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Tag Archives: monarchy

Searching For the Golden Mean of Government

Direct democracy is mob rule.  It is so unviable and volatile that no polity has ever had a completely direct democracy.  At best, popular referendums are used sparingly and mostly in local government.
The Ancient Athenian democracy was a disaster and it was even limited to an elite class of citizens.

The founders of the United States took note of history and used the Roman Republic as their model instead of Athens.  
Separation of powers and the use of representatives was far more stable because it could moderate the whims of the crowd and favor the power of one faction over another.

There are those who argue that having a King or Emperor is the best and most natural government.  Monarchy after all has been the most common and stable government for thousands of years.
Monarchists have a good argument that monarchs are effective executives able to make quick decisions when it matters most.  Because their entire lives and family are invested in the state  they have a built-in incentive to care about long-term problems whereas elected representatives just care to get re-elected.
In practice, of course, history has countless examples of incompetent monarchs.  A system that depends so heavily on one person can seesaw between being very well run to a complete nightmare.  

When power is more focused, major changes in policy can occur immediately. But those changes might prove to be disastrous and even bring about the collapse of the state.  
Republican government makes sudden changes in policy difficult to safeguard against any single person making fatal decisions.  It also avoids the ancient problem of being just 1 heartbeat away from wars of succession.  
However, problems that need to be boldly addressed tend to fester when there are safety rails everywhere.

So can we find some kind of balance between autocracy and the republic?
The USA in its current form has nearly universal suffrage and slips into the disaster of mob rule.  The early US republic had limited franchise.  Moderners obsess about suffrage being limited to evil white males but the important part was land ownership requirements.  This may not be exactly what we’d want now, but it gives us a useful principle.  

The idea behind this restriction was that voters had to have skin in the game and safeguard them against people with nothing to lose simply using the state to plunder everyone else.

There was a clear idea that some people were more invested in society as shareholders than others, an idea that’s totally alien to modern concepts of democracy where every warm body has a “right” to vote. 

We also ought to go all the way back to the principles of merit from Plato’s Republic.  Like any other job, those best qualified to rule should be the rulers.  In a republic that would mean we dismiss handwringing over “rights” and worry only about what results we get from bestowing the ballot.

We’d refine the electorate like consultants brought in to trim down a company.  Did we end up fighting wars for no reason?  Were there tax breaks for the rich while peasants starved?  Who voted for these things?  Does someone have the civic knowledge, basic literacy, and intelligence to competently wield the power of the vote? Do they have skin in the game and a reason to care about where society is 100 years from now or does it make no difference to them if they plunder the treasury now?

This is of course an imperfect process. Imagine if we had simply made the top 20% most educated people the only ones with the vote in the US.  Out-of-touch SWPL total rule would have been a disaster for everyone.  So clearly a formula for who gets ballots has to be worked out very carefully.

-Those with special knowledge on an issue get a more heavily weighted vote. (The challenge is this might end up benefiting parasitic insiders.  We’ve all seen where rule by “experts” has gotten us.)
-The whole society gets divided into castes based on capabilities and neurological temperament.  The best(with skin in the game) get to vote.

The basic idea is to use a republican or other system for collective decision-making to limit the potential for a single fool to destroy an empire or for one untimely heart attack to plunge the nation into a war of succession.
Yet there are also far fewer voters making decisions.  Enough so that nothing depends on just one person but so that major decisions and changes are possible.

The Roman Republic gradually fell apart as power had to be “temporarily” granted in crisis situations where political gridlock was simply not an option.  This inevitably led to generals who were more powerful than the state.  When a collective decision making system cannot adapt in real time, it is forced to gradually dismantle itself.

So the successful system of government has to walk a tightrope.
The trick is to benefit as much as possible from the acumen of great men while preventing and blunting the depredations of the worst.
And to benefit from the “wisdom of crowds” from the best crowds rather than an indiscriminate mob.
The use of computers and statistics would play a prominent role in figuring out what works best.

Look up strategies for any online game and we see the experiences of thousands of competent people who played countless hours compiled into build orders timed down to the second, or item builds categorized by victory percentage across an entire server.  It would take more than one person’s whole lifetime to figure all that out by themselves!

Surely these kinds of tools would help a republican oligarchy figure out who has the best judgment to run a health system and who is full of bullshit.

On Reviving Authoritarianism

In a crowded world, a more authoritarian system becomes necessary.  Liberty and loose rules are privileges of those who have plenty of space and resources.  It comes as little surprise that America prides itself as the world champion of freedoms for the average person.  It is of course the nation that had an entire continent to grow into.  However, America’s days as a frontier society are over.  Always before, the problems that arise from society’s natural injustices could be deferred.  There was always a safety valve.
Now for the first time in about 400 years, the North American settlers have to deal with the same problems everyone else on earth has to deal with, vast masses of poor and disenfranchised with nowhere to go.
For the last few decades, American society has been in petulant denial like a toddler used to getting candy on demand. The tantrum has been especially stubborn and intense because there was a final big binge of halloween candy after WW2 with all the world’s demand to satisfy and all the other great competing economies burnt to the ground.  Now the holiday is over and life is back to normal.

I have read writings by those who call themselves neo-reactionaries, some of whom believe we should return to monarchy. I find there are many merits in their arguments.  Historically, there have been powerful rulers in most places most of the time. Republics and democracies have been few and far between and the best of them have been far shorter lived than even mediocre kingdoms. Even those representative governments that have existed have been oligarchic with most people as slaves and the voting citizenry a limited elite.
On its founding, even the American republic was intended to have suffrage limited to owners of substantial land and property.
The form that the USA eventually assumed, a large representative republic with nearly universal adult suffrage was unprecedented in history. These extraordinary freedoms were made possible by control of a large, sparsely populated, resource rich area surrounded by weak neighbors separated from everyone else by vast oceans. Crowded European states have adopted the trappings of US democracy since they’ve had nukes and/or weak neighbors but they have always by necessity had far more rules and taxes. Americans can kick, scream, and gnash their teeth all they like, but the system will continue to drift towards tighter order and stricter rules. There will be a steady push towards a new authoritarianism as serious problems fester and it becomes painfully clear that a democracy that’s indecisive by design is incapable of dealing with them. The Roman Republic in its twilight was forced to bend the rules more and more to deal with crisis situations until the old precedents became meaningless. Perhaps the facade of a republic remains for awhile, as it did in Ancient Rome, but eventually there is no need to pretend anymore.

Neo-reactionary monarchists have many good points and they understand correctly where things are headed. However, going back to monarchs as they were is impossible.  Too many people have too much information. Justifying the King’s power by divine right worked when most people were illiterate and ignorant. Mass literacy seriously damaged the power of monarchy and a host of other new information technologies finished it off. Today too many people are able to see that Frank next door might be smarter and more competent than a monarch whose every tic and nose pick is known to all. There would be no way to sustain the illusion of divinity when people know too much. An example is Emperor Hirohito of Japan, a mostly ceremonial monarch who was built up as a divinity and kept out of the public eye. When he personally announced the Japanese surrender on radio millions were astonished that he sounded just like an ordinary man. Worse, the occupying Americans had no qualms about using him for photo-ops and one picture with a 6 foot tall MacArthur towering over him became especially famous. A divine ruler was possible before mass literacy, photos, and videos because it was possible to cultivate an awe-inspiring air of mystery about him. In the modern world, only North Korea is committed to the information blackout necessary to support their own king as a divine ruler just as if the ancient kingdom of Koguryo had never ended.

There will be a return to authoritarianism, but not with the same foundations as before. Legitimacy for a successful oligarchy, will have to be secured by some form of meritocracy.
The average person must be convinced that they couldn’t step up and do a better job.
Neo-reactionaries understand correctly that post-enlightened rulers can’t coast on hype. They will have to become worthy to rule and then stay worthy. Being on top will mean being the best.
Rather than Divine Right rulers of the future must be backed by Divine Justice or else lose the mandate of heaven.

See also: Only Young Societies Are Egalitarian

Politics is Changing Because of Internet and Social Media

It has been a delicious spectacle to watch new competitors not only messily shit all over business as usual in politics, but actually take over the existing party machinery for themselves.  There’s something poetic about that since the established parties protected their mediocrity by rigging the system against competitors.  It ends with their own weaponry turned against them.
I have been typically apathetic towards politics, but it has been a particular fixation of mine to watch the consensus that has existed all my life begin to finally burn down.

There’s a lot of talk as to why this movement is finally happening now even though people have complained about “choosing the lesser evil” for decades.
It’s simple.
a) enough people are getting desperate enough.
b) more importantly, the internet is maturing as a technology and we are beginning to feel its true impact.

The internet is the new printing press. It changes society by dramatically increasing people’s access to information. The original printing press set up the right circumstances for the emergence of mass literacy. The trouble with mass literacy was that traditional monarchy, religion, and social mores were predicated on most people having very little access to information.
The change was slow but steady and sure. Over a few centuries, more abundant information made kingdoms and empires non-viable. In the age of the railroad and telegraph, nation-states began to replace the old kingdoms in earnest and WW1 settled the matter.
The emergence of radio and television provided more access to information but ended up bolstering the power of nation-state because both mediums were very easily controlled from tiny centralized sources.
The internet as a decentralized medium was always going to be a challenge to the order of nations.
It was already beginning to destabilize things as a minority of curious people browsed nerdy websites on their PCs. This was the printing press. Then “mass literacy” began to take hold with the advent of social media that involved ordinary people in online discourse. In 2008, Barack Obama soared to victory as the candidate of the internet. Around 2011-2012 we saw twitter riots in Tunisia and Egypt spread to the Western World as Occupy Wall Street. This spate of activity was startling but not enough to upend business as usual. One more development was needed. The spread of smartphones has finally sealed the deal. No longer can “soundbites” on TV and radio, or “experts” in the newspapers decisively control public opinion.
It took over 300 years for the implications of the printing press to be felt in full. The internet in 30 years is making an impact much faster since it is
a) orders of magnitude beyond previous breakthroughs—even the printing press at first just gave people access to the bible, a few classics, and public posters and pamphlets.
b) starting off with a society that already has orders of magnitude more information and wealth than was available in 15th century Europe.

Even so, we are just beginning to understand how big the implications are. I’ve already guessed that nation-states and their political systems will be replaced altogether by more cohesive “tribe-states” steadily over time just as a literate public inevitably led to empires being replaced by nation-states. Each increase in access to information has made possible finer gradations of mass political organization:
Empires – Political associations decided by force of arms.
Kingdoms – Association often decided by some precedent of cultural cohesion at least in a core region, with subjugated peoples surrounding.
Nation-states – Association decided by common language, culture, and in varying degrees, ethnicity.
Tribe-states – Affiliation by one’s natural proclivities and values within a larger population. Ordinary people with incredible logistical capabilities and access to information allows cohesive bands to avoid being subjugated by massive bureaucracy-bound states. The development of politics goes full circle from small tribes that were subjugated by empires based in the first cities.

Politics has always been about “choosing the lesser evil.”
Empires/Kingdoms – The ruler taxes people to bare subsistence, but if you don’t back him, his competitors’ armies will destroy what little you have.
Nation States – Any sort of republic leaves most people mostly unsatisfied but properly implemented can maintain a tepid status-quo.
Tribe States – Most people get the society they want; that’s what defines this type of association.

Each upgrade in access to information enables people to pursue their interests more effectively. This is why the ruling classes have always wanted the masses to remain hobbled by ignorance but once a major new advance spreads, they can only struggle to contain it until they finally cease to be relevant.

There has been a growing inability of US political factions to reach compromises as each insists on fully realizing its agenda. When representatives have tried to behave more moderately, their constituents have denounced and abandoned them.
Not only is a shrinking pie making people more urgent, fewer are satisfied with getting only a part of their demands met. The masses begin to intuitively sense that it is now viable to associate more finely to more effectively get what they want. There’s no more Soviet Union, nukes make conventional wars unlikely, and internet allows people to associate with those most like them and pursue their shared objectives.
From now on, the alignment of tribes, not of entrenched parties will be the shaping force in the politics of nations.

Plato, Democracy, and Mob Rule

By the 4th century BC, civilizations had already existed for at least a couple thousand years.
By then, most of the basic patterns of civilization were ancient news.

Plato’s observations about governments over 2,000 years ago might seem disturbingly familiar to us now.

Humans may boast of mechanical technologies such as airplanes and atomic bombs, but social technology, the ways we organize haven’t changed since the very first farming villages:

“Every form of government tends to perish by excess of its basic principle.  Aristocracy ruins itself by limiting too narrowly the circle within which power is confined; oligarchy ruins itself by the incautious scramble for immediate wealth.  In either case the end is revolution.   When revolution comes, it may seem to arise from little causes and petty whims…when a body is weakened by neglected ills, the merest exposure may bring serious disease.

Then democracy comes…But even democracy ruins itself by excess-of democracy.  Its basic principle is the equal right of all to hold office and determine public policy.  This is at first glance a delightful arrangement; it becomes disastrous because the people are not properly equipped by education to select the best rulers and the wisest courses.

As to the people, they have no understanding, and only repeat what their rulers are pleased to tell them.  To get a doctrine accepted or rejected it is only necessary to have it praised or ridiculed in a popular play.
Mob-rule is a rough sea for the  ship of state to ride; every wind of oratory stirs up the waters and deflects the course.

The upshot of such a democracy is tyranny or autocracy; the crowd so loves flattery…that at last the wiliest and most unscrupulous flatterer, calling himself the ‘protector of the people’ rises to supreme power.

Plato complains that whereas in simpler matters—like shoe-making—we think only a specially-trained person will serve our purpose, in politics we presume that every one who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state.  When we are ill we call for a trained physician, whose degree is a guarantee of specific preparation and technical competence—we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one…when the whole state is ill should we not look for the service and guidance of the wisest and the best?   To devise a method of barring incompetence and knavery from public office, and of selecting and preparing the best to rule for the common good—that is the problem of political philosophy.”

-Plato as quoted, paraphrased, and summarized by Will Durant

The Story of Philosophy
Will Durant, 1953, Pocket Books, Washington Square Press
Excerpts from pages 20-21

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