Month: October 2013
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Point 5 of Nydwracu’s Priority Research Areas for Neoreaction is:
“What happened in the ‘60s?”
My guess would be: the death of conservatism. Except that that probably happened in the 1950s, and the sixties were a delayed reaction to the fact that progressivism no longer had any organised opposition.
The familiar neoreactionary story is that progressives have long had the upper hand, certainly since the death of Queen Anne in England, and from the very beginning in the American colonies. Modern leftism is simply descended from the whigs.
However, though they were dominant throughout the period 1714 – 1960, they were never entirely unchallenged. There were still Tories in positions of influence who maintained a coherent traditionalist political philosophy, and who (in the later period) accomodated with the age of democracy without ever accepting its assumptions.
That political force was dying in England by 1945. It was routed and destroyed by 1957. After two hundred years of advance by overcoming conservative opposition, progressivism was left completely unconstrained. Scattered discontents remained, but, without a living conservative movement or philosophy to draw from, they were not able to make arguments that would satisfy anyone.
Progressives responded by driving out potential rebels — first from academia, always a centre of progressivism but soon owned by them exclusively, and then from organised religion.
What we think of as “the sixties” was the gradual realisation by progressives that they could get away with anything. Every door they pushed on swung open, and there was a decade of exuberant pillage.
The end came as they gradually adapted to the fact that they were now the establishment, and needed to produce some measure of moderation from within. They started to address their contradictions among themselves: many of today’s basic political and cultural assumptions were decided somewhat arbitrarily in that 1970s settlement. (That, for instance, is where paedophiles failed to make the cut as a protected victim group). The recessions of the 1970s injected a note of realism into economic policy, and the enfeebled Conservative Party reenergised itelf, but basing its new opposing philosophy on classical liberalism rather than conservatism.
It was hard for me to understand the process, because, being born after the sixties, an actual conservative movement is something I have never seen. It was on its last legs in the first half of the century, but it really existed. This biography of Anthony Eden gives some clues as to what it looked like: patrician, honourable, suspicious of America, and doomed. There were presumably others like Eden, but today there are none.
This has obviously been a very anglocentric account. I would guess that the story for France would be fairly similar, though I don’t know, but that America was a bit different. The outcome seems to have been much the same in all three.
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Last week, I described the US Government Shutdown as a breakdown of the pretence of separation of powers — a seizure by the president, with the support of the Cathedral, of the powers that were theoretically supposed to be reserved to the legislature. Then, in the following post, I claimed that the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature is the worst idea of the world.
So, if Obama is grabbing absolute power for himself, like Charles I did… am I not a supporter of Charles I? Should I not be raising the standard and the cry, “God Save King Barack”?
Up to a point. There are two, related, differences between King B and King C. One is that Charles was open about what he was doing. He didn’t resort to procedural fiddles, he said he was King by divine right and was entitled to raise taxes without the say-so of any parliament. Maybe some of his historical justifications were not quite honest, but he was fighting not just for the practice of autocratic rule, but for the principle of autocratic rule. The second is that he actually was the rightful King of his people. (As an aside, I must recommend the Address to the Russian People by Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, an excellently well-reasoned defence of monarchy). There are relatively few people in America who believe in the idea of monarchy, and I suspect that approximately none of them would recognise Obama as King.
Remember that Charles I lost. It would have been better if he had won, but since he didn’t, it would possibly have been better if he had been less ambitious, and laid the foundations for a later consolidation of royal power. If Obama could command with Royal authority, that might be OK, but he can’t, so that’s that.
What next, then? Over the twentieth century, American democracy provided government that was, by the standards of its time, better than average. True, by historical standards it was disastrous, but as the twentieth century goes, it functioned relatively well. Like any functioning democracy, it relies on two things: the people believing they are in charge, and the people not really being in charge. As I explained, the root of the current troubles is that from 2008 onwards, the illusion of the voters actually having control has been grievously damaged, and the result of that damage has been the Tea Party. The pieces in Salon that @Outsideness describes as really going over the edge come over as perfectly reasonable if you take the basic assumption that the Cathedral has a right to rule unimpeded by mid-continent know-nothings.
“Even if these organizations lost their funding from Wall Street or the Chamber of Commerce, they could rely on donations from the Tea Party base, the vast mass of conservative voters and activists throughout the country who don’t share a scintilla of big business’s fondness for the status quo.” — Elias Isquith
As much as such a sentiment, from a soi-disant “democrat”, utterly begs to be mocked without reservation or mercy, a reactionary has to admit that it is a plain and accurate description of a disaster in progress. For all the problems that the establishment‛s rule has produced, giving more power to the voters isn’t really a solution. It might produce short-term benefit by curbing the current fiscal insanity, but what next, once the voters realise they can genuinely make demands of the government? What happens to all the rest of the empty rituals of a two-party system, if enemies of the establishment really control a party? The democratic institutions are not robust enough to handle actual conflict. They depend in every case on “gentlemanly” cooperation between the parties, and would crumble under the pressure, as they do when installed in countries without a local Cathedral to run them.
The system can fail in two ways: the voters could actually take power, or they could learn that they cannot take power. Either way, the sole virtue of democracy — that it pacifies the mob with the illusion of power — will be lost. Some of the establishment are realising that: Democracy After the Shutdown
It’s by no means a likely outcome, but the dropping of the pretence of democracy could be the way out. Certainly not in the form of King Barack I, but it is conceivable that the Democratic Party and the moderate rump of the Republicans could merge into a kind of “Committee of National Unity” (for the duration of the emergency, natch) that would eliminate Tea Party votes through some procedural mechanism, rule unopposed and evolve into something like the modern Chinese Communist Party.
The one-party state is not an ideal form of reactionary government, but if we allow the claim that fake-democracy was one of the more successful governing structures of the twentieth century, then by the same standard the Chinese model is about the best of a bad lot for the twenty-first. There is always the possibility of it developing further into some kind of monarchy.
I really didn’t intend to obsess over the US government shutdown, which is not of great importance.
However, while I was distracted catching up on some
pulp monarchist fiction, @Outsideness has only gone and threatened to carry a modified form of Montesqiueuan separation-of-powers into the neoreactionary era.
I think that is a terrible mistake. The British, of course, were going through the process of abandoning the separation of legislature and executive while the US constitution was written — Queen Anne appointed Tory Ministers in spite of Whig Parliaments, but by the 1830s this was recognised to be unworkable, and any Prime Minister who could not win a vote of confidence would resign. The legislature owned the executive.
Against this, @Outsideness points out, reasonably, that the USA has not been the worst-governed nation over the last couple of centuries, so mere association with the treasonous blackguards of 1776 is not quite sufficient to dispose of the idea of separating tax-raising and policy into different bodies. If it is such a bad idea, how did the US manage with it up until 2012?
One way is that, because both the House of Representatives and President have both been elected by the same electorate, they have tended to be mostly in step. The periods of “gridlock” when they have been in opposition have generally been recognised as temporary, so the limits of the powers of each side were not fully tested, both sides assuming that a period of united government would follow at some point. (It’s interesting that the concept of “gridlock” has disappeared from the lexicon over the last six months — it is
something that can only happen to white presidents, not to The Holy One. The disappearance of gridlock is one of the reasons I take the current process to be a permanent shift in constitutional arrangements).
Another has been the unusually legalistic attitude of Americans: more than any Europeans, including British, they tend to accept that something should be done just because it is the rule, whether or not it iseems like a good idea. Presidents before Obama accepted that they could not do much — certainly not anything very expensive — against the will of Congress. The “balance of power” between the executive and legislature could last as long as it was not tested.
The other reason why separation of powers worked longer in the US than in Britain is that the US government was not always the government of the US. In the division between the States and the Federal government, the “Keep the lights on” functions were predominantly State concerns, until the mid-20th Century.
The idea of assembling a government from independent self-perpetuating institutions is not one I would dismiss out of hand. There are strong echoes of the role of the medieval Church. But dividing the taxing institution from the domestic policy-making institution is either a sham or a shortcut to civil war.
Where, then, did it come from? My assumption has always been that the origin of the House of Commons is that it embodied the people whose active cooperation was needed in order to practically gather taxes in 11th to 16th Century England. The King ran his tax demands through them because if they, out in the country, chose to be obstructive about assessing and gathering the tax, he simply wasn’t going to get any. The small to medium landowners handed over their portions to the Royal Treasury without a fight because they knew that everyone else was paying on the same basis, and they weren’t just being landed on and raided, which is what it would look like if the King raised taxes without going through any kind of collective.
By the time of King Charles the Martyr, it was no longer clear that this was the case, and so Parliament’s control over taxation had gone from being a practical physical power to being a constitutional entitlement. As such, it could be lost and needed to be fought for. Since the ensuing fight was, by my measure, where progressivism first started to obtain power in the world — to become a party rather than an occasional aspiration, I strongly suspect that the separation of powers of taxation and executive is the worst idea in the world. That is all.
It’s not the role of the neoreaction to get too occupied by current affairs. The day-to-day obsessions of domestic and foreign policy are mostly irrelevant to our concerns; we must set our sights on a larger scale and a longer term.
The US Government shutdown, however, is a somewhat larger event, in which the actual forces shaping events ought to show themselves, and which we must be able to account for as a test and a demonstration of our theories.
I have not seen such an account, except for James Donald’s tightly constructed argument that, on the part of the Republican Congressional leaders at least, the conflict is a sham.
Even accepting Jim’s thesis, the wider story still needs explaining and putting into context.
There is a kind of dynamic equilibrium of politics under the Modern Structure. The Cathedral moves left at a controlled pace. It drags the political establishment behind it. The parties and the media drag the backward mass of the people behind them.
The last 15 years, under the Bush and Obama administrations, have seen an increase in the rate of expansion of the economic activity of the Federal Government beyond the previous rate. We can think of the old rate of leftward drift as the equilibrium rate, though of course that’s oversimplifying a complex situation.
That departure from the equilibrium rate of advance produced the Tea Party, by damaging the illusion that flyover country could oppose what was happening simply by supporting the Republican side of the political class.
The belief of the political classes in Washington today, received from the Cathedral, is that the White House is the government, and the House of Representatives is somewhere between a historical curiosity and a large lobbying firm. The motive for this is that the Presidency is easier for the Cathedral to control (particularly when it is in the hands of a leftist of weak character).
Leading Republicans, accepting the Cathedral position that the President is allowed to make domestic policy, but with their lucrative jobs threatened by the Tea Party, are adopting the fake-aggressive position described by James Donald.
Once they lose, the right of the Presidency to rule alone will be established. Congress will be a dead letter. It is still just possible that the Cathedral could attempt to revive Congress at some later time if they need to restrain an uncooperative president. But I would consider that unlikely — for a start, there’s no indication where an uncooperative president would come from.
The change in the constitutional roles of Congress and the Presidency that we are looking at the middle of is a prime illustration of the way the Modern Structure achieves major advances. There is plenty of noise, but no meaningful debate: the case for the new constitution consists primarily of shocked outrage that anyone could consider retaining the old one.
From a European perspective, it looks most like the situation when a new Treaty extends the powers of the European Union. In those cases at least there is a debate at the time, but once it is accepted, it is done for ever, and can no longer be considered negotiable. If a country like Denmark or Ireland votes down a change, then there is a much-resented delay while a new vote is arranged, and then finally the new consititution can be considered finished. It is then beyond any challenge. To suggest in France at any time since 1993 that the Maastricht treaty be rolled back would be utterly extremist, though it passed in a referendum by a vote of 51% to 49%, and Denmark needed two attempts to get the right answer.
From the American standpoint, it more concretely resembles the McCarthy period. McCarthy believed that the permanent US government was following a foreign policy at odds with that publicy avowed by the elected government, and that that was a crime. The facts and the law were on his side, but the Cathedral wasn’t, and his defeat meant that the question was settled: elected bodies no longer had any claim to control the State Department. The current conflict is about taking the power to control the Federal Government’s spending policy out of the hands of the elected body.
(Correction: according to Congressman Devin Nunes, the president does not have the power to spend as much as he wants on whatever he wants — he can be stopped if a supermajority in both houses of Congress opposes him. So that’s all right then.) None of this makes much difference in the long run. It is not as if Congress was ever a serious constraint on the steady march towards communism. I just think that it’s a big enough change in the system’s own terms to require an explanation.
Konkvistador brought up Kingdom 2037 on twitter yesterday, and elicited a few comments.
@admittedlyhuman was turned off by the idea of criticism of the King being illegal. I would refer her to, for instance, the recent article at Theden on
Georgia’s Rose Revolution, or to my thinking on Bo Xilal. The state has to protect itself against revolutionaries, and has to do so efficiently enough to not turn into a police state. The most efficient method is not to wait for enemies to build a mass movement and then take the mass movement on in a fair fight — it’s to make the existence of such a mass movement unthinkable so nobody ever starts it.
That doesn’t mean that the most efficient way is to listen into everyone’s private conversations and drag Fred Bloggs in front of the Star Chamber because he said the King has a big nose. I’m not talking about going the full Thai, nor about prohibiting discussion of the merits of alternative policies. It is only the position of the King that is beyond criticism.
That was the only criticism made which I reject outright.
Mike Anissimov and C-LAR noted that a total tax level of 25% was high, since medieval monarchies ran at around 10%. 10% is a good target for the running costs of the state. But medieval monarchies often ran deficits, which had a destabilising effect. They also started out (at least in England) with very large landholdings, which were gradually depleted. A King in 2037 needs to be accumulating assets, not exhausting them. A new landed aristocracy has to be built, and that will not come cheap. In the very long run, I would expect taxation to fall to close to zero, and the administration to be funded from the profit on the royal estates, since even low levels of taxation will cost more in terms of impairment of asset values than they bring in in revenue, but in the medium term those estates have to be built up, stability has to be bought, and 25% is still a good deal less than modern people are used to.
I mentioned on twitter that the King has to compete for allies with revolutionaries who can promise to tax at 50% and deliver the profits to their supporters. The whole point of advocating monarchy as an ideal is that he does not have to compete on equal terms, but he still needs to be a strong figure, and a 17th-century beggar-king borrowing to pay his tailor’s bill is not a strong figure.
C-LAR was also concerned about immigration, and the adverse effect on “the proles”. Again, this is a legitimate worry, addressed in the commentary article. The phrase “not tightly restricted” is perhaps misleading: I never imagined open borders or unlimited immigration; that undesirables will be kept out goes without saying.
However, I think that even quite high levels of immigration can be beneficial provided that cultural integration is expected, and the immigrants do not become a politically significant bloc. The idea of an income tax specifically on foreigners (it may not be clear from the original article that I do not expect ordinary people to be paying income tax) is for symbolism as well as revenue: immigrants are permitted to live in the country, they are not entitled to live in the country. I pointed on twitter to my later article on Antidisestablishmentarianism, which is another example of the idea that the majority native culture is openly and concretely privileged over foreign and minority cultures.
In the end, immigration is a practical question, not a matter of principle. If it causes more trouble than it’s worth, cut it down.
Added: Further discussions on Twitter
Before addressing the tax situation, I need to make something explicit that should be obvious but hasn’t been mentioned: the level of tax is entirely up to the King. There is no “man behind the curtain” forcing a 25% limit on him: the only reason for him to moderate his demands is the fact of the long-term value of the country to him being higher if its economy is allowed to flourish, and of high taxes restricting that flourishing. If he believes that the economy will benefit from massive state investment projects funded by a 40%-50% tax level, that is what he will do. I think that would be a mistake, but there’s nothing to prevent it. The whole point of the system of government I’m sketching out here is to make the sovereign as safe from rebellion as possible; it would be dishonest for me to try to say, “obviously nobody would tolerate a 30% income tax, the King would be removed immediately”.
Anyway, @DocCLAR was very interested in the details of taxation. As discussed above, I’m suggesting a level of taxation around midway between what we have now and what is actually necessary to run the state. I don’t have very strong views on the actual manner of taxation, but the main considerations are the distorting economic effects of the tax, and the cost of administering and enforcing it. I had suggested Land Value Tax plus an assortment of duties and tariffs on specific goods, plus the income tax on foreigners. The thinking behind that is that LVT is relatively non-distorting, and maintaining information on the ownership and estimated value of land, while not free, is something that is reasonable and useful for the government to do anyway. I dislike general income taxes and sales or value added taxes, because they need the government to check the value of everyone’s day-to-day business in order to assess, which is both expensive and intrusive.
The reason for putting more weight on the administrative cost of taxation than on the economic impact is that the economic impact can be reduced by reducing the tax level, whereas heavily administrative taxes create a de facto tax floor by needing to collect an amount justifying the existence of an organisation of the size necessary to administer it. So while a general sales tax would be less economically distorting than, say, a fuel tax, it would require a much larger bureaucracy to collect.
Again, the reason for suggesting a (by reactionary standards) high level of immigration is that rich immigrants attracted by efficiency and stability can be a source of state revenue that doesn’t require the government to interfere economically with the mass of the population.
Tariffs are another easy-to-adminster source of revenue, but would interfere with the idea of England recovering its position as a world trading hub. I don’t completely rule tariffs out, depending on circumstances.
I’m more concerned with these governing principles than with the details of tax policy, which is not my area of expertise. Any questions anyone has about the mechanisms, advantages, and alleged drawbacks of LVT can probably be answered by searching on Mark Wadsworth’s blog.
It turned out @DocCLAR was largely concerned with the tax question in the context of central versus local government. For England I don’t think the question arises — England has been ruled as a single tax jurisdiction for almost a thousand years, give or take the farcical failed experiment of local councils over the last century. I’m taking on plenty in drawing up a blueprint for my own country; there are enough American neoreactionaries to do the equivalent work for theirs.
There is, of course, the possibility of the United Kingdom surviving in some form into the neoreactionary era. I don’t really see any practical mechanism of real devolved power; following the logic of the Act of Union, Wales and Scotland would be under the full authority of the King, though his rule in Scotland might well be adapted to Scotland’s different traditions. An alternative of an independent but friendly Scotland would be perfectly workable. A hostile Scotland working with the International Community to Restore Democracy to England, on the other hand, would be a probably-fatal problem; I don’t think a 2037 regime could survive the internal conflict that war with Scotland would produce.
It seems a little unlikely that after any large upheaval the English King would continue to rule Northern Ireland. There are conceivable circumstances, on the other hand, where the British Isles become reunited. Ireland, though, like the USA, cannot easily present monarchy — still less an English monarchy — as a return to the nation’s traditions, so that’s also a problematic contingency.