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