Sovereignty and Loyalty

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.

Anecdotal example:

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.


9 responses

  1. A question (forgive me if the answer is obvious; I’m somewhat new around here):

    Can one be passively disloyal and have it make any difference?

    For example, you write:

    ….just wait a generation. The challengers won’t really challenge anything, and their kids will accept it outright.

    So, middle-aged Christian housewife that I am, I’m not marching in the street against anything, but I have removed my children from public education (some are home-schooled, some are in a private Christian school). Furthermore, we have gotten rid of television as a way of limiting our children’s (and our) exposure to evil.

    Or, by way of another example of passive disloyalty, consider we who blog about such issues. We aren’t really doing anything active per se, but disseminating knowledge is passive disloyalty.

    June 28, 2013 at 12:01 am

    • Thanks for commenting, SSM.

      I’m glad you’re not marching in the street. In the West, marching in the street is a thing Leftists do when they’ve already more or less won something and just want to make a show of it before the legislation is officially passed. Nothing disloyal about marching in the streets. (It’s the difference between Nat Turner and MLK. The former was disloyal and didn’t march nowhere ‘cept to his massa’s bedroom with a knife; the latter was a motivational speaker who was very loyal to USG and media because they gave him what he wanted.)

      As for getting rid of television and homeschooling your kids, I wouldn’t call those “passively” disloyal at all. In fact, those are, imo, actively disloyal acts. Removing your kids from public school is tantamount to defecting. Not allowing them to watch TV (in the home at least) cuts off the progressive propaganda that filters through it on an hourly basis.

      But not many people go even as far as you have, and that’s my point: MOST people won’t remove TVs from their homes or homeschool their kids, even if they have reactionary tendencies. And because they don’t do those things, most kids won’t end up sharing their tendencies. At best, the kids’ll be right-wing, but care even less about being disloyal than their parents did.

      As much as I love blogging, it is preaching to the choir. We won’t convince anyone with our words who wasn’t already predisposed to agree with us. But gathering the choir is important. I also look at it as image-building. Neoreaction has to be a thing before it can be successful in any way. The reacto-sphere (of which you’re a part, I think) is a big part of building that image.

      June 28, 2013 at 1:58 pm

  2. “The seeds of active disloyalty never grow. ”

    I think a good Moldbug response to this is that they don’t grow because there aren’t alternative institutions towards which power can flow.

    June 28, 2013 at 12:34 am

    • Laying the first brick for a new, alternate institution (or institutions) is THE great disloyal act. I like to think that’s what the neoreaction is about . . .

      June 28, 2013 at 1:17 pm

  3. Handle

    Just a quick note on this whole Sovereignty Debate business, which I’ve half missed (out of town for two weeks without good comms) and half stayed out of because it’s a bit too big of a political questions and thus prone to chaotic tangential discursions.

    To focus, it should be remembered that the network of related questions concern the nature, theory, and practice of “Limited Government” – especially of the sort much theorized during the early Enlightenment and of the popular / Democratic variety. If one strays from that topic in these discussions of “sovereignty conservation”, then that is entertaining and intellectually stimulating, but one is missing the larger Reactionary point. That point is that the idea itself was always a bit incoherent and unworkable, eventually became both obsolete and completely undermined, and should therefore be abandoned in favor of something more likely to produce the desired results.

    150 years ago, the general mood in the Western World was a growing disenchantment with the ideals and experiments of the Democratic Revolutionary Era, largely seen as either great corrupt failures or bad fits for their secularizing societies, and a desperate grasping for new social visions that culminated about a century ago in versions of Progessivism, Socialism and Fascism and Imperialism all but one of which were all crushed out of existence not be better ideas but by the force of arms on the battlefields of WWII.

    So, getting back to the focal point; Here are some of those questions:

    Is this kind of “Limited Government” an illusion, possible, stable, or even desirable? Is there a way to achieve it, (or, in the alternative, to solve the tyranny / oppression / run-amok-theocracy problem) through conscious structural design and a written Constitution?

    How close does our system come to achieving it, and how often does it lie about it and obscure the de facto (vs. formal de jure) operation of the system and the distribution of power, authority, and influence?

    We mostly understand the intent and hopes of those that engineered the system. How has their experiment fared? (Hint: Poorly) Was it achieved? Could it have been achieved, or really survived the industrial age and the technological revolutions in military capability, and personal mobility and communications? Does modernity unavoidable require any command structure to rely upon career professional experts? Is it merely an anachronism we still pretend exists, or was it a foolish pipe-dream all along?

    More to the point, what is the role of The Supreme Court in all this. Or, perhaps one should ask “What has become the role?”. Three quarters of American Law School is really the (often distorted) Intellectual History of the development of the power and position of that institution. The meta-question at the heart of this discussion is to what degree was that Historical Development a mixture of happenstance or inevitability. I judge it to be over 90% inevitability since one is fighting entropy and ambition and various Historical Events will always provide irreversibly ratcheting opportunities in that direction. It takes time, but Power finds a Way.

    In Federalist 16 Hamilton reveals Judicial Review going against popular sentiment as a basic, widely-held assumption of the Common Law (and not a later created doctrine) and writes:

    If the judges were not embarked in a conspiracy with the legislature, they would pronounce the resolutions of such a majority to be contrary to the supreme law of the land, unconstitutional, and void.

    But that tremendous power can become so expansive as to allow The Court to dictate it’s own powers. How do we solve the “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes” problem? Can we? Example: Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1 defines the range of federal judicial power and the “cases and controversies” over which The Court has jurisdiction. What happens when the Court decides it wants to hear and decide a case (that is, create untrumpable law) not allowed by this language? Nothing.

    In the recent Windsor opinion (striking down DOMA as unconstitutional), The Court changed the rules of standing (which have historically disfavored both contrivance, pretext test cases like Griswold and Plessy and ‘advisory opinions’) to be able to hear arguments in which the plaintiff and the government were in full agreement. In other words, by definition, “no controversy”. No matter. The case was heard and decided and gay-marriage is now federal law and, in a term of two, will be the mandatory law of the land in every state. What can opponents do about it practically? Nothing. Nobody polices The Court but The Court because Amendments are infeasible. “Jurisdiction Stripping” in legislation is also only as effective as the The Court’s desire to adhere to it, or not work around it, which is never guaranteed (as in Boumediene).

    Again, revisit the above questions of the feasibility and desirability of “Democratic Limited Government, Reliably Constrained by Written Charter and the explicit Distribution of Governmental (Sovereign) Power, Authority, Jurisdiction, and Responsibility”.

    What political actors ultimately desire is the erasure of inconvenient liberty – to mandate what they want and prohibit what they don’t. Loyalty to the notion of “Limited Government” has only permitted the Cathedral to master the game of leveraging that loyalty in its claims that the Government is only ‘limited’ in that it cannot do what the Right wants it do do if the Right ever temporarily wins an election or two (like effectively Govern and Police Detroit). When the left is in charge, The Court has provided that the Government knows no meaningful constraints and Pelosi laughs at the notion.

    I’ve said elsewhere that Moldbug’s point is to paraphrase Kubrik, “How I learned to stop worrying and love the [absolute] sovereignty”. All structural designs working through distribution of power and institutional competition are, inevitably, futile. If you want better results, stop focusing on the “limited” and start focusing on the “incentives”. An omnipotent, for-profit landlord corporation (not much different from the all-encompassing citywide ‘community association’ which rules over the piece of real estate on which my family resides and is a middle-class paradise), doesn’t care about things it doesn’t need to care about. It’s a business and so it minds its own business. People can leave (or not come in the first place) if they don’t like the rules and don’t want to (or can’t) pay the (heavy) fees or afford the (heavily guarded) property values. That’s “Neocameralism”. It’s real, it works.

    The first step to achieving it, or anything like it, is to swallow the red pill and abandon the illusion of limited government. Not that it is just a current illusion (which it definitely is), but that it was always, inevitably, a hopeless project due to fundamental political principles of complex social organization and human nature. Saying “Sovereignty is Conserved”, (the ‘context-dependent dispute resolution authority’ sense of which is shared in the usage by myself, Foseti, Nydwracu, and Moldbug), is, at root, a way for us to say, “You don’t have limited government. You can’t have it. Stop being chumps and suckers! Wake up!”

    And imagine a different future that works for you. Imagine Habitable Worlds.

    July 4, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    • You guys still aren’t dealing with Jim’s argument, which starts where you do: government consists of people (concrete agents)
      — who are embedded in a field structured by natural law
      — which consists of sustainable social games
      — which function best when they’re backed by an armed populace
      — which sets limits
      Only when the state enjoys an absolute monopoly of violence does the Moldbuggian political logic smoothly unfold.

      You are all right in arguing that government cannot be limited by the ballot box. The real limitation on government is a distributed capability for effective non-compliance, shaping the landscape of potential equilibria in social games.

      July 5, 2013 at 1:04 am

    • Handle, I haven’t responded to this comment yet because it’s most likely going to be the inspiration for another post. Lots of valuable thoughts and generative clarifications, as always.

      July 8, 2013 at 6:35 pm

  4. R7 Rocket

    The Cathedral has sovereignty… that is, until it can no longer pay its enforcers.

    And there is an ever growing number of single males with no attachments. Ask Aaron Clarey… Or Edward Snowden.

    July 16, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    • Yes. I’m surprised this salient point hasn’t been brought up yet. Perhaps sovereignty ultimately lies in the public coffers.

      July 17, 2013 at 6:42 pm

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