Unimportance of Policy

My vision of a reactionary future is a state with a secure but small government, that insists on its own sovereignty but is otherwise light in touch; that supports norms of traditional social behaviour but does not enforce them; that is tolerant of both home-grown and immigrant minority subcultures but does not permit them to attempt to impose themselves or their sensitivities on the traditional culture of the country.

I think that will work well. I want it because I think it will work well. If I am wrong, and it works badly — under-regulated businesses pauperise the bulk of the population; immigrant ghettoes subvert the native culture and cause crime and disorder; other problems I have not anticipated — then I don’t want it.

Among those of us who call ourselves reactionaries, there are some with very different visions of a reactionary society. If one of them, like me, says that they wish to see their vision realised because it will work well, then we are allies, in spite of our conflicting visions, because the reactionary principle we share is that neither they nor I get to decide how a good society is to be achieved. That is a matter for the legitimate sovereign, not for votes or opinion polls or TV debates.

I do not hold it at all likely that a newly-installed reactionary regime will immediately establish a state exactly according to my particular vision. So be it. A reactionary ruler has a precious attribute that no non-reactionary ruler can have: his legitimacy is independent of his policy.

If a ruler imposes heavy wealth taxes, and they drive investment out of the country, and jobs disappear, and the people become poorer, and his revenues fall, he can shrug, and say, “that turned out badly”, and reverse the policy. If a group of radical Wiccanists buy a couple of square miles of land, set up a private village, permitted by the policy of religious freedom, and then start sneaking out to bomb churches, the government can ban their organisations and require specific licensing for any new religious community. In neither case will the U-turn in policy undermine the right of the government to keep on governing.

This shit is difficult, and I don’t expect anyone to get it right first time. One of the great problems of democracy is that those in power (whether formal or informal) largely achieve it by associating themselves with specific policies, and are therefore subject to overwhelming incentive to hold those same policies regardless of evidence. The shift of power from politicians to academics was intended to solve this problem, but it only resulted in turning academics into politicians, their academic positions tied to the policies they support, and no more able to recant an error than an elected representative. A climatologist radically changing his estimate of the climate sensitivity is in exactly the same position as a Member of Parliament crossing the floor of the house.

If a new King comes to absolute power, and adopts policies that I think are bad, I will wait for him to see the bad effects, and fix the policies. He is far more likely to be responsive to reality than is a sprawling institutional structure that admits acolytes to its ranks on the basis of their loyalty to the political campaigns of the moment. That is the fatal flaw of the Modern Structure: by tying legitimacy to particular policies, it produces policy based on what sounds good in an ivory tower, not on what pleases Nature or Nature’s God when it is applied.

Questions of policy are relevant to reactionaries only as demonstrations of the failings of the Modern Structure to recognise failure and respond to it.

Admittedly, the question of what “working well” means is not quite as clear-cut as I would like. It’s conceivable that the ruler could decide that the policies I want are working badly, when it seems to me they are working well. We are all so used to dealing with politicians who will swear blind that obvious catastrophes are triumphs that I think we tend to overestimate this problem. A sovereign who benefits from real success and is harmed by real failure is, in my judgement, far more likely to assess success and failure more reasonably than a politician who benefits only from the popular perception of success. The key difference is that a secure King cares what his subjects think of the country, not what they think of him. He may still prefer the effects of policies that are not my own favourites, but if he does then they are almost sure to be good enough. Good government is very difficult, and satisficing is a perfectly sane approach.

Update: I just saw nickbsteve's latest. He makes a related point: that while it is in the nature of the Cathedral to make factual errors, the particular factual errors it makes are not the most important thing, compared to the mechanisms that cause it to make those errors. I would say that the particular failing of the Cathedral is not the fact of its making errors, but its relative inability to correct them, for the reasons above.