Archive for November, 2008

Patchwork 3: what we have and what’s so bad about it

November 27, 2008

I started this series with the assumption that everyone reading it would already be a hardened veteran of UR’s brutal, disorienting assaults on everything that is good and decent and true. This is obviously a counterfactual. And even for many hardened veterans, I fear, the Patchwork series has proved a rough ride.

Here at UR we have a very different approach from most who would like to “change the world.” Rather than actually trying to market our designs, presumably by making them sound familiar, appealing and benevolent, we apply anti-spin. We strip off the fairing and present the cold, gritty gears of the naked machine. Our tone is at best neutral, at worst acid and nihilistic.

Why? Well, for one, it’s just more fun. Let’s be clear about this: UR is a blog. UR is not a cult, it is not a subversive underground organization, it is certainly not a political party. It is something I write for fun, and you read for fun. UR is part of the entertainment industry. If you find it offensive, Lord only knows what you’ll make of Nigga Know. (I don’t even know what to make of Nigga Know. I may just be too old for it.)

But if there is a strategy behind the anti-spin, it is to maximize the quality of UR’s audience, by minimizing the quantity. (Long posts help with this, too.) UR will not appeal to your heart. It will only appeal to your head. Which must then often overcome the stomach. To put it simply: if you don’t understand UR, you are very unlikely to believe it. And this is better for both of us.

On the other hand, there is no need to be mysterious. So, now that I’ve started to introduce this terrifying alternative, let me go back and explain why it’s needed. Call it a prequel.

Let’s start with a point of agreement: our goal, as people who live in a civilized modern society, is a system of government which is responsible. Good government is responsible government. The equivalence is a tautology. The question is: how shall we secure for ourselves the blessings of responsible government? Or as Pope put it:

For forms of government let fools contest;
Whate’er is best administer’d is best:

Unless you had quite an unusual education, you grew up believing that the problem is solved: constitutional democracy is the best mechanism for producing responsible government. It certainly produces something. Let’s call this something, whatever it is, moral responsibility.

Here at UR, we see constitutional democracy as a sort of large hydatid cyst, cuddled gently in the skull alongside one’s actual neural tissue. The intrepid reader, with the instruments this blog provides, can extract the creature in the comfort and privacy of her own shower stall. As the neurosurgeon, Dr. Ahmad, notes: “The space was filled with saline at the end of operation.”

Which is certainly one option. But it leaves the patient a bit of a nihilist. The obvious drop-in replacement is royalism, of course – royalism is really just reverting the changes, as we say in my line of work. So here at UR we give it up for all royalists. (Fill the cavity with gold. This will be young Jasmeen’s college fund, as well as her skull ballast.)

For example, I have no hesitation in calling for the King of Thailand to throw off the reins of the transnationalists, obey the wishes of the people, and return the country to full independence and royal government. I have also previously noted that any corporate descendant of the old Union of England, Scotland and Ireland, including but not limited to West Virginia, is entitled to restore the Stuarts through the Princes of Liechtenstein. If you wonder what this would mean for you, personally, try the simple exercise of reading your quality local fishrag for a month, noting the top headline, and asking: “How would Hereditary Prince Alois handle this?”

But royalism, even if you stick a “neo-” on the front, is just too old-fashioned to appeal to some. So we also offer an extra decorative touch, available for a mere $19.95, in which the customer can fill her cyst’s void with our own synthetic organ of government. We call it neocameralism, and it is very fresh.

Neocameralism informs the surrounding neural tissue that the best mechanism for producing responsibility in government is for governments to be administered as sovereign joint-stock corporations, controlled absolutely by their shareholders, who hold the master encryption keys for the government’s invincible robot armies. At some risk of oxymoronism, this could be even be described as private government. It creates quite a different form of responsibility – financial responsibility.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that our so-called “cyst” could be a healthy, normal lobe of your brain. That our sinister, unapproved product could in fact insert a strange translucent, globelike parasite, which will control your destiny and lead you to an awful end. Ha ha! Yes, young Jedi, we are asking you to choose. Wield the red saber for the first time! Then visit our Sith Library, and learn the truth about this so-called “Council.” You already know what they say about us.

In other words, the financial responsibility created by joint-stock sovereignty would be much more desirable, in terms of quality of life for most residents, than the moral responsibility which we presently enjoy thanks to constitutional democracy. Or so I assert.

But this is a dangerous assertion, because history teaches us very quickly that there are many worse things than constitutional democracy. I claim to be encouraging you to exchange the path of evil for the road of enlightenment, but I could be doing just the opposite. And even if I’m not, the surgery I recommend is traumatic by definition. The procedure has never been attempted, let alone tested, and the implant is something I whipped up in my garage out of spare helicopter parts. On the other hand, do you really want to go through life with a worm in your head?

So let’s get down to details, and compare the moral responsibility of constitutional democracy with the financial responsibility of the sovereign joint-stock company. I think we can all agree that these are both legitimate forms of responsibility, and that they are very different. After 2008, no one can possibly accuse constitutional democracy of being a financially responsible form of government. Likewise, the neocameralist state is amoral by definition.

I don’t think there is much contest on the financial side of the ledger. Let’s consider morality.

The constitutional democratic state is an apparently immortal, monotonically expanding, and nontrivially morbid mass of personnel which proclaims itself the instrument of a single purpose: to inflict good upon the world. For traditional countries this affliction was at least limited to specified borders, but in the case of USG since 1945 it knows no bound. Washington operates on the principle of universal benevolence. Its ultimate aim is to benefit all people, anywhere and for all time. Doubtless if aliens were found on Jupiter, concern for their welfare would soon be felt on the Potomac.

A joint-stock sovereign is a clean, lean and mean revenue-extracting machine. Its goal: loot. Any well-run Patchwork realm is congenitally dedicated to the good old Marxist ideal of exploitation. It has no intrinsic sympathy for the aged, the crippled, the deformed, the useless. Into the biodiesel vats with them! Gold coins literally wrung from the hides of the unfortunate will cascade into the piggybanks of our obese, cigar-chomping shareholders.

Obviously, whatever you think of democracy, this is unacceptable. To mollify the conscience of the increasingly appalled reader, let me explain the logic of philanthropy in the financially responsible city-state. We will return to the broader contest of morals in a moment.

Government is like a nuclear reactor or a stem cell: perfect when it works properly, and lethal when it doesn’t. Like both, any design for a sovereign institution must depend on multiple independent safety mechanisms. If all safeguards fail, something unacceptable will happen – by definition. If all but one fail, the result may not be desirable, but it will not be unacceptable.

So let’s look at the safety mechanisms that prevent the healthy Patchwork city-state from turning into its evil twin, with the biodiesel vats. By my count, there are three.

The outermost mechanism is mere PR. “Do no evil” is the automatic slogan of every private government. At the sovereign level, Google’s motto would not even be a winner, because to even mention evil is suspicious – like a sign outside a restaurant, promising an absence of rats.

At least in normal conditions of inter-patch peace and harmony, every Patchwork realm should positively exude rectitude and benevolence. This will of course infect its corporate culture. Perhaps it is possible to imagine Disneyland committing genocide. But it would have to be a very different Disneyland than the one we have right now. They would certainly have to replace at least half the employees.

At the financial level the realm must remember, however, that its concern is not with actual benevolence, but simply with the appearance of benevolence. Fortunately, image is cheap. Not screwing up image is cheaper – it costs you nothing, as long you don’t screw up. And, best of all, evil, while it really screws up image, just isn’t that profitable.

Once you factor in even a tiny image effect, it is surprisingly difficult to devise any scenario that generates ROI out of pure, balls-to-the-wall, straight-out evil. For example, we’ll be lucky if we can squeeze $25 worth of industrial fats out of Granny’s cadaver. They say no publicity is bad publicity – but they lie. So why not just run our buses on dinosaurs, the old-fashioned way, and keep Granny in her pen with the automatic monkey-chow dispenser?

Perhaps you see mere PR as a weak line of defense, and it would be hard to disagree. Fortunately, it is only one of three. But the factor is real: a sovereign is a sovereign, and no government can be entirely without paternal graces. No one in a sane society will be rendered into diesel, or even be allowed to starve to death for lack of productive earning power. Perhaps there are enough Randians on the planet for one city-state, but probably not two. Otherwise, it just won’t happen, and keeping it from happening is just one of the realm’s many business expenses. Granny’s monkey-chow skims off the merest tablespoon of the rich butter which the realm churns metaphorically, rather than literally, from its residents’ hard-working flesh.

We arrive at the next safety barrier: mere private philanthropy.

It is interesting to note the way in which one sniffs at mere private philanthropy. This is the thinking of the twentieth century, the century of welfare. This was a word with only positive connotations – until the twentieth century got its hands on it.

Another word for private philanthropy, with different negative connotations, is charity. Charity was of course one of the principal obligations of the medieval ecclesiastical establishment, the other two being education and adult instruction. In consonance with the general 20th-century pattern in which State has captured the role of Church, thus effecting the merger of the two by different means, most of us today perceive charity as a sovereign function.

And thus we trivialize any charitable establishment which is fully outside the State, as only the most hard-line of unreconstructed ecclesiasts are today. (Nonprofits in the US today tend to fund themselves via a mix of donations with government grants, contracts, etc.)

However, we can measure the demand for charity (meaning, of course, the demand for the production of philanthropy, not for its services) by the benchmark of government itself. Americans today by and large consider their taxes neither too high nor too low, and certainly the left half of the electorate is inclined to feel that Washington should raise even more revenue to do even more. Since Americans also see their government as a general-purpose agency for the doing of good – a sovereign charity – we can measure their demand for philanthropy by noting the absence of significant political resistance to their present tax rate. (Moreover, if you are critical of this methodology, note than any assertion that present tax rates are obtained by chicanery, rather than genuine consent, hardly constitutes a defense of modern democracy.)

The traditional contribution for charity was of course the tithe, or ten percent of income. It was over a century into Washington’s existence before it figured out how to exact anything like a tithe, but eventually as it morphed into the Church of Everything it mitigated this deficiency. Unfortunately, there is no word which is as cool as “tithe,” but means “40%.” In any case, even in the brutal, inefficient, and decidedly untechnological Middle Ages, 10% has been considered an ample level of productivity for a civilized society to donate to the needs of the unfortunate.

Furthermore, private charity has enormous advantages over welfare. The voluntary nature of the contact between provider and recipient frees the former to assume authority, informal or formal, over the latter. If you don’t want to be ordered around, you are free to starve, or at least go to prison. In prison you will certainly be ordered around. If you are not competent to provide for your own existence, you become by definition a dependent of whomever is willing to provide for you.

And with dependency comes authority, the patria potestas. Since you are not responsible for yourself, whatever charitable agency or other party has taken charge of you is now your legal guardian, putting you essentially in the position of a child. Moreover, your guardian is also responsible for any offenses you may commit. There are no irresponsible or feral humans in a Patchwork realm, unless this is some perverse lifestyle feature it sees fit to provide.

As we can see, the second safety barrier is considerably stronger than the third. Moreover, we are about to arrive at the first safety barrier, which cements the second and can be regarded as a complete refutation of social democracy.

Consider the thinking of the social democrat. To him, as previously mentioned, government is a sovereign and universal charity. Its purpose is to use its resources to do good works. These resources are derived, obviously, from the same source as with all governments – taxation. The wisdom of the people, through the magic of democracy, guides said sovereign and universal charity to use its resources efficiently for good works, not inefficiently for evil works. (Or, worst, efficiently for evil works.) This is our vaunted moral responsibility.

Any neocameralist who wanders by can observe that this system is easy to improve, in two ways.

One, the people are not wise and the magic of democracy does not exist. Therefore, we should not rely on the wisdom of the people for anything, and we should eliminate the superfluous electoral component of the design.

Specifically, we should definitely not rely on the wisdom of the people to either (a) formulate public policy, or (b) allocate budgets. Fortunately, this point is hardly debatable. If you listen to NPR you already believe that that budget and policy should be held virginal from the awful contamination of politics, and if you don’t listen to NPR your opinion is of negligible importance in the budget and policy process.

Once this change is applied, allocations for good works as a percentage of disposable spending are constant. So, for example, the environment gets 10% of USG’s disposable spending (ie, spending which is not essential to the production of future revenue), AIDS gets 5%, education of children with Down’s syndrome gets 3%, the spiny echidna gets 1%, or whatever.

Note that (a) these figures are relatively constant anyway, due to the natural push and pull of the budgeting process (my mother did budget and policy at DoE, so I do know a thing or two about “zero-based budgeting,” that unicorn of the Potomac); and (b) keeping them actually constant eliminates a very, very large number of meetings. If “change” must be provided for, a leftover slice of the budget can be allocated to a miscellaneous fund.

But wait! There is another name for “disposable spending.” The name is profit. And these “shares” of the budget also seem… familiar.

In fact, we have improved our constitutional democracy so completely that we have turned it into a neocameralist joint-stock company. And we have not harmed the funding or organization of charity even slightly. To the contrary – we have freed it from bushels of red tape.

The trick is that we’ve converted an argument about what the government should do, into an argument about who should hold the government’s shares. But this decision is way outside my pay grade, because the initial share allocation must be performed by whoever actually creates the government. While this is completely independent of the design, I’m pretty confident that any conversion of a constitutional democracy into a joint-stock corporation will include a high level of continuity from charitable budget allocations in the democracy, to share allocations in the corporation.

Consider an indubitably worthy recipient of philanthropic funding, NIH. NIH’s budget is $30 billion or so. If we separate NIH completely from the State and convert its budget, for which it must fight every year, into State shares producing dividends or other payments of $30 billion every year, what has changed?

NIH is happier, because it now has $30 billion with no strings attached. Certainly the guidance of Congress, or whatever, does not assist NIH in doing its job. Quite the contrary! The less political and bureaucratic interference it receives, the better. We have just reduced this to zero, so NIH is happy. Moreover, it is even happier because this payment stream is presumably produced by shares, bonds, or other negotiable instruments, which NIH can sell and diversify. Thus creating a well-structured endowment for the long-term funding of biomedical research.

As for the payers of the $30 billion, they pay whatever they pay. So this transformation – which can be applied to any charity or entitlement, at least any which does not depend on the sovereign authority of the state in order to do its good works – is a Pareto optimization. And it eliminates the phenomenon of official charity, the hallmark of social democracy. QED.

Again, it is easy to apply this fix to entitlements, such as Social Security or Medicare. For Social Security, it is Granny rather than NIH which is owed a payment stream. For Medicare, the State can go from providing medical care to purchasing an insurance policy, and from purchasing an insurance policy to providing the payment stream needed to purchase a policy. Both these changes are Pareto optimizations, and they end up back at financial responsibility.

Therefore: if you are setting up something like a Patchwork realm, and you are worried that its residents will not donate sufficient alms to fund good works, assign some percentage of the realm’s shares (or bonds, or other securities) to those same good works. Problem solved. So why do we have social democracy? Ah. If only it would tell us.

So. Having refuted the hypothesis that democracy is what it says it is, let’s have a look at what it actually is.

Being a completely uneducated person, I do not know Latin or Greek. But I do have a favorite Latin word: imperium. As in “imperialist,” of course, and other such Maoist terms of abuse. As I am already on record as a reactionary, I will cheerfully confess to being an imperialist as well.

Imperium is a cognate of the English word empire. But the two are not synonyms: empire in English has shifted to imply the international relationship also known as suzerainty, ie, the relationship between Washington and its puppet states. Which is pretty cool, but which is at best a special case of imperium, which is better translated as command or authority. Similarly, the Roman title of Imperator, which became our Emperor, is best translated as Commander, and originally just meant “general.”

To hold imperium is to command, to hold sovereignty. Sovereignty, as we saw last week, is not sovereignty unless it is above the law. In any organization we can identify the summum imperium, or power of final decision. At least at a civilian level, this is generally held by either an individual or a small committee. For example, in the United States, this committee is called the “Supreme Court.” In the Soviet Union it was called the “Politburo.” Of course these two institutions had very little else in common, but they both held the summum imperium.

If you doubt this analysis, note that only the justices’ own consciences, which have oft proved fickle, force them to obey any code of conduct whatsoever. They could order Barack Obama to stand on his head and snap a Polaroid of his own rectum in order to be inaugurated. He would have to comply, and I am quite confident that he is capable of doing so.

(I hate to mention politics, but I hope all readers with any interest in finance are familiar with Dealbreaker, whose hostess EP even before the Obama administration begins has discovered the exact level of dissident bitchery it deserves. “Who could rival the innate obscenity of U.S. star fucking, so ritualized from repetition at this point as to roll off us like mercury off a greased duck’s back?” We’ll see more of this tone, I’m confident.)

Despite all protests to the contrary, constitutional democracy has neither squared the circle nor solved the old Roman problem of ipsos custodes. Whatever the names and rituals, real power in the state can always be tracked. Let’s look in more detail at the power structure of constitutional democracy, using our old friend USG as the example. (Its clones around the world differ little.)

Imperium always comes in layers of delegation, in which one power relinquishes decisions to another. At the top level – level zero, as it were – is always the military. The US military is of course a large and diverse entity, but imagine it could find some way to agree unanimously that sovereignty, the summum imperium, would revert to some some specific office in the Pentagon. SOCOM is a good candidate.

What would people do? What could they do? They would say: “duh, okay. We welcome our new green-beret overlords. Sure. Frankly, we were a little electioned-out, anyway. And Professor Bernanke no longer enjoys our complete confidence. So, yeah, whatever. Could we resume normal programming now? I was watching VH-1, here.”

Ergo, the military in all countries and at all all times enjoys the summum imperium. In a state in which normal civil-military relations pertain, the military is completely passive, and delegates its authority completely. In a few less-devolved states such as modern Turkey, it still exercises genuine reserve power and may have some influence on civil decisions. (Sadly, the fabled deep state may be on the decline since the Ergenekon purge.)

I am sorry to report to critics of the American right, such as Naomi Wolf, that the United States does not in fact have a “deep state.” However, if the American right wanted to actually get off its butt and do something, it could find many worse manuals than her latest. Of course it will execute no such coup, at least no time soon. Ever since Defoe wrote the Shortest Way, the conspiracy theories of leftists have been the best guide to what the right should do, but won’t.

The next layer of imperium in a democratic state – layer one – is, of course, the electorate. Ie, the people who vote. My belief that the electorate holds a high degree of imperium is not at all inconsistent with my belief that the influence of elections on public policy is generally small. The same after all can be said of the military, whose vote is final but at present unexercised.

The electorate and the military are layers one and zero, because the military can resist anyone in the contest for sovereignty, and the electorate can resist everyone but the military. For example, control of 51 senators and the Presidency is sufficient to defeat all other institutions in USG, because it is sufficient to pack the Supreme Court. Obviously, the electorate can achieve this.

It may not even need the senators. Consider the case of a Presidential candidate whose platform is plain about her plans: if elected, she will suspend all other institutions and rule as a dictator. Suppose Sarah Palin, for example, ran on this platform in 2012. Suppose she won. Does anyone doubt that Washington would obey her every personal whim – exactly as it obeyed, say, FDR’s? I suppose it would depend on whether Governor Palin has the natural knack of imperium, and we can’t know this unless we actually see her in action. But I actually suspect she might.

We move to the next stage: level two, ultimate civil authority. The summum imperium here rests, as mentioned, in the Supreme Court, and more generally the judicial system. Judges try to avoid actually formulating public policy, however, typically delegating this task to executive agencies. Domestic and (rarely) foreign policy is sometimes altered, in broad strokes, by Congress. There are also various differences depending on whether the President is a Democrat or a Republican, but we are down to minutiae at this point.

When we look at the remarkable stability of Washington, even in pursuing paths which to the outside eye are plainly, even comically, counterproductive, we have to focus our attention first on level one: the electorate. The opinion of the electorate is exactly what it is supposed to be: the hinge of power in the United States today. Level zero is passive. Level two cannot resist level one.

Therefore, to understand the forces directing the actions of Washington today, we have to understand one thing: the relationship between levels one and two, the electorate and the (mostly) permanent government.

Who are these voters, anyway? There are innumerable ways to classify the American voter, at least half of which UR has already indulged in. But I hate to repeat myself, so let’s try to come up with something new.

One way to ask how American voters will vote is to consider what they are trying to accomplish when they go to the ballot box. Obviously, they are making an altruistic attempt to affect the direction of government policy. (The attempt is altruistic because no voter seriously expects his or her vote to affect his or her life.) Obviously, few of them has anything near an understanding of what Washington actually is – most have only a dim grasp of even the official story. But still, they are thinking something when they fill in the box for the R or the D. What is it?

There are basically three ways in which American voters – or voters anywhere in the world, for that matter – conceptualize their participation in democracy. From the bottom up, we can label these modes tribal, populist, and institutionalist.

Tribal voters vote on the basis of ethnic and familial identity. In one very legitimate sense, they are the most rational voters around. A tribal voter is acting collectively to benefit his or her tribe. This group can be hereditary, adoptive, occupational, etc, as long as it feels some sort of collective cohesion or asabiya.

In a civilized, stable democracy, only a minority of voters can be tribal. If you want to see a democracy with a tribal majority, I give you South Africa. As a minority, tribal voting blocs generally serve as vote banks for more dominant players. The tribal bloc or blocs become clients of whichever party is strong enough to buy their votes. This can be done as straight-out, lawless graft, or by steering various benefits – payments, loans, jobs, etc – to members and/or leaders of the tribe.

Our second group of voters is the populist group. When populists vote, they are trying to compel the government to act in accordance with their own beliefs, generally derived from a mixture of common sense, tradition and personal experience, of what is right for a government to do.

Populists voters are people who genuinely believe in democracy. They believe that the way Washington works is that the people elect a President, who “runs the country.” I once had an email exchange with a very successful, and quite erudite, populist political blogger who did not understand that President Bush cannot fire a State Department employee, just because that employee is openly trying to sabotage White House initiatives.

This is an excellent example of the level of complete structural misconception that a populist voter can entertain when attempting to vote. If populists had any idea at all of how Washington actually works, they would not continue to participate in the increasingly farcical elections by which they repeatedly endorse it.

The fact of the matter is that Washington as it exists today, 21st-century Washington, is designed to resist populist politics in roughly the same way that a lighthouse is designed to resist waves. The entire thrust of 20th-century American government has been to separate public policy from politics, ie, to eliminate the menace of democracy. If you read about what American politics was a century ago, this program – originally the program of the Mugwumps, and then of various flavors of liberal and progressive, including of course the New Deal – is perfectly understandable.

The problem is basically solved. Populist resistance, a la Poujadisme, no longer exists in Washington’s test facilities in Western Europe, now governed largely by a central administration which has no discernible ties to any democratic election. At present, the primary distinction between the EU and the late Soviet Union is that the latter was much more Russian, thus exhibiting a mixture of incompetence and brutality that is hard to duplicate west of the Elbe. But give it a few years.

Populism still has a solid position in the American political system, but it is fading rapidly, as is the importance of politics. The Obama administration seems set to be an almost entirely ceremonial one – at least, the President-elect has displayed no strong evidence of any fixed opinions on any subject. Even the populism of the Bush administration is greatly overstated; a significant minority of the American foreign-policy establishment supported the invasion of Iraq, which was neither an explosion of jingoist fervor, nor the President’s personal whim, nor the conspiracy of some Texan “deep state.”

The basic advantage of populism is that, if the claimed virtues of democracy are anywhere, they are here. Common sense and plain thinking, in a reasonably intelligent brain, are remarkably immune to the ethereal delusions that so easily infect the brilliant and educated. However, common sense cannot exist without tradition. The best traditions of the American populist voter are steadily being eroded by an educational system that populists do not control, and his worst traditions are steadily being exacerbated by churches and talk-radio networks that populists do control.

The entire political structure of the American populist tradition is set up to select for ignorance and stupidity, and select against organization and cohesion. Thus it is simultaneously undesirable and ineffective, and even those of us who like myself sympathize with it to a considerable degree are often slightly relieved to see it lose, as it always does.

Even when populists win Presidential elections, they simply have no way to control Washington. Even with Congress and the Presidency, the White House has no real authority over the civil service, who outside the military are institutionalist by definition. The “Reagan Revolution” started out as a populist tsunami designed to smash the New Deal, and turned into nothing at all. Nixon’s “silent majority” met an even more inglorious fate. At most a few token populist policies can be advanced. Populists can of course disrupt the institutional bowels of the state, leading to a sort of policy constipation, but like the old House of Lords, their only real power is to delay.

Since populists have no idea of any of this, they participate enthusiastically in the sham. Sometimes they win a little, but in the end they always lose. And they are such gentlemen about it, too. Somehow no one has ever explained to Middle America that if you don’t know who the sucker at the table is, the sucker is you.

And finally we come to our ruling class, the institutionalists. Institutionalism, as previously mentioned, is an essentially aristocratic belief system. The institutionalist voter votes not because she believes government policies should be decided at the ballot box, but because she believes they shouldn’t.

Rather, she believes that government policies should be determined by a set of official and quasiofficial agencies which have earned her trust permanently and completely, the way a good Catholic trusts the Vatican. Following the analogy, here at UR we refer to this meta-institution as the Cathedral. The Cathedral consists of the universities and the press. Its spire is the Ivy League and the New York Times, whose faculty and news desk respectively are endowed with an almost pure connection to the inner light – lesser institutions, of course, following their lead.

It is not that the institutionalist voter does not believe in democracy. She does believe in democracy. She believes passionately in democracy. But her democracy is very different from the democracy of her mortal enemy, the populist.

To the institutionalist, the way democracy works is that democracy depends on the educated voter. The voter is to be educated by institutionalists, of course, because institutionalists are right. Some level of ignorance and recalcitrance can be expected, and there will always be dissent, but through this cycle of education and election we are always advancing into the future. The reason we have elected officials is not so that they can manage the government, a task which must of course be left to the experts (who are institutionalists, of course). Rather, officials such as the President are essentially educational figures, participating in a public discourse in which the “bully pulpit” – an oddly revealing term – delivers further education. In turn, by electing a good President, the voters demonstrate the depth of their educated wisdom. Und so weiter.

Note the function of populist and tribal voters in the institutionalist’s mind. The populist electorate supplies the bogeyman. The fear of a populist takeover, which is theoretically always a possibility and has even happened once or twice in history (eg, Nazi Germany), can keep even the most jaded of institutionalist voters coming back to the polls. Even though it never seems to actually happen. Moreover, the populists are barraged by a flood of institutionalist messages more or less from birth to death. They are naturally resistant, but the programming wears them down over time.

Meanwhile, the tribals, who are votes for rent, will always support the institutionalist bloc (and may even make up a majority of their support, though at a certain level this becomes dangerous.) Their votes are guaranteed in exchange for permanent government programs, administered by institutionalists, that render them dependent on the Cathedral’s rule for their lives and livelihoods.

As for the institution itself – the Cathedral – it is, except in its majestic extent and intricacy, not unusual by any historical standard. The Cathedral is a selective aristocracy, which is more or less the way China was run for about 2500 years. It is also the way the Soviet Union was run, the way the Catholic Church was run, the way China today is run, and the way Nazi Germany probably would have been run if we still had a Nazi Germany to kick around. As in all these institutions, rank and place in it is in high demand, and those who rise to the top are men and women of no mean capacity.

However, there is just one little problem: the Cathedral is not responsible. At least, if it is responsible, we cannot detect any mechanism by which it is responsible.

What compels the Cathedral to devise and promulgate good and effective policies, rather than evil or counterproductive ones? If there is an an answer to this question, I cannot discern it. If there is an external or internal mechanism which can correct any errors which may occur in the Cathedral – for example, a completely corrupt and meretricious field of learning, a discipline of institutionalized crackpottery, as Lysenko created in Russia – I cannot find it.

I cannot even identify some reserved power which can remove the Cathedral if it goes completely off the rails. Certainly nothing short of a titanic populist explosion or a military coup can dislodge institutionalism for good. The first cure may be worse than the disease, and the second is a complete unknown and shows no signs of being a real possibility. And while the Cathedral’s energumens, levels one and two in concert, hold their lock on power, it is free to go as far off the rails as it wants.

There is no responsibility. The chain of guardians stretches up to Harvard, where it is tied to nothing and guarded by itself. Consider the possibility, for example, that the people we call “economists” in fact know nothing at all about economics. Is this farfetched? After October 2008, can we call this farfetched? And if it isn’t, what other worms are in your brain?

Patchwork 2: profit strategies for our new corporate overlords

November 20, 2008

I fear last week’s essay, after promising an absence of grim, dumped a can of it down your shirt. I apologize for this, dear readers, and also for the awful, incendiary closing cliffhanger. (But fear not. We will answer the question.) UR has never been an easy ride, but I really don’t mean to abuse the customer in this way. If nothing else, it repels the good and attracts the bad.

But unfortunately for those who are bored with these warm, gaseous exhalations, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is simply not possible to get into the meat of a UR post without a fresh introduction to the anti-democratic, and frankly authoritarian, philosophy of government for which we are so notorious. (You do know that just reading this blog makes you a bad person, don’t you?) Unless you are a hardened longtime reader, UR is just off your political map, and anyone can click on a blog for the first time. Besides, one can never be too deprogrammed.

Most people, when they take a whack at designing a government (an engineering task at which all God’s chilluns just naturally excel), tend to ask themselves: what should the government do? Of course this is the wrong question. The right question is: what will the government do?

(A great example of asking the right question, but still getting the wrong answer, is Federalist 10. It is almost funny to read Madison’s bogus remedies for the well-known ills of democracy, like national size as an infallible nostrum against political parties – not unlike perusing some medieval pharmacopoeia which prescribes dried wolf dick for breast cancer.)

For example, most democratic citizens are firm believers in the concept of limited government. In the all-curing magic black bag of democracy, limited government is the first-line ointment. Apparently a government can prevent itself and its successors indefinite from doing bad things, just by writing a note to itself that says “don’t do bad things.”

Swallowing the red pill, departing the Matrix and donning our alien-detecting Ray-Bans, we realize at once that no government can limit itself. Limited government is a perpetual-motion machine: a product axiomatically fraudulent by definition. In any human organization, final authority rests with some person or persons, not with any rule, process or procedure.

This is not to say that there is no distinction between Washington and Pyongyang. What we call the “rule of law” is a good thing. But if you have an efficient engine, there is no point in marketing it as an infinitely efficient engine. The noble ideal of “limited government” or “rule of law” is a piece of political camouflage, behind which lurks a useful and effective, but certainly imperfect and not even slightly divine, corporate design: that of judicial supremacy. In a sentence: juridical supremacy is judicial supremacy.

Judicial supremacy is a management design in which ultimate sovereign authority rests with committees of arbitrators who are experts in proper government procedure. The design certainly has its merits. If implemented well, for example, it can reduce personal graft among employees to negligible levels. Hardly a high standard, but I am happy to be governed by a regime which has achieved it. But ultimately, judicial supremacy can become arbitrarily evil – all it takes is arbitrarily evil judges.

Is judicial supremacy, for example, superior to military supremacy? This is like asking if a rowboat is better than a sailboat. For some purposes it is, for some it isn’t. In peacetime you would probably rather have the former. If you want to win a war you probably want the latter.

Neither, however, can be said to be in any sense predictable by design. A judicial kritocracy or a military dictatorship may deliver good government, or bad government. Either can be nice or nasty. In the end, the words “judge” and “general” are just words. It is not at all difficult to imagine a process of political evolution by which they swap meanings.

(Herr Teufelsdröckh’s philosophy of Clothes has never said more. Can a General command, in a Black Robe? or Justice be laid down, in Camo? – most assuredly; and the Devil too, in either! But more of him in short. Under the Clothes is a Man – who is he? How got he here? What does he at his Desk? None of these having much to do with your Design.)

Is it possible to design a structure of government which will be stable and predictable? Hopefully, of course, stably and predictably benign? History affords no evidence of it. But history affords no evidence of semiconductors, either. There is always room for something new.

The key is that word should. When you say your government “should do X,” or “should not do Y,” you are speaking in the hieratic language of democracy. You are postulating some ethereal and benign higher sovereign, which can enforce promises made by the mere government to whose whims you would otherwise be subject. In reality, while your government can certainly promise to do X or not to do Y, there is no power that can hold it to this promise. Or if there is, it is that power which is your real government. Your whining should be addressed to it.

The neocameralist structure of Patchwork realms, which are sovereign joint-stock companies, creates a different kind of should. This is the profitable should. We can say that a realm should do X rather than Y, because X is more profitable than Y. Since sovereign means sovereign, nothing can compel the realm to do X and not Y. But, with an anonymous capital structure, we can expect administrators to be generally responsible and not make obvious stupid mistakes.

Another way to say this is that a realm is financially responsible. The general observation here is that, to paraphrase Tolstoy, financially responsible organizations are all alike. By definition, they do not waste money. By definition, their irresponsible counterparts do, and by definition there are an infinite number of ways to waste money. Think of a rope: a financially responsible organization is a tight rope. It only has one shape. But if there is slack in the rope, it can flap around in all kinds of crazy ways.

It is immediately clear that the neocameralist should, the tight rope, is far inferior to the ethereal should, the magic leash of God. (Typically these days arriving in the form of vox populi, vox Dei. Or, as a cynic might put it: vox populi, vox praeceptori.)

Given the choice between financial responsibility and moral responsibility, I will take the latter every time. If it was possible to write a set of rules on paper and require one’s children and one’s children’s children to comply with this bible, all sorts of eternal principles for good government and healthy living could be set out.

But we cannot construct a political structure that will enforce moral responsibility. We can construct a political structure that will enforce financial responsibility. Thus neocameralism. We might say that financial responsibility is the raw material of moral responsibility. The two are not by any means identical, but they are surprisingly similar, and the gap seems bridgeable.

When we use the profitable should, therefore, we are in the corporate strategy department. We ask: how should a Patchwork realm, or any financially responsible government, be designed to maximize the return on its capital?

For our overall realm design, let’s simplify the Anglo-American corporate model slightly. We’ll have direct shareholder sovereignty, with no board of directors. The board layer strikes me as a bit of an anachronism, and it is certainly one place stuff can go wrong. Deleted. And I also dislike the term ‘CEO,’ which seems a bit vainglorious for a sovereign organization. A softer word with a pleasant Quaker feel is delegate, although we will compromise on a capital. And we can call the logical holder of each share its proprietor.

Therefore: a Patchwork realm is governed by a Delegate, who is the proxy of the proprietors, and can be replaced by a majority of them at any time and for any reason. The Delegate exercises undivided sovereign authority, as in divine-right monarchy. Ie, in English: total power. (The Delegate is always Jewish.)

This fragile-looking design can succeed at the sovereign layer because, and only because, modern encryption technology makes it feasible. The proprietors use a secret-sharing scheme to control a root key that must regularly reauthorize the Delegate, and thus in turn the command hierarchy of the security forces, in a pyramid leading down to cryptographic locks on individual weapons. If the Delegate turns on the proprietors, they may have to wait a day to authorize the replacement, and another day or two before the new Delegate can organize the forces needed to have her predecessor captured and shot. Fiduciary responsibility has its price.

That modern cryptography was not available to the Most Serene Republic of Venice does not mean they wouldn’t have used it if they’d had it. Since we have it, we can use it. Since the algorithms date to the 1970s, it’s not surprising that history has no record of cryptographic organizational structures at the sovereign level. Since the neocameralist design for a sovereign corporation depends on them, it’s not surprising that history shows us nothing of the kind. While as a reactionary I believe that the legal and political structures of old Europe, so often defamed as “feudal,” are a treasure trove of sovereign organization and if restored in toto tomorrow would prove on balance a vast human boon, it is a slight overstatement to assume that everything old is beautiful and sweet, and anything new must suck.

For simplicity, our realm will do its books in gold. The spectacle of a sovereign corporation that maintains accounts in its own scrip is a fascinating one, at least from a financial perspective, and we cannot write it off quite so casually as yet another 20th-century monstrosity. It is not impossible that fiat currency can be made to turn a buck. It is unlikely that the proprietors will want their dividends in it, however.

And who are the proprietors? Anyone. They are anonymous shareholders. It may be desirable, though, for a realm to enjoin its residents from holding its shares. It is not normally necessary for a company to refrain from serving its shareholders as customers, but a sovereign realm is not a normal company. A resident shareholder has a conflict of interest, because he may have an opportunity to use the power of his share to promote policies that reward him directly but are not in the interests of his non-resident fellows. The effect is small, but better to rule it out.

We’ll also assume – assumption to be justified below – that realms exist in a competitive market in which residents can easily take their business elsewhere if they don’t like the service.

Given this setup, let’s say you’re the Delegate. Your patch is the city of San Francisco, and your realm is its new corporate overlord – Friscorp. Friscorp is yours. Not that you own it, of course, just that the owners have hired you to run it.

First, let’s enumerate the basic principles of sovereign corporate management.

Principle one: the proprietors’ sovereignty is absolute. Securing it against all enemies, foreign and domestic, is the primary fiduciary responsibility of the Delegate. Lose the patch and the realm is worthless, and so are the shares. Everything else, even profit, comes after security.

Principle two: a realm is a business, not a charity. Its goal is to maximize its discounted return on investment. If Delegate and proprietors alike somehow manage to forget this, in the long run their realm will deteriorate, develop red-giant syndrome, and become gigantic, corrupt and foul. It may even turn into a democracy.

Principle three: except in cases where it conflicts with the first or second principles, “do no evil” is always good business. Think of your realm as a hotel. As Mark Twain once put it: “all saints can do miracles, but few of them can keep hotel.” And while many hotelkeepers can do miracles, few indeed are saints. But all are nice to the customers – at least, the 99.999% of customers who feel no need to start torching the drapery.

While our test case, San Francisco, is hardly representative of the average stitch of Earth’s skin, it will probably be harder to manage than most – being both urban, and urbane. So how, as Delegate of Friscorp, would you run your town? Let’s start by assuming a steady-state system, ducking as usual the problem of getting from here to there.

There are two basic tasks of a realm: managing the residents, and surviving in the big bad world. Let’s take these one at a time.

Any hominid, hominoid, or other bipedal ape present on Friscorp’s patch is a resident. The basic idea of a realm is that the proprietors profit by providing the residents with a pleasant place to live, be happy, and of course be productive. Basically, if you’re not nice to the hominids, they’ll leave, the proprietors won’t have a business, and you won’t have a job.

It is difficult for those of us who grew up under democracy to juxtapose this fact, which is an incentive rather than a constraint, with the fact that as Delegate of Friscorp, you exercise undivided sovereignty over San Francisco. You have no constraint. Your residents are as ants in your kitchen. No combination of them can possibly oppose you. Not even if they all come together in one big angry mob, screaming, jumping up and down, waving their little signs and throwing rocks and gravel. All will be massacred by your invincible robot armies. Pour la canaille, la mitraille!

And even without any such cause for complaint, if it would be profitable to just spray the whole city down, exterminating the current crop of worthless bipeds and replacing them with a more upscale crowd, you will. And if you don’t, your proprietors will fire you and hire a new Delegate with a clue. Terrifying! At least from the San Franciscans’ perspective.

But we can nip this grimness right here: it won’t be profitable. Why exterminate, when you can enslave? (It won’t be profitable to enslave, either. But see further.) Once again, Patchwork residents do not rely on imaginary constraints to feel secure in the icy, lethal jaws of a sovereign state which could slaughter them all. They rely on real incentives. While the incentives may not be 100% reliable, they at least exist.

A realm signs a formal contract, or covenant, with all responsible residents. The deal is this: the resident agrees not to misbehave, the realm agrees not to mistreat him. Definitions of each are set down in great detail. In case of conflict, the realm appoints an arbitrator to hear the case. All cases can be appealed up to the Delegate, who has the power not only to interpret the covenant but also – being sovereign – to suspend it.

This process is called “law.” It is not a novelty. A realm may adopt and/or modify any of the old Continental, British or American systems of law. If a common-law system is adopted, precedent should be rolled back to 1900 at the latest, and probably more like 1800. The democratic era has corrupted everything, law being no exception.

The covenant has two sides, but the sides are not equal. The realm, having sovereign power, can compel the resident to comply with all promises. Since San Francisco is not an Islamic state, it does not ask its residents to agree that their hand will be cut off if they steal. But it could. And San Francisco, likewise, can promise not to cut off its residents’ hands until it is blue in the face – but, since it is a sovereign state, no one can enforce this promise against it.

For exactly this reason, however, San Francisco must guard its reputation. It does this by living up to its promises, as much as possible. If it is forced by unexpected, understandable circumstances to invoke force majeure, people will probably understand. If it breaks its own promises all the time and for no good reason, amputating hands willy-nilly after swearing up and down that life and limb are sacred, it will not be viewed as a safe place to live, and no one will want to live there. Congratulations on your new burned-out ruin. The views, at least, remain spectacular. Your replacement can probably find a way to salvage some tiny fraction of his employers’ capital by turning the place into some kind of eco-park.

To live in or even just visit San Francisco, a hominid must either sign the covenant, or be a dependent of some guardian who has signed the covenant. Ie, your hominid must either be responsible, or have someone who is responsible for it. San Francisco is a city, not a zoo. The signer of the covenant, the responsible party, is the subject.

In the covenant, the realm promises to protect the subject’s person, property and dependents. It indemnifies the subject against crime, and pays unrecoverable tort claims. There is no such thing as perfect security, and bad things can happen to anyone anywhere, but Friscorp considers all disturbances of the peace to be its problem and its fault.

And most important, Friscorp guarantees your right to depart from the city with person, property and dependents, unless of course you are fleeing legal proceedings. (And maybe even if you are – of course, you would have to find another patch willing to take you.)

In return, the subject promises not to disturb the peace of San Francisco, or permit his or her dependents to do so. (I favor the ancient Roman design, in which the guardian is responsible for the actions of his dependents, and holds the authority of patria potestas over them. Authority and responsibility, as usual, being unified. Not quite a fractal or hierarchical sovereignty, but close. Friscorp has no business case for interfering in its subjects’ family lives.)

Residents of a Patchwork realm have no security or privacy against the realm. There is no possible conflict in the matter: not being malignant, the government is not a threat to its residents, and since it is sovereign they are not a threat to it. This absence of conflict allows the government to enforce a much higher level of peaceful interaction between residents.

All residents, even temporary visitors, carry an ID card with RFID response. All are genotyped and iris-scanned. Public places and transportation systems track everyone. Security cameras are ubiquitous. Every car knows where it is and who is sitting in it, and tells the authorities both. Residents cannot use this data to snoop into each others’ lives, but Friscorp can use it to monitor society at an almost arbitrarily detailed level.

In return, residents experience a complete absence of crime – at least at the level of present-day Japan, and ideally much lower. (San Francisco has no need of Yakuza.) Residents also experience a complete lack of security theater – to board a plane, they walk right on. Friscorp has no reason to tolerate the presence of dangerous or unidentified hominids at large in its city, any more than it would tolerate leopards on the loose.

Strong identification and tracking of residents also mitigates one of the most obvious problems with the Patchwork approach, the inconvenience of constantly crossing borders in a world of small sovereignties. What does a resident do if she lives in San Francisco and wants to drive to Berkeley, which is a different country? Is there a checkpoint on the Bay Bridge?

Not at all. She just drives to Berkeley. Her car knows who is in it, and the authorities of both SF and Berkeley know where it is. If she is for some reason not authorized to enter Berkeley, all sorts of alarms will flash. If she persists, she will be of course detained. Having a scalpel, Patchwork feels no need to whack anyone with a club.

One way to see internal security in a Patchwork realm is as a compromise between two sorts of Orwellianism. In the sense that the realm is (effectively) omniscient and omnipotent, it would fit most peoples’ definition of “Orwellian.”

In return for its Orwellian powers of observation and action, however, Friscorp has no interest at all in the other half of Orwellianism: the psychological manipulation of public opinion as a device for regime stabilization. The realm cares what its residents do. It does not care what they think. It is difficult to express the importance of this freedom to those who have found a way to live without it.

There is one problem, though, which is the problem I mentioned last week: the problem of adults who are not productive members of society. In our little Newspeak we call them wards of the realm. A ward is any resident who is not capable of earning a living, is not accepted as a dependent by any guardian, and is not wanted by any other patch.

The initial conversion of our present, democratic, and of course completely dysfunctional San Francisco into the realm of Friscorp will produce quite a few wards. At least relative to the number we would expect to emerge in a healthy society. But there will always be black sheep, and there will always be wards.

As Delegate of San Francisco, what should you do with these people? I think the answer is clear: alternative energy. Since wards are liabilities, there is no business case for retaining them in their present, ambulatory form. Therefore, the most profitable disposition for this dubious form of capital is to convert them into biodiesel, which can help power the Muni buses.

Okay, just kidding. This is the sort of naive Randian thinking which appeals instantly to a geek like me, but of course has nothing to do with real life. The trouble with the biodiesel solution is that no one would want to live in a city whose public transportation was fueled, even just partly, by the distilled remains of its late underclass.

However, it helps us describe the problem we are trying to solve. Our goal, in short, is a humane alternative to genocide. That is: the ideal solution achieves the same result as mass murder (the removal of undesirable elements from society), but without any of the moral stigma. Perfection cannot be achieved on both these counts, but we can get closer than most might think.

The best humane alternative to genocide I can think of is not to liquidate the wards – either metaphorically or literally – but to virtualize them. A virtualized human is in permanent solitary confinement, waxed like a bee larva into a cell which is sealed except for emergencies. This would drive him insane, except that the cell contains an immersive virtual-reality interface which allows him to experience a rich, fulfilling life in a completely imaginary world.

The virtual worlds of today are already exciting enough to distract many away from their real lives. They will only get better. Nor is productive employment precluded in this scenario – for example, wards can perform manual labor through telepresence. As members of society, however, they might as well not exist. And because cells are sealed and need no guards, virtualization should be much cheaper than present-day imprisonment.

I like virtualization because it can be made to scale. I don’t think there is any scenario under which San Francisco is burdened with more than a few thousand wards. Many other regions of the earth, however, contain large numbers of human beings whose existence may well prove an unequivocal liability to the owners of any ground on which they would reside. If so, they can be virtualized, creating giant human Wachowski honeycombs of former bezonians, whose shantytowns can be cleared and redeveloped as villas for retired oil-company executives.

Of course, virtualization is a drastic alternative and itself unlikely to happen. Charity is just too popular these days. Before anyone becomes a ward of the realm, any person or organization is free to adopt him as a dependent as a matter of mutual agreement. His new guardian is (a) responsible for his actions, and (b) free to tell him what to do: the ideal relationship for any attempt at rehabilitation. (It’s basically what the Salvation Army does now, I believe.) If all else fails, there’s always the honeycomb.

I think this problem gives a flavor of the kind of thinking we would expect in an entrepreneurial sovereign. The result is quite foreign to the democratic philosophy of government, obviously, and it takes some imagination to picture. But I seriously doubt that many who had a chance to live in this future would have much interest in restoring the past.

Libertarians in particular may have a great deal of trouble understanding how an authoritarian, omnipotent and omniscient sovereign can be expected to create a free society. The fundamental diagnosis of libertarianism – that today’s democratic governments are much larger and much more intrusive than they should be – is obviously correct. The remedy proposed, however, does not have anything like a track record of success.

In fact, I believe the libertarian opposition to sovereignty, dating back to Locke, is a major cause of modern big government. Our present establishments, not to mention our tax rates, dwarf any divine-right monarchy in history. The attempt to limit the state, if it has any result, tends to result in an additional layer of complexity which weakens it and makes it more inefficient. This inefficiency gives it both the need and the excuse to expand.

So we may ask: why does the post office suck? Not because it is sovereign, but because it is not financially responsible. Its freedom to be wasteful and inefficient is what gives it that familiar Aeroflot feel. (The bankrupt airlines, such as United, feel more like Aeroflot every year.) When we postulate a sovereign authority which is financially responsible, like a Patchwork realm, we have no reason to expect it to display these pathologies of government. In particular, we cannot expect it to waste resources in order to pointlessly annoy its residents, a form of inefficiency in which democratic regimes seem to positively revel.

The sight of a financially responsible sovereign, even the thought-experiment of one, is a good lesson for libertarians, because it reminds us what a healthy government actually is. Today’s democratic megastates are to healthy sovereigns as liver cancer is to liver. If you find liver cells invading every other organ and crushing them all into goo, it is only natural to think that the cure might be a drug that was lethal to liver cells. But you actually need a liver. You need to kill the cancer, not the liver.

Next week, we’ll finish off the design with a look at external security: Patchwork as a whole. How does this glorious tapestry stay afloat? Why doesn’t it just collapse into a single patch? And how can it defend itself from its unreconstructed, 20th-century-style neighbors?

Patchwork: a positive vision (part 1)

November 13, 2008

I’m afraid UR has been a bit, well, grim, of late.

One can flirt only so long with Confederate racist fascism, before eliciting a few jitters. Is our reader really going to be dragged into this horrible, subterranean universe? Is she even comfortable having it on her computer at work? And then we took this awful, bumpy ride into the eel-infested deeps of Obama Derangement Syndrome, which can’t have helped matters.

So this week, I thought it would be nice to be positive. Therefore, let me present Patchwork: the Mencist vision of a political system for the 21st century. At the risk of being accused of a sales job, I will paint Patchwork in warm, glowing, Obamatronic pastels. Rather than our usual chilly, Machiavellian cynicism. Yes, I know, this is unfair. But here at UR, we’re always closing.

To start the hype machine, let’s just say that if anyone can build anything like Patchwork, even a tiny, crude, Third World ripoff of Patchwork, it is all over for the democratic regimes. It’ll be like East Germany competing with West Germany. (Funnily enough, the financial relationship between the US and the Gulf/East Asia, the most Patchwork-like part of the world at present, is oddly reminiscent of that between the OECD and the Warsaw Pact: the latter borrow from the former to buy cheap consumer goods, supplied by the former, for the latter’s serfs.)

Children growing up in the Patchwork era will learn a new name and a new history of the democratic past. They will date the period to the Dutch invasion of England (1688), which ended the span of legitimate continuity in English government that began with William the Conqueror, replacing it with eternal, degenerate Whiggery and the quisling, “constitutional” or ceremonial Hanover princes. And they will surely call it something cool, like the Anglo-American Interregnum. Insulting it with the name of “democracy” will be coarse and over-the-top.

Said Interregnum, which we are of course still in, has been a period of global monotonic decline in official authority. As in the late Roman period, declining official authority, declining personal morality, and increasing public bureaucracy are observed in synchrony. This is not in any way a coincidence. The combination is an infallible symptom of the great terminal disease of the polity – leftism. Leftism is cancer. At least in its present adult, sclerotic and non-fulminating form, it is extremely slow in its progress, but the end is not in doubt.

On theoretical grounds alone – the feat has never really been achieved, at least never for good – the only cure for leftism is complete and permanent excision. Success implies complete absence of the organism from the body politic. This does not mean there are no leftists in the country; in a well-governed country which is at peace, people can think or say whatever they damned well please. It just means that, if there are for some reason leftists, their views are completely without influence on government policy. So people laugh at them, and call them names.

(Isn’t this a lovely vision? A Lennonesque feat of delirious, constructive imagination? A world without leftism? Imagine! It’s hard to imagine only if you have trouble imagining a Nazi John Lennon – a feat which taxes my imagination not at all. But maybe I’ve been reading too much Hitler. It really is a tough call to say who was more coherent, Lennon or Hitler.)

Acceptance of this goal, which I will not attempt to justify today, but which I think Patchwork can achieve, is the difference between a conservative, ie a fellow who thinks he can beat melanoma with an emery board, and a full-bore reactionary such as myself. If you happen to be wrong, you have leaped the rail of sanity. So it is incumbent on us to argue carefully.

But I’m sorry. I am being intentionally abrasive again. As an extremist, I prefer this harsh, confrontational rhetoric to any kind of honeyed cozening. The basic goal of UR, I don’t mind admitting, is to convince people who are now progressives to abandon their delusions. Since progressives equate those who accept the reactionary narrative of recent history with acolytes of the Great Goat-Lord Abaddon, one must tread carefully. And if you must come as an Abaddonite, the only way to set your quarry at ease is to constantly confess your vileness. That way the progressive might even just clasp you to his heart – along with all the satanic murderers he is so keen to embrace.

(Consider, for instance, the case of Jose Luis Dorantes. Masters! Mighty masters! Lord Barack, Lady Michelle, and their new puppy too! Father who art in heaven, your Lordships! How have we offended you? When did we sin? What penance must we say? Which word of yours did we cross – to have a Jose Luis Dorantes inflicted on us? And how in grievous error may we repent? Another diversity-training session, perhaps, or three?)

Anyway. Obviously I am just trying to get you wound up, dear reader. I’m sorry. I know. It is crass. So let’s have a look at Patchwork.

The basic idea of Patchwork is that, as the crappy governments we inherited from history are smashed, they should be replaced by a global spiderweb of tens, even hundreds, of thousands of sovereign and independent mini-countries, each governed by its own joint-stock corporation without regard to the residents’ opinions. If residents don’t like their government, they can and should move. The design is all “exit,” no “voice.”

(I’m not aware of any specific writer that has proposed exactly this, but it is certainly not an original or interesting idea in and of itself. I’ve certainly read about six zillion science-fiction books in which this is the general state of the future. The devil, however, is in the details. We will go into the details.)

The essential inspiration for Patchwork is the observation that the periods in which human civilization has flowered are the periods in which it has been most politically divided. Ancient Greece, medieval Italy, Europe until 1914, China in the Spring and Autumn Period, and so on. Burckhardt once observed that Europe was safe so long as she was not unified, and now that she is we can see exactly what he meant.

Small is good. Local is good. Different is good. We know these things. These are not controversial assertions – even in the hippest streets of Williamsburg. Heck, President Obama is probably a Slow Food man himself. (Once my daughter, aged four months, was in a bakery in the Castro and met Alice Waters. Alice Waters smiled and told Sibyl she was very cute. Which Sibyl is – she might as well be on the Gerber bottle. And Alice Waters might as well be a duchess. Heck, Alice Waters probably laughs at duchesses.)

So how, exactly, did all these Obamaniacs, these whiterpeople, these Burning Man regulars, these young, hip progressives, convince themselves that when it comes to government, bigger is better? That in fact we need a world government, toot sweet? That international public opinion is all that really matters in the world, that America should lead the world, feed the world, and be governed by the world?

But somehow they did. The issues that matter to them – the composition-of-the-atmosphere question, and the like – always tend to be transnational. As big as possible. As Peter Gabriel put it, they think big thoughts. (We reactionaries, when we act locally, would rather think locally as well. Always best to think about what you’re actually doing.)

This paradox is just one more stimulus for a complete replacement of the State. We have had enough. We are done with the present system of government. We want a reboot. And, anarchy being both impossible and un-reactionary, we can’t even talk about a reboot until we’ve specified what operating system to boot next.

So we can think of Patchwork as a new operating system for the world. Of course, it does not have to be installed across the entire world, although it is certainly designed to scale. But, it is easier and much more prudent to start small. Innovations in sovereignty are dangerous.

A patchwork – please feel free to drop the capital – is any network consisting of a large number of small but independent states. To be precise, each state’s real estate is its patch; the sovereign corporate owner, ie government, of the patch is its realm. At least initially, each realm holds one and only one patch. In practice this may change with time, but the realm-patch structure is at least designed to be stable.

Of course, Italy in the fourteenth century was anything but stable. Anything like a patchwork needs a strong security design to ensure that it does not repeat the constitutional solecisms of feudalism, and nor will it be subject to the same pervasive violence or meet the same demise. In a worst-case scenario, we could end up right back at liberal democracy! But don’t worry – we will discuss this issue in considerable detail.

To be a reactionary is not to say we must reinstall the exact political structure of the fourteenth century tomorrow, although that would surely be an improvement on what we have now. To be a reactionary is to borrow freely across time as well as space, incorporating political designs and experience from wherever and whenever. As Nick Szabo has observed, the most interesting, detailed and elegant European forms are found in the period we call feudal, and thus it is only natural that a reactionary design for future government will have a somewhat feudal feel.

But Patchwork is something new. It will not feel like the past. It will feel like the future. The past – that is, the democratic past – will feel increasingly gray, weird, and scary. (This is how it would feel to you already, if you didn’t have a bag of demotic morphine dripping into each carotid. Don’t worry – we will try to get you out of the Matrix before we turn off the anesthetic.)

In the future, the fact that once, you would probably be attacked if you went into Central Park at night, will seem preposterous. The idea that millions of random people who were not even authorized to be in the country were wandering around, driving gigantic SUVs at triple-digit speeds after ten or fifteen drinks, and murdering random musicians on motorcycles, will seem as weird as the idea that a pride of wild lions would march into Carnegie Hall in mid-symphony, close off all exits, and systematically slaughter the audience. Graffiti will be a matter for the museums, as will gangs, of course. The streets will have no cars or very few, they will be safe, at night they will be bright and full of lively, happy people. Wine will be cheap, restaurants will be unregulated, and fine Eskimo marijuana will be sold at Dean & DeLuca. Etc, etc, etc.

These kinds of descriptions apply to the kind of city I would like to live in. They may or may not seem intriguing or attractive to anyone else. You may prefer to live in a gritty, urban city which is corrupt, dirty, dangerous, and generally difficult to live in. If there are enough people like you, there will be a market for this lifestyle. If not – not. I suspect, however, that you are outnumbered. And I imagine the new management of Manhattan would take the distance from Dinkins to Giuliani and multiply it by ten or twenty. There would surely be no such thing as a “bad neighborhood,” at least in the sense of an unsafe one. Oh, no. Absolutely impossible.

Why hasn’t this happened already? Why isn’t Manhattan in 2008 half Disneyland, half Paris, half imperial Sodom? Don’t you think one or two people share these tastes? But the problem is that Manhattan is not governed in the interests of Manhattan. Capital, in short, is being squandered. In the Patchwork this is most unlikely to happen.

The historical and political reasons why democratic governments are such a mess are complex. I won’t go into them today. But perhaps, for a little intuitive perspective, let’s introduce ourselves to Herbert Croly’s Promise of American Life.

Croly was one of the founders of 20th-century progressivism, and of the New Republic in specific – a magazine never out of favor in the corridors of Washington. Observe the extent to which Croly’s optimistic, energetic vision of positive change has decayed into the superficially happy, but contentless and enervating, hippie-Starbucks-Unitarian mien of his 21st-century successors at the same office. I have linked directly to Croly’s conclusion, which is all you really need to read anyway. Here is a typical breathless passage:

Do we lack culture? We will “make it hum” by founding a new university in Chicago. Is American art neglected and impoverished ? We will enrich it by organizing art departments in our colleges, and popularize it by lectures with lantern slides and associations for the study of its history. Is New York City ugly? Perhaps, but if we could only get the authorities to appropriate a few hundred millions for its beautification, we could make it look like a combination of Athens, Florence, and Paris. Is it desirable for the American citizen to be something of a hero? I will encourage heroes by establishing a fund whereby they shall be rewarded in cash. War is hell, is it? I will work for the abolition of hell by calling a convention and passing a resolution denouncing its iniquities. I will build at the Hague a Palace of Peace which shall be a standing rebuke to the War Lords of Europe. Here, in America, some of us have more money than we need and more good will. We will spend the money in order to establish the reign of the good, the beautiful, and the true.

“Athens, Florence and Paris!” Imagine a progressive today saying he wanted to turn anything, let alone New York of all God’s Augean stables, into “Athens, Florence and Paris.” Imagine telling Herbert Croly that in 2008, progressivism had triumphed beyond his wildest dreams, that the stick-in-the-mud isolationists of the Midwest were forever defeated and heard of no more, that Tammany was a schoolbook memory, that all agencies of government now operate under the close supervision of the universities and the press.

And then imagine trying to explain that despite all this, NYC looks more like a combination of Paris, East Berlin and Port au Prince. And is in many places extremely dangerous at night. What on earth would the good man tell you? What would he even begin to say? I don’t know, but I’d sure as heck like to find out. “The good, the beautiful and the true.”

The patch in Patchwork that is Manhattan, however, would be the good, the beautiful and the true. The Athens, the Florence and the Paris. Because Athens, Florence and Paris sell. Even imperial Sodom sells. East Berlin doesn’t sell, and Port au Prince really doesn’t sell.

The foreign, forgotten lesson we are extracting from Croly is not that progressivism is the cure-all for all ills, but that progressivism, the eternal poisonous chameleon, in its 1911 incarnation espoused the civic values of 1911. All the better to convince its innocent hosts that it was anything but a lethal parasite. But we are very good at reading progressive discourse, and when we read Croly we see the values of 1911, not the malignant expansion of the State that Croly was trying to justify in the names of those values. (BTW, when anyone tries to use the phrase “reality-based community” on you, I recommend pointing him at this.)

Our lesson is just that the civic values of 1911 are the naive, obvious values of good government. (At the very least, they are far less warped than their post-1945 replacements.) Thus they are at least a fair proxy for the values of competitive government. “Athens, Florence, and Paris” sounds pretty good to me, although there has to be some kind of room for industrial death metal and heavy-duty psychedelics. But this does not mean you need to worry about being raped and killed by some barbarian thug on your way home from the club.

Anyway. Enough anecdotes and generalities. Let’s take a harder engineering look at the anatomy of Patchwork. The basic engineering problem is: while one can fantasize ad libitum about the way in which this system should be governed, how will it actually be governed?

This entire problem can be described as one of security. We postulate some structure of authority for the Patchwork. It sounds good. If the above propaganda is not appealing to you, all I can say is that we have very different tastes and perspectives. But is the result stable? If we set it up in some state, will it remain in that state? Stability and security are the same thing: if the structure of authority changes in any authorized way, it is not really changing at all.

The designers of the Constitution of 1789 were political engineers, too. They were neither stupid, nor ignorant, nor inexperienced. But the government they designed diverged immediately and irreversibly from the envelope in which they intended it to operate. Surely the risk of divergence is even greater for a multipolar framework – not an architecture with a good historical record of stability.

Anything like a patchwork can merge into a single centralized state. It can degenerate into an asymmetric form in which one state dominates the others. It can split into two factions which fight a civil war for the world. Individual states can turn evil and try to turn others evil. Etc. History tells us that all kinds of awful stuff can happen, and probably will.

Because of these dangers, Patchwork’s philosophy of security is simple and draconian. It is built around the following axioms, which strike me as too self-evident to debate.

First, security is a monotonic desideratum. There is no such thing as “too secure.” An encryption algorithm cannot be too strong, a fence cannot be too high, a bullet cannot be too lethal.

Second, security and liberty do not conflict. Security always wins. As Robert Peel put it, the absence of crime and disorder is the test of public safety, and in anything like the modern state the risk of private infringement on private liberties far exceeds the official of public infringement. No cop ever stole my bicycle. And this will be far more true in the Patchwork, in which realms actually compete for business on the basis of customer service.

Third, security and complexity are opposites. A secure authority structure is as simple as possible, so that it is as difficult as possible to pervert it to unanticipated ends.

Bearing these principles in mind, let’s separate our security overview into two parts: the internal management of realms, and the relationships between realms.

A Patchwork realm is a business – a corporation. Its capital is the patch it is sovereign over. The realm profits by making its real estate as valuable as possible – whether it is Manhattan or some ranch in Oklahoma. Even the oceans can and should be divided into patches; a naval realm is sovereign over, and profits by taxing, all economic activities within a patch of ocean.

But how should realms be administered? The answer is simple: a realm is a corporation. A sovereign corporation, granted, but nonetheless a corporation.

In the 21st century, the art of corporate design is not a mystery. The corporation is owned and controlled by its anonymous shareholders (if you’ve ever wondered what the letters SA stand for in the name of a French or Spanish company, they mean “anonymous society”), whose interests in maximizing corporate performance are perfectly aligned. The shareholders select a chief executive, to whom all employees report, and whose decisions are final. In no cases do they make management decisions directly.

It is at least probable that this joint-stock design maximizes corporate efficiency. If there existed a more effective structure – if firms were more productive when managed not by a committee but by an executive, or by the collective decisions of their customers or employees, by separate legislative and judiciary branches, etc, etc – we would know. Someone would have found a way to construct a firm on this design, and it would have outcompeted the rest of the stodgy old world. (In fact, I think one of the most plausible explanations of why the Industrial Revolution happened in England, not in Sung China or the Roman Empire, was that the latter two never evolved anything quite like the joint-stock company.)

Our great difficulty, though, is that history records nothing quite like a sovereign joint-stock company. Perhaps the closest examples were the chartered companies of the classical era. But even a colonial chartered company was chartered by a sovereign, though it operated outside that sovereign’s realm.

Rather, I think the best way to think of a realm or sovereign corporation is as a modified version of monarchy. A royal family is to an ordinary family business as a Patchwork realm is to an ordinary, nonsovereign, public corporation. Joint-stock realms thus solve the primary historical problem of monarchical government: the vagaries of the biological process. In other words, they assure that the overall direction of the realm will always be both strong and responsible – at least, responsible in a financial sense.

A joint-stock realm simply cannot have anything comparable to a weak monarch of the classical era. Realms will certainly recruit their executives from the same talent pool large companies now draw from. How many Fortune 500 CEOs today are regularly bullied and led by coalitions of their nominal subordinates, as (for just one example) the French monarchy so often was? Zero is probably too easy an answer, but at least an approximation.

Note, however, that we are not considering anything like the watered-down “constitutional” (ie, again, ceremonial) monarchies of the democratic period. If the joint-stock realm is like a monarchy, it is like a true, “absolute” or (most pejoratively) “divine-right monarchy.”

With all due respect, dear reader, the probability that you have a sound understanding of the case for divine-right monarchy is approximately the probability that a large white goat will fall out of my ass. This means you need to read the great English exponent of absolute government, Sir Robert Filmer, and his masterpiece Patriarcha.

Filmer was the baddest-ass reactionary who ever lived. Frankly, he makes Carlyle look like a liberal. Just the title of Patriarcha is cooler than Jesus Christ himself, and the contents don’t even begin to disappoint: we launch almost immediately into hardcore Anglican theology. If Filmer isn’t winter beach reading, I don’t know who is.

I mean, seriously, how do you justify divine-right monarchy to an atheist? Is it anything like selling refrigerators to Eskimos? Since I am both an atheist and a believer in divine-right monarchy, I’d better be able to square this circle.

One of the major doctrinal thrusts of European Christianity, in all ages and phases of its career, and certainly even in the thinly-disguised, crypto-Christian Unitarianism that has become the religion of the world’s ruling class (eg, if ever you meet a “moderate Muslim,” he is really a Unitarian), is the quest to justify the political structure of the world.

What makes a king a king? Why should the king be the king? Why can’t I be the king, or at least my cousin Ricky? Do we even need a king? And so on. People have strong emotional feelings about these questions to this day – at least, they have a strong emotional feeling about the last one. Not answering them is certainly not acceptable.

But Filmer, and the divine-right monarchist in general, comes as close as possible to not answering. Moreover, his reasoning is impeccable for the orthodox:

If it please God, for the correction of the prince or punishment of the people, to suffer princes to be removed and others to be placed in their rooms, either by the factions of the nobility or rebellion of the people, in all such cases the judgment of God, who hath power to give and to take away kingdoms, is most just; yet the ministry of men who execute God’s judgments without commission is sinful and damnable. God doth but use and turn men’s unrighteous acts to the performance of His righteous decrees.

Note that this is basically a 17th-century way of saying: “shit happens.” God being omnipotent etc, if Dickweed over there is king, it is obviously because God wanted Dickweed to be king. And who are you to disagree with God?

But an atheist, such as myself, has a simpler way of getting to the same result. Really, what Filmer is saying, is: if you want stable government, accept the status quo as the verdict of history. There is no reason at all to inquire as to why the Bourbons are the Kings of France. The rule is arbitrary. Nonetheless, it is to the benefit of all that this arbitrary rule exists, because obedience to the rightful king is a Schelling point of nonviolent agreement. And better yet, there is no way for a political force to steer the outcome of succession – at least, nothing comparable to the role of the educational authorities in a democracy.

In other words, to put it in Patchwork terms, the relationship between realm and patch is no more, and no less, than a property right. A patch is a sovereign property, that is, one whose proprietor has no defender but itself. Nonetheless, in moral terms, we may ask: why does this realm hold that patch? And the answer, as it always is with in any system of strong property rights, will be not “because it deserves to,” but “because it does.” Note that whatever the theology, Filmer’s model of government captures the property-right approach perfectly.

(Also, one must admire Filmer’s wicked gall in starting out by describing the “right of rebellion” as a Catholic heresy. Catholicism being admitted, at least by all fair historians, to be the creed of your average divine-right monarchist, as Protestantism is of vile democracy. So Filmer’s move here is wildly misleading, but pure fun – not unlike comparing liberals to Mussolini. Nothing to do with anything, but it sure gets a rise out of ’em, and moves SKUs like no one’s business.)

The invention of this spurious right was perhaps the first tiny crack in the philosophical girders of the classical European monarchies. Filmer deftly points out that this is an engineering error, the ancient political solecism of imperium in imperio – which is now, in a typical democratic propaganda maneuver, lauded as that bogus political panacea, “separation of powers”:

Thirdly, [Bellarmine] concludes that, if there be a lawful cause, the multitude may change the kingdom. Here I would fain know who shall judge of this lawful cause? If the multitude — for I see nobody else can — then this is a pestilent and dangerous conclusion.

Filmer, writing for an educated audience, does not bother to remind them of the basic premise of Roman law: nemo iudex in causa sua. Meaning: “no man can be a judge in his own case.” And no multitude, either. Pestilent indeed!

These political three-card monte tricks, in which sovereign authority is in some way divided, “limited” (obviously, no sovereign can limit itself), or otherwise weakened, in all cases for the purported purpose of securing liberty, have no more place in a Patchwork realm than they do at, say, Apple. They are spurious artifacts of the Interregnum. Their effect on both a realm and its residents is purely counterproductive. Begone with them.

In reality, no sovereign can be subject to law. This is a political perpetual motion machine. Law is not law unless it is judged and enforced. And by whom? For example, if you think a supreme court with judicial review can make government subject to law, you are obviously unfamiliar with the sordid history of American constitutional jurisprudence. All your design has achieved is to make your supreme court sovereign. Indeed if the court had only one justice, a proper title for that justice would be “King.” Sorry, kid, you haven’t violated the conservation of anything.

Indeed, as Filmer points out, the unity of chief executive, chief lawmaker, and chief justice is simple, natural and elegant:

There can be no laws without a supreme power to command or make them. In all aristocracies the nobles are above the laws, and in all democracies the people. By the like reason, in a monarchy the king must of necessity be above the laws; there can be no sovereign majesty in him that is under them; that which giveth the very being to a king is the power to give laws; without this power he is but an equivocal king. It skills not which way kings come by their power, whether by election, donation, succession, or by any other means; for it is still the manner of the government by supreme power that makes them properly kings, and not the means of obtaining their crowns. Neither doth the diversity of laws nor contrary customs, whereby each kingdom differs from another, make the forms of commonweal different unless the power of making laws be in several subjects.

For the confirmation of this point, Aristotle saith that a perfect kingdom is that wherein the king rules all things according to his own will, for he that is called a king according to the law makes no kind of kingdom at all. This, it seems, also the Romans well understood to be most necessary in a monarchy; for though they were a people most greedy of liberty, yet the senate did free Augustus from all necessity of laws, that he might be free of his own authority and of absolute power over himself and over the laws, to do what he pleased and leave undone what he listed; and this decree was made while Augustus was yet absent. Accordingly we find that Ulpian, the great lawyer, delivers it for a rule of the civil law: Princeps legibus solutus est (“The prince is not bound by the laws”).
Besides, all laws are of themselves dumb, and some or other must be trusted with the application of them to particulars, by examining all circumstances, to pronounce when they are broken, or by whom. This work of right application of laws is not a thing easy or obvious for ordinary capacities, but requires profound abilities of nature for the beating out of the truth — witness the diversity and sometimes the contrariety of opinions of the learned judges in some difficult points. Since this is the common condition of laws, it is also most reasonable that the lawmaker should be trusted with the application or interpretation of the laws, and for this cause anciently the kings of this land have sitten personally in courts of judicature, and are still representatively present in all courts; the judges are but substituted, and called the king’s justices, and their power ceaseth when the king is in place.

So much, in other words, for Montesquieu. (And note how the democratic doctrine, now assumed by all, simply twists Ulpian’s axiom into its polar opposite. Hey, hippie! Who knows more about law? You, or Ulpian? I’m reminded of Einstein’s gem, found on so many a Prius: “One cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” Or as the Romans put it: sic vis pacem, para bellum. And we wonder how the world got so screwed. Stick to physics, Al.)

A Patchwork realm, or any modern corporate sovereign, is no more bound by the laws it imposes on its residents than Linden Labs is bound by the terms-of-use policy it enforces in Second Life. (In fact, it is probably less so bound, because a terms-of-use policy creates at least the vague suggestion of liability. Whereas suing a sovereign is yet another of these political solecisms.)

This is not at all to say that a Patchwork realm does not enforce the rule of law. (Except, of course, under conditions of martial law that involve a general security threat. A state of siege is an option anywhere, any time, for any reason.) To enforce a law is not to be bound by a law. These are two completely different things. I don’t feel I can repeat this too often.

Patchwork realms can be expected to enforce a fair and consistent code of laws not for moral or theological reasons, not because they are compelled to do so by a superior sovereign or some other force real or imaginary, but for the same economic reasons that compel them to provide excellent customer service in general. Real estate on which the rule of law prevails is much, much more valuable than real estate on which it doesn’t, and the value of a realm is the value of its real estate.

(I suspect that in a well-run realm this is almost literally the case, because I suspect that a well-run realm makes its take via the world’s fairest, least-intrusive tax: property tax. In fact, while I don’t know that this has ever been tried, it is easy to design a perfectly fair and perfectly non-intrusive property tax regime. Require real estate owners to assess their own property, offering it for sale at the assessed price, and set the tax at a percentage of that price. No muss, no fuss, no IRS. Since no one can live or work without real estate, it should be straightforward to tune this self-assessed property tax (SAPT) to extract the Laffer maximum.)

To live on a Patchwork patch, you have to sign a bilateral contract with the realm. You promise to be a good boy and behave yourself. The realm promises to treat you fairly. There is an inherent asymmetry in this agreement, because you have no enforcement mechanism against the realm (just as you have no enforcement mechanism against the United States). However, a realm’s compliance with its customer-service agreements is sure to be a matter of rather intense attention among residents and prospective residents. And thus among shareholders as well.

For example, I suspect that every customer-service agreement will include the right to remove oneself and one’s assets from the realm, at any time, no questions asked, to any other realm that will accept the emigrant. Possibly with an exception for those involved in the criminal-justice process – but this may not even be needed. Who wants a criminal? Not another realm, surely.

Suppose a realm unilaterally abrogates this right of emigration? It has just converted its residents into what are, in a sense, slaves. It is no longer Disneyland. It is a plantation. If it’s any good with cinderblocks, barbed-wire and minefields, there is no escape. What do you say if you’re stuck on this farm? You say: “yes, Massa.” A slave you are and a slave you will be forever.

This is terrible, of course. But again, the mechanism we rely on to prevent it is no implausible deus ex machina, no Indian rope-trick from the age of Voltaire, but the sound engineering principle of the profit motive. A realm that pulls this kind of crap cannot be trusted by anyone ever again. It is not even safe to visit. Tourism disappears. The potential real-estate bid from immigrants disappears. And, while your residents are indeed stuck, they are also remarkably sullen and display no great interest in slaving for you. Which is a more valuable patch of real estate, today: South Korea, or North Korea? Yet before the war, the North was more industrialized and the South was more rural. Such are the profits of converting an entire country into a giant Gulag.

One of the most common errors in understanding the premodern era is the confusion of monarchy with tyranny. Nothing like Stalinism, for example, is recorded in the history of the European aristocratic era. Why? Because Stalin had to murder to stay in power. Anyone, certainly any of the Old Bolsheviks, could have taken his place. The killing machine took on a life of its own. The tyrant, the mafia boss, stands at the apex of a pyramid of power, each block in which is a person who hopes to someday kill the boss and take his job. In a tyranny, murder and madness become part of the fabric of the State. In a monarchy, however, the succession is clear, and if by some accident of law and fate there are multiple candidates, they are at least each others’ relatives. This rules out neither murder nor madness, but they are the exception and not the rule.

Obviously, a joint-stock realm faces completely different problems in maintaining internal security. Internal security can be defined as the protection of the shareholders’ property against all internal threats – including both residents and employees, up to and certainly including the chief executive. If the shareholders cannot dismiss the CEO of the realm by voting according to proper corporate procedures, a total security failure has occurred.

The standard Patchwork remedy for this problem is the cryptographic chain of command. Ultimately, power over the realm truly rests with the shareholders, because they use a secret sharing or similar cryptographic algorithm to maintain control over its root keys. Authority is then delegated to the board (if any), the CEO and other officers, and thence down into the military or other security forces. At the leaves of the tree are computerized weapons, which will not fire without cryptographic authorization.

Thus, any fragment of the security force which remains loyal to the shareholders can use its operational weapons to defeat any coalition of disloyal, and hence disarmed, employees and/or residents. Ouch! Taste the pain, traitors. (Needless to say, the dependence of this design on 21st-century technology is ample explanation of why history has not bequeathed us anything like the joint-stock realm. It was simply not implementable – any more than our ancestors could build a suspension bridge out of limestone blocks.)

With this basic background in Filmerist government, and with the (as yet unjustified) assumption that a patch is safe against external aggression, let’s start to look at what a 21st-century corporate sovereign might actually want to do.

For simplicity and for my own personal amusement, let’s call the realm Friscorp, and say its patch is the present city of San Francisco – pop., about 750,000.

Obviously, Friscorp would like to turn SF into the coolest, most hoppin’, and definitely most expensive city on the planet. Call it a combination of Paris, Monaco, and Babylon. Destroying ugly postwar buildings, for example, and reconstructing them in appropriate historical styles, will definitely be high on Friscorp’s agenda.

The first and touchiest problem, though, is just deciding who gets to live in San Francisco. Friscorp’s answer is simple: anyone who isn’t dangerous to others, and can afford to live in San Francisco. It is probably also nice if they speak English, but considering the exigencies of the second constraint, they almost certainly will. Friscorp may also import menial laborers, as Dubai does today, but they are not to be confused with the actual residents.

Here we face a slight predicament. There are quite a few people presently in San Francisco who do not meet the second constraint, are pretty iffy on the first as well, and have no labor skills to speak of. What do we do with them? Sell their slums out from under them, obviously; demo everything, spray for roaches, rodents and pit bulls, smooth the rubble out with a bulldozer or two, and possibly a little aerial bombing; erect new residential districts suitable for Russian oligarchs. Next question?

But where do they go? Since their customer-service contract gives them the right of exit, these people – call them bezonians – can of course emigrate to any other realm in the Patchwork. This presumes, however, that said realm is willing to accept them. And why would it be? If our design does not provide for the existence of a large number of human beings whose existence anywhere is not only unprofitable, but in fact a straight-up loss, to that realm, it is simply inconsistent with reality.

The design faces an existential challenge. On next week’s episode, we’ll present the shocking but ineluctable solution, and figure out the second half of our security problem: the relationships between realms.

Barack Obama, for the last time

November 13, 2008

Barack Obama is ready to rule! And truth may be stranger than fiction – but the Onion is funnier than UR.

Seriously, folks, it’s already evident from his first week in office (since presidential power is primarily persuasive, the “-elect” doesn’t mean much) that President Obama is exactly what I guessed: nothing. A Gatsby, a Zelig, a warm breeze in a suit. A bright, but completely characterless and forgettable, young man, with an unusual but hardly unique talent for reading speeches on TV. In short, America’s new anchorman.

Once again, America has re-elected her permanent government. Of course that was the only option on the ballot – as it has been since Wendell Willkie. There’s no need to worry at all. Nothing significant in Washington has changed, will change, or can possibly change.

For the next four years, public policy will flow smoothly from America’s universities to her agencies, unimpeded by Neanderthal populism or corporate corruption. Oh, no. All the populism will be of the fashionable, happy-clappy, Starbucks Unitarian flavor. The corruption will be communist – with a small ‘c,’ of course.

I feel like I have a good handle on the future under our new alien overlord, President O’Bannon, because I live in San Francisco. As it happens, San Francisco is already governed by “progressives.” This turns out to be much the same as being governed by Willie Brown, except slightly funnier.

For our last words on the controversy of Obama’s background, I would like to direct your attention to this article in our local progressive rectangle of joy, the Bay Guardian. In case you are unfamiliar with the Bay Guardian, it was founded in the ’60s, its politics are somewhere to the left of Mao and the right of Kim Jong Il, and it is the sponsor of San Francisco’s progressive supervisor coalition. Its longstanding hobbyhorse, its perma-Grail, its New Jerusalem, is its campaign to seize the San Francisco electrical system, which unhappily for the local candle industry never seems to quite make it past 40% on the ballot.

The entire piece is hilarious and well worth a read, although it may be too choked with local minutia for UR’s international cosmopolitan audience. However, I was particularly struck by the following passage:

But make no mistake about it: electing Barack Obama was a progressive victory. Although he never followed the entire progressive line in his policy positions, he was, and is, the creature of a strong progressive movement that can rightly claim him as its standard-bearer.

I love that word. Creature. American communism and its black pets, in one word. Creature.

UR is not a “political” blog and will hopefully have few occasions to mention President Obama, but he is the President of the United States. He is not a member of the kitchen staff. And UR is at least respectful enough to know the difference.

Indeed I am confident that “progressives” will be quickly disappointed in President Obama. He may be a man of no character, but he at least has to shave in the morning. He cannot be entirely without stones, and I can’t imagine he sees himself as any kind of a lackey, servant, or “creature.” He is playing in a different league now. His old SDS friends will have to go through proper channels if they want to reserve a night in the Lincoln Bedroom. We’ll certainly see a fair bit of progressive wack coming out of the White House, but I’d be surprised if we get anything as deliciously educational as, say, RFK Jr. in the Cabinet.

To be as precise as possible: the past relationship between Barack Obama and America’s most dangerous and powerful nest of murderous political psychopaths, the so-called “progressive” movement, is not of any practical importance for the future. Basically, they thought they were using him, whereas in fact he was using them. It is never too hard to con a progressive.

(Isn’t there something just wonderfully true about the Onion’s portrayal of Barack Obama as international grand master of the con? Doesn’t the O remind you a little of Leonardo diCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, a cocky young man at home in any disguise? The age is different, the face is different, but the smooth is the same.)

Also, speaking of UR’s audience, this whole sordid Obama business attracted a variety of traffic from a variety of Internet Mos Eisleys, including but not limited to Free Republic.

Dear wingnut Freepers, welcome, but please be aware that UR is basically the opposite of Free Republic. For one thing, we are neither Republicans nor republicans. We are monarchists – Jacobites, to be exact. Or at least I am, anyway. For another, UR welcomes all points of view, and in particular has a longstanding population of valuable and respected commenters who only just happen to be moonbat libtards. We are trying to convert these people. It’s called “outreach.” Please don’t screw it up.

Let me also reiterate the UR comment policy, which is that you can say anything, as long as it is meaningful, articulate, and generally contributes to the discussion. Just agreeing with the post, or with another comment, is not a contribution. Inane chatter, flamage, etc, is to be avoided at all costs. I have seen UR described as having the smartest commenters on the net, and I would like to keep it that way.

And for those who just cannot get enough of this stuff, I have been picking on Professor Burke again. See here, and the previous couple threads. The good professor no doubt feels like he’s been ambushed by the Internet version of Preston Brooks. But how else are we to rid ourselves of the Cathedral? My solution: hit it very hard in the head with a baseball bat. Not exactly imaginative, I understand, but it feels good on the hands and makes a nice big soggy sound.

A quick explanation of "fractional-reserve banking"

November 11, 2008

Elsewhere, Eric Posner, Walter Block, and Bryan Caplan debate “fractional-reserve banking.” Aren’t you glad you read UR, rather than these other blogs, with their little premasticated spoonfuls of brain? Here at UR we don’t send you away hungry, that’s for sure.

It pains me to have to say that all three participants in this debate are out to lunch. Posner and Caplan get the wrong answer for the right reason. Block, and the Rothbardians generally, get the right answer for the wrong reason.

The critical fact about FRB is that it’s a special case of our favorite financial solecism, maturity transformation. As I explain in more detail here, MT is the cause of the credit cycle, including of course our current unpleasantness. It is a source of grim hilarity to me that, almost a century after Mises first discovered this, most people still don’t get it.

100%-reserve banking, as Block proposes, is of course MT-free and thus not a cause of credit oscillation. So, again, he gets the right answer. But I suspect what strikes most readers about the dialogue is that Posner and Caplan seem more or less sensible, while Block seems to have some weird abstraction he can’t let go of. So let me provide a brief overview and try to straighten everyone out.

In classical “fractional-reserve banking,” a bank balances liabilities which are demand deposits with assets which are loans of nontrivial maturity. Let’s assume for simplicity that our currency is gold. So a fractional-reserve bank might issue notes redeemable for 100kg of gold, while having only 10kg of gold in the vault, plus bonds whose net present market price is 95 kg. Our bank’s “reserve ratio” is thus 10%, and its “leverage ratio” is 20 to 1 (because it has liabilities of 100kg and capital of 5kg). Rocket science, this ain’t.

Block asserts: the bank is fraudulent, because it does not have the gold to redeem its notes. Posner and Caplan assert: the bank is solvent, because it can sell its bonds for 95kg of gold. In a frictionless market, this transaction can happen as fast as customers can redeem.

Posner and Caplan are hereby directed to Arnold Kling, who seems to have finally understood the problem with MT. In short, the assumption that mark-to-market accounting and frictionless transactions imply that term loans can be liquidated at market price is wrong. It ignores the collective game theory of the bank-run problem.

Briefly: the price of a bond or loan is a function of its interest rate. Interest rates in a free market are set by supply and demand. In a bank run, all banks must sell future money for present money, driving yields arbitrarily high and loan prices arbitrarily low. An obvious, extreme, but historically common absurdity occurs when the financial system as a whole has issued more demand notes for present gold than the amount of monetary gold in the world. (Believe it or not, this was the case even for the 19th-century “classical gold standard.”) There’s simply no way it can redeem. Time travel is impossible; transmutation is impractical; matter is conserved.

So Block is right. In general. However, Block’s argument (not his, but originally due to Rothbard) is awfully strange, and bears only a remote resemblance to either logic or reality. I suspect that this confuses a lot of people into thinking that there’s no there there, FRB is fine, these are not the droids we’re looking for and the financial system may go about its business. Let me try to untangle Rothbard’s twisted libertarian reasoning for you.

Rothbard, certainly one of the 20th century’s top five philosophers, was a generalist and synthesizer of incredible breadth and power. What strikes the reader of Rothbard immediately is his razor-sharp consistency: hardly a piece is out of place. It is almost impossible to find a crack in his edifice.

So how does he get to this weird view of FRB? He starts with an ethical premise: slavery is wrong. If slavery is wrong, it must be unethical to sell myself into slavery. In the world of Rothbardian ethics, this is because I have inalienable rights which I cannot alienate (sell), namely, the control over my own body, which will always be mine no matter what I do.

(I part ways with Rothbard here. While hereditary slavery is more debatable, I don’t have a problem at all with selling yourself into slavery. For me, a contract is an enforceable promise; removing my option to make enforceable promises cannot benefit me. If you don’t want to make the promise, don’t sign the contract. And promising to be your faithful servant so long as you and I shall live is a perfectly normal, legitimate, and (in a sane world) common sort of promise.)

In order to keep slavery illegal, Rothbard has to reach for what I consider a very odd definition of a contract. To Rothbard, a contract is always a transfer of goods. So, for example, if you pay me $1000 in exchange for painting your house, I have not entered into a slave-like bond to faithfully paint your house. Rather, I have transferred to you the shadowy, metaphysical, and thoroughly virtual object of a paint job on your house. If I then fail to paint your house, I have in a sense stolen your paint job, and thus am a thief.

This is why the idea of a bank deposit as a bailment contract is so appealing to Rothbard. It fits his definition of a contract perfectly. It is also perfectly clear that if the bank and its customers agree that the contract is a bailment, and notes are warehouse receipts, a fractional-reserve bank is fraudulent. Historically this is a very common case, and Rothbard knew his history.

However, the suggestion that openly-agreed fractional-reserve banking is fraudulent is – as Posner and Caplan point out – untenable. (Remember, Posner and Caplan follow their correct argument to the wrong answer because, while open FRB is not fraudulent, as a case of MT it remains imprudent – for the depositor. Unless of course it is insured by a fiat issuer acting as a lender of last resort. Which is equivalent to the case in which the LLR is an LFR and just makes the loans itself. As it seems to be doing these days. But I digress.)

Moreover, Rothbard slips here. His argument is untenable even in terms of Rothbardian ethics. There is a crack in the great edifice.

Rothbard approves of the normal financial practice of term loans, or as he calls them “time deposits.” In a time deposit, A gives B $(X) at time (T), in exchange for the promise to return $(X+k) at time (T+u). Of course, as a Rothbardian contract, this promise becomes the shadowy construct of virtual future money.

The problem is that a demand deposit is an extreme, but qualitatively indistinguishable, case of a time deposit. A demand deposit is the limit of a time deposit as (u) approaches 0. For example, one might imagine a time deposit in which case (u) equals one second. When the loan times out, it is automatically renewed (rolled over), unless of course you are standing at the ATM and you want your money back. In which case you have to wait one second for your latest loan contract with the bank to time out, and the bank to return your money.

This clearly has exactly the same practical effect as a demand deposit. If a second is too long to wait at the ATM, we can make it a tenth of a second, etc. And it is clearly a time deposit. And there is certainly no way we can draw a line at any interval of time, and say that if the term of the loan is more than five minutes it is nonfraudulent, and if it is less it is fraudulent.

Thus, Rothbard and Block are just plain wrong. But they get the right answer anyway, because FRB is a special case of MT and MT is harmful. The real reason that 100%-reserve banking will defeat FRB in the free market is that depositors will avoid financial institutions that practice MT, and absent MT the natural rate of interest at a term of 0 is 0 – because there are no productive investments that can produce an instant return on capital.

President Obama, with a little perspective

November 6, 2008

Congratulations, America! It is accomplished. The One is appointed. Or anointed. Or whatever.

Basically, dear Americans, this disqualifies you from voting ever again. You’ve been pwned. You’re out. As I told the IvyGate blog:

There are – or at least, were – lots of plausible candidates for chief executive who don’t have any kind of murky ties to murderous political fanatics. I mean, duh, you know, if history teaches us any lessons, I think one of them is: “don’t elect leaders with murky ties to murderous political fanatics.”

While no one’s life is at present in danger – unless one lives in South Africa, in which case please do pack for Perth – 20th-century Western social democracy cannot be considered “safe” in any sense of the word. I mean, it wasn’t anyway, but now the evidence is quite a bit more striking. And it is the task of all men and women of brains, wisdom and good will to try and figure out what the hell to do about it.

(For the paranoid, I want to reiterate that: there is absolutely no short-term danger from an Obama administration. We are not looking at President Camacho, or even President Zuma. In keeping with the general feeling of inverted reality abroad in the world today, the one thing we won’t see is “change.” Washington will spend the next four years doing almost exactly what it did for the last four. But this does not mitigate your pwnage, Americans: you did indeed vote for “change.” You won’t get it, but you probably deserve to.)

Most educated people today think of democracy as a sort of impeccable ointment against political evil. We are aware – nay continuously instructed, these days, from crib to coffin – that bad government was the leading cause of death, destruction and general misery around the globe in the last century. But now we have a new century to play with, and we have this bezoar, this philosopher’s stone, democracy.

So we don’t need to give a shit about murderers with the fist of the State behind them. With the ointment, nothing of the sort could possibly happen ever again. Rather, we can fret ourselves silly about minute changes in global temperature. Ah, democracy.

Note that (a) you have probably never seriously considered the possibility that you’re wrong, and the bezoar is actually a quack medicine; (b) you have certainly never seriously considered the possibility that the ointment is indeed the cause of the rash. Unless, of course, you read UR. We’re always here to help the literate sleep a little less well at night.

So here was my favorite Internet moment of the great election: this post by Brad DeLong. When it became generally noticed, a few days before the event, that Senator Obama has at least three very non-flimsy personal connections to pure, 200-proof, full-on Holocaust-grade political evil, Professor DeLong, former DAS at Treasury and a plausible candidate for senior office in the Obama administration – enlightened us with the following message:

Run like the wind, Mr. Skittles!

Many UR readers have had the priceless educational privilege of growing up behind the Iron Curtain. These readers will identify Professor DeLong’s tone at once: it is the tone of the Soviet humor magazine Krokodil. I will take the liberty of Anglicizing, and call it “crocodile humor.” Extremely educated readers may also be familiar with the Nazi variant, as found in Der Stürmer and the like. The material is different, of course, but the tone is unmistakable. We’ll hear a good deal more of it in the next four years.

Crocodile humor is the laughter of the powerful at the powerless. It is not intended to be funny. It is intended to intimidate. Those who laugh, as many do, are those who love to submerge themselves in a mob, feel its strength as theirs, chant and shake their spears as one. Professor DeLong and his tribe have certainly backed the strong horse in our little moment of hipparchy, and even those of us who mock the rite must respect its anointed, in the ancient way, as conquerors. A reactionary always respects strength. But the powerless, too, can laugh.

But wait – exactly how is President-elect Obama connected to evil?

Well, first, um, he’s, um, how can I put this – a communist. With a small ‘c,’ as his friend Billy Ayers so nicely puts it.

I’m not even going to start to belabor this point. Arguing that Barack Obama is not a communist is like arguing that Mitt Romney is not a Mormon. Barack Obama is a communist by birth, breeding, education, and profession. His grandparents were communists, his parents were communists, his teachers were communists, his friends are communists, his colleagues are communists, he’s a communist. Duh.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the current euphemism for “communist” is “progressive.” This is not even a new usage. My father’s parents always called themselves “progressives,” for instance. In fact they were CPUSA members. (Before Grandma fell down the stairs at Juilliard and smashed her frontal lobe, one of the last messages she imparted to me was that Frank Rich writes a really great column.) “Progressive” is also all over the place in my ’80s Soviet Life magazines. And La Wik helpfully informs us that the Congressional Progressive Caucus is (a) the largest voting bloc of Democrats in the House, and (b) the affiliation of the Speaker. And now, of course, the President. Summary: the Cold War is over. Communism won.

The small ‘c’ is well-taken, of course. Obama’s faction is the disorganized, SDS, “Maoist,” or “New Left” wing of American communism. Ie, not the organized, CPUSA, “Stalinist” or “Old Left” wing – which both my grandparents and Obama’s first mentor Frank Marshall Davis were in, whose decline I think was as much cause as effect of the Soviet collapse, and whose remnants were really more for Hillary. And certainly not the defunct Trotskyite wing, whose carcass so weirdly morphed into “neoconservatism.”

The New Left once had a catchy name. It called itself the Movement. (Not to be confused with the clique of poets that gave us Philip Larkin and Thom Gunn.) The label is out of style, but perhaps it should be revived. The election of President Obama is the ceremonial culmination of the Movement’s march to power, and it’s only slightly less surprising than the sunrise. The likes of Billy Ayers were always the elite of their generation. Even as kids, they hardly lost a battle. Now they’re in their gray-headed patriarchal prime. Why shouldn’t they run the world?

Yes, folks, it’s true: we’re all communists now. Lawd a mercy. Did I mention that in the lives of those now living, communists murdered something like 100 million people? Now why did I have to mention that? Why is it that Schindler’s List got 37 Oscars, but Katyn can’t find a distributor?

But put it aside for a minute. Maybe you get a pass on this one, dear American electorate. If everyone’s a communist, you can’t really be blamed for electing a communist, now, can you? We could argue that you shouldn’t have voted, but that’s getting really technical.

And communism has a dirty little secret, which not even the most diehard red-baiting Bircher knows: it’s as American as apple pie. Communism is not an Old World virus that spread to the New. It’s a New World virus that spread to the Old. Europe, Asia and Africa got the worst of it, but that’s how it always goes with exotic pests: no immunity, no natural enemies.

Since the 19th century if not the 18th, the Anglo-American world has been the intellectual center of the left. Marx didn’t write in the British Library for nothing. While communism is not the only American tradition (Sarah Palin counts, too), as the sole scion of the Puritan intellectual heritage, we would certainly expect it to be socially, economically, and politically dominant. Indeed it has been, since at least 1933. At least.

It’s no coincidence, for example, that the ultra-rich were overwhelmingly for Obama. As CPUSA members, my grandparents had a ticket to a social circle at least three rings higher than you’d expect for Yiddish tailors from Brooklyn. Their Party friends (all their friends, as far as I can tell, were Party friends) were film distributors, investment bankers, doctors and lawyers, etc. If you find this surprising, you have a lot to learn about communism. (But I tire of the C-word – let’s go back to calling them “progressives.”)

So let’s get slightly more specific, and look at President Obama’s personal associations. (I love this argument that the candidate’s past and present colleagues, mentors and employers are a deeply private matter, like whether the One wipes his ass with his left hand or his right, which must not contaminate our consideration of the soaring rhetorical exhalations his producers write for him.)

Thus our second connection: this little matter of Satan, so amusing to Professor DeLong. Barack Obama is an intellectual disciple of Saul Alinsky. Saul Alinsky dedicated his most famous book, Rules for Radicals, the bible for Obama’s profession of “community organizer,” to Lucifer. Lucifer and Satan are the same person. Satan is evil. At most this is four degrees of separation between Obama and evil, and I feel we could argue it down to two.

And all the connections are pretty strong – because Alinsky’s dedication is not the slightest bit whimsical. I wonder if Professor DeLong has read Rules for Radicals? I have. (I suspect that, in an imaginary America in which democracy worked, a candidate running against an Alinskyist would hand out quite a few copies of Rules.)

Rules surely belongs on any list of history’s top ten most evil books. I will spare you quotes. The basic message is: as a radical, your enemies rule the world and are completely evil. So if you want to overthrow them, you have to be prepared to be as evil as possible. Lie, cheat and steal, so long as you don’t get caught. Alinsky is a particular fan of hypocrisy and dissimulation, which he recommends as all-purpose perfumes for the aspiring “activist.”

Less than a mile from my home, in one of the most fashionable – if somewhat dilapidated – shopping districts in the world, sits an “anarchist bookstore,” Bound Together Books. Its “activism” is of precisely the same sort as Alinsky’s, and of course (the young) Obama’s. Note also that there is no racist bookstore, fascist bookstore, or even Christian bookstore across the street from it. The enemy, as befits all dark forces, is invisible.

On Bound Together’s side wall is this wonderful revolutionary mural – I apologize for the bad photo, which is theirs not mine:

If you have trouble reading the text, it says:

History remembers 2 kinds of people: those who murder and those who fight back.

Anarchism strives toward a social organization which will establish well-being for all.

History remembers a number of things. One of them is that, over the last four centuries at least, the left tends to win and the right tends to lose. If you’re a young, ambitious man or woman, power is what you crave, and scruples are not your thing, history tells you: go as left as possible. Join the SDS, not the JBS. March with Martin Luther King, not Louise Day Hicks. Be a Patriot, not a Loyalist. And so on. Exceptions exist – but they are exceptions.

The essential illusion of the progressive is that he is a rebel. He is “fighting back,” at great odds against overwhelming forces which are almost certain to prevail. The revolution is always the underdog. What a surprise, then, to read a little bit of history and find that the revolution tends to win. This, indeed, is “progress” – which is, as we know, inevitable. How curious!

Because if “those who murder and those who fight back” is indeed the creed of the overdog, it conveys a message ever congenial to the ambitious and the powerful: be evil. The corporate Christian racist fascists murder. So you can murder, too, and indeed you must. Otherwise, the Enemy will rule for ever. Germany is once again forced to defend itself from Polish aggression.

And as for the “social organization which strives for the well-being of all,” it is recognizable at once as our old friend – Washington. As often as I can stand it, I steel my stomach and do a little browsing at Bound Together. The general gist is either (a) kill the pigs, or (b) something should be done. Anyone may kill, but no points for guessing whom the doer tends to be.

Here at UR we know the Bound Together shopper as a “pro-government activist.” A fine foreign analogy is Nashi. (Although, being fascist rather than progressive, Nashi is coordinated rather than spontaneous). And what more perfect name than “anarchism” for pro-government activism? Orwell is alive and well and living on Haight Street.

In the crudest, most Machiavellian terms, “grassroots activism” is easy to explain. When examined, the grass always turns out to be Astroturf. The alliance of underprivileged and ultraprivileged is always initiated by the latter. The organizer brings youth, privilege, often a trust fund, talent, energy and ambition. The organized bring mass, muscle, power. Julius Caesar would recognize the arrangement at once. No points for guessing who tends to profit most from the alliance. And indeed David Axelrod, Obama’s producer, is in his spare time a master of Astroturf. Ah, democracy. Ah, “public opinion.”

If there’s one thing to remember about Alinskyism, or indeed progressivism as a whole, it’s that it is the perfect mental framework by which the lordly can do evil, while convincing themselves and/or others that they are small voices sticking up for good. Is it possible for activists to actually do good? It is certainly possible. There is nothing wrong with removing asbestos from public housing. But the temptations by which evil becomes an end in itself are ever-present, and the unscrupulous will always outcompete the pure at heart. And we certainly know a little bit about Barack Obama’s scruples.

It is possible for a mound of garbage to be free from rats. Theoretically, one can even contemplate a sterile mound of garbage. But in practice, if you don’t want rats, bugs and bacteria in your kitchen, don’t leave a mound of garbage in the middle of the floor. Likewise, if you don’t want your government to be evil, don’t elect anarchists to run it. Again, this just shouldn’t be that hard.

While we’re on the subject of Satan, I feel a little Carlyle coming on. Is there a more apropos moment in history, dear readers, for us to sample Shooting Niagara? I warn you, friends – the Niagara is dark. Very dark. Don’t click that link unless you’re spiritually prepared. But perhaps, since it’s out of copyright, we can paste an excerpt:

In our own country, too, Swarmery has played a great part for many years past; and especially is now playing, in these very days and months. Our accepted axioms about “Liberty,” Constitutional Government,” “Reform,” and the like objects, are of truly wonderful texture: venerable by antiquity, many of them, and written in all manner of Canonical Books; or else, the newer part of them, celestially clear as perfect unanimity of all tongues, and Vox populi vox Dei, can make them: axioms confessed, or even inspirations and gospel verities, to the general mind of man. To the mind of here and there a man, it begins to be suspected that perhaps they are only conditionally true; that taken unconditionally, or under changed conditions, they are not true, but false and even disastrously and fatally so. Ask yourself about “Liberty,” for example; what you do really mean by it, what in any just and rational soul is that Divine quality of liberty? That a good man be “free,” as we call it, be permitted to unfold himself in works of goodness and nobleness, is surely a blessing to him, immense and indispensable; — to him and to those about him. But that a bad man be “free,” — permitted to unfold himself in his particular way, is contrariwise, the fatallest curse you could inflict on him; curse and nothing else, to him and all his neighbours. Him the very Heavens call upon you to persuade, to urge, induce, compel, into something of well-doing; if you absolutely cannot, if he will continue in ill-doing, — then for him (I can assure you, though you will be shocked to hear it), the one “blessing” left is the speediest gallows you can lead him to. Speediest, that at least his ill-doing may cease quàm primùm. Oh, my friends, whither are you buzzing and swarming, in this extremely absurd manner? Expecting a Millennium from “extension of the suffrage,” laterally, vertically, or in whatever way?

All the Millenniums I ever heard of heretofore were to be preceded by a “chaining of the Devil for a thousand years,” — laying him up, tied neck and heels, and put beyond stirring, as the preliminary. You too have been taking preliminary steps, with more and more ardour, for a thirty years back; but they seem to be all in the opposite direction: a cutting asunder of straps and ties, wherever you might find them; pretty indiscriminate of choice in the matter: a general repeal of old regulations, fetters, and restrictions (restrictions on the Devil originally, I believe, for most part, but now fallen slack and ineffectual), which had become unpleasant to many of you, — with loud shouting from the multitude, as strap after strap was cut, “Glory, glory, another strap is gone!”— this, I think, has mainly been the sublime legislative industry of Parliament since it became “Reform Parliament;” victoriously successful, and thought sublime and beneficent by some. So that now hardly any limb of the Devil has a thrum, or tatter of rope or leather left upon it: — there needs almost superhuman heroism in you to “whip” a Garotter; no Fenian taken with the reddest hand is to be meddled with, under penalties; hardly a murderer, never so detestable and hideous, but you find him “insane,” and board him at the public expense, a very peculiar British Prytaneum of these days! And in fact, THE DEVIL (he, verily, if you will consider the sense of words) is likewise become an Emancipated Gentleman; lithe of limb as in Adam and Eve’s time, and scarcely a toe or finger of him tied any more. And you, my astonishing friends, you are certainly getting into a millennium, such as never was before, — hardly even in the dreams of Bedlam.

Make of that what you will. It is clear as glass to me, and as close a prophecy as ever was. But perhaps I have been reading too much Carlyle. (I really thought he could get through a life of Frederick the Great, even an 8-volume life of Frederick the Great, without deploying the N-word. But I reckoned not with the “sage of Ecclefechan.” No wonder Hitler was such a fan.)

And so we come to our third connection: Billy Ayers. (Can I call him Billy? That’s the name he used in his golden years, and I don’t think he gets to just change it like that. Imagine if Hermann Goering had gotten off on a technicality, started calling himself “Manny,” and run for mayor of Stuttgart sometime in the late ’50s. Support Manny Goering! He’ll bring change!)

In case you doubt that Billy Ayers is evil, I humbly submit this little reminiscence, which is almost brutally symbolic. Is America the trembling coed to be deflowered, under pain of racism, by Billy’s black roommate? Or is that a little heavy? It might be a little heavy, but there is also this story. If mass murder isn’t evil, I don’t know what is. Watch the video – it’s very convincing. And finally, you can read Billy’s little manifesto, Prairie Fire, which he and his friends so thoughtfully dedicated to Sirhan Sirhan. Prairie Fire practically oozes political murder. Nor, of course, did the man fail to practice what he preached.

And in case you doubt that Barack Obama, Ayers’ “neighbor” whose “kids went to the same school” (twenty years apart), is closely connected with Ayers, allow me to point out two things. One is this well-argued case, by a labor lawyer of all people, that Ayers and Obama probably had a mentor-protege relationship.

The other is the indisputable fact, which somehow managed to escape the notice of even Fox News, that Obama worked out of Ayers’ office. (To anyone who knows anything about the nonprofit world, the relationship between Obama’s Annenberg Challenge and Ayers’ Small Schools Workshop is obvious – the AC was a creature of the SSW, which was surely willing to spawn a shell organization for any big grant it reeled in. And for any Obamabots who may still be reading, yes, it was also able to find a token “Republican” or two to decorate the board.)

So: generally, our new president is a lifelong member of the most murderous political religion of the 20th century. Intellectually, he is or has been a student of a thinker whose creed reduces to devious, calculated criminality in the name of the higher good. And professionally, he is or has been a colleague and probable protege of a would-be revolutionary dictator, manipulative rapist, and general genocidal psychopath.

So is it really the case that, as John McCain put it, America has nothing to fear from Barack Obama? “Run like the wind, Mr. Skittles!”

Well, I endorsed Barack Obama. I stand by that endorsement. I wouldn’t quite say we have nothing to fear from an Obama administration, but Washington is pretty scary in general. I saw just as many dangers, if not more, in four more years of a Republican White House. And I feel the election of President Obama will provide an exceptional opportunity to create genuine change, which would certainly not be the case if McCain had won.

So why do we have nothing to fear from Barack Obama? We have nothing to fear because progressives are the government. There is no Enemy. There is just the pathetic shell of a sham opposition party, a few thousand lame hacks fleeing the White House in disarray.

If Washington had actually been in the hands of sinister, drawling Texan white supremacists, we could have a revolution. Since it wasn’t, we can’t. Isn’t that nice? I’m sorry if that’s the most comforting thought that I can produce at the moment, but I feel it’s actually rather important.

Running a close second to Professor DeLong’s Krokodil moment as my favorite note of the election was the Obama team’s defense on the Ayers matter, which – in the best spirit of the public defender who points out that his client wasn’t there, if he was he didn’t shoot the victim, and if he did it was in self-defense – told us that Ayers “is now mainstream – an educator with distinguished professor status.”

A status he does not share with Eric Rudolph, David Duke, or Buford Furrow. And we can only be thankful for these small mercies. What would it be like to live in a country which treated Billy Ayers and Eric Rudolph the same way? I don’t know, but I’d like to find out. Come back, Mitchell Palmer, all is forgiven.

The fact that Billy Ayers has indeed become one of the most successful educators in the United States, without so much as apologizing for his crimes, tells us quite a bit about the terminal malignancy of the American polity. It also tells us quite a bit about how a Barack Obama could be elected: unless he or she grows up in some kind of cloistered uber-Christian cult, it is simply impossible in the present day for an American child to reach voting age without being indoctrinated in Ayers-style, “small c” communism.

The normal American voter, today, is a communist. She is not a revolutionary communist. She is a status-quo communist. She thinks of America as a commune: a big Brook Farm, with Washington as mother and/or father, caring, sharing, providing, educating, punishing and guiding. She has stretched the mental modules which in a traditional human society would apply to her extended family, to cover the entire continent and probably the planet as well. Maybe she wants gays to be able to marry and maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she thinks taxes are too low, or too high. But that’s about the limit of her political imagination.

There is nothing surprising in this. Always and everywhere, communism is the last stage of democracy. What’s surprising is that it took 144 years for the New Deal to happen. This can be attributed to good fortune and bad organization. But happen it did, and it won’t un-happen.

Perhaps this is a tragedy. But it has its upside, which is that the US has somehow managed to pass from classical liberalism to sclerotic state socialism without stopping at Stalin. Or at Billy Ayers. The Lord looks after fools, drunkards, and the United States.

And the omission is irreversible. There was no way that Brezhnev, Khrushchev or Gorbachev could have reopened the Gulag, restarted the Revolution, or created a new leather-jacketed Cheka to shoot people at random in the woods. Whether or not its rulers were nice people, even whether or not they (like Khrushchev) were deeply implicated in Stalin’s crimes, the late Soviet state did not have the oxygen to return to full-out revolutionary mode, and nor does ours. Emphysema doesn’t cure itself.

Don’t get me wrong. For me, President Obama’s criminal connections render him and the regime he fronts completely unworthy of either trust or respect. The fact that Brezhnev was the successor of Stalin rendered his regime similarly devoid of moral legitimacy. Billy Ayers never had the opportunity to commit Stalin’s crimes, but if he had it he would have taken it, and the overseas offences of American progressive foreign policy (bringing both Mao and Ho to power, for example) are surely in the same league. All these people should be at the very least out of a job, and they should probably pay a fine and have to pick up trash on the freeway. I would settle for the former, however.

But Brezhnev’s Russia, despite its economic stagnation, was a normal country. You could get in trouble if you said the wrong thing, but you had to try. The same is true here. There is no comparison between the Stalinist and post-Stalinist environments, there was no way for post-Stalinist Russia to become Stalinist again, and there is also no way for American communism to develop into its full-blown, malignant, concentration-camp form. If the SDS ever had a chance, they blew it. And if we have Dick Nixon to thank for that, God bless Dick Nixon.

The Volokh Conspiracy, fresh from breaking the news about BI’s SDS ties, gives us an even better Kremlinological glimpse at the real, present-day Barack Obama:

Talking to friends who work as staffers on the Hill, they say there are two basic elements to Obama: (1) he is “really, really liberal,” and (2) “he is incredibly indecisive.”

Color me extremely unsurprised. Barack Obama, as Steve Sailer first observed, is a Gatsby. He’s a fine actor – he plays the chief executive extremely well. I’d cast him as a king in any of the Shakespeare plays. I can see him as Henry V, I can see him as Richard III, I can certainly see him as Hamlet although I suppose he’s a little old. But so was Mel Gibson.

It’s fortunate, however, that the Presidency is not in any way, shape, or form an executive or managerial position, because obviously President Obama has neither the experience nor the aptitude to manage a large organization. He can at least look and sound good while reading his lines, which puts him well up on the previous occupant. He seems to be very bad at improv, however, which is a real liability. Perhaps he could take some classes.

(As everyone should know but I suspect very few do, the so-called “executive branch,” ie the US Government, reports to Congress, not to the “chief executive.” I exclude military matters. I’m assuming an Obama administration will bring a fast and inglorious end to America’s current sandy adventures. With surrender feelers already appearing in the press, I expect Mullah Omar in Kabul within the year. Iraq will implode or not, depending on the Iraqis. This leaves the Pentagon to do what it did in the Clinton administration, ie, vegetate and burn dollars.)

The White House proper does have a manager. That man is the chief of staff, for which position the name of Rahm Emanuel has already been floated. Emanuel is unlikely to be described as “incredibly indecisive.” This dynamic individual has already published The Plan, his plan to make America America again, used copies of which can be obtained for a mere cent. Your penny buys you quite a few wonderfully Bolshevik-sounding ideas framed in wooden ninth-grade prose, such as “universal national service”:

Each citizen needs to understand and accept the essence of the American bargain: Each of us has to do his or her part. While the rights of citizenship are explicit in our Constitution, the implicit responsibilities are every bit as crucial.

Lenin at the Finland Station, Rep. Emanuel ain’t. Here is his earth-shattering proposal:

It’s time for a real Patriot Act that brings out the patriot in all of us. We propose universal civilian service for every young American. Under this plan, all Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five will be asked to serve their country by going through three months of basic training, civil defense preparation, and community service.

Just the thing to energize the youth vote! That’ll bring Obama Girl back in 2012, I’m confident. I’m sure UR’s Eastern European readers have fun memories of field-stripping Kalashnikovs and helping out with the potato harvest.

Dear reader, if anything like “universal civilian service” happens, I promise to print out the above paragraph and eat it. Frankly, the spectacle would be so hilarious and edifying that I’d be positively tickled to perform the sacrifice. But I don’t expect to. Washington is no young town.

This is the great thing about President Obama’s “change.” What he means by “change” is, of course, “power” – as in the phrase, “change the world.” Everyone wants to change the world. That is, they want to exert personal influence on the world. That is, they want power. This will get them laid, or so they think. It’s really not all that complicated.

The problem is: Washington is fresh out of power. It already controls everything it can possibly control. It just nationalized the financial system, and no one noticed. Why? Because a US bank in November 2008 has to comply with exactly the same ten-foot-tall stack of regulations that it had to comply with in September 2008. What difference can another love note or two from Barney Frank make?

To illustrate, I give you George Ball. You’ve almost certainly never heard of George Ball, but in his heyday he had more power than anyone in the US has today. I’m dead serious. For example, if Ball’s autobiography is to be believed (and I believe it), in collaboration with Jean Monnet he was largely responsible for the birth of the monster we know and love as the European Union.

Everyone involved with the Obama campaign, the Democratic Party, etc, would like the Obama transition to be as much as possible like the New Deal. We are still in the New Deal, of course, but in 1933 we weren’t. So it was possible to create “change.” Lots of “change.” Here is how Ball describes the vibe of ’33, when the Cathedral first stormed and sacked the city on the river. At the time, he has just graduated from law school:

Washington was swarming with young lawyers, economists, bankers, and professors-in-exile, all bent on reorganizing the cosmos, rearranging the stars and planets. Programmed like a computer with bits and tags of literature, I mouthed Wordsworth’s famous apostrophe to the early weeks of the French Revolution: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/ But to be young was very heaven!”

The times were ebullient, and yeast was in the air. Each morning we awoke to read with excitement of Roosevelt’s latest outrageous move. It was épater les bourgeois in political and economic terms or – more precisely for us – it was épater les vieillards, a form of exercise that inevitably lifts the hearts of anyone under thirty. The old order had discredited itself; we would conjure up a new and better one in its place. Certain lines from Wordsworth’s Prelude expressed what we thought we were up to, for it did indeed seem to us a time:

In which the meager, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights…

We were, so we thought at the time, not so much interested in smashing pillars and pulling down temples as in designing the shape and form of our New Jerusalem. Discussion might circle for a time – sometimes it seemed to circle for long alcoholic hours – but it invariably settled on the architecture of that refulgent city.

No doubt because the actors in the drama were relatively older – lawyers and young Ph.D’s in economics rather than undergraduates – the reaction bore no resemblance to the later disorder of the sixties, when “trashing” seemed an end in itself. Though we had read some history, no one thought himself a young Robespierre. Perhaps also because the New Deal was a fresh experience for America (though not for Europe), with government for the first time giving explicit meaning to the welfare clause, we felt hope in the air. Later, in the sixties, much of the new welfare legislation served the bureaucracy more than the commonweal, but in those days of unlimited expectations our basic credo was simple: Nothing that had been done till then was good enough nor was there anything we could not do if we set our minds to it.

To be sure, I was little more than a spear-carrier with few speaking lines. Unlike many of the leading actors, I had, at that time, not even met Felix Frankfurter, let alone clerked for Holmes or Brandeis. Most of the problems with which the New Deal was grappling were for me matters of first impression; I was, by any rational standard, spectacularly ill-equipped. Although assigned to work on developing credit facilities for farmers, I had never, in spite of my Iowa background, spent a night on a working farm – but then neither had my colleagues, including, I suspect, Henry Morgenthau. That, however, did not deter us. In the atmosphere of New Deal Washington, inexperience was no impediment; one learned fast and improvised boldly. Even professionally, I could not have been more of a neophyte; I had never so much as written a contract to sell a fifty-dollar dog! Yet one of my first professional tasks was to draft and help negotiate a contract for the sale of $75 million worth of Federal Farm Board cotton. It was such a formidable document – seventy or eighty pages in length and replete with intricate internal brokerage arrangements – that, in retrospect, I am amazed that I was not terrified by the assignment. But I took it in stride, as we all did in those days. We were young and nothing was impossible.

I can guarantee UR readers quite definitively that, while the Obama administration may indeed have a few positions for law-school graduates, they will not be rearranging any astronomical bodies, building any New Jerusalems, smashing any pillars, pulling down any temples, or in fact receiving any assignments that strike even the slightest bit of terror into their hearts. (Alcohol, however, remains plentiful.)

The sad fact of the matter is that in 2008, unless you either (a) get to shoot people or (b) are a GS-15 or above, there is no such thing as a fun job working for the US government. Well, okay, I suppose Treasury might be a little exciting at present, at least from the terror perspective. But even there the ratio of terror to New Jerusalem is inordinately high. No one has smashed so much as a sub-sub-pillar for the last ten years, and not even Congress can pull down a temple. (Although it can hang quite a few Christmas-tree ornaments on the temple.) As for Wordsworth, your average civil servant doesn’t know him from Woolworth. Progressivism has took its toll.

Even in the ’60s, government proper was a tomb. The growth in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s was all in the external arms: the press, the universities, the foundations and NGOs. These are all part of Washington in its broad sense – they all exist to compose or influence government policy. They are all, of course, progressive organs, aside from a few Republican and libertarian think-tanks. And all of them have reached the level of maximum organizational bloat, on the outer fringes of the red-giant state that is the Beltway. They grow, still, of course, but slowly. You can be an intern if you want. You can probably get laid. You won’t be redrawing constellations.

For the red-giant state, the only possible change is the ultimate change. The supernova. The reboot. What happened to the Soviet Union. As I keep saying, there’s no change like regime change. This is, of course, the opposite of what you voted for when you elected Obama. But perhaps, dear progressives, you’ve helped bring that moment a little closer.

As for conservatives and mainstream libertarians: forget it. You’ve lost. You’re in roughly the same position as a Southern segregationist in 1968. History may or may not vindicate your cause, but it has determined your chance of victory, which is zero. If you have a life, go live it. If not, now is probably a good time to get one.

In the era of Barack Obama, Washington is one thing. It is progressive from top to bottom, east to west, and ass to elbow. Everyone with a real role in governing America, whether in the White House or the civil service, in the press or on the Hill, at Harvard or at State, in the Wilderness Society or on the Supreme Court, is a communist. I exaggerate, of course – slightly. But if you have fantasies of reforming this thing, of making it conservative or libertarian or whatever, you’re either a fool or a fraud. Now and for the foreseeable future, you are for Washington or you’re against it. And if we have Barry Obama to thank for that, God bless Barry Obama.

The entire proposition of post-1945 American democratic conservatism, including its runt cousin libertarianism, was predicated on the lingering cultural memory of a pre-New Deal America. Americans actually did vote to do away with the New Deal, once, sort of, in 1980. But somehow it didn’t quite happen. And that was a generation ago.

American voters are now very, very comfortable with communism. It may be possible to detach them. It may not. But flag-waving and glittering generalities certainly won’t do it. You’re trying to fight an entire educational system with slogans and 30-second TV spots. It’s like a salmon trying to jump Boulder Dam.

A dose of Obama may disenchant voters with Obama. It may even persuade them to elect another Republican. But he will be a communist Republican. Want a peek at the future? Google “David Cameron.” Want a peek at the rest of the future? Google “Leonid Brezhnev.”

You don’t like that plan? Okay, here’s another plan. Form militant evangelical Christian sects on college campuses. Disrupt classes, hold violent masked rallies, invade the dean’s office, crap on the desk. Maybe you can recruit a biker or prison gang or two, like the Mongols or the Aryan Brotherhood, for muscle. Make people fear you. Don’t be afraid of a punch-up or two. And make demands: a Christian studies department for every college or university, abolition of ethnic studies and affirmative action, daily prayer and hymn-singing, the sky’s the limit. Create some change. Be an activist. Read Alinsky. Kick some ass.

Because you know what, dear conservatives? This – or rather, of course, its equivalent – is exactly what your enemies, the communists, did to take over the American educational system. It was pure, naked, rampant thuggery, using as much violence as necessary and with the promise of more. If guns were needed, they used guns. If fists sufficed, they sufficed. And it worked. And as a result, 40 years and two voter generations later, everyone is as blissed out as a stoned lab rat, because America has finally elected a communist President, and we have “changed.” La educación es la revolución. You know the only problem with my Christian-biker plan, dear conservatives? It can’t possibly succeed, because your enemies aren’t as stupid as you.

So when I read pieces like this one, by the normally sensible, judicious, and militaristic Bill Whittle, I start wondering: am I too old to emigrate to Singapore? Because if the conservative sheepdog is supposed to be protecting my baby from the communist wolf, someone’s slipped him a packet of Xanax, and he’s face down in a pool of patriotic American drool. The wolf is in the house and sleeping on the kitchen table. He’s just eaten half the Thanksgiving turkey. When he wakes up, he’ll eat the other half and go to sleep again. And when he wakes up again, he’ll wonder what that screaming thing in the crib is, and if it’s any good to eat. Will the Xanax have worn off by then? Frankly, I doubt it. Thanks for nothin’, Fido.

People, Washington does not work. It never worked. We’ve just been lucky so far. (Sort of – if you don’t count the war.) But the nose is pointed at the ground, the engine is a brick, and the eject lever just came off in our hands. Luckily, we’re 35,000 feet in the air, so we have a little time to think.

We cannot rely on the profound, mystical, and deeply American wisdom of the infallible American voter. The infallible American voter just chose, as the leader of the free world, the former gofer of a murderous megalomaniac psychopath. Solely on the basis of his tawny epidermis. Fortunately, Washington is so vast and so broken, so fucked beyond all redemption, that for all its H-bombs, the gofer could indeed be a psychopath himself, and he won’t be able to hurt a fly. This is so beyond comedy that it’s gone past tragedy and back to funny again.

The only question left is: how do we land the plane? How can we rid ourselves of this ridiculous government, this political tumor from the age of powdered wigs, this city of foam colonnades and cardboard presidents, Washington, without turning North America into a smoking ruin? And what comes next?