Shelter of the Pyramid

Moldbug’s ‘Royalism’ (or Carlylean reaction) rests upon the proposition that the Misesian catallactic order is, like Newtonian mechanics, true only as a special case within a more general system of principles.

He writes:

Here is the Carlylean roadmap for the Misesian goal. Spontaneous order, also known as freedom, is the highest level of a political pyramid of needs. These needs are: peace, security, law, and freedom. To advance order, always work for the next step – without skipping steps. In a state of war, advance toward peace; in a state of insecurity, advance toward security; in a state of security, advance toward law; in a state of law, advance toward freedom.

Alexander Hamilton (Federalist #8) pursues a closely related argument, in reverse:

Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for their repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.

This pyramidal schema is ‘neat’, but by no means unproblematic. Like any hierarchical structure operating within a complex, reflexive field, it invites strange loops which scramble its apparently coherent order. Even accepting, as realism dictates, that war exists at the most basic level of social possibility, so that military survival grounds all  ‘higher’ elaborations, can we be entirely confident that catallactic forces are neatly confined to the realm of pacific and sophisticated civilian intercourse? Does not this mode of analysis lead to exactly the opposite conclusion? Self-organizing networks are tough, and perhaps supremely tough.

There is nothing obvious or uncontroversial about the model of the market order as a fragile flower, blossoming late, and precariously, within a hot-house constructed upon very different principles. The pact is already catallactic, and who is to say — at least, without a prolonged fight — that it is subordinate, in principle, to a more primordial assertion of order. Subordination is complex, and conflicted, and although the Pyramid certainly has a case, the trial of reality is not easily predictable. An ultimate (or basic) fanged freedom is eminently thinkable.  (Isn’t that what the Second Amendment argument is about?)

February 24, 2013admin 7 Comments »
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7 Responses to this entry

  • Handle Says:

    I like to think of this more like triage, how a governing entity, like a doctor with a multi-symptomatic patient (or hospital with a variety of patients) might prioritize it’s efforts and resources in the face of various challenges. The optimal division of concentration and emphasis is hardly pure or strictly stepwise as the entity tries to achieve its best feasible and foreseeable end-state, but in any particular situation one can get a good sense of the relative importance of establishing particular improved conditions.

    The key to the notion is the concept of entropy and islands of stability, and multiple-equilibrium of homeostasis and self-preservation. It’s much easier for me to visualize and explain mathematically. Imagine a vector field in the first quadrant between (0,0) and (1,1). All the vectors point in the general direction of the origin and represent the forces of decay, entropy, depreciation, etc. Let’s say you are trying to push the marble from near (0,0) to near (1,1) and have a “Governmental Force” to overcome the decay vectors. If one axis is sloped more steeply than the other, your optimal path clings to increasing the value of one axis and gradually shifts direction to balance and then to emphasizing the other axis. The marginal rates of transformation of your effort into progress along your optimal, most efficient path are state-dependent.

    I like to imagine this as a continuum. Imagine you were Mayor, er, CEO, er, “King” of Mogadishu, how do you balance your efforts? Hold as much as possible constant but move to to the conditions of Port-au-Prince, then Detroit, now Chicago, now San Francisco, and moving in the direction of Singapore (or maybe pre-war London).

    A truly intelligence “greedy” government would be attempting to establish, at each step of “the way” (particularly tailored to the local conditions and people) the as much of a spontaneous order in an organic community as possible. It would naturally want to shape the future to minimize its own expenditures and move in the direction of minarchy. It wants to do as little as possible, have the locals as productive and happy as possible, and thus extract the maximum rent.

    The triage insight is that good government would start out big and tyrannical and become little more than a night-watchman as it’s citizens spontaneously ordered themselves in free prosperity. Just as Adam Smith showed that capitalism and free exchange channeled the immutable human vice of greed into socially beneficial activity, so too does greed tame government into prudence when the motive is profit.


    admin Reply:

    “… good government would start out big and tyrannical and become little more than a night-watchman as it’s citizens spontaneously ordered themselves in free prosperity”
    — how does this square with the fact that our historical experience of comparatively ‘good government’ is that it starts off minuscule by present standards, whilst apparently able to perform all of its basic functions (winning wars and maintaining social order)? I’m going to need a great deal of convincing that big government has ever been anything other than a fiasco, and a symptom of profound civilizational degeneration. Has governments ever shrunk on the pattern you describe?


    Handle Reply:

    I suppose there’s the example of “demobilization.” Governments have become less “coercively intrusive” in some areas as conditions allowed. The ramp-up-then-down of command of the state over the life of the citizen is a common experience in wartime. General involuntary conscription was gradually abolished as various states concluded they could meet their likely needs with an all-volunteer force. Procedural rights of the accused have been radically expanded (alas, with perverse results). Certain industries have experienced “deregulation.”

    No argument here in regards to “fiasco.” The question of course is “Why the growth?” What’s the motivation? and it seems like the scope of government is a lot like consumer demand – insatiable, and constrained only by incentives, innovation, and “budget”. Part of the problem is we can’t easily disaggregate the coevolution of certain trends in the historical analysis. Aristotle probably had a better perspective with observations of many, small, diverse, ancient governments prior to Christianity and gunpowder.

    In the last few centuries, government was miniscule in part because of the technological limitations of the era, and not necessarily because they thought it was good and proper to leave the subjects to themselves save the payment of their taxes. “God bless and keep the Czars … far away from us,” was funny when “far away” meant something. What would happen if you dropped industrial capability on certain ancient regimes? I had an acquaintance who was a translator in a Soviet diplomatic office and spent some time in North Korea in the 80’s, and that’s precisely how he described it – as something culturally primitive and manifestly unsustainable were it not for technical ennablement.

    You could speak similarly of the de-facto narco-terror regimes like theTaliban or the Mafia or the Mexican drug cartels. It’s not only militaries who enjoy such “force multiplication”. The Taliban cares a lot more about how you live your life though.

    The other “trend”, is ideological. Secular-Utopian Collectivism, Social-Justice, and Bureaucratic-Scientific Paternalism have been enormously widespread and influential global perspectives on the purpose of government are the prime distorters of our analysis. Government grows, and grows more intrusive, when the creed finds intolerable sin in need of stamping out. It’s only when the opinion-makers don’t have any particularly strong beliefs about something that the downgrading becomes visible.

    We’ve only had the tiniest taste of post-ideological government empowered by modern technology. Maybe Singapore is an example. But my sense is that it will be very interested in downsizing.


    admin Reply:

    This is pure gold, thanks.
    The demobilization example works better for the US (where post WWII demob. was the last case of serious Western state shrinkage we’ve seen — accompanied by an economic boom, contra the Keynesians) than the UK, where state capacity was simply channeled into a new welfare state (and accompanied by prolonged stagnation). US = UK with a 3-decade time-lag (so you see no demob. after Vietnam, eiher, but instead massive state cancerization).

    It would be glorious if downsizing was going to be as dynamic as your last paragraph predicts, but the Left Singularity catastrophic model seems convincing to me. Beyond a certain stage of statism, the Keynesian religion combines cybernetically with population degeneration to lock in the expansionary trend. There’s simply no downsizing option that doesn’t seem crypto-nazi inhumane, and techniques of macro-economic consequence concealment become so sophisticated, and orthodox, that the population ceases to live the catastrophe in real time. Obviously, Cathedral apparatus is central to both aspects of this, through systematic mind control.

    Christopher Reply:

    “All the vectors point in the general direction of the origin”

    Then it needn’t be modeled as a vector field.

    “If one axis is sloped more steeply than the other, your optimal path clings to increasing the value of one axis and gradually shifts direction to balance and then to emphasizing the other axis.”

    I don’t see how the one follows from the other.

    That’s the benefit of omniscience: you avoid the local maxima.


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