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.
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.