In Western states, sovereignty is obviously distributed and thus diluted in any individual instance. We are not a monarchy. Commands are not issued from a single person or even a single seat of power. This is elementary, as James Goulding writes:
Once we fracture sovereignty, the people with a “shard of sovereignty” take decisions that depend very heavily on other minds, many of which also have a bit of sovereignty. This means that each micro-ruler takes decisions quite differently to a sovereign; not only is the scope of his influence or probability of making an impact much smaller, but when he does have an impact his decision algorithm is best explained by a complex chain of causality that weaves through millions of other minds. Unlike Hitler.
So far, so good. In fact, Goulding’s point about micro-sovereign decisions depending on other, micro-sovereign minds is a significant one. It even prompts an analysis of power from the perspective of network theory: how does fractured “sovereignty” circulate? what makes one node more central than the others? how far removed are the nodes involved in any single decision, and can they be clustered in any meaningful way? So on and so forth.
However, Goulding’s next move is, in my opinion, too overstated:
It is unnecessary to specify exactly how this chain of causality works in each case, although that is a central problematic of political science and law. Clearly, “shards of sovereignty” are not at all similar to “sovereignty” and require a completely different kind of analysis.
A completely different kind of analysis? A more nuanced analysis, yes. Shards of sovereignty: each dependent on the motives and actions of other shards: each existing within an as-yet-undefined network of power. Yes, different from the singular seat of power, different from the divinely mandated king whose mind and motives are the fons et origo of all social and political decisions. But different in degree and operation, not in kind.
Looking at political sovereignty from the other end, does it make much of a difference whether we’re talking about shards of it or a monarch? Does it matter to the small business owner, who must pay a minimum wage and provide healthcare to his employees, whether the force of these laws emanated from a single source or from the concerted effort of a hundred nodes distributed throughout a network?
Command and control is diluted across “shards of sovereignty” so no one shard can do all that much without taking the others into consideration, but in the end, decisions are made, and they are binding, and they do control the populace either directly or indirectly.
In attempting to match our words, concepts and analyses to the reality we are trying to comprehend—in all its complexness multiplicity—we should also strive to avoid the postmodern mistake of missing (or, rather, refusing to recognize) the obvious forest for the sake of charting the intricacies of each and every rhytidome.
I know this is lame to say out loud, but I honestly don’t watch television, so this may be old news to some of you . . .
2. The Citadel
3. Seasteading and Peter Thiel (I knew about this, but I’m linking because it fits)
All of this would make the ethno-nationalists happy, and I’d be happy for them. However, for us neoreactionaries with a techno-capitalist bent, I’m not sold on these plans, unless we can guarantee that they will be staffed with high-IQ Germans and many terabytes of computer space.
Peter A. Taylor writes:
I want to frame this sovereignty question in terms of loyalty. To whom is the army loyal? If the king gives an order, can he count on it being obeyed? If he can’t, it doesn’t follow that there is someone else who can count on the soldiers’ loyalty. Loyalty is not conserved.
To which Nick Land replies:
“Loyalty is not conserved” — that’s probably correct, but it’s a conclusion of great significance (as we’ve seen) and therefore not to be lightly assumed. Given the soundness of the sovereignty / loyalty substitution — which does indeed work well — should we not expect a ‘Moldbuggian’ rejoinder, in the form of a conservation theory of loyalty? For instance, an argument that, whilst loyalty can be displaced, it is not actually extinguished?
Does the sovereignty/loyalty substitution work well? I’ll tentatively answer “no,” suggesting instead that a test of sovereignty is its ability to maintain itself without full loyalty from the governed.
Are Western governments, media, and academia sovereign? Yes. They face no serious challengers. Worse, their constitutions (or, in academia, the unwritten rule of “academic freedom”) are moot. The entire point of a constitution is to control not sovereignty per se but the struggle for sovereignty on the part of competing political actors. Today, within each sphere—government, media, academia—competition is nonexistent. No one disagrees on anything of substance, and anyone who tries to disagree quickly finds himself agreeing, is neutralized, or sells out.
We conclude that no one seriously challenges the status quo because no one seriously wants to challenge the status quo. We know that not everyone is loyal to the President, not everyone is loyal to all members of Congress, not everyone is loyal to the State Department, not everyone is loyal to Harvard or the media. Well, you can’t please everyone, right? What matters is that most people are loyal, yes?
1. There is loyalty, in various measures.
2. There is disloyalty, in various measures.
3. There is lack of loyalty but no active disloyalty.
What matters is not (1) but (3). It doesn’t matter that most people are loyal, it just matters that most people aren’t actively disloyal.
Sovereignty does not rely on loyalty. It relies on a contented populace, that is, a populace that may not be overtly loyal but is not so disloyal that a critical mass of individuals defects to Russia or marches on Downing Street with semi-automatic weapons. The same goes for a standing military. The sovereign entities don’t need red-blooded loyalty from the privates or even the generals. They simply need to avoid active, willing, dangerous disloyalty. And there’s a lot of wiggle room between the two.
I have two very close friends who did tours of duty, one in Iraq with the Army, the other in Afghanistan with the Marines. Both joined before America had officially invaded Iraq. One is a hippy dippy Leftist, the other a Right-wing gun enthusiast. The former joined in order to get money for college (he had a Hendrix mentality about the military: “I hate war, but I respect a fighting man”); the latter joined because he wanted to blow things up and kill ragheads. The former is now working in the healthcare professions and has a heart for social justice; the latter is now a police officer and has a heart for racial profiling.
Both friends, for very different reasons, severely disliked things about the government while they were actively fighting on its behalf. The Leftist was principally anti-war, had nothing nice to say about Bush, and is now active in anti-drone protests. The Right-winger was pro-war, but came to realize that the war in Afghanistan was being waged very stupidly; he also hated Bush’s stance on immigration.
In short, neither had a fierce loyalty to USG or even liked the high-ranking officers in their units. But they fought anyway. They had their personal reasons for fighting, just as both had their personal reasons for disliking the Cathedral (too Leftist in one’s opinion, not Leftist enough in the other’s), but ultimately, the only reason that mattered to the Cathedral was this one: nether was disloyal enough not to fight; more importantly, neither was disloyal enough to fight for the other side.
That’s sovereignty secured.
On a similar note, students bitch about academia all the time. “Why do we have to take these general education courses?” is a familiar refrain. If the general education requirements were annulled, the Cathedral would suffer a serious blow because most of the progressive brainwashing takes place in these courses. Nobody likes them at the time; students take them anyway. Why? Not out of loyalty to academia or the progressive intelligentsia. Most students aren’t even loyal to the virtues of knowledge and inquiry, as framed by either the Right or the Left. However, they aren’t so actively disloyal that they level a challenge at the academic wing of the Cathedral. They make do. They grin and bear it.
Again, that’s sovereignty. Not the ability to command widespread loyalty. Not even the ability to permanently disable or exile challengers, because a state with many challengers is, from the sovereign’s point-of-view, an unstable state. Rather, sovereignty is the ability to make sure the governed just don’t care that much. “Happily contented peasants,” as Chesterton said.
I’ll refine that: sovereignty is the ability to make sure that would-be political challengers just don’t care that much, that they are content enough not to follow through on their challenges. It doesn’t matter whether they’re loyal; it simply matters that their disloyalty is neutralized, atrophied, ultimately non-existent.
Here’s Fred Reed with an apropos word:
How does one tell whether one is living in a dictatorship, or almost? The signs need not be so obvious as having a squat little man raving from balconies. Methinks the following indicators serve. In a dictatorship:
(1) Sweeping laws are made without reference to the will of the people. A few examples follow. Whether you think these laws desirable is not the point. Some will, others won’t. The point is that they were simply imposed from above. Many of them would never have survived a national vote.
Start with Roe vs. Wade, making abortion legal, and subsequent decisions allowing late-term abortion. Griggs versus Duke Power, forbidding employers from using tests of intelligence, since certain groups scored poorly. Brown versus the School Board and its offspring requiring forced integration, forced busing, racial quotas, and so on. The decision that Creationism cannot be mentioned in the schools. Decisions forbidding the public expression of Christianity. The decision that citizens can be stopped and searched without probable cause. The opening of the borders to mass immigration.
These are major, major laws grossly altering the social, legal, and constitutional fabric of the country. All were simply imposed, mostly by unelected judges against whom there is no recourse.
Note that there is no practical distinction between a decision by the Supreme Court, a regulation made by an executive bureaucracy, and a practice quietly adopted by the intelligence agencies and federal police. None of these requires public approval.
None of these requires public approval, and they may not get approval for a time, but just wait a generation. The challengers won’t really challenge anything, and their kids will accept it outright.
Sovereign law, in other words, does not need loyalty. It simply needs the loyalists to be loud, obnoxious, and willing to shame anyone who shows signs of disloyalty. Time takes care of the rest. The seeds of active disloyalty never grow. They wither. They turn into resignation.
ADDED: Case in point.
“Sovereignty is conserved,” says Moldbug. “You can spread it around, though, but don’t expect to enjoy the result.” He says this in the context of the early Arab Spring, and in light of more recent history, one can see why “spreading around” sovereignty is to be avoided. However, I’m not sure that “to spread around” is the correct verb for our direct object in this context. It seems to me that the various Arab Springs, from Egypt to Syria, have unleashed a struggle for sovereignty. To what extent can we say that any one side of the struggle, in either country, possesses a stable sovereignty over the other sides? To no extent at all. Otherwise, there would be no real struggle. What we see in the Middle East is what happens when sovereignty (e.g., Mubarak’s and Assad’s governments) is shattered, leaving a power vacuum in its wrecked wake. The vacuum is filled with forces coming from all sides, and whoever fills it ultimately exchanges the force with which they filled it for a more lasting power. Sovereignty over the others.
I’ll revise this in two seconds, but for now, the “struggle for” sovereignty in a power vacuum is not the same as “spreading around” sovereignty that already exists, which, in my mind, is synonymous with an attempt to bind sovereignty by not allowing it to come formally to rest in any one unconstrained person or oligarchy. Nick Land’s description of the American constitution:
. . . the founders envisaged the grounding principle of republican constitutionalism as a division of powers, whereby the component units of a disintegrated sovereignty bound each other. The animating system of incentives was not to rest upon a naive expectation of altruism or voluntary restraint, but upon a systematically integrated network of suspicion, formally installing the anti-monarchical impulse as an enduring, distributed function. If the republic was to work, it would be because the fear of power in other hands permanently over-rode the greed for power in one’s own.
The ongoing debate, recently rekindled, is over whether or not real political sovereignty can, in fact, bind itself. What does the binding? If the answer is “constitutional rules,” then there is a chance that power can indeed be bound, albeit with difficulty. If the answer is, “Don’t you mean who does the binding,” then clearly, as Moldbug argues, sovereignty is always conserved—whoever does the binding on the sovereign is himself (or are themselves) the sovereign.
Now, to spread around sovereignty is to bind sovereignty . . . but no, that’s not right at all, or, anyway, it’s only half-right. Is not the Cathedral’s power “spread around”? In the Cathedral itself, is there not a tripartite division of power, three component units of disintegrated sovereignty, formalized as the Media, the USG, and Academia, each of which, within itself, contains further divisions of power? But these divisions are not there to constrain the Cathedral’s power over the West.
There are two ways to understand the concept of rules that bind sovereignty.
1. Rules that bind the sovereign.
2. Rules that constrain the struggle for sovereignty so that no would-be sovereigns can ever rule permanently or wholly, or take over violently.
I think the original intent of the U.S. constitution had (2) in mind, not (1). Of course, (2) assumes that different actors on opposing teams are always trying to attain power. What happens when all the actors are, as it were, on the same team?
Look again at Nick Land’s quote above. I think the crux of the paragraph comes at the end, not at the beginning. “A division of powers” or “component units” are necessary but insufficient elements of a disintegrated sovereignty in which each unit or division is bound by the other. The sufficient elements are “networks of suspicion” and “fear of [the others’] power.”
Per (2) above, constitutional rules only bind power in the USG when there is a real struggle for power, when those playing the game honestly want to see different outcomes—I win, the rest of you lose. Perhaps we can read The Federalist Papers (more generously than I have in the past) as the rules that peacefully constrain the struggle for sovereignty. More, they lay down rules that not only constrain the struggle for sovereignty but also ensure that no single victor can ever emerge wholly or permanently. Absent such rules, the struggle for sovereignty looks like Syria. With such rules, the struggles for state control are always constrained—everyone wants to win, but no one really can, at least not for good—so absolute sovereignty is constrained de facto. If a particularly bad administration comes to power, the country just needs to ride it out for a few years while the gathering forces against it do their work via the proper, procedural, and, most importantly, peaceful channels.
But as I said, this game of constraint, this division of power, only works if you actually have different teams competing in the game. Our constitutional rules are constraining the current players . . . but all the players are on the same team.
Sovereignty binds itself through constitutional rules = There are rules in place to constrain the struggles for sovereignty within a state
When the competing political actors all more or less resemble one another, all the rules do is to procedurally maintain housekeeping and settle minor tactical disputes.
Once the struggling political actors are struggling for more or less the same thing—once all the would-be sovereigns share the same vision of sovereignty—then it doesn’t matter a whit that power is formally divided. The “networks of suspicion” and “fear of others power” no longer exist in any meaningful way (if they ever did?).
It doesn’t matter that the system was set up to ensure the game never ended because now the game doesn’t need to end. The victories of one side are either indistinguishable from those of the other side, or they move the country in the same direction, albeit at different speeds. The opposing teams are not enemies struggling for power but, say, departments in a corporation competing for an annual sales prize on more or less friendly terms.
Corporate divisions of power work because (pardon the Jesse Jackson-ism here) the divisions share a same vision. Rarely will you find a corporation in which one department is full of people trying to completely change or overhaul the company. So too with the Cathedral. The divisions of power are not checks on power because no one is competing to overthrow the Cathedral; the divisions exist to “spread around” or perhaps “spread out” the Cathedral’s power in all the directions that matter, for the benefit of the Cathedral in general. Power plays within it are not power plays against it. So, in the game of American and, more generally, Western politics, the continuing play on the field is now for the benefit of the spectators, who think a game is still being played in earnest by sides who really are different from the other sides, who really are competing against one another. By and large, they aren’t.
Can sovereignty bind itself without the existence of another, greater sovereign to do the binding? I’ve ignored this question for now. Instead, I’ve tried to explore the idea of bound sovereignty by shifting what we usually mean by that term—binding sovereignty can also mean constitutional rules designed to peacefully constrain struggles for sovereignty. It seems to me that the American founding fathers were concerned with controlling these potential struggles, so that armed and violent revolutions didn’t happen every decade or two, and so whoever did attain a degree of sovereignty could be kept in check by others who had attained degrees of it elsewhere in the divided government. Networks of suspicion and fear.
The fathers failed to assume, however, that, at some point in the future, a meaningful struggle would cease to exist, that all powerful actors in the public and political spheres would not differ too widely in ideology or direction, that there would be a sovereign who exists without meaningful competition. The other, Moldbuggian question of bound sovereignty is so difficult because it’s so new, so unprecedented.
Can the Cathedral be bound at all by what remains of the West’s constitutions? If so—if it can be meaningfully challenged—then that’s a good sign for the constitutionalists among us. The upcoming decade will be interesting. For the first time since 1945 in Europe (since 1865 in America), something like real political challengers have arisen. How will they fare? The Tea Party gained a modicum of power via proper, peaceful, constitutional channels, as did Golden Dawn. If Golden Dawn goes the way of the Tea Party, however, I think we can give up all hope of sovereignty’s ability to constrain itself through constitutional rules.
ADDED: One of Nick Land’s comments at Outside In is pertinent. At certain points, perhaps I’m too hastily conflating Power and Sovereignty:
It’s tempting to equate ‘sovereignty’ and ‘power’, but it leads to confusion. Power is quantitative and hierarchical — the existence of a superior authority does not negate power. Power is not diminished by being exceeded. (It is like wealth in this respect.) Sovereignty is different — it is by its essential nature ultimate. Sovereignty belongs exclusively to the final authority in a chain of command (whilst power is distributed unevenly throughout it).
‘Power is conserved’ means that there is always final authority.
My original comments at Goulding’s highlight my skepticism about Xeer’s applicability to contemporary nation states and global, technologically-driven economies. In my last post, I attempted to mitigate my skepticism with a dose of generosity toward the concept, speaking in highly general terms about its embodied ideal, which, to me, is its emphasis on local consensus rather than on legislation obdurately codified by standing bodies far removed from the geographical locations which fall under those bodies’ jurisdiction.
However, as J.G. points out in the comments, “codification and permanent judicial institutions seem essential to developed economies,” so it appears I was mistaken to frame Xeer as the P2P system par excellence. It is, rather, an empirical case study of such a system, and in this case, history has show that it works better than the centralized system put in place by Western colonial powers.
I think Nick Steves recognizes the spirit of the last post. I find value in polycentric law as a corrective to centralized federal law, which always grows its power and never contracts. Steves writes:
Centralized law, and the power to enforce it, must exist at least sufficiently to keep separate subsidiarities from tearing each other apart . . . The trouble is that it is (apparently) impossible in the long run to keep centralized law from developing an increasingly large footprint . . . in which inevitably one subsidiarity manages to seize control and rip the others apart.
As described by Goulding, the Xeer system in Somalia does not have an “increasingly large footprint,” and, more importantly, it does not lend itself to special-interests spoils or power-grabs for resources because it’s there to solve conflicts as they arise locally, not to divy out spoils or resources en masse. For that reason, I find value in the system, which is not the same as saying that we should import it.
Xeer is just one case study. Before building up any kind of political theory based on P2P law, the studies need to be multiplied so we can discover what are the “best practices” for such a system. I’m not saying I’m convinced about all of this. And I’m still not convinced that neocameralism isn’t workable. But neoreactionaries need to stop being purely against things and start being for things; to that end, building alternative political and/or economic theories is a worthwhile pursuit, and P2P seems a particularly generative idea to explore.
1. The jurisdiction of law should be local, and law itself should be contingent to local circumstances.
2. Law should be administered or enforced by individuals who possess the consensual respect of the local community, not by individuals who have politicked the best or promised Obamaphones to the masses.
3. Law can be guided by precedent but should not be permanently codified for all future cases.
4. Law-dispensing or law-enforcing bodies should be impermanent rather than standing. They come together when necessary but otherwise their members are involved in other pursuits.
“Why is one law given to the lion and the patient ox?” asked William Blake. “One law for the lion and ox is oppression.” Though partially decontextualized, Blake’s aphorism strikes at the heart of federalism and statist policy. Law that is proper, effective, and just in one case or locale may be none of those things in another case or locale. A centralized regime that enforces the same law in all cases and locales is an oppressive regime. (To provide a practical example: a centralized regime that passes an open-borders law from a capitol that lies a thousand miles from the border is oppressive. One law for Fairfax, Virgina and Phoenix, Arizona.)
If we grant this idea validity, we can conclude that, while geographically diminutive or ethnically homogenous states might function well with centralized legal power, the vast majority of centralized states are by definition oppressive because their entire reasons-for-being are to legislate one law for all cases and locales—for the lion and the ox. The great value of polycentric, P2P law is that it resists centralization and thus resists centralized power’s oppressive tendency to dictate law applicable in one case or locale for all cases and locales. Polycentric law places primacy on ever more local concerns and circumstances. It places power into the hands of individuals who are locally known and trusted rather than individuals democratically elected by an amorphous, massive majority. It also obviates the need to balance competing local concerns for the sake of an artificial, centralized assembly.
And yet . . . when you give up that centralized assembly, you resist that tendency toward statist oppression, but you also give up other things. The history of the West, at its best, is the history of productive alliances between the state and private, local actors. Without the centralized state, would we have interstate highways, space programs, nuclear energy, national parks? I don’t know. Without the centralized state, would we have safe architecture, safe air travel, safe roads? Again, I don’t know. I loathe the central state, so my natural response is to say that whatever accomplishments the state can claim would have been accomplished equally well or more efficiently and triumphantly by private actors left to their own, local devices (c.f., the development of standards and practices in various open-source communities). Even so, we cannot deny that centralized power has, in the past, aided technological and economic advancement. The question is, can these advancements continue without a central state? Can Xeer and technological civilization co-exist?
To put the question another way, are the general ideals listed above only possible in isolated communities not connected to the world via mass media and global trade? In my opinion, yes: those legal values are only applicable in special environments segregated from the complex, high-tech world of interstate, international nodes and networks. Xeer and civilization don’t mix well. You have to sacrifice one to maintain the other. And unlike Mr. Goulding, I am unwilling to sacrifice high-tech civilization for a more stable and virtuous legal system.
But maybe I’m erecting a false dichotomy. Perhaps the general virtues of polycentric law are compatible with high-tech civilization. Figuring out how they are compatible is a project well worth pursuing.
Inspired by James Donald’s historically literate comments on slavery, I decided to add a new section to my growing Library of the Dark Enlightenment. This new section, On Slavery, includes links to books, articles, and photographs documenting global slavery, which, as most people don’t know, has existed and continues to exist outside of the antebellum American South. (My Irish friends are still waiting for their reparations from the Berbers . . .)