Foseti and Jim have been conducting an argument in slow motion, without quite connecting. Much of this has been occurring in sporadic blog comments, and occasional remarks. It would be very helpful of me to reconstruct it here, through a series of meticulous links. I’ll begin by failing at that. (Any assistance offered in piecing it together, textually, will be highly appreciated.)
Despite its elusiveness, I think it is the most important intellectual engagement taking place anywhere in the field of political philosophy. Its point of departure is the Moldbuggian principle that ‘sovereignty is conserved’ and everything that follows from it, both theoretically and practically. The virtual conclusion of this controversy is the central assertion of Dark Enlightenment, which we do not yet comprehend.
The problem is this: Can real — which is to say ultimate (or sovereign) — political authority be constrained? Moldbug’s answer is ‘no’. A constrained authority is a superseded authority, or delegated power. To limit government is to exceed, and thus supplant it. It follows that ‘constitutionalism’ is a masked usurpation, and the task of realist political theory is to identify the usurper. It is this that is apparently achieved through the designation of the Cathedral.
To crudely summarize the argument in question, Foseti upholds this chain of reasoning, whilst Jim refuses it. Constitutional issues cannot be anything but a distraction from realistic political philosophy if Foseti is correct. If Jim’s resistance is sustainable, constitutions matter.
Outside in (and its predecessor) has sought purchase on this problem here, here, here, and here. It has yet to find an articulation that clicks. Eventually, something has to, if we are to advance even by a step. So long as the Foseti-Jim argument falls short of mutually-agreeable terms of intellectual engagement, we can be confident that this critical controversy remains stuck.
What are the rules of contestation? If we knew that, we would know everything (that matters to us here). Rules are the whole of the problem.
A constitution is a system of rules, formalizing a social game. Among these rules are set procedures for the selection of umpires, and umpires decide how the rules are to be revised, interpreted, and implemented. The circuit is irreducible. Without accepted rules, a Supreme Court justice is no more than a random old guy — prey for the most wretched species of street thug. Who has power in a world without rules, Clarence Thomas or Trayvon Martin?
Yet without umpires (or, at least, an umpire-function), rules are simply marks on a piece of paper, disconnected from all effective authority. “You can’t do that, it’s against the rules!” To the political realist, those are the words of a dupe, and everyone knows the rejoinder: “Who’s going to stop me, you and who’s army?” It’s enough to get Moldbug talking about crypto-locked weaponry.
The Dark Enlightenment knows that it is necessary to be realistic about rules. Such realism, lucidly and persuasively articulated, still eludes it. That the sovereign rules does not explain the rules of sovereignty, and there must be such rules, because the alternative is pure force, and that is a romantic myth of transparent absurdity.
If there is an uncontroversial fact of real power, it is that force is massively economized, and it is critically important that we understand what that implies. Moldbug acknowledges exactly this when he identifies the real sovereign instance of climaxed Occidental modernity with the Cathedral, which is a church (and not an army). Political philosophy cannot approach reality before accepting that rules are irreducible, which is not to say that they are sufficient,or even (yet) intelligible.
One further point on this problem (for now): A model of power that is not scale-free is inadequately formulated. If what is held to work for a nation state does not work for the world, the conception remains incomplete. Do we dream of a global God-Emperor? If not, what do royalist claims at a lower level amount to? What does ‘conserved sovereignty’ care for borders? They are limits — indeed limited government — and that is supposed to be the illusion prey to realist critique.
If there can be borders, there can be limits, or effective fragmentation, and there is nothing real to prevent fragmentation being folded from the outside in. If patchworks can work, they are applicable at every scale.
Who would choose a king instead of a patchwork? God-Emperor or confederacy? That is the question.
ADDED: First key to the text trail, beginning June 5, 2013 at 6:48 pm (provided by Foseti in the comments below).
ADDED: James Goulding explains why “‘sovereignty is conserved’ captures the imagination yet is badly flawed.”