Their status will fall as fast as a hammer in a well

Monday, November 20th, 2017

Feudalism is a natural form of government, Spandrell notes — it’s basically transposing the hierarchy of a conquering army into peacetime — and it tends to maintain loyalty, but it doesn’t get things done. Feudalism led to absolutism, and absolutism led to liberalism:

Liberal states were strong, had armies of bureaucrats and tax revenues that feudal states could only dream of. But while they were effective, they were a mess. Feudalism is good at generating loyalty. Liberalism is awful at that. And loyalty is very important. The fundamental problem of politics is the distinction between friend and foe, said Schmitt. A friend is someone who is loyal.

The 19th century, which destroyed the Ancien Regime in Europe, was an economic and scientific golden era, but politically it was a mess. A revolution every decade, governments which lasted months, huge scandals every week. Elections were a violent and chaotic affair. If anything got done at all it was because the political chaos gave way to economic freedom, and the private sector got things done. A lot of things done. But the intellectuals weren’t cool with that. Intellectuals are always the reserve army of the bureaucracy. They want the government to get things done.

With all the scientific advances of the last centuries, the 18th and 19th century intellectuals were just brimming with excitement with all the things they could get done. All those plans of social engineering. Utopia on earth! It just seemed so feasible. And yet they could never pull it off through the political process. They just couldn’t pull it off. The politicians and bureaucrats just weren’t loyal enough. Constant factionalism and infighting made any real reform impossible.

Until Leninism, that is. Now Leninism is most likely mislabeled. Lenin did indeed found the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. But Lenin died in 1924. And the Soviet Union was still a huge mess in 1924. It was Stalin, general secretary of the CPSU since 1922 who, through the means we all know, really built the Communist Party and stabilized the Soviet government. Stalinism is used to refer to his brutal purges and his approach to criminal justice, but it would be more accurate to use Stalinism to refer to what we today call Leninism; the structure of rule of single-party Communist regimes.

Say what you will about the Soviet Union: the Communist Party was loyal. They got things done. Every crazy and stupid thing that the Politburo approved got done. Yes, it took a while to achieve that result. Stalin had to kill a lot of people. But it wasn’t through sheer terror and cruelty that the Communist Party worked. The Communist Party had a system. Which worked. It still works today in China. You might have noticed how people in the West today talk about China in these same terms. China gets things done, it does them fast and cheap. China got the world’s biggest high-speed rail system in the time that it takes to dig a tunnel in Boston. And for not that much more money. That’s not a coincidence. That’s Leninism at work.

Any country has a ruling class. What I call “loyalty” you could also call asabiya; the coherence of the ruling class as such. Their ability to stick with each other and gang up, keeping the structure of rule stable. Feudalism got that; the nobility was the ruling class, they formed a society very much separate from that of the peasants, and they took much care that their rule was never contested. The destruction of that world by enlightened liberals resulted in a ruling class which was orders of magnitude less cohesive and orderly. You might be a libertarian and think that is a good thing, and you may have a point. But any organization wants to fight entropy and ensure its stability and reproduction. Liberalism historically has shown itself incapable of that. Leninism was the first solution to that problem.

Leninism is, of course, applied socialism. Socialism was huge before Leninism was even a thing, and that Marxism was and is still popular is not due only to Soviet patronage. Socialism works by hacking the Social Calculus Module that humans have in our brains. Remember, humans care deeply about status. Status is what drives human behavior. Everybody works to achieve more status, and to avoid losing status. Socialism of course sells egalitarianism. It tells people with low status that they can get some more.


What did Lenin do? Exterminate the natural aristocracy of Russia, and build a ruling class with a bunch of low-status people. Workers, peasants, Jews, Latvians, Ukrainians. Lenin went out of his way to recruit everyone who had a grudge against Imperial Russian society. And it worked, brilliantly. The Bolsheviks, a small party who little popular support, won the civil war, and became the awesome Soviet Union. The early Soviet Union promoted minorities, women, sexual deviants, atheists, cultists and every kind of weirdo. Everybody but intelligent, conservative Russians of good families. The same happened in China, where e.g. the 5 provinces which formed the southern Mongolian steppe were joined up into “Inner Mongolia autonomous region”, what Sailer calls “consolidate and surrender”.

In Communist countries pedigree was very important. You couldn’t get far in the party if you had any little kulak, noble or landowner ancestry. Only peasants and workers were trusted. Why? Because only peasants and workers could be trusted to be loyal. Rich people, or people with the inborn traits which lead to being rich, will always have status in any natural society. They will always do alright. That’s why they can be trusted; the stakes are never high for them. If anything they’d rather have more freedom to realize their talents. People of peasant stock though, they came from the dredges of society. They know very well that all they have was given to them by the party. And so they will be loyal to the death, because they know it, if the Communist regime falls, their status will fall as fast as a hammer in a well. And the same goes for everyone else, especially those ethnic minorities.


  1. Borepatch says:

    This has me mostly convinced that Donald Trump isn’t a populist, he’s a reactionary. “Make America Great Again” is all about status. As Aretae used to say, it’s Monkey Brains all the way down.

  2. Kirk says:

    That’s an important insight into the true nature of the Communist system, and why it was so successful. Even the people being carted off to the gulags didn’t want to risk losing their new places in society, and feared the return of the old system.

    As to Borepatch’s ideas about Trump…? I’m not sure that Trump is anything but Trump. Classifying him and what he stands for is a job for historians a generation or two down the road, and I’d hesitate to say that he’s anything at all, except “different” than what’s gone before.

    He may be a great president. He may be a disaster, but we’re not going to know until enough time has passed to truly evaluate him and his works.

  3. Slovenian Guest says:

    Not going to know, Kirk? We already know!

    He showed us that push-back is possible.

    That’s plenty.

  4. William Newman says:

    “Any country has a ruling class. What I call ‘loyalty’ you could also call asabiya; the coherence of the ruling class as such. Their ability to stick with each other and gang up, keeping the structure of rule stable.”

    I don’t have a convenient copy of Ibn Khaldun to check, but from memory, I don’t think this is a good fit to what he was trying to get at with asabiya. When unsettled tribes kick the city regime’s ass, take over, and then likely get clobbered some generations later by some other unsettled tribe, it’s not just a ruling class solidarity issue. Indeed, it doesn’t look to me much like a ruling class solidarity issue at all, except perhaps indirectly. (Indirectly, e.g., because lack of ruling class solidarity contributes to the ruler being too insecure to allow competent respected men to have positions of power, especially in the military, for fear of their rivalry.)

    Asabiya is important to a number of historically very effective fighting organizations, in several wildly different styles (e.g. classic phalanxes and Renaissance pikemen and to a lesser extent pre-Renaissance English infantry are mutually similar, but all very different from cavalry from various pastoralist groups). No matter how cohesive your ruling class, it’s hard to build such units if you’re too far out on the exploitative despotism scale. (And settling down with a bunch of serfs breeds exploitative despotism. Various direct effects contribute, and an indirect effect probably contributes even more: supporting the formation of proto-states and states with populations much greater than the Dunbar number.)

    I’ve griped before about Turchin’s insistence on tying asabiya to income and/or wealth — it’s difficult to see a sensible reason for this interpretation, except in cynical support of the usual Progressive agenda of nominal equality propaganda (traditionally monetary equality, but recently equal outcomes for demographic groups too) with some animals more equal (or, recently, more diverse) than others. And, of course, see no nomenklatura, hear no nomenklatura, speak no nomenklatura. It takes a special kind of historical perspective to blow past stuff like David and Bathsheba, or Xenophon’s acid remarks about Athenians stealing from the public purse, or “who then was the gentleman” and still s.n.n.h.n.n.s.n.n. Of course, in many instances, notably the great classical empires and any number of modern kleptocracies, there is a very strong crosscoupling between monetary wealth and corrupt privilege, so there’s lots of ambiguity. But there are enough modern instances of market economies with lots of monetary inequality and relatively low privilege and corruption that Turchin’s interpretation is a surprising one that deserves a solid justification, not just smoothly assuming a useful Progressive talking point as though we’re all proper fellow travellers here.

    Anyway, spandrell’s interpretation seems almost equally stretched, although less absurd than Turchin’s. (I admit I remember some related points in the Ibn Khaldun. E.g., from memory, asabiya falling when the ruler excludes his people from positions of power, instead suppressing rivals and favoring favorites.) I really think that limiting it to the ruling class is missing the point. (And I don’t think we can reliably identify the conquering tribe with the ruling class, not when we’re stretching the concept not just to premodern conquests but to the Soviets.) I also think it’s significant how often very old social arrangements, some significant fraction of which are likely left over from successful warrior arrangements, look less like props for ruling class solidarity than like protocols to help establish and maintain some justified trust between leaders and followers, in the spirit of “see, nothing up my sleeve” or “I cut and you choose”. Frex, any number of arrangements for warriors electing war leaders. Or trial by jury. Or public petition for redress of grievances. Or various norms for rulers to be at least formally subject to the law.

    None of this is to say that ruling class solidarity is not historically important, or that spandrell is wrong about Leninism’s approach to building and maintaining it, or wrong about the contrast with various rival societies which have been weakened by e.g. ruling class infighting and tactics like far-against-near alliances. But I don’t think asabiya is a very suitable word for all that stuff, because Ibn Khaldun already used that word to name something else which is at least as important. Asabiya is more nearly about what let the ancient Greeks and the Swiss and some of their neighbors could field really effective heavy infantry units, and about why some kinds of stateless groups outfighting settled rivals was a historical cliche for so long. It’s pretty hard to explain those historical patterns in terms of elite solidarity, while it is pretty plausible that not-just-the-elite social trust and reliability and solidarity had a lot to do with those historical patterns.

  5. Gaikokumaniakku says:

    …only peasants and workers could be trusted to be loyal. Rich people, or people with the inborn traits which lead to being rich, will always have status in any natural society. They will always do alright. That’s why they can be trusted; the stakes are never high for them. If anything they’d rather have more freedom to realize their talents. People of peasant stock though, they came from the dredges of society.

    This strikes me as anti-white bigotry designed to divide and conquer. It encourages the reader to think of impecunious whites as scum. It does not explain how it distinguishes between the useless peasants and the peasants who have the natural qualities necessary to rise once they find opportunity.

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