Month: November 2013
One of the problems reactionaries draw attention to, as an example of the ineffectiveness of the modern state, is the threat of crime.
To this, progressives respond with statistics showing that incidences of crime per capita have been on a general downward trend for the last few centuries. Stephen Pinker recently published a book on this point, and anti-reactionaries are, understandably, making a big deal of it.
There are various measurement difficulties with crime rates, but Pinker isn’t a climate scientist, and so it’s not likely that all the measurement errors are going in the same direction.
Are perceptions of increased danger just wrong, then? They could very plausibly be the product of media sensationalism and heightened expectations. But I have doubts that frequency of crime, particularly frequency of crime per thousand of population, are really the right measure.
After all, fear of crime isn’t a passive, background thing. You don’t sit and worry that you’re going to be mugged before your next birthday. You worry when you walk home from the railway station at night. Fundamentally, you worry when you go out of a highly protected area.
So the intensity of your worry depends on what the risk is of going out of a protected area for a time. If people are doing that much less often than they used to, then it might have got more dangerous to do so, yet incidence of crime will be down.
There are a few reasons why people might be doing dangerous things less often. Many people have cars, which are mobile fortresses with lockable doors. That’s our old friend, advances in technology masking other problems. It might be that some areas that were dangerous are now safe. That would be a genuine improvement, a real diminution of crime and the threat of crime. It might be that some unsafe areas are now so unsafe that people rarely go there at all, which would actually be an increase in the threat of crime, without showing in the statistics. Then there’s the scale question:
Fleet Street in London is still Fleet Street. It’s the same length it was when Pepys walked down it, from Ludgate Circus to Chancery Lane.
If crime rates are the same as they were a hundred years ago, does that mean there should be the same number of crimes on it, or a higher number in proportion to the change of population? Or in proportion to the change of population divided by the change in the total length of road? But should that be all road, or important town-centre type street? Society does not scale linearly.
It would be interesting to see a town that stayed approximately the same size over decades, and look at its crime statistics, to eliminate these difficult scaling factors. But a town that stayed the same size would almost certainly have changed its role, relative to other towns. Not so helpful.
One thing that occurred to me is a football match. A big match is like a temporary town — in population, it’s the size of a small town. Is a football “town” the same size as a hundred years ago, and is it more or less violent?
Oh. The answer is that it’s smaller, because the level of violence had grown so much by the 1980s that the government forced reductions in stadium capacity, along with other measures.
That’s one indication that, isolated from scale effects and technology, violence has become worse.
Of course, history goes on: football stadiums are now less violent than they were in the 1980s, and for all I know less violent than they were in the 1930s, because they have become highly-policed zones.
The simple summary: there is no simple summary. Waving the hand and talking about “more crime” is wrong, at least relative to population. Some areas of life have become less policed, while some have become extremely heavily policed, and much safer. The things we do that expose us to risk of crime have changed, partly due to technology, partly due to bigger towns and cities, and partly due to social changes. If you want to show that some particular activity has become more dangerous today than in the past, concentrate on that — specific evidence is somewhat clearer than aggregate statistics. Moldbug’s “Map of areas a person can walk alone in confidence” is the right general approach (thanks to @lexcorvus for the link).
Update. I still don’t feel that I’m hitting the nail on the head. I feel that crime is something that should be at the edge of society. We have expanded — scaled — society, but we are measuring crime rate relative to the volume, not the size of the edge. A sort of square/cube law error.
OK, so a couple of outside websites have stirred the murky pool of
neoreaction — a welcome development, I think.
Because of the angle they came at it from (via Mike Annissimov, via
Scott Alexander), they rather overstated the importance of monarchism
to neoreaction. Monarchy is important as a point of comparison, but
it is only one possible approach among several for a neoreactionary
Having said that, Anomaly UK is where future monarchy
gets seriously proposed,
so I’ve pulled together what I think are the main failure modes of
monarchy, to put the dangers in the proper perspective. Most of them
have been discussed here before, so this is largely an exercise in
consolidation and better explanation.
By “failure”, I mean either that the system collapses and is
replaced with something else, or that the system survives but is very
unpleasant to live under.
There are some failure modes that are common to all systems of
government: any system can be invaded by foreigners, or be overthrown
by a demagogue. Monarchy, because its distinctive feature is the lack
of selection applied to its rulers, and the lack of regular
mechanisms for replacing them, has, or is perceived to have, its own
peculiar failure modes. Here they are:
- King is an evil psychopath
- King is a liberal
- King is uninterested, politics ensues
- King is sick, insane or senile
- King is a child
- Succession is unclear
- King has odd ideas short of insanity
Evil Psychopath — I can’t think of any. Democracy (particularly
one-party democracy) seems to have a far stronger track record of
putting evil psychopaths in power than monarchy does.
Liberals — this has historically been the major failure mode. The
solution is to permanently discredit democracy and liberalism. The
Roman Republic managed to achieve that for Europe for over a thousand
years, so I’m optimistic on this point.
Uninterested — this was
a major concern
throughout the monarchical period, but I struggle to think of
examples, at least from English history. Edward II maybe? That’s a
long way back.
Sick or insane — this has been troublesome. Modern medicine greatly
reduces the risk: the best-known examples have been the result of
syphilis or other treatable conditions. Senility is a major worry for
a modern monarchy, though.
Child — again, historically a big worry, but not common: it hasn’t
happened in England since Edward VI. Better health makes it less
likely. The British royal family currently has three generations of
mature adults available.
Unclear succession — again, better health makes shortage of heirs a
very minor concern. Disputed legitimacy might become an issue: even
with the availability of genetic testing, there is the question of who
does the testing and whether they are trusted. My impression is that
while disputes over legitimacy or rules of succession are not that
rare historically, they are usually cover for some deeper underlying
problem, often religious.
Odd ideas — this seems like a worry. Historical examples are again
scarce, though. Most odd ideas can be indulged as hobbies at miniscule
cost to a modern nation.
The most dangerous odd idea is liberalism; such a damaging and
plausible outcome that I already listed it separately. Most European
monarchies did in fact succumb to liberal kings. The next most serious
threat is religion. If the king adopts a minority religion, or even
the majority religion with too much enthusiasm, he risks stirring
dangerous levels of opposition. The Stuarts’ problems mostly stemmed
from this (though the reformation in Europe necessarily made things
difficult for them). My solution is
The common element in many of the perceived dangers of monarchy relate
to what the intentions of the monarch will be. The intentions of
monarchs seem to nearly always be to preserve his kingdom intact for
his family, to be remembered as a success, and, quite often, to get
laid a lot.
These motives can cause problems — heavy-handed policing employed
against even remote threats to the regime, wasteful vanity projects —
are common to all forms of government, particularly democracy. The
failure modes that really are specific to monarchy are
well-understood, and steps to avoid them have been taken — it is
well-known that the chief responsibility of the young royal is to
produce more than one legitimate heir at a relatively decent age.
We see this today in the non-ruling royal families of Europe, along
with a relatively recent development, that elderly monarchs are
routinely either abdicating in favour of their children, or less
formally delegating to them. This is an important response to modern
longevity. A monarch with strong family loyalty who found himself
incapacitated by illness would be likely to do the same.
A tight family group provides these benefits to a monarchy, but if the
family is relied on as the most trusted set of allies for the monarch,
then family members are going to be competing to some extent for power
and influence. This is normal, and happens under every form of
government. The fact is that members of a royal family are closer to
having a common long-term interest than members of other ruling
organisations — political parties, civil service departments or
military commands, and so are less likely to be destructive in their
There was an amusing little tiff on Twitter last week illustrating one
of the choices in the neoreactionary position.
Marko Sket admiringly posted a quote from Vladimir Putin:
If minorities prefer Sharia Law, then we advise them to go to those
places where that’s the state law. Russia does not need
minorities. Minorities need Russia, and we will not grant them special
privileges, or try to change our laws to fit their desires, no matter
how loud they yell ‘discrimination’
This led to some exploration of the idea of Putin becoming a proper
Tsar, put first by
and whether he has sons, etc.
While kicking over the possibilities and difficulties, Arthur
chimes in with:
Why are we going around choosing kings? Maria
Vladimirovna is the Empress. End of story. Crown her.
So there we have it: does neoreaction mean a strong, realist leader
like Putin taking on more of the beneficial aspects of traditional
rule, such as a secure hereditary succession, or does it mean the
literal restoration of long-deposed dynasties like the Romanovs?