Thursday, February 12, 2009

Great Authority versus Limited Authority, and, The Problem With Mencius Moldbug

A few months ago, I noticed what I thought might be merely a mental quirk of my own. I tend to trust those with high rank, with a great deal of power, more than those with only a low rank and a small amount of power. That is to say, I consider those with small authority far more likely to abuse it. The City Council member is, in my judgment, far more likely to pass laws just for the thrill of throwing his weight around than a governor or president is.

I thought perhaps that I might have this attitude simply because in my life, I have encountered many petty tyrants.

Then today, the ever-fascinating Mencius Moldbug says this reflection on the tragedy of the commons:

Ie: if you are a fish, you want all fish to be owned by a King of Fishermen. So long as our fisher king is rational, this "single owner" will govern his fisheries with a strong and kindly hand, maximizing returns over an infinite time horizon, bringing peace, freedom and prosperity to cod, pollock, and sea-bass alike.

But if we fracture this coherent authority into two competing authorities, each can gain by stealing fish from the other. The more authority is fractured, the more predatory it becomes. Thus, the infallible recipe for a sadistic and predatory state: internal competition for power.

He then credits this insight to Robert Filmer's Patriarcha, or, The Natural Power of Kings.

Seems my instincts were perhaps better than I had thought.

As long as I am on the subject of Mr. Moldbug, I might as well write some thoughts on him I have been meaning to discuss.

Mencius Moldbug is one of my favorite bloggers. I read his site faithfully, and read the entire archives. He is excellent for those who, as Cassandra Goldman put it, want to install a pre-1960 OS on their brains. He tells you everything your history textbooks didn't want you to find out. He presents an almost forgotten perspective on such things as democracy.

Many monarchists enjoy his blog, but he is not in fact a monarchist, despite his opposition to democracy. His proposal, if I may oversimplify, is that governments should be run like corporations, and the CEO's job and the source of his profits should be to see to it that the inhabitants are safe and healthy. This would unquestionably be better than the current system of voting blocks choosing authorities who will force the rest of the population to give in to the block's desires and pressure groups conniving to force their pet notions on the populace, but there is a problem.

The problem has to do with Mr. Moldbug's temperament. He is a science fiction buff - indeed, his solution to crime is straight out of science fiction - and secular and a libertarian. He simply happens, as a few people always do, to be insensitive to certain sentiments that motivate a vast swathe of human behavior. He does not feel the response most of us do to, for example, tradition, to our royal families if we have them (or even, for that matter, if we don't), and of course to religion. He is aware of it, but because he himself does not feel it, he underestimates the vital role these things play for almost everyone else. Yes, even to progressives, who are forced to create mutated versions of these things to compensate, which is why American Democrats devour People magazine articles about the marital troubles of the Windsors, and why Ann Coulter was able to devote an entire book to pointing out how much like a religion liberalism is.


Marcus Aemilius said...

I enjoy the Fisher King analogy (although it's a strange image to choose because it ties in with prehistoric British legend). Hans-Hermann Hoppe makes similar points in his Democracy: The God That Failed.

Is it possible that one of the areas of disagreement between yourself and Mr. Moldbug is the hereditary principle? I am not, as far as American government is concerned, a monarchist, but if I were going to live in a monarchical state I would much prefer one where the ruler was an hereditary monarch with a secure secession (as a lawyer would say, one who owned the government in "fee simple") as opposed to one with a dictator for life. In the former case, natural desire to maintain the family's patrimony results in a much longer-term perspective, which promotes civility, liberty, cultural development, and economic prosperity. Anyone familiar with the history of the twentieth century knows the alternative.

Aaron Davies said...

well, mencius is half a monarchist, at least. if he can't get his neo-cameralism, he'd still much prefer hans-adam, who he construes as the current stuart heir, to the current version of washcorp.

Moshea bat Abraham said...

True. Better than nothing.