There is a stunning level of confusion surrounding Unqualified Reservations. I can understand it to some degree because it does not actually provide a coherent body of thought – it develops and becomes more sophisticated as he understands the implications of the reactionary position that he has adopted.
What Moldbug appears to have done is to adopt De Jouvenel’s insights as correct, and come to conclusion that it explains leftism and the right wing because it does. He has also adopted the absolutist position by obviously understanding that the De Jouvenelian solution of better blocks is illogical given that De Jouvenel has outlined how that very action is a driver of powers’ leveling of society.
This absolutist position is also utterly opposed to modern capitalism. Now we can argue until the cows come home about the definition of capitalism, so I will make this clear- within the absolutist tradition, capitalism is the denial of sovereign primary property and the assertion of the pre-societal and pre-government nature of secondary property. I don’t care what your liberal interpretation is because this basically covers all of them.
This makes the presence of anarcho-capitalists puzzling, until you realize their presence is based on a series of confusions following Moldbug’s explanations of property as that which can be defended. Land by virtue of using liberal anthropology asserts that individuals with MAD capability can be sovereign, hey presto, secondary property is now sovereign property. Capitalism is rescued – pre-societal and not societaly dependent ownership.
This is unfortunately not based on observable reality, has no precedence, and actually runs counter to all examples of what occurs when individuals become sufficiently wealthy to have an impact on society. It is simply wrong. To make matters worse, it is a liberalisation of Moldbug’s rejection of liberalism. It is the application of a conception of the human in which the functioning individual is pre-societal based on drastic misunderstandings. In summary it is a tangled knot of error and the only escape routes are to a) declare humans defective b) call for the building of AI that can do this. Whilst the new soviet man was needed to compensate for the fraudulence inherent in the soviet communalisation of secondary property, Land’s libertarian rugged individual AI superman will compensate for the fraudulence of capitalistic individual ownership of secondary property -now made primary on an individual level. Mirror image communism.
On the plus side, at least this confusion is sophisticated. Other forms of confusion are not. The worst one is the confusion of Unqualified Reservations as being an advocacy of basic manchesterised state capitalism. This is wrong because he is advocating primary property which makes all within the sovereign entity’s control its primary property, with subsequent ownership being secondary. On this point I will present two extracts from two posts to highlight this point:
Limited government as anti-propertarian idealism
“What I suggest is that limited government is a form of idealism, rooted like all Western idealisms in Christianity. Specifically, it is a member of the antipropertarian family of idealisms.
Antipropertarianism is a very natural idealism that has been reinvented probably more times than anyone can count. Once you admit that all humans are spiritually equal, and a duke is no better than a beggar, it’s pretty hard not to ask yourself why the duke is a duke and the beggar is a beggar. If the answer is that the duke was born a duke, whereas the beggar was a farmer until his crop failed last year, anyone who has even the slightest shred of interest in building God’s kingdom on earth can see that there’s a small problem here.
If you are disposed to any species of antipropertarianism, almost the first abuse you’ll think of is the idea that one man, or one family, can own an entire country. (Or even the people in it – as, for example, the US alone among nations claims the right to tax its expatriate serfs.) Therefore, you will try to come up with some design in which the country is owned or controlled in some sense by its residents. You will make it not a kingdom but a community.
It is impossible to argue with the ethics of antipropertarianism. Clearly the estate of the newborn duke is arbitrary and not, in any conceivable moral sense, deserved. The reason I believe in property is simply that property prevents violence, and I hate violence. In my world, the estate goes to the duke because it is the only way to keep everyone from fighting over it.
Since the ideal of limited government – that is, the idea that sovereignty cannot be the rightful property of anyone, individual, family or corporation – has become general, we have seen an extraordinary level of violence, which appears to be connected to the question of who should control and receive the revenues of sovereignty. Law has declined and sovereignty has become much more absolute. And its behavior is often pointlessly burdensome in ways which do not seem related to maximizing revenue, and do seem related to the struggle for power.
I do not regard this as a good outcome. And I note that this result is very similar to what we get whenever any antipropertarian idealism gains currency. Property does not actually disappear. It becomes murky. It is the source of constant tension. It is informalized. It seeps deep into committees whose workings are obscured even to their members. When we ask who controls the United States, the only possible answer is that it’s very complicated. The same answer applies to, say, the Gambino family.
Nick’s short overview of English legal history is actually, I think, good evidence for the problems that result from poorly-formalized power structures.
By right of conquest, William I claimed allodial rights to all England – total ownership. As the commander of the conquering army, he personally approached the powers of Fnargl. It might be an overstatement to say there was no one in England who lived if William wanted him dead, but it was presumably not too much of an overstatement.
But William did not have the Finger-Snap of Death. His power was political, not physical. It was based on mastery of an organization, a mastery that was inherently informal. It certainly was not automatically inherited by his descendants.
The result was that, over time, the (informal) political powers and (formal) legal rights of the Crown diminished in a rather interesting fashion. Both political powers and legal rights decreased, broadly if not monotonically, to at least the Tudor era. As Nick points out, the Crown granted many formal attributes of sovereignty – such as franchises for private law enforcement – to various barons and other subcontractors. Ultimately such delegations are the (formal) source of our rights to, for example, defend our property against trespassers.
The problem with this process, and I would say the general reason for the demise of the whole intricate structure of medieval law, is that it became unclear whether these grants were mere delegations of power – existing so long as they served the sovereign’s desires – or whether they were irrecoverable alienations, as if the Crown had, say, sold Wales to France.
In other words, a disparity arose between political and formal reality. Did the King continue to respect the rights he had granted because he wanted to, or because the grantees had become powerful enough to protect themselves against him? This went back and forth quite a few times. It was frequently submitted to the test of arms. In the end, of course, the Crown preserved its symbolic status in exchange for de facto abdication and expropriation.
The situation now is of course different. As both Nick and Kuehnelt-Leddihn note, today’s “democratic” governments are far more absolute than any monarchy in history, and they brook no hint of physical opposition. This is in large part the result of changes in military reality.
I am a decentralist. I would prefer not to live in a global Fnargocracy. I would much prefer a world of tens or hundreds of thousands of absolutely-sovereign states, each competing avidly for my business.
But the facts of life is that if, in this world, all these states decide to merge into a Fnargocracy, there is nothing to stop them. No popular rebellion can succeed against a determined modern military force (colonial wars may seem to refute this proposition, but they don’t – I will discuss this at great length later). The era of cobblestones and brickbats is over.
Therefore, it strikes me that the era of expropriating governments is also over. And I blame the failure of the various libertarian movements on their failure to realize this, and their insistence on trying instead for some kind of repeat of the American Revolution. The reality is that if the American colonies had somehow made it to the age of the telegraph and the machine-gun, we would be ruled by Tony Blair and his Eurocrat henchmen, now and forever.
If this is true, revenue-maximizing government is not a medieval atrocity from the past, but a permanent feature of human history whose rare exceptions are unstable and undesirable. This does not mean we have to live with the mindless, appalling institutions that rule us at present – quite the contrary. What it means is that any plan for rationalizing these institutions should avoid the fatal mistake of trying to create a vacuum of power, an error into which all systems of juridically self-limited government inevitably fall.”
Sam Altman is not a blithering idiot
“Let’s put on our John Carpenter sunglasses and look at the real reality, terrifying though it is. Surely if you can read all the way down in a post this long, you can handle the real reality.
In actual reality, we are trying to answer the question: how should America be governed? We are therefore reasoning from the perspective of the State. Since sovereignty is conserved, the State is always and everywhere absolute and omnipotent. Therefore, the hedonic satisfaction of its citizens, who are in fact its slaves, is not and cannot be a goal. It may be a means to an end, of course. As when we administer heroin through the barracks water supply to reward Camp #127 for exceeding its uranium production targets three months in a row.
Well, see. I told you reality was scary. I don’t actually believe absolute government, which is always and everywhere the reality, implies totalitarian government. USG is an absolute government as well. I am not a big USG fan. But I don’t seem to find myself in the uranium mines.
In general, the classic 20C phenomena of totalitarianism appears not in absolute governments that are secure and invulnerable, but in extremely weak ones that in consequence have to take extraordinary measures to repress their enemies. This (among other things) is the difference between Louis XIV and Stalin. USG’s great virtue is that its monopoly of power is far more secure than Louis XIV’s, so it doesn’t have to give a damn what I post on my stupid blog.
But if we are analyzing real governments in the real world, our financial analysis has to be rooted in political reality. The political reality is that “citizens” are not owners of their government, but rather assets – in other words, slaves. Our only hope is for a regime that’s more Thomas Jefferson and less Simon Legree. Fortunately, as we’ll see, this analysis aligns the financial interests of the State with our own interests as human beings.
What are the financial interests of the absolute State? To maximize the value of its productive assets. The State’s assets are (a) land and buildings, (b) equipment, and (c) human chattel. We understand how to value and manage (a) and (b) just fine. But most of its equity consists of (c) – an asset not really taught in most business schools. (Fortunately you still have those yellow old stacks of DeBow’s Review.)
There is another way to ask whether, excluding advances in technology (which do fall under (c), since technology is a human ability – but hard to monopolize), America is a more valuable nation in 2013 than it was in 1950. We can ask: is the average American a better human being than his or her ancestors of 1950? Ie: has the USG cultivated its human capital, or wasted it?
For example: is this person – this asset, this slave – a harder worker? We’ll assume the State cannot change his IQ, because I have seen no evidence that it can – but is he more knowledgeable? Is he more moral, more physically healthy, wiser and more prudent? A better father, a better mother?
Again, I believe the answer is obvious. There are certainly some ways in which the average American of 2013 is a better person than his grandfather. He is probably a better feminist, for instance. He is much less likely to be an anti-Semite, homophobe, etc. These factors don’t really affect his economic value, but perhaps they’re worth mentioning anyway.
On the other hand, the American of 2013 is much more likely to be a meth-head, a thug or ho, a worthless trustafarian slacker, etc, etc, etc. Especially when we look at non-elite ethnic subpopulations – “cracker” Scots-Irish, African Americans, etc (though if we listen to Ron Unz, even the Jews are going to the dogs), I don’t think any serious person could really claim that the average American is superior as a human being to his grandparents. You might as well assert that the original iPad was teh greatness but this Retina crap they’re making these days is just lame.
What’s notable about this interpretation is that, again, your interests and your government’s are just about perfectly aligned. You don’t want to be a heroin addict. Washington doesn’t want its slaves to be heroin addicts. You want to be a better person – more informed, more reliable, more capable. As a better person, you are a better and more valuable capital asset. You augment your government’s market cap. Back to Sam Altman: Most of us want our lives to get better every year—the hedonic treadmill is a pain that way. As “hedonic” implies, “better” means “more fun.” Obviously this is the attitude you’d expect from someone born in the Bush administration. Could it be any other way?
Us old Nixon fogeys have pretty much exhausted the hedonic treadmill. There’s not much left of your hedonic treadmill after the 17th time cleaning up baby hork in the middle of the night. At that point (yes, new parents, it does get better) a nice glass of wine and a dinner out with your wife is more or less the hedonic equivalent of a meth-fueled threeway with strippers.
Most of us want to become better people every year. We’re pretty confident, perhaps falsely, that this will lead to more hedonic rewards in the long run or at least has the best chance of doing so. But this isn’t the goal. The goal, believe it or not, is to become better people. And ideally our children will be even better than us. So again – the market cap goes up.
Everything I’m saying here (including the economics) was said by Carlyle more than 150 years ago, notably in Chartism. The apotheosis of the hedonic principle is the immortal Pig-Philosophy. Briefly, Carlyle tells us, the difference between man and beast is that maximization of hedonic utility is always and everywhere the method of a beast. Not coincidentally, it is also the method of a toddler. And it is also the method of the Austrian economist, although he at least realizes that the “utility function” is qualitative and subjective rather than quantitative and objective, and adds time preference.
To Mises and Rothbard, the human being as economic actor is a very smart pig, often willing to exchange less slop today for more slop tomorrow. This is not at all the view of Carlyle – nor is it the view of List. Of course, from the economic perspective of the State, slop production is all that matters. But the human being is not only an economic actor – nor is the State only an agency of production. What we’d really like to see is a model in which there is no tension between Pig-Philosophy (which must be acknowledged as true) and actual human civilization.”
So you see, Moldbug is advocating absolute government, which is to say he is not advocating capitalism, and he is not advocating socialism. This is a property organisation which predates the Glorious Revolution, and is in fact a rejection of the property distribution that occurred after.
Anyone claiming otherwise is a source of error.