Scales of Sovereignty (part 1)
Continuing Moldbug’s tradition of submitting ‘democratic’ society to Machiavellian analysis, Spandrell explains why rich and powerful Westerners do what they do and make the decisions they make. They do what they do for the same petty reasons any of us do anything: to solidify our friendships and to fuck with the people we don’t like. Writes Spandrell,
When you, politically awakened man, think about power, you have an abstract framework of what power does, and what it should do. You have your ideas on how society should be organized, and think that politics is about applying those ideas in absolute terms. But on closer inspection, it doesn’t work like that. George Soros didn’t buy shares of Herbalife because he has abstract beliefs on how the economy works and believes Herbalife is great value. Or he has abstract mathematical models that say that Herbalife will make him a lot of money. He has enough money anyway. Soros is probably buying Herbalife shares to fuck with Bill Ackman, another disagreeable Jewish banksta who seems to have very few friends.
All politics are local. Taken to its extreme, this maxim means that rich and powerful individuals make decisions affecting millions—billions—of abstract ‘others’ based entirely on the local realities of the rich and powerful themselves, that is, based on their relationships with other rich and powerful people they know, love, and loathe. The reality of democratic politics confirms Spandrell’s insight. Read any D.C. insider memoir. Petty social networking runs America. Justice? Founding fathers? Republican ideals? Bullshit. It’s all about who has what, who wants what, who’s a good drinking buddy, who’s a douche bag, and who knows how to play quid pro quo.
As Spandrell’s post reminds us, the Machiavellian impulse—the realist impulse—in neoreactionary politics is demanded and enabled by the insights of Darwinism and HBD. People are people. People are animals. (Or, as the trads put it, people are fallen.) We’re only a few evolutionary branches away from baboons. Civilization is hard.
Earlier discussions about sovereignty were prompted by the Moldbuggian question, “Is sovereignty conserved?” However, when I sat down to re-read the discussions about that question, I realized how rarely we talked in terms of HBD and Dark Enlightenment. In light of Spandrell’s cynically and darkly enlightened analysis of elite power plays, we should be prepared to answer Moldbug’s question with a resounding, “Yes, obviously.” Because mammals, especially humans, have evolved to do sovereignty.
I quote Bob Dylan:
You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Ten thousand years ago, various populations of mankind realized that some control and coercion are necessary if we want to be more than naked, competing brutes. The libertarian paradise of complete socio-political freedom would, in reality, not even look like the Serengeti. It would look worse than the Serengeti. Most animal groups maintain cohesion and exert control through their own simplified hierarchies (e.g., lion prides or meerkat matriarchy).
There will always be sovereignty. There will always be someone to serve, someone or some group who has some element of control over certain elements of other peoples’ lives. This is a necessary condition for civilization.
Commenter Hypothetical provides the following quote from Frederic Jameson regarding two different mechanisms (state power and market power) by which mankind is controlled and thereby kept safe from his own brutish, stupid anarchy:
Hobbes needs state power to tame and control the violence of human nature and competition; in Adam Smith (and Hegel on some other metaphysical plane) the competitive system, the market, does the taming and controlling all by itself, no longer needing the absolute state […] the market is thus Leviathan in sheep’s clothing: its function is not to encourage and perpetuate freedom (let alone freedom of a political variety) but rather to repress it.
According to Jameson’s way of thinking, the state and the market serve the same end: ensuring that mankind does not devolve toward his animal instincts, toward a too-destructive competitive environment in which everyone loses. Dylan again: You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Indeed, as I said, you’re gonna have to serve somebody because the last 10k years of human evolution have taught humans that control and coercion are necessary, in some form and to some degree, for intelligence optimization and general human flourishing. If some freedoms are lost, so be it.
Control is necessary in some form and to some degree. That’s the key. Jameson is guilty of equivocation by suggesting that the “control” enacted by the state is of the same form or has the same effects as “control” enacted by market forces. Clearly, there is a world of difference between the two. State or political control is all too human, enabled by the petty politicking and social networking—the kind described by Spandrell—that we should expect from the human animal and from the human elite in particular. In other words, state control is control by individual politicians operating at local (petty, short-sighted, moralistic, status-whoring) scales. State control is control by the whims of individuals and the fickle furors brought on by activists with megaphones. State control is control by factional baboons who have lost their fur.
Market control, on the other hand, is control by an aggregate of individuals and interactions at distant and varied scales that are not human at all. Market forces are often intractable for any individual human or group, if not in the short term then certainly in the long term. I don’t think that economists really have any idea how these forces work; however, we can be sure they exist and that, like physical laws before Newton, they seem to work whether or not we can describe them.
Whom do I want to serve? Where do I want sovereignty conserved? In forces I don’t understand, not in individual human animals, whom I understand too well, and who are, in their competitive brutishness, apt to bring civilization tumbling down just to piss off other humans they don’t like or to earn a few status points in the short term.