04 September 2012

Laws not Men

Per my earlier post, I think one of the major changes of the last couple of hundred years is that the previously normal role of subordinate has become denigrated and almost eliminated, and the previously exceptional role of loner has become idealised and made normal.

The force behind this epoch-making change is liberalism's love of system. In the enlightenment view, there is no need for a hierarchy of authority such as was believed to be necessary from Aristotle to Charles I. Rather, there are just rules, and if everyone follows them order will result.

Classical liberalism is the purest and simplest form of this. If non-aggression and private property are protected, then everyone can be free and the emergent phenomena of economics will provide security and prosperity. It is an exquisitely beautiful theory, concentric spheres in Ptolemaic perfection.

However, between difficulties eliminating the last vestiges of hierarchy, and widespread dissatisfaction with some of the results, the beautiful theory has never succeeded entirely. The mainstream liberal response has been to lump epicycles onto it. Collective defence, clean air, fair contract terms, anti-drunkenness, poverty relief. By now, the system has epicycles on its epicycles: it provides patent monopolies to encourage innovation, then competition law to restrain the monopolies. The self-evident beauty of the original liberal conception is entirely gone.

To complete the analogy, I should now propose a Copernican alternative. Alas, if there is such a thing, I have not found it. All I can offer is going back to the order of being, to the sun rising in the morning because some dung-beetle god has rolled it around the sky. Scrap the system, the Civil Procedure (Amendment No.2) Rules 2012 that will finally make the orbits work out: let's just pick someone and put them in charge.

The astronomical analogy is important though, because that, by many accounts, is how the enlightenment came about. Natural Philosophy showed that an interfering deity was not necessary to explain the world, and that a system of impersonal natural law did a better job. By analogy, the natural philosophers felt that the King and his minions were not necessary to order human society, and a few impersonal laws would work better.

The flaw was they did not ask where the idea of the interfering deity came from in the first place. I suspect that the analogy first went in the other direction: men assumed that the ordering of nature mirrored the ordering of a well-functioning human society: that because men need to have a ruler in charge, and followers loyal to him, the natural world also must be obeying the directions of some ruling consciousness.

I say a solar system and a human civilisation are just different. No God is needed to make the sun rise, but a King is needed to make a civilisation function successfully.

1 comment:

bloodyshovel said...

But kings don't always rule, they must use a bureaucracy to actually administer his dominions, and in all too many cases the bureaucracy ends up capturing the king, who is also bred/raised/educated by the same bureaucracy.

Of course once in a while an awesome and courageous king appears who actually rules the country, but historically those were few.