Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Endarkenment

Neoreaction was the fringiest of fringe idea up until a few months ago, confined to the darkest and dankest corners of the internet. But lately it has burst out of obscurity, gaining new followers in the Singularity/Less Wrong crowd, prompting detailed critiques, coverage from mainstream news sources, and now well-known writers are joining the fray.

What is neoreaction? Roughly, it equates to being explictly anti-democratic. Neoreactionaries believe that democracty has failed and in fact must fail, and that the only viable form of government is autocracy. Why this idea should appeal to anyone in this day and age is a bit of a mystery. Some of the believers are simply extreme rightwingers searching for a coherent philosophy, but oddly (or not) it also draws from the libertarian and rationalist communities. Here’s a map, prepared by believers, which shows how thoroughly this idea is linked to both high-tech libertarians and to the absolute dregs of the internet – men’s rights activitsts, christian extremists, and some truly vile racists – basically, people anyone with any taste whatsoever would cross the street to avoid. I would have some hesitancy about making a diagram like this myself – it implies that rationalists in Less Wrong, who are for the most part both smart and well-intentioned, are tightly linked to scum. But I didn’t draw this, they did. The chief of Less Wrong, Eliezer Yudkowsky, has distanced himself, but the meme pools are clearly leaking into each other in an alarming way.

All recent neoreactionary activity can be traced back to Mencius Moldbug, someone I have had some interaction with online and off (I am somewhat inexplicably on his blogroll). Like many of these people, Moldbug is obviously extremely bright but it is also obvious that has something has gone horribly wrong in his thinking. He struck me as someone who was, like many nerds, attracted towards libertarianism; but was also too smart to not see its internal contradictions. However, rather than backing off and being a normal progressive (which would be boring), he doubled down on the inherent authoritarianism that lurks under the surface of libertarianism.

Like libertarians, his attitude towards actual politics is a mixture of disdain and terror. He can’t tolerate the sloppy and unprincipled clashes of the various interests of society that make up civic life, so he’s constructed an imaginary version of absolute monarchy that makes all that disappear. It’s total nonsense of course, but I can detect and even have a smidgeon of sympathy for the reasoning behind it. An example of moldbuggery (there are megabytes of this sort of stuff):
"…a reactionary is a believer in order, stability, and security. All of which he treats as synonyms….Thus, the order that the rational reactionary seeks to preserve and/or restore is arbitrary. Perhaps it can be justified on some moral basis. But probably not. It is good simply because it is order, and the alternative to order is violence at worst and politics at best. If the Bourbons do not rule France, someone will – Robespierre, or Napoleon, or Corner Man."
This is a remarkably clear statement, and also remarkably false in all of its presuppositions – that you can have human society without politics, for instance, or that the only two alternatives are autocratic rule or gang violence. Moldbug’s entire output is like this: crisply built on axioms that collapse like tissue if looked at with even a minimum of critical thought. And for all the macho posturing that goes on in this corner of the internet, it strikes me as a fearful, shameful, wussified stance. Order and security may be fine things, but if you are willing to sacrifice everything else for them, you have no pride, and you will only produce stultification.

I’m writing this from Chicago, a down-to-earth city far from the various sillinesses of the coasts. From here, disputes between various fringe belief systems seem about as significant as an argument between geeks about whether they prefer Star Trek or Star Wars. There’s nobody here I could even begin to explain this movement to without feeling foolish. However, the fact that these ideas are taken even a little bit seriously by well-connected technical people means they do have significance. Software is really eating the world and what goes on in obscure corners of Silicon Valley nerd culture really does end up having a disproportionate impact on how the world works.

So, I don’t think neoreaction is really going to get much political traction, because it is just too extreme, silly, nerdy, and ultimately self-contradictory. But it does seem to have become a powerful attractor in idea-space, and more people are being pulled into the orbit of this extremely dark belief system. There are short paths between this nonsense and real powers in technology, and that is something that at least needs to be watched.

33 comments:

Crawfurdmuir said...

It impresses me that the "democracy" that neoreactionaries profess to dislike, and also that people like you try to defend, is not real democracy but rather the administrative technocratic state that has prevailed in this country for almost a century - based on the ideas proposed in Walter Lippmann's writings in the post-WWI era, brought to its first fruition under FDR's New Deal, and expanded under practically every president of either party since.

The so-called Almond-Lippmann consensus is summarized in the Wikipedia article on Lippmann as follows:

'1. Public opinion is volatile, shifting erratically in response to the most recent developments. Mass beliefs early in the 20th century were "too pacifist in peace and too bellicose in war, too neutralist or appeasing in negotiations or too intransigent"

'2. Public opinion is incoherent, lacking an organized or a consistent structure to such an extent that the views of U.S. citizens could best be described as "nonattitudes"

'3. Public opinion is irrelevant to the policy-making process. Political leaders ignore public opinion because most Americans can neither "understand nor influence the very events upon which their lives and happiness are known to depend."'

These are the views of the present administration, the Congressional leadership of both parties, the policymaking bureaucracy, the elite academy, and the movers and shakers in the mainstream news media. They explain the attitude of all of these worthies toward any real expression of popular discontent, which is dismissed with the imperiousness of a schoolmaster or governess towards his or her juvenile charges, who do not know what is best for themselves.

Those who see a threat to democracy in the so-called neoreactionaries, while refusing to recognize that the ruling elites have reduced it to a mere nominal form as practically powerless as the Merovingian "rois fainéants" were under their mayors of the palace, exhibit either a peculiar naïvété or are deliberately trying to distract from the real state of affairs. They strain at the gnat of Mencius Moldbug, while swallowing the camel of Lippmannism.

If Moldbug and his confrères have a point, it is that an absolute monarchy would at least be more honest than what we have, which masquerades as democracy but manufactures consent, or simply forces its nostrums on the people like castor oil down the throat of a recalcitrant child. George Orwell famously observed, in "The Road to Wigan Pier" -

"The ordinary man may not flinch from a dictatorship of the proletariat, if you offer it tactfully; offer him a dictatorship of the prigs, and he gets ready to fight."

The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that we live under the dictatorship of prigs, and have done for a long time.

Crawfurdmuir said...

Here, by contrast, is genuine democracy:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landsgemeinde

One notes with approval of the Appenzeller Innerrhoden that -

"Inner Rhoden is extremely conservative, and has the reputation of always rejecting any federal Referendum."

and -

"Historically, or in Appenzell until the admission of women, the only proof of citizenship necessary for men to enter the voting area was to show their ceremonial sword or Swiss military sidearm (bayonet), this gave proof that you were a freeman allowed to bear arms and to vote."

Hal Morris said...

"until the admission of women, the only proof of citizenship necessary for men to enter the voting area was to show their ceremonial sword or Swiss military sidearm (bayonet), this gave proof that you were a freeman allowed to bear arms and to vote."

Why are we supposed to find this praiseworthy? "proof that you were a freeman allowed to bear arms" suggests that as was commonly true a few hundred years ago, "freeman" wear a minority -- a special class.

At least I take it you're not one of those saying we need more stringent voter ID because of rampant vote fraud. Then again, it sounds like if in Appenzell someone wanted to win an election, he could just bus in loads of men of the class who owned ceremonial swords or side-arms.

Hal Morris said...

Crawfordmuir, the Wikipedia article on the "Almond-Lippmann Consensus" says:
"The Almond–Lippmann consensus is a principle of political theory authored by Gabriel Almond and Walter Lippmann made shortly after the Second World War. It states that public opinion is:

1. volatile and irrational, and thus a dubious basis for foreign policy;
2. devoid of interest and succeptuble to manipulation, and thus should not be studied.

The consensus was highly influential in the 1950s and 1960s, but weakened following the conclusion of the Vietnam War, when it became clear that "the American public had taken a more sober and enlightened approach toward the war than the heads of government did", leading to Lippmann himself recanting."

This puts the "consensus" itself in more abbreviated terms, but it agrees with the likelihood that Almond (b1911) was too obscure to have his name on anything any earlier than about 1950. But of course Walter Lippmann was saying some such things much earlier. But was he the father of a "consensus" back then? Or was he one of several voices that middlingly intellectual people liked to read back then?

The idea that democracies need an elite thinking/leading class is as old as the U.S. or rather older, and certainly not the property of either (economic at least) liberals or conservatives. But it does seem to be a step in the direction of Moldbergism if one can call it that.

Crawfurdmuir said...

What is admirable about it is the recognition that the right to vote is (or was until 1991, when women were admitted to it) connected to the duty of military service, which all Swiss men must render. Connection thus existed between the exercise of full civic rights and the fulfillment of civic responsibilities.

The weakening of this connection in the United States has been a significant element in the reduction of its democracy to a periodic formality, while ever-increasing governmental authority is vested in a permanent unelected government.

Hal Morris said...

I imagine every political tendency that ever was has had moments of thinking the people are insane, and has wished for an Alexander to "cut the Gordian knot" (i.e. disregard the rules), and there is much truth in those characterizations of "the public", but I am with Thomas Jefferson as quoted at http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/quotations-education

"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree."

and

"I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance."

Yes, that's the great saint of small government talking about taxes for education as a necessity for preserving democracy.

Much rhetoric of the right has for years been busy sowing seeds of repulsion for everything connected with "Democracy" let alone "Democrats". If you know anyone plugged into that network you may have heard that the founding fathers favoured the word "republic" and shunned the word "democracy". But the original small government people of the early 19c were first called "Democratic Republicans" so what is one to make of that? In the word "republic" is the concept of something belonging to the public ("res public" == "public thing or entity").

Hal Morris said...

Crawfordmuir speaks of a "reduction of [U.S.'s] democracy to a periodic formality, while ever-increasing governmental authority is vested in a permanent unelected government".

As far as this goes, you're in perfect agreement with Noam Chomsky. If our democracy isn't real, despite elections, is it due to the things Lippmann said were true of public opinion?

Crawfurdmuir said...

Mr. Morris, perhaps I am guilty of seizing on Almond and Lippmann to explain a phenomenon that cannot entirely be blamed on them, but that does not make the phenomenon itself less real. Historically, it seems to me that the modern unelected government, which has grown enormously in size over the past 80 years, is a product of thinking along their lines. There is also a pattern of real connection between Lippmann and the phenomenon. He was a protégé of Woodrow Wilson's advisor Edward Mandell House, an early advocate of the administrative state, and became a court intellectual to Franklin Roosevelt, who instituted one in practice.

How can one seriously call the result, under which we live today, "democracy"? The elected legislative branch has in practice abdicated most of its legislative authority to agencies which, though nominally part of the executive branch, are in fact staffed by professional civil servants who are not hired, and cannot be fired, by the elected executive. They are supervised by officials who are, to be sure, appointed by patronage; but in many cases, their terms of office are deliberately set so as not to be coterminous with those of the elected executive (e.g., the terms of members of numerous commissions such as the FTC, NLRB, CPSC, etc., or of the Chairman and Governors of the Federal Reserve System). Regulations having the force of law are made effectively by edict, through publication in the Federal Register. This system is justified on the basis that elected legislators are too ignorant and too busy to deal with making rules for some field of activity, which is therefore delegated to the unelected and largely unanswerable bureaucracy.

At the same time, the elected legislature is (I suspect) not at all unhappy to wash its hands of certain difficult controversies by kicking them over to the courts. Since any decision taken on an issue like (say) abortion is bound to displease a significant percentage of the electorate, it is far easier for the decisions to be made by judges holding appointments for life, who never have to face an angry electorate. This permits congressmen and senators, and the executive. who are naturally anxious about such situations, to stand on the sidelines, and when approached by constituents having concerns about such "hot-button" issues, to murmur sympathetic words while excusing themselves from the consequences of any actual decision by saying that the matter in question is in the hands of the courts.

The remaining executive and legislative authority that is actually exercised by elected officials. then, is concentrated not on issues of substantive law, but rather on the two ways in which it indirectly affects policy - first, through the power of taxation and spending, and second, through the presidential power to appoint, and the senate's power to consent (or not) to the appointment of judges and high-level bureaucrats. As we have witnessed repeatedly in recent years, when a major controversy occurs in Congress, it is about one or the other of these issues.

If such disputes about the appointment of the persons who will actually be making the laws and policies that govern us constitute "democracy," the process is about as murky an example of it as the famously convoluted procedures followed by the Venetian Republic in electing a doge. The contrast with the simplicity and directness of the Swiss Landsgemeinde is striking.

Crawfurdmuir said...

"Yes, that's the great saint of small government talking about taxes for education as a necessity for preserving democracy."

Not for nothing did Jefferson's cousin, John Randolph, refer to him as "St. Thomas of Cantingbury." Whenever Jefferson speaks of things with which he had practical experience, as in his "Notes on the State of Virginia," he does so with good sense; when he veers into the abstruse, he often commits absurdities.

I'm not quite sure which is the case in this situation, absent greater context. Bear in mind that Jefferson saw a much more limited rôle for the federal government than he did for the governments of the states. Also, he would have taken it for granted that any tax would have had to be approved by a body elected by taxpayers. He wrote the Constitution under which the Commonwealth of Virginia was governed until some years after his death; it granted the franchise only to freeholders, and to veterans of the Revolution. The connection between the exercise of full civic rights and the fulfillment of civic responsibilities had not then been severed. The Revolution arose under the cry, no taxation without representation - and it was understood that representation was the exclusive right of those who were taxed. Would it were still so.

mtraven said...

I knew it was you even before you mentioned John Randolph. Apparently there is no topic on which he is not relevant. But you are now introducing rhetoric from Chomsky into your mix ("manufacturing consent"), so I guess your horizons have broadened.

I don't think there's anybody who thinks the US is perfectly democratic. The question is whether you want to move it in a more democratic direction, or less.

It is also perfectly obvious that Moldbugism is not exactly the most pressing political problem faced by the country at the moment.

Speaking of manufacturing consent, monarchs have to do this just as much as any other form of government. Monarchy went into decline right around the time their main tool for doing this (established churches and the convenient doctrine of divine right of kings) became subject to questioning.

Crawfurdmuir said...

"Manufacturing consent" was not originally Chomsky's phrase. He borrowed it from Lippmann's "Public Opinion" (1922). See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Opinion_(book)

It describes a real phenomenon. All governments operate by a combination of force and suasion; when suasion verges on fraud, it constitutes manufacturing consent.

As for Randolph, he was a prominent politician and political thinker in the early years of the Republic; on that point, Russell Kirk (who admired him) and Henry Adams (who did not) agreed, and who am I to differ with them?

My preferred form of government would be timocracy, exemplified in practice as a tax-qualified franchise. Representation should be limited to those who foot the bill for government. Democracy comes a-cropper when irresponsible elements are allowed to vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. The culpable parties can differ widely - compare Detroit, Michigan, and Stockton, California - but the end is similar.

Crawfurdmuir said...

"It is also perfectly obvious that Moldbugism is not exactly the most pressing political problem faced by the country at the moment."

Indeed - why, then, did you devote one of your infrequent blog posts to expressing your distaste for it, rather than to something you regard as more pressing? And when you make such a post, why should you be surprised that someone comments on it? If you don't care for comments, why have a comment section?

Crawfurdmuir said...

Mtraven wrote: "I don't think there's anybody who thinks the US is perfectly democratic. The question is whether you want to move it in a more democratic direction, or less."

A small example of the way in which Lippmannesque ideas and their consequences work to erode elective democracy, and to move the country in a less democratic direction, is seen in the Missouri Plan for selection of state-level judges:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missouri_Plan

Under the plan, contested elections are eliminated, and "a non-partisan commission reviews candidates for a judicial vacancy. The commission then sends to the governor a list of candidates considered best qualified. The governor then has sixty days to select a candidate from the list. If the governor does not make a selection within sixty days, the commission makes the selection. At the general election soonest after the completion of one year's service, the judge must stand in a 'retention election'. If a majority vote against retention, the judge is removed from office, and the process starts anew. If the majority vote in favor of retention, the judge serves out a full term."

While this system has been in effect in Missouri since 1940, the principal promoter of its adoption in other states in recent years has been a George Soros-funded organization called Justice at Stake. The effect of the plan, where it has been instituted, has been to give state bar associations a disproportionate amount of influence over the selection of judges, and to conceal the process from public scrutiny.

How interesting that the self-appointed advocate of the "open society" and "transparency" should be behind depriving the voters of the ability to choose who they would prefer to sit on the judicial bench. He couldn't possibly have an ulterior motive, now, could he?

Democracy is only of use to people of this ilk when it yields the results they desire. When it does not, they find a way to get rid of it.

A comparable example in the EU can be seen in the rejection of the European Constitution in 2005 by plebiscites in France and the Netherlands. After a "period of reflection" as the Eurocrats regrouped, the rejected Constitution was re-formulated as the Treaty of Lisbon, and ratified at the end of 2007 without bothering to submit it to popular vote.

Hal Morris said...

My preferred form of government would be timocracy, exemplified in practice as a tax-qualified franchise. Representation should be limited to those who foot the bill for government.

It has a certain logic, but by controlling the government, a small group of people could insure that they remained the only people with the means for providing the money for running the government.

Historically, societies have tended to drift in that direction (of concentration of wealth and power) and you would only accelerate that drift more than it's already accelerating (breathtaking in the last 3 decades or so).

We now have a class of people with a great power to control things with no fear of being convicted of bribery. Why? They have so much that there is no need for "tit for tat". They simply throw money at people who they think will do their bidding, and control the messaging at election time. One might think the GOP would have take some alarm at what they had wrought when their presidential primary kept zig-zagging according to who had just acquired some big benefactor. Thanks to Adelman, Newt Gingrich came out of nowhere and looked like a contender for about a week (Adelman's new crusade is to put a stop to internet gambling which has just reemerged here in NJ - what a libertarian he is).

They cultivate people who look like they may go somewhere in politics as a sort of "Junior Billionaire's Club" as when the pre-office George W Bush kept being put on various high paying boards or investing millions in lame business ideas just because of who he was and where he was likely to be headed. Watergate was the same thing on a microscopic scale.

I don't see monarchy or any sort of one man rule on the horizon, but I do see a sort of de facto oligarchy. In Acemoglu and Robinson's _How Nations Fail_ (which is just as much about how a few nations have created exceptionally good societies (note "Exceptionally" -- i.e. not perfect, but notable exceptions to the rule),
really a sort of astoundingly broad history of civilization with deep and deeply empirically grounded analysis -- one conclusion that emerges is that the worst state of affairs is to have a powerful unaccountable oligarchy that overawes the central government, as in late Medieval or early Modern Hungary and most of Latin America -- what the authors call "weak authoritarianism". Strong centralized authoritarianism has been know to at least govern efficiently and keep the peace well, but weak authoritarianism never, it seems. Fukuyama's Origins of Political order covers much of the same ground and comes to many of the same conclusions. F. has worked his way from being a head-in-the-clouds Hegelian/Nietzchian darling of the right to a hardworking empirical historian of great analytic skill.

By the way, I was delighted to hear the name John Randolph (though I don't take him for an oracle) and put these annotated reminiscences online at http://www.jmisc.net/jm970902.htm 16 years ago.

Hal Morris: hal@panix.com:
http://TheRealTruthProject.blogspot.com/2011/08/my-not-really-right-wing-mom-and-her.html
http://TheRealTruthProject.blogspot.com/2012/09/practical-epistemology-recycled.html

[from a former life:
* Jacksonian Miscellanies: Archive at http://www.jmisc.net/jmisc
* Tales of the Early Republic web site: http://WWW.EarlyRepublic.ORG

Crawfurdmuir said...

I find much to agree with in Pareto's view that politics is always basically a contest between elites, or elite factions. What you are describing is simply the latest iteration of it. For every Adelson, there is a Soros; for each Koch brother, there is a Warren Buffett, or a Bill Gates. Many politicians are themselves very rich, e.g., John Kerry or Darrell Issa. The tendency towards dynastic politics, as exemplified by the Kennedy and Bush clans, is remarkable. Who in Britain, supposedly ridden with its class system, would seriously propose a scion of the Percy, Howard, or Churchill families as a potential political leader, however well-qualified he might otherwise be?

It seems to me that the political empowerment of the unpropertied has not only not discouraged this, but rather has promoted it. Who has most bought into the Camelot myth is, after all? Apart for a few starry-eyed members of the intelligentsia, who but the avid followers of pop-culture celebrity, typically female proles and lumpenproles.

I suggest that a vigorous body politic in which the principal electoral participants were drawn from the class of farmers, small business owners, and independent professionals, such as was dominant between the early 19th century and the Great Depression, would be less rather than more susceptible to the glamour of the celebrity politician and the manipulations of the mega-rich fixers that back them, than are the star-struck mobile vulgus. Yet it is certainly possible that the wish is father to the thought.

Thank you for the links. I do not maintain that Randolph was an "oracle," but he can usually be counted on for a sharp aperçu here and there on the issues and personalities of his day. Other figures of that period worthy of study are Randolph's fellow Virginian, John Taylor of Caroline, and the New England Federalist, Fisher Ames.

mtraven said...

why, then, did you devote one of your infrequent blog posts to expressing your distaste for it, rather than to something you regard as more pressing?

I think the post spent quite enough time describing the motivations for writing it, so maybe you should read it before going off on your tangents.

And when you make such a post, why should you be surprised that someone comments on it? If you don't care for comments, why have a comment section?

I am not surprised, what makes you think I am? I would be pleasantly surprised if you made a comment that was actually about the post for a change.

mtraven said...

the principal promoter of its adoption in other states in recent years has been a George Soros-funded organization called Justice at Stake. ...

I know nothing of this organization, but I suspect that it is motivated by the fact that the election laws increasingly allow offices to be bought by moneyed interests. Judges in hock to campaign donors can't be impartial. It would be nice to have one branch of the government that was not bought and paid for.

How interesting that the self-appointed advocate of the "open society" and "transparency" should be behind depriving the voters of the ability to choose who they would prefer to sit on the judicial bench. He couldn't possibly have an ulterior motive, now, could he?

I suppose he could, but I am hard-pressed to understand what sinister private ends this organization could be be pursuing.

Crawfurdmuir said...

I'll give you a hint. The Missouri Plan gives state bar associations a disproportionate influence over judicial selection, and in turn this gives the plaintiffs' bar a strong advantage. As the saying goes, good lawyers know the law; great lawyers know the judge. The tort bar is indisposed to any curtailment of its activity and is one of the great sources of financial support for the left.

Wherever it has been adopted, the Missouri Plan has given the courts a decisive shove to the left. That is why Soros likes it. No matter that it deprives the electorate of competitive choices in judicial elections - that hasn't produced the results Soros wants, so in this case, democracy doesn't suit him. For the left, the end justifies the means.

Crawfurdmuir said...

"I am not surprised, what makes you think I am? I would be pleasantly surprised if you made a comment that was actually about the post for a change."

Why don't you try using some civility once in a while?

My comment was to the effect that if you are really concerned about the fate of democracy, you ought to consider what has happened to it at the hands of the managerial state over the past eighty years, rather than vapouring about some putative threat from Moldbug & Co.

That seems to me quite apposite to your post. You are intelligent enough to have seen that, if you actually bothered to read what I wrote. Your professed failure to perceive it can only be a result of deliberate obtuseness, which combined with your usual snide tone, serves amply to illustrate that you are a would-be member of the dictatorship of the prigs about which Orwell wrote so perceptively back in 1937.

Hal Morris said...

"How interesting that the self-appointed advocate of the "open society" and "transparency" should be behind depriving the voters of the ability to choose who they would prefer to sit on the judicial bench. He couldn't possibly have an ulterior motive, now, could he?"

"I'll give you a hint."

"Why don't you try using some civility once in a while?"

"Your professed failure to perceive it can only be a result of deliberate obtuseness, which combined with your usual snide tone, serves amply to illustrate that you are a would-be member of the dictatorship of the prigs"

Hal Morris said...

To MTraven - interesting article. Thanks for the pointers. I think the ideas may be more mainstream than they seem, though less easy to detect when not espoused by a self-caricaturing publicity lover.

One link with the text "Here’s a map, prepared by believers" the web reports as nonexistent. Indeed it says there is no www.moreright.net, and I tried quite a few variants

Hal Morris said...

Crawfurdmuir, it seems too much to me like you're railing against and advocating the same thing. We don't have democracy but let's not try to reestablish it, or build up its foundations -- lets replace the wrong elite with the right one.

Rather like Marx thinking dictatorship isn't such a bad thing if it's "by the proletariat".

C. writes "I suggest that a vigorous body politic in which the principal electoral participants were drawn from the class of farmers, small business owners, and independent professionals, such as was dominant between the early 19th century and the Great Depression".

Are you sure about "Great Depression"? And what's with the 80 year gap (approx 1850-1930 though you might not chose those exact endpoints)? What do you say was going on then?

But more importantly, where are you going to find so many farmers and small businessmen as we had then? You seem to be talking about Jefferson's Virtuous Yeomen (somewhat updated), for which John Randolph lord of Bizarre (the name of his plantation), might well ridicule you.

It seems like in some ways you see the bad well enough, but your ideas of where we should go from here are muddled fantasy.

As we know, Randolph freed his slaves, unlike Jefferson. Perhaps what is so interesting about him is that he had this dark vision of contradictions which people in his view were fools to think they could ever resolve, and that may help explain his penchant for acting half-mad - some playfulness to relieve that darkness.

I'm not advocating that position but there is a certain honesty to it.

Crawfurdmuir said...

My preference for timocracy over universal suffrage does not detract from my point that the democratic character of the United States government has in the past eighty years become significantly attenuated, as a consequence of the rise of the managerial state and the growth of the bureaucracy. It is straining at a gnat to complain of the purported threat posed to democracy by neoreactionary bloggers, and it is swallowing a camel to pass over the real weakening of electoral democracy by the rise of the permanent government.

The late Mel Bradford made a distinction between what he called "teleocratic" and "nomocratic" political approaches - the teleocratic being driven by the ends sought, and the nomocratic being concerned less or not at all by them, but rather with the rules and constraints under which they are achieved. It seems to me that any sincere plea for democracy must appeal to a nomocratic view, one that is willing to accept whatever may be the results of democracy, as long as they have been arrived at by following its rules.

Yet Mtraven swallows the camel of the Lippmannite transformation of the United States through the rise of permanent bureaucratic and judicial government, because his view is teleocratic, and the consequences of that transformation are mostly or entirely agreeable to him. At the same time he strains at a gnat, representing the anti-democratic critique of a handful of obscure bloggers like Moldbug as a threat to be taken seriously, because they are hostile to the dominant New Deal/Great Society Fabianism and general "political correctness" he favors. Is this not an amusing vaudeville?

Consider his defense of Soros's Justice at Stake campaign to deprive voters of contested elections for judgeships: "I suspect that it is motivated by the fact that the election laws increasingly allow offices to be bought by moneyed interests. Judges in hock to campaign donors can't be impartial. It would be nice to have one branch of the government that was not bought and paid for."

Does he not seriously suppose that judges picked by panels assembled from state bar associations, in which members of the high-buck plaintiffs' bar are the principal movers and shakers, are not "in hock," not "bought and paid for" by the people who chose them behind closed doors? How would you like your judges to be selected by or at the behest of worthies like this one -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Angelos

The virtual certainty that the Missouri Plan hands persons of this ilk the keys to the judicial chambers at your local courthouse is set at naught by Mtraven against the possibility that some "moneyed interest" less sympathetic to his desired ends might influence a contested judicial election in favor of a conservative, or against a leftist like Rose Bird:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Bird

As for my personal view, I would prefer to see some sort of tax qualification for the franchise restored. We should repeal the Twenty-fourth Amendment and put in place some sort of minimum income or property standard, which would assure that those who chose our government were persons that actually contributed financially to its support. Our great problem today is that we have too many people who "vote for a living" and not enough who work for one. Those dependent on public charity should not be able to vote themselves greater largesse at the expense of those that foot the bill for it.

As for replacing "the wrong elite with the right one" - if we are going to have an elite, would it not better be a virtuous one than a vicious one? Aristotle, in his "Politics," distinguishes between aristocracy and oligarchy on the basis of virtue. One thing that may be said about our present elite is that they are decidedly lacking in the traditional aristocratic virtues. They are very far from being ´οι άριστοι - they in fact constitute a kakistocracy.

Crawfurdmuir said...

Hal Morris wrote:

'C. writes "I suggest that a vigorous body politic in which the principal electoral participants were drawn from the class of farmers, small business owners, and independent professionals, such as was dominant between the early 19th century and the Great Depression".

'Are you sure about "Great Depression"? And what's with the 80 year gap (approx 1850-1930 though you might not chose those exact endpoints)? What do you say was going on then?'

Let me make clear that the period to which I refer was the heyday of Jacksonian democracy, 1830 - 1930 (give or take a few years). Its end points might also be characterized as beginning with the demise of the Second Bank of the United States (1836) and ending with the advent of the New Deal and its economic dirigisme through an alphabet soup of bureaucratic agencies.

I do not slight the period before it - there was much that was admirable in it. However, the tendency of the First and Second Banks to politicize the extension of credit was a defect of this earlier period, which Jackson did very well to abolish. We have seen egregious examples in recent years of the politicization of credit, many of which have come disastrously to ruin.

Further, democracy was extended under Jackson, Polk, and after them right up until the closure of the frontier, by the opening of the American West to settlement, which made more people into freeholders, taxpayers, and responsible voters. If the franchise is to be enlarged, surely this is the way to do it that most effectively stabilizes the society and protects private property, morality, and order.

Hal Morris said...

"Jacksonian Democracy" is likely a phrase coined by New Deal myth makers like Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and the myth is a celebration of the sweeping away of property requirements for voting and that sort of thing, paving the way for uneducated Irish railway and canal worker and the like to become a mainstay of the Democratic party. The solid citizens of the time were alarmed by this, believing as they did the the nation should be guided by people like themselves, with more of a stake in society.

Do you mind if I ask, Crawfurdmuir, who your favorite historians are?

Crawfurdmuir said...

My favorite historians - of what?

For British history, certainly the earl of Clarendon, David Hume, and Lord Macaulay, bearing in mind the respective axes they had to grind. Clarendon's history of the period leading up to the English civil war, or as my Scots ancestors called it, the War of Three Kingdoms, is essential to understanding the thoughts of the American founding fathers. It is also helpful to have some notion of the development of the English common law, for which Coke and Blackstone are indispensable.

For early American history I like to read mainly original sources, e.g., the Federalist, Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, and John Taylor of Caroline's Arator. M. E. Bradford's A Better Guide Than Reason is a helpful recent guide. For the late unpleasantness of 1861-5, Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote are useful, and the Vanderbilt agrarians (John Crowe Ransom and his students, e.g., Donald Davidson, Frank Owsley, and Robert Penn Warren) have much of interest to say about the subsequent history of the South, as does Bradford. The extensive series of biographies in the American Statesmen series (published around the turn of the last century) is quite informative. The books were written by the best historians of the day; the biography of Randolph, for example, was written by Henry Adams, and is a marvel of distilled malice.

For the economic history of the late nineteenth up through the mid-twentieth centuries, Ron Chernow's books are hard to beat, e.g., The House of Morgan and The Warburgs. The former of these two is noteworthy in carrying the Morgan story past the death of Pierpont, Senior - and contains an excellent explanation of how the American refusal to forgive or mitigate British and French sovereign debt arising from WWI in turn begat British and French intransigence about German war reparations owed under the Treaty of Versailles, this setting the stage for German hyperinflation and later the crash of 1929. It is also noteworthy for describing how the U.S. Department of State, having obtained authority over the issuance of foreign sovereign credits during WWI, retained that authority after the peace, and used it to encourage U.S. private investment in Latin American debt. This debt was much less sound than many investors believed, particularly individual bondholders and country banks - just as mortgage-backed securities were in the 2008 - and its collapse is a largely untold part of the run-up to the Great Depression.

For the Cold War period, John Earl Haynes's and Harvey Klehr's several books are necessary and exhaustive resources. Stan Evans's and Herb Romerstein's Stalin's Secret Agents, and Evans's Blacklisted by History are also worthwhile.

For ancient history, Thucydides, Livy, Caesar, Tacitus, Suetonius, Procopius. Athenæus's Deipnosophistæ is a miscellany from which a great deal can be learnt.

There is too much really to list here about mediæval and early modern European history.

In the history of science and philosophy, Lynn Thorndike's History of Magic and Experimental Science is still sound, but showing its age. The first volume of J. R. Partington's 4-volume History of Chemistry, about science in antiquity, goes well beyond the nominal subject of the book into other natural sciences and philosophy of the time, with great erudition. Joseph Needham's Science and Civilisation in China is fascinating though I can't pretend to have got through more than three or four of the sub-parts of vol. V on chemistry, which is a special interest of mine. Everything written by Dame Frances Yates is fascinating. I am quite attracted to the work of the Warburg Institute scholars generally.

A very recent discovery of mine in the field of scientific history is the work of Lawrence Principe and William Newman. Principe (who is a professor both of chemistry and of the history of science at Johns Hopkins) was chosen by the Royal Society to edit their edition of the papers of Robert Boyle. He is absolutely first-rate.

Dain said...

I found this video featuring a cybergoth-y woman (who is also Jewish, incidentally) introducing the very nerdy Michael Anissimov of moreright.net at a "futurist fest":

http://vimeo.com/34696830

These are apparently the faces of the "Endarkenment." Who knew it wouldn't come in the form of Biff from Back to the Future Part 2, but rather McFly.

mtraven said...

Um, yeah, have you seen Moldbug in action? Not that it is really relevant but he is canonically nerdy looking.

TGGP said...

"There’s nobody here I could even begin to explain this movement to without feeling foolish."
Wrong. I live in Chicago.

Rather than having a hard cut-off for voting based on wealth, I'd prefer that votes were weighted by score on a civics test. Then pols would have more incentive to pander to people paying attention & interested in the actual political system. Which would still likely to be inferior to an "explosion in governance" resulting from Patri Friedman's dynamic geography, but that's another story.

Rashi Rajput said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hal Morris said...

Notes on latest developments:
POLITICO: "Does America Need a King?"
http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/01/america-needs-a-king-101691.html#.UsbjNCqF9cM
Author! Author!: Michael Auslin is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Follow him on Twitter @michaelauslin

http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/politico-article-america-king-010314

You have to actually read the thing for this comment to make sense, but maybe in this case, it's part of a sort of "charm offensive" by some of the New Right, like Jonah Goldberg's latest:
http://www.nationalreview.com/article/367296/myths-ditch-2014-jonah-goldberg
along the lines of "Let's get over all this partisan bickering" (Yes, that's what JG was saying despite the The incredible hypocrisy of it).

So it could be that Moldbug & Co.'s "let's have a real king", and Politico's "Let's have a figurehead for warm and fuzzies" are completely unrelated, or maybe one could turn out to be (perhaps accidentally) a stalking horse for the other.

Hal Morris said...

Why would a "charm offensive" be part of the New Right's strategy? Partly a strategic move to respond to Obama going on the offence more, and the broadening of liberal support for frank talk about income discrepancy. I expect we'll hear a lot more about "Class Warfare".

mtraven said...

It is essential to the neoreactionaries' argument that the monarch have actual and absolute power, so this movement to have a purely symbolic king to focus the mana of the state seems to be something quite different, if equally stupid and offensive.

I suppose it can be traced to the same drive to abase oneself before a superior power. Really, these people need to get themselves a good dominatrix and leave politics alone.