03 April 2011

Political Formula

I wrote the other day that you cannot just create a state of any particular design. Why even discuss designs of states, then?

What I am hoping to take part in is the building of a political formula that will eventually produce a better form of government. To borrow the metaphor used by biologists to explain the role of genes in development, it's not a blueprint, it's a recipe.

Political formulae were brought up by Mencius Moldbug in his post Democracy as an Adaptive Fiction. "A political formula is a belief that makes the ruled accept their rulers". But Moldbug understates just how adaptive the fiction is. He says, "An adaptive fiction is a misperception of reality that, unlike most such misperceptions, manages to outcompete the truth". But it is more than that. A democratic state survives because of the adaptive fiction that democracy is a desirable form of government. But if that fiction were to collapse, so would the state — and it would be messy. In the short run, the false belief that democracy is the best form of government is adaptive not just for the government, but for the believers themselves.

And vice versa. While the political formula of democracy lasts, no undemocratic form of government will work very well. One might be imposed by force, but the force will cause at least as much damage as our democracy does today.

Therefore what I am pushing is not a program of monarchism or any other formalism, but rather the political formula that will support it and make it work well. The formula comes first, and the government later.

The key element of the political formula is that governing is a task, and, other things being equal, those doing that task will do it better if they are not interfered with. I then go further and claim that this is a vital principle that it is worth making sacrifices to maintain — that even if the current ruler is blatantly making a mess of things, in all but the most extreme circumstances it is better in the long run to let it happen and hope for better weather than to act to sort things out and set a precedent that in the long run will lead all the way back to democracy.

There are a handful of minor ideas that go with it, like belief in the value of the virtues of personal loyalty, family loyalty and patriotism. They are not essential, but they help.

We could throw in the divine right of kings, but I'd rather not. I don't actually believe it's true, and the problem with a false premiss of that sort is that, even if its first order effects are beneficial, the most able reasoners will reason from it to ever more lunatic conclusions. While our democracy actually works moderately well, many of its worst effects are due to the absurd theorems derived correctly from its political formula.

It is argued by some — Bruce Charlton, for instance — that it is not possible to create respect for authority in a culture which is secular and largely atheist. They could be right. Atheism and Democracy came in as partners and reinforced each other, and now I am trying to keep the atheism and lose the democracy.

I have reasons for thinking it possible. As the old order died, there were those who tried to retain it who had a very cynical view of the religious angle. I found a lovely quote recently:

he allowed, indeed, of the necessity and legality of Resistance in some extraordinary cases ... [he] was of opinion that this ought to be kept from the knowledge of the people, who are naturally too apt to resist. That the Revolution was not to be boasted of and made a precedent, but we ought to throw a mantle over it, and rather call it Vacancy or Abdication.

That is Bishop Hooper (I think this one), described in "Tudor England" by Barry Coward. "Resistance" here means opposing the rightful ruler, and "the Revolution" is the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688. Consistent with my formula, Hooper believed the revolution was a good move but a bad precedent. Note that, though a bishop, he is reasoning on entirely secular grounds.

He and the other Tories of the time hoped to restore the form of monarchic government with new personnel. They lost, but I don't believe their loss was inevitable. They had majority support in the country, but lacked the intellectual elite (again, I recommend The Kit-Cat Club by Ophelia Field). However, as usual, Left and Right in this debate had differing visions of what the results of "progress" would be, and those on the Right were proved much more correct by history. That is why I do not believe I am attempting to reassemble an exploded bomb back to the moment before explosion. If the Whigs had known then what we know now, most of them would not have been Whigs.

1 comment:

whyiamnot said...

The Tory problem was not that they lacked an intellectual elite - in fact, Bolingbroke was probably the greatest political writer of the age, and his ideas were the basis of the Cobham - Pitt1 - Pitt2 line that was the intellectual political orthodoxy by the 1760s, and led to the modern Tories. Their problem was the death of the Duke of Gloucester, and that George I hated them so much that he threw the entire weight of the state behind the Whig Party (much to the detriment of his own personal power). The Tory loss wasn't inevitable in 1688, but it was in 1714, and there was nothing they could realistically do about it.