of the party, which does not die with the cause which united them; but continues, and extends to every other object of social intercourse.

Thus we see men first united in some system of religious faith, generally agree in their political opinions. Natives of the same country, even in a foreign country, unite and form a separate private society. The Masons feel attached to each other, though in distant parts of the world.

The same may be said of Episcopalians, Quakers, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Federalists, and Antifederalists, mechanic societies, chambers of commerce, Jacobin and Democratic societies. It is altogether immaterial what circumstance first unites a number of men into a society; whether they first rally round the church, a square and compass, a cross, or a cap; the general effect is always the same; while the union continues, the members of the association feel a particular confidence in each other, which leads them to believe each other’s opinions, to catch each other’s passions, and to act in concert on every question in which they are interested.

Hence arises what is called bigotry or illiberality. Persons who are united on any occasion, are more apt to believe the prevailing opinions of their society, than the prevailing opinions of another society. They examine their own creeds more fully, (and perhaps with a mind predisposed to believe them), than they do the creeds of other societies. Hence the full persuasion in every society that theirs is right; and if I am right, others of course are wrong. Perhaps therefore I am warranted in saying, there is a species of bigotry in every society on earth — and indeed in every man’s own particular faith. While each man and each society is freely indulged in his own opinion, and that opinion is mere speculation, there is peace, harmony, and good understanding. But the moment a man or a society attempts to oppose the prevailing opinions of another man or society, even his arguments rouse passion; it being difficult for two men of opposite creeds to dispute for any time, without becoming angry. And when one party attempts in practice to interfere with the opinions of another party, violence most generally succeeds.

Note that Webster (a) assumes that the problem of factions is solvable; (b) assumes that voters start with a generally accurate understanding of the problem of government, which will generate the right answer on all important questions; (c) assumes that voters will not form coalitions for the mere sordid purpose of looting the state, ie, “achieving social justice;” and (d), of course, demonstrates the correct or dictionary definition of the word bigotry.

All these assumptions, which in 1794 were at least plausible, are now anything but. (And our modern bigots are as diverse as can be.) Yet the juggernaut of democracy rolls on. New excuses are needed, new excuses are found.

This leads us to the second-order problem. While democracy may start with a population of voters who understand the art of government, as America indeed did (the extent to which 18th-century Americans understood the basic principles of practical government, while hardly perfect, was mindboggling by today’s standards), it seldom stays that way. Its fans believe that participation in the democratic process actually improves the mental qualities of the citizen. I suppose this is true – for certain values of the words “improves.”

The real problem with democracies is that in the long run, a democratic government elects its own people. I refer, of course, to Brecht’s verse:

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

One way to elect a new people is to import them, of course. For example, to put it bluntly, the Democratic Party has captured California, once a Republican stronghold, by importing arbitrary numbers of Mexicans. Indeed the Third World is stocked with literally billions of potential Democrats, just waiting to come to America so that Washington can buy their votes. Inner Party functionaries cackle gleefully over this achievement. (BTW, isn’t that photo of Frank Rich amazing? Doesn’t it just radiate pure power and contempt? Henry VIII would probably have asked the painter to make him look less like Xerxes, King of Kings.)

But this act of brutal Machiavellian thug politics, larded as usual with the most gushing of sentimental platitudes, is picayune next to the ordinary practice of democratic governments: to elect a new people by re-educating the children of the old. In the long run, power in a democracy belongs to its information organs: the press, the schools, and most of all the universities, who mint the thoughts that the others plant. For simplicity, we have dubbed this complex the Cathedral.

The Cathedral is a feedback loop. It has no center, no master planners. Everyone, even the Sulzbergers, is replaceable. In a democracy, mass opinion creates power. Power diverts funds to the manufacturers of opinion, who manufacture more, etc. Not a terribly complicated cycle.

This feedback loop generates a playing field on which the most competitive ideas are not those which best correspond to reality, but those which produce the strongest feedback. The Cathedral is constantly electing a new people who (a) support the Cathedral more and more, and (b) support a political system which makes the Cathedral stronger and stronger.

For example, libertarian policies are not competitive in the Cathedral, because libertarianism minimizes employment for public-policy experts. Thus we would expect libertarians to come in two flavors: the intellectually marginalized, and the intellectually compromised.

Many of the LvMI types feel quite free to be skeptical of democracy. But they are skipping quite a few steps between problem and solution. They are still thinking in the democratic tense. Their plan for achieving libertarianism, if it can be described as a plan, is to convince as many people as possible that libertarian policies are good ones. These will then elect libertarian politicians, etc, etc.

When you say, I am a libertarian, what you mean is: I, as a customer of government, prefer to live in a state which does not apply non-libertarian policies. The best results in this line will be achieved by capturing a state yourself, and becoming its Supreme Ruler. Then no bureaucrats will bother you! Given that most of us are not capable of this feat, and given that the absence of government is a military impossibility, the libertarian should search for a structure of government in which the state has no incentive to apply non-libertarian policies. Obviously, democracy is not such a structure.

Thus a libertarian democracy is simply an engineering contradiction, like a flying whale or a water-powered car. Water is a lot cheaper than gas, and I think a flying whale would make a wonderful pet – I could tether it to my deck, perhaps. Does it matter? Defeating democracy is difficult; making democracy libertarian is impossible. The difference is subtle, but…

Worse, the most competitive ideas in the democratic feedback loop tend to be policies which are in fact counterproductive – that is, they actually cause the problem they pretend to be curing. They are quack medicines. They keep the patient coming back.

For example, Britain today is suffering from an “epidemic” of “knife crime.” To wit: every day in Great Britain, 60 people are stabbed or mugged with a knife. (Admire, for a moment, the passive voice. Presumably the knifes are floating disembodied in the air, directing themselves with Jedi powers.) The solution:

On Tuesday, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, will publish her Youth Crime Action Plan. It includes a proposal to make young offenders visit casualty wards to examine knife wounds in an attempt to shock them into mending their ways.

I swear I am not making this up. Meanwhile, experts agree, prison terms should be abolished for minor crimes, such as burglary:

The Independent Sentencing Advisory Panel also said that there should be a presumption that thieves, burglars and anyone convicted of dishonesty should not receive a jail term.

I’m sure that’ll help. Scientists around the world conclude:

It takes a multi-level approach to prevention. If you want to approach violence protection with juveniles, you need to engage in prevention early on – with social skills and anger coping lessons in schools from a young age.

The real experts, of course, are the yoofs themselves:

However, the government should be praised for not taking an automatically authoritarian approach. Their policy of getting young people to talk to stabbing victims rests on the belief that kids respond to education and are capable of empathy, something that the Conservative policy of locking anyone up caught carrying a knife doesn’t seem to appreciate.

To say the least. It wouldn’t be the first time the narrow-minded have defied scientific research:

But researchers at Manchester University’s school of law found evidence which directly contradicts core assumptions of government policy.

Having spoken to and won the trust of more than 100 gang members, associates and informers, they concluded that in general gangs are not tightly organised; they do not specialise in dealing drugs; and their violence is not provoked primarily by turf wars. They also found no basis for the popular belief that most street gangs are black.

Robert Ralphs, the project’s lead fieldworker, said: “Police and other statutory agencies respond to gangs as clearly identifiable groups of criminally-involved young people, where membership is undisputed.

“In reality, gangs are loose, messy, changing friendship networks – less organised and less criminally active than widely believed – with unclear, shifting and unstable leadership.”

By failing to understand this basic structure, the researchers say, police mistakenly target and sometimes harass individuals who, though gang members, are not breaking any law; the police also repeatedly follow, stop and search the gang members’ family, friends and classmates. This alienated both the gang members and their associates who might otherwise have helped police.
[…]
Judith Aldridge, who led the research, said: “They are mainly victims. So, there is a desperate need to appropriately assess the needs of these young people and their families – and not blame them.”

Etc. I’m sure none of this is new to you. Britain makes such a wonderful example, however, because its descent into Quaker-thug hell is so fresh, and proceeded from such a height. Witness, for example, this lovely story from the Times archive, which is barely 50 years old – “in the lives of those now living,” unless of course they have since been stabbed:

JUDGE ON RACE GANG WARFARE

7-YEAR SENTENCES

Two men were each sentenced at Central Criminal Court yesterday to seven years’ imprisonment for their part in an attack on John Frederick Carter, fruit trader of Sydney Square, Glengall Road, Peckham, who received injuries to his face and head which required 60 stitches.

They were Raymond David Rosa, aged 31, bookmaker’s clerk, of Northborough Road, Norbury, S.W., and Richard Frett, aged 34, dealer, of Wickstead House, Falmouth Road, S.E. The jury had found them both guilty of wounding Carter with intent to cause him grievous bodily harm.

Passing sentence, Mr. Justice Donovan said: “I have not the least doubt that there are other and very wicked persons behind you, but the tools of those persons must realize that if discovery follows punishment will be condign.”

“MORE LIKE CHICAGO”

Summing up yesterday, his Lordship said that the facts of this case sounded more like Chicago and the worst days of prohibition than London in 1956.

Putting two and two together, the jury might think this was another case of race gang warfare. If that were so, then it raised the question of whether the reluctance of Mr. and Mrs. Carter to swear that the two men they had previously picked out were concerned in the attack was due to fear. It was that possibility which put this case into quite a different category. It put it into a category where gross violence had been perpetrated upon a man but after identifying his assailants he and his wife had expressed doubts in the witness-box. The jury were not concerned with the merits or de-merits of Carter. The issue was much wider than Carter’s skin: it was simply one of the maintenance of law and order without which none could go about with safety.

Etc, etc. Notice that both of these miscreants are in possession of at least nominal occupations. Mr. Justice Donovan, honey, with all due respect, you don’t know nothin’ ’bout no “race gang warfare.”

And finally, completing our tour of the British criminal justice system, we learn that:

Two South Africans who overstayed their British visas were jailed for life on Friday for the murders of two men strangled during a series of violent muggings.

Gabriel Bhengu, 27, and Jabu Mbowane, 26, will be deported after serving life sentences.

No, that’s not a misprint:

A life sentence normally lasts around 15 years.

Orwell could not be more satisfied. “A life sentence normally lasts around 15 years.” With not a hint of irony in the building. “A life sentence normally lasts around 15 years.”

Something is normal here, and it is either 1956 or 2008. It can’t be both. If Mr. Justice Donovan, or the Times reporter who considered a mere 60 stitches somehow newsworthy, were to reappear in modern London, their perspective on the art of government in a democratic society unchanged, they would be far to the right not only of Professor Aldridge, but also of the Tories, the BNP, and perhaps even Spearhead. They would not be normal people. But in 1956, their reactions were completely unremarkable.

What’s happened is that Britain, which before WWII was still in many respects an aristocracy, became Americanized and democratized after the war. As a democracy, it elected its own people, who now tolerate what their grandparents would have found unimaginable. Of course, many British voters, probably even most, still do believe that burglars should go to prison, etc, etc, but these views are on the way out, and the politics of love is on the way in. Politicians, who are uniformly devoid of character or personality, have the good sense to side with the future electorate rather than with the past electorate.

And why are the studies of Professor Aldridge and her ilk so successful, despite their obvious effects? One: they result in a tremendous level of crime, which generates a tremendous level of funding for “criminologists.” Two: they are counterintuitive, ie, obviously wrong. No one would pay a “social scientist” to admit the obvious. Three: as per Noah Webster, they appeal to the ruling class simply because they are so abhorrent to the ruled class.

And four: they are not disprovable, because if pure, undiluted Quaker love ever becomes the only way for British civilization to deal with its ferals, they won’t leave much of Professor Aldridge. She might, like Judith Todd, regard her suffering as a Christlike badge of distinction. She would certainly, like Ms. Todd, express no guilt over her actions. But it won’t happen, because Britain will retain the unprincipled exceptions and the few rough men it needs to keep it from the abyss for the indefinite future. And for that same future, Professor Aldridge and her like will be able to explain the debacle in terms of the “cycle of violence.” As Chesterton put it:

We have actually contrived to invent a new kind of hypocrite. The old hypocrite, Tartuffe or Pecksniff, was a man whose aims were really worldly and practical, while he pretended that they were religious.The new hypocrite is one whose aims are really religious, while he pretends that they are worldly and practical.

From the perspective of the customer of government, however, it is irrelevant why these events happen. What matters is that they do happen, and that they do not have to happen. If statistics did not confirm that stabbings in London were not, in the lives of those now living, a routine event, that Times article should be sufficient. (In fact, I’ll take one good primary source over all the statistics in the world.)

And this, in my reactionary judgment, makes NuLabour responsible for these events. As surely as if Gordon Brown and Professor Aldridge themselves had gone on a stabbing spree.

Consider the following fact: in April 2007, an American Special Forces captain, Robert Williams, forced his way into the home of a young Iraqi journalist, whom he raped, tortured, and attempted to murder. Williams ordered the woman to stab out her own eyes. When she tried and failed, he sliced up her face with a butcher knife. After asking her if she “liked Americans,” he forced her to swallow handfuls of pills, which destroyed her liver, and when leaving the building after an 18-hour ordeal he tied her to a sofa and set a fire under it. She escaped only by using the fire to burn away the ropes around her hands.

And why haven’t you heard of this event? Obviously you don’t read the papers. Williams, it turns out, was linked to a fundamentalist Christian cell inside the US military, one of whose leaders, General William Boykin, was a mentor to none other than John McCain…

Okay. At this point, I am obviously just making stuff up. If this event had happened, you wouldn’t need to read the papers. Or watch television. The only way you would not know of the event is if you were a hermit in the deep bush in Alaska, and it was the middle of winter. It would be the defining event of the American occupation of Iraq, and as soon as the snow thawed and the caribou came back, a dog-team would arrive at your cabin and bark out the news.

Unless the Pentagon covered it up. And given that this search produces almost 2 million hits, doesn’t that seem a likely possibility?

It did happen, however. Not in Baghdad, but in Manhattan. The real Robert Williams is not a white supremacist, but a black one. The anonymous victim is a journalism student at Columbia. And how many stories in the local newspaper of record, many of whose employees must be Facebook friends of the victim, did these events generate? I found six. All of them buried deep in the “New York Region” section, whose crime reporters I’m sure are on the fast track to superstar status at the NYT. Not.

Note that this is exactly how the Pentagon, in our imaginary Baghdad rape, would have wanted the situation handled. A coverup is always a possibility, but risky. It can leak. Whereas if the journalists themselves agree that the event is not important, that it is fundamentally random, that it certainly does not deserve the crime-of-the-century treatment that the Times of London, in 1956, would have given the real Robert Williams.

It is very unfortunate, of course, that a Special Forces officer abused a young Iraqi woman. But it is the exception, not the rule. It has nothing to do with the Special Forces as a whole, or with General Boykin, or certainly with John McCain. A few stories in the back of the paper, and the whole sad event is documented for the record. And our troops continue their honorable work in Iraq, saving babies from gangrene and bringing happiness to orphaned goats.

Would I accept this whitewash? Probably not. But I would be more likely to accept it than the New York Times. Clearly, the real Robert Williams and his ilk have no enemies at the Times. But they have an enemy in Larry Auster, who wrote:

So here’s a question that ought to be asked of Obama at a presidential debate:

Sen. Obama, you said in your speech on race last March 18 that as long as whites have not ended racial inequality in America, whites have to expect the sort of hatred and rage that comes from Jeremiah Wright, who identifies the source of evil in the world as “white man’s greed.”

In this country today, black on white violence is a fact of life, and in addition to the steady stream of black on white rapes and murders there have been racially motivated black on white crimes of shocking brutality and horror, including not only rape and sodomy, but torture, disfigurement, burning. Cases in point are the Wichita Massacre in December 2000 in which five young white people were captured and tortured, and four of them murdered, the torture-murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom in Knoxville in January 2007, and the torture and disfigurement of a young women in New York City in April 2007.

Senator, is it your position that until whites have ended racial inequality in America, whites have to expect to be targeted by white-hating black thugs? In fact, aren’t such criminals only acting out in physical terms the same seething anti-white anger, hatred, and vengefulness which has been enacted verbally by the pastor, and through whoops, yells, and cries from the congregration, every week in your church for the last 30 years, and which you have justified as an understandable and inevitable response to racial inequality?

If Sen. Obama has replied, I’m not aware of it. Perhaps he’s not a VFR reader.

The crucial point is that your democratic mind handles these two identical crimes, one real and one imaginary, in very different ways. In the imaginary crime, your reflex is to extend a chain of collective responsibility to all the ideologies, institutions, and individuals who remind you even remotely of the criminal, or can be connected with him in some general way. (Capt. Williams was certainly not ordered to rape an Iraqi journalist.) In the real crime, responsibility extends only to the perpetrator, and perhaps not even to him – after all, he had a difficult childhood.

Dear open-minded progressive, this is how elegantly democracy has infected your brain. To the anonymous London reporter of 1956, the fact that this horrific crime could happen in Manhattan in 2008, and no one, not even the fellow Columbia-trained journalists a hundred blocks downtown, would find it especially important, would suggest some kind of anesthesia, some disconnection of the natural chimpanzee response of fear and rage. But this response has not been disabled in general – because we see it displayed in all its glory when an American soldier puts a pair of underpants on someone’s head, somewhere in Mesopotamia.

Thus we are looking at selective anesthesia – by historical standards, our reaction to one offense is unusually sedated, and our reaction to the other is unusually inflamed. Of course, this does not exclude the possibility that in both cases, the old reaction was wrong and the new reaction was right. But it is difficult for me – perhaps only because I am insufficiently versed in progressive doxology – to construct an ethical explanation of the change. On the other hand, I find it very easy to construct a political explanation of the change.

Here’s another way to look at the same issue. Suppose, dear open-minded progressive, that the San Francisco Police Department embarked on a reign of lawless terror, killing a hundred people or so a year, at least half of whom were innocent, and beating, raping, etc, many more. Would the good progressives of San Francisco stand for it? I think not. Because we don’t believe that the police should be above the law. We believe that when they commit crimes, they should be tried and sent to jail just like everyone else.

So we believe that ethically, a policeman’s crimes are no different from a street thug’s. Or do we? Not as far as I can tell. I think San Franciscans are much more likely to express fear and anger at the idea of a policeman committing lawless violence. Don’t you find this slightly odd? Which would you rather be hit over the head by: a policeman, or a mugger? I would rather not be hit over the head at all, thank you.

If the SFPD was as high-handed and above the law as the paramilitary gangs it (in theory) opposes, you, dear open-minded progressive, would agree that the only solution is a higher power: the National Guard. They have bigger guns, after all. But if you prefer martial law to the SFPD’s reign of terror, why don’t you prefer martial law to MS-13’s reign of terror?

And this is exactly the problem. The reality is that almost every country in the world today – and certainly every major American city – could use a solid dose of martial law.

Because all are beset by criminal paramilitary organizations which (a) are too powerful to be suppressed by the security forces under the legal system as it presently stands, (b) if judged by the same standards as the security forces constitute a gigantic, ongoing human-rights violation, and (c) if associated with the civilian and nongovernmental organizations which protect them from the security forces, implicate the former as major human-rights violators.

So when a liberal surgeon in South Africa, whose trustworthiness strikes me as complete, writes:

i recently watched the movie capote. i enjoyed it. but, being south african, i was interested in the reaction the movie portrayed of the american community to the murders that the movie is indirectly about. their reaction was shock and dismay. their reaction was right.

but in south africa there is a similar incident every day. i don’t read the newspaper because it depresses me too much. you might wonder why i, a surgeon, am posting on this. one reason may be because i often deal with the survivors (two previous posts found here and here). at the moment i have three patients who are victims of violent crime. one is the victim of a farm attack. an old man who had his head caved in with a spade. why? just for fun, it seems. but maybe the reason i’m writing this post is because i’m south african. this is my country and i’m gatvol.

just three recent stories. some guys broke into a house. they gagged the man. it seemed that whatever they shoved into his mouth was shoved in too deep, because as they lay on the bed violating his wife, he fought for breath and finally died of asphyxiation.

then there is a woman alone at home. some thugs broke in and asked where the safe was. they were looking for guns. she told them she had no safe and no guns. they then took a poker, heated it to red hot and proceeded to torture her with it so that she would tell them what they wanted to hear. because she could not, the torture went on for a number of hours.

then there is the story of a group of thugs that broke in to a house. they shot the man and cut the fingers of the woman off with a pair of garden shears. while the man lay on the floor dying, the criminals took some time off to lounge on the bed eating some snacks they had found in the fridge and watch a bit of television.
[…]
there is crime everywhere but the most brutal and the violent crimes without clear motives are almost exclusively black on white. this is one more thing the government denies and even labels you as racist if you say it. it may not be put too strongly to say it is very nearly government sanctioned.

We start to smell a small, ugly smell of the future. After all, if all the people in the world could vote, or if they all moved to America, the electorate would look a lot like the New South Africa – the “Rainbow Nation,” the great hope for human oneness. Oops.

Unfortunately, our surgeon’s database is a little out of date. America is no longer shocked by “In Cold Blood” events. There are simply too many of them. But there are nowhere near as many as in South Africa. (And even if I was not convinced by the surgeon’s uncapitalized demeanor, other sources confirm the result.)

In fact the simplest way to evaluate a government for human-rights violations is to think of all violence as the responsibility of the state, whether it is committed by men in uniforms or not. Otherwise, employing paramilitary criminals to do your dirty deeds, for a measure of plausible deniability, is far too easy. And quite popular these days. There is no sharp line between an army and a militia, between a militia and a gang, and between a gang and a bunch of criminals. As the laws of King Ine of Wessex famously put it:

We use the term “thieves” if the number of men does not exceed seven, and “brigands” for a number between seven and thirty-five. Anything beyond this is an “army.”

(A short course in actual Saxon history, such as that linked above, cannot come too late for many libertarians, who throughout the history of English legal theory have been overfond of construing the medieval world as a paradise of ordered liberty. Indeed we inherit many elegant constructs from medieval law. And one reason they are so elegant is that they had to operate in such a brutal environment of pervasive violence.)

There is no reason at all that a libertarian, such as myself, cannot favor martial law. I am free when my rights are defined and secured against all comers, regardless of official pretensions. Freedom implies law; law implies order; order implies peace; peace implies victory. As a libertarian, the greatest danger threat to my property is not Uncle Sam, but thieves and brigands. If Uncle Sam wakes up from his present sclerotic slumber and shows the brigands a strong hand, my liberty has been increased.

You see what happens when you open your mind and snort the mystery powder. You wind up on YouTube, listening to an effeminate, deceased dictator scream “¡Tendré la mano más dura que se imaginen!” I don’t think that one needs much translation.

And how about this one:

Frankly, I begin to think that the U.S. is about ready for an Il Duce right now…

Except that when you follow the link, it’s not at all what you think. At least, it has nothing to do with the “Pinochet Youth.” The post is actually on a site for insider political gossip in New York State, which was linked from the NYT. And the author strikes me as, rara avis, a completely honest and dedicated career public servant, certainly an Obama voter, and certainly not a follower of Mussolini or any similar figure.

And yet the quote is not out of context at all. Read the essay. If I’m worth your time, Littlefield is too:

Letting go of one’s illusions is a difficult process that takes a long, long time, but I am just about there. From a young age I have been a believer in public services and benefits as a way of providing some measure of assurance for other people, people I rely on every time I purchase a good or service, of a decent life regardless of one’s personal income or standing. After all, I initially chose public service as a career. And I have been a defender of the public institutions when compared with those who were only concerned with their own situation and preference put in less, or get out more, as if the community was a greedy adversary to be beaten in life rather than something one is a part of. Now, however, I see that it is probably hopeless.

Admittedly, Albany is one of the worst Augean stables of bureaucracy in America. If Hercules had to clean it out, he wouldn’t find the Hudson sufficient. He’d have to find a way to get the St. Lawrence involved. But is Albany that different from Sacramento, or from Washington itself? Of course not.

Of course, neither Albany nor Washington needs a Duce. It needs a CEO. Like any gigantic, ancient and broken institution, it has no problem that can’t be fixed by installing new management with plenary authority. (It might help to move the capital, as well. Put it in Kansas City, or better yet San Francisco, so that progressives can see the future up close.)

But the reality is: this thing is done. It is over. It is not fixable by any form of conventional politics. Either you want to keep it, or you want to throw it out. Any other political opinions you may have are irrelevant next to this choice.

On that note, let’s review our rules for reactionaries.

Rule #1 is the one we just stated. Reaction is a boolean decision. Either you want to discard our present political system, including democracy, the Constitution, the entire legal code and body of precedent, the UN, etc, etc, or you think it’s safer to muddle along with what we have now. Either is a perfectly legitimate opinion which a perfectly reasonable person may hold.

Of course, it is impossible to replace something with nothing. I’ve presented some designs for a restoration of secure, responsible and effective government. What I like about these designs is that they’re simple, clear and easy to understand, and they rely on straightforward engineering principles without any mystical element. In particular, they do not require anyone to be a saint.

But here is another simple design: military government. Hand plenary power to the Joint Chiefs. Let them go from there. This won’t do permanently, but for a few years it’d be fine. That should be plenty of time to figure out what comes next.

Here is yet another: restrict voting to homeowners. Note that this was widely practised in Anglo-American history, and for very good reason. As John Jay put it: those who own the country ought to govern it. Mere freehold suffrage is a poor substitute for military government, and it too is not stable in the long run. But it would be opposed by all the same people, and it would constitute a very hard shakeup in exactly the right direction.

Here is a third: dissolve Washington and return sovereignty to the states. Here is a fourth: vest plenary executive authority in the Chief Justice, John Roberts. Here is a fifth: vest plenary executive authority in the publisher of the New York Times, “Pinch” Sulzberger. Here is a sixth: vest plenary executive authority in the Good One, Barack Obama. I am not altogether fond of the jobs that the latter two are doing with the limited authority they have now, but they are at least prepared for power, and real authority tends to create real responsibility in a hurry.

At present, any of these things is such a long way from happening that the choice does not matter at all. What matters, dear open-minded reactionary, is that you have had enough of our present government, you are done, finished, gatvol, and you want to replace it with something else that is secure, responsible, and effective.

In other words, rule #1: the reactionary’s opposition to the present regime is purely negative. Positive proposals for what to replace it with are out of scope, now and for the foreseeable future. Once again, think in terms of the fall of Communism: the only thing that all those who lived under Communism could agree on was that they were done with Communism.

The advantage of rule #1 is that, applied correctly, it ensures a complete absence of internal conflict. There is nothing to argue over. Either you oppose the government, or you support it.

One exception to rule #1 is that the same coherent pure negativity, and resulting absence of bickering, can be achieved by opposing components of the government.

For example, I believe that both America and the rest of the planet would achieve enormous benefits by a total shutdown of international relations, including security guarantees, foreign aid, and mass immigration, and a return to the 19th-century policy of neutrality – an approach easily summarized by the phrase no foreign policy. I believe that government should take no notice whatsoever of race – no racial policy. I believe it should separate itself completely from the question of what its citizens should or should not think – separation of education and state.

These are all purely negative proposals. They all imply lopping off an arm of the octopus, and replacing it with nothing at all. If any of them, or anything similar, is practical and a full reset is not, then all the better. However, any practical outcome in this direction is at present so distant that it is hard to assess plausibility.

Rule #2 is that a restoration cannot succeed by either of the following methods: the Democrats defeating the Republicans, or the Republicans defeating the Democrats. More precisely, it cannot involve imposing progressivism on traditionalists/”fundamentalists,” or traditionalism on progressives.

Traditionalism and progressivism are the two major divisions of Christianity in our time. Not all traditionalists are Catholics, and many progressives are, but “fundamentalism” today occupies the basic political niche of Catholicism in the European tradition, and progressivism is clearly the Protestant mainstream (historically Unitarian, Congregationalist, Methodist, etc; doctrinally, almost pure Quaker).

If secure, responsible, effective government has to wait until this religious war is over, it will wait forever. Or there will be a new Bartholomew’s Day. Neither of these options is acceptable to me. Are they acceptable to you? Then you may not be a restorationist.

Of course, each of these Christian sects is intimately connected, exactly as Noah Webster describes, with a political party and a set of politically constructed opinions about what government is and how it should be run. Since progressivism is politically dominant, one would expect it to have the most political content and the least religious content, and indeed this is so. And as we’ve seen, in a democracy there is no reason to expect anyone’s political opinions to have any relationship to the actual art of responsible, effective government.

Nonetheless, it is entirely possible to be an apolitical progressive. Progressivism is a culture, not a party. Charity, for example, is a vast part of this culture, and no reasonable person can have anything against charity, as long as it remains a purely personal endeavor and does not develop aspects of political violence, as it did in the late 20th century. Environmentalism is a part of this culture, and who doesn’t live in the environment? Etc, etc, etc.

The fangs can be pulled without much harm to the snake. In fact, the snake has never really needed fangs, and will find itself much more comfortable without them.

Rule #3: in case this is not a corollary of rule #1, a reset implies a total breach with the Anglo-American political tradition.

The fact that an institution is old, and has carried the respect of large populations for decades or centuries, is always a reason to honor and respect it. That you oppose Washington, the real organization that exists in the real world, does not mean that you oppose America, the abstract symbol. (Nor does it mean you oppose America, the continent in the Northern Hemisphere, whose destruction would be quite the engineering feat.) It does not mean that you want to burn or abolish the flag, etc, etc, etc. Similarly, the fact that I’m not a Catholic doesn’t mean that if I met the Pope, I’d say, “Fuck you, Pope!” As a matter of fact I would probably want to kiss his ring, or whatever is the appropriate gesture.

On the other hand, we have no reason to think that the political designs we have inherited from this tradition are useful in any way, shape or form. All we know is that they were more militarily successful than their competitors, which may well have been flawed in arbitrary other ways. If the Axis had defeated the Allies, a feat which was quite plausible in hindsight, we would face a completely different set of reengineering challenges, and it would be the Prussian tradition rather than the Whig that had to be discarded.

Historical validation is a good thing. But history provides an extraordinary range of examples. And there is no strong reason to think the governments recent and domestic are any better than the governments ancient and foreign. The American Republic is over two hundred years old. Great. The Serene Republic of Venice lasted eleven hundred. If you’re designing from the ground up, why start from the first rather than the second?

A total breach does not imply that everything American (or everything Portuguese, if you are trying to reboot Portugal; but not much in the government of modern Portugal is in any sense Portuguese) must be discarded. It means everything American needs to be justified, just as it would be if it was Venetian. If you believe in democracy: why? If you favor a bicameral legislature, a supreme court, a department of agriculture: why?

Rule #4: the only possible weapon is the truth.

I hope it’s unnecessary to say, but it’s worth saying anyway, that the only force which can terminate USG by military means is the military itself. There is no reason to talk about this possibility. If it happens, it will happen. It certainly won’t happen any time soon.

This means that democracy can only be terminated by political means, ie, democracy itself. Which means convincing a large number of people. Of course, people can be convinced with lies as well as with the truth, but the former is naturally the specialty of the present authorities. Better not to confuse anyone.

What is the truth, anyway? The truth is reality. The truth is what exists. The truth is what rings like a bell when you whack it with the back of a knife. It is very difficult to recognize the truth, but it is much easier to recognize it when it’s right next to an equal and opposite lie. A certain device called the Internet is very good at providing this service.

Here is an example. The wonderful kids at Google, who are all diehard progressives and whom I’m sure would be horrified by the uses I’m making of their services, have done something that I can only compare to Lenin’s old saying about the capitalists: that they would sell the rope that was used to hang them. Likewise, progressives seem determined to publish the books that will discredit them. As in the case of the capitalists, this is because they are good, not because they are evil. But unlike Lenin, we are good as well, and we welcome these accidental forced errors.

I refer, of course, not to any new books. It is very difficult to get reactionary writing published anywhere, even (in fact, especially, because they are so sensitive on the subject) by the conservative presses. However, as UR readers know, the majority of work published before 1922 is on-line at Google. It is often hard to read, missing for bizarre reasons that make no sense (why scan a book from 1881 and then not put the scans online?), badly scanned, etc, etc. But it is there, and as we’ve seen it is quite usable.

And there are two things about the pre-1922 corpus. One, it is far, far to the right of the consensus reality that we now know and love. Just the fact that people in 1922 believed X, while today we believe Y, has to shake your faith in democracy. Was the world of 1922 massively deluded? Or is it ours? It could be both, but it can’t be neither. Indeed, even the progressives of the Belle Epoque often turn out to be far to the right of our conservatives. WTF?

Two, you can use this corpus to conduct a very interesting exercise: you can triangulate. This is an essential skill in defensive historiography. If you like UR, you like defensive historiography.

Historiographic triangulation is the art of taking two or more opposing positions from the past, and using hindsight to decide who was right and who was wrong. The simplest way to play the game is to imagine that the opponents in the debate were reanimated in 2008, informed of present conditions, and reunited for a friendly panel discussion. I’m afraid often the only conceivable result is that one side simply surrenders to the other.

For example, one fun exercise, which you can perform safely for no cost in the privacy of your own home, is to read the following early 20th-century books on the “Negro Question”: The Negro: The Southerner’s Problem, by Thomas Nelson Page (racist, 1904); Following the Color Line, by Ray Stannard Baker (progressive, 1908); and Race Adjustment: Essays on the Negro in America, by Kelly Miller (Negro, 1909). Each of these books is (a) by a forgotten author, (b) far more interesting and well-written than the pseudoscientific schlock that comes off the presses these days, and (c) a picture of a vanished world. Imagine assembling Page, Baker and Miller in a hotel room in 2008, with a videocamera and little glasses of water in front of them. What would they agree on? Disagree on? Dear open-minded progressive, if you fail to profit from this exercise, you simply have no interest in the past.

However, an even more fun one is the now thoroughly forgotten Gladstone-Tennyson debate. I forget how I stumbled on this contretemps, which really does deserve to be among the most famous intellectual confrontations in history. Sadly, dear open-minded progressive, it appears to have been forgotten for a reason. And the reason is not a good one.

You may know that Tennyson, in his romantic youth (1835), wrote a poem called Locksley Hall. Due to its nature as 19th-century dramatic verse, Locksley Hall is unreadable today. But its basic content can be described as romantic juvenile liberalism. Here is some of the pith, if pith there is:

Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;

Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples plunging thro’ the thunder-storm;

Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.

I’m not sure whether this is supposed to remind us more of the UN, the British Empire, or Star Trek. Perhaps all three. But you get the idea. The “Parliament of man” couplet, in particular, is rather often quoted.

Well. So, Tennyson was a romantic young liberal when he wrote this. In 1835. In 1885, when he wrote (adding ten years for some dramatic reason) Locksley Hall, Sixty Years After, he was neither romantic, nor young, nor – um – liberal. While the sequel is also unreadable today, for more or less the same reasons, here are some couplets from it:

I myself have often babbled doubtless of a foolish past;
Babble, babble; our old England may go down in babble at last.

Truth for truth, and good for good! The Good, the True, the Pure, the Just;
Take the charm ‘For ever’ from them, and they crumble into dust.

Gone the cry of ‘Forward, Forward,’ lost within a growing gloom;
Lost, or only heard in silence from the silence of a tomb.

Half the marvels of my morning, triumphs over time and space,
Staled by frequence, shrunk by usage into commonest commonplace!

‘Forward’ rang the voices then, and of the many mine was one.
Let us hush this cry of ‘Forward’ till ten thousand years have gone.

France had shown a light to all men, preached a Gospel, all men’s good;
Celtic Demos rose a Demon, shrieked and slaked the light with blood.

Aye, if dynamite and revolver leave you courage to be wise:
When was age so crammed with menace? Madness? Written, spoken lies?

Envy wears the mask of Love, and, laughing sober fact to scorn,
Cries to Weakest as to Strongest, ‘Ye are equals, equal-born.’

Equal-born? O yes, if yonder hill be level with the flat.
Charm us, Orator, till the Lion look no larger than the Cat.

Till the Cat through that mirage of overheated language loom
Larger than the Lion, – Demos end in working its own doom.

Those three hundred millions under one Imperial sceptre now,
Shall we hold them? Shall we loose them? Take the suffrage of the plow.

Nay, but these would feel and follow Truth if only you and you,
Rivals of realm-ruining party, when you speak were wholly true.

Trustful, trustful, looking upward to the practised hustings-liar;
So the Higher wields the Lower, while the Lower is the Higher.

Step by step we gained a freedom known to Europe, known to all;
Step by step we rose to greatness, – through tonguesters we may fall.

You that woo the Voices – tell them ‘old experience is a fool,’
Teach your flattered kings that only those who cannot read can rule.

Tumble Nature heel o’er head, and, yelling with the yelling street,
Set the feet above the brain and swear the brain is in the feet.

Bring the old dark ages back without the faith, without the hope,
Break the State, the Church, the Throne, and roll their ruins down the slope.

Do your best to charm the worst, to lower the rising race of men;
Have we risen from out the beast, then back into the beast again?

Etc. Obviously, either someone has been reading Pobedonostsev, or great minds just happen to think alike. I don’t think you have to be a Victorian liberal to see that this is highly seditious material. Inflammatory, even. Not bad for an old fart.

Well, Gladstone, who was both a Victorian liberal and an old fart himself, reads this, and of course he shits a brick. The poem might as well have been a personal attack on Gladstone himself – especially that bit about “Celtic Demos,” which is not a terribly well-concealed reference to Home Rule.

And what does he do? He’s not just a statesman, but a real aristocrat. Does he challenge Tennyson to a duel? A bit late in the day for that. No, he takes time out, from his busy duties as Prime Minister, to write a response. Not in verse, since taking on Tennyson in trochaic couplets is like challenging Chuck Norris in Fight Club. But Gladstone was a master of prose – listen to this wicked little intro:

The nation will observe with warm satisfaction that, although the new Locksley Hall is, as told by the Calendar, a work of Lord Tennyson’s old age, yet is his poetic “eye not dim, nor his natural force abated.”

Take note, kids. This is how you start out if you’re really going to crucify someone. Gladstone continues by flattering the person for a few paragraphs. Then he flatters the poem for a page or so. Then he changes his angle slightly:

Perhaps the tone may even, at times, be thought to have grown a little hoarse with his years. Not that we are to regard it as the voice of the author.

Oh, no. Not at all. Then (page 319) Gladstone spends another page agreeing with Tennyson. Yes, the French Revolution was terrible. And the riots of Captain Swing. Etc, etc. But it all worked out in the end, didn’t it? What bliss was it to be young, after the First Reform Bill? Etc, etc.

And then finally (page 320) Gladstone launches into full-on shark-attack mode:

During the intervening half century, or near it, the temper of hope and thankfulness, which both Mr. Tennyson and the young Prophet of Locksley Hall so largely contributed to form, has been tested by experience. Authorities and people have been hard at work in dealing with the laws, the policy, and the manners of the country. Their performances may be said to form the Play, intervening between the old Prologue, and the new Epilogue which has just issued from the press. This Epilogue, powerful as it is, will not quite harmonize with the evergreens of Christmas. The young Prophet, now grown old, is not, indeed (though perhaps, on his own showing, he ought to be), in despair. For he still stoutly teaches manly duty and personal effort, and longs for progress more, he trows, than its professing and blatant votaries. But in his present survey of the age as his field, he seems to find that a sadder color has invested all the scene. The evil has eclipsed the good, and the scale, which before rested solidly on the ground, now kicks the beam. For the framing of our estimate, however, prose, and very prosaic prose, may be called in not less than poetry. The question demands an answer, whether it is needful to open so dark a prospect for the Future; whether it is just to pronounce what seems to be a very decided censure on the immediate Past.

What follows is a rather amazing document – a compact and thorough defence of Victorian liberalism and democracy, and its prospects for the future:

In the words of the Prince Consort, “Our institutions are on their trial,” as institutions of self-government; and if condemnation is to be pronounced, on the nation it must mainly fall, and must sweep away with it a large part of such hopes as have been either fanatically or reflectively entertained that, by this provision of self-government, the Future might effect some moderate improvement upon the Past, and mitigate in some perceptible degree the social sorrows and burdens of mankind. I will now, with a view to a fair trial of this question, try to render, rudely and slightly though it be, some account of the deeds and the movement of this last half century.

I should not attempt to abuse Gladstone by excerpting him. But one morsel – especially considering the above – stands out as particularly choice:

One reference to figures may however be permitted. It is that which exhibits the recent movement of crime in this country. For the sake of brevity I use round numbers in stating it. Happily the facts are too broad to be seriously mistaken. In 1870, the United Kingdom with a population of about 31,700,000 had about 13,000 criminals, or one in 1,760. In 1884, with a population of 36,000,000, it had 14,000 criminals, or one in 2,500. And as there are some among us who conceive Ireland to be a sort of pandemonium, it may be well to mention (and I have the hope that Wales might, on the whole, show as clean a record) that with a population of (say) 5,100,000 Ireland (in 1884) had 1,573 criminals, or less than one in 3,200.

Words fail me, dear open-minded progressive, they really do.

But try the experiment: read the rest of Gladstone’s essay, and ask yourself what he and Tennyson would make of the last century of British history, and her condition today. Suffice it to say that I think someone owes someone else an apology. Of course, they’re both dead, so none will be forthcoming.

In general what I find when I perform this exercise, is that – as far to the right of us as 1922 was – the winner of the triangulation tends to be its rightmost vertex. Not on every issue, certainly, but most. (I’m sure that if I was to try the same trick with, say, Torquemada and Spinoza, the results would be different, but I am out of my historical depth much past the late 18C.)

What’s wonderful is that if you doubt these results, you can play the game yourself. Bored in your high-school class? Read about the Civil War and Reconstruction and slavery. Unless you’re a professional historian, you certainly won’t be assigned the primary sources I just linked to. But no one can stop you, either. (At least not until Google adds a “Flag This Book” button.)

I am certainly not claiming that everything you find in Google Books, or even everything I just linked to, is true. It is not. It is a product of its time. What’s true, however, is that each book is the book it says it is. Google has not edited it. And if it says it was published in 1881, nothing that happened after 1881 can have affected it.

Here is another exercise in defensive historiography: skim this facile 2008 treatment of Francis Lieber, then read the actual document that Lieber wrote. The primary source is not only better-written, but shorter and more informative as well. (One page is mis-scanned, but one can make out the wonderful words “the utmost rigor of the military law”…)

You’ll see immediately that the main service Professor Bosco, the modern historian, provides, is to deflect you from the brutal reality that Lieber feeds you straight. Lieber says: do Y, because if you do X, Z will happen. The Union Army did Y, and Z did not happen. The US in Iraq, and modern counterinsurgency forces more generally, did X, and Z happened.

The modern law of warfare, which Lieber more or less founded, has been twisted into an instrument which negates everything he believed. The results have been the results he predicted. I know it’s a cliche – but history is too important to be left to the historians.

Rule #5: quality is better than quantity. At least when it comes to supporters.

Any political conspiracy, reactionary or revolutionary, is in the end a social network. And we observe an interesting property of social networks: their quality tends to decline over time. It does not increase. Facebook, for example, succeeded where Friendster and Orkut failed, by restricting its initial subscriber base to college students, which for all their faults really are the right side of the bell curve.

In order to make an impact on the political process, you need quantity. You need moronic, chanting hordes. There is no way around this. Communism was not overthrown by Andrei Sakharov, Joseph Brodsky and Vaclav Havel. It was overthrown by moronic, chanting hordes. I suppose I shouldn’t be rude about it, but it’s a fact that there is no such thing as a crowd of philosophers.

Yet Communism was overthrown by Sakharov, Brodsky and Havel. The philosophers did matter. What was needed was the combination of philosopher and crowd – a rare and volatile mixture, highly potent and highly unnatural.

My view is that up until the very last stage of the reset, quality is everything and quantity is, if anything, undesirable. On the Internet, ideas spread like crazy. And they are much more likely to spread from the smart to the dumb than the other way around.

One person and one blog is nowhere near sufficient, of course. What we need is a sort of counter-Cathedral: an institution which is actually more trustworthy than the university system. The universities are the brain of USG, and the best way to kill anything is to shoot it in the head.

To be right when the Cathedral is wrong is to demonstrate that we live under a system of government which is bound together by the same glue that held up Communism: lies. You do not need a triple-digit IQ to know that a regime held up by lies is doomed. You also do not need a triple-digit IQ to help bring down a doomed regime. Everyone will volunteer for that job. It’s as much fun as anything in the world.

Solely for the purpose of discussion, let’s call this counter-Cathedral Resartus – from Carlyle’s great novel, Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Reclothed).

The thesis of Resartus is that the marketplace of ideas, free and blossoming as it may seem, is or at least may be infected with lies. These lies all have one thing in common: they are related to the policies of modern democratic governments. Misinformation justifies misgovernment; misgovernment subsidizes misinformation. This is our feedback loop.

On the other hand, it’s clear that modern democratic governments are doing many things right. Perhaps in all circumstances they are doing the best they can. Perhaps there is no misinformation at all. The hypothesis that such feedback loops can form is not a demonstration that they exist.

Therefore, the mission of Resartus is to establish, using that crowdsourced wiki-power we are all familiar with, the truth on every dubious subject. Perhaps the truth will turn out to be the official story, in which case we can be happy.

The two sites today which are most like Resartus are Climate Audit and Gene Expression. Both of these are, in my humble opinion, scientific milestones. CA’s subject is climatology; GNXP’s subject is human biodiversity. There are also some general-purpose truth verifiers, such as Snopes, but Snopes is hopelessly lightweight next to a CA or a GNXP.

CA and GNXP are unique because their mission is to be authorities in and of themselves. They do not consider any source reliable on the grounds of mere institutional identity. Nor do they assume any institutional credibility themselves. They simply try to be right, and as far as I can tell (lacking expertise in either of their fields, especially the statistical background to really work through their work) they are.

CA – created and edited by one man, Steve McIntyre, who as far as I’m concerned is one of the most important scientists of our generation – is especially significant, because unlike GNXP (which is publicizing mainstream research that many would rather see unpublicized), McIntyre, starting with no credentials or academic career at all is actually attacking and attempting to destroy a major flying buttress of the Cathedral. And one with major political importance, not to mention economic. Imagine a cross between Piltdown Man, the Dreyfus Affair, and Enron, and you might get the picture.

If the fields behind AGW, paleoclimatology and climate modeling, are indeed pseudosciences and go down in history as such, I find it almost impossible to imagine what will happen to their promoters. Their promoters being, basically, everyone who matters. McIntyre is best known for his exposure of the hockey stick, but what’s amazing is that CA seems to find a similar abuse of mathematics, data, or both – typically less prominent – about every other week or two.

The scientific achievement of GNXP is less stunning, but its implications are, if anything, larger. I’ve discussed human neurological uniformity and its absence on this series already. But let’s just say that a substantial component of our political, economic, and academic system has completely committed its credibility to a proposition that might be called the International White Conspiracy. Statistical population variations in human neurology do not strike me as terribly exciting per se – a responsible, effective government should be able to deal with anything down to your high-end Homo erectus. Lies, however, are always big news. If there is a much, much simpler explanation of reality which does not require an International White Conspiracy, that is a problem for quite a few people – the vast majority of whom are, in fact, white.

At the same time, CA and GNXP and relatives (LvMI, though it’s not just a website, has many of the same fine qualities) were not designed as general-purpose information-warfare devices. There is some crossover, but I suspect most CA posters are unaware of or uninterested in GNXP, and often the reverse. Many people are natural specialists, of course, and this is natural.

The idea of Resartus – which, as usual, anyone can build in their own backyard (contact me if you are interested in resartus.org) is to build a general-purpose site for answering a variety of large, controversial questions. A smart person should be able to visit Resartus and decide, with a minimum of effort, who is right about AGW or human biodiversity or peak oil or the Kennedy assassination or evolution or string theory or 9/11 or the Civil War or….

To build a credible truth machine, it’s important to generate true negatives as well as true positives. For example, I favor the conventional wisdom on evolution and 9/11. On peak oil and the Kennedys, I simply don’t know enough to decide. (Actually, I live in terror of the idea that someone will convince me that Oswald didn’t act alone. So I try to avoid the matter.) Therefore, I would hope that any attempt to audit Darwin, as McIntyre audited Mann, would result in a true negative.

The easiest way to describe the problem of Resartus is to describe it as a crowdsourced trial. Indeed, any process that can determine the truth or falsity of AGW, etc, should be a process powerful enough to determine criminal guilt or innocence. Certainly many of these issues are well into that category of importance – in fact, I would not be surprised if one day we see legal proceedings in the global-warming department. There have already been some suspicious signs of “lawyering up.”

A trial is not a blog, nor is it a discussion board. One of the main flaws of Climate Audit is that it does not provide a way for AGW skeptics and believers to place each others’ arguments and evidence side by side, making it as easy as possible for neutral third parties to evaluate who is right. I am confident that CA is on the money, but much of this confidence is gut feeling.

In the evolution world, the talk.origins index to creationist claims has probably come the closest to setting out a structured argument for evolution, in which every possible creationist argument is listed and refuted. However, a real trial is adversarial. The prosecutor does not get to make the defense lawyer’s arguments.

On Resartus, the way this would work is that the creationist community itself would be asked to list its claims, and edit them collectively, producing the best possible statement of the creationist case. Not showing up should not provide an advantage, so evolutionists should be able to add and refute their own creationist claims. Creationists should in turn be able to respond to their responses, and so ad infinitum, until both sides feel they have said their piece.

As an evolutionist, I feel that this process, which could continue indefinitely as the argument tree is refined, evidence exhibits were added, etc, etc, would demonstrate very clearly that evolutionists are right and creationists are blowing smoke. As a matter of fact, as someone who’s served on a jury, I feel that such an argument tree would be far more useful than verbal lectures from the competing attorneys.

And if these structures were available on one site for a wide variety of controversial issues, it would be very, very easy for any smart young person with a few hours to spare to see what the pattern of truth and error, and its inevitable political associations, started to look like. It certainly will not be easy to construct a nexus of more reliable judgments than the university system itself, but at some point someone will do it. And I think the results will be devastating.

When I look at the thinking of people who disagree with me, and especially when I look at the thinking of the educated public at large (New York Times comments, on the few articles which they are enabled for, are an invaluable vox populi for the Obamabot crowd) I am often struck by the fact that their perspective differs from mine as a result of small, seemingly irrelevant details in the interpretation of reality.

If you believe that John Kerry was telling the truth about his voyages into Cambodia, for example, you will hear the word “Swiftboating” in a very different way. On a larger subject, if James Watson is right, our historical interpretation of the 1860s will simply have to change. Details matter. Facts matter.

Our democratic institutions today, though far more distributed and open than the systems of Goebbels or Vyshinsky, are basically designed to run on an information system that funnels truth down from the top of the mountain. This is a brittle design. If it breaks – if it starts distributing sewage along with the rosewater – it loses its credibility. If it loses its credibility, the government loses its legitimacy. When a government loses its legitimacy, you don’t want to be standing under it.

The Cathedral is called the Cathedral for another reason: it’s not the Bazaar. Coding, frankly, is pretty easy. Reinterpreting reality is hard. Nonetheless, I think this thing will come down one of these days. And I would rather be outside it than under it.

Again, UR will return on August 14. At this point it will be exclusively devoted to answering the accumulated questions, objections and catcalls, for at least a week and maybe more like four. (Hopefully at this point I will also have cleared out my inbox – although I have made this promise before.) Please feel free to post any reactions to the whole series on the thread below.

OLXIII: tactics and structures of any prospective restoration

July 10, 2008

Dear open-minded progressive, I’ve been holding out on this one way too long. What is to be done? Let’s try and actually answer the question this time.

To be precise: by what procedures might a 20th-century liberal democracy be converted, safely, permanently and with reasonable continuity of administration, into a sovereign corporation that can be trusted to deliver secure, reliable and effective government? If you, dear open-minded progressive, chose to agree with me that this is actually a good idea, how might we go about trying to make it happen?

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, my father’s parents were CPUSA activists, so I do have a personal heritage of quasi-religious conspiratorial revolutionary thinking. But revolutionary tactics and structures are not, in general, useful to reactionaries. A restoration is the opposite of a revolution. Both imply regime change, but both apoptosis and necrosis involve cell death. There is no continuum between the two.

The signature performance of the modern revolution is the irregular military parade. Ie: cars or pickup trucks full of well-armed youths in their colorful native attire, driving up and down your street while (a) honking, (b) waving hand-lettered banners, (c) chanting catchy slogans, and (d) discharging their firearms in a vaguely vertical direction. Occasionally one of the vehicles will pull up in front of a house and discharge its occupants, who enter the building and emerge with an infidel, racist, Jew, spy, polluter, Nazi or other criminal. The offender is either restrained for transportation to an educational facility, or enlightened on the spot as an act of radical social justice. Yes, we can!

Whereas in the ideal restoration, the transfer of power from old to new regime is as predictable and seamless as any electoral transition. With all rites, procedures and rituals correct down to the fringe on the Grand Lama’s robe, the Armani suits on his Uzi-toting bodyguards, and the scrimshaw on the yak-butter skull-candle he lights and blows out three times while chanting “Obama! Obama! Llama Alpaca Obama!”, the Heavenly Grand Council releases itself from the harsh bonds of existence, identifies its successor, asks all employees to remove their personal belongings from their offices, and instructs senior eunuchs to report for temporary detention.

Obviously, we live in America and we have no Grand Lama. However, our government has a clear procedure for 100% legal closure: it can pass a constitutional amendment which terminates the Constitution. While it would be foolish to insist on this level of legal purity, it would be crass to not aspire to it.

But let’s acquire a little neutral distance by saying that we live in Plainland, we are presently ruled by Plaingov, and we wish to replace it with Plaincorp. The transition should be a total reset: the policies, personnel and procedures of Plaincorp have nothing in common, except by coincidence, with the operations of Plaingov. Of course, Plaincorp inherits Plaingov’s assets, but with a completely new decision framework. Arbitrary restructuring can be expected.

For obvious reasons, I prefer the word reset. But English does have a word for a discontinuous transition in sovereignty: coup. Not every coup is a reset, but every reset is a coup. The French meaning, a blow or strike, is a perfect shorthand for a discontinuous transition of sovereignty. If this transition involves a complete replacement of the sovereign decision structure, it is a reset. For example, if Plaingov’s military initiates a reset, as obviously it will always have the power to, we would be looking at a military reset.

I am not a high-ranking military officer and I doubt you are either, and if the military reset is the only possible transition structure neither of us has much to contribute. While in my opinion just about every country on earth today would benefit from a transition to military government, the whole point of a military coup is that unless you are actually a member of the General Staff, your opinion doesn’t matter. So why should we care? It is hard to be interested in the matter.

(I should note, however, that according to Gallup America’s most trusted institution is – you guessed it. Followed directly by “small business” and “the police.” The military is almost three times as popular as the Press. It is six times as popular as Congress. You do the math, kids! When the tanks finally roll, there will be no shortage of cheering. (And oddly enough, the other half of the Cathedral did not make the poll. Perhaps it fell off the bottom, and was discarded.))

The only alternative to a military coup is a political coup, or to be catchy a democoup. In a democoup, the government is overthrown by organizing a critical mass of political opposition to which it surrenders, ideally just as the result of overwhelming peer pressure. Certainly the most salient example is the fall of the Soviet Union, including its puppet states and the wonderfully if inaccurately named Velvet Revolution. (Again, a reaction is not a revolution.) Other examples include the Southern Redemption, the Meiji Restoration, and of course the English Restoration.

In each of these events, a broad political coalition deployed more or less nonviolent, if seldom perfectly legal, tactics to replace a failed administration with a new regime which was dedicated to the restoration of responsible and effective government. Note that all of these are real historical events, which actually happened in the real world. I did not just make them up and edit them into Wikipedia. Yes, dear open-minded progressive, change can happen.

If there is one fact to remember about a restoration via democoup, it’s that this program has nothing to do with the traditional 11th-grade civics-class notion of democratic participation. Obviously, we are not trying to replace one or two officials whose role is primarily symbolic. We are trying to replace not the current occupants of the temporary and largely-ceremonial “political” offices of Plaingov, but Plaingov itself – lock, stock and barrel. Indeed, we are using democratic tactics to abolish democracy itself. (There is nothing at all ironic in this. Is it ironic when an absolute monarch decrees a democratic constitution?)

By definition, a reset is a nonincremental transition. To the extent that there is some gradual algorithm which slowly weakens Plaingov and pulls it inexorably toward the brink of implosion, gradualist tactics may be of use. But the tactics are useful only as they promote the goal, and the goal is not gradual.

We are all familiar with gradual revolutions, on the Fabian or Gramscian plan. And tactics are tactics, for good or evil: in the war between the hosts of Heaven and the armies of Satan, both the demons and the angels drive tanks and fly jet fighters. So why is it that history affords many examples of sudden revolution, many examples of gradual revolution, some examples of sudden reaction, and almost no examples of gradual reaction?

Even if we had no explanation for this observation, it is always imprudent to mess with Clio. But we do have an explanation: revolution, being fundamentally antinomian (opposed to law and order), is entropic. Revolution is the destruction of order, degradation into complexity. Slow destruction is decay, cancer and corrosion. Rapid destruction is annihilation, fire and gangrene. Both are possible. Sometimes they form a delightful cocktail.

But reaction, being pronomian (favoring law and order), is the replacement of complex disorder with simple geometric forms. If we assume that disorder snowballs and creates further disorder, a common entropic phenomenon (think of the cascade of events that turns a normal cell into a cancerous cell), any attempt at a gradual reaction is fighting uphill. You treat cancer cells by killing them, not by turning them back into healthy, normal tissue.

Of course, this is just a metaphor. We are not killing people. We are liquidating institutions. Let’s try and keep this in mind, kids.

But not too much in mind, because the metaphor of termination is critical. Metaphorically, here is how we’re going to liquidate Plaingov: we’re going to hit it extremely hard in the head with a sharp, heavy object which traverses a short throw at very high speed. Then we’ll crush its body under an enormous roller, dry the pancake in a high-temperature oven, and grind it into a fine powder which is mixed with molten glass and cast as ingots for storage in a deep geological cavity, such as a salt mine. The shaft is filled with concrete and enclosed by a dog-patrolled double fence with the razor-wire facing inward. This still may not work, but at least it’s a shot.

Less metaphorically, the starting point for a democoup is a program. Call it X. Success involves (a) convincing a large number of people to support the proposition that X should be done, and (b) organizing them to act collectively so as to make X happen.

To define the democoup we have to explain what it’s not: civics-class democracy. Let’s try a farcical experiment in civics-class democracy, just to see how pointless it is.

We start, obviously, by forming the Mencist Party. A new product in the marketplace of ideas. Of course, we have new ideas, so we need a new brand. In the classic democratic spirit, our new party must organize itself around either (a) a shared vision of government policy (“racist corporate fascism,” let’s say), (b) a flamboyant personality (me, obviously), or (c) both.

The Mencist Party faces obstacles so huge as to be comical. First: what is racist corporate fascism? Since Mencism is out beyond the fringes of the fringes, it will only attract supporters who are genuinely passionate about our vision of racist corporate fascism. Of course this label is designed to attract only the most independent-minded of independent thinkers – to put it gently. Therefore, racist corporate fascism must become a “big tent” which, for the sake of enlarging itself and appearing important, embraces all supporters whose views can be vaguely described as racist corporate-fascist.

In fact I have no idea what “racist corporate fascism” might be. I just like the name. But this is reckless, and it causes problems. For example, is RCF anti-Semitic, or not? Of course, I, Mencius, am not anti-Semitic, but do I strain every muscle to purge Mencists who express what may be very mild anti-Semitic views? If so, the Mencist Party will become an Avakianesque exercise in cult leadership. If not, it will become a blurry, lager-soaked exercise in vulgar plebeian puerility, a la Stormfront. Of course, all Mencists must support the political candidacy of Mencius (who will no doubt decline into referring to himself in the third person). But will anyone else? Ha.

More generally, it’s easy to see the organizational difficulty of constructing a movement around a vision of government, whether a detailed policy vision (Sailer’s plan for school reform comes to mind), or a general theory of government such as libertarianism. If our supporters are required to think in the democratic tense, to imagine themselves or at least their ideas in power, we have taken on an extraordinary boat-anchor of unproductive internal infighting. What is libertarianism? Dear god. There’s a fine line between herding cats and being herded by them.

And if supporters are required to elect a public personality whom they conceive as a personal friend, much as the readers of People imagine that they know Brad Pitt, it (a) only takes one tiff to estrange this fragile bond, and (b) does not ensure that the Leader will have any actual power when he does get into office. Like today’s Presidents, all of whom have been actors (that is, their job is to read from scripts written by others) for the last 75 years, he will spend most of his time trying to retain the fickle sycophants who put him where he is.

Our modern democratic elections are an extremely poor substitute for actual regime change. As we’ve seen, democracy is to government as gray, slimy cancer is to pink and healthy living tissue. It is a degenerate neoplastic form. The only reason America has lasted as long as she has, and even still has more than a few years left, is that this malignancy is at present encysted in a thick husk of sclerotic scar tissue – our permanent civil service. Democracy implies politics, and “political” is a dirty word to the civil-service state. As well it should be. Its job is to resist democracy, and it does it very well.

Therefore, any attempt to defeat the sclerotic Cathedral state by a restoration of representative democracy in the classic sense of the word, in which public policy is actually formulated by elected officials (such as the Leader, Mencius), is a bayonet charge at the Maginot Line. The Mencist Party could go all the way and elect President Mencius, and it would still be shredded into gobbets of meat by presighted bureaucratic machine guns. In short: a total waste of time. Much better to bend over and pretend to enjoy it.

When we think of a democoup instead of a democratic party, all of these problems disappear. (They are replaced by other problems, but we’ll deal with those in their turn.)

Supporters of a democoup propose a program of action, not a policy vision or a personality. The demonstrators who chanted “Wir sind das Volk” were not seeking election to the East German Parliament. They were seeking the termination of state socialism. Everyone in the crowd had exactly the same goal. The movement was coherent – a laser, not a flashlight.

“Racist corporate fascism” is a flashlight. “Elect President Mencius” is a flashlight. Even “secure, responsible and effective government” is something of a flashlight, although the beam starts to be reasonably tight – compare, for example, to sonno joi. “Restore the Stuarts” is a laser. It may not be the best possible laser (we’ll look at others), but it is definitely a laser.

One common democratic assumption is that a movement cannot succeed in wielding power without accumulating a proper majority of support. In fact, none of the movements involved in the fall of Communism mobilized anywhere near a majority. The demonstrations did not have half the country in the streets. They were pure exercises of brutal democratic power, and they succeeded, but they had nothing to do with elections or majorities.

And of course our Western version of socialism, largely because it has not entirely pulled the fangs of democratic politics, is much more responsive to public opinion than any Communist state. Last year the immigration-restriction lobby NumbersUSA almost singlehandledly deprived the Inner Party of the pleasure of importing what would have certainly been millions of loyal voters. How many people contacted Congress at their behest? I’d be amazed if it was a hundred thousand.

When we look beyond elections and consider direct influence on government, we see the tremendous power of cohesion, commitment and organization. It is pretty clear, for example, that a minority of Americans supported the American Revolution. But the Patriots were far more motivated and energetic than the Tories. We may deplore the result, but it certainly can’t hurt to look into the tactics.

A curious example of reactionary cohesion has emerged recently, in – of all places – my hometown of San Francisco. SF’s awful local Pravda, the Chronicle, recently introduced a comments section. Unlike its more careful large competitors, the Chron (a) supports comments on every article, and (b) allows commenters to vote each other both up and down. Note that this allows the casual reader to compare the respective political strength of two opposing currents of opinion – because up and down votes do not cancel each other.

And the result, in the progressive capital of the world? Threads like this one, in which comments like

This makes me embarrassed to live in San Francisco. This scenario is absolutely absurd. Why not just invite all escaped convicts, paroled sex offenders, child molesters, and drug dealers to SF and give them free housing and free food. Simply ridiculous.

LOL, “Hello!” innocent or not, Deport ALL Illegal Immigrants. As long as it’s illegal it’s NOT innocent. Fair is Fair. Our Government is insane on this issue.

Far left-liberalism is not a political philosophy, it is a form of mental illness.

OK (expletive deleted), that does it, that’s it. I’ve never had even a traffic ticket in this mid-lifetime of mine, but that’s it, give me a six-shooter, some ammo, some places to rob and pilfer, who’s gonna join me in one long party of criminal behavior? Look, face it, we’re SUCKERS, SUCKERS. There’s no incentive in God’s Earth to obey the law anymore, why? I’ve been doing it wrong all this time, there’s no sanction for crime anymore. I could use $5,000 for a vacation, I’m just gonna borrow it by force. Why obey laws anymore?

can be “elected” by scores of, respectively, 426 to 4, 371 to 17, 346 to 55, and 484 to 15.

(The best one of these threads ever, though, was one I saw about the “homeless.” There was one page in which about a third of the comments were “deleted by SFGate,” and the remaining two thirds were peppered with ones like – and I remember this specifically, I am not making it up – “I used to really care about the homeless, but these days I could care less. As far as I’m concerned, we might as well roll ’em up in carpets and throw them in the Bay.” To wild virtual applause, of course. Congratulations, San Francisco! The city of Herb Caen, the Hungry ‘I’ and the Barbary Coast has delivered a new treat – the Bürgerbräukeller @ SFGate.)

Even more interestingly, after the Honduran crack-dealer articles and these reactions appeared (the latest thread, which promises to be glorious, is here), our notoriously spineless mayor, or rather his producers, chose to pseudo-reverse his earlier pseudo-non-decision. Where did he get his pox vopuli from? Where do you think? The Chronicle has spawned a monster.

This humble corporate BBS, intended as anything but a weapon for reactionary information warfare, is on the way to becoming a real thorn in the side of its Pravda masters. Indeed, the tone of all minor newspapers in America is increasingly reminiscent of Soviet Life. The cheery self-adulation, the sock-sucking worship of venal petty bureaucrats, and everywhere the icy plastic chill of Occam’s Butterknife:

On many occasions I had the opportunity to discuss the service industries with Western colleagues. They invariably noted differences with the services that are available in the USSR and what they are accustomed to at home. They told me that, compared to Western standards, this sector is poorly developed in the USSR, but they didn’t hesitate to add how fabulously inexpensive most of our services are. For instance, the cost of laundering a man’s shirt is about 10 kopecks (20 cents). However, this second point is not widely known.
[…]
People are now buying more. A separate apartment for every family, a rarity in the mid-fifties, has now become the rule. Today eight out of 10 urban families live in their own apartments. And many more refrigerators, TV sets, vacuum cleaners and shoes are being produced in the country. The demand for laundries, dry cleaners, repair shops and car-care centers has risen accordingly.
[…]
To speed up progress in all areas of the service industries and to more efficiently employ the advantages of a planned economy, the USSR State Planning Committee (Gosplan) has developed a comprehensive program for the expansion of consumer-goods production and the sphere of everyday services for the period 1986 to 2000.
[…]
From 1986 to 1990 the number of telephones will increase by from 1.6 to 1.7 times as compared to the current five-year period, and five times by the year 2000. By then it is projected that all residents of small towns will have their own telephones installed in their homes.

Etc, etc, etc. No wonder the most successful new newspaper in America can make a steady living by parodying our version of this material. The form is deathless. It speaks from beyond the grave of socialism. (We’re not filling the shafts on those salt mines for nothin’.) Imagine if Pravda, in 1986, had set up some little comment board – using paper and cork, probably. The threads would have filled up with exactly the same flavor of reckless petty dissidence.

This little board has become what might be called a focus of political energy. A couple of crucial points about the SFGate Sturmabteilung – who might also be described as the Ku Klux Chron, or more historically as the Third Vigilance Committee (I can just picture a hip 3VC logo).

One, the denizens of these boards are a tiny minority of San Francisco voters. A thousand votes is not a hill of beans in a city of 750,000. Many of them probably live in the suburbs, not SF proper. The idea that they are representative of SF public opinion proper is ludicrous.

Two, these lopsided percentages are not even representative of the opinions of Chronicle readers. There are certainly plenty of articles on which progressive commenters and comment upvoters congregate, though the ratios are never this glaring. I suspect that there is a small hooligan community which skims SFGate for a certain type of article, and flocks as naturally as any specialized moth to its rare orchid in the dankest, fleshiest navels of the urban underbelly. It is simply obvious that these are not good and healthy people. Why should their opinions count?

They count because the power of a democratic signal is proportional to five variables: the size of the antenna, the material of the antenna, the coherence of the message, the broadcast wattage, and the clarity of reception. In other words: the number of people who agree, the social status of those people, the extent to which they actually agree on any one thing, how much they actually care, and the extent to which the decision-maker (the signal’s recipient) can trust the poll.

If you have 10% of the American population who answers ‘yes’ to a cold-call telemarketer pitching some stupid survey which asks a dumb question whose answer no one knows anything about, like “should the US bomb Iran?”, you have a pathetically weak signal. People of average social status are being asked an obvious question that they can be expected to have a casual opinion on, and no more. They have about two neurons devoted to Iran policy. One of these cells may know where Iran is, and the other may know that they wear turbans there. No one will be tempted to bomb Iran, or even consider it, on the strength of this signal.

If you have 10% of the American population, each one a homeowner whose identity has been validated and whose preferences are regularly refreshed in the database, who are on record in favor of abolishing Washington and restoring the Stuarts, and have agreed to vote as a bloc toward this objective, you have a very different phenomenon. Is this enough to abolish Washington etc? Probably not, but it might be enough to get a Stuart prince in the Cabinet. While it is not clear that this would be of any value, the principle should be clear.

I suspect the SFGate signal is getting through because it is extremely clear, the people expressing their opinions are extremely vehement, and it is clear that no one is vehement enough in opposition to them to descend into the muck of the dank-orchid articles and vote the Nazi comments down. So the hooked cross rises again, in the cradle of the United Nations. How ironic.

(Of course, in reality I’m sure the commenters are all good people, and I regret being tempted to refer to them as the Ku Klux Chron. In fact they are constantly saying things like “I’m not a Republican, but…” Conquest’s law is always at work.)

In any case: back to the program. We have already described X, but our program is incomplete. We have the formula for a responsible and effective government: a financial structure designed to maximize tax receipts by maximizing property values. We have a program for converting Plaingov into Plaincorp: deliver the former, bag and baggage, to a bankruptcy administrator or Receiver, who restructures the operation and converts its many financial obligations to well-structured securities. We have even suggested some restructuring options – although these matters cannot, of course, be predecided, as the Receiver’s sovereignty is undivided.

We do not know whom this Receiver guy or gal is (other than Steve Jobs). (Let’s say it’s a gal. If Steve wants the job, I’m afraid he’ll have to have himself cut.) We do not know who selects the Receiver, and/or reviews her performance. In other words, we have the second half of program X, but not the first.

Frankly, I presented it this way in order to make it sound as shocking and unappealing as possible. Dear open-minded progressive, you have already read through the dramatic climax. Your mind is as open as an oyster on the half-shell. You have seriously considered the idea that your country might be a better place if democracy is terminated, the Constitution is cancelled, and the government is handed over to an absolute dictator whose first act is to impose martial law, and whose long-term plan is to convert your country into a for-profit corporation. Now we can try to translate these shocking suggestions into a more palatable form.

First, it is a mistake to focus on the Receiver. She is not a dictator in the classic sense. A dictator, or even an absolute monarch, has both power and authority: his person is the source of all decisions, his decisions are final, his position is not subject to any external review.

The Receiver – or her long-term replacement, the Director (you might say I subscribe to the auteur theory of management; the Receiver’s job is to convert Plaingov into Plaincorp, the Director is the chief executive of Plaincorp going forward) – is in a different position. Her decisions are final, so she has absolute authority. But she is an employee, so she has no power. She is just there to do a job, and if she is doing it badly she will be removed.

In the long term, power in Plaincorp belongs to the proprietors – the shareholders, the owners of Plaincorp’s equity instruments. But as we discussed last week, the right people to hold initial equity in Plaincorp, probably for the most part holders of Plaingov’s old paper currency and equivalent obligations, may not be the best people to manage Plaincorp. Especially during the critical transition period.

Rather, any plan in which Plaingov relinquishes its sovereign power must involve a transfer of that power to an agency which is intrinsically trustworthy. Let’s call this the Trust. The Receiver is an employee of the Trust, which selects her, reviews her performance regularly, and replaces her if there is any doubt as to her excellence. Sovereignty is an attribute of the Trust, not of the Receiver.

Once Plaincorp is on its feet and running, it will provide a test of the proposition that good government equals sound stewardship of sovereign capital. However, the Trust must start off by assuming this proposition – that is, its mission is to provide good government, on the assumption that good government maximizes the value of Plainland to Plaincorp. If this assumption appears mistaken, the Trust should not complete the transition to neocameralism. Rather, it should find something else to do, and do it instead. All responsibility is in its hands.

Of course, a degenerate form of the Trust-Receiver design is the old royalist model – the Trust is the royal family. There may even be just one Trustee, the Receiver herself. This is the result we’d obtain by restoring the Stuarts through the House of Liechtenstein. It succeeds, if it succeeds, by putting all the eggs in one very sound basket. The Princes of Liechtenstein are experienced rulers and blatantly responsible, the royalist design is tried and tested (if hardly perfect), and the option can be described without too much genealogical contortion as a restoration of legal authority in any country which traces its sovereignty to the British Empire.

Still, the saleability of the proposition has to be considered. Most people living today have been heavily catechized in the virtues of democracy, the magical wisdom of crowds, and the evils of personal government. There is no getting around it: we have to change their minds on the first point. Rearing a fresh crop of Jacobites, however, may exceed even the Internet’s vast untapped potential as an information-warfare medium.

So there is a more palatable design for the Trust: a good, old-fashioned parliament, updated of course for the 21st century. This is not democracy, however. Its members each have one vote, but they are not chosen by any sort of election.

Voters raised in the democratic tradition will only be willing to trust sovereignty in the hands of a collective governing body, which operates internally on the basis of one man, one vote. Internally, the Trust is an extremely simple and elegant democracy of trustees. Presumably, following the classic corporate-governance model, the trustees elect a Board, who select the Receiver and review her performance. Just as the Board can fire the Receiver at any time, the trustees can fire the Board. All true power is held by the trustees.

Ideally there are at least thousands, preferably tens or even hundreds of thousands, of trustees. In a pinch, sovereignty can be handed to the Trust simply by running Plaingov’s present-day electoral system, but restricting suffrage to trustees – an ugly, but functional, transition plan. The only question is: who are these people? Or more precisely, who should they be?

Think about it, dear open-minded progressive. Presumably you believe in democracy. Presumably your belief is not motivated by the opinion that the average voter has any particular insight into or understanding of the difficult problem of government. Therefore, you believe that there is some sort of amplification effect which somehow transforms the averageness of hominids into the famed “wisdom of crowds.” (Actually, as Tocqueville noted, at least when it comes to government by crowd we are generally looking at an information cascade at best, and a particularly wicked feedback loop at worst. But never mind.)

However, whether or not you believe in the wisdom of crowds, you surely believe that any wisdom they may express is derived from the wisdom of their component individuals. There is certainly no hundredth-monkey effect in which simply collecting a large number of bipeds and collating their multiple-choice tests can somehow draw truth out of the vasty deep.

Therefore, you will always be able to improve the quality of representatives generated by any democratic system, by improving the quality of the voters. This is the point of the Trust: to dramatically improve the quality of government by replacing universal suffrage with highly qualified suffrage. Our Trustees should be just that – extremely trustworthy.

Okay, this is good. Let’s say our goal is to select the 100,000 most trustworthy and responsible adults in Plainland. They will serve as the trustees who oversee the complicated and dangerous transition from Plaingov to Plaincorp. By definition, each of these individuals is in the 99.95th percentile of trustworthiness and responsibility. (I am certainly not in this group.)

Is it not obvious that these people would select competent management? I think it’s obvious. But the plan is unworkable, so there is no reason to debate it.

By what process will we select these individuals? Who shall recruit the recruiters? It is difficult and expensive to find just one individual with these executive qualifications. Moreover, in a sovereign context, the filtering process itself will serve as a political football – many progressives might decide, for example, that only progressives can be trusted. It is impossible to end a fight by starting a new fight.

This insane recruiting process cannot occur either under Plaingov or under Plaincorp. It cannot occur under Plaingov, because it will be subject to Plaingov politics and will carry those politics, which are uniformly poisonous, forward into Plaincorp. At this point the reset is not a reset. But it cannot occur under Plaincorp, because the trustees are needed to select the Receiver. And there can be no intervening period of anarchy.

But there is a hack which can work around this obstacle. You might think it’s a cute hack, or you might think it’s an ugly hack. It probably depends on your taste. I think it’s pretty cute.

The hack is a precise heuristic test to select trustees. The result of the test is one bit for every citizen of Plainland: he or she either is or is not a trustee. The test is precise because its result is not a matter of debate – it can be verified trivially. And it is heuristic because it should produce a good result on average, with only occasional horrifying exceptions.

My favorite PHT defines the trustees as the set of all active, certified, nonstudent pilots who accept the responsibility of trusteeship, as of the termination date of Plaingov. The set does not expand – you cannot become a trustee by taking flying lessons, and any rejection or resignation of the responsibility is irreversible. In other words, to paraphrase Lenin: all power to the pilots. (There are about 500,000 of them.)

Let’s look at the advantages of this PHT. I am not myself a pilot – I am neither wealthy enough, nor responsible enough. But everyone I’ve ever met who was a pilot, whether private, military or commercial, has struck me as not only responsible, but also independent-minded, often even adventurous. This is a particularly rare combination. To be precise, it is an aristocratic combination, and the word aristocracy is after all just Greek for good government. Pilots are a fraternity of intelligent, practical, and careful people who are already trusted on a regular basis with the lives of others. What’s not to like?

If we caore to broaden this set, we can extend it by adding all practicing medical doctors, or all active and retired police and military officers, or better yet both. Believe it or not, doctors were once one of America’s most reactionary professions, in the forefront of the struggle against FDR. They also made housecalls. Now they are a bunch of Communist bureaucrats. But the boys in blue can keep them in line. Our fighting men know what to do with a Communist, if they have a free hand. More to the point, each of these professions is a technically demanding task in which the professional is trusted with the lives of others.

So we have a nice, clear, laser-like program. Washington has failed. The Constitution has failed. Democracy has failed. It is time for restoration, for national salvation, for a full reboot. We need a new government, a clean slate, a fresh hand which is smart, strong and fair. All power to the pilots!

Continue to part 14

OLXII: what is to be done?

July 2, 2008

Dear open-minded progressive, every true conversation is a whole life long. (Isn’t that the sort of thing a progressive would say? I can almost imagine it on a Starbucks cup.) Also, every journey starts with a single step, and all good things come to an end. And no meeting may adjourn without action items.

So, in the famous words of Lenin, what is to be done? As briefly as possible without jeopardizing UR’s reputation for pompous prolixity, let’s review the problem.

The leading cause of violent death and misery galore in the modern era is bad government. Most of us grew up thinking we live in a time and place in which Science and Democracy, which put a man on the moon and brought him back with Tang, have either cured this ill or reduced it to a manageable and improving condition. That is, most of us grew up believing – and most Americans, whatever their party registration, still believe – in progress.

Both these statements are facts. But there are two ways to interpret the second. Either (a), blue pill, the belief in progress is an accurate assessment of reality, or (b), red pill, it isn’t. Our pills correspond to visions of the future, and neither is my invention. The blue pill is marked millennium. The red pill is marked anakyklosis.

To choose (b), we have to believe that hundreds of millions of people living in a more or less free society, many of whom are literate and even reasonably knowledgeable, completely misunderstand reality – and more specifically, history. A hard pill to swallow? Not at all, because the blue pill tastes just as big going down. To believe in progress, you have to believe that similar numbers of our ancestors were just as misguided – enthralled by racism, classism, and other nefarious “ideologies,” from which humanity is in the progress of cleansing itself.

Both pills, in other words, claim to be red. But when we note that progressive ideas flow freely through the most influential circles in our society, whereas reactionary ideas are scorned, marginalized and often even criminalized, we can tell the difference.

This week I tried a small experiment: I went over to Professor Burke’s, having previously emailed a chivalrous warning that I was talking trash about him on my blog, and on no real provocation at all viciously attacked the man. After all, presumably if you’re a full professor specializing in the history of Southern Africa, it should be no problem for you to brush away any catcalls from the peanut gallery on this matter – perhaps even brutally humiliating the catcaller if his persistence exceeds your patience, and you’re feeling sadistic this morning. Rank hath its duties, and its pleasures too.

Obviously I’m a biased observer, but this is not my impression of the interaction. Feel free to draw your own conclusions. Threads are (opening, and a little awkwardly on my part) here, (mainly) here, and (closing) here.

At the very least, don’t miss the Professor’s own post on the last (Big Wonkery): the inspiration is unclear, but this is more or less his restatement of the Cathedral hypothesis – from within the nave, as it were. Everything he says is 100% true, and I do like the phrase “Big Wonkery.” Didn’t I tell you the man had a conscience?

The reason Professor Burke and his henchmen have such difficulty in handling the reactionary onslaught is not that I am smarter than him. It is certainly not that I know more about Rhodesia. (He is a professional historian – I am an armchair historiographer.) The reason is that, since his narrative is hegemonic and mine is marginalized, I have heard all his arguments and he has heard few of mine. (Also, the facts of the case could hardly be more glaring.)

The Professor is a sort of professional moderate, a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. Put him next to your stock postcolonial theorist, and the man looks positively level-headed. His “thunderbolt of rage” is pure reactionary righteousness. (Through La Wik, I discovered this wonderful evocation of the modern reactionary experience. “Reactionary Airfield!” “Thawra” means “revolution,” of course.) But something – inertia, ambition, tradition, or mere medical incapacity – keeps the Professor from opening his other eye, and maybe always will. There were many such figures in the late Soviet Union. Indeed Gorbachev himself was one.

It’s also fascinating to observe how what we might call, kindly, a “policy-oriented historian,” thinks and operates. For comparison, here is the blog of a history-oriented historian. Knowles has taken the motto of Ranke, wie es eigentlich gewesen, as his blog title, and his personal affection for the world he studies is obvious. Indeed some study the past because they love it, others because they hate it. Not to be too inflammatory, but Professor Burke studies Rhodesia much as the scholars of Rassenkunde once studied Jews: if Rhodesia or Rhodesians ever did anything stupid, evil, or both, the Professor is sure to be an expert on the matter. And again, he is far, far superior to your average postcolonial theorist. (I wonder if he knows that Rhodesian MRAP designs are saving American lives as we speak. Or if he cares. Or if he even approves.)

Anyway. Enough of this dinner theater. I’ve tried a good many arguments for the red pill, or “declinist narrative” as Professor Burke would put it. The audience being inherently irregular, I try to throw in one a week, and I don’t think I’ve trotted out the following for a while.

Imagine that there had been no scientific or technical progress at all during the 20th century. That the government of 2008 had to function with the technical base of 1908. Surely, if the quality of government has increased or even just remained constant, its performance with the same tools should be just as good. And with better technology, it should do even better.

But without computers, cell phones or even motor vehicles, 19th-century America could rebuild destroyed cities instantly – at least, instantly by today’s standards. Imagine what this vanished society, which if we could see it with our own eyes would strike us as no less foreign than any country in the world today, could accomplish if it got its hands on 21st-century gadgets – without any of the intervening social and political progress.

When we think of progress we tend to think of two curves summed. X, the change in our understanding and control of nature, slopes upward except in the most dire circumstances – the fall of Rome, for example. But X is a confounding variable. Y, the change in our quality of government, is the matter at hand. Extracting Y from X+Y is not a trivial exercise.

But broad thought-experiments – like imagining what would become of 1908 America, if said continent magically popped up in the mid-Atlantic in 2008, and had to modernize and compete in the global economy – tell a different story. I am very confident that Old America would be the world’s leading industrial power within the decade, and I suspect it would attract a lot of immigration from New America. The seeds of decay were there, certainly, but they had hardly begun to sprout. At least by today’s standards.

Surely a healthy, stable society should be able to thrive in a steady state without any technical improvements at all. But if we imagine the 20th century without technical progress, we see an almost pure century of disaster. Even when we restrict our imagination to the second half of the twentieth century, to imagine the America of 2008 reduced to the technology of 1950 is a bleak, bleak thought. If you are still taking the blue pills, to what force do you ascribe this anomalous decay?

Whereas the red pill gives us an easy explanation: a decaying system of government has been camouflaged and ameliorated by the advance of technology. Of course, X may overcome Y and lead us to the Singularity, in which misgovernment is no more troublesome than acne. Or Y may overcome X, and produce the Antisingularity – a new fall of Rome. It’s a little difficult to invent self-inventing AI when you’re eating cold beans behind the perimeter of a refugee camp in Redwood Shores, and Palo Alto is RPG squeals, mortar whumps and puffs of black smoke on the horizon, as the Norteños and the Zetas finally have it out over the charred remains of your old office park. Unlikely, sure, but do you understand the X-Y interaction well enough to preclude this outcome? Because I don’t.

Swallowing the red pill leads us, like Neo, into a completely different reality. In reality (b), bad government has not been defeated at all. History is not over. Oh, no. We are still living it. Perhaps we are in the positions of the French of 1780 or the Russians of 1914, who had no idea that the worlds they lived in could degenerate so rapidly into misery and terror.

Is the abyss this close? I don’t think so, but surely the materials are present. The spark is a long way from the gasoline – Ayers and his ilk strike most of Americans as more clownish than anything, and our modern revolutionaries have never been so out of touch with the urban underclass (for whom John Derbyshire proposes the wonderful Shakespearian word bezonian). Nonetheless, the first political entrepreneur who finds a way to deploy gangstas as stormtroopers, a trick the SDS often threatened but never quite mastered, will have pure dynamite on his hands.

More probable in my opinion is a slow decline into a Brezhnevian future, in which nothing good or new or exciting or beautiful is legal. X peters to a crawl. Y continues. And only after many, many decades – probably not in our lifetimes – does the real dystopian experience start. Or the system could fail catastrophically, and produce not the rarefied algorithmic authoritarianism of UR, but some kind of awful Stormfront neofascism. (Why is it that the more Nazi you are, the uglier your website is? Never mind, I think I know.) Or it could all just work out fine.

But can we count on this? We cannot. So, as thoughtful and concerned people, we have three reasons to think about solutions. One is that we are thoughtful and concerned people. Two is that thinking about government in a post-democratic context is an excellent way to clear our minds of the antinomian cant with which our educators so thoroughly larded us. And three is that once the cant is cleared, it’s actually kind of fun and refreshing to think about government. The problem is not new, but it has been lying fallow for a while.

First: the problem. Our goal is to convert a 20th-century government, such as USG or “Washcorp,” into a sovereign organization which is stable, responsible and effective. For simplicity, I’ll assume you’re an American. If you are not an American, you almost certainly live under an American-style, post-1945 government. Substitute as necessary.

Our logic is that secured real estate is the oldest and most important form of capital. Ie: it is a productive asset. There is only one responsible and effective way to manage a productive asset: make it turn a profit. To maximize the profit is to maximize the price of the asset. To maximize the price of a sovereign jurisdiction is to maximize the price of the properties within it. To maximize real-estate prices is to maximize the desirability of the neighborbood. To maximize the desirability of the neighborhood is to maximize the quality of life therein. To maximize the quality of life is the goal of good government. Ergo: responsible and effective government is best achieved by sovereign capitalism, ie, neocameralism.

Watch the Austrian economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe – since Rothbard’s premature demise, probably the superstar of the school today – struggle with this problem. Professor Hoppe is an antinomian of the libertarian species. He is a sound formalist at every layer up to the top, where he rejects the concept of sovereign property as a royalist plot. (Actually, in medieval Europe, sovereign fiefs could easily be bought and sold – and note that no “natural rights” protected the Quitzows from the Hohenzollerns.) Professor Hoppe writes:

Under these circumstances, a completely new option has become viable: the provision of law and order by freely competing private (profit-and-loss) insurance agencies.

Even though hampered by the state, insurance agencies protect private property owners upon payment of a premium against a multitude of natural and social disasters, from floods and hurricanes to theft and fraud. Thus, it would seem that the production of security and protection is the very purpose of insurance. Moreover, people would not turn to just anyone for a service as essential as that of protection.

There’s one difference: an insurance agency exists under the protection of a government which enforces its contracts. Whereas English actually has a word for an unprotected protection agency. It’s called a gang. (The Russian word krysha, meaning “roof,” is also quite evocative.)

In real life, for obvious military reasons, gangs tend to organize themselves around territories, or contiguous blocks of real estate. Historically, situations in which gang territories overlap are unusual. As formal rules develop for the internal organization of the gang, and its relations with other gangs, the gang becomes a country. Formalization maximizes the gang’s profits and greatly improves its clients’ quality of life.

We are starting from the other direction: a gigantic, mature if not senescent vegetable-marrow of a government. Awful as it is, degenerate as its laws have become, it is still a government, and a government is still a good thing. It is considerably easier to liquidate and restructure USG than to turn MS-13 and the Black Guerrilla Family into the Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns.

When we left off this problem, we had liquidated USG and transferred full operating control of its assets to a mysterious bankruptcy administrator known only as the Receiver. We had not described: (a) how the process is initiated, (b) how the Receiver is selected, or (c) what policies, beyond terminating “foreign policy,” quelling the bezonians, and installing a sensible tax system, we can expect the Receiver to follow.

Frankly, (c) is not worth a lot of speculation. The democratic habit, in which ordinary people – or even UR readers, who are very unlikely to be ordinary people – conceive ourselves capable of understanding how a country is best administered, is one to be broken at all costs. I drive a car on a regular basis, but I have no idea what I would do if someone put me in charge of Ford. I am typing this message on a Mac, but my first act as CEO of Apple would be to resign. (Well, I might do something about the $**#!% batteries first.) I love film, but don’t try to make me direct one. And so on.

Moreover, the fact that we have assigned the Receiver full administrative authority means, by definition, that he or she is not constrained by the whims and fancies of whatever movement produced the office. A restoration has one goal: responsible and effective government. The details are out of its planners’ hands.

However, we can think about some things. For example: there are very few decisions that need to be taken on a continental level. USG provides continental defense, hardly hard in North America, but whose absence would eventually be felt. There are certainly some continent-scale environmental issues. I can’t think of much else. In a country with responsible and effective government, even immigration can be a local issue: if you don’t have permission to live and/or work somewhere, the technology required to prevent you is hardly Orwellian.

So I suspect the Receiver’s restructuring plans might involve dividing North America into, say, its largest 100 or 200 or 500 metropolitan areas (USG’s historical internal boundaries being of little importance), each of which gets its own little mini-Receiver, devoted as usual to maximizing asset value. To paraphrase Tom Hayden: one, two, three, many Monacos.

Eventually, there is no reason why these principalities could not be independently traded and even locally sovereign, perhaps owning the continental assets of USG, consortium style, rather than the other way around. Initially, however, USG’s financial liabilities are as vast as its assets – exactly as vast, since it needs to become solvent. Unless we want to make the dollar worthless, which we don’t, the entire country must remain federal property.

Imagining restructuring at a local level helps in a couple of ways. First, redundancy counts: if Seattle, for some reason, winds up with Kim Jong Il as its Receiver, and he promises to be good but quickly resorts to his old habits, the residents can always flee to Portland. If Kim gets the whole continent, the continent is screwed. Second, it is simply easier to imagine how a city could be restored, especially if you happen to live in that city.

The San Francisco Bay Area, for example, is a jewel even in its present dilapidated state, its no-go areas, modernist crimes against architecture, froth of beggars and rim of tacky sprawl. I can scarcely imagine what a Steve Jobs, a Frederick the Great, a Mountstuart Elphinstone, or an administrator of similar caliber would make of it.

But how (b) do we select such an administrator? The crucial question is the back end of this administrative structure. A Receiver is not a “benevolent dictator.” If angels were available to meet our staffing needs, that would be one thing. They are not. There is no responsibility without accountability. The trick is in preventing accountability from degenerating into parliamentary government, ie, politics – which is how we got where we are at present.

To prevent the emergence of politics, a stable, established neocameralist state relies on the fact that its shares are held by a widely distributed body of investors, each of whose management control is precisely proportional to the share of the profits the investor receives, and none of whom has any way to profit privately by causing the enterprise to be mismanaged. The result is a perfect alignment of interests among all shareholders, all of whom have exactly the same one-dimensional goal: maximizing the value of their shares. Experience in private corporate governance shows that such a body tends to be reasonably competent in selecting managers, and almost never succumbs to anything like politics.

When converting a democratic state into a neocameralist one, however, a great deal of care is needed. For example, since any bankruptcy procedure converts debt to equity, quite a few shares must end up in the hands of those who now hold dollars, bank or Treasury obligations, rights to entitlement payments, etc, etc. Will these individuals be (a) rationally motivated to maximize the value of their assets, and (b) effective in selecting competent management that will act according to (a)? Or won’t they? There is no way to know.

I think I am on reasonably firm ground in asserting that once democratic politics can be made to go away, this design offers no avenues by which it can revive itself. However, keeping the thing dead is one thing. Killing it is quite another.

Today’s administrative states are irresponsible because their actions tend to be the consequence of vast chains of procedure which separate individual decisions from results. The result is hopelessly dysfunctional and ineffective, often becomes seriously detached from reality, and demands an immense quantity of pointless busywork. However, it has the Burkean (Ed, not Tim) virtues of stability, consistency, and predictability. It works, sort of.

When you take all this process, policy and precedent, rip it up, and revert to responsible personal authority, you gain enormously in effectiveness and efficiency. But the design places a tremendous engineering load on the assumption of responsibility and the absence of politics. This simply can’t be screwed up. If it is, the consequences can be disastrous. Hello, Hitler. Also, did I mention Hitler? Finally, there is the possibility of creating a new Hitler.

Obviously, it’s time for us to have a serious discussion of Hitler. Anyone who proposes anything even remotely resembling an absolute personal dictatorship needs a Hitler position. Because, after all, I mean, Hitler.

Albert Jay Nock, who needs no introduction here at UR, and many of whose words will stand the test of time long after we are dead, wrote the following in his diary for July 23, 1933:

The wretched state of things in Germany continues. It is a manifestation of a nation-wide sentiment that any honest-minded person must sympathize with, but its expression, under the direction of a lunatic adventurer, takes shape in the most revolting enormities.

This is simply the best summary of National Socialism I have ever seen. And it was written only six months after the swine came to power.

Fascist-style approaches to terminating democracy in the 21th century face two unsolvable problems. One is that the democracies have, in their usual style, overdone the job of arming themselves against anything like fascism – they are absurdly terrified of it. Fascism is a salmon trying to jump over Boulder Dam. Two is that even if your salmon could jump over Boulder Dam, the result would be… fascism. Which would certainly be an improvement in some regards. But not in others.

The Boulder Dam analogy is well-demonstrated by La Wik’s page for direct action. Note that every example on the page is in the revolutionary or progressive category. The term does not seem to apply to reactionary or fascist “direct action,” although tactics have no alignment. Of course, the gangster methods that Hitler and Mussolini used in coming to power were direct action in a nutshell – as were the actions of the Southern Redeemers.

The answer is that “direct action” depends on the tolerance and/or connivance of the police, military, and/or judicial system. In Weimar Germany, nationalists had all three – mostly relics of the Wilhelmine government – on their side. Denazification reversed this. Today in Europe, antifas can beat up their opponents with a wink and a nod from the authorities, whereas neo-Nazis get the book thrown at them. The answer: duh. Don’t be a neo-Nazi.

Anyone interested in overthrowing democracy desperately needs to read the great memoir of Ernst von Salomon, Der Fragebogen, published in English as The Answers but better translated as The Questionnaire. (The title is a reference to the denazification questionnaires which all Germans seeking any responsible postwar position had to complete.)

Salomon, who despite his name was not Jewish (though his wife was) was never a Nazi. He was, however, a hardcore nationalist, and not just any hardcore nationalist: he was a member of the notorious post-Freikorps death squad, Organisation Consul, and personally involved in the assassination of Rathenau, for which he served time. (If it’s any defense, he was 19, and his role was limited to procuring the getaway car.) He was also a brilliant writer who made a living turning out movie scripts – before, during, and after the Third Reich. A good comparison is Ernst Jünger, also wonderfully readable if a little more abstruse.

Der Fragebogen is a gloriously-fresh introduction to the world of Weimar, which most of us have encountered only from the liberal side. If you have trouble understanding how Nock could sympathize with the destruction of Weimar while abhorring Hitlerism, von Salomon is your man. The opening alone is a work of genius:

MILITARY GOVERNMENT OF GERMANY: FRAGEBOGEN

WARNING: Read the entire Fragebogen carefully before you start to fill it out. The English language will prevail if discrepancies exist between it and the German translation. Answers must be typewritten or printed clearly in block letters. Every question must be answered precisely and no space is to be left blank. If a question is to be answered by either ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ print the word ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the appropriate space. If the question is inapplicable, so indicate by some appropriate word or phrase such as ‘none’ or ‘not applicable.’ Add supplementary sheets if there is not enough space in the questionnaire. Omissions or false or incomplete statements are offences against Military Government and will result in prosecution and punishment.

I have now read the entire Fragebogen or questionnaire carefully. Although not specifically told to do so, I have even read it through more than once, word for word, question for question. This is not by any means the first questionnaire with which I have grappled. I have already filled in many identical Fragebogens, and a great number of similar ones, at a time and in circumstances concerning which I shall have a certain amount to say under the heading Remarks. Apart from that group of Fragebogens there were others: during the period January 30th, 1933, to May 6th, 1945, which is usually called the ‘Third Reich,’ or with cheap wit ‘the Thousand-Year Reich,’ or briefly ‘the Nazi Regime,’ or correctly the period of the National-Socialist government in Germany – during those years, too, I was frequently confronted with Fragebogens. I can confidently assert that I invariably read them through with care.

In order to satisfy any doubts on the matter let me say at once that the perusal of all these questionnaires has always produced the same effect on me: a tumult of sensations is let loose within my breast in which the first and the strongest is that of acute discomfort. When I try to identify this sensation of discomfort more exactly, it seems to me to be very close to that experienced by a schoolboy caught at some mischief – a very young person, on the threshold of experience, suddenly face to face with an enormous and ominous power which claims for itself all the force of law, custom, order and morality. He cannot yet judge the world’s pretension that whatever is is right; at present his conscience is good when he is in harmony with that world, bad when he is not. He cannot yet guess that a happy moment will one day come when he will weigh the world and its institutions in the scales of that still dormant conscience of his, will weigh it and will find it wanting and in need of rebuilding from the foundations up.

Now in view of the matters which I have had to discuss in my answer to Question 19, I am clearly nowise entitled to express my opinions on matters of conscience. Nor is it I who wish to do so. Yet how am I to account for the tone and arrangement of this questionnaire if its general intention is not a new incitement to me to examine this conscience of mine?

The institution which, in all the world, seems to me most worthy of admiration, the Catholic Church, has its system of confession and absolution. The Church recognizes that men may be sinners but does not brand them as criminals; furthermore, there is only one unforgivable sin, that against the Holy Ghost. The Catholic Church seeks to convert and save the heathen, who is striving to be happy according to his lights; but for the heretic, who has once heard the call and has yet refused to follow it, there can be no forgiveness. This attitude is straightforward and consistent and entails certain sublime consequences. It leads directly to the secrecy of the confessional. It also means that each man, in his search for grace, is very largely dependent on his own, innermost determination. A fine attitude, and one that I might myself embrace did not I fear that the very quintessence of the Church’s teaching – yes, the Ten Commandments themselves – were in painful contradiction to a whole series of laws that I have recently been compelled to observe.

For it is not the Catholic Church that has approached me and requested that I examine my conscience, but another and far less admirable institution, Allied Military Government in Germany. Sublimity here is at a discount. Unlike the priest with the poor sinner remote from the world in the secrecy of the quiet confessional, A.M.G. sends its questionnaire into my home and, like an examining judge with a criminal, barks its one hundred and thirty-one questions at me: it demands, coldly and flatly, nothing less than the truth; it even threatens twice – once at the beginning and once at the end – to punish me; and the nature and scope of the punishment envisaged I can only too vividly imagine. (See Remarks, at the end of this questionnaire.) [Salomon was badly beaten, and his wife was raped, by American soldiers in a postwar detention camp. – MM]

It was representatives of A.M.G., men in well-creased uniforms with many brightly coloured decorations, who made it unambiguously clear to me that every man worthy to be called a man should study his conscience before deciding whether or not to act in any specific way. They sat in front of me, one after the other, those agreeable and well-groomed young people, and spoke with glibness and self-assurance about so great a matter as a man’s conscience. I admired them for their apodictic certainty; I envied them their closed and narrow view of the world.

Salomon’s book was a bestseller in postwar Germany. It is now anathema, of course, in that thoroughly occupied country – in which only the faintest trace of any pre-American culture can still be detected.

Here (to get back to Hitler) are some of Salomon’s observations on the Nazis:

At that time – it was high summer of 1922 and the Oberammergau Passion Play was being acted – Munich was filled with foreigners. Even the natives had not the time to attend big political rallies. Thus I did not even have a chance to hear Hitler – and now I shall go to my grave without ever having once attended a meeting where I could hear this most remarkable figure of the first half of the twentieth century speak in person.

“What does he actually say?” I asked the Kapitän’s adjutant.

“He says more or less this,” the adjutant began, and it was significant that he could not help mimicking the throaty voice with the vengeful undertones, “he says, quite calmly: ‘My enemies have sneered at me, saying that you can’t attack a tank with a walking stick…’ Then his voice gets louder and he says: ‘But I tell you…’ And then he shouts with the utmost intensity: ‘… that a man who hasn’t the guts to attack a tank with a walking stick will achieve nothing!’ And then there’s tremendous, senseless applause.”

The Kapitän said: “Tanks I know nothing about. But I do know that a man who tries to ram an iron-clad with a fishing smack isn’t a hero. He’s an idiot.”

I know not whether the Kapitän, lacking in powers of oratory as he was, found Hitler’s methods of influencing the masses as repugnant as I did, but I assumed this to be the case. I also obscurely felt that for the Kapitän, deeply involved in his political concept, to be carried forward on the tide of a mass movement must seem unclean. Policy could only be laid down from ‘above,’ not from ‘below.’ The state must always think for the people, never through the people. Again I obscurely felt that there could be no compromise here, that all compromise would mean falsification.

But it was precisely his effect on the masses that led to Hitler’s success in Munich. He employed new methods of propaganda, hitherto unthought of. The banners of his party were everywhere to be seen, as was the gesture of recognition, the raised right arm, used by his supporters; the deliberate effort involved in this gesture was in itself indicative of faith. And everywhere was to be heard the greeting, the slogan Heil Hitler! Never before had a man dared to include his essentially private name in an essentially public phrase. It implied among his followers a degree of self-alienation that was perhaps significant; no longer could the individual establish direct contact with his neighbour – this third party was needed as intermediary.

And, ten pages later:

The word ‘democracy’ is one that I have only very rarely, and with great reluctance, employed. I do not know what it is and I have never yet met anyone who could explain its meaning to me in terms that I am capable of understanding. But I fear that Hitler’s assertion – that his ideological concept was the democratic concept – will prove a hard one to refute. The enlightenment of the world from a single, central position, the winning of mass support through convincing arguments, the legitimate road to power by way of the ballot-box, the legitimisation by the people itself of power achieved – I fear it is hard to deny that these are democratic stigmata, revelatory perhaps of democracy in a decadent and feverish form, but democratic none the less. I further fear that the contrary assertion – that the totalitarian system as set up by Hitler was not democratic – will prove a hard one to justify. The totalitarian state is the exact opposite of the authoritarian state, which latter, of course, bears no democratic stigmata but hierarchical ones instead. Some people seem to believe that forms of government are estimable in accordance with their progressive development; since totalitarianism is certainly more modern than the authoritarian state system, they must logically give Hitler the advantage in the political field.

And I fear, dear open-minded progressive, that this is the first time in your life you’ve seen the word authoritarian in a positive context. The weird crawlies that crawl in when we leave our minds ajar! Perhaps yours is too open, after all. Better stop reading now.

In case Salomon isn’t quite clear, let me paraphrase his theory of Hitler and the State. Salomon, and his hero Kapitän Ehrhardt, were essentially militarists and monarchists, believers in the old Prussian system of government. In 1849 when Friedrich Wilhelm IV refused to “accept a crown from the gutter” (in other words, to become constitutional monarch of Germany under an English-style liberal system created by the Revolutions of 1848), he was expressing much the same philosophy.

While there is more mysticism to it, and anyone raised in a democratic society must cringe instinctively at the militaristic tone, Salomon’s philosophy is more or less the same as neocameralism. (Understandably, since after all it was Frederick the Great who gave us cameralism.) Salomon’s view of public opinion is mine: that it simply has nothing to do with the difficult craft of state administration, any more than the passengers’ views on aerodynamics are relevant to the pilot of a 747. In particular, most Americans today know next to nothing about the reality of Washington, and frankly I don’t see why they should have to learn.

In the totalitarian system as practiced by Hitler and the Bolsheviks, public opinion is not irrelevant at all. Oh, no. It is the cement that holds the regime together. Most people do not know, for example, of the frequent plebiscites by which the Nazis validated their power. But they do have a sense that Nazism was broadly popular, at least until the war, and they are right. Moreover, even a totalitarian regime that does not elicit genuine popularity can, like the Bolsheviks, elicit the pretense of popularity, and this has much the same power.

When describing any political design, a good principle to follow is that the weak are never the masters of the strong. If the design presents itself as one in which the weak control the strong, try erasing the arrowhead on the strong end and redrawing it on the weak end. Odds are you will end up with a more realistic picture. Popular sovereignty was a basic precept of both the Nazi and Bolshevik designs, and in both the official story was that the Party expressed the views of the masses. In reality, of course, the Party controlled those views. Thus the link which Salomon draws between democracy and the Orwellian mind-control state, two tropes which we children of progress were raised to imagine as the ultimate opposites.

Salomon is obviously not a libertarian, or at least not as much of a libertarian as me, and I suspect that what disturbs him is less the corruption of public opinion by the German state, than the corruption of the German state by public opinion. Regardless of the direction, the phenomenon was a feedback loop that, in the case of Nazism, led straight to perdition.

Here is another description of democracy. Try to guess where it was written, and when:

The New Democracy

What is this freedom by which so many minds are agitated, which inspires so many insensate actions, so many wild speeches, which leads the people so often to misfortune? In the democratic sense of the word, freedom is the right of political power, or, to express it otherwise, the right to participate in the government of the State. This universal aspiration for a share in government has no constant limitations, and seeks no definite issue, but incessantly extends, so that we might apply to it the words of the ancient poet about dropsy: crescit indulgens sibi. For ever extending its base, the new Democracy aspires to universal suffrage – a fatal error, and one of the most remarkable in the history of mankind. By this means, the political power so passionately demanded by Democracy would be shattered into a number of infinitesimal bits, of which each citizen acquires a single one. What will he do with it, then? how will he employ it? In the result it has undoubtedly been shown that in the attainment of this aim Democracy violates its sacred formula of “Freedom indissolubly joined with Equality.” It is shown that this apparently equal distribution of “freedom” among all involves the total destruction of equality. Each vote, representing an inconsiderable fragment of power, by itself signifies nothing; an aggregation of votes alone has a relative value. The result may be likened to the general meetings of shareholders in public companies. By themselves individuals are ineffective, but he who controls a number of these fragmentary forces is master of all power, and directs all decisions and dispositions. We may well ask in what consists the superiority of Democracy. Everywhere the strongest man becomes master of the State; sometimes a fortunate and resolute general, sometimes a monarch or administrator with knowledge, dexterity, a clear plan of action, and a determined will. In a Democracy, the real rulers are the dexterous manipulators of votes, with their placemen, the mechanics who so skilfully operate the hidden springs which move the puppets in the arena of democratic elections. Men of this kind are ever ready with loud speeches lauding equality; in reality, they rule the people as any despot or military dictator might rule it. The extension of the right to participate in elections is regarded as progress and as the conquest of freedom by democratic theorists, who hold that the more numerous the participants in political rights, the greater is the probability that all will employ this right in the interests of the public welfare, and for the increase of the freedom of the people. Experience proves a very different thing. The history of mankind bears witness that the most necessary and fruitful reforms – the most durable measures – emanated from the supreme will of statesmen, or from a minority enlightened by lofty ideas and deep knowledge, and that, on the contrary, the extension of the representative principle is accompanied by an abasement of political ideas and the vulgarisation of opinions in the mass of the electors. It shows also that this extension – in great States – was inspired by secret aims to the centralisation of power, or led directly to dictatorship. In France, universal suffrage was suppressed with the end of the Terror, and was re-established twice merely to affirm the autocracy of the two Napoleons. In Germany, the establishment of universal suffrage served merely to strengthen the high authority of a famous statesman who had acquired popularity by the success of his policy. What its ultimate consequences will be, Heaven only knows!

The manipulation of votes in the game of Democracy is of the commonest occurrence in most European states, and its falsehood, it would seem, has been exposed to all; yet few dare openly to rebel against it. The unhappy people must bear the burden, while the Press, herald of a supposititious public opinion, stifles the cry of the people with its shibboleth, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” But to an impartial mind, all this is nothing better than a struggle of parties, and a shuffling with numbers and names. The voters, by themselves inconsiderable unities, acquire a value in the hands of dexterous agents. This value is realised by many means – mainly, by bribery in innumerable forms, from gifts of money and trifling articles, to the distribution of places in the services, the financial departments, and the administration. Little by little a class of electors has been formed which lives by the sale of votes to one or another of the political organisations. So far has this gone in France, for instance, that serious, intelligent, and industrious citizens in immense numbers abstain from voting, through the difficulty of contending with the cliques of political agents. With bribery go violence and threats, and reigns of terror are organised at elections, by the help of which the respective cliques advance their candidates; hence the stormy scenes at electoral demonstrations, in which arms have been used, and the field of battle strewn with the bodies of the killed and wounded.

Organisation and bribery – these are the two mighty instruments which are employed with such success for the manipulation of the mass of electors. Such methods are in no way new. Thucydides depicts in vivid colours their employment in the ancient republics of Greece. The history of the Roman Republic presents monstrous examples of corruption as the chief instrument of factions at elections. But in our times a new means has been found of working the masses for political aims, and joining them in adventitious alliances by provoking a fictitious community of views. This is the art of rapid and dexterous generalisation of ideas, the composition of phrase and formulas, disseminated with the confidence of burning conviction as the last word of science, as dogmas of politicology, as infallible appreciations of events, of men, and of institutions. At one time it was believed that the faculty of analysing facts, and deducing general principles was the privilege of a few enlightened minds and deep thinkers; now it is considered an universal attainment, and, under the name of convictions, the generalities of political science have become a sort of current money, coined by newspapers and rhetoricians.

The faculty of seizing and assimilating on faith these abstract ideas has spread among the mass, and become infectious, more especially to men insufficiently or superficially educated, who constitute the great majority everywhere. This tendency of the people is exploited with success by politicians who seek power; the art of creating generalities serves for them as a most convenient instrument. All deduction proceeds by the path of abstraction; from a number of facts the immaterial are eliminated, the essential elements collated, classified, and general formulas deduced. It is plain that the justice and value of these formulas depend upon how many of the premises are essential, and how many of those eliminated are irrelevant. The speed and ease with which abstract conclusions are arrived at are explained by the unceremonious methods observed in this process of selection of relevant facts and in their treatment. Hence the great success of orators, and the extraordinary effect of the abstractions which they cast to the people. The crowd is easily attracted by commonplaces and generalities invested in sonorous phrases; it cares nothing for proof which is inaccessible to it; thus is formed unanimity of thought, an unanimity fictitious and visionary, but in its consequences actual enough. This is called the “voice of the people,” with the pendant, the “voice of God.” The ease with which men are drawn by commonplaces leads everywhere to extreme demoralisation of public thought, and to the weakening of the political sense of the people. Of this, France to-day presents a striking example, and England also has not escaped the infection.

The author is the great Russian statesman and reactionary, Konstantin Pobedonostsev. The book is Reflections of a Russian Statesman. (A fascinating mix of cogent observations of the West, and impenetrable Orthodox mysticism – I recommend it highly.) The date is 1869. Is there anything in Pobedonostsev’s description of democracy that does not apply to the contest of Obama and McCain? Not that I can see. So much for the inevitable triumph of truth.

There is not a single significant American writer – even if you count Confederates as American, which is a big if – as right-wing as Pobedonostsev. He is to the right of everyone. He may even be to the right of Carlyle, even the old Carlyle who (two years earlier) produced the terrifying vision of Shooting Niagara. Well, we shot Niagara, all right, and Russia got her Parliament. For a few months. And as for Germany, the consequences are no longer Heaven’s secret.

We have moved no closer to answering Lenin’s question. But we have a better idea of what is not to be done.

A restoration can’t be produced by fascist violence and intimidation, because fascism today has no sympathizers in high places. It can’t be produced by democratic demagoguery, both because the concept itself would be corrupted by filtration through the mass mind, and because said mind is simply not smart enough to evaluate the proposition logically – and logic is its only strength. (It’s certainly not emotionally appealing.) Moreover, when democratic techniques are used to seize absolute power, the result is Hitler.

Yet at the same time, we can’t expect the truth to triumph on its own, because said truth has been floating around since the 1860s – at least – and it has gotten nowhere at all. And worst of all, the design is reliable only in the steady state. Even if the political energy to make it happen, without either thug intimidation or democratic hypnotism, can somehow be produced, there is no magical reason to expect the initial shareholders, who know nothing more about managing a country than you or I, to be free from politics, to choose a Receiver who knows his ass from his elbow, or even to let one who does know his ass from his elbow do his job.

So perhaps nothing can be done. We should just bend over and enjoy it. Do you, dear open-minded progressive (or other UR reader), have any suggestions? Continue to part 13.