One of the problems with Mencius Moldbug’s writing is that it doesn’t proceed in a linear fashion: key terms are hidden in obscure posts outside of the main sequences, rendering those sequences much less comprehensible to people who don’t read the whole blog. So an introduction, a summary, is necessary: a thing that attempts to state at least the outline of the argument in clear, linear terms.
This is such an attempt. It has its problems: it’s based on memory, so citations are difficult and it may not be entirely accurate; and its main purposes are the correction of certain misconceptions, such as the confusion over ‘demotism’, and the linear statement of a series of arguments presented in decidedly nonlinear form. Some of the interpolations are original, but I will follow the general structure of the original neocameralist argument.
What are voice and exit? Feedback mechanisms, intended to create incentive-structures leading toward good governance.
The democratic argument is the most widely understood, so it serves here as the best example. Democracy is necessary because it creates a government that is responsive to the demands of the people. Monarchs and aristocrats have little incentive to care about the welfare of commoners, beyond the threat of popular revolt; democratically-elected politicians are chosen based on the votes of the people, and therefore have much stronger incentive to carry out the will of the people, to be responsive to the wants and needs of those over whom they rule. The dangers of majority rule are well-known, so there are two mechanisms by which it is held back from causing damage: representative democracy instead of direct democracy, and a Constitution and Bill of Rights to prevent certain types of abuses.
A flowchart may be instructive.
That is the democratic view. There are many problems with both charts; I’ll focus on the second one.
First: voice is not an unmoved mover. Lippmann and Bernays wrote books about this. You probably haven’t read them; I haven’t. But you probably have seen campaign advertisements—and you probably have gone through third-grade social studies. Moldbug says: “You’ve been taught to worship democracy. This is because you are ruled by democracy. If you were ruled by the Slime Beast of Vega, you would worship the Slime Beast of Vega.” If you’ve been taught to worship democracy, there might be other things you’ve been taught; political factions certainly believe that they ought to be teaching people things, as may be seen from the Texas schoolbook controversy a few years ago, the occasional editorial praising television for promoting the acceptance of homosexuality, etc. Surely you can provide your own examples.
Why does this matter? Why does this happen? Well, how does the sovereign maintain internal order? Moldbug builds a typology: there’s psycharchy, and then there’s physarchy.
There are two basic classes of internal control. A sovereign can control its residents by managing their minds, or managing their bodies. We can call the former mode psycharchy, the latter physarchy. A psycharchy persuades its residents to refrain from organizing, seizing and capturing it. A physarchy physically restrains its residents from organizing, seizing and capturing it.
Physarchy is further analyzed into legarchy and phobarchy:
Under legarchy, the sovorg exercises internal control as an extension of the judicial system which keeps residents secure from each other. It simply adds a class of offenses which are crimes against the sovorg itself, without any other direct victim. For example, you may not train your paramilitary militia in the Sierras. You may not keep a cache of automatic weapons in your basement. If you are in a crowd and the police order you to disperse, you must do so. …
We enter a different territory with phobarchy, which is the tactic of maintaining internal control by unpredictable intimidation. “Death squads,” for example, are a classic technique. Most of us consider finding bodies on the doorstep, let alone being one of the bodies, remarkably unacceptable from a customer-service perspective. However, since many 20C sovorgs have maintained power by exactly this method, we would be foolish to dismiss it.
These are the available physarchic methods; what are the available psycharchic methods?
Mandatory loyalty training for children, official support for approved information producers, and social, civil or criminal penalties for wrongthink are common, effective forms of psycharchy.
The second is especially interesting. I think a special word, massarchy, is appropriate for the 20C system of internal control via education, journalism and science. Each of these words assumes a systematic professional infallibility, entirely unearned in the case of the first two professions, and increasingly dubious in the case of the third. The Third Reich had its own wonderful word for the distribution of official information, Aufklärung—meaning literally, “clearing up,” and more broadly enlightenment. Indeed, all the state-sponsored information professions see their task as that of enlightening the public. And from enlightening to guiding is a small step indeed.
In other words: third-grade social studies classes. And journalism, and science. (‘Journalism’ here refers to the mass media as a whole: propaganda is definitely in psycharchy’s toolbox.)
This is restated here, after a summary of another problem with the above chart:
The real problem with democracies is that in the long run, a democratic government elects its own people. I refer, of course, to Brecht’s verse:
After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
One way to elect a new people is to import them, of course. For example, to put it bluntly, the Democratic Party has captured California, once a Republican stronghold, by importing arbitrary numbers of Mexicans. Indeed the Third World is stocked with literally billions of potential Democrats, just waiting to come to America so that Washington can buy their votes. …
But this act of brutal Machiavellian thug politics, larded as usual with the most gushing of sentimental platitudes, is picayune next to the ordinary practice of democratic governments: to elect a new people by re-educating the children of the old. In the long run, power in a democracy belongs to its information organs: the press, the schools, and most of all the universities, who mint the thoughts that the others plant. For simplicity, we have dubbed this complex the Cathedral.
The Cathedral is a feedback loop. It has no center, no master planners. Everyone, even the Sulzbergers, is replaceable. In a democracy, mass opinion creates power. Power diverts funds to the manufacturers of opinion, who manufacture more, etc. Not a terribly complicated cycle.
In addition to the Lippmannian problem—public opinion is not an unmoved mover, but rather downstream from its sources of information—we have die Lösung—public opinion, like Soylent Green, is made of people: different types of people, who form different blocs, the size of which can be manipulated through government policy.
Just as public opinion is downstream from its sources of information, so are politicians’ decisions. Public concern is shaped by the media:
The New York Times is a paragon of “responsible journalism.” It, or at least its journalists, would like us to be concerned about global warming. We can tell this by the fact that they write many stories on the subject. Surely if they didn’t want us to think about the subject, it is within their personal discretion to avoid it. They don’t. And since many people read the New York Times, many of us are concerned about global warming.
And proposals for legislation may be put forward by think tanks, academics, and so on.
These are the two best-known problems Moldbug mentions—probably because they’re the ones most notably contained in the terminology. But there are more, of which the most obvious problem is that the chart above leaves out two entire branches of government.
Considering the messy proliferation of ‘independent branches’ of the executive, and the connotations of the term ‘executive’ itself—what do functionaries have to do with executives?—it’s better to refer to the administrative branch of government. Much could be said about the proliferation of administrative edicts, but I will not go further here than to mention their existence, and the consequence that a great amount of formal governmental power lies outside the hands of elected officials.
There is also the judicial branch, and it has its own power:
The real legal nature of the Fourth Republic is that, like the UK, it has no constitution. Its legitimacy is defined by a set of precedents written by New Deal judges in the 1930s. These have obscure names like Footnote Four, West Coast Hotel, and Wickard v. Filburn.
This is currently visible in the recent series of gay marriage rulings, most notably the overturning of Proposition 8 in California: it won the support of the voters, but did not have the support of the unelected district court. The flowchart attempts to capture this with ‘Constitution’, but pieces of paper are not men, and only men can rule.
A government’s constitution (small c) is its actual structure of power. The constitution is the process by which the government formulates its decisions. When we ask why government G made decision D1 to take action A1, or decision D2 not to take action A2, we inquire as to its constitution. …
American law schools teach something called constitutional law, a body of judicial precedent which purports to be a mere elucidation of the text of the Constitution. Yet no one seriously believes that an alien, reading the Constitution, would produce anything like the same results. Moreover, the meta-rules on which constitutional law rests, such as stare decisis, are entirely unwritten, and have been violated in patterns not best explained by theories of textual interpretation. Thus the small ‘c’ in constitutional law is indeed correct.
If one were to draw a flowchart of the constitution of the United States government, with arrows representing what has power over what, the Supreme Court would be at the top of the chart: its power has not been challenged since FDR’s court-packing plan, and the only other check that exists on it is the ability to amend the Constitution, a power which, with one exception (which involved the use of a very interesting loophole that is no longer available), has not been used since 1971. In formal terms, the federal government is an ennearchy.
When we look at how USG actually works, we see that it is governed by a set of rules known as “constitutional law.” The relationship between “the Constitution” and “constitutional law” is entirely arbitrary and historical. The proposition that the latter can be mechanically derived from the former is too absurd to even consider defending. …
“The Constitution” is an interesting historical document, no more valid than the Salic Law. Rather, it is “constitutional law,” ie, the precedents of the Supreme Court, which are the supreme law of the land.
Here we arrive at the more conventional interpretation, the “living constitution” theory, which has largely prevailed for the last 75 years. Certainly, after 75 years of “living,” there cannot be much left of any written “Constitution!” The theory of the “living constitution” is simply the theory of the rule of force. Who rules, makes the rules. …
Who holds sovereignty in the United States? The Council of Nine, also known as the Supreme Court. For they are the unmoved mover, those whose decisions are final and cannot be overridden.
If the Supreme Court orders President Obama to give his next video address standing on his head, or converts as a group to Islam and establishes the Caliphate of America, or declares that “the Jews are our misfortune” and gives them one year to leave the country, these things will be done. Or at least, if they are resisted, they can only be resisted unlawfully.
Of course, the Justices are unlikely to do these things. Why? Because these things are neither (a) in their personal interests, nor (b) in accordance with their values and beliefs. The Supreme Court, a sovereign committee, is unlikely to tyrannize in these appalling ways – but only because of the personal responsibility of the sovereign individuals. Exactly the same is true of any monarchy, however the ruler is selected.
There also exists social control outside government. Remember this sentence above? “Mandatory loyalty training for children, official support for approved information producers, and social, civil or criminal penalties for wrongthink are common, effective forms of psycharchy.” Social penalties for wrongthink are not imposed by the government; they exist nonetheless. The First Amendment prohibits the government from throwing you in jail for saying that HNU or AGW are false; it doesn’t prohibit your employer from firing you, or your friends from abandoning you and denouncing you as evil. Which happens.
Next time: a better flowchart, the problems with the structure of the Cathedral, and neocameralism.