Patchwork: a positive vision (part 1)

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.


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