neocameralist scrap note #1

so, since I’ve been to embroiled in other stuff for far too long to actually finish the longer posts I have in mind, I’ll sketch a little thingummy here. this is mostly chaotic patching up, be warned.

first, priors: read these:

Neocameralism #1
Eight-Point Neo-Cam
Trichotomocracy
Casino Royale
Meta-Neocameralism
The Odysseus Problem
A Republic, If You Can Keep It
Quibbles with Moldbug

also, my previous discussions here, here and here.

in Land’s writing, I find these to be the essential pieces on Neocameralism. from top to bottom you get an ever increasing abstraction of the problem at hand. Under this techno-commercial view, a Neocameral state is a decentralized shareholder-managed republic.

to view this – and how the whole “absolutist monarchy” thing is more old-fashioned Throne-and-Altar reaction than libertarian-oriented NRx – you have first to think the original and fundamental role of a parliament: to control the king’s/executive’s budget. under neocameralism, this is formalized as the board of trustees, elected by the shareholders. shareholders have their votes in proportion to shares, which give them specific rights to dividends and/or profits, plus this minimal voice in the choice of management. this board of trustees/parliament overviews management’s/king’s accounting, by determining how much money gets invested in the sovcorp. much exit, minimal voice.

the CEO – which is a sort of elective, rather than dynastic, king – is appointed by this board of trustees. could it be otherwise? possibly. but choosing the best administrator usually means not following bloodlines or whatever. in appointing the CEO, as well, the board of trustees evinces it’s character of ultimate controller, or proprietor, of the sovcorp. the CEO can decide management policies, hire personnel, distribute its budget as she pleases. but ultimately, she has to turn a profit and pay dividends. otherwise shareholders flee, or simply remove her from office.

what’s been sketched so far are the legislative and executive powers in a republic. I believe Land’s main point in enphasizing so easgerly that neocameralism is more compatible with republican than monarchical tradition, is to show how the corporative structure present in most corporations are precisely isomorphical to those of a well-regulated republic. which is to say, an efficient feedback circuit.

nonetheless, for the feedback circuit to close, there’s yet a third power: judiciary. this is probably the most complicated, since it touches precisely in the central critique of NRx: justice, even as a power, depends on mind-control/morality. there’s much more to be said about this intellectual side of justice-systems, but let’s leave it for another occasion. my concern here is: how is justice, as a power, to be formalized under a neocameralist republic?

the answer seems to lie in common-law systems. private law, in short. the sovcorp provides the service of sovereign property, i. e., effective defense against external threat. in being so, it’s justice system can be privatized to competing judiciary agencies. the whole ancap thing: security agencies, police companies and private courts, with operations agreed by contract with their clients. the sovcorp duty to these companies – as well as to all others – is to make sure they don’t resort to violence amongst each other.

so, there is a sovereign justice system as well: a final court of appeal in the for of the sovcorp’s management (within whichever specific department it decides to charge with such duties). which was the king’s/executive’s role in most constitutional systems. (if I’m not mistaken, that’s even what Montesquieu proposes.)

justice, as a power, then, is placed in the hands of the market and this market will control the decisions of shareholders, to the extent that it’s their willingness to stay within the sovcorp’s territory and pay it’s fees that will turn a profit.

thus the circuit closes: shareholders elect board of trustees that control management -> management enact policies that increase or decrease the value of the sovereign property, according to the response of an internal market, thus controlling it -> this internal market, in it’s decision to remain or exit the territorial bounds of the sovcorp (and thus pay fees and make profit possible), controls the shareholders decisions. this is the ideal feedback circuit within a (non-democratic) republican system – and it’s the ideal feedback circuit within a neocameral sovcorp. it is this feedback circuit that ensures dynamic stability, in a systematic learning/discovery process (that can be automatized – but that’s already another post).

we can try and push this sketch model, to test it and possibly break it, and then improve it. nothing that can’t utterly fail can teach anything, after all.

A Statement of Principles

[the post below has been written in 2013 and posted originally here. my objective in translating and posting it here is to review and add criticism to my own past views. the original translated text will be unmarked, the new remarks will be in bold between square brackets.]

For my debut article in this blog, I would like to draft the philosophical, political, and economic principles that guide my analysis of society, and that will pervade my writing in future articles. Criticism, corrections, debate and of course compliments are very welcome.

Liberty and Equality

The twin concepts of Liberty and Equality are the central tenets of my world view, which might be described as market socialism, left-libertarianism, or individualist anarchism, since these names have been used throughout history for roughly the same set of principles I am about to lay out here.

[Of those names, I would only keep “individualist anarchism”. Libertarianism is, of course, intrinsically left-wing in most if not all social contexts (America probably being the only exception). But it’s not intrinsically realist, as I take the individualist anarchists to have been (in stark contrast to the other anarchist segments), such that I would adopt only this label to myself. “Market socialism” is a contradiction in terms, only useful as viral strategy to infect the brahmin socialists with the market meme, or for irony.]

Liberty is to be understood as the ability and right of all sentient beings to dispose of their persons and the fruits of their labor, and nothing else, as they see fit. This stems from their self-awareness and their ability to control and choose the content of their actions.

[I like the way this definition seeks to equate right  to ability. This pragmatist stance towards morality is something I grew to find most respectable. It is the very ability to control their actions that grant individuals their right to dispose of the products of their own labor. It’s a true might producing a right. A cybernetic principle, present originally in individualist anarchism: internalize costs (close the loop).  Consequences accrue to the motors. Lack of control equals the loss of the right.]

Equality is to be understood as the state of no imbalance of power, that is, of no subjection to another sentient being. This stems from their universal ability for empathy, and from their equal ability for reason.

[Here my main reference is Long’s undying article on Equality. As he shows there, there is an essential affirmation of equality in the core of liberty (as pragmatically defined above). Not merely a formal equality, nor an equality of wealth or income, but an equality of power (in Proudhon’s wording: an equality of conditions). It’s only among beings of equal standing, where one cannot possibly subjugate the other, that liberty in fact exists. If liberty is to be established, this is the equality one has to pursue. No moral code is going to solve that if, in reality, such equality doesn’t exist. As all things, liberty has to be technically produced. All else is little more than idle babble.]

It is important to notice that, contrary to usual statements of these two principles, my standpoint is that Liberty and Equality here are not merely compatible, meaning they could coexist in some possible universe, but rather they are two sides of the same coin, complementary and interdependent. There can be NO Liberty where there is no Equality, for the imbalance of power, the state of subjection, will render sentient beings unable to dispose of their persons and the fruits of their labor[1], and it will limit their ability to choose over their rightful jurisdiction. Likewise, there can be NO Equality without Liberty, for restraining sentient beings’ ability to choose and dispose of their persons and fruits of labor will render some more powerful than the rest, and establish a state of subjection.

Social and personal order and peace depend entirely on the maintenance of these principles. The breach of either Liberty or Equality results in suffering, insanity, bloodshed, waste and misery, as History will promptly show us. It leads to the withering of empathy, the establishment of classes (and the associate class warfare), hierarchy and slavery. It’s no coincidence that these principles have constantly been associated to Justice and Goodness, for there can be none of these without them.

[The general do-gooder tone is rather annoying, I know. But the statements are not incorrect: where there is no actual  equality of power (and thus liberty), there are uncontrolled power-nodes, usually in homeostatic balance, but eventually engaging in destructive escalations of violence. Most importantly, where there isn’t liberty (internalization of costs and benefits), productivity dwindles, and so does survival capabilities. It’s no surprise individualists usually win wars.]

Mutualism and Individualism

The maintenance of Liberty and Equality, central as they are to the welfare and integrity of sentient beings in a society, depends heavily on the organization of such society and the kind of relations undertaken within it. Two organizational and ethical systems most consistently embody, in my opinion, the principles of Liberty and Equality, namely Mutualism and Individualism.

[This much is already established by the very definitions in the section above. Liberty is built upon an Equality that demands production. Social organization for said production is an important issues. Some interesting linkage on the topics of mutualism, reciprocal altruism, and individualism might be useful.]

By Mutualism, I am referring to the social organization defended by the political school of thought pioneered by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and later taken further by Benjamin Tucker and the other individualist anarchists. Mutualism is characterized by relations in which equal parties voluntarily and reciprocally provide one another with the fruits of their own labor. Being voluntary and equal exchanges, these relations are by definition both mutually beneficial and non-exploitative. Institutions in Mutualism are horizontal, participatory, and democratic by nature in virtue of the relations within them. Examples of mutualist institutions include the Federation described by Proudhon in his work, as well mutual banks and other mutual aid organizations, friendly societies, commons, commerce, cooperatives, peer-to-peer networks, and any other in which the participants join voluntarily and as equals. The 19th century communist motto very fairly describes the spirit of Mutualism too: “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.

[The similarity of mutualism and hbdchick’s individualism-collectivism is incredible. As explicit from the links above, mutualism is merely reciprocal altruism.

From this section, though, I would remove the “participatory and democratic” as features of mutualism. Mutualism is interactive rather than participatory, i. e., it relies more on spontaneous (unplanned for) interaction between individuals than the participation in some kind of institution. Mostly the point is: you don’t have to be anywhere, vote for anything etc. to do something between consenting partners. Democratic is also misleading. The correct term, as described below is decentralized. It’s democratic only insofar as each person takes care of their own life (being thus “a (self) government of the people (individually) by the people (individually)).

Also, scrape the communist motto if it’s not saying “everyone is getting what they produce”, i. e., cost internalization. In fact, everything any individualist anarchist/mutualist ever wrote can be summarized as “internalize costs”.]

Individualism is the social ethos by which every individual sentient being in a society is recognized as unique and irreplaceable, as having their own private goals and desires and therefore as an end in themselves. It affirms that the individual is the fundamental building block of the larger organism that is society, and hence that all analysis of such society must take them as its starting point. It holds sacred that every individual has the ability, right, and duty to choose their own goals independently, and is autonomously able to pursue them, with respect to every others’ equal right. It can be found as a guiding principle in many religious beliefs and philosophical doctrines, but I find it rather exquisitely expressed by the Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none, do as thou wilt”.

[The Thelema is probably better suited: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law (see here). There is very little I would change in this section. Probably the only thing worth mentioning is that all these beliefs are instrumental in building a working free society. I don’t actually believe “individuals” to be any more stable wholes than cities or cells. This article by Shawn Wilbur probably covers most of the important proudhonian reasoning behind my views.]

Thus, Individualism explicitly informs society that every individual will pursue their own purposes, and Mutualism guarantees individuals will have the ability to make such purposes beneficial to themselves and to society, through free trade and equal exchange. Individualism gives individuals the reason and the weapons to resist when hierarchy arises, and Mutualism assures society has the ability to organize such resistance.

Mutualism and Individualism so stand in dynamic equilibrium, expliciting the tension between personal and social interests, and making it possible for such tension to be resolved peacefully, with the best possible results for both the individuals and their comrades. They both together provide society with the will to mutually help and the acknowledgement of the infinite, unique contribution of its members.

[The humanistic undertone is killing me. But the essential idea is there: society is a being made of parts (just like individuals). It only functions insofar as its parts can freely adapt to its environment and function properly. This demands freedom (movement). Individualism is the “internal rule” of a working (free) society. Do your thing, and we see if it works.]

Decentralization and Skepticism

[This is the section I originally was hesitant about writing, and now I’m grateful I have, because it’s precisely the point of connection with most of my current views. Here is the base of the techno-scientific infrastructure that make any of the above principles or social organizations possible at all. Without this, everything else said this far is rendered moot.]

Societies can be viewed as systems of information flow, in which knowledge needs to be acquired by individuals in order to better decide about their living, both personally and socially. For a society to be organized through Mutualism and Individualism, the acquisition of knowledge to make decisions need be performed through Decentralized means, at the social level, and through a fair layer of Skepticism at the individual level.

At the social level, Decentralism holds that those agents closest to the actions and events taking place at a certain location are the ones in the best position, with the best available knowledge to decide about those actions and events. Because individuals only have a small fraction of the whole knowledge owned collectively, decisions should not be made by central authorities, small in number and knowledge, far removed from the place where such decisions will take effect. Decentralism holds that individuals can manage to decide locally, and that mechanisms of spontaneous, emergent orders, arising from the voluntary and equal exchanges described above, will synchronize local and personal knowledge, ultimatelty leading to the harmonization of the several individual objectives in society. In short, Decentralism is Mutualism applied to knowledge acquisition.

[I should have said merely “blockchain everything”.]

At the individual level, Skeptcism[2] asserts the uncertainty and limitations of knowledge, and holds that every new belief must be well supported by evidence and logical arguments convincing enough to individuals before being incorporated into their set of beliefs. In other words, it holds that individuals should not alter their goals and principles except in face of hard evidence to the contrary. Thus, it demands a questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions, as well as doubt regarding claims that are usually taken for granted. In short, Skepticism is the Individualist postion towards knowledge.

[“Distrust, and test, test, test … to destruction wherever possible.” as Nick Land puts it.]

Conclusion: Anarchy and Markets

These six principles I have laid out, if followed consistently, advocate for a specific political-economic system usually referred to as market anarchism.

[Should have said “produce… market anarchism”.]

Anarchism is the political system under which political institutions are voluntary and self-governed. It opposes hierarchical organization and authority, thus making anarchist institutions within non-hierarchical free associations of free individuals. It’s characterized by the absolute absence of privilege and coercion, as well as a deep sense of anti-violence[3].

[Hierarchy as an emergent phenomenon – the fact that some people will eventually lead, and others will follow – is inherent in markets, where differences of competence can fully express themselves. If anarchy demands the active extirpation of hierarchy defined this way, it is in a hell of a bad position. Mostly because you cannot abolish this kind of hierarchy without creating the other, much worse kind of hierarchy as holiness, purity and immutable authority. If you suppress bottom-up, spontaneous hierarchy, you create top-down, centralized hierarchy. Even in 2013 I was well aware of that, and here, though I do not clarify this point, I already advocated for the first type of hierarchy against the second. The boundaries, I see now, are way less clear (is military competence included in spontaneous hierarchy?), but I gravitate always towards decentralization and the multiplication of forces

This certainly leads to retreat from the anti-violence thing there. Conflict is inherent in anything that works. The only reduction of violence a pragmatist libertarian can wish for is a reduction of waste (an increase in productive efficiency).

This two points, spontaneous hierarchy and conflict as productive, if stapled together, points to a very hard to swallow concept of freedom: freedom is not for everyone, but only for those who can assert themselves as possessors of productive power (and thus of exit). No one is going to give you anything for free. All individuals are inherently competitors, and only occasionally cooperators. Everybody lies, and everybody will try to get advantage out of you. If you don’t bite back, they will tread on you. And it’s only this fanged freedom in the hobbesian jungle of reality, this unrestrained competition that produces liberty as a right: when people are efficient enough, they become equals and their (effective, defensible) withdrawal is expected if less than full respect is shown to their right over their own labor.

Put this way, anarchy is both the beginning and the end of reality.]

Market economy is the economic system under which goods and services are freely produced and distributed, as opposed to a planned or regulated economy, such as the current one. In such system, fluctuations of price are determined by supply and demand, and in the long run, the prices of freely reproducible goods and services tend to reflect the labor-value embodied in them. And, as the individualist anarchists held, the natural wage of labor in such a system is its full product, no tributes paid to bureaucrats, landlords or capitalists.

[Okay, the labour-theory of value is in no way an economic consensus. Much less in the subjectivist stance adopted by Kevin Carson in his seminal book Studies in Mutualist Political Economy. I will try and dig out some way of showing that, even though marginalism has shown itself to be very predictive, versatile and mostly true scientific theory, subjective LTV has got some deep cybernetic insights, and that it may be plugged it into the marginalist mainstream, without major losses. To advance a brief and fundamental point while we’re at it, the last sentence in the paragraph above knits it nicely: if all costs and benefits are internalized in the productive unit, the input of energy over a certain period of time (work) is the quantity that predicts most linearly the output (production). 

Internalization of costs is the whole of acceleration.]

In my social analysis, the closer a society is to such system, the more fully will it embrace and enjoy those principles, and vice-versa. The transition strategies from our current statist and oppressive society, to the one envisioned in this article is way beyond the scope here. But adopting and acting according to the principles above, and advancing market anarchy in any way possible is the only manner to enjoy the benefits and the dignity they provide.

[The most bleakest ending paragraph ever written. “Do good and it all will end well”. No shit, Sherlock. The question is: how do you do good? I will explore more of that in coming texts, but once again: blockchain everything.]

Notes

[1] Although by no means do they lose their right to liberty, which is a normative fact inherent to their condition as sentient beings.

[2] The definition I use here is a general understanding of Skepticism as a questioning attitude, as opposed to blind faith and easy acceptance. It’s fundamentally different from Cartesian methodological doubt, and related but more allowing than Humean empiricism. My epistemological approach might be better described as within the coherentist label, under which the truth of a new propostion is to be probed against the individual’s set of beliefs, and will required ever more evidence and logical arguments to be incorporated as more central it is to that belief set. I include logical arguments (and other deductive knowledge) as well as empirical and experiential knowledge because, even though I hold all information is necessarily derived from the senses, knowledge can be achived by relating experiential information through deduction.

[3] There are legitmate uses of force, namely defensive force. But even when justified, violence in anarchist societies are likely to be viewed as a last resort.

neocameralism and constitutions 3

 

Three because triangles are best. Answering three responses to my last piece, as well. 333, but let’s not get all mystical just yet.

* * *

Reactionary Future’s further response is short and pungent. His latest posting is all fuzzily connected with the theme of constitutionalism and division of powers. Here, I’ll answer only to the direct answer he gave me. The questions of liberal tradition, liberal anthropology and capitalism will be dealt with elsewhere.

Preliminary throat clearing again: I don’t think Moldbug has, at any point, defended a return to medieval governance. The joint-stock corporation – his model for better government – is inherently modern (and, to provoke RF, inherently capitalist), way different from the medieval trade corporations (owing its origins to early modern royal charters).

Secondly, imperium in imperio cannot be avoided unless Great Fnargl himself descends from the sky in his Royal Flying Saucer. And that’s not happening anytime soon. For all matters human, force cannot be immediately exercised over any tract of land bigger than a square meter. Any true power, therefore, depends on the idea of power and the loyalty minds have to such an idea. The obsession with Fnargl-like absolutism is the typical phallic power-trip. “I can rule the world from my penis“. No, you can’t.

The whole counter-argument to such absolutism can be boiled down to: the deployment of power implies division of power – to wield power, through delegation, is already to trade it away. If this is so, you’d better have this formalized, and give some deep thought to such formalization, in order to get secure by producing stable arrangements.

Here’s the very first division of power implied by the very deployment of power: to give orders, things around need to believe it and follow it. So much for your imperio. It needs a imperialist religion to be very much followed, through fear or faith. No wonder the very first states were alliances between priests and warlords. Of course, you’ll also need loyal generals and armies, and piety from the host population from which you exact taxes to finance your imperio. Yet another division: if you want to an efficient army, you’ll need inventors, traders, producers of all kinds. Bullies don’t go very far without nerds.

Now, if the medieval system (and for that matter, all other civilizational social systems) has “success in producing exceptionally functional societies”, and if it was “a patchwork of internal conflict”, then we have to pay attention to what made it so. Maybe – and this is the suggestion constitutionalism makes – it was successful and functional because, and not in spite of, internal conflict. RF says it must “be avoided at all costs”, but can it? Insecure powers will fight on and on and on until they’re all dead? How the hell did medieval system even survive this for a thousand years? This seems to assume a complete lack of any rationality inherent to conflict, of any strategy. It also assumes that conflict has no cost structure and can simply go on forever in its most bloodiest form. Has it?

No, this sort of reasoning is utter nonsense and has no empirical evidence. Conflicting powers eventually come to an agreement – a formalization – in which they check each other according to rules stated in a document: a constitution. Do they try to undermine this document? Whenever they can get away with it. Do they get to do this? No, because the checks imposed there are real: other powers will smash them if they do. (Needless to say, if the checks are mere words on a piece of paper, and not in any way related to an actual distributions of power, they will remain just that: words).

RF makes a further point:

The fact of the matter is that the whole thought experiment of sovcorp is a useful training exercise for understanding this issue, with the profit motive providing a very simple and effective means of envisioning the concept of a society ordered towards a central good, thereby giving all actions within that society a context and a rational teleology towards which to direct. Is X good for the profit of the sov corp? yes – bingo you have a rudimentary Virtue Ethics in play and you have just left the liberal TRADITION in which the night watchman state is merely a baby sitter for everyone to pursue their own “good.” But this is just absolutist training wheels.

Is it? None of the people paying rent to the sovcorp, none of the managers inside of it, none of stockholders who buy and sell shares of it, are concerned with anything but their own good. Their individual interests are aligned with good governance, by virtue of the market in government thereby created, but they are all minding their own values. If this goes out of liberal tradition, it’s hard to see where. If this creates a virtue ethics out of profit motive, it’s hard to see how capitalism is not precisely the same thing.

As Moldbug himself puts it:

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

Here’s your liberal tradition, if you will.

Lastly, what has cybernetics to do with all this? Well, cybernetics is quite literally control theory. A constitution is cybernetic because it draws on feedback loops to produce stable arrangements, i.e., it produces a control mechanism, just like a thermostat. Why do thermostats work? Because there’s a feedback system: the sensor tell the device “hey, it’s 77°F”, the device makes its calculations and tells the heater “turn off”, the temperature falls within the room and the sensor then says to the device the new reading. So on forever. Can the house burn down? Of course, if the heater is wrongly programmed, or is intentionally sabotaged (or, of course, if someone sets the house on fire).

RF says:

If you place formal blocks on governance, then alternative means to undermine those blocks will be used – the constitution cannot contain all eventualities.

Of course, and any constitution that does not try to create blocks that, in trying to be undermined, become stronger, is not a good constitution. Furthermore, they are amendable to adjust for new, unpredictable facts and power distributions. Sometimes, of course, it all falls down. No real system is completely fail-proof. At their best, they are fail-resistant, and can operate even when most has gone to shit. But if someone sets the house on fire, no thermostat will solve that.

Also:

” In addition, if sovereign power has checks, then those engaging the checks are sovereign – the logic is bizarre, and all the nonsense about balancing power is just that – nonsense.”

What if you make power circulate? Feedback loops are loops. A checks B, B checks C, and C checks A. Who’s sovereign, if they are all checked? It’s a stand-off where no one can neither back out, nor win, until some external interference comes into play (something, for exemple, that makes A and B cooperate with, rather than distrust and envy, each other – something like arson).

* * *

Anomaly UK seems to be way less fanatical and way more realistic about the whole absolutist thing. In general, I guess we agree on the fundamentals, and disagree on the specifics. In his first response, he begins:

“However, while dividing power is not desirable, there is no Ring of Fnargl, and power is never perfectly concentrated. A real sovereign still has to deal with forces beyond his control, most obviously those beyond his borders; the loyalty of his subjects is always a real issue. Sufficient incompetence can destroy anything.”

This is essentially my point above. Our quibbles begin with:

“The reason that division of power is undesirable is that it erodes responsibility.”

In a closed circuit as above (A checks B checks C checks A), responsibility is demanded by the previous nodes. To exercise your own power means to police the power of others. You’re not responsible to “the people”, but to the previous node (and for your own good). The design is meant to keep the whole system in place, stable. The interest of those involved is, thus, served by design. Those of outsiders are ignored, at best. This even satisfies AUK’s own criteria of “whoever has the power benefits from exercising it well and is harmed by exercising it badly” for responsible government. No second set of incentives emerges, since corporate interests are individual interests, and individuals with power are all mutually observed.

Which is not to say that an indefinitely divided power is good. The objective of constitutions is to reach cybernetic closure, which is increasingly difficult the more nodes there are. The best policy, wherever it’s possible, is secession and its formalization (through peace treaties, explicit mutual destruction assertion, etc). Wherever this is not possible, buying out and formalizing is the second best. Only when powers have come maximally concentrated within a certain bounded area need constitutions come into play, to formalize their relations. As AUK puts it: “The possibility of concentrating power sufficiently for stability is the sine qua non of independent government.” There’s no disagreeing with that.

In his next installment, AUK presents a summarizing of his previous discussion:

It is possible I could have been more concise about the prerequisites: what it really amounts to is:

  • Division of power is dangerous and to be avoided
  • It’s better to have less division than more
  • Sometimes that isn’t possible

These three, I guess I take most issue with the first one. Division of power is inherent in power deployment, as said above, so it is as dangerous as power itself is, and as avoidable. My rendering would be: division of power, if poorly designed, won’t reach cybernetic closure and thus will degenerate power into pure force.

Of course, designing a formalized division of power must take into consideration the actual underlying distribution of power. But formalization can be made in several different ways, with different consequences. Thus, the constitution is not in fact the “actual distribution of power”, but it’s specific formalization. “Structure” is indeed a good name for the actual distribution, but identifying the structure is not the same as drawing a constitution out of it. As AUK puts it:

“A non-autocratic Structure is the the result of a peace settlement between potential or actual rivals, and a Constitution represents the terms of that peace settlement.”

The question thus is rather how should one design a constitution? The fundamental design principle here, from what I developed above on cybernetics is: close the loops. No nodes more controlling than controlled. Tyranny follows from the flaw in meeting this first principle. It is from this principle that it follows that the settlement of the constitution “will last, that those who came into the settlement with power are willing to accept it, and will be incentivised to maintain it into the future and to preserve those things that incentivise the others to maintain it into the future”.

AUK’s suggestion of internal “lines on the map” as a principle of good constitutionalism seems sensible to me. This seems to have been the fundamental guiding principle of the US Constitution, which is to date the best example of a functional constitution (in spite of its utter destruction after American Civil War – thermostats can’t stop arson). Having internal divisions that can split from the confederation as soon as possible if crap comes up, and that hold their own experiments in constitutionalism, is a good starting point.

A couple other working principles would be:

  • Triangles are the best basic arrangement, since they are the simplest arrangement to produce a stable standoff among the parties;
  • Bodies of transparency and deliberation *among* classes help aleviate tensions and build compromise in unpredicted cases. This is the most important lesson I take from Tocqueville’s analysis.

Which basically match AUK’s own analysis. And I certainly can’t improve on this:

“Constitutions need to resemble contracts in that they have to cover detailed interactions unambiguously, but they need to resemble peace treaties in that they need to provide for their own enforcement.”

The last problem, about amendment (or self-reference), is probably the hardest to tackle. Dynamic stability needs to be provided within the very design, in the best interest of adaptability. The super-majority criteria adopted by the US Constitution clearly wasn’t enough. Maybe separate realms of amendment, lying with each different power, and scrutinized by other power through their very action, can help. Land’s Trichotomocracy still seems to me a good overall sketch of a good constitutional order. In Land’s scheme, Ethno-Nationalists amend their security capabilities, Theonomists amend their own legislating/judging capabilities and Techno-Commercialists amend their own financing capabilities. The constitution evolves as the system develops, and changes are themselves checked and balanced. Further exploration of this mechanism is needed.

* * *

To tackle, in brief, a more concrete example, Pinapple Computer Co. should not be granted any powers by personal favor of the King, but its economic power should be recognized in the constitution, by (say) setting up a council of riches to deliberate on such things as duty-free zones. Formalizing the relation between holy law(ideology) makers and the riches would also be a good idea, so that the interference of press and law in the makings of companies are defined.

The question of legitimacy of power is also relates to such definition. As pointed above, the deployment of power needs an ideological structure behind it. The power wielded by the keepers of such ideology should be formalized within it and within the institutions it demands – much as the Catholic Church was formalized within Catholicism and within the institutions Catholicism upheld, political ones included. As we know from Moldbug, a “secular state” is shorthand for an occultation of the true state religion.

I believe both considerations made just above – a board of wealth-producers deciding over taxes and tariffs, and a legal formalization of the Cathedral and its relation with other powers – could have helped avoid the tensions that led to the Civil War. Maybe retelling the history of United States from its inception up to this day, suggesting how better formalization and other constitutional mechanisms could have help avoid such disasters as American Civil War and the New Deal is a constructive exercise in improving the neocameralist model.

neocameralism and constitutions 2

Preliminary throat clearing: I’m certainly not any specialist in Moldbug’s theories and background. I have just gone through the Open Letter and some few more texts. I’m just getting started in the Patchwork, still have to proceed to the Gentle Introduction. So I’m not pretending I know more than these guys about that. My objective in my last article was merely to elaborate on Land’s theories, which I’m more familiar with and draw (apparently selectively) on Moldbug’s cannon.

With that out of the way, the main response from both Anomaly UK and Reactionary Future was: the shareholders are sovereign (as a body), everything else is top-down delegation from them.

The meaning of sovereign here is the main question, I guess. If we follow Moldbug, it means that these men can, as a body, do whatever they want within the limits of their property, totally unchecked.

This, of course, not true. Not even great Fnargl himself can do whatever he pleases within his (now global) realm. Consequences must be taken into account (RF explicitly recognizes this, and AUK strongly suggests it). Reality rules, so power is primordially checked by it. I guess none of my critics disagree with that.

If sovereignty isn’t being able to do whatever one pleases within his realm, what is it? maybe, as RF put it, it is not being “bound by anyone, or anything but consequences”, i. e. doing whatever one pleases within his realms that is compatible with reality. Both me and Land would not disagree with such formulation.

But that, per se, doesn’t say anything about division or concentration of power. If I read my critics correctly, both of them believe that concentration works better than division, and this efficiency-in-survival criteria is their main reason to promote centralization (and not some romantic, moralistic delusion). Put differently, they believe centralization is more compatible with reality than division of power.

I also suppose I’m not wrong in assuming both of them agree that formalism is a central tenet (of not the central tenet) of civilization. With that in mind, the question arises: does the sovereign (stockholders or king) need other people to act for him to govern. if they do, his sovereignty rests on loyalty (something Moldbug arguably wants to fix with cryptographic control – although that demands that programmers are loyal as well).

Isn’t such sovereign better if they are able to recognize, promptly and formally, the powers that influence such loyalty (not the least, the press, the educational system, the formation of military, the intellectuals and religious people within his realm, etc)? And, in formally recognizing such power, is he not effectively dividing power? Is he not recognizing that such power are checks on his sovereignty? (In fact, doesn’t this reduce their sovereignty to, as Land puts it, “a strictly formal or contractual usage of ‘control’ to designate the exclusive right to free disposal or commercial alienation“?)

For instance, the estates of realm didn’t arise from nowhere, they weren’t the mere will of some enlightened relu-maker. Their formalization – as a constitution – was supposed to recognize the actual structure of power that underlay sovereignty. Once again, constitutionalism is simply this recognition and formalization of reality (and, possibly, the will to better adapt to it).

Even sovereign stockholders are better off if their power if formally checked, than if the real checks remain invisible to them. Only thus can they operate realistically on such reality and ensure loyalty is there when needed (fundamentally, constitutionalism is a cybernetic point).

So, if Moldbug in fact did not advocate for the formalization fo the division of power between stockholders, management and customers (and, as AUK points, “suppliers, neighbours, and competitors”), by his very criteria of formalism, he should have. Of course, such internal inconsistency is not what it seem from the Open Letter, where he points such formalism as the why corporations work better than governments:

Call a controller model with a single shared concept of responsibility coherent. How, with an impossibly fuzzy word like “responsibility,” can we round up a large number of intelligent individuals who share a common definition? The task seems impossible. And our whole design relies on this coherent back-end.

Actually, there’s one way to do it. We can define responsibility in financial terms. If we think of California as a profitable corporation, a capital asset whose purpose is to maximize its production of cash, we have a definition of responsibility which is not only precise and unambiguous, but indeed quantitative.

Moreover, this definition solves a second problem: how do we select the controllers? If our controllers are the parties to whom the profits are actually paid, and their voting power is proportional to the fractions they receive, they have not only a shared definition of responsibility, but an incentive to apply that definition in practice.

(…)

Think about this for a minute. Steve is responsible to his controllers, who evaluate his performance based on his stewardship of one asset: California. The value of California is the sum of the value of its shares. If one goes up or down, so does the other.

Which is worth more? California, or California infested by Jew-eating crocodiles? Which can be made to produce more revenue? The former, clearly. Jews pay taxes. Crocodile dung doesn’t. And from the perspective of either Steve or the Jews, what is the difference between crocodiles and stormtroopers? At least the former will work for free.

I’ll state it again, because it seems to be the central point of Outer (Liberal?) NRx in this regard: if the West is failing now, it is more because it has abandoned constitutionalism (and hence realism in government administration) in favor of mass politics (demotism), than because it stuck to that.

neocameralism and constitutions

so, recently I noticed a whole lotta hate for Land’s constitutionalism (surging after this came from the vast abrupt). reactionary future is not pleased with “liberal neoreaction”. anomaly UK is still not convinced either.

their contention, from what I grasped, is “sovereignty cannot be effectively divided, only distributed (exponentially)”. constitutions are bullshit, men take decisions, not algorithms (ultimately). trying to do so only generates disorder (anarchy) and parasitism. [there’s also some babbling on the “anthropological error” of individualism, but I’ll deal with that elsewhere]

obviously, not wasting their time reading such left liberal bullshit of cybernetics and spontaneous order (damn hippies!), they were interested in the morally superior works of Thomas Carlyle and DeJouvenal. only dirty leftists such as me and Mr. werewolf Land could suggest a man’s Will is not sovereign, per se.

all the arcane bullshit about the functioning of the universe and horrorism that accompanies XS’s writing are not mere musings (I mean, seriously). mythology helps us think (as this elderly French says).

The real — free or fated — thing wears a face, as an allotted role within the world“.  remove the faces and you see the underlying processes that actually run things. Henry VI, Henry VII, Louis XV, etc are avatars, interfaces, symptoms, not causes, of material (efficient) processes. we are gene machines. computers are bit machines. machines connected to machines. machines interrupting the flows of other machines. the mouth machine and the milk machine. anus and shit.

this alone is already enough to show the whole “sovereignty conserves” thing is either misguided or misused. it’s not possible, ever, to have a man making decisions on his own, unchecked by anyone or anything else. there are faceless things hiding in reality, and they are already  machinic, algorithmic, automatic. the men involved are rather instruments in the hands (claws) of such fanged noumena than sovereign willing persons.

in such a machinic reality, power is an idea, and ideas are primordially checked by their effects. power is selected to check itself, because of its inherent economic quality: to survive, increase and improve, power needs to identify its reality with the outside. it needs to calculate its odds of survival, needs to develop an algorithm of the workings of the wolves of Gnon, before they find where it hides. intelligence optimization demands a will-to-think.

think of this as the “fundamental problem of loyalty”: “will the generals obey? will the soldiers shoot?“. from the (surely little) i know of Moldbug, neocameralism seeks to replace the old cameralist trust-demanding “loyalty to the king” with the trustless capitalist joint-stock corporation. why? because corporations work better. it survives longer, it grows and it improves on itself. it reaches cybernetic closure: no nodes more controlled than controlling. stockholders choose CEOs, thus checking them. CEOs choose marketing, checking consumers. consumers choose products, checking stockholders. corporations work because they’re checked, not in spite of it. without such checks and balances, there’s no alignment of companies and clients interests.

constitutionalism is merely a recognition of this reality. RF tells us Moldbug is obviously against constitutions:

“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.”

well, if it is so, why have stockholders at all? isn’t it “imperium in imperio”? here‘s Moldbug stating right away that sovcorps should have division of power:

“A responsible, effective government has three basic parts. One is the front end: all the people who report to Steve. Two is the middle: Steve himself. Three is the back end: the people Steve is responsible to. (…)

Call the back end the controllers. The controllers have one job: deciding whether or not Steve is managing responsibly. If not, they need to fire Steve and hire a new Steve. (Marc Andreesen, perhaps.)

This design requires a substantial number of reasonably cogent controllers, whose collective opinion is likely to be trustworthy, and who share a single concept of responsibility. (…)”

power divided not only between two, but three bodies. and not few, but a “substantial number” of controllers. so much for imperium.

why, oh why? because Moldbug is a realist. he knows that a power that does not check itself, dies:

“The CEO and the monarch owe their positions to a law which all can obey, and those who choose to obey the law are naturally a winning coalition against those who choose to break it. The dictator’s position is the result of his primacy in a pyramid of criminals. This structure is naturally unstable.”

men cannot choose at will. there is the unwritten constitution of that which functions better, and if he fails to acknowledge it, he dies an ugly death. patches in the patchwork are checked by natural selection: those that thrive, survive. power is primordially checked, by reality.

in fact, the history of the modern downfall of monarchism can be seen in this light, as a failure of absolutist kings to understand the economic nature of their power. Alexis de Tcqueville’s main thesis in his works is that the French Revolution stemmed first and foremost from the increasing centralization of power undertaken by the french monarchy. the failure to recognize and bring the power of the estates together in a balanced system is at the core of the demotic nightmare that followed.

similar points can be made about pretty much all other modern revolutions: the Glorious Revolution happened to protect the (aristocratic) parliament from being dissolved, the American Revolution happened to stop the king from not recognizing the factual economic sovereignty of the colonies, the Russian Revolution happened to show the czar that he can’t just put his brother as general without verifying if there is loyalty in the lower echelons of the army. the reverse is also true, Japanese quasi-mythical single royal lineage has always been a sham of “absolutism”, lasting mostly because of its ability to be checked. even the much heralded Chinese monarchy lasted only when the emperors were checked by palace checks that made them fulfill their duties. responsibility is difficult.

the conflation of democracy insurgence and division of power apparently happened because the kings chose to make sure the only way to check them was beheading them. a Schelling point arose in which both popular sovereignty and division of power could both be believed.  (Anomaly UK points out that the kings believed liberal demotic discourse. if only had they had someone to tell them to quit it.)

it’s important to remember as well that the Cathedral won. it consistently won over all absolutist regimes. it survived. that it is failing as of now is more a signal of its abandonment of its (very successful) doctrine of checks-and-balances than the contrary. if anyone wants to topple it, it takes – realistically – more division of power.

reality rules. and if reality selects constitutions, if they are more efficient than other options, well then, Kings are to go. let’s test it, shall we?

A Republic, If You Can Keep It

[Another piece of gold I’ve managed to save from the Void.]

by Nick Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gödel: Where I come from? Austria.

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

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

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

Gödel: Oh, yes, I can prove it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quibbles with Moldbug

[This post was retrieved from the InternetArchive website snapshot of That’s Magazine Shangai (now unfortunately offline). Uploading here for the preservation of a great piece.]

by Nick Land

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

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

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

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

The neocameral program proceeds roughly as follows:

Phase-1: Constructively disciplined lamentation

Phase-2: Civilization collapses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most importantly:

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