FDR, like Lincoln, was a dictator

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

FDR, like Lincoln, was a dictator:

He governed America more or less personally by decree. Obviously, many people worked forUSGinFDR’s time; but, as with a normal corporateCEO, none could flout his will and survive professionally. FDR was not quite in charge of the courts; Lincoln could disregard the judicial process, but FDR couldn’t. However, these exceptions should be seen as minor details in an overall pattern of general personal government.

Those who hanker for a New Deal 2.0 should remember that FDR invoked a permanent state of emergency in 1933, just like Hitler. And just like Hitler, he ruled for life. For the next 12 years, he and his minions governed America by whim, like Dick Cheney cubed. It’s true that FDR found himself constrained by the Supreme Court. It’s not (entirely) true that when he fought the Court, he lost. And there was certainly no one else in America who could contend with him!

(Nor was FDR, as commonly asserted, a “traitor to his class” — anything but it. FDR’s beliefs, or at least his speeches (in one so seldom praised for candor, the inference of any actual conviction is at best an exercise of imagination) can indeed be studied as almost perfect reflections of the intellectual fashions of America’s apex upper class, the socialite-socialist aristocracy. These fashions have changed somewhat since 1933, but not that much.)

FDR could not, it’s true, order someone arrested or shot for no reason at all. At least, not so far as I know. We still have a lot to learn about this era. FDR did not have the powers of Lincoln, who could have anyone arrested, and did — but not shot. Lincoln was no Lenin or Hitler. For the purpose of managing the normal operations of government, however, FDR, Lincoln, Lenin, Hitler, Henry VIII, Cromwell and Napoleon exercised more or less the same level of authority: personal sovereignty.

So this remedy, hardly new to history, is not even new to us. Rather, America has taken the Dictator Pill in the lives of those now living — 75 years ago. And 75 years before that. And its pet historians, though the grant-fed dogs they are, celebrate these episodes as marvelous renewals. Does it compute? Does any of this crap compute? No, gentlemen, we will have the truth!

FDR, personally, was not much of an administrator. FDR was a charming hereditary socialite and a fine political actor. As an administrator, he gets a D for aptitude, a C for effort, and a D for results. (As an actor, his performances turn the stomach today. Try listening to an FDR speech, or worse — watching a propaganda newsreel. This incredible, heavy-handed, flagrantly mendacious schmaltz was pure dynamite for the unsophisticated radio listener of the ’30s.)

But in his entourage, FDR had some of the most talented administrators in the history of the world, and those administrators had more or less full executive authority. For instance, if anyone in the lives of those now living has held the job of “CEO of USG,” that would be Harry Hopkins. Colonel House dreamed the dream — Harry Hopkins lived it.

There is no Harry Hopkins in Washington today. There is no Colonel House, either. There is no one even remotely like these people; there is no job remotely like their jobs. All the royal powers of the New Deal have been sliced into micron-thick wafers and distributed around ten or fifteen office buildings. These powers have not gone away — quite the contrary. They have, of course, expanded. But they have also become entirely impersonal. (In many cases, they have ended up in the hands of the judiciary — once FDR’s worst enemy.)

The change is for the worse in a thousand different ways, but perhaps the worst is that it eradicates any conceivable responsibility for bad results. Thus 65 years after the death of FDR, post-New Deal Washington displays all the vices of the real New Deal, and none of its virtues. This will not change. This clock does not roll back. There is no fountain of youth for the State. A Brezhnev does not become a Lenin. Fish soup does not become an aquarium. Etc.

Send them back to Africa

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Sometimes the best option really is to send them back to Africa, Miss Snuffleupagus says — as a black teacher in London:

It is assumed by most people that bad kids are bad and good kids are good. What I mean to say is that somehow they were born that way. Or they were made that way in their early years by an alcoholic mother and nothing but massive intervention strategies will get them back on the straight and narrow. Schools, teachers, parents, social workers, and police officers have to help these kids to become good. We set up systems like nurture groups (from a few posts ago), pastoral support plans, mentoring facilities, support groups, smaller classes and so on and so on. And these systems have some effect. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t set them up. We may be blind, but we’re not that blind.

What I find interesting is that over the years, I have noticed that the number one thing to help black children get on the straight and narrow is to ‘send them back to Africa’. The same happens if the parent chooses to ‘send them back to the Caribbean’ of course. As long as you catch them young enough. Do it before the age of 14, and a miracle is in store for you.

The most unruly, most deranged black boys, who know nothing of discipline and respect get shipped off to Ghana and within weeks, they are transformed. Suddenly they respect their teachers, do their homework, speak politely and obey every command.

The question is why.

Because suddenly they find themselves in an environment which does not tolerate dissonance. There are no support groups, only the whip. There are no mentoring sessions, only expulsion. And the other children all sing to the tune of the school. In such an environment, no child would dare to upset the apple cart. And after a few weeks, one’s child is transformed.

I always find myself feeling sorry for the white working class as they do not have this option.

Democracy or Tyranny

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Why did it take so long to achieve democracy?

One thing I like to try to do is remember my original reaction, as a child in the ’70s and ’80s, to the present history of the world as revealed to me then by educational sources of unquestionable, or at least unquestioned, reliability.

Of course, I could be just making this up. It is hard to tell. But I distinctly recall wondering: why did it take so long for human progress to achieve democracy? After all, you have many centuries of extremely sophisticated European Renaissance and post-Renaissance thought. Yet the victory of democracy on the European continent was not complete and assured until the lives of those now living. In England, it was not complete and assured until the 20th century. Only in America was it old, and even then not that old. And then there was the Roman Empire… and so on.

Moreover, I learned, in the real world today, there were only two real alternatives. Democracy, or Hitler. Or Stalin. Democracy or tyranny. Yet when I read the history of Europe before the 20th century, ie, the century of democracy, I did not see anyone or anything like Hitler or Stalin.

What, exactly, is the difference — as a matter of political organization — between the regime of Queen Elizabeth, and that of Hitler? Democracy puts both in the same category: nondemocracy. Absolute personal despotism, to be exact. But… there is a difference, isn’t there?

All these objections are neatly summed up in Churchill’s famous aphorism, if it is really Churchill’s. Democracy, whose flaws are not in any way secret, appears to you as the worst of all systems of government, except for all the others. And what do you know of all the others? Nothing at all, of course. (Or at least, nothing nonmagical.) Hence the statement sounds true, because it is true. So far as you know. That migraine spot again!

There’s a hypothesis forming here. We notice that all our blind spots seem to be in the general area of political democracy. Where they lead to misimpressions, those impressions tend to cast democracy in a falsely positive light. What if democracy was like communism? What if, for everything and anything in the world today that is broken, we could say accurately: it is broken because it is democratic. To fix it, get rid of democracy.

This appears unthinkable, of course, to you. You were raised as a true democrat. Note that if you’d been raised a true Communist, you would have perceived Communism in just the same way. And, of course, Catholicism, and Islam, and so on. But Communism (which is in fact best seen as a splinter branch of the global democratic movement) is the best analogy, because it is so recent.

No, comrades, Communism is not the problem! Communism? The problem? On the contrary, comrades — Communism is the cure! We suffer, not because we have been true to Communism, but because we have been untrue to Communism! To get back on the right track, comrades, we must redouble our efforts to achieve Communism… and so on.

I think of this when I hear anyone acting under the delusion that they can restore the American political system, presumably to some imagined youthful vitality. The American political system! The true nature of that system, gentlemen, is now quite apparent. Long has it battened on the rest of the planet; its final dessert is now apparent. As any epidemiologist would expect, America was that country most resistant to American democracy. Resistance is not immunity. In the end, every elm must meet its beetle.

A lefty kind of girl

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Miss Snuffleupagus considered herself a lefty kind of girl — not unusual for a black woman in London — until something changed:

Being a lefty kind of girl, I’ve never questioned the existence of the state before. Being a lefty kind of girl, I grew up believing the state takes money off its citizens in order to redistribute it. It helps the poor to be less poor. It forces the rich to care about those who are less fortunate. It provides free health care and education for all. It enforces rules to ensure its citizens are kind to each other, look after each other, and do upon others as they would do upon themselves. Being a lefty kind of girl, I believed the right-wingers to be evil monsters and the left-wingers to be righteous pursuers of justice.

Then I became a teacher.

Now all I can see is the great harm done to my children by the welfare state. I see young women encouraged to have children at an early age by the state that dangles pseudo-gifts in front of their eyes. I see most children take their education for granted, or indeed reject it entirely because they haven’t had to pay for it. I see parents take little interest in their child’s education because they’ll have an education, no matter what. I see both children and parents abuse books, pencils, or laptops because they have been given to them. I see property defaced over and over, because it belongs to no one. I see my colleagues abused day after day by children who have no sense of gratitude.

My children are no longer free to have motivation. They are no longer free to have ambition. They are no longer free to have a sense of pride, or indeed shame. Gone is the freedom of making plans for the future, or saving for a rainy day. Gone is the idea of building up a bank of skills to make something of oneself. Gone is the idea of being responsible for a life, for one’s own life, and for one’s family.

(Hat tip to Mencius Moldbug.)

A Saint in a TV-Age Religion

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Globally, who is the most revered political figure of the present era?

If you ask this question of a random sample of Americans, Americanized Europeans, etc, etc, a significant percentage will say: “Nelson Mandela.” Moreover, and more important, almost all of those who chose someone else will agree that, yes, “Nelson Mandela” is a perfectly good answer to this question.

Try this experiment: get a friend of yours to agree with this statement. Then say: “okay. Now, pretend I’m an alien. To Planet Earth, I have just now come! And I don’t know anything about Nelson Mandela. Really. Nothing at all. You say: Nelson Mandela is the most revered figure of the present political era. So tell me: who was Nelson Mandela? And what did he do?”

Although this objection may produce some elaboration, the odds are overwhelming that the first answer you receive will be phrased in entirely magical terms. For example, your friend might say: “Nelson Mandela led his people to freedom.”
Surely, if Mandela is the greatest political leader of the era, through his own personal initiative he must have brought much better government to millions of people. Surely, if one sought an objective determination of the effect of changes in government on some group or groups X, you would say: did group or groups X experience better government under the old regime, or the new regime? Furthermore: was this result, if surprising, surprising to the entirety of humanity? Or were there some predicted it? If so, who were these accurate predictors?

Anyway. Nelson Mandela is not the subject of this post. But the point is: your friend actually knows nothing about Nelson Mandela, the historical figure. He cannot answer any of these questions.

What he knows is Nelson Mandela, the magical figure. He is experiencing history via magic. Nelson Mandela is not really a historical figure to him; Nelson Mandela is simply a saint in his TV-age religion, which like all major religions practices magical thinking. I urge you to cease and desist from this practice. It is detrimental to the neurons. You will feel much better when you are all done with it.

Unto Caesar

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

F.A. Voigt argued that both Communism and National Socialism were revolutionary secular religions that sought to render unto Caesar that which is God’s — that is, to transform religious promises into worldly reality — and that Britain had to act, within realistic constraints, to save the Commonwealth:

The greatest extension of international, social, and religious peace ever achieved has been achieved within the British Commonwealth. Throughout a quarter of the world the satanic forces that engender war and revolution are curbed, thanks to the Pax Britannica, with which a benevolent Providence has associated the Pax Americana and the Pax Gallica.

The Pax Europaica is one of these ideals that transcend practical statesmanship, which is necessarily short-sighted and bent on the fulfillment of immediate tasks. Excessively far-sighted statesmanship may be very dangerous, and to pursue an international ideal by political means is to invite a general catastrophe.

The Pax Europaica would certainly be in the interest of the British Commonwealth, but to enforce it is beyond the power of the Commonwealth (we often forget that the greatest power — even the power of the Commonwealth — is limited). England is under the absolute necessity of defending western Europe because that defense is self-defense. That necessity imposes a terrible burden and is attended by fearful dangers. The burden and the dangers must be borne, but to augment them in the pursuit of an ideal that is, in any case, unattainable in so short a time as one generation, would be madness. The Pax Britannica would be shaken and, perhaps, fall to pieces, British vital interests would suffer profound and perhaps irretrievable injury, and the ideal would certainly not be achieved but would, in all likelihood, be buried forever in the irretrievable ruin.

This passage, in Mencius Moldbus’s opinion, approaches greatness:

The true lover of peace will be more concerned with peace in the concrete than peace in the abstract; with defending his and his country’s peace, rather than with chimerical schemes for extending peace beyond the limits of the possible. He will always reflect whether its extension beyond the frontiers of his own country will be an extension not of peace, but of war. Even a seemingly small extension of peace may be dangerous, as the extension of the Pax Britannica to western Europe is. Inherent in universal peace is the menace of universal war — “indivisible peace” is “indivisible war.”
The modern effort to establish universal peace is perhaps for this reason mainly an English effort. After the armistice, the English experienced a prodigious revulsion against war. But they also felt an island security which could no longer be menaced, seeing that the German fleet had been destroyed. Their pacifism acquired a messianic character — they were less concerned with saving their fellow-countrymen than with saving all mankind from war. Their own security made them more accessible than any other nations to utopian dreams of universal peace — and blinder to the danger inherent in such utopian dreams.
Monstrous proposals, like the proposal to create an international air force that would emerge — from some Alpine stronghold, presumably — and bomb the cities of the alleged aggressor, found a considerable following in the post-war years. Such inhuman phantasmagoria had an affinity with the secular religions of the European continent. Indeed, English militant pacifism had something in common with the Marxian dreams of a universal realm of peace, justice and well-being. As we have seen, the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth is inseparable from its own opposite. It can only come about by violence.The threat of universal war as a means of establishing universal peace is a peculiarly English conception that has crystallized in the doctrine of “sanctions.” This doctrine is analogous to the doctrine of the proletarian dictatorship which would establish social peace by making class-war permanent and universal. “Sanctions” are the counterpart of the revolutionary terror — the purpose of either is peace, but the effect of both is the consolidation, through war or the threat of war (whether between classes or nations), of power in the hands of those hold it.
To erect the “punishment of the aggressor” into a general system would be to concentrate immense power into a few hands and establish an abominable and universal tyranny. In nothing is the evil inherent in universal systems of enforced morality more evident than in the doctrine of “sanctions.”
There is no reason to suppose that a universal system of “sanctions” would abolish war even for a time. One evil would be replaced by a greater evil. Private wars would be abolished — only world wars would be allowed.

England, Voigt emphasizes, is the only Great Power exposed to the permanent danger of total and permanent defeat in war:

The United States have absolute security. They are exposed neither to blockade, nor invasion, nor attack from the air. Not one of their vital interests can be menaced. Unless their whole fleet engages in some rash enterprise far from its bases, they are safe from major defeat. And even major defeat would not expose them to conquest by a foreign foe. The United States can never be less than a Great Power.
Of all the Great Powers, England is the most vulnerable. On her armed strength depends her own existence — and the existence of others. She can never share the enviable state of the small countries on the north-western fringe of Europe. Without her, these countries would be threatened with extinction. If it were not for the British command of the sea, Holland would be absorbed by Germany, and her colonial empire would be at the mercy of Japan. It is very doubtful whether Denmark would exist at all if she were not situated on the fringe of the Pax Britannica. Norway and Sweden have a certain security in their remoteness — but the security of Norway, at least, is made doubly secure because England could not tolerate an alien conquest or penetration that would give a foreign navy the use of the Norwegian coast.

Belgium cannot exist as an independent nation without Britain and France. It is not even sure that Swiss independence would survive if the Swiss had not the French for neighbors and the French had not the English for allies.
England’s general interest is in the national independence of existing States within their present frontiers and therefore, in the European status quo. But that interest is not so vital that she can make every change in that status a casus belli. Indeed no change in the territorial status anywhere in Europe, except in the west and in the Mediterranean area, can be a casus belli for England. But so delicate is the European equilibrium and so far-reaching may the consequences be if it is upset, that any territorial change anywhere in Europe may, by involving other Powers (especially France), lead to a situation so full of danger that she must always reserve to herself the possibility of intervening in defense of her vital interests.

Nor is the question purely political. The triumph of the militant, imperialistic Powers would promote the spread of protection and of tied economies. German expansion in central and eastern Europe would extend the area of German “self-sufficiency.” Whether Germany achieves political domination, or even a decisive political and commercial influence, tariffs and systems of quotas, subsidies and import and export licenses are promoted to the advantage of Germany and to the exclusion of other countries.

Loss of trade in an area so extensive as the prospective Pan-German Empire and the zones of German ascendancy beyond the borders of that Empire would be a very serious matter for England.
While avoiding direct intervention in the affairs of central and eastern Europe, [England] must always be able to impinge on the central and eastern European situation, using her influences and her good offices to preserve the status quo. A general anti-German policy would be excessively dangerous and costly. Any general coercive system would be fatal to England if it were to dominate her policy. Isolation would be no less fatal. Her path must run clear of a utopian universalism and an equally utopian isolationism.

This passage, Moldbug says, demonstrates the tragedy of Voigt’s liberal realism:

The principal antithesis in the world today is not between Berlin and Moscow, London or Rome, but between London and Berlin. Without this antithesis, a Pax Europaica or a United Europe would be possible.

The greatest — and perhaps unattainable — political need of Europe today is that a relationship, such as exists between London and Washington, should also exist between London, Paris and Berlin. If England, France and Germany are united, not in any federation or any centrally directed system, or indeed any system of any kind, but by virtue of a certain fundamental identity of outlook and by a common civilization (no other unity can be real), then Europe is united, and the dream of all “good Europeans,” the Pax Europaica, will have come true.

The Pax Europaica cannot be achieved by protocols or treaties, by pacts, by alliances, by mutual assistance or by the League of Nations. It can only come about through a spiritual change — in Germany, but also in France and England.

Moldbug’s reaction:

Here we see the tragedy of the British “appeasers” of the late ’30s. Between the Congress of Vienna and the rise of Germany, Britain had enjoyed effective world supremacy, as the US does now. Liberal Imperialism foundered on this rock; it could not let Germany become a world power equal to the British, for Germany was not liberal.

Yet, by opposing Germany and denying it Westphalian parity, Britain made Germany hateful and paranoid, for Germans saw themselves being treated as an inferior in a world system in which it was not just formally an equal, but economically and militarily an equal. Thus the harder Britain worked to deny Germany equality, the less deserving of that equality Germany became.

The appeasers of the ’30s inherited the final dilemma of this epic conflict. From the perspective of British interests, the right decision was clearly to abandon the Little Entente-type states created after World War I, whose adherence to democratic principles was anyway quite a bit less than stellar, and allow Germany to create her empire in the East. Yet this decision was both a release of power, which is always difficult for the powerful, and an empowerment of dangerous and illiberal forces beyond the control of Britain or anyone. Unlimited national sovereignty!

Another decision, of course, would have been to support Poland and Czechoslovakia to the hilt. This might not have restrained all future Hitlers; it probably would have restrained Hitler. But ultimately, it would have been necessary to back this bluff with actual war. Hence the course of universal peace, later followed.

But, through the natural tensions in her political system, Britain wound up following a course between these two poles, and one which was clearly worse than both. Seeking to avoid war and preserve her Empire — excuse me, “Commonwealth” — she got war, and lost her Empire. And lo, did Edgar Mowrer inherit the earth. Along with Moscow, for a time.

Here, again, is the tragedy of Voigt’s liberal realism. He dabbles with actual, real realism — and rejects it. He ends up, with Mowrer, trying to convert Germany to “good thinking.” That this can only be done with bombs, and that it can only end in the death of the British Empire, he at some level knows; but he cannot reject his geopolitics, his commercial advantage, his trade routes, all the cant of late Imperialism. Hence the war sucks him and his country in.

Foreign Correspondents

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

A foreign correspondent — like Edgar Mowrer in Germany in the 1930s — occupies a peculiar place in the life of a country:

Because he and his friends in the foreign press lead American opinion on Germany, and America is a democracy, they lead American policy toward Germany. And, naturally, they have friends in Germany, and enemies in Germany; and they feel that American policy should result in their friends running Germany, and their enemies… not running Germany.

So, in a sense, when Germany moves to the right, it is rebelling against the nascent international community — and against Edgar Mowrer. And thus his anger. Later expressed in tons of TNT.

We must Americanize ourselves

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Heinrich Hauser wrote The German Talks Back to explain postwar Germany to Americans — not, Mencius Moldbug explains, from the point of view of a German liberal but from that of a German national-conservative. An excerpt:

The crucial test to which the American government in Germany ought to subject all claimants and lobbyists is, of course, “Just how many followers do you have? How many hale and hearty democrats can you deliver?” An honest question, to which in honesty the non-Nazified functionaries of the old Weimar Republic can only answer: “None. Unfortunately, the people have become estranged from us. The young generation has forgotten us and doesn’t care about democracy. After thirteen years of Hitler, what can you expect?”

This is perfectly true, except that for once it is not Hitler who must take all the blame if American ideas don’t work out in occupied Germany. That blame must be shared by German gullibility and American gullibility alike. The truth is that the fathers of the present generation ate sour grapes from America, and now the children’s teeth are set on edge.

I will spare you the well-worn argument about Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and how the Germans felt let down when they got the Treaty of Versailles instead. No: what you have forgotten, or never became conscious of, is that for ten years after the First World War Germany’s most popular slogan was “Wir amerikaniseieren uns!” (“We must Americanize ourselves.”) Rarely, perhaps never in history, was there a defeated nation so completely enamored of the victor’s efficiency as the Germans after 1919. “American matériel has won the war? So then everything American must be superior. Let’s imitate them, let’s Americanize ourselves.” Such was German logic.

Every American who visited Berlin during those reconstruction years will remember to what ridiculous lengths that German logic went: American bars and American-style nightclubs, American jazz bands, if possible with one “real imported” Negro at the saxophone. American cafeteries and American movie houses were ubiquitous. The neatly dressed German wore “shimmy” shoes and a suit of American cut. American cars rolled on the streets with a new and surprising noiselessness, and in if an American asked his way in German he got an English answer. The dollar was the Elite-Valuta — the elite-professionals of the Kurfuerstendamm demanded it from even their German customers. And the first skyscrapers begain to raise their steel skeletons over the trees of the Tiergarten.

We imitated everything. The National Assembly imitated your Constitution, and the Reichswehr your Sam Browne belt. Industrialists copied your production systems, workers adapted themselves to your speed-up systems, and poets sang in praise of the assembly line. We introduced your weekend and your bookkeeping. We blossomed out in Rotary Clubs and poured sugar into our perfectly good wine to ape the sweet tooth of America.

We really meant it all. Sure, the people were disappointed that their Wilsonian dream hadn’t come true after all, but then they still clung to their dream of America. What kind of dream?

“If you will only be good democrats and work like hell and be modern and progressive as we are, then you can live like Americans.” That was the siren song which in a thousand variations sounded from across the ocean, and the people listened as starry-eyed as ever Hitler listened to a Wagner opera. They dreamed of the electric refrigerator that would one day be theirs, and of the vacuum cleaner, and, above all, of that cheap little car.
For a time the carrot worked; the ugly 19th-century brick-and-plaster houses of Germany’s Main Streets put on pants: facades of concrete reaching to the second floor and framing modern stores with neon lights. Cities built new municipal buildings and parks and hospitals for themselves. Yes, it was done with American loans — to a large degree, at least. Industry modernized itself and installed new machinery. Yes, American money helped do that, too. It looked almost like prosperity on the face of it, and a typical German crowd looked almost like a normal American crowd.
It must not be forgotten that private enterprise in Germany had suffered a major blow a few years before the Nazis came to power. In 1930, the great depression hit the economic body of Germany, which owing to malnutrition had a low resistance anyway. And the most significant thing about it was that “Wir amerikanisieren uns,” the slogan of the ‘twenties, backfired on us with a vengeance.

When the United States retracted her private loans, the first establishments to topple were the ones that had taken the loans. These included the municipalities that had gone farthest along the American way of modernity, and the industries that had gone the limit with American production methods, thereby accumulating an unduly high overhead. The workers on the American-style assembly lines were the first to be thrown on the dole. The most progressive farmers, who had invested heavily in modern American implements, were the first to surrender to the sheriff’s sale.
The cheapest kind of amusement, which even those on the dole could afford once a week, which indeed was thrown in as part of the dole, was a ticket to the movies. People thronged the movie houses, partly for the warmth, partly to snatch an hour of sleep in half-comfort, partly to forget their misery, and partly for the show. And the show always included a newsreel and some slapstick comedy from the U.S.A.

Never shall we forget — we, the unemployed of the depression years in Germany — those nauseating scenes that Hollywood projected for us on the silver screen as ostensibly representing the American way of life. Never shall I forget the incredulous stare at first, and then the tightening of lips, and then the gleam of hatred in the people’s eyes…

“So that’s the way those fellows live over there in America… did you see those brats throwing pie at each other’s faces, and all besmeared, and the whipped cream dripping all over?… And the girls in the sexy bathing suits, swimming in a pond full of apples and banging them around… Don’t forget the ones who got their buttocks measured by a bunch of fellows — a beauty contest, they called it… And that other hussy in the beauty parlor; got her hair all plastered with yolk of egg. I’ve seen it. Real eggs, at least a dozen….
In that other thing, College Fun or whatever it was, did you see how they wrecked the place, smashed up the furniture and all? Did you think that was funny? No, I call that beastly, and I could have taken a stick and smashed their skulls, and never be sorry I did it.”

Pre-war Germany and the modern Middle East suddenly seem eerily similar.

Never has there been a prudent, intelligent and well-informed democratic electorate

Monday, March 1st, 2010

The mainstream American conservative or libertarian does not trust the Press, Mencius Moldbug says:

This person is not at all sure about how he wants to purge the Press; but, broadly, he would like it to disappear as a business, ignoring the facts that (a) privileged access to inside information will always be a good business (see under: Reg FD), and (b) if the “MSM” blows this advantage so completely that it fails as a business, it has a thousand and one ways to continue operating as a nonprofit.

The democratic conservative or libertarian believes that his government is bad because it pursues the wrong policies; it pursues the wrong policies because its elected officials are the wrong people; and its elected officials are the wrong people because they were elected by bamboozled voters, miseducated by information sources 1 through 6 as described above.

Here is a question you can ask any conservative or libertarian. Granting that the MSM, today, is not supplying the People with accurate information, causing them to support misguided and counterproductive policies: when did this become true? When did it start?

If the American people of 2010 are, by and large, misinformed by their own journalists, until what date were they well-informed and capable of properly fulfilling their democratic function? 1980? 1960? 1930? 1910? If considering dates between 1856 and 1900, I recommend first consulting this historical sketch by Charles Francis Adams, Jr.
UR’s answer to the question is, of course: never. Never — neither in the age of American democracy, nor in the Athens of Cleon the Tanner — has there ever been anything like a prudent, intelligent and well-informed democratic electorate. None of these three criteria has ever been achieved, least of all the third. Not in the 20th century, not in the 19th, not in the 18th, and not in the 5th BC.

As for the self-enforcing constitution, the magic parchment that compels all to abide by natural law, without any force of sovereign compulsion that could become corrupt, it strikes me as even more fantastic and impossible than democracy itself. When government becomes corrupt, to cry for its absence is only natural. Nothing is more foul than a corrupt government. But as for natural law, nature’s first is this: she abhors a vacuum. Paper cannot rule. Some person or persons are always in the throne, or fighting for it. I prefer the former condition.

Uncorrected Evidence 39

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Reality, as the faithful know it, has torn itself asunder, Mencius Moldbug asserts, as demonstrated by something innocuously called Uncorrected Evidence 39:

Briefly, reality as the faithful know it has torn itself asunder. All trust in authority is shattered. The Donation of Constantine is a medieval forgery; the Pope is a woman; the Archmonk, in the Tomb of Buddha’s Thumb, has found a dried-up gibbon toe. Otherwise, nothing is wrong at all. Your garbage will still be picked up tomorrow morning.

But the Institute of Physics, which is only the national physics society of the country that invented physics, has submitted its public comment to Parliament’s CRU inquiry — posted as Uncorrected Evidence 39. Which starts like this:

1. The Institute is concerned that, unless the disclosed e-mails are proved to be forgeries or adaptations, worrying implications arise for the integrity of scientific research in this field and for the credibility of the scientific method as practised in this context.

Wow! (And note that no one has claimed that the emails are forged.) If you are unfamiliar with bureaucratic prose, this is extremely strong language. Basically, the IOP is demanding heads. And not just a professor or two, but the entire field.
Therefore, UE39 poses an immediate practical problem to the entire journalism industry. At least as presently constituted, it is not constitutionally equipped for any of the following tasks: (a) arguing with physicists about physics; (b) agreeing that Rush Limbaugh was right; (c) embarking on a savage, McCarthy-style purge of climate science; or (d) ignoring matters entirely.
The University and the Press are power junkies. They rule. They know it. Ceasing to rule, they must cease to exist: this is history’s law. And their rule is a consequence of their legitimacy, which is a consequence of their perceived infallibility — or, to be more precise, their tendency to converge automatically on the truth.

The Difference between a Dictator and a Monarch

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

There is a key difference between a dictator and a monarch, and that difference is stability:

There are many differences between Hitler and Frederick [the Great], but perhaps the key one is stability. Frederick, while not intrinsically secure from his foreign enemies, was quite secure from any domestic opposition. No one was trying to kill him; no one could have accomplished anything by killing him. He was, in short, a monarch. A dead monarch is replaced, automatically, by another monarch — the identity of whom is already known. If the old monarch was assassinated, God forbid, the new monarch is generally not the assassin (or his employers).

Not so for a dictator! People were trying to kill Hitler all the time, and it’s a Satanic miracle that none of them succeeded. If, say, Elser’s bomb had worked, it would have changed the course of history. There was no Hitler 2.0, or vice-Hitler, or Son of Hitler, waiting in the wings. Hitler, for all his faults, was one of a kind. Thus, the incentive was considerable.

And thus, Hitler — unlike Frederick — has to devote considerable effort to shoring up his sovereignty, which is by no means secure. He has to scapegoat the Jews and fight the Communists, for instance; his sovereignty depends on his popularity, and he is popular because he fights these popular enemies.

And, as we already know, it’s better to live under a stationary bandit than a roving bandit.

Unleash the Blue Wave!

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Official statistics confirm that crime in England has increased roughly by a factor of 50 since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his Sherlock Holmes stories, in which the great detective made this complaint:

“There are no crimes and no criminals in these days,” he said, querulously. “What is the use of having brains in our profession? I know well that I have it in me to make my name famous. No man lives or has ever lived who has brought the same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection of crime which I have done. And what is the result? There is no crime to detect, or at, most some bungling villany with a motive so transparent that even a Scotland Yard official can see through it.”

Thinking about this led Mencius Moldbug from Mises to Carlyle:

So we see that an English government of the Victorian era — without DNA testing or closed-circuit TV — managed to largely abolish crime. We also see that the present-day government of England (and of other places governed in the same way) pretends to want to abolish crime — but to be unable to do so. Are we inclined to doubt this pretence? We are. Are we entitled to doubt it? We certainly are.

But if this pretence is indeed a pretence, if crime can indeed be abolished by enforcement, we accuse the present regime of something very serious. It becomes an accessory to this crime, which it could have abolished but chose not to. Furthermore, rather than admitting to this (somewhat) unprecedented abuse, it chose to deny the fact, and plead an obviously farcical incompetence. Certainly, when the SS removed police protection from the Jews of Riga, the SS made itself morally responsible for the subsequent pogrom by the Latvians of Riga. Even if all the Obersturmführers were on their lunch break, or whatever.

Therefore, the simplest way for a libertarian to support natural rights in his own society is to support a savage police crackdown on crime. For instance, by reimposing the standards and practices of the Victorian law-enforcement system, certainly both available and practical.

Inevitably some mistakes will be made; some innocent heads will be cracked. However, as a libertarian in America, exercising your libertarian rights, your goal is to minimize the number of natural-rights violations in America — whoever may be committing them, and in whatever uniform. Hence, you should generally support the police against criminals. The former violate natural rights only by accident and/or malfeasance, whereas the latter do so as a matter of regular procedure. In practice, it is not hard to know who is the cop, and who the criminal.

Unleash the blue wave!

Maturity Transformation

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Using short-term borrowing — including zero-term borrowing, like ordinary bank deposits — to fund long-term illiquid assets is a strategy that can go catastrophically wrong.

Mencius Moldbug calls this problematic strategy maturity transformation, because short-term debt is transformed — imperfectly — into long-term debt. In case of panic, the disconnect becomes vivid.

A simple shift away from demand deposits could fix the problem:

If we replaced ordinary bank accounts with money-market mutual funds, then we would no longer have this issue of short-term borrowing going to fund long-term illiquid assets.

Instead, the bank’s customers would be equity-holders, and there would be no rush in bad times to run on the bank to get yours before everyone else gets theirs.

The worst-case scenario would be that the fund had to break the buck — unpleasant but not catastrophic.

I’ve said as much before:

Most of these “maturity transformation” issues disappear when you move away from an old-fashioned bank, which makes explicit promises of r% interest and withdrawals on demand, and move to a bond fund, which makes no promises about what yields it can deliver — and which doesn’t have to unwind its investments just because shareholders want to sell their shares.

Certainly bad debt can lead a money market fund to break the buck, and that can cause a liquidity crunch for investors who considered it cash-equivalent, but there’s no incentive for a run on the money market fund; shares just lose value, and no new shares are issued until the share price creeps back up to $1.00.

Further, any “maturity transformation” is pretty painless, as those who have cash now can buy shares, and those who want cash now can sell shares. There’s no angst about “fraud” from promising on-demand withdrawals while only holding fractional reserves.
With no notion of first-come, first-served, a fund’s in no danger of a run; its shares simply drop in value when its assets drop in value. It’s comparatively stable, since no one has an incentive to make matters worse for other investors in order to save their own skin.

Who Will Watch the Limited Watchmen?

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Who will watch the limited watchmen?

Another way to see the problem is to examine that shibboleth of libertarians — limited government. Now, the frustrated English teacher in me notes an interesting fact about this phrase: it is in the passive voice. Who shall limit the government? And how can we assure that they continue to do so? And if some other party does this limiting, who shall limit them? This is, of course, the old quis custodiet problem. To which Rothbard has no better solution than Juvenal.

Libertarians can be classified according to their wrong answers to this question. If you are a democratic libertarian, you believe that government should be limited by popular sovereignty. You also probably haven’t looked out the window in the last 200 years. If you are a judicial libertarian, you believe that government should be limited by judicial sovereignty — ie, by a judiciary committed to Constitutional principles and the Anglo-American common law. And you haven’t looked out the window in the last 75.

The essential problem with both democratic and judicial libertarianism is that, while we see both these phenomena succeed in history, we see them — once again — succeed only on the left. English and American history is a rich trove, as Rothbard can show you, of both popular resistance to state authority, and judicial resistance to state authority. However, this resistance succeeds only when in the process of undermining some higher order, royal or aristocratic. Once the People themselves are in the saddle, they no longer listen to complaints of this form.

In the democratic system today, to ask either the electorate or the judiciary for libertarian government is to ask an empowered body to relinquish powers it has. The People have powers X, Y and Z; they use these powers to vote government services A, B, and C; if you remove these services, you must remove the powers; if you remove the powers, you disempower.

Similarly, we live in the golden age of government by judge. Most significant executive decisions in the modern system of government land, one way in another, in the lap of a judge. This is the direct result of New Deal Legal-Realist jurisprudence. And you’re asking the judiciary, itself, out of mere goodness of heart, to relinquish this fat leg of ham? You and what army?

Whereas when the likes of Coke contended with the likes of Charles I, judicially-limited government was a no-brainer. Alas, judges are men. If we had angels on this planet, we would long ago have consigned these duties to them.

Thus, again: libertarianism works for the left and fails for the right. Both sovereign electorate and sovereign judiciary are perfectly happy to restrict the powers of others, ie, the King. Convincing them to restrict their own powers is quite a different problem. When democracy is competing against the remnants of the ancien regime, it is a force for limited government. Once it defeats and disempowers these remnants, it is a synonym for socialism.

Misesian classical liberalism is like Newtonian physics

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

The problem with taking Ludwig von Mises as a guru is not that he’s wrong, but that Misesian classical liberalism is like Newtonian physics:

It is basically correct within its operating envelope. Under unusual conditions it breaks down, and a more general model is needed. [...] Just as Newtonian rules only make sense at low speeds, Misesian rules only make sense in a secure order.

Tyranny is one form of chaos, and freedom is one form of order. To a Carlylean, like Mencius Moldbug, the fatal error of libertarianism is confusing anarchy and freedom:

Not only are they not the same thing; they are opposite poles of the political spectrum. Freedom — spontaneous order — is the ultimate form of order. Anarchy is the ultimate form of disorder.

To a Carlylean, anarchy and tyranny are fundamentally and essentially allied and indivisible. And again: the apparent affinity between anarchy and freedom is wholly illusory. In fact: to maximize freedom, eradicate anarchy. To achieve spontaneous order: first, achieve ordinary, down-to-earth, nonspontaneous order. Then, wait a while. Then, start to relax.

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.

The Newtonian envelope of libertarianism is the last of these stages. Once the state of lawful government is reached, that state can generally improve itself by minimizing its interventions and applying a policy of laissez-faire — advancing from enforced to spontaneous order. With the caveat, of course, that this policy not jeopardize the more important achievements of peace, security, and law.

When a state finds itself outside this Newtonian window, however, Mises and Rothbard are of no assistance whatsoever in helping it get back in. Worse: Rothbardian libertarianism can be a positive hindrance to the Carlylean roadmap.