The Royalist Imperative

This is an argument I’m really not grasping:

Libertarians are unrealistic because the world was once vastly freer than it is today, and then progressively rolled down the populist hill into the present social democratic latrine trench, so “Why would we expect different results on the second go?” [OK, still following so far] … thus we need Kings back, because … [we need to catch the rising tide, after all, the world hasn’t ever been more monarchist than now? Prussian Neocameralism outlasted Manchester Liberalism? Royalist institutions have demonstrated their inherent immunity to the forces of decay? …]

How can reactionaries criticize free republics for falling apart? Everything reactionaries have ever respected fell apart. Nobody would be a reactionary if their favored configuration of the world hadn’t fallen apart.

Republics are extremely fragile. All the more reason to take devoted care of them (first of all, by protecting them from democracy).

ADDED: Fag-end of a ludicrous institution. (via AoS)

ADDED: Epic response from Nydwracu .


February 20, 2013admin 21 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Neoreaction


21 Responses to this entry

  • spandrell Says:

    The world wasn’t vastly freer. People used to dress in the same clothes and wear the same haircuts. Heretics were killed. Premodern collectivism was a ruthless world.

    What is true is that state coercion was vastly weaker (to an extent, the Qing forced manchu dress and hairdo to 200 million Han). But that is a function of technology more than political culture. How libertarian/reactionaries pretend to curtail state coercion beats me.


    Posted on February 20th, 2013 at 7:48 am Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    “The world wasn’t vastly freer.” True.
    Life in commercial republics and quasi-republics was vastly freer. Dutch Republic (early 17th century), UK (1688-1867), USA (prior to 1930s), among other examples.


    Posted on February 20th, 2013 at 8:28 am Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    “How libertarian/reactionaries pretend to curtail state coercion beats me.” I’m not getting that. Libertarians know they’re failing (catastrophically), and most reactionaries seem quite relaxed about state coercion (they just want to concentrate and personalize it).


    Posted on February 20th, 2013 at 8:38 am Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    @admin make it a hyphen. There’s libertarian-reactionaries, traditionalist-reactionaries, medieval-reactionaries, etc. Some people really think that the past had greater individual liberty, and dislike the Cathedral only on as much as it bothers their autonomy.


    Posted on February 20th, 2013 at 11:42 am Reply | Quote
  • sconzey Says:

    I think this is a false comparison. The Roman Empire fell too, but that doesn’t make establishing it a terrible idea, or undo the years of peace and civilisation it brought to the Mediterranean basin. Both a Toyota land cruiser and a Reliant Robin will eventually break down, but that doesn’t mean both cars are equally bad.

    It is correct to preserve the existing order so far as possible, but that is not to say that no superior order exists, nor that one should shy away from establishing a superior order, should the opportunity arise.


    Posted on February 20th, 2013 at 11:49 am Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    @ Spandrell — ah, that’s helpful. Do you have any particular examples (of L-Rs) in mind?

    @ Sconzey — I’m not sure why you think I’d disagree with any of that. On the contrary, it was the Roman Republic that was silently haunting the post.
    If the ‘existing order’ was commercial republican (rather than social democratic), I’d be slamming reaction as hard as I could.


    Posted on February 20th, 2013 at 12:54 pm Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    I can’t really say I’ve given much tought to it. Foseti perhaps.

    Thing is are commercial polities scalable? Or just a small niche? The jews of countries.

    Commercial republics are wealthy because they sell unto others. When everybody wants to trade we get in commercial wars. England killed Holland for a reason. Venice lost its privileges and dwindled, if graciously.


    Posted on February 20th, 2013 at 1:36 pm Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    “Thing is are commercial polities scalable?”
    Great question, which I’d be zealous to answer in the affirmative, but that might hinge on what counts as ‘commerce’. If every imaginable type of labor contract is conceived as a flat, commercial interaction, then the system simply has to be totally scalable, doesn’t it? There’s no other economy, once forms of serfdom are excluded. (SEK3 envisaged the dissolution of all labor relations into the agora, as contracted services among micro-enterprises, which is a highly attractive vision from the perspective of liberty, although perhaps somewhat optimistic when biorealist considerations are introduced …)
    England supplanted Holland, to install London as the capital of the modern global order, but kill it? Surely that’s too strong. Holland remained a commercial republic, atypically prosperous and free, and even today that legacy is far from entirely extirpated.


    Posted on February 20th, 2013 at 2:15 pm Reply | Quote
  • nydwracu Says:

    I’m not entirely convinced by the argument myself, but I think I can at least present it well enough. I think you’re assuming a higher degree of empiricism than is actually there.

    It’s important to remember here that this sort of royalism follows almost naturally from the libertarian thesis, given certain antitheses, particularly the empirical one that Moldbug notes. Starting from the premise that the Constitution went boink, that the structure endorsed by the libertarian cult of the Founders didn’t lead to the results endorsed, one can either go Chomskyan and blame it on the corrupting influence of eldritch horrors from beyond the Furthest Ring or look at it from what those of a less libertarian inclination might call a dialectical perspective: there are no demons, there is only the logic of the system played out to its natural conclusion. (Not in those precise words, naturally, but I’m nowhere near German enough to start speaking in formal logic about something I can’t draw truth tables of.) If the conclusion sucks under the latter perspective, it follows that the premises suck.

    So, libertarianism is flawed not because of observed historical decay — history proves nothing — but because observations of historical decay and the details thereof lead rationally/abstractly to the conclusion that (democratic) libertarianism is necessarily doomed to decay. Peter Thiel (who, I’m told, reads Moldbug) said that democracy and libertarianism are fundamentally incompatible, and Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Hoppe got there before he did. Also note the one-liner common among libertarian circles that democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch: libertarians have an instinctive distrust for democracy, but they only take it as far as the Founders did, and royalists argue that that’s not far enough. Even given a magic document (Moldbug: “there’s no such thing as a written constitution”), the democratic processes that exist in the American Constitution (which libertarians are remarkably reluctant to criticize) contain within them the seeds of inevitable decay: decay into universal suffrage and eventual conquest by imported muppets as factions compete to see who can marshal the most meat; decay into economic serfdom as the parasitic majority demands spoils; and decay into tyranny as the insecure mob quakes in its Uggs at shadow-monsters conjured up and magnified by the power-hungry or honest but stupid. (Celine’s third law!)

    Of course, royalist institutions fell also, so you still get your demons: sola scriptura, the failure of Catholicism to protect Christendom from Christianity, presented the communist New Testament to a much wider audience than ever before–or, alternatively, the Anabaptists inherited the proto-Whig fraternist doctrine of the Inner Light from the Stoics through the mystic Meister Eckhart and passed it down to the Quakers–and this led to the creation of a political faction that slowly strangled royalism and colonialism to death and then blamed it on their internal contradictions. Civil war by proxy!

    The relationship between Britain and Massachusetts, in particular, was much like that between a parent and a teenager. Independence or loyalty: it could go either way, at least for the moment. Scenario: your teenager starts cutting class. So you take her car keys away. So she throws your widescreen TV out the window. So you give her car keys back. Is this pattern of behavior more likely to result in independence, or loyalty?

    Thus the establishment of a liberal-democratic creed-state. Fast-forward a bit, to after the first World War, and a combination of an economic crisis originating in said creed-state and France’s astounding idiocy at Versailles resulted in another world war, which led to the military conquest and progressive occupation and reeducation of large swathes of Europe and the near-total worldwide defeat on the battlefield of rightism and colonialism. (But even after that, Franco’s regime survived until the 1970s, only imploding after a high-profile attack from the nationalist-and-therefore-democratic ETA, the withdrawal of support by the liberalized Catholic Church, popular pressure stemming from economic prosperity in the USA-supported democracies, and the political inclinations of the university-educated king who Franco appointed and his father.)

    Defeat on the battlefield! The end of history was won not by mere merit, but by the bombs of the militarily and geographically superior Whig army; and the Whig creed’s parceling-out of sovereignty carries within it the seeds of disorder and decay. What, then, is to be done?

    This is the point where my understanding ends: the positive argument for royalism, as far as I can tell, draws heavily on Hobbes, Jouvenel, and Schmitt, and I haven’t read any of them. Moldbug makes the argument somewhere that since the democratic division of sovereignty leads to further division, in the form of increasing the scope of suffrage, the only way out is to limit it to one person, but that’s so unconvincing to me that I doubt that’s all of the argument–although it could be all of Moldbug’s, since he still follows the libertarian mindset, which cares about the long term, whereas my psychological tendencies point more toward John Glubb and Alain de Benoist, and the premise that in the long term we’re all dead.


    Posted on February 21st, 2013 at 10:49 pm Reply | Quote
  • Libertarian decay and royalist history « nydwracu niþgrim, nihtbealwa mæst Says:

    […] Nick Land asks: “How can reactionaries criticize free republics for falling apart? Everything reactionaries have ever respected fell apart.” So I replied, in a comment long enough to merit posting, after slight editing for standalone coherency. I’m not entirely convinced by this argument myself, and I’m not even sure how to put together the positive case for royalism that belongs at the end, but I find this historical narrative at least more credible than the Whig one. […]

    Posted on February 21st, 2013 at 11:00 pm Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    @ Nydrwracu
    Superb stuff, thanks. My problem begins with “the democratic division of sovereignty …”
    Is it truly impossible to distinguish the republican project (to constrain political power), from the democratic project (to politically empower the people)? Both in principle, and in terms of practical statecraft, it seems to me that the former has led to the most excellent societies the world has yet known, whilst the latter simply and completely stinks.
    Also noteworthy (as a Brit), is the reliable collaboration of the monarchical-aristocratic establishment with socialist ruination, typically through their parliamentary puppet (‘One Nation’ conservatism). Disraeli pushed through the 1867 reform act to screw the bourgeoisie, and it’s been downhill from there. Prince Charles would probably be an out-and-out jihadi if it wasn’t for the complicating additional strands of his anti-capitalist agenda.


    Posted on February 22nd, 2013 at 12:59 am Reply | Quote
  • nydwracu Says:

    That was going to be my next question, except I didn’t think of it until after I hit post. What, precisely, is the republican project, and what real-world examples are there of it? (I’ve read a lot of Lasch and I once had to write a paper on Skinner and Pettit, so I’ve heard a few different definitions.) Also, are there any necessary societal/cultural/etc. preconditions to its implementation? Most self-proclaimed republicans I’ve read have either argued for the necessity of an ‘educated populace’ of a degree probably impossible even today, and doomed to become progressively more so unless the dysgenic hypothesis is completely false, or a total social institution (either the social fabric of a small Southern town or Catholicism) which in practice would likely exercise at least as much power as the government.

    Certainly the British tradition has something to it that others don’t; Britain and its colonies flourished in ways that, say, France and its colonies never did; even today, the best-off countries in Africa are former British possessions that didn’t get killed by the international community the way Rhodesia did. (Seychelles did have a coup that installed a one-party socialist government, but it got results. For that matter, Libya under Gaddafi didn’t do so badly by some metrics IIRC… but now its corpse is spewing blood on the ceiling. Thanks, NATO!)

    We know what libertarian rot is; what is republican rot? Expanding power of government driven by the twin forces of moral or financial panics and career-seeking Vogons? Lasch seems to think that’s a natural process, that all (communist or fascist, but it’s visible under liberalism too) governments evolve into massive regulatory bureaucracies. And it’s not impossible that there are crises when government intervention is legitimately needed; but organizations, once formed, are driven by the iron law of inertia to find a purpose even if they shouldn’t have one. The Romans had a solution: an institutional out, in the form of a temporary dictator–but how can dictators be kept temporary?


    Posted on February 24th, 2013 at 5:06 pm Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    There’s too much interesting stuff here to respond to in one bite, but a few disjointed points straight off.
    — Mancur Olson describes Public Choice Theory as ‘politics without romance.’ Republicanism, when stripped of its democratic camouflage, is government without romance. Neither the people, nor leaders, enchant it. Its only ‘faith’ lies in incentive structures, which it attempts to orchestrate against concentrated power.
    — Neal Stephenson is the greatest contemporary poet of the republican spirit, with his Baroque Cycle as its epic.
    — The Roman Republic lasted for over 450 years. Plenty of material, then, for reactionaries, which all serious modern republicans have been (reaching back to the classical model).
    — To emphasize the ancient dictator, or the modern Schmittian exception (the same thing), is to turn the failure of quasi-algorithmic government into a positive argument for something else (executive discretion, or ‘judgment’). This is strictly analogous to humanistic objections to the AI project, or even theistic objections to scientific naturalism in general, as expressed through its ‘spirit-of-the-gaps’ character. Alan Turing taught us to doubt claims that such gaps are grounded in anything more fundamental than technical incompetence, so history might not be kind to arguments which rely upon them.


    nydwracu Reply:

    1. Right. That’s the tricky thing about politics: consensus perception matters, as does perception of consensus perception. This is the error many who claim to be rationalists or skeptics or so on make: they claim that if there’s no first-order justification for a thing, if it isn’t ‘true’ (whatever that would even mean), it ought to be done away with, even if the social fabric depends on it–and, for a far more ominous hypothetical, even if things without that first-order justification are necessary preconditions of the existence of a social fabric at all!

    Although the interesting thing is that these myths are much more resilient than one might think. No economically rational agent would ever vote. Casting a secret vote is mathematically irrelevant in all but the smallest elections. But people–even people who attack the myths of dead and dying cultures–not only vote, but think it’s reasonable to vote, and it just doesn’t register that it’s mathematically stupid.

    2. Haven’t read him except Cryptonomicon (although I’ll get to the rest eventually!), but I’d nominate Douglas Adams. (Empirically speaking, he was probably right about Thursdays… and when you can get that level of detail…)

    3. That is not so far outside the mainstream of analytic political philosophy as one might expect… Skinner and Pettit have been working on a ‘neo-Roman’ theory of freedom, at least. It still carries with it the characteristic analytic dysfunction of being so abstract that it’s difficult to see what can be done with it, but less so than, say, Rawls.

    4. I’m not sure what to make of that. It could be that trying to work around the failure of algorithmic, engineered government with more engineering is trying to create societal immortality… but it could also be that the exceptions are part of the plan, and don’t really do anything (or are counterproductive, maybe?) in terms of societal longevity. More data is needed.


    admin Reply:

    (1) One source of cognitive friction that might evolve into a productive dispute lies at the intersection of biorealism and politics (or social organization). For one camp, if something gels with our ape-brains we should go with it, because it’s practical to go with the grain of human nature, while for the other anything that clicks with our ape-brains sets off a red light, since we’ll be more likely to irrationally persevere with it, over-riding contrary feedback, and following crummy legacy instincts into the abyss. Apes like charismatic leaders — is that an argument for royalism, or against it?

    (2) Adams is witty and smart, but Stephenson is truly deep.

    (3) Thanks I’ll follow that up, and, of course … f%$k Rawls.

    (4) Data, yes, and especially experimentation. This area (micro-state constitutional engineering) strikes me as a zone where futuristic AI-stuff could quickly find a home. Would people want to live somewhere with maximally-predictable public rules, policed by a robot army? I’d be at least intrigued …


    nydwracu Reply:

    1. Can normative statements be rooted in evolution like that in the first place? I’m not convinced that apes liking charismatic leaders is an argument either way; the closest I can get is the argument that the events that predictably follow from the {presence|absence} of charismatic leaders are {positive|negative}. And, of course, that last group of words unpacks even further.

    3. Heuristically speaking, I’m always skeptical of people who have that much difficulty with basic clarity… but of course, that makes getting along in the philosophical world somewhat difficult, since there I’m expected to have at least something good to say about Kant. (Foucault, on the other hand, could communicate coherently, but didn’t; and Nietzsche was clear but difficult. In the analytic crowd I’ve seen, Rawls is opposed with Nozick, which is a lot like opposing the Democrats with the Republicans. Yes, let’s counter a liberal rationalist moralist with a liberal rationalist moralist! Yawn.)

    4. That’s ideal, but we’re out of land. I like the idea of separatism (except when it looks like the separate political body, if formed, would fail suicidally to govern itself) but seasteading seems like it’ll be impractical for another century or two due to transportation problems.

    admin Reply:

    1. The is/ought distinction is over-rated — I think Jim D. inters it very thoroughly with his Natural Law argument. What makes an ‘ought’ authoritative (in reality) is being rooted in evolutionary fact, and the consistent game-theoretic structures that it supports. We’re on to another post by this time, though, and it doesn’t ‘resolve’ the charismatic leadership problem without a great deal more thrashing.

    3. Kant’s prose is, to say the least, an acquired taste, but since he’s the master key to intellectual modernity there’s no sustainable alternative to teeth-gritted perseverance. ‘Difficult writing’ is a complex topic — in large part it’s a matter of weird socio-cultural games, and power, but not in any straightforward way (necessarily). Language wasn’t engineered for edgy abstraction, so it’s naive to assume that clarity — or conformity — is always available as a choice. Sometimes language has to be tortured to reach places that it wasn’t built to reach — after all, mathematical notation does that, in one way (abandoning the traditional resources of ‘natural language’ as inadequate to its unprecedented purposes). But this isn’t to say that tides of sheer BS, or academic guild codes, aren’t often deciding things.

    4. Two centuries! Come on … (that’s Space Opera)

    Posted on February 24th, 2013 at 11:26 pm Reply | Quote
  • Wilhelm Durand Says:

    This argument boils down to “everything that’s past is ipso facto worse than what has survived.”

    This is fallacious because good governance, while related to the fitness of your nation, is not the only factor in it. A country with poor governance, but with nukes, will survive a nation with good governance, but no nukes. In fact, this actually happened in 1945 with the fall of the Empire of the Rising Sun. Indeed, there are numerous counter-examples.

    Perhaps other reactionaries pine for the return of monarchy because they like the dress code, but so far as I can tell, it’s the best form of governance for unmodified humans, and probably modified humans as well, and I always advocate optimization.


    admin Reply:

    Classical Republicanism is hardly an upstart revolutionary ideology. Insofar as it instantiates apolitical meritocracy — always a challenge, admittedly — it is clearly superior to dynastic rule. The Neocameral idea accepts this clearly, although for reasons that still escape me it is subsequently mystified by royalist rhetorical trappings.


    Posted on March 4th, 2013 at 6:16 am Reply | Quote
  • NEU ROMAN X Says:

    […] admin Reply: March 4th […]

    Posted on July 23rd, 2016 at 10:56 pm Reply | Quote
  • Dick Wagner Says:

    “One source of cognitive friction that might evolve into a productive dispute lies at the intersection of biorealism and politics (or social organization). For one camp, if something gels with our ape-brains we should go with it, because it’s practical to go with the grain of human nature, while for the other anything that clicks with our ape-brains sets off a red light, since we’ll be more likely to irrationally persevere with it, over-riding contrary feedback, and following crummy legacy instincts into the abyss. Apes like charismatic leaders — is that an argument for royalism, or against it?”

    This gets at the sinew of the left/right debate imo


    Posted on October 18th, 2016 at 4:32 pm Reply | Quote

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