Rules

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 A constrained authority is a superseded authority, or delegated power.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: Thoughts on sovereignty and limits at Anomaly UK. At Habitable Worlds, Scharlach applies methodical intelligence to the problem, with encouraging results.

ADDED: James Goulding explains why “‘sovereignty is conserved’ captures the imagination yet is badly flawed.”

June 24, 2013admin 79 Comments »
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79 Responses to this entry

  • Nick B. Steves Says:

    Well if money is a Nash equilibrium, then why cannot sovereignty be?

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Which is equivalent to saying that game-theory gives us everything we need to resolve the problem. Perhaps that is right, but I need to see it thrashed out in detail (and if it works, the Foseti-Jim argument is resolved, yes?).

    [Reply]

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    Well, I hardly think it gives us everything we need… More like saying it’s intractable so let’s just see what happens!

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 24th, 2013 at 5:40 pm Reply | Quote
  • Nergal Says:

    “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.”

    The whole thing is moot. Any functioning constitution does not impose limits, but rather recognizes them formally.
    Thus,if a king in a constitutional monarchy agrees to keep the state solvent or risk being dethroned, his authority IS superseded but only by Nature,which is a hard limit on all human endeavors. If his people are of such a bent that fiscal insolvency drives them into a blind murderous rage,that is.

    “God-Emperor or confederacy? That is the question.”

    It is a question that I’ve already answered for myself. I will recommend my determination to any who care to listen.

    Confederacy. It’s the only solution that isn’t slapping a band aid over a hatchet wound. Even the Romans couldn’t make an ethnically or religiously diverse population equally subject to the state and they were prepared to commit atrocities in order to do this that none in the reactosphere would have the stomach for .

    Who is the king we all shall bow down to? The same king we’ve always bowed down to and always will. Nature or Nature’s God.

    The best way to deal with the idiocy of democracy is also the best way to deal with the blind hunger of the locust swarm, for they are similar in nature,it is to break into very small and scattered portions the numbers that are required for the democratic swarming effect and to meet their teeming hordes with fire (or firearms) on the borders that they may try to migrate across in order to join up with one another to form the biblical plague that is characteristic of their behavior in large numbers.

    Not a patchwork effect, more like tide pools, where the genetic and intellectual detritus of the human race is partitioned off to starve to death in an environment that were they more industrious or intelligent,could be made bounteous and profitable to the men who live there. In other words, I’m not talking about throwing them into a gulag. Throw them all into the state of Massachusetts or Maryland, where the weather is temperate and the living easy, and they will still die of starvation and easily preventable diseases because they are human trash.

    Treat them humanely. Give them everything they need to avoid their fate, and when they still live in poverty,starvation,and so forth, realize that there’s nothing you can do about it and that any efforts to address these factors will just drag you down with the men who live like beasts,content to graze for a day.

    The Constitution is not the problem. Democracy is the problem. Those who wrote the American Constitution knew that as well as we do.

    I suspect it is constitutions which are best equipped to save us from the problem of democracy, as they would allow people to experiment with radically different schemes of governance at little cost to the whole group of people on the continent. Tweaking the free association clause to prohibit association with Communists (who the Founders surely would have recognized as a threat to their emergent state if they existed at the time) or purveyors of Marxist “social justice” who want to impose a radically-different top down method of justice after having learned about it for all of two semesters at a community college,might open up a whole host of benefits. Or it might come with some drawbacks that outweigh the benefits. We can’t know for sure, because we can’t do it right now.

    This is just one example where confederation could feasibly ride to the rescue of our beleaguered people,saving us from the tyranny of the majority who,these days, it seems are increasingly blighted by a mild form of mental retardation or high-functioning autism or some bizarre combination of the two.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    This strikes me as highly-attractive in substance, but it could benefit from some formal tightening-up.

    [Reply]

    VXXC Reply:

    The Cathedral is indeed a Church and not an Army.

    Your chances of getting a Church in the next millennium absent utter collapse – quite possible given our finances and rather High Equilibrium with High Mistrust side by side – are quite low. In any case you’d be trying to build your Anti-Versity in gale force winds of chaos.

    The chances of getting an Army are much better. That’s the world we live in, not the world of theories but of the dawning reality.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 24th, 2013 at 5:41 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    Games can have rules without an umpire. Children do this frequently. The games frequently break down in arguments about the rules, but need not. theoretically and do not always in practice.

    I would argue that sovereignty can be divided and “constitutions” can matter where the divided parts have refrained from putting it to the test who is master, because they’re contentt to, or afraid of losing, or afraid of the damage the other party will inflict even if the first party wins, etc. Moldbug would say that in a situation where one party could exert control over another but has not, the one party’s restraint is how that party chooses to exercise its sovereignty. But the more realistic view is that the party has yet to establish it.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “Games can have rules without an umpire.” — hence “… (or, at least, an umpire-function).” Effective (rule-bound) games without umpires are equivalent to functional constitutions, so this is a game-ending argument (and we need to take it slowly enough to make it inexorable).

    [Reply]

    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Let’s assume that games, with or without umpires, are good analogies for sovereignty. (I’m not sure they are, because I’m not sure we have a robust, theoretical definition of sovereignty. IMHO, sovereignty probably makes sense not as a fundamental of political philosophy but as a term of art in Westphalian and prior medieval legal systems.)

    For simplicity, let’s say we have two people playing a game. By definition, a game must have rules of some kind.
    There are a number of different variables to take into account. They can be friends or not, the game can be for money or status or not, the rules can created by themselves or can be part of a tradition, they can have an umpire or not, and the umpire can be picked by themselves or not. None of these variables are key, though. The two key variables are discussed below
    There are also a number of different possible analogies to “sovereignty” in games. We could say that sovereignty is making the rules, sovereignty is applying the rules to a given incident, or else that sovereignty is any of the foregoing plus being able to make the decision stick. In the first two analogies, sovereignty can be divided by definition, so let’s look at the last one: a decision “sticking” in this context would mean that if the players do not accept the decision, the game cannot continue. A key aspect of games is the players’ ability to walk away, even at extremely high cost (forfeiting contracts and esteem, in the case of professionals). It seems that the ability to walk away may be a distinction between games and sovereignty that needs more discussion. You can’t walk away from government, right? Well, you can, but the costs are high. If you refuse to participate, you will be imprisoned or even killed. But this is actually still analagous to a game where the costs of non-participation are high, but where non-participation is still an option. (Where a sovereign threatens death as the price of non-participation may be a special case where we can’t lump believers in Nature or in Nature’s God together, because for believers merely in nature death may be more than just an extreme form of quitting the game.) In any case, given the present state of technology, exploring the game analogy has already revealed fundamental limits to sovereignty—a sovereign cannot compel you to do or think as he wishes, he can only impose costs on you for refusing to comply. The caveat “given the present state of technology” suggests other inherent limits on sovereignty. The sovereign is limited by physical laws and facts (“Congress cannot repeal the law of gravity,” e.g.), by the current state of knowledge and technology, and so on. The umpire cannot decree that the players be more skilled than they are nor that the sun stay shining into the night to illuminate the court. So the real question is not whether there are limits on sovereignty. There are, and they are so obvious that they tend to be overlooked merely because they are so obvious, like the largest words on a map. The real question is whether, within those limits, sovereignty is “conserved,” i.e., whether it necessarily can be found only within one actor in the game.
    At first glance you’d think that the other key variable, besides the player’s cost of walking away from the game, is the cost to a sovereign of the player walking away from the game. But this is only a different variable if you make an artificial distinction between the sovereign and the other players, which is putting the cart before the horse. Who the sovereign is or the sovereigns is something to be determined, not assigned ex ante. In effect, then, in any game all you have is players, some possibly called umpires, some not. The real variable is what costs each player will bear if the rules or the application of the rules doesn’t go his way versus the costs of his non-participation versus the costs he can impose on others (including simply the cost of his non-participation, which is always an option). Sovereignty being conserved would imply (1) that there is one player who can *always* impose costs on the players that are greater than the costs to them of *any* rule or application of a rule that he might desire, and on whom the other players can never impose costs greater than the benefit to him of any rule or application of a rule he might desire or (2) that games always reduce to one player. Neither seems likely in the real world.
    The other key variable is whether the players realize that they are playing a game. Players can be constrained by lack of imagination. A player can do that which is unthinkable, but he can’t do that which he’s never thought of. If he takes the rules of the game for granted, he won’t exercise sovereignty over them.
    So whether or not sovereignty is conserved, a necessary step to its conservation is deconstruction of the rules.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 24th, 2013 at 6:26 pm Reply | Quote
  • Foseti Says:

    James Goulding has described “Machiavellian analysis of liberal democracy” as one of the core memes of Reaction.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    This Machiavellian analysis begins with the notion that sovereignty is conserved. For background, Jim and I had it out here.

    Let’s say some guy barges onto my land and claims it for my own. Three possibilities follow: 1) it’s my land; 2) it’s his land; or 3) it’s someone else’s land.

    This decision must be made (i.e. sovereignty must be conserved).

    It can be made in a variety of ways. Some are authoritarian, some are legitimate etc. (note these are all terms Jim confuses with “sovereignty” though they are distinct concepts). Nevertheless, the decision is made, even if it’s made solely by force.

    In addition, the decision must be made by a person. Decisions are not made by magical forces or inanimate objects (e.g. paper constitutions).

    Thus begins the reaction.

    [Reply]

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    But human persons have human nature; and human nature, being what it is imputes some (even if not infinite) importance to written documents—a law, a covenant, a treaty, a contract. Certainly some men may refuse to honor the writing. But the great mass of men will find such a man at fault, because of the type of beings that they are.

    So maybe you just need “human nature” on your side in your theoretical dispute over the property. One could imagine a more rigorous legalistic dispute going against you and in favor of the interloper (e.g., a corrupt judge on the payroll of big land developers and their many attorneys), just as easily as the more anarchical one.

    Which is I guess why juries play such a big role in the Anglo justice system to begin with. ‘Course it doesn’t do you any good if the jury is a bunch of idiots.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    @ Foseti
    I was going to drag Goulding in from the beginning, but didn’t want to mess up the binary ‘let you and him fight’ structure. Do you think he understands the implications of an appeal to “Machiavellian analysis” as he does here? My sense of it is that he distances himself from Moldbug’s formula of sovereignty (in a Szabo direction). It’s not a tangle I’m yet confident about grasping.

    I’m not yet convinced your land dispute example does all the work you want it to. (More thinking necessary at my end.)

    “Decisions are not made by magical forces or inanimate objects (e.g. paper constitutions).” — the money quote. My immediate quibble: is the decision made in clear independence of (at least partially determining) rules? If a decision is something like a move in a game, then the answer is ‘no’.

    [Reply]

    nickX Reply:

    Once rules get into people’s heads they are hardly inanimate. No more so then software when it runs inside a computer.

    [Reply]

    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Your argument follows from the premise: “Let’s say that some guy barges on to my land and claims it for his own.” But I don’t grant the premise absolutely and unconditionally. Voluntary cooperation is real. So is uncertainty–maybe the guy hasn’t barged yet because he isn’t sure who would prevail, which is a state of affairs that can continue indefinitely.

    In my profession, I run into situations all the time where two businesses in a long-standing relationship are acting in a way that doesn’t match their formal agreements (which would be enforced by a court) and that is a product of mutual evolution, not of one party sticking it to the other. Where does the sovereignty lie? To me, the most sensible answer is that the sovereignty iis in a state of quantum uncertainty.

    [Reply]

    nickX Reply:

    Well let’s indeed say a decision needs to be made about who owns a piece of land. How are such decisions most commonly made? How should they be made?

    (1) We could say it’s all about sovereignty, and the guy at the top of our chain of command can at his whim decide at any given time that he wishes that any piece of land he cares about belongs to whatever person he wishes.

    OR

    (2) A polity could do what the vast majority of polities actually do. Consult the title registry. Look at the boundaries. Look at who transferred title to whom. In other words, follow general rules.

    Yes, there will occasionally be disputes over boundaries or title transfers. Extreme ambiguity can turn general rules into opportunities for command. But these are uncommon edge cases. The newspaper headlines and the law school textbook cases, but not the norm.

    To the extent the idea of “sovereignty”, much less the even more ambiguous claim “sovereignty is conserved”, is even meaningful, it must mean the ability for a decision-maker to turn a situation into an opportunity for that decision-maker to make the decision he most wishes to make. But the opportunity to turn a general rule into an opportunity for arbitrary command depends both on the relationships involved between himself and other decision-makers, and on the ambiguity of the situation and the rules involved. In the case of land ownership, as in the vast majority of legal decisions (the boring ones the entertainment business of “news” never tells you about), the situation and the relationships are such that the decision is inevitable. A judge in the U.S. for example has no practical ability to overturn the vast majority of land transfers or to redraw the vast majority of land boundaries under his jurisdiction. Occasionally the ambiguity of a rule or situation is great enough that a judge has great decision-making powers over a piece of land, but in the vast majority of situations he has practically none. Sovereignty is not conserved. (If indeed that last phrase whether the positive or negative is anything but gibberish).

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 24th, 2013 at 7:18 pm Reply | Quote
  • This Week in Reaction | The Reactivity Place Says:

    […] Nick Land brings Moldbug’s sovereignty controversy into the light of day. […]

    Posted on June 24th, 2013 at 8:17 pm Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    1. As you point out, is not classic international law that Moldbug rightly recommends, a constraint on Sovereignty? He tells us that the USG, the hegemon, the world sovereign, should respect the sovereignty of lesser powers.

    2. Observe that the Supreme Court has stayed out of the issue of who gets to make war and peace, the president or congress, and every time that they have butted in, they have been spanked.

    Moldbuggian analysis would conclude that the president has plenary power to make war and peace, for though the State Department treats the president as an overindulged errant child, the army actually does obey him.

    Yet, observe, the president does not have plenary power to make war and peace, because armies need money and supplies.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Your intuitions on this question are compelling to me, but there’s still a haziness to the argument (which I share, in spades). Foseti describes your usage of ‘sovereignty’ as “confused” (‘fight, fight, fight …’). Is it possible to arrive at a clear conception of sovereignty that every relevant party to this exchange finds acceptable, and thus sets the stage for a clear resolution of the controversy? (It doesn’t seem that we’re there yet.)

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 24th, 2013 at 9:26 pm Reply | Quote
  • raptros_ Says:

    so uh what is sovereignty? is it anything more than the ability of an actor to impose his will on a region? if that’s the case, then there must be an ordering over all people based on their ability to impose their will on that particular region. this ordering (given that there is only a finite number of people) can easily be mapped to natural numbers; just add up the the total of that set, divide each position by the total, and bam! instant probability distribution function defining the probability that any particular individual will be able to impose his will on the region. a probability of sovereignty. and, of course, it adds to one.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    That’s a measure of sovereignty, but it isn’t a theory, and the definition is question-begging.

    [Reply]

    raptros_ Reply:

    i feel like i just got pulled over for doing 90 in a 65 zone!

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Exactly. I’m trying to slow everyone down. We need to thrash this through, as methodically at possible, at a rate that keeps everyone hanging on. Instead I’m surrounded by speed-freaks shooting off in a hundred different directions.

    Posted on June 24th, 2013 at 11:43 pm Reply | Quote
  • Orlandu84 Says:

    I would problematize this discussion with my favorite contemporary political thinker’s (Philip Bobbit) key insight that law and strategy evolve dynamically over time. With respect to the current debate, this insight allows us to better understand why people have a difficult time agreeing on first principles. Those who reduce sovereignty to law will tend to God-emperor whereas those who reduce sovereignty to strategy will tend to confederacy. For sovereignty as law presumes an ultimate authority whereas sovereignty as strategy presumes competition. In order to have a functioning state, you need both law (internal order) and strategy (foreign policy). Ying and yang so to speak. Which of the two dominates a particular area or people is based on the available technology, the geography of the area, and the particular history of the place or people being controlled.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    If our conception of sovereignty is already disintegrated from the start, you’re right that “people [will] have a difficult time agreeing on first principles.” From superficial skimming, Bobbit’s ideas seem very relevant to all this (I’m not familiar with his work). Is he arguing that the very idea of sovereignty is excessively rationalistic?

    [Reply]

    Orlandu84 Reply:

    First, I misspelled Bobbitt (two t’s not one). Second, Bobbitt contends that there is no fixed definition of sovereignty currently because there has not been a fixed definition in the recent past (the last 500 years). His contention in “Shield of Achilles” is that what it means to be a state has evolved over time through the interaction of governance (law) and foreign policy (strategy). He sees states as always evolving and changing due to internal and external developments. The tragic part of this dynamic is that as states solve one set of problems, their evolution creates a new set of problems that must in turn be faced.

    “Is he arguing that the very idea of sovereignty is excessively rationalistic?”
    If by “overly rationalistic” you mean an idea disconnected from history, then Bobbitt is arguing that sovereignty cannot be meaningful without reference to contemporary realities and their histories. Just as ying and yang are forever locked together, strategy and law are forever in a dance that we call the state. You can examine one moment and see which is influencing the other and how, but you cannot determine precisely (only generally) how the dance will change. To be fair, my anti-reductionist side might be reading my own bias into Bobbitt.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    (While we’re is spelling Nazi mode — it’s yin and yang).

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 12:36 am Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    If there’s no clear answer it’s likely you’re answering the wrong question.

    The difference among polities is the distribution of power. That is mostly a function if tradition and technology.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “If there’s no clear answer it’s likely you’re answering the wrong question.” — Liberal nonsense! Everybody needs to be flogged more brutally, until lucidity improves.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 4:39 am Reply | Quote
  • Devin Finbarr Says:

    I think there may be some tripping over terms here. I don’t really like the word “sovereignty” because different people use the term in different ways. When I read Foseti’s comment, I just substitute the word “sovereignty” with “authority” and I agree completely. If person A wants to build a power plant near person’s B house, some person, institution, or assembly must have final authority over that decision. If person A makes the decision, he can abuse power and pollute person B’s land. If person B make the final decision, he can abuse power and stifle needed economic improvements. If some third party government makes the decision, it can abuse the authority too. But what is not a solution is anti-authoritarianism. Authority is conserved. The decision must be made, a body must have the power to make it.

    However, there is a related point in with which I disagree. In the past, Moldbug has seemed to claim that all states must have a sovereign body or assembly of some sort: “Thus, in the terms of John Austin, who holds sovereignty in the United States? The Council of Nine, also known as the Supreme Court. For they are the unmoved mover, those whose decisions are final and cannot be overridden. If the Supreme Court orders President Obama to give his next video address standing on his head, or converts as a group to Islam and establishes the Caliphate of America, or declares that “the Jews are our misfortune” and gives them one year to leave the country, these things will be done. Or at least, if they are resisted, they can only be resisted unlawfully.” (source: http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2010_06_01_archive.html )

    I do not find Moldbug’s argument useful.

    In reality, authority is exercised by a network of actors (persons, institutions, and maybe mass assemblies) who all exercise power according to a political algorithm. The contours of the algorithm are bounded by Schelling fences ( http://lesswrong.com/lw/ase/schelling_fences_on_slippery_slopes/ ). A political actor jumps over its surrounding Schelling fence at great peril.

    The Supreme Court is a body of limited in powers. It cannot order President Obama to give a speech standing on his head. The order will be ignored. No one will enforce it, as the order exceeds the court’s generally recognized powers. The Court will have exceeded the bounds of its Schelling fence. The members of the court will have risked personal disgrace and a serious institutional loss of political capital and future power.

    There is no such thing as “limited government” in terms of the political algorithm itself being limited in its powers. In the U.S., if enough actors taking part in the political algorithm all align to undertake some action, pretty much any action possible can be done. If the majority of the people, the majority of Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court all agree that left handed people should have their property seized and be executed, no parchment document will stop them. However, there is such thing as “limited government” in the sense of “fractured sovereignty”. There is “limited government” in the sense that in some states, no particular institution on its own can make its will reality. I don’t think any of us disagree on these points – we’re just getting tripped up over which of these definitions “limited government” actually means.

    A society has “rule of law” to the extent that its “political algorithm” obeys known patterns that are generally seen as legitimate. A society has “rule of law” if Schelling fences generally bound the actions of powerful actors, and make these actors follow written or customary rules. “Rule of law” obviously does not mean that the laws themselves make decisions or enforce themselves.

    A society is “constitutional” to the extent that its political algorithm follows the rules described by a written constitution. It is constitutional to the extent that its Schelling fences align with the structures set forth by the constitution. The “constitutionality” of a society is always a matter of degree. Moldbug seems to claim that a written constitution is useless without crypto weapon locks, because a piece of paper cannot enforce itself. That is true, but I think that Constitutions can be meaningful. There is a difference between a more or less constitutional society. Constitutions can and do serve as a place to define and reinforce Schelling fences, and those Schelling fences can and do restrict the power of particular institutions.

    Now that (hopefully) I have cleared up the semantics, we are still left with a major point of debate. Which is more desirable? Fractured sovereignty, where you have competing institutions, and attempts at checks an balances? Or unitary/hierarchical sovereignty, such as in Moldbug’s corporate dictatorship? And of course, fractured sovereignty itself can take an infinite number of forms. I made my own proposal on how to fracture sovereignty here ( http://intellectual-detox.com/2011/05/31/if-i-was-king-of-philadelphia/ ). My system is more fractured than Moldbug’s dream state, but much less fractured than the modern structure.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Does the concept of a ‘Schelling Fence’ really do all the work you are seeing? It strikes me as a marginally useful tool for sociological analysis, but nothing close to the key principle that opens the gates to the mysteries of power.

    [Reply]

    spa Reply:

    As I say Schelling fences are a function of tradition and technology. Look at the NSA. It increasingly has the capability to spy on everything everybody does, and nobody in government contests its power. All arguments against it invoke tradition, i.e. we need privacy because that’s the way it used to be. There’s a balance that changes every time tradition mutates or technology advances.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Does this translate into the register of the is ‘sovereignty conserved’ question? It’s not that I disagree with your emphasis — I just don’t know how to plug it into this quandary effectively.

    spandrell Reply:

    I fail to see why “conservation of sovereignty” is a good metaphor at all. Power is exercised in a myriad ways, is it useful to ask if if always adds up to the same total? How do you measure that anyway? What’s the unit? The Bismarck?

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 4:40 am Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    Let’s say some guy barges onto my land and claims it for my own. Three possibilities follow: 1) it’s my land; 2) it’s his land; or 3) it’s someone else’s land.

    This decision must be made (i.e. sovereignty must be conserved).

    It can be made in a variety of ways. Some are authoritarian, some are legitimate etc. (note these are all terms Jim confuses with “sovereignty” though they are distinct concepts). Nevertheless, the decision is made, even if it’s made solely by force.

    In addition, the decision must be made by a person.

    In practice, the decision is almost always made on the basis of whose land it already is, made by the most ancient law of them all, not made by a person. Most governments have tried to abolish private ownership in land, and some have spent gigantic amounts of blood to do so. Mao killed about fifty to seventy million people trying to collectivize land, and never entirely succeeded.

    In Australia, the Australian government claimed all the land, the land being empty at the time. (Aborigines do not count). The squatters went out and squatted it, becoming aristocrats landed gentry, to the great indignation of nineteenth century progressives. There were some violent conflicts, most notably the rum rebellion, which theoretically the government won, and yet, somehow, strangely, a lot of this land, though shown on Australian government maps as government land, remains in the hands of the descendents of the squatters.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 7:41 am Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    Which is equivalent to saying that game-theory gives us everything we need to resolve the problem.

    Games typically have multiple equilbria. Conscious choice can bring us to one equilibrium point rather than another, but cannot bring us to a non equilibrium point.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Sorry to be slow, but how does this connect to the problem?

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 7:58 am Reply | Quote
  • Anomaly UK Says:

    Sovereignty is conserved, but there are important questions that follow:
    http://anomalyuk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/conservation-of-sovereignty.html

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 8:30 am Reply | Quote
  • IshmaelTonight Says:

    “Sovereignty is conserved,” is it supposed to remind me of “energy is conserved”?

    When physicists say that energy is conserved, they don’t mean that it is impossible to imagine a world with more energy or less energy than our world has. On the contrary a crucial role in standard semantics for physics is played by a “phase space” of all possible states the world could be in, including states of different energies. The passage of time is a trajectory on phase space, it happens to be constrained to live in a slice of phase space of constant energy.

    Can I imagine a world with more or less sovereignty than the one we’re living in, even if Moldbug tells us we can’t get from here to there? Perhaps the expression “more sovereignty” is incorrect even grammatically. If not, I would understand sovereignty better if we discussed what a world with an extreme amount of it — a lot more or a lot less sovereignty than our world has — would be like.

    It might be possible to answer this question by comparing quantity S sovereignty to two other quantities, not conserved but identified as important by Moldbug (and von Neumann, and Weber). Quantity C conflict, and quantity U uncertainty. My sense is that the salience of S is proportional to C — if Isaac and I agree on everything, there is no need to sort out who’s boss. If that’s another way to say, the magnitude of S is proportional to C, then we are contradicting Moldbug.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    That could be turned around, though. If conflict erupts, it’s an indication that sovereignty has not been consolidated.

    [Reply]

    Ishmael Reply:

    It must be more complicated. If conflict erupts, and is resolved in an orderly fashion, that indicates something different about sovereignty than that it has not been consolidated. Consider the scenarios,

    there is a dispute between brothers, one graciously accedes to the other.

    there is a dispute between brothers, they flip for it an abide by the results.

    there is a dispute between brothers, one accedes to the others threats of violence

    there is a dispute between brothers, it is resolved in a fight

    there is a dispute between brothers, it is resolved in a fight to the death

    Where is sovereignty located in these examples? Is it truly “conserved” in all cases?

    [Reply]

    survivingbabel Reply:

    Honestly, I don’t think the concept of sovereignty applies the way we are conceiving it when only two parties are involved. Nation-states are dizzying arrays of single-actor parties and collective-action groups, with overlapping loyalties. From a Game Theoretical standpoint, identifying the competing groups is like counting the squares.

    The land dispute question is like trying to analyze paintings based on how accurate the eye-width-to-face-width ration is conserved for each painted figure.

    nickX Reply:

    “there is a dispute between brothers”

    This also assumes that there is even a dispute in the first place. But there is no “conservation of disputes:”. Whether there is a dispute in the first place, and how often disputes arise within or between polities, and how severe they are, depends on how clear the rules are and what the political relationships between the parties is. (Brothers, for example, are generally speaking more likely to compromise than to weaken each other with respect to more distant relatives).

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 8:32 am Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    After the Australian Rum Rebellion, there was a profoundly ambiguous capitulation by the rebels. As a result, to this day there is a lot of land in Australia that the government claims to own, and is shown on the maps as government owned, but is in fact owned by the descendents of squatters, or agricultural corporations that they sold to, or became. Who then gets to impose their will? The government, and the squatters, are content to leave that question unanswered.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 8:47 am Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    Which is more desirable? Fractured sovereignty, where you have competing institutions, and attempts at checks an balances? Or unitary/hierarchical sovereignty, such as in Moldbug’s corporate dictatorship?

    This is a bad question, for it distinguishes between things that are alike, and fails to distinguish between things that are different.

    Observed reality in the US is that that elected politicians are PR officers for the permanent unelected bureaucracy, which situation the constitution completely fails to address.

    The permanent unelected bureaucracy is not fractured, but rather decides by consensus. Consensus is a really bad method of decision making, which needs to be avoided.

    Moldbug’s ideal ruler was Charles the first, and my ideal ruler was Charles the Second, who, you may recall seldom summoned parliament, so his sovereignty was pretty undivided, with absolutely no consensus happening, even though his power was quite limited.

    The federal bureaucracy, on the other hand, has pretty much unlimited power, even though its power is much divided.

    [Reply]

    Anomaly UK Reply:

    This distinction between limiting power and dividing it seems to be the vital thing. Limiting power without fracturing tends to be informal, it seems. Is there a method of limiting a sovereign’s power formally without creating a rival sovereign?

    [Reply]

    Devin Finbarr Reply:

    @JamesDonald “The permanent unelected bureaucracy is not fractured, but rather decides by consensus. … The federal bureaucracy, on the other hand, has pretty much unlimited power, even though its power is much divided.”

    In thinking “fractured” and “divided” are synonyms. How are you distinguishing between the two?

    @AnomalyUK

    What some people call “limiting power”, Mencius and myself would label as fracturing power. For instance, let’s say you like in a dictatorship, and then the people gain some power, and enact reforms so that agents of the states can be arrested by citizen elected officers and tried by a jury. Some would call this “limiting power” I might call this fracturing power. Some power that belonged to the dictatorship now belongs to citizen juries. The power to decide whether a government gent should go to jail or not for beating up a peasant always existed and still exists. But before that power belonged to the dictator, now it is shared with a citizen jury. If we refrain from the more general term of “limiting power” or “limiting the state” and instead use the term “limiting the power of Actor X”, whether that be a president or bureaucracy, then confusion can be eliminated.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 10:03 am Reply | Quote
  • Artxell Knaphni Says:

    Globalisation is inevitable, given that there is a globe, given that there are technological networks. The nature of this globalisation need not conform to any particular ideology, even if ‘free trade agreements’ seem to suggest that happens, as various hegemonic forces seem to dominate this or that scenario: it’s the interplay of forces which is significant.

    “A constitution is a system of rules, formalizing a social game.”

    Yes, it is a game, and a game of chosen limits. It is the interplay of differently understood limitations, of differently implemented limitations, of unequal distribution of limitations, that is at work. Sensitivity to immanent differences of style, to ‘localised’ configurations, of neccessity would result in a genuine multiculturalism. Not the ‘lip service’ multiculturalisms wherein middle and working class ‘whites’, for example, themselves alienated and disempowered, are enjoined to not reflect actual historical exploitations of other nations and races in their informal speech and practices, whilst the structures of those same exploitations continue, updated, as before; but the necessary consequence of even a ‘modernist’ consideration, taken to its ‘limit’, that sees the complex reasons for all cultures, all configurations. Reality is complex; if you want to change it, it helps to be able to understand it. There are many possible understandings, if you’re partisan about them and demand a sovereign distribution, a hierarchy that you prefer, the understandings you neglect are only forced to play themselves out in secret, oppositional histories, much as Christianity did against Rome: we know what happened there, by Jove!

    ” 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?””

    That perhaps explains why the USA has the highest ‘defence’ expenditure in the world: Britain, too, spends very highly in this area.

    “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.”

    It is the acknowledgement by others that this ‘pure force’ can be delivered that constitutes its power to conquer and appropriate. The threat of destruction is the ethos of such rule. If it were carried out, there would be no-one to conquer, no kapital, generated by cheap labour, to appropriate. ‘Pure force’ is a real idealisation, its global spectacles of demonstration are real, and sufficient to produce general, coercive effects: inability to stop socioeconomic infiltrations; inability to produce real self-government; increased susceptibility to perpetual destabilisation and exploitation, etc..
    So is this what you want? Because it’s what you’ve got.

    ” the real sovereign instance of climaxed Occidental modernity with the Cathedral, which is a church (and not an army).”

    It deploys the army, though.

    “Political philosophy cannot approach reality before accepting that rules are irreducible, which is not to say that they are sufficient,or even (yet) intelligible.”

    If political philosophy were a ‘science’, it would have an obligation to consider the ‘data’. Economics, likewise. Notwithstanding received characterisations (political science, economic science, etc.,), it has to said that they are creative arts. Building society, culture, and economy, is really an aesthetic enterprise.

    “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.”

    ‘Real’, or ‘sovereign’, political authority, has to instance an ‘imagination of the’ultimate’, in some way. It has to be seen as such in order to be acceptable. If it doesn’t, contestation occurs. Democracy situates and idealises this contestation, formalises it as a constitutive process, from which ‘acceptable’ policy can be distilled. It provisions a time and space for mutual cooperation to grow, though this doesn’t always happen. Alternative orderings are necessarily regimes, that is not to say that democracy is not a regime, too, in practice, and thus far. All regimes rule through coercion, they wave those ‘defence expenditures’ around. The rest is just aesthetics. Politics is a Top Ten, or Thirty, of the Administration Charts.

    “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.”

    If something is globally appealing, it becomes global. Look at Microsoft or Mcdonalds, the ‘Market’.
    The globe is an anarchistic patchwork of nation-states.
    I think Jerry Pournelle spoke of the possible advantages of monarchy, small military cabals. etc.. He also said: “Peace is the ideal we deduce from the fact that there are interludes between wars.”

    But really why speak of these replays?
    Isn’t it time there was a novel development?
    I think Derrida was probably right about “democracy-to-come”, if he meant that we’ve never had democracy yet?
    “The future comes in the form of monstrosity.”
    There’s yer ‘global village’!

    And, in all honesty, there are as many of those”villages” as there are actors in ‘it’.

    A side thought: in the tax dispute between Google and the British government, if Google withdrew all its services from Great Britain, until said government agreed to Google’s terms, would that government back down? A lot of businesses are dependent on Google. Who has the ‘power’ now?

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 1:37 pm Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    Political constitutions, political orders or long lasting political disorders, are game theory equilibria.

    You cannot simply write down some arbitrary set of rules and expect them to happen that way, (unless the current Equilibrium is supreme dictator, and the new rules leave you supreme dictator) but you can see an alternative equilibrum from afar, and get to it by disrupting the current equilibrium.

    If sovereignty is power, sovereignty is not conserved. Restraining a potentially lawless and oppressive government bureaucracy with a supreme court gave us a lawless and oppressive supreme court, which is I think what Mencius means by “Sovereignty is conserved”. However, considering England through the civil war period, we observe that Charles the first had limited power, then Parliament had a lot of power, then Cromwell had near absolute power, then Charles the second had even more limited power, but sufficient to send parliament home. Since then we have been sliding towards ever greater parliamentary power, but parliament is by its nature too many to exercise power, so power slid to the cabinet, but then power slid from the cabinet to the bureaucracy, because cabinet was too weak and distracted to prevent bureaucrats from pursuing their own interests. Bureaucratic power is by nature even less capable of exercising power than parliament., so power slips further and further, notably to Harvard, to the likes of Michael Mann.

    Governments tend to be oppressive more out of weakness than out of strength. Our government is oppressive and weak, and becomes ever more oppressive, and ever weaker.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “If sovereignty is power, sovereignty is not conserved.” — It’s tempting to equate ‘sovereignty’ and ‘power’, but it leads to confusion. Power is quantitative and hierarchical — the existence of a superior authority does not negate power. Power is not diminished by being exceeded. (It is like wealth in this respect.) Sovereignty is different — it is by its essential nature ultimate. Sovereignty belongs exclusively to the final authority in a chain of command (whilst power is distributed unevenly throughout it).

    ‘Power is conserved’ means that there is always final authority. That is the secure definition, which is not to say that it necessarily corresponds to sociopolitical reality.

    [Reply]

    James A. Donald Reply:

    Sovereignty belongs exclusively to the final authority in a chain of command (whilst power is distributed unevenly throughout it).

    In eighteenth century England, who had the final authority in the chain of command? The King or Parliament? And before parliament, what about the aristocracy assembled, the predecessor of what became the house of Lords.

    Parliament certainly had some sovereignty. So when Charles the Second sent Parliament home, but, unlike Cromwell, did not take their powers for his own, was not sovereignty diminished?

    In today’s America who has final authority? The supremes? The president? Michael Mann? The vast anonymous bureaucracy in the state department that unseats kings and appoints mobs to rule lesser nations? In the Benghazi incident, who was it decided to treat a military attack as a political protest?

    There is no final authority. The chain of command is always dangerously topless, sometimes more so than others.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I don’t disagree, but if this is so, then the very notion of sovereignty begins to seriously fray (as you argue elsewhere on this thread). Unfortunately, as things stand, this important point remains quite vague and impressionistic, and thus unconvincing / indiscernible to anybody not already sympathetic to it. Perhaps it cannot be anything other than vague, due to its very nature, but then that meta-point might be determinable clearly and persuasively, so it could be used to settle — or at least unambiguously advance — the argument.

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 9:23 pm Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    It deploys the army, though.

    It sends heavily armed social workers to build schools and distribute candy to small children. Our enemies blow up the schools, and cut of the hands of children that are holding candy.

    Our army is, by historical standards, ludicrously ineffectual, the British army worse, and the rest of Europe utterly laughable. A horde of British soldiers was repeatedly defeated and humiliated by a handful of arabs, while a horde of of Arabs was defeated by a handful of mercenaries.

    From this I conclude that Blackwater could conquer England and screw the women, if not restrained by the Pentagon. That strikes me as good path to the restoration of patriarchy.

    When Europe attempted to intervene in Yugoslavia, the ludicrous weakness of their military power was exposed to the world. Lately the Pentagon has been heading in the same direction, with lawyers outnumbering and outranking sergeants. We shall serve subpoenas on the Taliban.

    [Reply]

    Artxell Knaphni Reply:

    @

    LOL, you guys are cynical.
    I thought the British Army was supposed to be the best in the world.
    Ok, perhaps against Afghans it’s different. But Afghans are renowned warriors, NW frontier, etc..
    I must say that I find it very surprising the USA and GB are openly supporting the Taliban now.
    The Snowden thing seems overhyped. As far as I know, all he’s said, is that the NSA is capable of spying on people. I thought it was common knowledge that supercomputors could crack any encryption, so that capability is a corrollary, anyway. My suspicion is that the Snowden affair is just the US gov’ trying to create an aura of power. One of their security contractors, an IT security company, got hacked, hundreds of top level emails, passwords, etc., were released, their security software was out of date. The biggest ‘defence expenditure’ in the world seems rather mismanaged, to say the least. Perhaps they have to do Snowden type PR, to save face, a compensatory move?

    [Reply]

    Anomaly UK Reply:

    Slightly off-topic, but the NSA probably cannot crack today’s encryption. Hence the concentration on telecoms and social-network providers, who have vast quantities of unencrypted data from people.

    [Reply]

    Thales Reply:

    Slightly off-topic, but the NSA probably cannot crack today’s encryption.

    Indeed, hence the desire for quantum computing. Escaping the boundaries of polynomial-time would be the thermonuke of the cryptographic arms race.

    Alrenous Reply:

    I would like to read more about Yugoslavia and the European army.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 9:47 pm Reply | Quote
  • steven hickman Says:

    As far as I can see there have been but two forms of Sovereignty, both based on a concept of monarchy: Absolute Sovereignty and Constitutional Sovereignty. The one based on that sovereign dictator, the king, the one who is the origin and law of the first appropriation of land. The other based on all those aristocrats who wanted the king’s land divided and protected from both the king and the peasants, created the constitution as a way to protect themselves and enforce their unwritten laws.

    Yet, even in Medieval times there was not pure absolute monarchy in the sense of a king having absolute power. Why else did they set up shop with God, Custom, and the de jure rights of the aristocrats who through their own power constrained the Monarch. Even before this the history of Warlords was still constrained by tribal customs and priestcraft. It was only later that all this crap became codified into natural and divine right laws etc.

    So in this sense we’ve always had some form of ethical and normative constraint on Sovereignty. Obviously the later writings of Hobbes give us the most thought on the absolute and indivisible power of Sovereignty:

    Absolute: because conditions could only be imposed on a sovereign if there were some outside arbitrator to determine when he had violated them, in which case the sovereign would not be the final authority.

    Indivisible: The sovereign is the only final authority in his territory; he does not share final authority with any other entity. Hobbes held this to be true because otherwise there would be no way of resolving a disagreement between the multiple authorities.

    All that Rousseau did was a trick, he displace Sovereignty for the person of the King to the ‘general will’, but the basic premise was there still, and obviously he tweaked it with his talk on inalienable rights etc. That’s where his supposed axiom comes into play: Thus the legal maxim, “there is no law without a sovereign.” But this notion of law (Greek: Nomos) came to us by way of Athenian thought: Athens had no legal science or single word for “law”,relying instead on the three-way distinction between divine law (thémis), human decree (nomos) and custom (díkē).

    Power in my paraphrase of Nietzsche always comes down to ‘more than’, ‘less than’, or ‘equal to’. That said, for Nietzsche the Sovereign individual was the one who broke free of these constraints to become the inventor of new laws. “… looking out upon others from himself , he honors or he despises; and just as he is bound to honor his peers, the strong and reliable… he is bound to reserve a kick for the feeble windbags who promise without the right to do so, and a rod for the liar who breaks his word even at the moment he utters it” ( p. 60).

    Is this not the true power of Sovereignty: the struggle to give birth to such individuals?

    [Reply]

    Little Hans Reply:

    I was going to say a similar thing. You either have a sovereign (one person) or sovereignty (dispersed ability to act, in some limited, way like a sovereign), and the former is not just a lot of the latter: there’s a difference in type rather than magnitude of power.

    There’s a tendency to treat sovereignty, via game theory, like a football match with or without a referee. If you have the ref, he is the rules; if you don’t have one, the players create various temporary and situational alliances to enforce the rules. Sovereignty seems conserved.

    Isn’t the difference more like that between a tribe with a priest and one in which the priestly function is spread across its membership? The priest/sovereign cuts through the strife of personal interpretation and imposition because they have the ability to make things doctrinal and that’s a jump to a wholly different distribution of power. One your word is law, people start working towards it in a way that is inconceivable in the absence of a sovereign.

    So if you want a sovereign, you have to look into the historical genesis of sovereigns and how you can create them (and after looking, you might not think they’re so historically great); if you want to stay at the level of arranging sovereignty, look at laws and constitutions over time. (And now I’m back to the beginning.)

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Doesn’t it follow from these arguments that sovereignty is a social illusion?

    [Reply]

    steven hickman Reply:

    Yes. But then that would entail accepting that the social, too, is illusion.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    … which would begin to sound embarrassingly Thatcherite?

    steven hickman Reply:

    @steven hickman

    Haha… probably more like Reagan on an off day. The only man who could have said: “How can a president not be an actor?” -when asked “How could an actor become president?’

    Posted on June 25th, 2013 at 11:26 pm Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    Artxell Knaphni commented on Rules.

    I thought the British Army was supposed to be the best in the world.
    Ok, perhaps against Afghans it’s different. But Afghans are renowned warriors

    The British army was humiliatingly defeated in Basra by a handful of Iraqi irregulars, who are close to being infamous as the worst in the world.

    The argument that the British are the best in the world is based on the fact that they are vastly better than other western European armies, whose absolute hopelessness and complete uselessness was vividly demonstrated in Yugoslavia, where irregular forces with members trained and equipped in Tito’s regular army walked all over them.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 26th, 2013 at 12:39 am Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    I fail to see why “conservation of sovereignty” is a good metaphor at all.

    The context of Mencius’ argument is that the progressive practice of dividing power into thousands of tiny bite size pieces, and then deciding what to do by consensus, does not limit or reduce the potential for lawless behavior, which is indeed true.

    His generalization however, that sovereignty is conserved, does not appear to be true

    If the USG should, or can be compelled, to respect the sovereignty of states overseas, why not the sovereignty of Carolina?

    If it is sovereignty all the way down, you get anarcho capitalism, or feudalism, or some mixture of the two.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 26th, 2013 at 7:16 am Reply | Quote
  • sviga lae Says:

    Whatever sovereignty is, it exists in men’s heads alone.

    Tyrion cocked his head sideways. “Did you mean to answer your riddle, or only to make my head ache worse?”
    Varys smiled. “Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more, no less.”
    “So power is a mummer’s trick?”
    “A shadow on the wall,” Varys murmured, “yet shadows can kill. And oftimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”

    A shared delusion that may, or may not, correspond with the ability to exercise power over the physical world. The resulting reflexive equilibrium is on occasion gently aligned with reality when a lower order of this weakly interacting agglutination of human action meets a physical limitation.

    Sovereignty may therefore be weakly derived from the facts on the ground. Realpolitik describes more than diplomatic relations. The implication is the significance of the dynamics of dependency as realised in the welfare state, as well as of Exit-driven technological developments (crypto, etc.).

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    This seems right (but obscure).

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 26th, 2013 at 9:50 am Reply | Quote
  • Rasputin's Severed Penis Says:

    I remember arguing with my girlfriend that when Colonel Gaddafi was captured, humiliated, and subsequently killed by his captors, he was not being punished for his crimes against ‘the people’, but for losing power. Gaddafi’s loss of power – or the collapse of his absolute sovereignty, or the reveal that it was never absolute – was not so much the thing that allowed him to be punished for other crimes that he had committed, as his uber-crime: the crime against his status as sovereign. And this is something from which there could be no conceivable restitution or reprieve.

    See also: Saddam, Hitler, etc…

    [Reply]

    Thales Reply:

    It is like the fury of a disillusioned woman, no? “Even though you beat me, I thought you were Alpha and respected your power — now I discover that you are weak and beta and RAAAGGGEEE!!!

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Signs of convergence suddenly emerging …

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 26th, 2013 at 8:23 pm Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    Sovereignty is like the value of fiat money, seemingly objective, but capable of vanishing like a dream.

    Thus, not conserved.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Mencius Moldbug vs. Lyman Frank Baum?

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 26th, 2013 at 8:26 pm Reply | Quote
  • Peter A. Taylor Says:

    I want to frame this sovereignty question in terms of loyalty. To whom is the army loyal? If the king gives an order, can he count on it being obeyed? If he can’t, it doesn’t follow that there is someone else who can count on the soldiers’ loyalty. Loyalty is not conserved.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “Loyalty is not conserved” — that’s probably correct, but it’s a conclusion of great significance (as we’ve seen) and therefore not to be lightly assumed. Given the soundness of the sovereignty / loyalty substitution — which does indeed work well — should we not expect a ‘Moldbuggian’ rejoinder, in the form of a conservation theory of loyalty? For instance, an argument that, whilst loyalty can be displaced, it is not actually extinguished? (Shunted out a little further, the old Chesterton Chestnut comes to mind.)

    [Reply]

    James A. Donald Reply:

    A soldier will reliably act for the good of his platoon and in obedience to his immediate commanding officers, typically the platoon sergeant and the platoon lieutenant. He will not reliably obey some high ranking general that he does not particularly know

    Thus in a military dictatorship, power has a tendency to slide down the chain of command, until one has a committee of colonels, or worse, sergeants, with the result that the army turns into a string made from sand.

    To solve this problem, need a charismatic leader with arguably legitimate high rank. A martial prince or king is ideal, since royalty plausibly claims to outrank everyone. Unfortunately, royals are rarely all that martial or charismatic, and in the US army, the slightest trace of charisma disqualifies you from high rank, possibly as a precaution against military takeover.

    The propensity of ruling armies to turn into strings of sand makes a claim that loyalty is conserved short of content.

    The Iraqi army has a notorious tendency to vanish when things get tough, but then many of the same soldiers reappear, now reorganized on the basis of kin, clan, and religious affiliation, and, organized in this fashion, they then kick ass. Unfortunately an Iraq ruled by a military organized on the basis of kin, clan, and religious affiliation might well fall into rather small fragments. Perhaps it already has.

    Churches tend to beat armies because they can manufacture synthetic tribes. But religion as a power mechanism yields us the left singularity.

    Patriarchy creates very large extended families through marriage, a marriage being an arrangement between two patriarchs for grandchildren. These very large extended families can exercise power, leading to a force capable of opposing religion, resulting in monarchy and feudalism.

    The proposition that sovereignty is conserved, or loyalty is conserved, is that there will always be statelike power. Likely there always will be statelike power, for the same reason as there are no ten dollar bills lying on the pavement, but the bills do not pick themselves up. Statelike cohesion is difficult to achieve and apt to softly and silently vanish away. The reason it is common is that there are huge incentives for achieving it.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 27th, 2013 at 12:14 am Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    Well let’s indeed say a decision needs to be made about who owns a piece of land. How are such decisions most commonly made? How should they be made?

    (1) We could say it’s all about sovereignty, and the guy at the top of our chain of command can at his whim decide at any given time that he wishes that any piece of land he cares about belongs to whatever person he wishes.

    OR

    (2) A polity could do what the vast majority of polities actually do. Consult the title registry. Look at the boundaries. Look at who transferred title to whom. In other words, follow general rules.

    Most governments, most of the time, attempt to have system one, yet, strangely, fail, sometimes fail with quite extraordinarily large amounts of bloodshed, and find themselves with system two

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 27th, 2013 at 11:15 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alrenous Says:

    Jim and Foseti are talking past each other. I can tell because each of their individual points, taken out of context, are purely true.

    Foseti’s sovereignty is Mencius’ sovereignty. It is this: for any decision, there can be conflict, and only one person can win that conflict. The canonical example is whether my wallet stays in my pocket or migrates to yours. I can make the decision, or you, or the state, or my mom or indeed anyone. Whoever has the power to win that conflict has sovereignty over my wallet.

    I’m not quite sure what Jim’s sovereignty is. Nevertheless, it seems to me that all his predictions and descriptions of situations are true. So, simply work backwards to see what must be true for those things to happen, and that is Jim’s sovereignty.

    I believe Jim’s power is coercive power over others. Political powers. This power is indeed not conserved – the sovereignty sensu Moldbug can revert to the individual. When Charles did not claim the powers, then the decisions that Cromwell used to make reverted to the natural decision-maker.

    In today’s America who has final authority? The supremes? The president? Michael Mann? The vast anonymous bureaucracy in the state department that unseats kings and appoints mobs to rule lesser nations?

    Yes. The answer is yes.

    The problem is that they all have final authority on some tiny shard of reality. Tiny, overlapping, shifting shards. As a result, almost maximum uncertainty, as a result, most of the power and effort goes toward competing for shards in highly negative-sum games with strong externalities.

    When Foseti and Moldbug say sovereignty is conserved, they simply mean someone must win all conflicts. Perhaps it would help if they stopped equivocating, since Mencius sometimes uses ‘sovereign’ as a synonym for King or Neocameralist Majority Stockholder. (Occasionally even The People.)

    He tells us that the USG, the hegemon, the world sovereign, should respect the sovereignty of lesser powers.

    Difference between ‘does’ and ‘must.’ An absolute sovereign cannot be forced to obey. It would be wise to do so anyway.

    (Perhaps worth mentioning that I buy Szabo’s argument that historical ‘absolute’ monarchs were more smoke than fire.)

    Moldbug analyzes military power well, but ignores at least two others – the power of banks, and the power of moral legitimacy. Technically speaking a well-organized military is required for and trumps both others, but in practice a military’s organization is a function of both. Wars are made of people, just like markets.

    “Fractured sovereignty, where you have competing institutions”

    “This is a bad question, for it distinguishes between things that are alike, and fails to distinguish between things that are different.”

    Having a fractured military hierarchy or loyalties is indeed bad. As far as it goes, Mencius’ analysis is accurate.

    However, it is impossible to perfectly align military interests with moral legitimacy, and it is as impossible to eliminate morality as a factor as to eliminate the military as a force.

    The Australian squatters have moral legitimacy. The Australian army feels this just as do the squatters. The government would like to actually take sovereignty over their land, but finds it too costly, since it would have to force its own army to obey and only then force the squatters to obey.

    Technically there’s a competing legitimacy – you’re supposed to do what the law says. However, the laws here are felt to be illegitimate. The government could probably force another confrontation.

    There’s also electoral legitimacy. The government cannot be seen to stray too far from the will of the people. Unlike gay marriage, which affects almost nobody, it is very hard to make effective propaganda on property rights.

    This conflict is resolved in favour of property rights, which means the squatters get to make the decisions about the physical land. However, the government (specifically, some bureaucrat) has sovereignty over maps/appearances.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 28th, 2013 at 9:41 am Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    I would like to read more about Yugoslavia and the European army

    Typical and famous example: October 1993: Swedish troops sent in to protect the Muslims in Tuzla from Serbian armored forces. Serbian armored forces running low on fuel. Demand at gunpoint ten thousand gallons of fuel from the Swedes. Swedes hand it over.

    Europeans thought they were sending in troops, found they were sending in hostages. At some point someone is going to realize that Europe is basically undefended and will steal all the valuables and enslave all the hot chicks.

    [Reply]

    Alrenous Reply:

    I see, thanks.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 29th, 2013 at 1:35 am Reply | Quote
  • Alrenous Says:

    So, the transformation between Foseti-sovereign coordinates and Jim-sovereign coordinates.

    Yes, Sovereignty is final authority. The sovereign commands and is not commanded. If he has an emperor or pope over him, he is not sovereign.

    Foseti-sovereign is about particular choices. If everyone in the country got together to fight over where my wallet would be tomorrow, someone would win. That person is the sovereign of my wallet.

    Jim-sovereign is about particular individuals. If someone has Foseti-sovereignty over some decisions but not others, they are not Jim-sovereign.

    Foseti-sovereignty is indeed conserved, Jim-sovereignty indeed not conserved.

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 14th, 2013 at 8:14 pm Reply | Quote

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