02 June 2014

Cathedrals and Cultural Dominance

I got in a conversation on twitter yesterday about the choice of the term “Cathedral” to describe the information organs of the modern state: academia and the media.

To those of us that have been around and around this debate for years, it is a bit tedious, and sure enough there were some groans, but I do not apologise. For one thing, nobody who is still paying any attention to Anissimov’s bullshit is in any position to complain about tedious.

The problem with the word Cathedral is that it implies something good, beautiful, admirable. For some Christians, it is an insult to their religion that we compare our enemy to buildings built by their predecessors. They would rather we emphasised the Jewish contribution to the ideology and membership of the Cathedral, by referring to it as a synagogue.

I can understand their discomfort, but the comparison is so instructive that it is worth working through. To retreat from the question by compromising on the terminology is to lose the opportunity to explain some of the most vital points of the neoreactionary theory, points that are easily missed by those approaching Moldbug from a traditionalist starting-point, as opposed to that of the “open-minded progressive” he was primarily addressing.

It can be jarring to those who have emerged from a Christian enclave to learn that in the wider society, “religion” does not mean their religion, “morality” is not their morality, and “conservatives” are not engaged in conserving their culture. It must be tempting to think that their culture is still here, and can be rallied and strengthened and brought back. But the physical cathedrals that medieval Christians built are now museums, and any status that their occupants have in society is earned by conforming to progressivism rather than opposing it.

To a member of the mainstream culture, a cathedral is a large, rich institution from which, historically, the dominant morality and beliefs of society were pronounced. Maybe it was also a centre of true religion and the worship of God, but that is not so widely accepted, and in any case not the primary set of associations.

In that sense, anyone can build a cathedral, provided they have a sufficiently high status in society. There is a new religion now, one which coincidentally developed out of Christianity, but has since separated from it. (The exact historical relationship of puritanism with modern progressivism is much debated, but isn’t at all the point here. Even if progressivism were entirely the creation of The Jews And Their Father The Devil, the arguments I’m making here would be the same.)

So, we have this new religion, Universalism, and it is dominant in our culture. It has built institutions which, like the cathedrals of old, tell us what is good, how we should behave, who we should obey. It operates completely openly, with one exception—it does not admit that it is a religion. It maintains that it is just the recognition of the self-evident, and that its priests are just good and intelligent people.

The prevailing impression of our political system is that it is not a theocracy, that liberalism and conservatism are just tendencies that compete within the system on equal terms, that “religion” means stuff like Christianity and Islam which was a bit iffy in the past but can be OK and pretty today provided they steer clear of things that are really bad like getting obsessed with obsolete sexual morality. We need a constant reminder that the reality is completely different, that liberalism is not a political faction but a dominant religion, that what is preached to us by Harvard and Hollywood is the doctrine of that religion. If that’s jarring, then it is all the more important. The relevant stereotypical associations if we denote the information establishment as a Synagogue, in contrast, would be of something closed, obscure, maybe people conspiring in secret. That is so far from the true situation, of Universalist devotees being recruited and trained openly in every university and on every television channel, as to produce a crippling misunderstanding of the problem.

And finally, it should not be too hard to eventually accept. It is no contradiction of Christian teaching (as I understand it) to put forward that it is not the dominant belief system in this world; that the Enemy is in power and that it is necessary to resist the dominant culture of the world. If assimilating this is a shock, it is surely not one that the Christian should be spared for the sake of being diplomatic.

There will be other difficulties reconciling Christianity and a Neoreactionary theory which has its origin in secularism, but the evidence so far is that they can be resolved.

See also: The Modern Structure

23 March 2014

Neocameralism and the Corporate-Governance Problem

The previous post was to say that I see the real division within the Dark Enlightenment as being between a strategy of converting the elite (neoreaction) and a strategy of replacing the elite (paleoreaction).

In America, that might line up somewhat as neocameralism vs monarchy, but that isn’t really the dividing line. There are those supporting monarchism because they can accept nothing else, but there are also neoreactionary monarchists, such as myself, who choose monarchism as strategically preferable to other neoreactionary options.

I concentrate on Britain, and I see monarchist rule as entirely feasible for Britain given any kind of large-scale visible failure of the existing regime. That doesn’t put me on the paleo side of the divide I described earlier. I could easily see myself being persuaded by the neocameralists if they can solve the corporate-governance problem more convincingly than Moldbug managed to do.

Moldbug’s method of guaranteeing shareholders’ rights is to have a computer system which can sabotage the management’s control if authorised to do so by a majority of shareholders voting via a secure automated cryptographic protocol. I never considered that practically workable. If you change the software, or even cause some change in the way the software operates, then you can modify who has rights over the state. I do not envision a system made so reliable and secure that that could not happen.

There may be other mechanisms that would work. Bitcoin is a promising example: as in Moldbuggian Neocameralism, the software says who has what rights under the system. However, the software is not running in a sealed untamperable box; it runs on my PC and yours, and it can be and has been changed. However, it is in the interests of everyone who uses the system that rights be protected and maintained according to the common understanding of the users of the system.

There’s a big gap from that principle to a working neocameralism, but I am able to hope it might be bridged.

In the meantime, I am looking at a different gap, between a situation in which British democracy has failed and the King has taken temporary control, and a situation where his authority is accepted as permanent. I think that is bridgeable, in certain plausible circumstances. I certainly don’t think that working on this puts me on the opposite side of any fission to Nick Land.

What makes my proposed monarchy neoreactionary is that the political formula supporting it is not primarily tradition or religion, but pragmatic and rational. The former democrats who will be part of the system will have have changed their view on a lot of practical, empirical questions, but not on the way they see the world

What’s wrong with Paleoreaction?

Up until this point, I’ve been careful to avoid arguing against old-style Throne-and Altar reaction. The main reason is that neoreaction and paleoreaction simply aren’t in competition as ideologies: their resemblance in conclusion is a kind of coincidence, as they are built on entirely different premises. Nobody who considers themselves even close to one of them has any possibility of agreeing with the other. Meanwhile, the similarity in conclusions means that neoreactionaries and paleoreactionaries are potential allies in spite of utterly different assumptions, and effort is better expended on creating critiques of one’s enemies than one’s allies.

The reason for addressing now the shortcomings of paleoreaction is not to isolate from paleoreactionaries, but to explain why neoreaction is important.

In a phrase, liberalism beats reaction. Reaction exists, and has existed for as long as liberalism has been upsetting the old order, but it has not stopped Cthulu swimming leftward, and, based on the premises of the old order, it never will.

Liberalism claims that it is right of the people to alter or to abolish a form of government, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Reactionaries have traditionally held that the people have no such right. The problem is that is a very difficult proposition to argue for, particularly once the opposite view has become well-established. There just aren’t arguments that will work against a “self-evident truth”.

Neoreactionaries might succeed where paleoreactionaries have failed because they do not need to dispute that self-evident truth. The neoreactionary response is not “you have no such right”, but “you may indeed have such a right, but having the right to do crazy shit like that doesn’t make it a good idea.”

That might not be very convincing either, but at least it’s a basis for an argument. Since neoreactionaries start out as liberals, even if heterodox liberals such as libertarians, we know it is possible to persuade liberals to a neoreactionary point of view. Whether this path can lead to victory is not certain, but there is not two hundred and fifty years of failure to demonstrate otherwise.

This vital difference expresses itself in strategy. Because paleoreactionaries cannot persuade liberals, their strategy is instead to fight or escape them. The priorities that result from that strategy are to organise and to grow in numbers.

For neoreactionaries who hope to subvert the existing elite from within their own culture, the priorities are completely different. Heading for the hills does not help to transform our own societies, and street-fighting does not separate us from the existing political sphere. The priority is to improve the arguments, build the theory, expand the intellectual community able to provide an alternative to politics.

12 March 2014

Brief note on Bazaars

Via @EsotericTrad , this utterly loopy piece by Brett Stevens. Apparently, the Dark Enlightenment is all about replacing the elite with people power. Really.
In the “Dark Enlightenment” lexicon, the opposite of the Cathedral is the bazaar. Where the Cathedral is based upon idealized collective issues forced into consensus and acted on by institutions, in other words a classic top-down arrangement, the bazaar is bottom-up and non-organized. It is what happens when people get together and do what makes sense to them without deference to the elites.
@EsotericTrad asked whether anyone had ever seen a DE writer mention the Bazaar in this sense, assuming not. I had thought not, and had said so earlier when esr asked whether the “Cathedral” concept derived from his famous essay on software development, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”. @nydwracu knew better, though, and pointed esr to Moldbug’s Open Letter part XIV.
The Cathedral is called the Cathedral for another reason: it's not the Bazaar. Coding, frankly, is pretty easy. Reinterpreting reality is hard. Nonetheless, I think this thing will come down one of these days. And I would rather be outside it than under it.
Now, that’s an aside at the end of a 12,000-word “part XIV”, so it doesn’t seem a central concept. But it exists. What does it mean? What Moldbug is criticising here is not the Cathedral’s centralizing of power, but its centralizing of truth.
In a democracy, mass opinion creates power. Power diverts funds to the manufacturers of opinion, who manufacture more, etc. Not a terribly complicated cycle. This feedback loop generates a playing field on which the most competitive ideas are not those which best correspond to reality, but those which produce the strongest feedback.
What he is asking for is not “people power” but power divorced from opinion, so that there can be a diversity of opinion without a division of power (which, even more than most other DE/NRx writers, he is consistently and forcefully against).


Part of the confusion here stems from the overuse of the term “Cathedral”. Unlike many people who have written about his theories, Moldbug does not use the term to label the elite, or the powerful, or the state. It refers to the institutions that shape the beliefs and ideology of society (including the beliefs and ideology of the elite, the powerful, the state). Specifically, the elite universities and the respectable media.

Therefore when he criticizes the Cathedral in the piece quoted above, he is not directly attacking the structure of government (though he does plenty of that elsewhere), rather, he is criticizing the method of forming belief. When he implies it should be more bazaar-like, he is not saying government should be bazaar-like, he is saying the “information institutions” should be bazaar-like. A precondition for that is detaching them from the power-feedback loop he describes above.

01 March 2014

Hewitt, paedophilia and 1970s progressivism

The newspapers in Britain are full of something I mentioned as an aside in a post last year—the fact that 1970s consolidation of progressive power was the phase that included the dropping of legalised paedophilia as a progressive goal. The status of the Paedophile Information Exchange as an affiliate of the National Council of Civil Liberties was what I had in mind when I wrote that. It was never any secret.

The establishment line, coming from senior policiticans who shared platforms with paedophile campaigners forty years ago, is that their progressive movements were “infiltrated” by “evil” paedophiles, later driven out. Inasmuch as “infiltration” implies any degree of secrecy or misrepresentation at all, that is very obviously untrue. In the early 1970s, paedophilia was a progressive cause. Rock stars’ banging of underage groupies was seen as part of their general wildness and edginess. It might eventually end in tears, but the same goes for their other wild behaviour like dropping acid or driving sports cars at 100mph—sex with teenagers was seen as in the same moral category as these other excesses.

East Germany legalised homosexual sex in 1968, with an age of consent of 14. The NCCL, by campaigning a few years later for Britain to follow that example, was holding a perfectly respectable progressive position—and going even further. (NCCL supported reducing age of consent to 10 “in some circumstances”, which I think meant relationships between children).

The Guardian today quoted a letter from Patricia Hewitt, saying “Our proposal that the age of consent be reduced is based on the belief that neither the police nor the criminal courts should have the power to intervene in a consenting sexual activity between two young people.” That was the progressive position in 1976. There have been pictures of demonstrations against the PIE, but the placards brandished by the demonstrators carried the National Front logo—not a respectable organisation.

The question for historians to ask about the 1970s is not, “how could respectable people have supported paedophilia back then?”, rather, it is “how did they not succeed?” My original answer was that as the rebels became the establishment, they were forced to take some small measure of responsibility for keeping society together, and withdrew from a few of their most dangerous demands. That’s no more than a hypothesis really, since I have no particular evidence for it. The truth could possibly be even more interesting.

Update 16 March 2014

I just noticed on Wikipedia, that the Labour Party was proposing reducing the age of consent to 14 as late as 1998.

14 December 2013

A Scale-Free model of reactionary order

@Outsideness asks for a scale-free model of reactionary order. What he means by this is, why do neoreactionaries of the Moldbug variety recommend central authority within a single state, but many small independent sovereign states in the international realm. If one central authority is good for the state, why isn’t it good for the world?

A case for independent sovereign states can be made on ethno-nationalist grounds: there is such a thing as a people, and the customs of one people are not the customs of another people. If another people’s customs are incompatible with my people’s customs, then put a border between us and minimise the conflict.

The Moldbuggians are not primarily ethno-nationalists, however. Patchwork is not a vision of distinct nations, but of distinct states, small and potentially multi-national.

Why small states? @Outsideness suggests: Is it not Moldbug’s ultimate conclusion that domestic authority is parasitic upon global anarchy, which trains it through exit? Meaning, the absolute rulers of states are required to make their realms attractive to live in, in order to compete for productive inhabitants with rival states. If a state grows large enough that exit becomes difficult—through effective border control, or non-existence or scarcity of rivals—then rulers will be more extractive towards their populations.

Hence the request for a scale-free theory. If two (or more) sovereigns within the Kingdom of California are a bad thing, but several sovereigns within the continent of North America are a good thing, where is the line drawn, and why?

My take is that, attractive as Patchwork is, a world of small states would not be stable or sustainable. The Moldbug post linked above, and the three preceding it, describe a world-system of joint-stock sovereign authorities enabled by mechanical, cryptographic enforcement technologies, which I see as not fundamentally impossible, but fragile and highly implausible. If you reject the internal state structure of Patchwork, as most neoreactionaries do, you probably lose the external structure also.

Historically, small states have tended to be swept up by empires. The surviving small states, have survived as compromises between empires—buffer zones or bargaining chips. Thereafter, they have often been exceptionally successful, but their integrity has depended either on agreements between others of the “if you don’t try to annex it, we won’t either” type, or on being a de facto protectorate of an empire that simply can’t be bothered with ruling it actively. That situation assumes that there will be empires; in a world of only small states, some will, by union or conquest, become empires, and the independence of others depends on the action of the empires.

Why not one empire then? That is what the logic of neoreactionary monarchy suggests.

The prediction of rational rule leading to world government is parallel to the old Marxist one of capitalism leading inevitably to monopoly, and I think the flaws of the one argument are essentially the flaws of the other—Change and Diseconomies of Scale.

The Marxist argument is actually correct, in isolation. The example I always used to use to discuss this was zip fasteners. Two companies making zip fasteners will make less profit than one, because the one will be able to extract monopoly rent, and reduce inefficient duplication. And indeed it came to pass, ten years ago when I used to talk about this, that practically every zip fastener in the world was made by one company. I would ask whoever I was talking to about the subject to check the clothing they were wearing, confident that they would find the letters “YKK” on the handle of the zip.

The punchline was that the world zip-fastener monopoly was so economically insignificant, that it was run as a sideline by a Japanese architectural manufacturing company. Because the industry fit the Marxist model—everyone knew how to make zippers, they had been made the same for decades, they were the same in every country—the profit margins had become negligible, and there was little incentive for anyone to compete with YKK for the market. In fact, the argument doesn’t even work any more: zippers are more often plastic than metal, and more variety of products and of manufacturers have emerged.

I think the same considerations apply to states. Microstates suffer from economies of scale in external defence, and outside a variety of niches, are likely to fall to larger, more efficient states. But the returns to scale diminish, and while a state with a population of a billion may still have an advantage over one with a population of a hundred million, other factors could very easily outweigh that advantage. (The ethno-nationalist considerations alluded to earlier serve as one of those other factors).

If the world develops in a way favourable to neoreaction, I would expect the international climate to remain recognisable. There will still be empires, still largish states which have factors such as physical geography or ethnicity preventing them from enlarging or being absorbed, still small states surviving because it’s not worth the cost or inconvenience of annexing them. Probably there will be a good deal less wars fought for the sake of warm fuzzy feels.

Finally, while the option of exit is desirable and beneficial, the neoreactionary argument does not absolutely require it. A world state would presumably be secure enough that he would have no reason to diversify his assets by extracting value from his subjects and investing that value elsewhere; rather, his returns would be maximised by allowing the value of his subjects to grow, which is a good situation to be in for the subject.

30 November 2013

The Crime Rates thing

One of the problems reactionaries draw attention to, as an example of the ineffectiveness of the modern state, is the threat of crime.

To this, progressives respond with statistics showing that incidences of crime per capita have been on a general downward trend for the last few centuries. Stephen Pinker recently published a book on this point, and anti-reactionaries are, understandably, making a big deal of it.

There are various measurement difficulties with crime rates, but Pinker isn’t a climate scientist, and so it’s not likely that all the measurement errors are going in the same direction.

Are perceptions of increased danger just wrong, then? They could very plausibly be the product of media sensationalism and hightened expectations. But I have doubts that frequency of crime, particularly frequency of crime per thousand of population, are really the right measure.

After all, fear of crime isn’t a passive, background thing. You don’t sit and worry that you’re going to be mugged before your next birthday. You worry when you walk home from the railway station at night. Fundamentally, you worry when you go out of a highly protected area.

So the intensity of your worry depends on what the risk is of going out of a protected area for a time. If people are doing that much less often than they used to, then it might have got more dangerous to do so, yet incidence of crime will be down.

There are a few reasons why people might be doing dangerous things less often. Many people have cars, which are mobile fortresses with lockable doors. That’s our old friend, advances in technology masking other problems. It might be that some areas that were dangerous are now safe. That would be a geniuine improvement, a real diminution of crime and the threat of crime. It might be that some unsafe areas are now so unsafe that people rarely go there at all, which would actually be an increase in the threat of crime, without showing in the statistics. Then there’s the scale question:

Fleet Street in London is still Fleet Street. It’s the same length it was when Pepys walked down it, from Ludgate Circus to Chancery Lane.

If crime rates are the same as they were a hundred years ago, does that mean there should be the same number of crimes on it, or a higher number in proportion to the change of population? Or in proportion to the change of population divided by the change in the total length of road? But should that be all road, or important town-centre type street? Society does not scale linearly.

It would be interesting to see a town that stayed approximately the same size over decades, and look at its crime statistics, to eliminate these difficult scaling factors. But a town that stayed the same size would almost certainly have changed its role, relative to other towns. Not so helpful.

One thing that occurred to me is a football match. A big match is like a temporary town — in population, it’s the size of a small town. Is a football “town” the same size as a hundred years ago, and is it more or less violent?

Oh. The answer is that it’s smaller, because the level of violence had grown so much by the 1980s that the government forced reductions in stadium capacity, along with other measures.

That’s one indication that, isolated from scale effects and technology, violence has become worse.

Of course, history goes on: football stadiums are now less violent than they were in the 1980s, and for all I know less violent than they were in the 1930s, because they have become highly-policed zones.

The simple summary: there is no simple summary. Waving the hand and talking about “more crime” is wrong, at least relative to population. Some areas of life have become less policed, while some have become extremely heavily policed, and much safer. The things we do that expose us to risk of crime have changed, partly due to technology, partly due to bigger towns and cities, and partly due to social changes. If you want to show that some particular activity has become more dangerous today than in the past, concentrate on that — specific evidence is somewhat clearer than aggregate statistics. Moldbug’s “Map of areas a person can walk alone in confidence” is the right general approach (thanks to @lexcorvus for the link).

Update. I still don’t feel that I’m hitting the nail on the head. I feel that crime is something that should be at the edge of society. We have expanded — scaled — society, but we are measuring crime rate relative to the volume, not the size of the edge. A sort of square/cube law error.

28 November 2013

Failure Modes of Monarchy

OK, so a couple of outside websites have stirred the murky pool of neoreaction — a welcome development, I think.

Because of the angle they came at it from (via Mike Annissimov, via Scott Alexander), they rather overstated the importance of monarchism to neoreaction. Monarchy is important as a point of comparison, but it is only one possible approach among several for a neoreactionary future.

Having said that, Anomaly UK is where future monarchy gets seriously proposed, so I’ve pulled together what I think are the main failure modes of monarchy, to put the dangers in the proper perspective. Most of them have been discussed here before, so this is largely an exercise in consolidation and better explanation.

By “failure”, I mean either that the system collapses and is replaced with something else, or that the system survives but is very unpleasant to live under.

There are some failure modes that are common to all systems of government: any system can be invaded by foreigners, or be overthrown by a demagogue. Monarchy, because its distinctive feature is the lack of selection applied to its rulers, and the lack of regular mechanisms for replacing them, has, or is perceived to have, its own peculiar failure modes. Here they are:

  1. King is an evil psychopath
  2. King is a liberal
  3. King is uninterested, politics ensues
  4. King is sick, insane or senile
  5. King is a child
  6. Succession is unclear
  7. King has odd ideas short of insanity


Evil Psychopath — I can't think of any. Democracy (particularly one-party democracy) seems to have a far stronger track record of putting evil psychopaths in power than monarchy does.

Liberals — this has historically been the major failure mode. The solution is to permanently discredit democracy and liberalism. The Roman Republic managed to achieve that for Europe for over a thousand years, so I’m optimistic on this point.

Uninterested — this was a major concern throughout the monarchical period, but I struggle to think of examples, at least from English history. Edward II maybe? That’s a long way back.

Sick or insane — this has been troublesome. Modern medicine greatly reduces the risk: the best-known examples have been the result of syphilis or other treatable conditions. Senility is a major worry for a modern monarchy, though.

Child — again, historically a big worry, but not common: it hasn’t happened in England since Edward VI. Better health makes it less likely. The British royal family currently has three generations of mature adults available.

Unclear succession — again, better health makes shortage of heirs a very minor concern. Disputed legitimacy might become an issue: even with the availability of genetic testing, there is the question of who does the testing and whether they are trusted. My impression is that while disputes over legitimacy or rules of succession are not that rare historically, they are usually cover for some deeper underlying problem, often religious.

Odd ideas — this seems like a worry. Historical examples are again scarce, though. Most odd ideas can be indulged as hobbies at miniscule cost to a modern nation.

The most dangerous odd idea is liberalism; such a damaging and plausible outcome that I already listed it separately. Most European monarchies did in fact succumb to liberal kings. The next most serious threat is religion. If the king adopts a minority religion, or even the majority religion with too much enthusiasm, he risks stirring dangerous levels of opposition. The Stuarts’ problems mostly stemmed from this (though the reformation in Europe necessarily made things difficult for them). My solution is antidisestablishmentarianism.

The common element in many of the perceived dangers of monarchy relate to what the intentions of the monarch will be. The intentions of monarchs seem to nearly always be to preserve his kingdom intact for his family, to be remembered as a success, and, quite often, to get laid a lot.

These motives can cause problems — heavy-handed policing employed against even remote threats to the regime, wasteful vanity projects — are common to all forms of government, particularly democracy. The failure modes that really are specific to monarchy are well-understood, and steps to avoid them have been taken — it is well-known that the chief responsibility of the young royal is to produce more than one legitimate heir at a relatively decent age.

We see this today in the non-ruling royal families of Europe, along with a relatively recent development, that elderly monarchs are routinely either abdicating in favour of their children, or less formally delegating to them. This is an important response to modern longevity. A monarch with strong family loyalty who found himself incapacitated by illness would be likely to do the same.

A tight family group provides these benefits to a monarchy, but if the family is relied on as the most trusted set of allies for the monarch, then family members are going to be competing to some extent for power and influence. This is normal, and happens under every form of government. The fact is that members of a royal family are closer to having a common long-term interest than members of other ruling organisations — political parties, civil service departments or military commands, and so are less likely to be destructive in their competition.