Conceptualizing Capitalism

I have been put onto a really great book by Geoffrey Hodgson titled Conceptualizing Capitalism. The book really has all of the elements which are covered by Moldbug’s theories on property and it helps us to refine and sharpen them. It also adds extra detail to the basic nature of modern political theory and its placement of the individual as prior to society and political organisation, be it the state or any other form which we must enter into by consent.

Firstly, Hodgson takes pains to provide clear and precise definitions to terms, a process he acknowledges as opening himself up to complaints of “essentialism” from the usual suspects. We can just ignore this crap postmodern complaint.

The first concept he attacks is law. He is quite correct in my eyes to dismiss liberals/libertarians (Hayek in particular) and marxists and to treat them as practically interchangeable. Hayek’s conception of law as being mere custom formalized is nonsense, as is Marx’s placement of law in the superstructure posterior to capital. Hodgson doesn’t seem to get why they (marxists/ liberals/libertarians) are interchangeable though, even as he circles around the issue of property.

Law is defined clearly as that which is provided by a institutionalized judiciary. This law (which he notes is what the average person would recognize as such)  arose not as a formalization of custom, but exactly when, and where, exceptions to custom occurred. Custom is then that which is not institutionalized by an judiciary, but this doesn’t mean this is “spontaneous order” (whatever that actually is) and we should be careful to not fall into the libertarian/liberal trap of going into a trance like state in which we mythologize custom as a Utopian paradise of non-coercion and ground up development. It isn’t and wasn’t. All actions, all accepted standards were/are done so in accordance with authority, either explicitly or implicitly.

The upshot of this clear separation of custom and law is that law is associated directly with complex organised political systems, and becomes a key stone of the next clarification of names – property and possession.

Hodgson is quite scathing of (again) liberals/ libertarians and Marxists, who he again treats collectively. All of these groups conflate possession and property at all times. He doesn’t seem to fully get the ramifications of this, but I can provide this now – all groups conflate this because they treat the individual as prior to society and political organisation, this is because they all derive from the same development in the wake of the collapse of the English monarchy in the 16th century. The move from feudal conceptions of property and the political fallout created this state of affairs.It is precisely here that we can see the collective nature of all modern political theory. Moldbug grasped this with his delineation of primary and secondary property. We can clean up this definition somewhat with the help of Hodgson, and refer to primary property as “possession” and secondary property as “property.” Possession is the simple act of possessing something. The sovereign in effect, being sovereign, possesses all within its control.  It is not the sovereign’s property, because property is legally acknowledged ownership, for which we need a legal and political institution to recognize. It is simple possession, hence why sovereigns need armies and nuclear weapons to maintain possession.Property, as we just noted requires legal status, which is provided by a political organisation above it.

How simple is this?

Possession is the act of possessing. Property is the act of ownership as recognized by law.

Law is administered and is a function of a judiciary and legal system maintained by a political organisation. Custom is collectively acknowledged conduct in accordance with authority (implicitly or explicitly.)

But why would these concepts be conflated so much by all modern political theory from the 1600s to the present? Again, Hodgson notes the connection between such opposites as Marx and Mises on page 105 and page 106:

“Consider the Austrian school economist Ludwig Von Mises. He argued that legal concepts could be largely relegated from economics and sociology…

Hence for Von Mises, ownership was natural and ahistorical rather than legal or institutional. A physical rather than a social relationship, it was deemed independent of law or any other social institution. Von Mises downgraded the institutions required for the protection and enforcement of the capacity to have and neglected the social aspects of ownership and consumption, which may signal identity, power, or status. Contrary to Mises, the law does not simply add a normative justification for having something: it also reinforces the de facto ability to use and hold onto the asset.

The resemblance to Marx’s dismissal of law is uncanny: both Marx and Von Mises concentrated on raw physical power over objects rather than legal rights. Marx’s numerous discussions of “property” had little to say about legal rights, and he conflated property with possession. Hence Marx (1975,351) in 1844 addressed ” private property” and argued that “an object is only ours when we have it-…when we directly possess, eat, drink, wear, inhabit it, etc.,-in short, when we use it.” With both Marx and Von Mises, effective power over something is conflated with a de facto right. Legal and moral aspects of property are overshadowed.”

Of course they both would. They are both trying to define away the state in the issue of property. This is the key issue. All modern theory is fundamentally anarchist, it just varies in how delusional it is on this point.If all property is really possession, then we have to try to explain how and why people stay together – Hobbes. At which point the state is really a kind of alien entity which is called in as an umpire, or a stationary bandit that enforces these peer to peer agreements between property holders/ possession holders. When the likes of Adam Smith then talk about governance and sovereignty whilst holding the labor theory of value, he makes no sense. No one does.

The Dodd Report

I finally got around to reading the report Dodd submitted to the Reece Committee in 1954, only to find to my surprise that it was a mere 16 pages long. On top of this, the report is clear, concise and very significant. It has left me scratching my head as to whether Dodd had read Gaither’s report from 1949.

Starting with the definitions put forward by Dodd:


These studies also enabled me to settle upon the following definitions:

Foundations-Those organizations resulting from the capitalization of the desire on the part of an individual, or a group of individuals, to divert his or their wealth from private use to public purpose .

Un-American and Subversive -Any action having as its purpose the alteration of either the principle or the form of the United States Government by other than constitutional means . (This definition is derived from a study of this subject made by the Brookings Institute at the request of the House Un-American Activities Committee .)

Political -Any action favoring either a candidacy for public office, or legislation or attitudes normally expected to lead to legislative action.

Propaganda -Action having as its purpose the spread of a particular doctrine or a specifically identifiable system of principles. (In use this word has come to infer half-truths, incomplete truths, as well as techniques of a covert nature .


I think we know where this is going. Dodd then begins the salvo:


Our studies indicated very clearly how and why a critical attitude could have developed from the assumption that Foundations operating within the sphere of education had been guilty of favoritism in making their grants. After having analyzed responses relating to this subject from nearly 1,000 colleges in the United States, it became evident that only a few have participated in the grants made.

However, when the uniqueness of the projects supported by Foundations was considered, it became understandable why institutions such as Columbia, Harvard, Chicago and the University of California had received monies in amounts far greater than had been distributed to others . Originally, scholars capable of handling these unique subjects were few . Most of them were members of these seemingly favored institutions .

Now that these subjects no longer appear to be regarded as unique and sufficient time has elapsed within which to train such competent specialists, the tendency of Foundations to distribute grants over a wider area has become noticeable .

The purported deterioration in scholarship and in the techniques of teaching which, lately, has attracted the attention of the American public, has apparently been caused primarily by a premature effort to reduce our meagre knowledge of social phenomena to the level of an applied science .


Confronted with the foregoing seemingly justifiable conclusions and with the task of assisting the Committee to discharge its duties as set forth in H. Res. 217, within the seventeen month period, August 1, 1953-December 31, 1954, it became obvious to me that it would be impossible to perform his task if the staff were to concentrate on the internal practices and the grant-making policies of Foundations themselves . It also became obvious that if the staff was to render the service for which it had been assembled, it must expose those factors which were common to all Foundations, and reduce them to terms which would permit their effects to be compared with the purposes set forth in Foundation charters, the principles and the form of the United States Government, and the means provided by the Constitution for altering either these principles or this form.

In addition, these common factors would have to be expressed in terms which would permit a comparison of their effects with the activities and interests connoted by the word “political”, and also with those ordinarily meant by the word “propaganda”.

Our effort to expose these common factors revealed only one, namely–“the public interest” . It further revealed that if this finding were to prove useful to the Committee, it would be necessary to define “the public interest” . We believe this would be found in the principles and form of the Federal Government, as expressed in our Constitution and in our other basic founding documents.

This will explain why subsequent studies were made by the staff of the size, scope, form and functions of the Federal Government for the period 1903-1953, the results of which are set forth in detail in a report by Thomas M . McNiece, Assistant Research Director, entitled, The Economics of the Public Interest.

These original studies of “the public interest” disclosed that during the four years, 1933-1936, a change took place which was so drastic as to constitute a “revolution” . They also indicated conclusively that the responsibility for the economic welfare of the American people had been transferred heavily to the Executive Branch of -the Federal Government ; that a corresponding change in education had taken place from an impetus of of the local community, and that this “revolution” had occurred without violence and with the full consent of an overwhelming majority of the electorate .


In seeking to explain this unprecedented phenomenon, subsequent studies pursued by the staff clearly showed it could not have occurred peacefully, or with the consent of the majority, unless education in the United States had been prepared in advance to endorse it.

These findings appeared to justify two postulates :

  • that the policies and practices of institutions purporting or obliged by statute to serve “the public interest” would reflect this phenomenon, and
  • that Foundations whose trustees were empowered to make grants for educational purposes would be no exception, on the basis of which, after consultation with Counsel, I directed the staff to explore Foundation practices, educational procedures, and the operations of the Executive branch of the Federal Government since 1903 for reasonable evidence of a purposeful relationship between them .

Its ensuing studies disclosed such a relationship and that it had existed continuously since the beginning of this 50-year period . In addition, these studies seem to give evidence of a response to our involvement in international affairs . Likewise, they seemed to re- veal that grants had been made by Foundations (chiefly by Carnegie and Rockefeller) which were used to further this purpose by :

Directing education in the United States toward an international viewpoint and discrediting the traditions to which it [formerly) had been dedicated.*

Training individuals and servicing agencies to render advice to the Executive branch of the Federal Government.

Decreasing the dependency of education upon the resources of the local community and freeing it from many of the natural safeguards inherent in this American tradition .

Changing both school and college curricula to the point where they sometimes denied the principles underlying the American way of life.

Financing experiments designed to determine the most effective means by which education could be pressed into service of a political nature .


To insure these determinations being made on the basis of impersonal facts, I directed the staff to make a study of the development of American education since the turn of the century and of the trends in techniques of teaching and of the development of curricula since that time. As a result, it became quite evident that this study would have to enlarge to include accessory agencies to which these developments and trends had been traced.

The work of the staff was then expanded to include an investigation of such agencies as: The American Council of Learned Societies, the National Research Council, the Social Science Research Council, the American Council on Education, the National Education Association, the League for Industrial Democracy, the Progressive Education Association, the American Historical Association, John Dewey Society, and the Anti-Defamation league.


At this point let us cut into this paranoid screed, and present some of the Ford Foundation report from Gaither:

  1. Policy and Public Understanding

Our Government and the United Nations cannot effectively formulate or execute policy in  international affairs without public understanding and support. While in some instances such understanding and support are automatically shaped by events, or created by the President, the State Department, or Congress, in numerous situations independent aid can be of significant supplemental value. This is particularly true where policy is initiated by the executive but is subject to later Congressional action, either in the form of appropriations or ratification.
Obvious limitations surround executive efforts to achieve wide public understanding of policies requiring legislative approval. Furthermore, official policy will generally be the better as a result of criticism by responsible and objective private groups and institutions and, when adjudged
sound by them, such policy will have a better chance of public support.

Independent and nonpartisan efforts to secure the relevant facts and judgments and to make them widely available to officials, to interested groups, to the press, and to the electorate at large can thus render important assistance. This does not imply that a foundation should sponsor or support activities designed to propagandize the views of the State Department or any other agency or group. Quite the contrary, it must at all times preserve impartiality and objectivity in its activities, and if the results of undeniably expert and objective analyses are contrary to or critical of existing policy, their wide dissemination is perhaps even more important.
Foundation success in this field may at times require activities in public education long in advance of official policy formulation. In fact, a foundation can make a most significant contribution by anticipating critical issues and by stimulating awareness and understanding of them in advance of governmental action. Government is greatly hampered when public understanding lags behind the realistic requirements of international policy formulation.
Further discussion of agencies or mechanisms whereby such aids to policy makers and to the public understanding of policy might be provided is contained in Program Area Two and in Chapter IV.


Got that? It is not propagandizing, it is merely anticipating change and informing the public as an independent institution. Back to Dodd:

          The broad study which called our attention to the activities of  these organizations has revealed pot only their support by foundations but has disclosed a degree of cooperation between them which they have referred to as “an interlock”, thus indicating a concentration of influence and power By this phrase they indicate they are bound by a common interest rather than a dependency upon a single source for capital funds. It is difficult to study their relation without confirming this. Likewise, it is difficult to avoid the feeling that their common interest has led them to cooperate closely with one another and that this common interest lies in the planning and control of certain aspects of American life through a combination of the Federal Government and education.

This may explain why the Foundations have played such an active role in the promotion of the social sciences, why they have favored so strongly the employment of social scientists by the Federal Government and why they seem to have used their influence to transform education into an instrument for social change .



Finally, I suggest that the Committee give special consideration to the Ford Foundation . This Foundation gives ample evidence of having taken the initiative in selecting purposes of its own . Being of recent origin, it should not be held responsible for the actions or accomplishments of any of its predecessors . It is without precedent as to size, and it is the first Foundation to dedicate itself openly to “problem solving” on a world scale.

In a sense, Ford appears to be capitalizing on developments which took place long before it was founded, and which have enabled it to take advantage of:

the wholesale dedication of education to a social purpose

the need to defend this dedication against criticism

the need to indoctrinate adults along these lines

the acceptance by the Executive branch of the Federal Government of responsibility for planning on a national and international scale

the diminishing importance of the Congress and the states and the growing power of the Executive branch of the Federal government-and –

the seeming indispensability of control over human behaviour.

As if they had been influenced directly by these developments, .Vie trustees established separate funds for use in the fields of education, national planning, and politics. They set up a division devoted to the Behavioral Sciences, which includes a Center for Advanced Study, a program of Research and Training Abroad, an Institutional Exchange Program, and miscellaneous grants-in-aid .



It seems incredible that the trustees of typically American fortune created foundations should have permitted them to be used to finance ideas and practices incompatible with the fundamental concepts of our Constitution . Yet there seems evidence that this may have occurred.”

“we shall use our grant-making power so to alter life in the United States that it can be comfortably merged with the Soviet Union”

Ever wondered what democracy actually is? Wonder no more, because I can provide you the answer to what democracy is directly from the pen of Rowan Gaither, which was formulated following an exhaustive survey of 1000+ of the best and brightest of American society circa 1949:

1. Definition of Democracy
Adherence to the basic principles of freedom and democracy is impossible if the principles themselves are not clearly defined or widely understood. Understanding cannot be confined to political philosophers and a limited few. Effective adherence can be realized only when this understanding is widespread and when it is in such practical form that it may be applied by governmental policy makers, legislators, jurists, educators, businessmen, labor leaders, and the public at large. The value of democratic principles must be measured by the extent of adherence to them, and such adherence is adequate only if it pervades the total of our political, economic, and social actions.

As the Study progressed the Committee and its advisers found that to a vast number of sincere and loyal Americans the principles of democracy are merely a collection of cliches, serving chiefly as reminders of historical events and social conditions of the past. At the same time the Committee was impressed with the struggle of thoughtful and informed persons to find a meaningful, contemporary, and usable definition of democracy. Without such a definition millions of Americans remain confused in their analyses of crucial problems. Consequently national policies may often be erratic and conflicting, and many avoidable dangers to our internal strength can be the products of our own creation.

The attitudes and actions of Americans sometimes seem incomprehensible to our friends and allies abroad, who speak of their confusion at the disparity between the words and deeds of our democracy. To supply them with examples of democratic philosophy at work may in the long run prove to be the most important part of our logistics in the ideological war. This can be accomplished only if we ourselves understand the basic principles of freedom and democracy and interpret them through sustained, consistent demonstration.

2. Democracy’s Meaning in Particular Situations
An adequate definition of democracy will encompass not only its principles, representing the agreed basic goals of our people, but the countless number of written rules and laws and unwritten habits of thought and action which comprise the code by which we live. As conditions change, situations occur which are not fully covered by the existing code. Before its rules can be modified or new rules devised, a period of confusion and doubt, and not infrequently controversy or conflict, may ensue.

In our complex society the rules of conduct have become so numerous that it is difficult to devise new ones without violating the old. This difficulty is immeasurably heightened in those instances in which modern problems raise seeming contradictions between basic democratic principles—such as between the principle of freedom and the principle of equality of opportunity. The task of modernizing the rules therefore becomes ever more complex, even as the need grows more urgent. The swift pace of social invention creates a backlog of situations which require that the democratic rules be modified. This area of confusion, in which we operate on these new problems without the clarity and force of a new democratic code, constitutes democracy’s ideological frontier.

This frontier has been continuously moving since the founding of our country. All basic democratic concepts must expand by interpretation to embrace new situations and to resolve the social issues which arise out of changing conditions. For example, the principles of individual freedom and self-government have moved past the issues of slavery and universal suffrage to such current frontiers as the political participation of racial minorities.

Current newspaper headlines indicate some important areas along this frontier. One such area is in the region of freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression. As has been noted in Chapter II, this freedom is being challenged as a result of the emotions aroused by current international tensions. Specifically, the problems of this frontier concern such urgent matters as those of security and national defense, the related problems of the military sponsorship of academic research and military interpretation of secrecy regulations, certain aspects of “un-American activities” investigations, and the conditions imposed on Government employment and Government-financed fellowships. Increasing concern is widely expressed over the implications for democracy of policies and practices now being followed. What seem to be required are objective, comprehensive inquiries and analyses — nongovernmental and non-partisan in character — to draw more reliable conclusions and propose more constructive recommendations. An independently sponsored survey might be the first step to a broader public understanding of these issues and their implications. Without such analysis and understanding there is a great danger that we may unintentionally compromise basic aspects of democracy. We may even undermine security by imposing unnecessary restrictions upon that freedom of action and inquiry recognized as essential to social and scientific strength.
A technique which might be used toward this general purpose is the employment of special committees of public inquiry composed of persons of knowledge, objective judgment, and prestige. Such groups could define the issues, illuminate the points of impact, and propose important remedial action in situations where the meaning of democracy is not apparent or widely understood. They could alert the citizenry through raising the level of public understanding, and through encouraging, where necessary, appropriate action by government and other interested groups. If the findings of such groups are to be kept from the dusty shelves of inaction, programs of public education must be encouraged, employing on a wide scale and in sustained fashion the many effective media of modern communication.

Successful efforts along democracy’s frontier may on occasion take the Foundation into controversial areas. This should offer no deterrent; tradition has fortunately established the definite propriety of foundation operation in such fields. In fact, in just such areas the objectivity of a foundation can contribute most to social progress. A foundation may enter controversial areas boldly and with courage as long as it maintains a nonpartisan and nonpolitical attitude and aids only those persons and agencies motivated by unselfish concern for the public good.


Well that clears that up. Of course this democratic horizon has indeed continued to advance, in no small part to the actions of the Ford Foundation as outlined here.

Eagle eyed readers may have also spotted the complaint of “”un-American activities” investigations” and its deleterious effect on democracy in among that. This report is one year before McCarthy’s rise. As well all know, McCarthy was completely wrong…sure. On this topic, note the Dodd report transcript provided here, in which Norman Dodd interviewed Gaither, the very same author of this report:

…Before I could think of how I would reply to that statement, Mr. Gaither then went on voluntarily and said:

“Mr. Dodd, all of us who have a hand in the making of policies here have had experience either with the OSS during the war or the European Economic Administration after the war. We’ve had experience operating under directives, and these directives emanate and did emanate from the White House. Now, we still operate under just such directives. Would you like to know what the substance of these directives is?”        I said, “Mr. Gaither, I’d like very much to know,” whereupon he made this statement to me: “Mr. Dodd, we are here operate in response to similar directives, the substance of which is that we shall use our grant-making power so to alter life in the United States that it can be comfortably merged with the Soviet Union.”

Not only was Gaither clearly working under the president as he admits here (note the other Gaither report on nuclear deterrence) but I can point you to the following in the Ford Foundation report:

The Committee and its advisers believe that the maintenance of peace depends in large part upon the willingness and ability of nations to improve and strengthen the United Nations to the point where that organization becomes, in fact, the structure of a world order of law and justice. As a nation we have placed our faith in the United Nations as the instrument for this purpose.

Before this goal can be fully achieved many problems must be solved within the framework of the United Nations—problems which in their sweep and complexity seem almost overwhelming. In the course of this series of great tasks, many traditional concepts, such as that of sovereignty, will be subject to scrutiny and redefinition.



The Cathedral Enforces Anarcho-Capitalism

If pressed to offer one key document that could be read to explain the 20th century, I think the Gaither report for the Ford Foundation would be the best bet.

Gaither was fairly influential and central to governance in the 1940-50s until his death from lung cancer in 1961. He was not only involved in the foundation of the Rand Corporation, but also president of the Ford Foundation and author of another report referred to as the Gaither report. The other report was Deterrence & Survival in the Nuclear Age which he produced as part of the President’s Science Advisory committee which was influential to say the least.

The Ford Foundation Gaither report was conducted after great consultation with government actors and academic experts and presents an outline of the intellectual and cultural state of affairs at the very top of the Cathedral at that time. It is also a justification document for the evangelical exporting of American liberalism using the wealth of Ford (greater that the UN’s budget by some distance at the time.)  What comes through is a kind of weird state enforced anarcho-capitalism par excellence. Take the following excerpt from p47 as an example:

He [the citizen] must choose between two opposed course. One is democratic, dedicated to the freedom and dignity of the individual, as an end in himself. The other, the antithesis of democracy, is authoritarianism, wherein freedom and justice do not exist, and human rights and truth are wholly subordinated to the state.

The mental jusjitsu in which the “individual” of the liberal conception, which is created by the democratic state, is not de facto subordinated to the state cuts right to the core of the democratic experiment. De jouvenal has much to say on this.

Back to the anarcho-capitalist chops of the exert, the phrase “an end in himself” is about as anarcho-capitalist as it gets, which is a puzzle, until you realize that anarcho-capitalism is just basic liberalism with a hardcore delusional denial as to the source of the individual and the need of a powerful central actor to create individuals that operate on the anarcho-capitalist model. Is the individual posterior or anterior to society? The issue arises in this very same report and is clearly asserted as anterior by default on p46 with the pitch perfect repetition of the underlying mechanics of liberalism:

Democracy accepts the fact of conflicting interests and even encourages the positive expressions of divergent views, aims, and values. Democracy theory assumes, however, that conflicts can be resolved or accommodated by nonviolent means, and that discrimination and hostility between various groups on the basis of race, national origin, or religion can be kept below the point where basic well-being of society is threatened.

This is pure Locke, and pure Hobbes, with the implicit insistence that individuals are anterior to society and that their “views, aims, and values” are external expressions or internal developments. This is the grounding of anarcho-capitalism, and this is exactly what Alaisdair MacIntyre has been criticising so vehemently. This state of affairs is created by power.

When we get to “economic democracy” we can again see this state enforced anarcho-capitalism on display as the report states on p37:

economic democracy is realized through a fluid and mobile social structure which permits maximum individual freedom of choice and action. This requires practical equality of opportunity for all individuals to pursue the vocation of profession of their choice, to change jobs, to move from place to place, and to advance in their chosen career according to their capabilities.

Whereas the self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist has drunk deeply of the cool aid and convinced himself of the possibility of non-state enforced individualism anarchism, the progressive in the form of Gaither is under no illusion that this state of affairs must be enforced.

With this in mind, the funding received by libertarians from the likes of the Rockefeller Foundation is not at all confusing, neither is the tolerance for anarchist groups protesting outside of Davos meetings and all the other seeming leniency provided to those advocating full “anarchtopia now! Death to statism!” All groups share the exact same assumptions, which is best expressed by the reports comments on what it defines human welfare as:

Basic to human welfare is the idea of the dignity of man- the conviction that man must be regarded as an end in himself, not as a mere cog in the mechanisms of society. P17

There is that “end in himself” phrase again, and further:

The committee’s conception of human welfare is stated in chapter one, as will be seen, it is largely synonymous with a declaration of democratic ideals. p12

Want to know what would happen if anarcho-capitalism was enforced on the world? then wonder no more,  you are living it.

Institutions for “bottom up” Change

Well this is interesting.

“See the connection: Podesta creates Catholics United; Soros funds Catholics United; and Catholics United sponsors an IRS complaint against me (after trying to get me kicked off CNN). Their attempt to intimidate me was a monumental failure, but the fact that they tried is what counts.”

I don’t see what is wrong with this at all. We have this thing called “private society” which is like, totally off limits to politics because the constitution, liberal theory or something. Don’t you know? You see, we have these blocks in governance, and the constitution says that people can’t do this, and can’t do that. No one is allowed to create and use third party “private” organisations to apply pressure to other actors because “we the people” are free.

Of course, having Podesta fired will fix this right up. Just not clear on what you will do with Soros? or Catholics United? I mean, these are “private” actors, because it is not as if sovereignty is conserved regardless of what some silly piece of paper says, and that the concept of “private” society is a fiction. That would just be crazy.

Religion as a Creation of Power

On the issue of religion, liberal history is clear that the liberal order saved the world from religious irrationalism and violence, and that it is still the key to doing so in the greater world. The solution to sectarian violence in Iraq for instance is a secular state which banishes religion, the same for Libya, Afghanistan and all the rest. This was the key to making the west a peaceful rational scientific pluralist society. The problem with this account, as Cavanaugh takes pains to dissect, is that you have a number of serious problems with this story. The first such problem is defining religion. In the first chapter of his book he cites a number of attempts to define religion by a collection of eminent anti-religious and pro-religious theorists which makes it obvious that none of them can do so. Take Confucianism for example – religion or not? How about Marxism? Buddhism? All definitions of religion fail.

So, OK where did this word religion come from? Cavanaugh makes the point that it is modern and western. There was no such word before the 15th century. This seems a slight oversight by everyone before this point, or maybe there is something fishy about the concept of religion. It turns out the term religion is bullshit from start to finish. Citing an early theorist of religion Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury he notes:

Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583–1648), one of the most prominent of the early modern theorists of religion, attempted to reach a concord among all the world’s religions by identifying the five essential beliefs of religion as such: 1. That there is some supreme divinity. 2. That this divinity ought to be worshipped. 3. That virtue joined with piety is the best method of divine worship. 4. That we should return to our right selves from sins. 5. That reward or punishment is bestowed after this life is finished.


It is important to note that Herbert’s interiorization and universalization of religion go hand in hand with his support of state control over the church. This may seem like a contradiction, but Herbert has no intention of privatizing worship. Herbert’s scheme for toleration is part of a larger shift toward the absorption of ecclesiastical power by the rising state in the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, served the English Crown as ambassador to France and wrote a history of King Henry VIII and a short paper in English, “On the King’s Supremacy in the Church.” In the latter document, in looking over the biblical and historical record, he finds that “noe Change of Religion, during the Reigne of their Kings did follow, which was not procured by their immediate power,” an echo of the policy of cuius regio, eius religio. He also argues that “it is unsafe to diuide the people, betwixt temporall, and spirituall obedience, or suspend them, betwixt the Terrours of a secular death, and Eternall punishments.

I have previously noted that Protestantism was in effect a monarchical friendly development for reasons of power selection, and Cavanaugh is working on the same line.

Having developed the concept of religion as a natural means to isolate and remove ecclesiastical power centres by making the practice of Christianity an internal one, this concept was then applied internationally with the invention of the Hindu religion and the Buddhist religion:

The invention of Buddhism as a distinct religion was based on the discovery of Sanskrit texts that could be used to trace the origins of disparate rites in Asia back to the figure of Gautama. Buddhism was born as a textual religion, on the model of Protestantism. Once this work was done, the actual living manifestations of these rites were understood by Western scholars as corruptions from the original spirit of the texts. The purity of the universal, interior, spiritual message of the Buddha had been debased into materialistic ritual. The Buddha was commonly presented—by Max Müller, among many others—as the “Martin Luther of the East,” a reformer who had rejected the ritualism of Hinduism to found a purely spiritual religion. Where Hinduism was a particularistic national religion, Buddhism was universal, originating in the mind of Gautama and capable of being practiced anywhere. The fact that Buddhism itself had been degraded in practice from the founder’s original insight did not prevent the designation of Buddhism as a world religion. It was, however, considered to be a world religion based on its original form, not on its actual corrupt forms as practiced in the Orient.

The secular states in effect had no need for a concept of religion which was not a private and internal “spiritual” thing which is a complete fabrication and modern invention. I have mentioned before that this ties in heavily with MacIntyre’s thesis of the collapse of the virtues which are inherently a practical and social endeavour. Their replacement with voluntarism which makes ethics a matter of epistemology is clearly a result of power action and selection.

So where does this leave the question of creating a new religion? Well the question is nonsense and elides a great deal. It is a quixotic task to create a new “thing which has no definition” within a political arrangement based on separation of secular (has no real definition) from religious (has no real definition.) A great example of this nonsense of modernity covering for this incoherence which is only lent shape by ignoring the surface and concentrating on power is supplied by Cavanaugh in relation to Shinto:

The creation of Shinto in Japan is one of the most fascinating examples of how—and for what purposes—the category of religion has been introduced into non-Western contexts. The term “Shinto”—which refers to worship of the kami, gods associated with natural forces such as the sun—has been known since the eighth century. Until the nineteenth century, however, worship of the kami was interwoven with rites associated with the Buddha and buddhas. Shinto and Buddhism were not two separate traditions. In the face of the forced opening of Japan to Western trade and influence in the mid-nineteenth century, however, a nativist movement clamored for the creation of a distinctly Japanese cult. The Meiji state after 1868 undertook a nationwide “separation of kami and buddhas” (shinbutsu bunri). The Meiji government took control of the shrines thus “purified” of Buddhism and declared that “shrines of the kami are for the worship of the state.

By the mid-1870s, however, the Meiji government was under pressure both from Western powers and from educated Japanese elites who had studied in the West, such as Mori Arinori, later to be minister of education. In 1872, Arinori wrote a treatise in English declaring that the government’s “attempt to impose upon our people a religion of its creation cannot receive too severe condemnation.” In 1875, the government officially declared freedom of religion, provided that religion did not impede the acceptance of imperial proclamations. This qualification led to an official distinction between Shinto performed at government-sponsored shrines (shrine Shinto) and that performed elsewhere (sect Shinto). Sect Shinto was conceived of as a doctrine and was therefore defined as religion (sh¯uky¯o, a technical term borrowed from Buddhist monastic practice meaning “group teaching” or “sect teaching”). Shrine Shinto was dedicated to the worship of the state and was not considered religion but “rites” (jinja). Belief in religious teachings was therefore a private matter of choice, but the performance of rituals for the state was a public duty. From the 1880s to World War II, official state rhetoric made a sharp distinction between Shinto and religion. Buddhism, Christianity, and other sects were religions, symptoms of selfishness and disunity. There was a movement, therefore, to classify all shrines of the kami as national shrines, to avoid the taint of religion.

The officially endorsed national cult of Shinto had gained such power in the early twentieth century that the victorious U.S. government moved immediately to remove shrine Shinto from public power at the end of World War II. Sarah Thal explains: At that time all government support of Shinto shrines, teachings, rituals, and institutions was expressly forbidden in order “to separate religion from the state, to prevent misuse of religion for political ends, and to put all religions, faiths, and creeds upon exactly the same legal basis.” After years of denying the religiosity of Shinto, priests and apologists found themselves suddenly defined as religious, limited by the very principle of freedom of religious belief which they had once overcome by defining themselves against religion.

One can see the same game being played by current progressives which I am sure a successor regime maintaining the current system could easily label “religious” cutting them off from power. The “secular” –“religious” divide is a complete fabrication based on a power dynamic that arose in the medieval period, but which is still in play. This results in a bizarre game in which strange definitions and concepts are made up on the fly that are only coherent in reference to the power arrangements.

Culture above power – the liberal mistake

I am only part way through William Cavanaugh’s book The Myth of Religious Violence, and it is plainly obvious this book is deeply compatible with absolutist political theory. I have previously linked an article by the same author from which the book developed, and it is made clear from Cavanaugh’s book that the issue of religion is a foundational one to liberal political theorists. It is also made clear from the book that liberal political theorists are fundamentally wrong on every possible point, they have no idea what they are talking about at a deep level and are collectively worthless.

Cavanaugh’s argument is centred around the issue of religion, but its application is more far reaching than he allows, and this is an area in which De Jouvenel and Moldbug provide greater depth. Cavanaugh appears to be arguing that the entire concept of religion is a modern invention that is explainable by power arrangements. Readers familiar with this blog will be familiar with this line of reasoning as it is fundamentally one which places power above culture. Cavanaugh notes that Hinduism didn’t even exist until the 18th century, and that Buddhism is a 19th century western invention. Christianity as a religion is a 15th/16th century invention. Religion as a concept is really that new, and Cavanaugh makes the argument that it is an invention definable by power arrangements. Prior to this invention, the term religio was used, and even then, it was used in specific circumstances with a specific meaning nowhere near comparable to “religion”. This is an area of investigation that is clearly fruitful and worth pursuing, as religion appears to have been invented in conjunction with the modern state to facilitate a secular/ religious divide which simply makes no sense in any other circumstances. This can be filed along with those other questionable modern concepts – capitalism, ideology, free speech etc. Instead of Christian life being intertwined with rites and actual practice, “secular” rulers promoted purifying sects that decried these rites and practice as pollution of internal spiritual pursuit, rendering Christianity an optional set of beliefs, and thereby an epistemological issue. The reader may note this overlaps with MacIntyre’s complaint of the rise and dominance of voluntarism.

If this mechanism was at play with the concept of religion, then there is no reason not to assume that it is at play in all aspects of life and culture. The political system is key to all. If Cavanaugh follows through the implications of his own theory, he will find that this is an irresistible conclusion, at which point he may wish to review not just the history of religion, but also the history of human rights, the history of the Civil Rights Era, the history of political theory etc.

The issue of political systems being above culture is such a foundational one that its importance cannot be overstated. It is implicit in all liberal theory that culture is above power precisely because to be liberal is to completely misunderstand history and how society functions. All Liberal theorists from Locke to Fukuyama rely on a willful blindness to the active role of powerful actors in promoting strife as means to enact control, instead taking the strife itself as the foundational problem being brought into being spontaneously and from private errors. In reality, the very same secular power that the likes of Locke, Hobbes, Rawls and the rest call into being to adjudicate and solve the in-commensurable goods of various “religions” was the very one which caused the problem in the first place.  But they cannot see this, because culture is above power obviously.

Wars of Religion and Rise of the State

Fantastic piece of scholarship that supports the absolutist interpretation of de Jouvenel here.

My purpose in this essay will be to focus on the way revulsion to killing in the name of religion is used to legitimize the transfer of ultimate loyalty to the modern State. Specifically I will examine how the so-called “Wars of Religion” of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe are evoked as the founding moment of modern liberalism by theorists such as John Rawls, Judith Shklar, and Jeffrey Stout. I will let Shklar tell the familiar tale:

liberalism … was born out of the cruelties of the religious civil wars, which forever rendered the claims of Christian charity a rebuke to all religious institutions and parties. If the faith was to survive at all, it would do so privately. The alternative then set, and still before us, is not one between classical virtue and liberal self-indulgence, but between cruel military and moral repression and violence, and a self-restraining tolerance that fences in the powerful to protect the freedom and safety of every citizen …”

In Jeffrey Stout’s view, the multiplication of religions following on the Reformation produced appeals to incompatible authorities which could not be resolved rationally. Therefore “liberal principles were the right ones to adopt when competing religious beliefs and divergent conceptions of the good embroiled Europe in the religious wars … Our early modern ancestors were right to secularize public discourse in the interest of minimizing the ill effects of religious disagreement.”5 In other words, the modern, secularized State arose to keep peace among the warring religious factions.

I will argue that this story puts the matter backwards. The “Wars of Religion” were not the events which necessitated the birth of the modern State; they were in fact themselves the birthpangs of the State. These wars were not simply a matter of conflict between “Protestantism” and “Catholicism,” but were fought largely for the aggrandizement of the emerging State over the decaying remnants of the medieval ecclesial order. I do not wish merely to contend that political and economic factors played a central role in these wars, nor to make a facile reduction of religion to more mundane concerns. I will rather argue that to call these conflicts “Wars of Religion” is an anachronism, for what was at issue in these wars was the very creation of religion as a set of privately held beliefs without direct political relevance. The creation of religion was necessitated by the new State’s need to secure absolute sovereignty over its subjects. I hope to challenge the soteriology of the modern State as peacemaker, and show that Christian resistance to State violence depends on a recovery of the Church’s disciplinary resources. p1-2


The net result of the conflicts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was to invert the dominance of the ecclesiastical over the civil authorities through the creation of the modern State. The chief promoters of this transposition, as Figgis makes plain, “were Martin Luther and Henry VIII and Philip II, who in reality worked together despite their apparent antagonism. P3


There is a direct relationship between the success of efforts to restrict supra-national Church authority and the failure of the Reformation within those realms. In other words, wherever concordats between the Papal See and temporal rulers had already limited the jurisdiction of the Church within national boundaries, there the princes saw no need to throw off the yoke of Catholicism, precisely because Catholicism had already been reduced, to a greater extent, to a suasive body under the heel of the secular power. P4-5


The rising bourgeoisie in provincial towns, anxious to combat centralized control, joined the Huguenots in large numbers. Moreover, as many as two-fifths of the nobility rallied to the Calvinist cause. They wanted to reverse the trend toward absolute royal authority and coveted power like that of the German princes to control the Church in their own lands. P5


It is important therefore to see that the principal promoters of the wars in France and Germany were in fact not pastors and peasants, but kings and nobles with a stake in the outcome of the movement toward the centralized, hegemonic State. P7


Far from coming on the scene as peacekeeper, we have seen that the rise of the State was at the very root of the so-called “religious” wars, directing with bloodied hands a new secular theater of absolute power.p13

The whole thing is worth a read, the only issue is with the conclusions which are disastrously wrong. Despite this, the author understands the game, however does not follow through on the implications. If power (definable as the political structure and the actors pursuing goals in line with ruling) was the driving force, then power is THE driving force of culture. This makes liberals merely cargo cultists worshiping the unintended outcomes of structural solecisms. From the reformation to the Civil Rights Era, the only coherent explanation beside liberal mysticism is this.

Tradition is Conserved

An undeveloped aspect of Moldbug’s analysis is the issue of progressivism’s descent from Christianity, in a particular, a protestant strain of Christianity. The How Dawkins got pwned series is a classic, and is always deserving of a read, but it is very much open to improvement. I would wager that Moldbug would probably agree.

The first point of improvement is to call on the works of Alaisdair MacIntyre, who has been saying the same thing as Moldbug but from a very different angle.

In the Dawkins series of posts, Moldbug outlines that:

In my opinion, the only sensible way to classify traditions – as with species – is by ancestral structure. While the existence of introgression and the absence of reproductive isolation makes it technically impossible to construct a precise cladogram of human traditional history, we can certainly produce sensible approximations. Note that perhaps an even better analogy is to languages and linguistic history, in which cladistic classification is commonplace.

Alaisdair MacIntyre meanwhile goes significantly further along this route, and provides a level of philosophical rigor to which we can only give thanks and adopt for our own purposes. To MacIntyre, it is simply the case that everything is part of a tradition. The significance of this requires this statement to be repeated.

Everything is part of a tradition.

MacIntyre (and this is where he crosses paths with Moldbug) has made a life’s work out of the issue of traditions and the concept of rationality, and his conclusion (and his work in general) has been helpfully labelled “too extreme” so you know it is going to be worth a read. In a nutshell, MacInytre’s assertion is that modern ethics and politics has descended into barbarism, and is in effect the outcome of a secularisation of voluntarist Christianity (both Protestantism and Jansenist Catholicism.)

But how did he come to this conclusion? The answer lies in his conception of rationality and tradition as linked to the work of Karl Polanyi. For Macintyre, it is simply the case that:

“There is no standing ground, no place for enquiry . . . apart from that which is provided by some particular tradition or other” (p. 350) (Whose Justice?, Which Rationality?)

And that:

Liberalism, beginning as a repudiation of tradition in the name of abstract, universal principles of reason, turned itself into a politically embodied power, whose inability to bring its debates on the nature and context of those universal principles to a conclusion has had the unintended effect of transforming liberalism into a tradition (p. 349).(WJWR)

His claim is that thinkers from Diderot, to Hume to Kant are all merely secularised voluntarists. So much for modernity – it is just medieval theology carried on by other means, but with a twist – the followers of modernity reject that they have a tradition. MacIntyre’s thesis is then in accordance with Moldbug’s conclusion that Dawkins is merely a non-theistic Christian because tradition is conserved.

But we have a problem with MacIntyre, because whilst he is able to trace traditions and note that they have become politically empowered, he has no explanation as to how this has occurred. De Jouvenel and Moldbug however do.

These traditions have become empowered because they are those propagated and maintained by power centers amicable to the royal courts and opposed to the clerical and other power centers in medieval Europe. The universities of Northern Europe containing all of these voluntarist Christian sects encouraged by secular power are the same groups from which the likes of Kant and Hume come from. Their conceptions of ethics and their philosophy comes from this tradition. The royal courts simply created and maintained bad institutions in the covert battles within unsecure power systems, which then took over. The validity of the philosophy held by these bad institutions is not lined up with greater reality. In addition, while it is the case that tradition is conserved, traditions are determined ultimately by institutions that can propagate them (power above culture,) and the voluntarist tradition being set within the institutions of the state have had an access to resources that have been un-matchable. This has been a disastrous mistake.

If this is all correct, then the entirety of modern philosophy is simply a total mess. Utterly un-salvageable. It is based on premises which are delusional, impossible to resolve, and simply sources of great harm.  It all needs to be exorcised.

And with this, we come to the lesser thinkers, the thinkers such as Burke, who MacIntyre takes a shot at in the following passage from WJWR page 165


And which he is more direct with in After Virtue with the following as noted by this article:

“Traditions, when vital, embody continuities of conflict. Indeed when a tradition becomes Burkean, it is always dying or dead. . . . The individualism of modernity could of course find no use for the notion of tradition within its own conceptual scheme except as an adversary notion; it therefore all too willingly abandoned it to the Burkeans, who, faithful to Burke’s own allegiance, tried to combine adherence in politics to a conception of tradition which would vindicate the oligarchical revolution of property of 1688 and adherence in economics to the doctrine and institutions of the free market. The theoretical incoherence of this mismatch did not deprive it of ideological usefulness.” (222)

The article unfortunately only briefly mentions Macintyre’s greater critique of Burke in WJWR on page 353 that also deals with Nietzche, which is deserving of greater reading to fully understand MacIntyre’s argument which is beyond the scope of this post to explain fully, but which from an absolutistist position promises to bear fruit.

Mushroom Wars and Mushroom Dictators

SocialMatter has an interesting article covering another article by Jeffrey Tucker.

Basically Tucker is batshit crazy, and it is the liberal tradition that has driven him crazy.

Tucker is unable to process obviously logical problems with the universal “goods” that liberalism runs on, and is unable to function with any degree of coherency. He has mainlined liberalism and is a total liberal crack junkie. The prognosis is not good.

Starting with his dichotomy of power and liberty, what we have as Carlyle noted is really order and chaos, and this is based upon an anthropology which is beyond salvation. Without a state, without society, and without a tradition there is no individual. At best you have a feral wolf child, which is pretty much where libertarianism and progress is heading. A stunted mutilated biologically physical individual for sure, but not an individual as Mr Tucker seems to conclude would occur. Is it any wonder that our society is producing these barbarians that can hardly communicate in correct language, nor act in a virtuous manner?

This 16th century anthropological psychosis based on abstract dummies is reiterated by Mr Tucker with his reference to Bastiat and his claim that:

In order to overcome the state of nature, we gradually discover the capacity to find value in each other. The division of labor is the great fact of human community: the labor of each of us becomes more productive in cooperation with others, and this is even, or rather especially, true given the unequal distribution of talents, intelligence, and skills, and differences over religion, belief systems, race, language, and so on.

To this, I can only say, Holy shit, liberalism does crazy shit to your brain. Actually, that’s not true, I can also add more calmly that there is simply no state of nature. These individuals are a product of society. This nonsense is that liberal concept of the collection of abstract dummies which just seem to have sprouted from the ground like mushrooms. In fact, where have I heard that before? That’s right, Hobbes actually wrote that:

“looking at men as if they had just emerged from the earth like mushrooms and grown up without any obligation to each other…”

That is what the basis of liberalism is, that is the anthropology Mr Tucker is working on. But here is the real kicker – so is the Alt Right and Neoreaction! Surprise! (hint: if you advocate capitalism (“muh capitalism is reality and created everything” – no it is not, no it did not,) Burkean conservatism, game theory, propertarianism, empiricism and any other liberal tradition derived concept then you are working on this anthropology. If you change the anthropology, you no longer have these things.)

So what we have is Mr Tucker complaining that the Alt-Right et al fails to see that humans can overcome this natural mushroom state of affairs peacefully with property rights and division of labour, instead assuming that these mushrooms must be put under strict control by a dictator mushroom to control all of the other mushrooms in a war of all against all.

Leaving this intellectual mushroom conflict (humans visibly don’t work like this,) we can move onto another point that seems to confuse Mr Tucker due to his religious observance of spontaneous order – The great man. It is a sobering discovery when one realises that the modern discussion of spontaneous order was just pulled out of Hayek’s backside with the financial funding of the Rockefeller institute as a support of modern economics. It is even more sobering when you discover that spontaneous order is basically an agrarian utopian concept derived from the physiocrats and the like who were at total odds to industrialisation. For it then to pop up again as a claimed cause of said industrialisation  is some serious cheek.

His absolute denial that anyone could consciously bring into being a society is beyond redemption, as there as so many examples countering it that it is bewildering. Just to trigger him, we have Mussolini and his creation of Italian Fascism and we have Nazi Germany created by Adolf Hitler. Oh, but they didn’t manage everything, and didn’t think of everything…give me a break. As for the creation of “prices, manners, mores, habits, and traditions that no one can consciously will into existence.”he should spend some time working his way through the literature on foundations, and noting how they seem to precede all the major progressive development, which then magically appear after said foundations plough an absolute shit tonne of money into it.

By the time we get to Mr Tucker on migration and borders, he has basically given up arguing and is preaching a religious view of the world. Borders are expressions of historical events and delineations of separate areas following different cultural and traditional paths. But of course, these mushroom field fences in his terms are logically arbitrary.

His comments on emancipation and progress are pure fairytale and not deserving of even a snarky response. He has no historical knowledge, and I would recommend a number of books to him if he wishes. The first of which is On Power by de Jouvenel, or maybe he should read Moldbug first.