Quote notes (#76)

Not a new point in this neck of the woods, but formulated with exceptional elegance:

There are only two possibilities regarding the Constitution of the United States. One is that it is working as it was intended, in which case it is a monstrosity. The other is that it was broken somewhere along the way – in which case it failed.

The prod back to this topic is appreciated, because it really hasn’t been properly processed yet. (This blog has yet to do more than stick a tag on the problem.) Insofar as constitutions are at least partly functional, they are involved in the production of power. As abstract engineering diagrams for regimes they should no more be expected to rule than rocket blueprints are expected to blast into space — but they matter.

ADDED: An articulate cry from the republican id:

… this fifteen-year journey back to the USSR under the leadership of a former KGB lieutenant colonel has shown the world the vicious nature and archaic underpinnings of the Russian state’s “vertical power” structure, more than any “great and terrible” Putin. With a monarchical structure such as this, the country automatically becomes hostage to the psychosomatic quirks of its leader. All of his fears, passions, weaknesses, and complexes become state policy. If he is paranoid, the whole country must fear enemies and spies; if he has insomnia, all the ministries must work at night; if he’s a teetotaler, everyone must stop drinking; if he’s a drunk—everyone should booze it up; if he doesn’t like America, which his beloved KGB fought against, the whole population must dislike the United States. A country such as this cannot have a predictable, stable future; gradual development is extraordinarily difficult.

April 27, 2014admin 14 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Political economy


14 Responses to this entry

  • Piano Says:

    “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.” Lysander Spooner (1808 – 1887)


    Posted on April 27th, 2014 at 4:46 pm Reply | Quote
  • Hurlock Says:

    First off, the constitution is obviously not working as intented. That should be fairly obvious from the fact that people who actually stick to it are considered “crazy radical extremists”.
    So along the way the constitution started becoming less and less relevant. Now why is that and how did it happen?

    Unlike monarchs, constitutions are inflexible. This is both a strength and a weakness. After all, inflexibility is the whole point of constitutions (well, absolute inflexibility has obvious practical problems, but I think those are solvable). The whole point of making a constittion is that you have a social order upon which everyone (at the moment) agrees and wants to preserve. You should think of constitutions as you think of the tenth commandments, or more accurately the Bible. In a quite literal manner constitutions are supposed to be a framework for how the population in a given country is to conduct its life, specifically what the social order should look like (life is to a large extent politics). So constitutions are always designed with a specific social organization in mind, to which they are to be applied. The good thing about this is that a random inbred idiot monarch can’t come along and fuck everything up in five years. The “bad” thing is that constitutions need to be upholded. Sound easy enough, but WRONG.
    Upholding constitutions is hard. (as we all know) And to this day people still don’t seem to understand what “upholding a constitution” means.
    Let’s think about it.
    First of all, a lot of people think that it is the legislature and executive that have to uphold constitutions. Well yes, of course, those are the two main divisions of power, but when you start thinking about the fact that those are elected from the population you realise that in fact everyone (or almost everyone) has to uphold the constitution in order for it to continue to work. To elaborate, as I already said, constitutions are meant to be applied to a specific social order. So far so good. But what social order you get depends on a lot of circumstances. And I mean A LOT. These circumstances are sometimes interdependent and can sometimes influence eachother. Which means that changes in at first sight relatively unimportant circumstances can results in change in other circumstances, which starts changing the attitude of the population, which will inevitably lead to a change in it’s preffered social order and at that point your constitutional system will register a CANNOT COMPUTE ERROR.
    Because it is an impossible engineering nightmare to try and account for such changes before they occur constitutions have amendment clauses. Now at the time of their making these are intended only for very small and relatively insignificant changes that do not make a big difference on the whole framework. (and constitutions are also designed so that amendments are very hard to make; because there is an obvious danger with them) But we know that this didn’t work regardless, since the constitutional framework of the USA has since Lincoln been systematically destroyed (actually it was already dead after Lincoln, FDR simply burried it). But this is NOT because of a weakness in the constitution itself.

    To explain why, let’s rethink all of this. Taking all previous considerations in mind we are led to the obvious conclusion that in order for constitutions to remain functional through the passing generations the attitudes of the original population with their specific social order for which it was designed must be preserved.
    What does this mean? First of all (funnily enough) it means that constitutional republicans are much more traditionalist than monarchists (sorry Mike; will explain in a second)
    Sticking to monarchy is easy, it doesn’t require you to do anything else but obey whoever is the king (you don’t have to even know his name). Also because monarchs are actual people they can shift the way they rule, in order to suit possible shifting preferences of the population. Constitutions can’t do that. They literally take a specific social order out of a specific time and try to make it last into eternity. In order for them to work you need a very strict traditionalist society which passes on the core traditions, attitudes, beliefs and etc. (you all know the things which I am talking about) of the original population for which the constitution is designed. If the way people think and act and etc. starts changing over the generations (in a serious way) your constitution will become less and less applicable.

    This is all fancy talk for: The constitution didn’t fail, it was americans who failed to uphold it.
    The constitution failed because traditionalism started failing. The constitution is the ultimate tradition. And you need the ultimately traditionalist society in order to uphold it. Otherwise it simply won’t work. Now, from the fact that constitutionalists are considered crazy radicals we can gather that the attitudes of americans did change but that was not because the constitution stopped working. It stopped working because their attitudes changed. This is the crucial point: If people were still thinking like 18th century new englishmen, you would still have a perfectly functional constitution. But they are not. And that is the problem.

    These are my (compressed) thoughts on the subject.


    Handle Reply:

    Edward Gibbon, “But the power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous.”

    You can replace ‘instruction’ with ‘Constitution’.

    What you are saying is that any Constitutional scheme is completely fragile with regards to its dependence upon preexisting and strong levels of public support for its principles and intentions in the overall social and cultural context.

    So, if you have such support, you don’t need a Constitution. If you don’t have such support, or can’t maintain it, then no Constitution will help you.

    That fragility is exactly the point, and anyone who puts more faith in the power of a document is being foolish, a matter which is proven conclusively by the actual historical experience.


    Hurlock Reply:

    Yes, that’s pretty much what I am saying.
    It does seem that a constitution is at best redundant or at worst completely useless.
    But redundancy is not so bad. The point of constitutions is to formalize an already functional and somewhat established social order. And they can do that very well if properly designed. It is however up to the people, to uphold the social traditions formalized by it.

    Putting faith in the power of the document is not problematic in itself. People put their faith in all kinds of stupid things. The object of faith itself is not as important as the faith itself. It is just that at some point, the public stopped believing in those things written in the constitution, or started doubting them. Is it any more reasonable to put your faith in people instead of documents? I am not sure. It is not any different with kings, really. If the people stop believing in the ligitimacy of their king, then the lie called sovereignty becomes obvious. The king rarely (if ever) has clothes.
    This is not demotism, though. This is reality. If you want to rule, whether you are a king or a piece of paper, or even a God, you need followers. With no one to believe in sovereignty, no such thing exists.

    It seems that the crisis of modernity is not a crisis of politics, but a crisis of faith.
    The American constitution as every king before it relies on a (sort of) divine foundation. Monarchs claim to be the rightful rulers by God and his divine law and constitutions are not very much different, when they make “claims they consider self-evident” and base themselves on a (version of) natural law. Constitutions in reality simply formalize in a concrete framework the faith, beliefs and traditions of the society for (and/or by) which they are designed.


    admin Reply:

    This seems to be missing something about what a constitution is — which is not only an authoritative statement (to be — perhaps inevitably — traduced) but also a schema, diagram, and mathematical object, describing the functional arrangement of an administrative machine. That is why I find arguments about the perfect redundancy of constitutions so unconvincing — a consistently inter-meshing set of organizational rules does not spontaneously arise as a fact of power, it needs to be invented, like any other mathematical structure. What a working constitution incarnates is functional pluralism, as an abstract discovery.

    Moldbug is not sensitive to this, so those who follow him closely tend not to be, either. In Moldbug’s case, however, there is some sleight of hand at work — probably unintentionally — since his dismissal of ‘divided powers’ as a domestic arrangement rests upon their functional displacement into the ‘international’ (Patchwork) sphere. What are the rules (emergent norms) of the Patchwork? That is where the ‘constitutional’ question rests for MM. (Dynamic pluralism is conserved.)


    Hurlock Reply:

    “This seems to be missing something about what a constitution is — which is not only an authoritative statement (to be — perhaps inevitably — traduced) but also a schema, diagram, and mathematical object, describing the functional arrangement of an administrative machine. ”

    Exactly. Of course constitutions will sound redundant if they are functioning, that’s the whole point. If a constitution seems reduntand that’s a clear sign that it’s working as intended. But if it sounds weird, stupid, or just plain old, that is a sign that it is not. The question to be asked about (and the principal problem of) constitutions is: Can they reinforce themselves? And if so, how?

    And yes, that’s the funny thing about Patchwork. Understanding, formalizing and implementing Patchwork is in effect writing a constitutional framework for it. Insofar as Patchwork is a system it has rules and those rules have to be constituted .

    Alrenous Reply:

    I think the solution here is something the proggies are right about. Abandoning the constitution needs to be de-moralized and ‘normalized,’ but with an anti-proggie caveat: only if you say so.

    The core problem is not abandoning the constitution, the core problem is lying about it. For diverse reasons, lying enforces perverse incentives. E.g. it’s beta, not alpha.

    Truly enforcing breach of constitution as it is now is impossible because the elite will never let themselves be constrained like that. Normalizing open abandonment should provide a space for enforcement by giving the elite a non-deception pressure valve.

    Progressivism depends on denying that powerful progressives are powerful. I really liked Scharlach‘s cleric profile series; it dumbfounds me that anyone lets proggies get away with claiming to not have power. (One more point that Republicants are lapdogs, not a real party.)

    Because they deny having power, they can’t ever openly defy the constitution, because getting away with it would be so obvious even the proles would clue in. Which reliably leads to lying, which reliably leads to morbidity.

    Put it this way: when the elite feel like it, they’re going to abandon the constitution. Would you prefer they let you know about it, or keep you in the dark? In the former case, don’t attack them if they try, it will only lead to the latter.

    Posted on April 27th, 2014 at 5:12 pm Reply | Quote
  • MW Says:

    As soon as universal male suffrage happened, it stopped working as intended. In which case, one could say that the Constitution “worked” for about 30 or 40 years. It’s important to point out, however, that the expansion of voting rights was actually something done by individual states. Had there been a “hard propertarian” declaration in the Constitution, maybe it could have sustained itself for a while longer (or just perished in another rebellion). I think the original idea wasn’t terrible — almost like an Athenian democracy with 10% or so of the population having some voting rights and the rest shuffling around to do what they could. Couldn’t withstand the tide of pure demotism.

    (Also, Xeno quoting CC, not something I thought I’d see. Maybe there is hope for WN’s and hyper-capitalists after all…).


    Posted on April 27th, 2014 at 5:35 pm Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:


    Brilliant. We have indeed failed to uphold it.

    I might take issue that Americans changed. The American elites changed, then utterly collapsed between 50-20 years ago. 50 years is the collapse of will and belief in America amongst our elites, 20 years ago we elected Clinton who utterly criminalized Finance and Foreign Policy establishments. The corruption spread outward pandemically from there and brings us hence to crisis.

    I don’t think the American majority – most of the people – changed. It’s safe to say they stopped paying attention* to their duties as citizens and at best about a third have awakened to the common plight over the last decade. Are they 18th century English subjects? Of course not. But the American majority are absolutely not in synchronization with their elites at all, quite polar opposites in interests (fatally so) and even liberal minded Americans aren’t for the most part the fascist screamers of the Progs. They simply think they’re being reasonable and are ignoring that their crazy neighbors have Hijacked City Hall.

    Now as all the crises are coming to a head and we’re completely bankrupt our fellow Americans will now make a choice whether they wish to or not, no choice is of course a choice as the passive have their fates decided by the Brave for good or evil.

    The relevance of the Constitution to this question is it’s the most likely form of government most people will agree to submit to, our Constitution is quite barebones enough for the modern day. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s a document for governance over men. Of course it’s imperfect.

    We’re going to decide whether we wish to or not. The passive fall in line behind the strongest, that is the winner.

    *now part of American’s not paying attention is the nation falling in line behind the government in endless war/wartime mobilization for armed peace. Let’s not overlook that.


    Hurlock Reply:

    Whether the change was top-down or bottom-up I am not sure. It’s obvious that the elites are thinking in a completely different, opposite way to the way the founders thought, but I think there are also major shifts in the attitude of a major part of the population which is undeniable. The tradition still survives in some groups (e.g. Tea Party supportes, those kinds of people), but (from what I gather as an outsider) it has also been forgotten by a lot of americans.
    You are also aware of the differences regarding the exact timeline of the constitutional collapse.

    You are though, absolutely right on continuously banging the point how important elites are. The problem is that the elites (and to a larger extent even the whole society) are a product of the social system, which is at the same time the product of those elites (and society influenced by its elites). It is complex feedback-mechanism, which to this day hasn’t been figured out. To say that “All you need is decent elites” begs the question “How do you get (and also keep getting) good elites” or to say “All you need is a good system” also begs the question “well how do you get that either”? My thoughts on the subject are that the two reinforce eachother. In other words for a decent society that runs well you need both decent elites and a decent political system. The question how to get there is not that simple…It is probably through a very complex and to this day incomprehensible catallactic process that it happens.
    This is why Patchwork is an attractive idea, because it intends to let catallaxy run its course. (it of course is simply an idea, still with some very serious practical issues).

    Yes, perfect constitutions will probably never exist (who know, though?) as Admin reminds us in his post on the topic a year ago, that is an insoluble logical problem. But to think that you need a perfect constitution is (to me) to get the whole problem wrong. You don’t need a perfect constitution, you need the population to be consistent and fit its constitution.
    As I understand you VXXC, what you would want to happen is pretty much a return to the constitution (at least pre- New Deal). You shouldn’t overlook the fact that americans have indeed changed. It might have been the elites who changed first and then changed them in turn (I don’t have an answer to this one), but it is undeniable that americans have changed. A lot. Is a complete consitutional restoration possible is a very difficult question and if there is a solution, it doubt it’s as simple as the people rising against their elites. (because I think the problem you are facing is more complex)
    I am an outsider, though, so all I can do is guess.


    VXXC Reply:


    “americans have changed. A lot. Is a complete consitutional restoration possible is a very difficult question and if there is a solution, it doubt it’s as simple as the people rising against their elites. (because I think the problem you are facing is more complex)”

    You’re quite correct. However…nothing good happens with these people in power. Our elites. You cannot allow the insane, evil, and malicious to have power. Step 1. They must not have it. Attack.

    2. This is the administrative structure not just nationally but at all levels, Jeffersonian democracy strengthened the Republic far more than any undermining. Remember the New Deal is elitist from top to bottom.
    3. Any prospective scheme of governance cannot simply ignore that tens of millions are sworn to this very Constitution and Republic, millions of them very dangerous men.
    4. We now proceed to any wise change in government anywhere usually largely includes the previous administrative bodies. If you would like to see an alternative solution there’s Iraq under Jerry Bremer.
    5. Any policy matter properly approached seeks to mitigate evil not eliminate it, that is the madness of the 20th century .
    6. The people’s hearts belong to the Republic, if not their stomachs.
    7. Another arrangement however elegant or even perfect it seems not taking these factors into account must either fail…or kill many, many millions to prevail.
    8. When you have the legitimate government already sitting at the desks…and so on.

    [Yes I’m overlapping with the points. So what? That’s a general policy of mine.]

    So you’re quite correct but when you proceed into the realm of policy the ideal must be discarded for the concrete.



    Posted on April 27th, 2014 at 6:42 pm Reply | Quote
  • Dan Says:

    Folks like Justice Breyer who preach that the Constitution needs to be reinterpreted (by them of course) because it is not otherwise appropriate for modernity have terrible integrity.

    Breyer knows full well that there is a process for changing the Constitution, that it has been changed a significant number of times, and the reason we don’t change the Constitution anymore is that the left realized can move leftward faster by simply ignoring the process of getting the people on board with its changes.


    Posted on April 28th, 2014 at 2:41 am Reply | Quote
  • Ex-pat in Oz Says:

    If Moldbug’s theory is correct, the probable cause for the current situation resides all the way back to the Puritans… therefore the virus was always present. A tragic (and therefore a traditionalist) perspective would see the American experience as one always likely to succumb to internal pressures. Defying gravity or history is a losing proposition and the American design margin (geography, the frontier, Anglo-Saxon shared vales, etc.) is all gone.

    We went from the Roman Empire to the Holy Roman Empire– I wonder what successor state will claim the mantle of American influence and power? It will be a most painful if thoroughly engrossing phase of history for future historians to chronicle.


    Posted on April 28th, 2014 at 5:31 am Reply | Quote
  • Puzzle Pirate (@PuzzlePirate) Says:

    I thought this was a good point from the comments at CC:

    “Consider this: Bundy and his posse have a halfbaked ideology at best. What if there were a movement which had an ironclad ideology? And was prepared to exploit the confrontation to trigger a much wider mobilization among white people?

    This affair needs to be studied and used for the future.”


    Posted on April 28th, 2014 at 6:50 am Reply | Quote

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