13 September 2012

Commentary on "Kingdom 2037"

OK, so I've written the first example of what I think should be in the Reactionary Library. I feel tempted to make a big deal of it, and then I remember the problem, that it's not very good. I'm making it a separate post (to follow), because the idea is it's supposed to stand on its own, but it doesn't, so here's a load of supporting commentary. Responses & comments can come here, so I'll close off comments on the article itself and point them here.

It talks about a scenario where an openly absolute Windsor monarchy has been established in England (more likely England & Wales, maybe Great Britain or Great Britain & Northern Ireland, but that's one of many points not addressed). It doesn't talk about how that happened, which is more important and more difficult.

The first part emphasises the continuity with the traditional monarchy, while no continuity with the last 300 years of prime ministerial government. There should be no trace of the House of Commons, because even if it had value it would be a focus for recreating some kind of democracy. I originally wanted to leave the House of Lords out too, but I want the important people of the country to see themselves as insiders, with duties to the system, so formalising their role is helpful.

The reason for the important people having hereditary peerages is that, when it comes to any kind of power, loyalty is more important than exceptional ability. That's not to say that incompetence is OK, but if your system of government depends on having people of exceptional ability, then it's broken. Instead take the most competent people from the pool of those brought up to privilege and loyalty, and if they're not good enough to, say, run a car company, the solution is not to have a government car company. The Victorian meritocratic civil service was exceptionally effective, but it was a step down the wrong road. The motto of the civil service should be "Good Enough for Government Work" (what's that in Latin?)

The idea of the King abdicating in old age is tricky: I've argued against it in the past, because it isn't traditional and it creates uncertainty and possibly faction. I don't think it's really avoidable, though. In the past monarchies had a lot of problems with infertility and with heirs inheriting at a very young age; in the modern world those difficulties should be very rare, but kings partly-incapacitated with age will be more of a problem than ever before. It's more important, though, that there's no authority that can impose it. It has to be the king's own decision.

I've written before on the idea of the oldest child, male or female, inheriting. Also not traditional, but probably for the best.

My idea for the most senior administrators is that they have already "made it". They are not struggling to hang on another year, they get the wealth and status, and they get to keep them, even if they are replaced.

A lot of this stuff is about public attitude rather than systems. The highest aim of an ambitious person should be to establish a dynasty which will remain important for generations. It's not as easy to see how that works in a modern volatile economy as in an agricultural society where land ownership was reliable long-term wealth.

The point I'm trying to get to is where the King's senior people are insiders rather than players. They work for the system because it is their system and because it is their duty.

The alternative is for them to be professionals rather than aristocrats, consultants rather than politicians, hired on contracts. I don't think that's as desirable, but it may be easier to get to.

The military thing is fairly obvious, I think, given the already existing relationship between the Royal Family and the military. It gives the system extra stability.

When it comes to economics, everything depends on what the world economy is actually going to be like in 25 years. The biggest question is what economic value do unskilled workers have? In the max-automation scenario, they are probably valueless, but it becomes cheap to effectively institutionalise them. If some of my speculations on AI turn out correct, they could be useful as supervisors of machines. Since their role would be to provide motivation and direction for the computer systems, it would be more important for them to be "good people", trustworthy and loyal, than to be particularly skilled. This is a reversal of the 20th century view of human capital: we have spent 200 years trying to get people to be better machines — in this scenario the machines will be machines, the people need to be better people.

For the purposes of the exercise, I've stipulated less economic change than is really probable, but there have to be some assumptions, and they might as well be familiar ones for now.

That means some kind of welfare safety net is essential. The key is to get rid of entitlements. If you're going to be supported by other people, there has to be some reason why they would want to support you. If you go out of your way to make yourself unpleasant, as far as I'm concerned you can starve.

I wouldn't be surprised if things were more like they are now; with low taxes and light regulation, there should be jobs for nearly everyone. In that case the welfare problem would be a lot easier.

For taxation, I'd rather have less tax and all from land, but in this medium-term scenario, Royal wealth is power, and I don't think it's safe to keep it all "re-invested" in the economy. I'm also not sure it's possible to raise 25% of GNP from land taxes. It should be possible to find a few things that can be conveniently taxed to raise about 10%, without unduly distorting the economy.

I didn't get to monetary policy. Neoreactionaries tend to be Austrians, and I lean that way myself, but I don't see that restoration implies Austrianism. A restoration is going to be cautious, where it can be, and a radically different monetary policy, such as a gold standard, isn't all that cautious. So it's an option, but I'll leave the question for the moment.

Legal system is straightforward. There is some tension between making sure the authority of the king is unchallenged, and ensuring the administration is consistent and predictable enough that the country is an attractive place to live and do business. At the end of the day, though, it is very strongly in the King's interest to achieve the latter.

A well-run state would be such a rare thing that it would attract huge numbers of foreign rich. That is an economic bounty that would go a long way to securing the new regime against its many enemies, but there is a risk that the native population might start to be marginalised or ignored. I am seriously worried about social problems, particularly if there is a large bottom segment of the native population which fails to adapt and ends up in deep poverty, while extremely rich foreigners flood in. On the other hand, I believe a comfortable unconditional safety net is too corrupting to society.

Ultimately, no blueprint can protect the native population if it truly doesn't have any value to contribute. The monarch's legitimacy comes from being King of the English, not simply owner of an island. Again, the military would tend to be a stabilising force in terms of the status of the people. If the military starts being run by foreign mercenaries, we have a problem.

A social conservatism is part of the overall project, but I've shied away from explicitly establishing it. My thinking is that merely ceasing to promote and subsidise immorality will be sufficient to move things in the right direction, whereas attempting to impose a traditional family structure will stir up a lot of trouble. I didn't answer the question of exactly who keeps a child if the recognised parents split up, which is quite important.

There is no reason to allow people to go around openly trying to overthrow the state. But real censorship of information is practically impossible. Subversive ideas will circulate, but subversive organisation will not be tolerated.

Of course, if all it consists of is a tiny group of extremists, it's not worth acting against them. It's more likely though that there will be significant foreign-backed democracy movements.

The handling of private arms is a compromise between efficient policing and containing rebellion. Private arms are normally allowed, but commanding armed men is reserved to the state and its chosen allies.

The general principle here is that ordinary people are free, but those closer to power are subject to greater suspicion. If you have real power, you will be expected to positively show loyalty. In historical monarchies, it generally wasn't the peasants who landed in the Star Chamber or its equivalent.

The actual activity of the Royal Family took little work, as it is basically compatible with how it has functioned since the Abdication. The aim is to preserve the family and its position, and the method of doing so is much the same even if the position is elevated.

 Read the article here


perfidy said...

Strangely enough, I've thought about exactly the same thing. My end state was similar enough to yours - certainly nothing of grave significance.

I'm writing a science fiction novel - actually, sort of a fantasy version of the alien invasion story. But what I almost wrote instead was a story about this. The only scenario that I could come up with to get from here to there involved some rather serious social disruption.

I had been reading about the Great Famine - the multi-year rains, bad weather and mass starvation that happened about a generation before the Black Plague hit Europe. It came out of nowhere and caused vast suffering. People of the time had just experienced hundreds of years of good weather and the relative prosperity of the HIgh Middle Ages.

I imagined what would happen if something similar hit us now. People like Tainter have talked about the diminishing returns of increasing complexity - an event like this could cause a lot of trouble, especially if the effects were more or less global. War, social unrest...

My basic plot idea was that the forces of the current government become increasingly ineffective in dealing with the problem, and then vicious and desperate when challenged. Then it moves to a civil war between parliament and the monarchy when the monarchy attempts to redress some of the greater excesses of the government, and is attacked. The monarchy gains support from the military, or most of it; and public support as well for being something stable and not seen as capricious and cruel.

Winning that war then leads to a restoration of monarchical power and the abolition of parliament.

The transition is really the hard part. People as a rule tend to accept the status quo, no matter how bad it is. And the current status quo is liberal democracy, reinforced by education, media... Very unlikely to change, absent gross failure on the part of the current system. The only thing likely to induce catastrophic failure is some sort of external issue - war, famine, the usual suspects. Technology gives us enough (though possibly a dwindling) edge that we can overcome most issues despite the incompetence and failures of our system.

(I also tried imagining how Foseti, Moldbug and Charlton could be used as templates for characters. Maybe too inside baseball? Also toyed with the notion of making it a Stuart restoration as well, but that started involving a King Ralph situation where the entire Royal family has to die.)

Dave said...

Mr. Anomaly,

I like the picture of your state in broad strokes. I like the armed citizenry idea - I would take it a step further and use a Swiss model of a reserve Army. The standing Army would be small, professional, and specialized. The core fighting units to be used in any conflict would be drafted directly from the population.

This carries several advantages. Foremost, it would make the UK an incredibly tough target for invasion - its geographical vulnerability would be balanced by a strong martial spirit in the population. Partisan fighters would be well stocked and well trained.

The second advantage is that it would give the wider population an ability to personally serve the King. At his discretion he could award excellence for marksmanship, athletics, etc amongst the military units in the shires. This breeds loyalty and ambition among the population.

The third advantage would be an incentive to increase the quality of the population. It would be embarrassing to report at your unit muster overweight and out of shape.

As for the family, I think the proper view is that it is a subcontractor for the state:


newt0311 said...

The reason for the important people having hereditary peerages is that, when it comes to any kind of power, loyalty is more important than exceptional ability.

You have gotten this exactly backwards. Real power always ends up with the exceptional. It may take a few decades but what is that in the lifetime of an empire?

Civilizations die when the elite is no longer composed of the exceptional.

Anomaly UK said...

Perfidy - this scenario is pretty much a "best case"; the implication is the old regime lost its legitimacy in some catastrophe, but any social breakdown was brief and the restoration was able to work with a nearly intact infrastructure and civil society. The alternative is a more sustained social breakdown, in which case I would expect the restoration to be more gradual, and a rebuilding from a more feudal / warlord-type process.

Dave - when was Switzerland's last civil war? the problem with the independent militia is, whose side is it on?. Reaching Swiss levels of stability is likely to take nearer 250 years than 25, I think. In the meantime, the state needs to have control of all armed organisations.

newt - There needs to be exceptional ability among the elite, but not necessarily among government administrators. The elite and the state are not the same thing; what is important is that they not be in opposition to each other.

Dave said...

Anomaly, you make a good point. Imagine the Tooting Militia - might as well bring in the Frontier Scouts.

Certainly one of the main goals of the King will be to increase the quality of his human stock, and ensuring its long-term sustainability. Many approaches to this end could be taken; certainly quasi-military activity of some kind would play a part.

Supporting the family as a sub-contractor to producing future citizens seems like another logical step. Fathers should feel empowered by the state to govern their families in the same way the King governs his country.

WilhelmDurand said...

My best translation would be "satis obviam necessitatibus imperium", but I am no Latin scholar.

James James said...

You may be interested in http://abandonedfootnotes.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-saudi-monarchy-as-family-firm.html , which is about stable -- though not necessarily good -- government.

James James said...

See also http://www.gwern.net/Notes#alternate-futures-the-second-english-restoration

"England is an interesting example: the monarchy is a funny little thing for the tourists and tabloids, but suppose a driven strategic genius like Frederick the Great were crown prince and the Queen died tomorrow; do you really think that there would still be a <1% chance that in 50 years when he dies, England won’t be something like Singapore writ large⸮ The Royal Family is completely feckless and embarrassing (perhaps because they have no purpose but useless, or to be polite, ‘ceremonial’ duties), but they possess a power-base that ordinary politicians would kill for: annual income in the dozens of millions, world-wide fame, the unthinking adoration of a still-significant chunk of the British masses, well-attended bully pulpits, and in general enough tradition & age & properties sufficient to beat down and render groveling the staunchest democrat..."