Every public institution of any value is based on distrust.
That’s an elementary proposition, as far as this blog is concerned. It’s worth stating nakedly, since it is probably less obvious to others. That much follows from it is unlikely to be controversial, even among those who find it less than compelling, or simply repulsive.
One major source of obscurity is the category of ‘high trust cultures’ — with which neoreactionaries tend naturally to identify. There is plenty to puzzle over here, admittedly. This post will make no serious effort to even scratch the surface of the questions that arise. Instead, it contends that the culture primarily commended for its trustfulness has been conspicuously innovative in the development of trustless institutions. These begin with the foundations of Occidental reason, and especially the rigorous criterion of logical and mathematical proof. A proof substitutes for trust. In place of a simple declaration, it presents (a demanded) demonstration. The compliant response to radical distrust has epitomized Western conceptions of rationality since classical antiquity.
The twin pillars of industrial modernity (i.e. of capitalism) are trustless institutions. Natural science is experimental because it is distrustful, and thus demonstrative. It raises the classical demand for proof to a higher level of empirical skepticism, by extending distrust even to rational constructions, in cases where they cannot be critically tested against an experimental criterion. Only pure mathematics, and the most scrupulously formalized logical propositions, escape this demand for replicable evidence. The ultimate ground of the natural scientific enterprise is the presupposition that scientists should in no case be trusted, except through their reproducible results. Anything that requires belief is not science, but something else. Similarly, the market mechanism is an incarnation of trustless social organization. Caveat emptor. Capitalists, like scientists, exist to be distrusted. Whatever of their works cannot survive testing to destruction in the market place deservedly perish. Reputation, in its modern version, has to be produced through demonstration.
Prior to its demotic ruination — through positive trust in the people — distinctively modern republican governance was similarly founded in distrust. As formulated by John Adams (1772): “There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.” It has not been an excess of distrust that has brought this sage recommendation to nought.
For those seeking higher authority, Psalm 118:8-9 (ESV): “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” (My usual fanatical trust in the KJV betrayed me on this occasion.)
An appeal for trust is a reliably fatal failure mode for all public institutions. Trustless transaction is the future, and its name is Bitcoin. The deep cultural momentum is already familiar. Total depravity is the key to world historical predestination, and it is routed through the blockchain.