Political Strategy and the Centre of Gravity

There is quite a bit of military strategy, or generic strategic theory which has, to a greater or lesser degree, moved into the sphere of politics. Many of these theories do apply most purely to military matters, because such is the realm where the most pure forms of attack and defence apply, with some of the least path dependence. Business, meanwhile is an important avenue for strategic theory, but not one which necessarily lends itself to the study, due to the path dependence created by restrictive regulatory regimes and legal structures which dictate certain parameters or courses of action which cannot help but restrict creativity. Politics logically sits somewhere between these two established poles, as a realm in which there exists a legal framework; but in dealing with power – and often sovereign power at that, the scope for creative use of this power is great.

Let us break this all down a little then: ideology, in this context will usually form, strongly imply or inform, the desired end state or goal. Strategy is the means by which this goal will be achieved. The crucial missing element here is the identification of where one is, and what they have which will inform their competencies. This may be done at the comparably micro level of elections, or pressure groups and activists, but no such inventory exists at the exoteric grand strategy level, by which I mean – the level beyond single elections, parties, and perhaps even beyond single countries. However before progressing any further, there are already issues, because while it is relatively easy to determine one’s opposition in both war and business, politics can be a little more murky. So although the problems with this method will be discussed later, and some other options presented, for now let us use the Schmittian friend-enemy distinction to talk of broad categories of ‘left’ and ‘right’ – largely because this seems the most common framework used to discuss this issue. With this framework, we might begin to talk of the Critical Competencies of these two groups, and their respective Centres of Gravity. This in turn needs to be defined, however most definitions lend themselves rather specifically to the military application, so we shall generically search for a singular ‘source of strength’ which allows the force to achieve its objectives. These objectives, at the grand strategic level which we are discussing could be likewise generically thought of as the acquisition and maintenance of power, leading to the employing of different operational strategies to achieve these strategic and grand strategic objectives. It is worth noting however, as mentioned, that many differing definitions exist for the Centre of Gravity. Von Clausewitz defined it as: “The hub of all power and movement on which everything depends”. As this is more specifically military theory, the more modern US definition of it is: “the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act”. More colloquially it has also been defined as: the entity which allows one’s own force to complete their objectives, or impedes them from doing so in the case of the opposition’s Centre of Gravity. As implied by the use of the singular rather than plural, it must be a single entity. This latter definition is most relevant here, however it is worth bearing the others in mind during the adaptation of this theory, as what ought to be the result of this piece, is to encourage a different perspective on this issue. Perhaps even, if the gap is bridged successfully, it might be possible to tap into additional work to gain additional strategic insight.

Who are the respective groups then? In short, let me suggest that the ‘left’ is a coalition of the ‘outsiders’ – that being those who either are or perceive themselves to be outside of the central system (nation/ power structures/ culture) and subsequently want to shift/ change it. The ‘right’ meanwhile is a coalition of those that view the incumbent system – either in its current or a previous form, as favourable, and usually view themselves as existing within it. Modern states, (and even many pre-modern polities, though that is not the primary focus here,) tend to have at least one unifying institution or identity, which lends strength to the right by providing something of a concrete basis for the system formerly described which forms the point of distinction between the factions. The right, therefore, is empowered in relation to the empowering of this central institution – be it the nation, the church, the crown, or (much less commonly if such a thing truly exists at all,) the ethic. This is in isolation, however, from the specifics of the ideas proposed by the thought leaders of the right, which are much more complicated, but will almost always involve the strengthening of one of the above institutions, if not all. The left, meanwhile, despite implicitly gaining from the weakening of these central institutions (indeed that is usually their goal), is much more reliant on their ability to unify the disparate groups they are comprised of – into something strategically useful. This is because the qualifier of ‘being outside of the incumbent system’ unifies them strategically, the specific nature of their situation, their ideology, and their ideological goals will differ significantly from one another, such that despite being in the same faction as modelled here; islamists and feminists have very different goals, despite finding themselves as factional bedfellows. To talk of actionable specifics then: the left’s Centre of Gravity is its elites’ ability to maintain cohesion, and convince the component elements that there is a continued need for mutual support (whatever the reality may be on the ground). The right meanwhile has its Centre of Gravity located in the institution(s) particular to each state. The combination of its legitimacy, authority, and proportion of adherence in relation to the overall population and perhaps more importantly – proportion of elite support. Where these strengths are present and/or seen to be present, the right is capable of furthering and consolidating its power, where these properties are seen to be, or actually weak, the left can gain power and weaken these institutions further.

There is the possibility inherent in this structure, for the left to be locked out by a virtuous cycle of the right strengthening its core institutions, but this is broken by corruption, realpolitik considerations leading to self-harming decisions, and outside interference. Likewise, theoretically victory for the left would lead to a virtuous cycle, but progress made in any particular direction is inherently polarising, because it shatters the illusion that it can be all things to all people, thereby splintering and disillusioning parts of the coalition. Here it is perhaps also worth noting that, in accordance with Von Clausewitz’s conclusion that (to paraphrase): “All other things being equal, the side with the greater will to win will be victorious”. This acts in combination with the axiom that (again, to paraphrase): “All other things being equal, defence is easier than offence”. In the case of politics however, this is shifted to an offensive preference, due to the fact that the present is always inferior to a proposed ideal, and so this is a morale advantage typically (but not exclusively) favouring the left. Ergo, all other things being equal, the left will win, due to a superior will to be victorious. This acts as one of their Critical Competencies, but it is contingent on their ability to present a unified front, thus depriving it of Centre of Gravity status. However, this interacts with the right’s Centre of Gravity, because desire for institutional change is inversely correlated with both participation in, and appreciation of – these institutions. So successful strategies for both of these factions consist of the following: the right attempts to strengthen and (if possible) increase participation in the institutions of the country, while the left attempts to weaken and delegitimise them (fracturing the nation in the process), while unifying the disparate out-groups under one faction platform.

One cannot help but notice here that there is nothing precluding the right from taking an offensive stance, yet we rarely see this actioned. Two explanations exist for this; the first being that it is a simple matter of morale. The right lacks the confidence in its convictions – perhaps aware of the flaws of its own position by defending an imperfect entity, while the left sets their sights on a perfect ideal. But in doing so, they resign themselves to defeat, with the only relevant factor being that of timescale, as any victory of the left is made permanent by the lack of counter-offensive by the right (despite their frequently being able to). The other potential solution to this problem might be in the modelling itself.

If, instead of super-organisms of a sort, both sides are modelled as coalitions of smaller factions with distinct objectives and competencies, we may model the right as made up, in significant part, by factions whose ideals are closely aligned with the current state of affairs, and factions who merely want a continuation of status quo. As a result, the right lacks offensive momentum, because were they to attempt to counter some of the institutional damage, they would find a portion of their support turn into opposition. Other than this point, the change in modelling affects a few other things, most notably that both coalitions will need to be able to unify the groups that form them under a single cohesive strategic unit (though still the left to a greater degree – as the groups will tend to be more numerous and more distinct), and that depending on the group or faction occupying leadership positions, the objectives, approach, and posture will change, along with the Critical Competencies and Centre of Gravity. This is because each group or faction will have its own distinct profile, featuring its own Critical Competencies and Centre of Gravity, which will then be scaled up to characterise the coalition for the duration of its leadership. Most of the objectives, however, will be more specific versions of the generic strategies listed above. For example: Nationalists and Monarchists both wish to uphold the institutions of the country/state, but have differing views as to what the central institution is and should be. Meanwhile: Feminists and minority interest factions both wish to dismantle the institutions of the country, but have different targets. Perhaps the specificities of these Centres of Gravity will be discussed in a future piece, but for now, hopefully it will suffice to say that these will be quite different for Islamists and LGBT activists, or Libertarians and Paleoconservatives. As an aside; by extension, these coalitions need not be so set-in-stone, as institutional changes will shift groups from supporters to detractors, and out-groups may be brought into the institutional fold.

To reiterate then briefly; while remaining open to other possible definitions, defining the Centre of Gravity in political terms as – the singular central entity which allows a faction to gain power – yields some potential insights. The left; as a coalition of the out-groups, relies most on their ability to unify, whereas the right, representing the in-group, relies on the integrity and/or prestige of the central institution(s). All other things being equal, both sides will attempt to multiply themselves, and diminish the quantity of the opposition. However in the current state of things, the right rarely takes an offensive posture, and thus is gradually worn down, alleviated by the integration of former out-groups into the in-group by the changing environment, but this seemingly permanently shifts the field in favour of the left (in absolute terms). That can be expected to continue (absent alternate modelling), until the right decides to conduct a counter-offensive.

Economic Priorities

A criticism of government that seems to arise quite frequently, particularly from a position of economic uplifting, is that governments always have more money for war than they do for social programs. Figures will be thrown around to illustrate this apparent injustice (I am not necessarily refuting that point here, simply not discussing it per se). However the comparison is not quite warranted for two simple and linked reasons.

Firstly, the presence of poverty or other lamented social ills tends not to represent an immediate threat to the existence and stability of the state and/ or government. They may well in the longer term, but not immediately, and so such problems will be perceived as a smaller threat than whatever matter requires military action to combat. Whether it be an issue of destabilising and continuing terror attacks, or an outright act of aggression by another state; the government can not expect to continue for long without either being toppled, usurped by an invading state, or replaced by an administration more willing or capable of acting.

Secondly, while states can and have functioned in the absence of mandatory wealth redistribution, one cannot do so without the function of defence, especially in the face of aggression. This role may be adopted by another entity or state, but this puts the recipient in a state of de facto submission to the sovereignty of the provider. In essence this is the case because the provider may replace the recipient government at any time, with no recourse except by the consent of the provider. Ergo, defence, by the means dictated as necessary by the government, is an inextricable element of sovereign government. We may disagree on the wars that are deemed necessary, but not that they are the highest priority of any government.

Leverage Networks

Monks, bachelors, and homosexuals have something in common, not only with each other, but also with resentful civilians of occupied countries and fifth columnists. This is that they can often act as a support network for the more effective prospering of the more actively involved elements. They are leveraged to provide the best chances to the children of the nation, or guerilla fighters, respectively.

It has been pointed out much more comprehensively elsewhere, how child rearing – though of course a vital necessity – deprives men (and women, by extension) of some of their most productive years, and will set them back materially for much time to come. Therefore, especially in scenarios where the requirements of survival are much more harsh, it may be an evolutionarily advantageous state of affairs to have a certain portion of a family (and thus the population) be uninterested in pro-creation. The most binary example of this would probably be homosexuality, but this may also be achieved by choice through the elevation of other impulses above that of reproduction – as in the case of career-oriented bachelors, or religious celebates such as monks or catholic priests. This allows for resources and efforts to be directed towards improving the welfare of in-group members who are therefore expected to be genetically similar. The details of this are better discovered elsewhere, with more biology-focused information sources, but suffice to say here that this explanation and framing will be enough for discussion of this phenomenon.

It has been discussed in previous writings how the genetic legacy must be prioritised, which implies that such leveraging should be discouraged, in favour of ensuring that as many offspring are produced as possible. Indeed, heritable factors of intelligence may also suggest that our most productive members of society ought to prioritise direct genetic offspring. However, this picture may not be entirely universal, nor applicable to all situations, if indeed it is even possible to the extent that we might like. Instead, as with so many other individual facets, it must be considered as part of a wider context of society, policies, and norms. For example, in a society with weak communal or family bonds; such bachelors will provide very little in the way of direct advantage to the next generation of their group – as the material benefits will accrue to themselves. Somewhat likewise, in a diverse society with egalitarian norms, populations which have a greater ratio of bachelors to breeders will be supporting populations with lower ratios of the same – and thus form a diminishing portion of the population, all other things being equal. To put it another way, one group would be subsidising another with its productive but non-reproducing members. Meanwhile, if the breeders are too great of a proportion of the population, and creating too many mouths to feed to be able to support them alone, clearly the addition of such mouths is creating little benefit in the long term, but much more immediate suffering. Then of course if a society leverages itself too much, then it may get diminishing returns, or negative repercussions (such as too much pampering, to put it colloquially), or find itself unable to tap into sufficient human resources should the need arise for it. In the instance of war or epidemic, for example, the loss of children and fighting/working-aged men and women will be catastrophic if the ratio of bachelors to breeders is too high – the level of catastrophe being roughly proportionate to the extent of the leveraging.

On the topic of war, the same concept applies quite directly. No army is made up of merely a force of frontline fighting men, and seldom is a successful military or war machine – made up of an army alone. As a destructive enterprise, it requires at least a supply of resources, followed usually by a logistical network which is capable of moving them where they need to be, and an information network which can inform decisions on how and where they should be applied. Perhaps more than that, the resolution of the conflict must necessarily be dictated by an agreement between both parties – else any cessation of hostilities by one side will become a de facto capitulation. First, however, the relatively obvious: as stated previously, a war is not fought with frontline soldiers alone – thus the support network for the troops is not at all dissimilar to the population leveraging mentioned earlier. The greater the support network, the greater the capabilities of the frontline soldiers (albeit with diminishing returns). What is perhaps less obvious is that this applies to guerilla war scenarios as well as conventional armies – the only difference is that these support networks, like the fighters themselves typically – are not in a uniform. Being that they neither wear a uniform, nor carry a weapon, they are often considered civilians, but provide the invaluable force equalising capabilities that allow otherwise vastly inferior fighters to punch above their weight. They are able to meet tanks and air support with superior military intelligence, screened maneuvering, and camouflage, all of which would be impossible without the ‘civilian’ support network. The army itself will tend to realise this very quickly – hence the politically unsavoury tactics so often employed to disrupt the supply network (usually a task considered entirely legitimate and well within the rules of war). Conversely, however, attempts to alleviate the suffering of these ‘civilians’ via something like humanitarian aid is potentially misplaced. If the enemy were to send food and water into a besieged fortress, it would ordinarily be considered a huge blunder. Even if we assume that all of the aid is closely tracked, and only goes to the ‘civilians’ and not the fighters, it still has the twofold effect of strengthening the morale of the besieged (safe in the knowledge that those whom the fighters are failing – by their inability to prove the civilians’ basic needs – are henceforth saved), but may well take the form of provisions for auxiliary members of the army (picture non-combat personnel being deliberately sent provisions by the opposing army, perhaps even an ongoing commitment to them). Clearly, therefore, it supports the war effort of the opposing force by supplying supporting elements of the enemy army.

As previously stated, both sides of the war get a veto on whether the war is over. Therefore, it becomes important to be able to sustain the war politically, as well as logistically. In any kind of government, the support of the general population matters during wartime, because the government does not have the luxury of an army to fall back on in the case of civil disorder. On top of this, there are the aristocrats (whether entrenched or de facto) who possess the disproportionate power to make trouble for the government. And finally the members of the political establishment; members of the government, advisors, voters perhaps, or even just civil servants. As may be obvious to certain sectors, but exceedingly objectionable to others – these groups have the capacity to serve in the opposing army just as readily as their own – they only need to force the political hand towards a sub-optimal peace settlement. However the issue is sold and propagandised – it remains that, provided that the nation is not in the hands of an entity seeking its own goals, distinct from those of the nation, any forced settlement due to political rather than military or strategic considerations, will be in service of the enemy. If the nation is in the hands of an entity distinct from it, then it will be merely one power centre with its own incentives competing with another, but any anti-war faction that might arise cannot help but inhabit this category. And so whether they flew the flag or not (some certainly did), movements such as the anti-vietnam war movement could count themselves among the support networks of the North Vietnamese Army. Obfuscation of this fact is very much a late 20th century perversion of the obvious. Even in a scenario where the mother nation can be shown to materially suffer from the continuation of the war, the seeking of peace terms prematurely must necessarily compromise the national war effort by enforcing that it settle for less than its capabilities allow. Not to mention compromising the integrity of the governing apparatus going forward.

All of this to say, then, that such leveraged assets and support networks are important considerations, as well as the more obvious entities which they support. It has become a frequent feature of the dialogue on such issues to think that the next generation will be supported merely by their parents. So too thinking that somehow a few hundred or thousand men with only small arms and an inhospitable climate can resist the modern militaries of the world alone. And of course that fraternising with the causes of the enemy, or refusal to support the war does not necessarily implicate one into their allegiance. Mistakes, lies, and obfuscations all, the only thing that matters is where the support goes – will it be to one’s own nation, or another’s?

The New Spoils

If one had been looking at some of the less publicised parts of the 2019 UK general election manifestos of the various parties, one cannot help but notice a rather odd dislike of Ofsted – the education system monitoring and regulatory body. This is especially peculiar considering most parties desiring to abolish it, wished to replace it with another body tasked with the same job. Why?

Well there may well be many issues at play, but one strong contender is the continuation of a trend stretching back to at least the late 90s under Tony Blair’s Labour government – which was itself a reformulation of a much older idea: The Spoils System.

Originally, in the US, the spoils system was a process of rewarding political or personal allies with positions in government and the civil service. Eventually this was seen to be diminishing the effectiveness of the government by disregarding merit in favour of political considerations, and the practice somewhat disappeared, though not entirely.

The comparison between the US Spoils System, and the UK’s dealings with patronage and political nepotism is not a perfect one, but in light of more recent political history, it becomes more relevant.

Following in a long history of English policy chasing business interests, the story of the modern civil service (much abridged) begins with the emulation of the East India Company’s college, and standardised testing for administrative roles. Even in these early days it was divided into a technocratic advisory body, ostensibly to advise on the realistic policy possibilities available, along with their consequences, and a more purely mechanical body which simply carries out the dirty work of implementation. In keeping with the traditions of the time, many of these civil servants were of a generalist character, rather than what we might think of as a technocrat today with extreme clout in more specific technical areas. Ergo, as the perceived need for particularly scientific, but more generally technical knowledge increased, so too did the pressure to reform the civil service in order to meet such perceived needs. This, no doubt in combination with other more ideological and base political inclinations of the Labour party between 1945 and 1968 led to a review of the system, with numerous suggestions for change. In order to carry out such a change however, political pressure and will is needed, and thus a political head in the form of a new cabinet department within Harold Wilson’s Labour government in 1968. So with the civil service now brought into the realm of a political instruments, it became a recurring political project – to overhaul the civil service, under various pretexts, and with varying degrees of success at trimming around the edges of the institution. The most successful were the Thatcherites, who were able to install a form of performance remuneration, and later the ability of the public to issue claims against the civil service in the case of unsatisfactory service. Even this latter reform is dubious, however, as it could be considered less of a reform of the existing structure, as much as it was the creation of a new body to attempt to scrutinise the civil service (The Office of Public Service and Science). In this light therefore, Boris Johnson’s (at time of writing, announced) intention of reforming the civil service appears to have bleak prospects – as the fundamental form of the civil service has stayed true to its original formulation, and in this way, represents an active legacy policy of the 1850s Liberal party, couched in terms of neutrality and impartiality, and therein lies the crux.

Seemingly, it has been recognised that these ostensibly independent organisations (additional examples of such being the Bank of England, and the United Kingdom Supreme Court), are given certain political characteristics by the nature of their founding, and perhaps more importantly, the source of their founding – politically speaking. Briefly, in the first instance, the creation of the Bank of England did much to allow for the obfuscation of power relationships, distanced power from sovereignty, and enriched the base of the Whig faction who had founded it. More contemporarily, the creation added to this institution; the Independent Monetary Policy Committee achieved the same in terms of obfuscating power relations, but also creating the possibility for political influence to outlive the government which appointed them (as they enjoy longer terms than the government). As such, Mervyn King, who had earlier been a critic of the Conservative economic policy under Thatcher, was appointed by the Blair Labour government – as the first governor to serve a whole term which would enjoy the increased responsibility and independence. Initially he followed the expected course, and, following the 2008 financial crisis, attacked many of the politically acceptable targets, and catered to Labour’s political concerns; even going as far as to rather unusually give a speech to the Trades Union Congress. However, in the lead up to the 2010 general election, King became implicitly and sometimes explicitly more critical of Labour (albeit a Labour party slightly changed from the one that appointed him). King then went on the praise the Conservative policy plans, especially after they had been more thoroughly enshrined in the Coalition agreement which put them in power. This could be viewed in one of a number of ways therefore: either he was seeking to ingratiate himself to power to make his suggested candidate more appealing – thus preserving his own legacy and some amount of his power and prestige. Perhaps, as has happened with US supreme court judges, he changed his perspective since his appointment, and thus began to exercise his own power. Or it could be as simple as to say that his positions all along were more complicated than might be suggested by his past. In any case, he was succeeded by a governor who followed a similar trajectory: began supportive of the political interests of his appointer, and maintained many of those positions while the political situation has shifted around him, but now, as Mark Carney nears the end of his term, he has begun to soften on the issue of Brexit in particular seemingly, which is a de facto appeal to the power situation on the ground. Perhaps we will see in around a decade if this trend will unfold a third time, but for the meantime, I would invite you to draw your own conclusions on the matter.

The UK Supreme Court could be said to be a more obvious example, particularly in the recent high profile cases which had the effect of tying the hands of Boris Johnson’s Conservative government. In this way, observing the time line of the creation of the UK Supreme Court, it would seem to be one of the most effective of the avenues for the Labour government of Blair (and later Brown) to maintain influence, even after they’ve been politically displaced. This of course coming from a body which was only formally created in the final year of that government, investing the justices for life (albeit with a mandatory retirement clause).

It is little wonder then that at time of writing, the Johnson Conservative government is looking into curtailing the Supreme Court’s power. However this generates the predictable responses of tyranny and overreach. This is what sets it apart from the original spoils system, as it generates the self justification of merit based selection and action, along with independence. These are bodies which are relatively easy to create and empower, but difficult to roll back: a near perfect vector for ensuring long term political influence. For now, at least. The original spoils system was justified through appeals to efficiency generated by improvements in loyalty and cooperation. It’s difficult to know how accepted this was in the earlier stages of the process, but considering the fact that the Southern Secessions took place during this time, it might not be unreasonable to think that the view was prevelent that an anti-slavery political victory would enable such policies to be pushed through easily, regardless of the pragmatic considerations under the spoils system.

So, government is being hampered by Labour created and influenced institutions which cannot easily be outright removed or reversed, despite their being routed from power. What can be done about this? Better still, could this be turned into an advantage?

There appear to be two options primarily available: the long term preferable option would be to reverse the changes, through pushing them into politically unfavourable positions which undermine their popularity or credibility. This has been the situation for the Supreme Court recently which, although technically was not so, was seen as being a blocking action against brexit – doing much to render support of the Supreme Court a partisan issue. This means that Johnson’s attempt to diminish the body may stand better chances than others of their kind, but that remains to be seen.

The other, perhaps more cynical option is to play the same game, but better. If the creation of new bodies is a means to ensure long term influence, and such bodies, along with their independence is seen as an inherent good (though admittedly this may be changing), then independent (ostensibly at least) appointments to such positions must also be good, right?

A body would be created, nesting subtly partisan features and aims into its mission, but maintaining formal separation from the state, though not necessarily total separation from all matters of political life (if such a thing is even possible). It merely needs to be seen that a roughly neutral or meritocratic organisation by a reasonable and defensible standard, with a mission aiming at the public good, is tasked with ensuring that ‘politics is kept out of such important matters’. An example of this may be a group of legal practitioners aiming to ‘preserve legal stability and the common law tradition’. Inherently this pushes us towards Conservative, if not Reactionary members and ethics, which will translate into likewise Supreme Court justices, should this group hold a monopoly on appointments. Should protest be voiced to this, it can be easily countered with accusations of politicising the legal system, or attempts at a power grab.

In this scenario, however, it must be considered that this will still, despite the slightly changed political inclinations of the incumbents, we will still be set upon the path of ever more technocratic government. The hope would be that with an increase in the influence of sympathetic members of this technocracy; a greater number of options would be available to change the situation down the line. To draw a crude comparison: although the secular Western Roman institutions may have crumbled, we as analogous to the early church may still be able to control, or at least influence the political situation going forward, even if governing positions are held by otherwise opposing forces, as they were during the 6th and 7th centuries particularly, under the rule of the germanic kingdoms.

Mencius Moldbug remarked in his Open Letter, that direct action against the state from the right is folly, absent the kind of judicial sympathy which made it possible in the 20th century. While I would contend that the situation is a touch more complicated, perhaps the methods just described can be an avenue for attempting to re-establish something resembling the past wherein we were able to do more than merely chase the leftward push.

On Legitimacy

Legitimacy, defined in wikipedia in a political sense consists of: “the right and acceptance of an authority, usually a governing law or a régime”. In that sense then, it may be considered to be the means by which certain people or groups can have their will – be regarded as meaningful. If, then, we are to function in any kind of collective context, we must accept some form of legitimate authority to contextualise this co-operation. It is worth noting, however, that much of this is a matter of perception; the legitimising process is one part reality, and another (perhaps even larger) part image. Therefore, institutions which possess the means to promote, stifle, or alter this image could be considered legitimising institutions. For now this will not be a consideration, as we will assume that perception and reality are not distinct from one-another, but it will come up later. First though, in order to demonstrate why legitimacy must necessarily exist in some form, we will explore the hypothetical of a society without legitimate authority.

In this case, first it is necessary to establish that no preceding state of being can be considered to exist, as it would grant a legitimising tradition. All individual predilections may be pursued at will, because an individual desire requires no validation external to the person; but when these clash with the actions or desires of anyone else, the conflict cannot be resolved or mediated by any third party – for none possess nor may possess the authority to mediate. In addition, there can be no limitation by means of property rights, for no authority exists to enforce these, and so the property of each is what they can take and hold (in Hobbesian fashion). This leaves only negotiation of both parties, and force as methods of resolving the inevitable disputes. However, due to the fact that neither has any greater claim over the item or privilege in question, resolution by force seems the likelier option. Furthermore, although this may logically serve as a precedent for later dispute resolution; this is not possible without the granted authority of success, and so the instance must be reset each time. Curiously, this appears to be quite close to Thomas Hobbes’ formulation of the state of state: war of every man against every other man. In practice however, this cannot be, as it requires a population with no conception of either the past, or the future, and which is incapable of recognising hierarchies.

With the necessity of its existence in mind then, what forms of legitimacy exist?
Beginning with what we would typically consider to be the most primitive: authority of force. This represents the ability of the authority to legitimise its dictates through the threat of force – typically some kind of violence in response to non-compliance. Although this could take its most obvious form in small groupings, larger groups require more sophisticated means of force-based authority, such as a loyal bodyguard or army. This is, in the modern west, typically considered to be the most primitive form of authority, but is perhaps the easiest to attain as a starting point.

Then there is legitimate authority by consent: the form which seemed to most fascinate the early liberal thinkers, as it seemed to them to represent the only legitimate form of authority. The principle is rather simple: those whose judgements are given significance are seen as such because they have been granted their position by the consent of the body. This may be in the case of an agreement on a course of action to be carried out by an individual or body – whose authority extends only to a specified degree. Or alternatively, it may be extended to an individual or group without consensus on a particular action – simply that authority be invested. The former case may refer to the situation in the wake of a referendum, (particularly one which is legally binding) which is then passed on to a civil service, or other executing body to carry out. The latter meanwhile could be said to exist in the case of electing a representative, where there is no recourse to summon them at will to face an accounting of their actions; should they go back on their word.

The category of legitimacy by tradition perhaps needs the least explanation, being a continuation of the judgements of the past, or the methods by which judgements are taken. Even in the cases where this no longer applies in a practical sense. If one were living in the very early days of the Roman Empire, this would be the situation one experiences. All other forms of authority reside with Augustus, but the senate continues about its business with a certain amount of influence regardless – as tradition demanded it.

Finally the category of authority by status. This may take the form of either relevance through raw competence or charisma, or by proximity to power – biologically or institutionally. In practice biologically: this takes the form of a familiar relation (or sometimes an adopted relation), usually where a name is shared. Institutional status legitimacy, this is where an individual gains legitimacy through association with a legitimated group or organisation. This is typically used as a heuristic of individual competence, but is not necessarily so in the expected fashion, so it is worth distinguishing. For example: through the proxy of an unsure Chancellor of the Exchequer (or other similar minister for the economy), high ranking members of major banks, and the central bank may gain effective power over economic policy. Somewhat similarly, the head of the civil service will have a certain amount of legitimate input over policy; ostensibly with feasibility concerns in mind. However in both of these examples, this would be an expression of obfuscated power, so a formalised example would be that of the 2011 Italian Monti Cabinet of technocrats (or any other technocracy for that matter). Another slightly more complex form of status legitimacy exists however: one which I shall call status by symbolic occupation. This phenomenon is seen most glaringly in France and Byzantium, and does not apply everywhere – but functions as a legitimiser by occupation of (usually geographically) where power lies. The owner of Paris and Constantinople respectively have had a vastly disproportionate effect on the legitimacy of the claimants to authority, to the extent that; the July Revolution in 1830 functionally only took place in Paris, where Charles X theoretically (and quite probably, practically) still held authority over the rest of France, but was forced to abdicate regardless. Meanwhile, Byzantium ceased to exist as a coherent entity after the fourth crusade in the absence of Constantinople to bind the remaining imperial lands together. This is until Constantinople is regained, thus restoring the empire. Equally, this could apply to something less than a capital city, such as a throne or crown, but of course with somewhat less impact in most cases.

With these different forms of legitimacy laid out, it is worth musing on the interactions that some of these have on one another. Although there may be one overriding source of legitimacy, there will usually be more than one present where authority is actually legitimately held. It must be said that these represent only formal forms – informal forms will be discussed later.
The law, for example, is a contentious issue in its origin. It is indisputably backed with force, usually tradition, and according to proponents of social contract theory – with consent. Monarchies overall rely on the legitimacy of their status as part of a distinct lineage, and tradition, with force also a readily available legitimiser.
Dictatorships meanwhile rely typically on a combination of their status of personal excellence (perceived or otherwise), and force.
Oligarchies are maintained by the status of their oligarchs (the exact status will differ depending on the character of the oligarchy), occasionally tradition, and can usually rely on force, but less so than the previous two forms most typically.
Democracy is legitimised by consent, and will exist under the pretense of its access to the authority of force, but in reality, its grasp on the means of the monopoly of force is the most tenuous. In particular, this is shown by conflicts such as those between the Interwar French army generals, and the civilian government. The civilian government feared the loyalties of the generals, and were thus hesitant to give them the means to hand the ability to use legitimising force over to a rival institution, such as a new government – perhaps similar to Napoleon’s return from Elba.
It cannot help but strike one that force is a staple of all cases. This is because the additional legitimisers are usually a construct which follows the establishment of an authority by means of force, at least in transitions between authorities, not necessarily in their initial founding. And so it is that maintaining their hold on the monopoly of force tends to be the primary concern of any authority, even though an authority may still be legitimate and able to give meaningful dictates without the ready availability of force. There are of course exceptions to these rules, such as that of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, wherein despite being at the top of the army command structure, the elected king could not necessarily demand submission by force, because the noble magnates could themselves raise and command armies larger than that of the king.

Yet, even when these legitimisers are not present in the sovereign authority, they often still exist somewhere. The wider population might well have a distinct will, there will usually be men of excellence and prestige around, a tradition of certain types of rule will typically still exist, and of course – if the realm is itself a distinct and independent entity – the means of applying coercive force will exist. This is largely why a stable government tends to need a backing of force – if it does not, then use of force is the easiest route to power by other contenders for it. In particular: the republic of Turkey, and late Imperial Japan serve as examples for what can happen when authority is unsecured by force. In the case of Turkey, the armed forces have a tradition of serving the republic’s founding ideals, rather than the civilian government strictly, and thus toppled the civilian governments in 1960, 1971, and 1980 in overt coup d’etats, but have since intervened allegedly with soft coups in 1993, and 1997, and allegedly planned to do so in 2003, 2004, 2007, and 2016. Clearly this is not a tremendously stable situation, however the army has done little to shift the underlying governance, and has always defaulted back to civilian government. This has allowed the civilian government to erode the army’s power, most recently through purges of dissidents in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt, and thus allow the civilian government to seemingly win out in the long term if the current trajectory continues. Conversely however, the Meiji constitution of Imperial Japan manifested in different ways throughout the course of the empire – wherein it began as a monarchy with significant aristocratic influence, transitioned into a parliamentary democracy in effect, with the accession of the sickly emperor Taisho, and transitioned further into what was largely a military governance under emperor Showa. The exact events and reasons for these shifts are much more complicated, but for our purposes, it is relevant to note that by the time of the ‘Taisho Democracy’, all four sources of legitimacy were functionally separate from one another; with the aristocrats of the Zaibatsus, the emperor, the civilian government, and the military, were all distinct pillars, despite all being formally beholden to the emperor. The military then underwent a process of subsuming each under its will in turn, often through circumstance rather than planning, but without changing the constitution to reflect the new reality. In both cases then, the multipolar situation has trended towards centralisation, but usually avoids a formal changes, relying instead on informal relationships.

Thus far, the categorisation of legitimate authorities has mostly been expressed in terms of formal arrangements, but things are seldom so simple. Consent, for example, is rarely universal, and democratic mandates are often muddled and confused; such that a government relying on consent alone will find itself quickly challenged as to the quality of its mandate. This is to assume no opinion formation, which itself is an ever present factor; not only in shaping consent for certain policies, but also in raising or lowering the perceived status of potential leaders. And then there’s tradition; so let me ask you a question, dear reader: would a strengthening of the executive in the US be in keeping with, or in contravention of tradition in US governance? It would be my judgement that it could relatively easily be argued both ways. If one were to adhere to the tradition of trends, then it would be traditional to increase the power further, but if one wishes to emulate the traditional structure of the executive as devised by the ‘founding fathers’, then diminishing this power would be a move closer to tradition. This argument does take place, when the appropriateness of certain executive actions is challenged by the opposition. Even in the realm of force, the picture is somewhat muddied, as both incumbent and opposition see their opponents holding the batons and rifles, metaphorically speaking. The reason these contradictions exist is not because the situation truly is so chaotic, but because it allows authority to legitimately be held while pushing in any direction deemed necessary at the time – consent already exists for it, those pushing in either direction can be raised or lowered in status, while certain elements of tradition are pushed to portray the change as a mere continuation. Or alternatively, the reverse can be applied to obstruct a trajectory, depending on how the legitimising institutions lean.

Within this framework, then, it becomes entirely possible to legitimise an authority which does not boast the qualities it claims or is credited with. The reasons for this can be many, but typically revolve around the preferences of a population (or other power centre) – who would typically rather believe their input is essential to the formulation of policy, or that theirs is the way it’s always been done and worked – rather than the alternative, that they are effectively under occupation by a bureaucratic or autocratic authority. In retrospect, the distinction is often clear, such as in the Second French Empire under Napoleon III (who held referenda to legitimise many of his policies), or the Eastern Bloc countries during the latter half of the 20th century, most of whom had parliaments and elections, but in the moment it can be more difficult to discern, as it would have no doubt been in those two examples. More insidiously, another reason that this misdirection may take place is to misdirect the anger at unpopular policies. Concrete examples of this are relatively difficult to come by, but as it is somewhat covered in Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, it must have been a known technique – reportedly practiced by Cesare Borgia. Similarly, logically it forms a staple of proxy rule and protectorate governorship, but I have no specific instances to cover.

So what might be some indicators that one is being presented with a differing authority than the one that actually exists? Well to cover these in a non-exhaustive fashion, partially because it varies so much based on the exact nature of the ruse: An authority by force that seems to provide punishment to transgressions either inconsistently or arbitrarily. A ‘tradition’ which contradicts precedence, whereby the contradiction is either gas-lit or ignored out of the public domain. A status is either non-unique or significantly aided by perhaps even seemingly reliant on other entities. A ‘consented to’ or ‘democratic’ mandate which does not match public opinion, seemingly often through restriction of the options available at the time of writing, rather than outright tampering. Or equally an aggressively partisan or one-sided presentation of an issue – thus stifling the free formation of opinion, if we are to hold such a thing up as an authority.

Perhaps finally it only remains to discuss these sources of legitimacy in terms of their desirability. In the present, at the time of writing, the most publicly preferable form of legitimacy is one of authorities through consent, but this has not always been the case, as we see in many 19th century and early 20th century elections – returning reactionary results and representatives. This was, of course, much to the disgust and disdain of the liberals and socialists who perceived the electorate as ‘voting against their own interests’, or even using it as a demonstration of their incapability to be responsible in their selections (seemingly without a sense for the irony). For example, the 1795 French Directory elections which returned an outright majority of monarchists, and nearly a quarter of the total body of “ultra” monarchists. This being in the wake of the anti-monarchist reign of terror and execution of Louis XVI, which one might expect to significantly diminish such sentiments (if for no other reason than demographics). Similarly, the history of the Rump and Long Parliaments during the English Civil War period – is, among other things, one of frustration at the representatives’ lack of republican zeal. Elections, and acquiring consent are also expensive means of generating legitimacy, especially when the claim can usually be quite reasonably be challenged in the absence of foul play.

Force, meanwhile, is one of the least popular, but relatively reliable. Only relatively, because if it is only force available that gives a ruler his legitimacy – then he is one insubordinate commander away from his downfall. Precautions must therefore be made to ensure that the army (and other security forces) remain loyal, which is both a troublesome and costly enterprise. Both late Rome and the middle period of Byzantium suffered from the problems of securing power through force, which necessitated that the armies available to defend the empire be treated as much as a political kingmaker as a means of defending the empire. In the aftermath of civil wars in both cases, it is not hard to see why this would be a priority. In the more contemporary examples of Iraq and Iran, both countries maintained Republican Guards as a political insurance of their power – as much to counterbalance the influence of army generals as provide shock troops, but this will create potentially problematic tensions and rivalries where cooperation might serve the nation better in a time of war.

Status is a point of amenability to the sensibilities of most eras, depending on the type of status – as few will challenge obvious merit too strongly, however most types of merit and status can be challenged, if only subjectively quite often. Such a system will also be unstable, as candidates will forever by trying to prove their superior claim by merit of their own qualifications. While meritocratic, this may result in frequent policy course-changing, and/or opportunities for system change for the sake of a stability that it much craved in its absence.

This leaves only tradition then: by far the cheapest in terms of upkeep costs, and intrinsically stabilising when it is held as a central ethic. It is, of course, at the mercy of the tradition in question, and thus a tradition of demanding consent governance will take on the costs of such, but it allows, perhaps, a reduction in the consent elements in favour of a pure tradition. Examples of this can be found in the Holy Roman Empire under Habsburg rule, which gradually became a de-facto hereditary position, despite definitively not beginning that way. Likewise the transition of the Roman Republic under Julius Caesar and Augustus to a hereditary empire. Though for obvious reasons of avoiding conflict, the former example would be the better one. Tradition alone, then, represents the most civilised form of legitimacy, as it uses the least amount of cost to secure legitimacy, both from subjects and the authority alike, and until one party deviates from the duty of tradition, there is little scope for the instability of unrecognised legitimacy – thus allowing the pursual of higher aims, and preventing civil war. This is clearly an ideal of sorts, for it is natural to at least want to ensure some level of competency in the system, but pursuits to this end seldom yield a return, and serve to undermine otherwise stable legitimacy, which necessitates more resources to be diverted towards shoring up the authority. Therefore, although an ideal it may be, it must be considered an ideal which is imperative to achieving higher levels of civilisation.

The Challenge of Liberty

First posted on the Traditional Britain Group blog:

We find liberty in a rather curious predicament; because although few would claim it to be bad in its personal variety, what it actually consists of is somewhat contentious. As is laid out by Isiah Berlin in: “Two Concepts of Liberty” and Erich Fromm in: “The Fear of Freedom”. On the one hand, we have negative liberty: a legalistic view which contends that one enjoys liberty when one faces the fewest interferences, particularly from government. On the other hand, with a more prosocial view: positive liberty maintains that liberty both requires the participation of individuals in the political process and selection of government, and cannot be enjoyed by those that are on the edge of survival, thus liberty can only be said to exist for those whose primary requirements for life are fulfilled. Both of them have some merit: as negative liberty allows for a more robust long-term flow of actions to consequences, thereby widening the number of possibilities and outcomes, while making the choices more meaningful. Whereas positive liberty might represent a more realistic view of a human liberty, wherein a man may not be ruined by ill informed choices from the distant past, thus depriving him of present choices. The negative liberty proponent may counter that to do such would be to insulate them from the natural liberty which allows them to both fail and succeed as much as they warrant. Then the positive proponents may suggest that being allowed to fall too far risks exposing one to long periods of time wherein no liberty is functionally experienced, as the non-optional requirements to sustain life are so all-consuming as to allow no room for choices to take place. And on the argument goes.

It ought to be clear by the context of the previous uses that the word liberty is being used interchangeably with the word freedom, but to distinguish the two going forward: freedom requires only immediate capability, whereas liberty requires sustainability and legality. It would therefore be accurate to state that liberty requires freedom, but that freedom does not require liberty. Here we may further explore the conflict then, because what is required for freedom? Both capability, and will. If one lacks capability, then one has neither the freedom nor the liberty to complete the willed action. Yet in this formulation there must exist where one lacks the will, but not the capability necessary for freedom to act. In some cases this will merely be for lack of warrant, but in others due to a dominance of animalistic impulse. In instances such as these, an otherwise good act will not be conducted for lack of will, or rather, to pull from more classical philosophy; a prevalence of vice. And so just as readily as a man may turn away from good acts and choices for lack of means and safety, a man may turn away from the same for lack of virtue and self mastery.

In this way, although one may appear free, and appear to be making choices undisturbed, the reality is that one is subjugated to his baser impulses and vices. This becomes most acutely seen in addictions – which preclude certain choices not in alignment with the requirements of the addiction. This is a fairly simple matter in the case of a chemical addiction, and may be a rational calculation in many instances to avoid the physical effects of withdrawal, but less so for psychological addictions. Here the matter is one more closely resembling a lack of will to break with the bodily impulses; demanding pleasures of the flesh, palat, and ego. Just as an addiction limits the available possible options in any given scenario, so too does a lack of will, perhaps even more so, subdue freedom of action to the availability of carnal stimuli. If a man can only indulge when presented with; an amorous woman, a sweet treat, or a slight against his prestige, then is not free, but is instead: enslaved by his own body.

The counter to this is virtue – freedom giving in itself, but for the purposes of our conversation; it is also the additional requirement for liberty. This virtue liberty, although largely alien to more modern dialogues on the subject, was an accepted fact when the subject enjoyed its late 18th century prominence in the new world. To pull from James Madison quoted via wikipedia: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.” Even if we do not agree on what those virtues are exactly, as I have largely avoided touching on here; the implicit strength of will required to produce such virtues in the face of carnally demanded vice, is a core bedrock of freedom, and thus so too a bedrock of liberty.

The Children of Utopia

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Far from the only problem with utopian visions, but one worthy of note, is that almost by their nature, they require a certain material homogeneity. Once again, although there are numerous further problems with this proposition when applied to the real world, the one that I will focus on here is the issue of children in these utopias. Before I do, however, I must emphasis that this article attempts to stay within the bounds of the idealised models, rather than their implementations and practitioners.

By utopia, I mean a perfect, or near perfect state of being proposed through an abstract constructed model. There is perhaps some room for discussion in what might fall into this category, but certainly a few stick out. Furthermore, a distinction can be drawn between ideologies which are prescriptive, (those which start from the abstract, or a relatively small number of observations,) descriptive, (those which attempt to measure in totality and model on that basis, or which take a complete model from one area and attempt to universalise it,) and emergent (those which are generated through use and tradition, rather than imposed).

To start, the namesake example: described by Sir Thomas More in “Utopia” – children are only a consideration insofar as they generate over or under-population as a problem to be dealt with. Within the largely pre-implementation frameworks of liberalism, children are largely either lumped in as a subsidiary entity to the more important man, or further taken as an assumption which limits options as readily as the minimum living standards of an adult. This is evident, for example, in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Alternatively, there is an undertone in the works of Locke of children forming the preceding state of an adult; and although this is somewhat true, it is still misguided. National Socialism, and to a slightly lesser extent Fascism has tended to make the same mistake, with children often seen as ‘soldiers in waiting’, but the picture in that regard is sometimes a little more blurry. Marxism, meanwhile, with its traditional materialist reductionism, and even in some of the more modern forms, tends to view children as a non-productive element, but one still requiring resources to be sustained. As a slight aside, this may go some way towards illuminating why, when idealistic socialists first attempt to put their ideas into practice, minimisation of births seems to often be an early priority. Again, this is a murkier picture however, as exceptions exist, such as how Mao in China personally espoused pronatalist views, despite presiding over an almost halving of the birth rate.

All of these views are contrasted by an impulse in a great many people, and women particularly, who see children as ends unto themselves, and something which is unique entity in itself, rather than a substandard version of the parent. So too is it a logical necessity for the continuation of the system; as a utopia with no children is one which will itself die alongside its single generation of people. And while there will no doubt be some utopias which do not fall into this pitfall, it is a common enough trend among the mainstream ones that it ought to raise an eyebrow. A pop psychology viewing of this phenomenon might well yield some interesting thoughts, but a single clear observation will suffice here: that utopias and the ideologies that inform them are quite apart from the people they purport to serve. Both in values, and in objectives. At that, they can and do exhibit tendencies which are ultimately self-destructive. This is because; certainly in the case of proscriptive ideologies, but also somewhat in the case of descriptive ones which then carry prescriptive methods forwards (such as capitalism), elements are missing from the totality of concerns, and thus are neglected. To circle back again: if all must be equal, then how are we to deal with an entity which is irrefutably not so – in all but the most exceptional cases? We either ignore it, or minimise its existence.

This is, therefore, what separates prescriptive ideologies from emergent ones. No such emergent ideology (,to perhaps draw a false equivalence in the use of that term,) could maintain an antinatalist outlook, for doing so would kill it through practice. So too would it find difficulty divorcing itself from the concerns of its people, for it would not be carried forward by them if it ignores what they actually need.

In this way, although children are of course an important part of any society, they also function as a stand-in for all of those other forgotten features of society which are not considered by an imposed prescriptive or descriptive ideology: one which is chasing utopia.

A Culture Without a People

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How many amerindian tribal cultures have been reduced to extinction? It’s probably not a question that we can ever adequately answer, but if we take language as a stand-in, we can identify at least 80 within the borders of the US alone, and obviously only going back as far as post columbian America, and only tribes that at one point had contact with Europeans. In all likelihood, each of these cultures had a plethora of songs, stories, ideas, and any number of other intangible cultural artifacts that died alongside them. Running with the idea of language setting the boundaries and parameters of thought, there will have been countless languages that have now been lost, and thus entire modes of thought that may have been lost with them.

It is easy to see these cultural artifacts as being far more impactful than anything more tangible, like a descendent, that on could create. Even wealth can be more long-lasting than one’s own life, and perhaps even a lineage. But to prioritise such things ahead of ones own lineage is to rely on others who are close enough to yourself to uphold everything else that gives your non-biological achievements meaning and relevance.

We would not write a book at the expense of some portion of own our existence, and hand it over to a dog. The dog would have no use for it. Nor would we do so for an alien, sentient and even humanoid perhaps, but otherwise incapable of interpreting the book after we have passed. Another person, of a vastly different tribe might have the capacity to interpret it, but find much less value in it, and may not even be interested. Even someone who could understand and interpret the text but is of a different tribe and custom will lose some of the context along the way. Only someone of the same custom can begin to extract intended meanings and depth from the book, and thus will find extra value in it as some piece of the wider cultural whole. Take away the tribe, and a whole layer of context is immediately lost, and likely irrecoverably so.

Every trinket, and tablet pulled out of the ground once had a purpose and meaning in a context among its creators. The difference between those that are meaningful now, and those that are curiosities, is who possesses them now, and whether the descendants of the people who created those items are still here to enrich them. Of course, many more such things rely entirely on the continuation of its people to exist at all, such as those languages, stories, and customs.

So does that mean that such things are not transferable at all? Of course not, but as in the case of the Amerindians, those parts which are retained are often caricatures of their former selves. Some extracted portion of a thing, isolated from its interlocking parts and upheld as a symbol of some idea likely foreign to it. In essence, captured and paraded about quite frequently.

Therefore, even for the artist, consumed in his work. It is his responsibility to ensure that he not neglecting his much more stable genetic footprint for the sake of a more temperamental artistic footprint. So long as the same attitude can be portrayed in his offspring, the former will ensure the latter, and give greater meaning to it within that context, for Tolkien’s works are too enriched by his descendents that may at times fill in the blanks left in his works and later commentary by having such a knowledge of the man. Meanwhile we are surely at a loss for a lack of descendents of Lovecraft to help us there with filling in the manifold holes in his works. So too if the english were to perish, or even merely perish from the british isles, much of Tolkien’s work would be lost, even if the texts remain complete which itself is not guaranteed. The names alone conjure up immediate images of a way of life, tied to different parts of english history. And anyone of the more quaint parts of the shires can’t help but see much of their own home in the hobbit’s Shire, where life is old, quiet, and warm. But likewise, I’ve no doubt that I would find it immeasurably difficult to attain the full context of something like a: Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or other similar texts that exist in a context so far from my own. And although I could appreciate it, I would of course rank it far below many english authors which someone of chinese extraction would no doubt consider far inferior. But this is exactly why we must both continue on, and neither one of us forego our existence in the hopes that some other remote people values our cultural achievements as much as we do.

Liberal Anthropology (and the problem with it)

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An idea repeatedly appears in many of the most influential texts from the enlightenment, and thus, whether we recognises it or not, influences a lot of the core assumptions nested within our modern institutions, culture, and societies, built as they are on a bedrock of liberalism. Whether through a Lockean conception of rights, a Hobbesian vision of state power, a Smithian justification for currency, or a Rousseauian scorn for institutions, all have in common; a vision of man before civilisation, and an unified method for the development of civilisations and states. In many of their own texts, it is referred to as the “state of nature”, governed by certain “natural laws”, but I will refer to it, in totality, as liberal anthropology.

The state of nature, it is supposed, was one prior to society, in which man existed as individual entities roaming about the wilderness. When they would happen upon other men, their conduct would be regulated by one of a competing sets of conduct codes, determined either by rational calculations and reciprocity, or emotional irrationality. It is then from this original vision of a pure, uncluttered mankind that conclusions about how society ought to be ordered, are drawn. If this vision of man appears to be preferable to the status quo of their respective times, then state and social influence on their citizenry ought to be minimised, if it is viewed as being less preferable, then interference ought to be maximised. As such, Rousseau laments the loss of our previous harmony when he says: “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains”. Conversely Hobbes wishes to do everything necessary to stave off what he views as the otherwise inevitable “war of every man against every other man”. In the other two aforementioned cases, the ideas furthered using liberal anthropology as justification have done a better job of surviving in something resembling their original form using different justifications, but at times one cannot help but see this as an attempt to justify the idea post hoc after it becomes evident that the original basis was faulty.

So why is it faulty? A number of methods can be used to falsify it, so I will run through a few of these. Evolutionarily, many of the described features of civilisation that are explained by liberal anthropology are evolutionarily advantageous in some way, and thus manifest in other related species, which by extension would almost certainly apply to previous iterations of humanity before we became something recognisably human. Ergo the social structures predate humanity. Archaeologically, we do not see one unified version of interactions Taking war-like conflict as a general indicator of uniform codes of conduct, we do not see a single conduct for how interactions took place in the earliest hunter-gatherer societies based on what evidence we have, though the scarcity and contradictory nature of it has also given rise to an ongoing debate about whether structured inter-human conflict which we might recognise as war, did actually take place at all. For what it’s worth, the existence of contemporaneous cave paintings depicting inter-human conflict with weapons does suggest some ad hoc instances of either raids, or impromptu battles over food, but the lack of war-wounds on archeological findings and rapid migration suggests that it would not have been widespread or systematic – thus pointing to more ad hoc relations generally. As an aside, this is also notably done on an inter-group level, rather than between individuals. Psychologically, it appears nigh impossible that, in the presence of a structure where only individuals exist without a social order, a homogenous approach to social interactions can exist based on the heterogeneous psychological profiles we can routinely observe. The only way this could be reconciled is to suggest that these heterogeneous profiles emerge from civilisation, which at surface level appears counter-intuitive, as civilisation would be introducing social norms to be adhered to.

What is the alternative then? Well that somewhat depends on questions that I cannot conclusively answer: Do the ideas upon which civilisation is based, exist as entities outside of the mind of the the humans that live inside them? Concepts like ordered hierarchies might find parallel in nature, such as that of differentiated physical properties leading to disperate and orderable levels of suitability for different purposes. The issue, however, is whether this can be claimed as an objective assessment, or merely a subjective one, taking our framings and applying them where they vaguely seem to fit. The issue then, is that although we can make some statements about the ordering of these relevant phenomenon which I will discuss in a moment, it is difficult to say in the absolute whether we may simply alter the wording slightly such that the same idea may apply equally well to whatever came before humanity, and whether that entity underwent the same process.

Judging this is of course somewhat difficult in itself, but if we assume that recognition of self via the mirror test is a necessary predicate to rational individualism, then we find that it is a relatively uncommon feature among life on earth, and at that, much less common than social structures reminiscent of primitive society, with features such as hierarchy, reciprocity, something approaching property recognition, and in-group/ out-group distinctions. This is all in various combinations of course. Ergo, before the development of an individualistic sense of self, and the ability to rationally model future behaviours in a way that may give rise to a society on rational grounding, this society already existed in a primitive form.

Therefore, rather than the conventional understanding that individuals create societies, it would be more accurate to instead state that society gave rise to individuals, and as such, in our timeline appears to be more foundationally important.

The Utility of a ‘Written Consitution’

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While the last piece, “The ‘Written Constitution’ Experiment” was almost unequivocally critical of the written constitution, it does have its uses. In keeping with the example of the United States particularly, it functions as a cornerstone in the minds of its citizens for the values of the nation. This is an advantage that must not be understated for its ability to stop the subversion of such values by seditious forces, though it is not infallible. The examples used prior of the first and second amendments are generally the most prominent in the national dialogue, and the imaginations of US citizens, so they are more immune than most, but even they have likely already strayed from the common conception of the protections they represent.

In the case of the first amendment, the notion of a society free to speak its mind is highly valuable in the search for the most effective policy, among other reasons of course. However a problem arises in that the value of free speech is not synonymous with the legal requirements of such. In a legal sense, one is only free from government interference in most forms of speech, relevant in an age of widespread centralised censorship, but less so when most forms of speech travel via the medium of a private company’s property, both intellectual and otherwise. Ergo, the first amendment at time of writing does nothing to protect an individual from private censorship.
A man may speak his mind on social media, and have the comment removed by the company. He might claim that his free speech is being infringed upon, while the company replies that free speech doesn’t necessitate the use of their platform to say it, and both with be, strictly speaking, correct. This is a problem.

The second amendment meanwhile has a merit all its own in its denial of the state’s ability to totally control its populace. While of course not the cause of the rebellious and distrustful attitude of many US citizens to government so distant from the individual citizens, it will have certainly contributed to the maintenance of it. As discussed previously, there have been a number of creeping limitations on this right, but ultimately this has little effect on the psychological impact of the second amendment, and something sorely lacking here in the UK. Ours is a culture which, despite having very little trust in government and politicians, has very little basis for an adversarial relationship, but instead are largely at the mercy of their dictates.

This advantage falls through somewhat when it comes to the amendments that are still fairly well know but less often discussed, such as the eighth which proscribes cruel and unusual punishment. While it would be too simplistic to simply point out that this is the same country with the highest nominal and per capita incarceration rate, it does certainly have a certain irony about it. The more interesting issue is that of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, because despite being located on ground administered by the US government, it is sovereign Cuban territory, and so seems to put the activities practiced within the camp into a relative legal grey area.

Politically, the whole issue is another dividing line between many areas of the US, to a stronger degree than the first and second amendments, taking the form of disagreement on the legitimacy of both the death penalty in a domestic context, and the use of torture against enemy combatants in and international context. Granted the former doesn’t necessarily qualify as “cruel and unusual” but it somewhat illustrates the point that on the issue of punishment in general, there is not the same unity of values that may be found on owning firearms, or freedom of speech in principle that might be drawn from the constitution.

So with that said, what would be a better option?

Let us take an example: say a controversial figure is removed from Twitter or another such large social media platform for supporting ideas that are far outside of the overton window, and considered contemporarily unacceptable. The individual appeals the decision all the way to the sovereign adjudicator, claiming that within the context of modern discourse, being removed from this platform is akin to forced removal from the public square, an action which would be considered unconstitutional, and so these definitions must update to the new realities of discourse. How is this conflict to be resolved?

As stated in the last video, sovereignty cannot rest in an inert form, because the essence of sovereignty is to be the final authority in resolving disputes, which necessitates the ability to interpret the nuances of the individual dispute at hand. Ergo, while this alone does not dismantle the notion of a constitution, it does make the power to interpret the constitution a deeply political one, as this itself grants sovereignty in effect. Therefore if a democratic system is the goal, it would be a sham without either election of the interpreter of the constitution directly by the demos, or determination by the demos directly. This may take the form of an elected judiciary, or a transfer of this power to an existing elected entity. In this way, the interpretation of the constitution may not deviate too far from the common understanding, depending on the number of other powers held by the same entity, and their relative importance. However, this still means that it is possible, under the predominant systems of representative democracy here in the west, that the interpretation selected may be out of sync with the public’s view of the issues. This could happen in a number of ways, perhaps through incentives to the individuals or office interpreting the document differing drastically with the incentives of the demos. Perhaps through low turnout giving undue power to a particularly motivated subset of the electorate. Or perhaps simply through corruption. And while not a flaw in itself, this method does do away with the pretense that an otherwise uninterested populace can have the integrity of the state remain intact with such a document.

Returning to the example proposed, if a limited term system were to be used, then there is the risk that, to avoid the increased regulation, the company in question promises favours to the adjudicator. This would be tempting because the individual or individuals adjudicating the case are incentivised to look beyond their term for their own life, but only as far as the end of their term for the good of the nation. Therefore depending on the risk involved with indulging the requested whim, a strong moral character will be required in all adjudicators for an honestly decision reflective of the demos to be made.

As with other issues, a more democratised system runs the risk of becoming simply a new vessel for ideologues of various sort to pick up each issue with only an ideological lens to navigate. If it simply becomes a shouting match between socialists looking to increase government control over enterprise versus libertarians and free market liberals looking to limit such, then the point is perhaps missed. Worse still, with sides lead by these groups, there is the risk that members of the electorate less ideologically committed to be dissuaded by the level of discourse typical to ideological flashpoints. This, of course, strengthens both factions, as their influence on the outcome is thus less diluted.

And on top of all this, how can an electorate, and by extension their representatives if applicable, with such minimal legal training be expected to resolve complex matters with such wide implications for the function of the country? In much the same way as they do with every other issue, particularly in the field of economics, where the implications of decisions are far less comprehensively understood by their proponents.

If only there were a way that we could ensure that the interpreter of the constitution could have their own interests aligned with the long term prospering of the nation, with ready access to experts in the field, but with a conscious ear to the desires of the demos. If only…