Dear open-minded progressive, every true conversation is a whole life long. (Isn’t that the sort of thing a progressive would say? I can almost imagine it on a Starbucks cup.) Also, every journey starts with a single step, and all good things come to an end. And no meeting may adjourn without action items.
So, in the famous words of Lenin, what is to be done? As briefly as possible without jeopardizing UR’s reputation for pompous prolixity, let’s review the problem.
The leading cause of violent death and misery galore in the modern era is bad government. Most of us grew up thinking we live in a time and place in which Science and Democracy, which put a man on the moon and brought him back with Tang, have either cured this ill or reduced it to a manageable and improving condition. That is, most of us grew up believing—and most Americans, whatever their party registration, still believe—in progress.
Both these statements are facts. But there are two ways to interpret the second. Either (a), blue pill, the belief in progress is an accurate assessment of reality, or (b), red pill, it isn’t. Our pills correspond to visions of the future, and neither is my invention. The blue pill is marked millennium. The red pill is marked anakyklosis.
To choose (b), we have to believe that hundreds of millions of people living in a more or less free society, many of whom are literate and even reasonably knowledgeable, completely misunderstand reality—and more specifically, history. A hard pill to swallow? Not at all, because the blue pill tastes just as big going down. To believe in progress, you have to believe that similar numbers of our ancestors were just as misguided—enthralled by racism, classism, and other nefarious “ideologies,” from which humanity is in the progress of cleansing itself.
Both pills, in other words, claim to be red. But when we note that progressive ideas flow freely through the most influential circles in our society, whereas reactionary ideas are scorned, marginalized and often even criminalized, we can tell the difference.
This week I tried a small experiment: I went over to Professor Burke’s, having previously emailed a chivalrous warning that I was talking trash about him on my blog, and on no real provocation at all viciously attacked the man. After all, presumably if you’re a full professor specializing in the history of Southern Africa, it should be no problem for you to brush away any catcalls from the peanut gallery on this matter—perhaps even brutally humiliating the catcaller if his persistence exceeds your patience, and you’re feeling sadistic this morning. Rank hath its duties, and its pleasures too.
Obviously I’m a biased observer, but this is not my impression of the interaction. Feel free to draw your own conclusions. Threads are (opening, and a little awkwardly on my part) here, (mainly) here, and (closing) here.
At the very least, don’t miss the Professor’s own post on the last (Big Wonkery): the inspiration is unclear, but this is more or less his restatement of the Cathedral hypothesis—from within the nave, as it were. Everything he says is 100% true, and I do like the phrase “Big Wonkery.” Didn’t I tell you the man had a conscience?
The reason Professor Burke and his henchmen have such difficulty in handling the reactionary onslaught is not that I am smarter than him. It is certainly not that I know more about Rhodesia. (He is a professional historian—I am an armchair historiographer.) The reason is that, since his narrative is hegemonic and mine is marginalized, I have heard all his arguments and he has heard few of mine. (Also, the facts of the case could hardly be more glaring.)
The Professor is a sort of professional moderate, a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. Put him next to your stock postcolonial theorist, and the man looks positively level-headed. His “thunderbolt of rage” is pure reactionary righteousness. (Through La Wik, I discovered this wonderful evocation of the modern reactionary experience. “Reactionary Airfield!” “Thawra” means “revolution,” of course.) But something—inertia, ambition, tradition, or mere medical incapacity—keeps the Professor from opening his other eye, and maybe always will. There were many such figures in the late Soviet Union. Indeed Gorbachev himself was one.
It’s also fascinating to observe how what we might call, kindly, a “policy-oriented historian,” thinks and operates. For comparison, here is the blog of a history-oriented historian. Knowles has taken the motto of Ranke, wie es eigentlich gewesen, as his blog title, and his personal affection for the world he studies is obvious. Indeed some study the past because they love it, others because they hate it. Not to be too inflammatory, but Professor Burke studies Rhodesia much as the scholars of Rassenkunde once studied Jews: if Rhodesia or Rhodesians ever did anything stupid, evil, or both, the Professor is sure to be an expert on the matter. And again, he is far, far superior to your average postcolonial theorist. (I wonder if he knows that Rhodesian MRAP designs are saving American lives as we speak. Or if he cares. Or if he even approves.)
Anyway. Enough of this dinner theater. I’ve tried a good many arguments for the red pill, or “declinist narrative” as Professor Burke would put it. The audience being inherently irregular, I try to throw in one a week, and I don’t think I’ve trotted out the following for a while.
Imagine that there had been no scientific or technical progress at all during the 20th century. That the government of 2008 had to function with the technical base of 1908. Surely, if the quality of government has increased or even just remained constant, its performance with the same tools should be just as good. And with better technology, it should do even better.
But without computers, cell phones or even motor vehicles, 19th-century America could rebuild destroyed cities instantly—at least, instantly by today’s standards. Imagine what this vanished society, which if we could see it with our own eyes would strike us as no less foreign than any country in the world today, could accomplish if it got its hands on 21st-century gadgets—without any of the intervening social and political progress.
When we think of progress we tend to think of two curves summed. X, the change in our understanding and control of nature, slopes upward except in the most dire circumstances—the fall of Rome, for example. But X is a confounding variable. Y, the change in our quality of government, is the matter at hand. Extracting Y from X+Y is not a trivial exercise.
But broad thought-experiments—like imagining what would become of 1908 America, if said continent magically popped up in the mid-Atlantic in 2008, and had to modernize and compete in the global economy—tell a different story. I am very confident that Old America would be the world’s leading industrial power within the decade, and I suspect it would attract a lot of immigration from New America. The seeds of decay were there, certainly, but they had hardly begun to sprout. At least by today’s standards.
Surely a healthy, stable society should be able to thrive in a steady state without any technical improvements at all. But if we imagine the 20th century without technical progress, we see an almost pure century of disaster. Even when we restrict our imagination to the second half of the twentieth century, to imagine the America of 2008 reduced to the technology of 1950 is a bleak, bleak thought. If you are still taking the blue pills, to what force do you ascribe this anomalous decay?
Whereas the red pill gives us an easy explanation: a decaying system of government has been camouflaged and ameliorated by the advance of technology. Of course, X may overcome Y and lead us to the Singularity, in which misgovernment is no more troublesome than acne. Or Y may overcome X, and produce the Antisingularity—a new fall of Rome. It’s a little difficult to invent self-inventing AI when you’re eating cold beans behind the perimeter of a refugee camp in Redwood Shores, and Palo Alto is RPG squeals, mortar whumps and puffs of black smoke on the horizon, as the Norteños and the Zetas finally have it out over the charred remains of your old office park. Unlikely, sure, but do you understand the X–Y interaction well enough to preclude this outcome? Because I don’t.
Swallowing the red pill leads us, like Neo, into a completely different reality. In reality (b), bad government has not been defeated at all. History is not over. Oh, no. We are still living it. Perhaps we are in the positions of the French of 1780 or the Russians of 1914, who had no idea that the worlds they lived in could degenerate so rapidly into misery and terror.
Is the abyss this close? I don’t think so, but surely the materials are present. The spark is a long way from the gasoline—Ayers and his ilk strike most of Americans as more clownish than anything, and our modern revolutionaries have never been so out of touch with the urban underclass (for whom John Derbyshire proposes the wonderful Shakespearian word bezonian). Nonetheless, the first political entrepreneur who finds a way to deploy gangstas as stormtroopers, a trick the SDS often threatened but never quite mastered, will have pure dynamite on his hands.
More probable in my opinion is a slow decline into a Brezhnevian future, in which nothing good or new or exciting or beautiful is legal. X peters to a crawl. Y continues. And only after many, many decades—probably not in our lifetimes—does the real dystopian experience start. Or the system could fail catastrophically, and produce not the rarefied algorithmic authoritarianism of UR, but some kind of awful Stormfront neofascism. (Why is it that the more Nazi you are, the uglier your website is? Never mind, I think I know.) Or it could all just work out fine.
But can we count on this? We cannot. So, as thoughtful and concerned people, we have three reasons to think about solutions. One is that we are thoughtful and concerned people. Two is that thinking about government in a post-democratic context is an excellent way to clear our minds of the antinomian cant with which our educators so thoroughly larded us. And three is that once the cant is cleared, it’s actually kind of fun and refreshing to think about government. The problem is not new, but it has been lying fallow for a while.
First: the problem. Our goal is to convert a 20th-century government, such as USG or “Washcorp,” into a sovereign organization which is stable, responsible and effective. For simplicity, I’ll assume you’re an American. If you are not an American, you almost certainly live under an American-style, post-1945 government. Substitute as necessary.
Our logic is that secured real estate is the oldest and most important form of capital. I.e.: it is a productive asset. There is only one responsible and effective way to manage a productive asset: make it turn a profit. To maximize the profit is to maximize the price of the asset. To maximize the price of a sovereign jurisdiction is to maximize the price of the properties within it. To maximize real-estate prices is to maximize the desirability of the neighborhood. To maximize the desirability of the neighborhood is to maximize the quality of life therein. To maximize the quality of life is the goal of good government. Ergo: responsible and effective government is best achieved by sovereign capitalism, i.e., neocameralism.
Watch the Austrian economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe—since Rothbard’s premature demise, probably the superstar of the school today—struggle with this problem. Professor Hoppe is an antinomian of the libertarian species. He is a sound formalist at every layer up to the top, where he rejects the concept of sovereign property as a royalist plot. (Actually, in medieval Europe, sovereign fiefs could easily be bought and sold—and note that no “natural rights” protected the Quitzows from the Hohenzollerns.) Professor Hoppe writes:
Under these circumstances, a completely new option has become viable: the provision of law and order by freely competing private (profit-and-loss) insurance agencies.
Even though hampered by the state, insurance agencies protect private property owners upon payment of a premium against a multitude of natural and social disasters, from floods and hurricanes to theft and fraud. Thus, it would seem that the production of security and protection is the very purpose of insurance. Moreover, people would not turn to just anyone for a service as essential as that of protection.
There’s one difference: an insurance agency exists under the protection of a government which enforces its contracts. Whereas English actually has a word for an unprotected protection agency. It’s called a gang. (The Russian word krysha, meaning “roof,” is also quite evocative.)
In real life, for obvious military reasons, gangs tend to organize themselves around territories, or contiguous blocks of real estate. Historically, situations in which gang territories overlap are unusual. As formal rules develop for the internal organization of the gang, and its relations with other gangs, the gang becomes a country. Formalization maximizes the gang’s profits and greatly improves its clients’ quality of life.
We are starting from the other direction: a gigantic, mature if not senescent vegetable-marrow of a government. Awful as it is, degenerate as its laws have become, it is still a government, and a government is still a good thing. It is considerably easier to liquidate and restructure USG than to turn MS-13 and the Black Guerrilla Family into the Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns.
When we left off this problem, we had liquidated USG and transferred full operating control of its assets to a mysterious bankruptcy administrator known only as the Receiver (Chapter X). We had not described: (a) how the process is initiated, (b) how the Receiver is selected, or (c) what policies, beyond terminating “foreign policy,” quelling the bezonians, and installing a sensible tax system, we can expect the Receiver to follow.
Frankly, (c) is not worth a lot of speculation. The democratic habit, in which ordinary people—or even UR readers, who are very unlikely to be ordinary people—conceive ourselves capable of understanding how a country is best administered, is one to be broken at all costs. I drive a car on a regular basis, but I have no idea what I would do if someone put me in charge of Ford. I am typing this message on a Mac, but my first act as CEO of Apple would be to resign. (Well, I might do something about the $**#!% batteries first.) I love film, but don’t try to make me direct one. And so on.
Moreover, the fact that we have assigned the Receiver full administrative authority means, by definition, that he or she is not constrained by the whims and fancies of whatever movement produced the office. A restoration has one goal: responsible and effective government. The details are out of its planners’ hands.
However, we can think about some things. For example: there are very few decisions that need to be taken on a continental level. USG provides continental defense, hardly hard in North America, but whose absence would eventually be felt. There are certainly some continent-scale environmental issues. I can’t think of much else. In a country with responsible and effective government, even immigration can be a local issue: if you don’t have permission to live and/or work somewhere, the technology required to prevent you is hardly Orwellian.
So I suspect the Receiver’s restructuring plans might involve dividing North America into, say, its largest 100 or 200 or 500 metropolitan areas (USG’s historical internal boundaries being of little importance), each of which gets its own little mini-Receiver, devoted as usual to maximizing asset value. To paraphrase Tom Hayden: one, two, three, many Monacos.
Eventually, there is no reason why these principalities could not be independently traded and even locally sovereign, perhaps owning the continental assets of USG, consortium style, rather than the other way around. Initially, however, USG’s financial liabilities are as vast as its assets—exactly as vast, since it needs to become solvent. Unless we want to make the dollar worthless, which we don’t, the entire country must remain federal property.
Imagining restructuring at a local level helps in a couple of ways. First, redundancy counts: if Seattle, for some reason, winds up with Kim Jong Il as its Receiver, and he promises to be good but quickly resorts to his old habits, the residents can always flee to Portland. If Kim gets the whole continent, the continent is screwed. Second, it is simply easier to imagine how a city could be restored, especially if you happen to live in that city.
The San Francisco Bay Area, for example, is a jewel even in its present dilapidated state, its no-go areas, modernist crimes against architecture, froth of beggars and rim of tacky sprawl. I can scarcely imagine what a Steve Jobs, a Frederick the Great, a Mountstuart Elphinstone, or an administrator of similar caliber would make of it.
But how (b) do we select such an administrator? The crucial question is the back-end of this administrative structure. A Receiver is not a “benevolent dictator.” If angels were available to meet our staffing needs, that would be one thing. They are not. There is no responsibility without accountability. The trick is in preventing accountability from degenerating into parliamentary government, i.e., politics—which is how we got where we are at present.
To prevent the emergence of politics, a stable, established neocameralist state relies on the fact that its shares are held by a widely distributed body of investors, each of whose management control is precisely proportional to the share of the profits the investor receives, and none of whom has any way to profit privately by causing the enterprise to be mismanaged. The result is a perfect alignment of interests among all shareholders, all of whom have exactly the same one-dimensional goal: maximizing the value of their shares. Experience in private corporate governance shows that such a body tends to be reasonably competent in selecting managers, and almost never succumbs to anything like politics.
When converting a democratic state into a neocameralist one, however, a great deal of care is needed. For example, since any bankruptcy procedure converts debt to equity, quite a few shares must end up in the hands of those who now hold dollars, bank or Treasury obligations, rights to entitlement payments, etc., etc. Will these individuals be (a) rationally motivated to maximize the value of their assets, and (b) effective in selecting competent management that will act according to (a)? Or won’t they? There is no way to know.
I think I am on reasonably firm ground in asserting that once democratic politics can be made to go away, this design offers no avenues by which it can revive itself. However, keeping the thing dead is one thing. Killing it is quite another.
Today’s administrative states are irresponsible because their actions tend to be the consequence of vast chains of procedure which separate individual decisions from results. The result is hopelessly dysfunctional and ineffective, often becomes seriously detached from reality, and demands an immense quantity of pointless busywork. However, it has the Burkean (Ed, not Tim) virtues of stability, consistency, and predictability. It works, sort of.
When you take all this process, policy and precedent, rip it up, and revert to responsible personal authority, you gain enormously in effectiveness and efficiency. But the design places a tremendous engineering load on the assumption of responsibility and the absence of politics. This simply can’t be screwed up. If it is, the consequences can be disastrous. Hello, Hitler. Also, did I mention Hitler? Finally, there is the possibility of creating a new Hitler.
Obviously, it’s time for us to have a serious discussion of Hitler. Anyone who proposes anything even remotely resembling an absolute personal dictatorship needs a Hitler position. Because, after all, I mean, Hitler.
The wretched state of things in Germany continues. It is a manifestation of a nation-wide sentiment that any honest-minded person must sympathize with, but its expression, under the direction of a lunatic adventurer, takes shape in the most revolting enormities.
This is simply the best summary of National Socialism I have ever seen. And it was written only six months after the swine came to power.
Fascist-style approaches to terminating democracy in the 21th century face two unsolvable problems. One is that the democracies have, in their usual style, overdone the job of arming themselves against anything like fascism—they are absurdly terrified of it. Fascism is a salmon trying to jump over Boulder Dam. Two is that even if your salmon could jump over Boulder Dam, the result would be… fascism. Which would certainly be an improvement in some regards. But not in others.
The Boulder Dam analogy is well-demonstrated by La Wik’s page for direct action. Note that every example on the page is in the revolutionary or progressive category. The term does not seem to apply to reactionary or fascist “direct action,” although tactics have no alignment. Of course, the gangster methods that Hitler and Mussolini used in coming to power were direct action in a nutshell—as were the actions of the Southern Redeemers.
The answer is that “direct action” depends on the tolerance and/or connivance of the police, military, and/or judicial system. In Weimar Germany, nationalists had all three—mostly relics of the Wilhelmine government—on their side. Denazification reversed this. Today in Europe, antifas can beat up their opponents with a wink and a nod from the authorities, whereas neo-Nazis get the book thrown at them. The answer: duh. Don’t be a neo-Nazi.
Anyone interested in overthrowing democracy desperately needs to read the great memoir of Ernst von Salomon, Der Fragebogen, published in English as The Answers but better translated as The Questionnaire. (The title is a reference to the denazification questionnaires which all Germans seeking any responsible postwar position had to complete.)
Salomon, who despite his name was not Jewish (though his wife was), was never a Nazi. He was, however, a hardcore nationalist, and not just any hardcore nationalist: he was a member of the notorious post-Freikorps death squad, Organisation Consul, and personally involved in the assassination of Rathenau, for which he served time. (If it’s any defense, he was 19, and his role was limited to procuring the getaway car.) He was also a brilliant writer who made a living turning out movie scripts—before, during, and after the Third Reich. A good comparison is Ernst Jünger, also wonderfully readable if a little more abstruse.
Der Fragebogen is a gloriously-fresh introduction to the world of Weimar, which most of us have encountered only from the liberal side. If you have trouble understanding how Nock could sympathize with the destruction of Weimar while abhorring Hitlerism, von Salomon is your man. The opening alone is a work of genius:
MILITARY GOVERNMENT OF GERMANY: FRAGEBOGEN
WARNING: Read the entire Fragebogen carefully before you start to fill it out. The English language will prevail if discrepancies exist between it and the German translation. Answers must be typewritten or printed clearly in block letters. Every question must be answered precisely and no space is to be left blank. If a question is to be answered by either ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ print the word ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the appropriate space. If the question is inapplicable, so indicate by some appropriate word or phrase such as ‘none’ or ‘not applicable.’ Add supplementary sheets if there is not enough space in the questionnaire. Omissions or false or incomplete statements are offences against Military Government and will result in prosecution and punishment.
I have now read the entire Fragebogen or questionnaire carefully. Although not specifically told to do so, I have even read it through more than once, word for word, question for question. This is not by any means the first questionnaire with which I have grappled. I have already filled in many identical Fragebogens, and a great number of similar ones, at a time and in circumstances concerning which I shall have a certain amount to say under the heading Remarks. Apart from that group of Fragebogens there were others: during the period January 30th, 1933, to May 6th, 1945, which is usually called the ‘Third Reich,’ or with cheap wit ‘the Thousand-Year Reich,’ or briefly ‘the Nazi Regime,’ or correctly the period of the National-Socialist government in Germany—during those years, too, I was frequently confronted with Fragebogens. I can confidently assert that I invariably read them through with care.
In order to satisfy any doubts on the matter let me say at once that the perusal of all these questionnaires has always produced the same effect on me: a tumult of sensations is let loose within my breast in which the first and the strongest is that of acute discomfort. When I try to identify this sensation of discomfort more exactly, it seems to me to be very close to that experienced by a schoolboy caught at some mischief—a very young person, on the threshold of experience, suddenly face to face with an enormous and ominous power which claims for itself all the force of law, custom, order and morality. He cannot yet judge the world’s pretension that whatever is right; at present his conscience is good when he is in harmony with that world, bad when he is not. He cannot yet guess that a happy moment will one day come when he will weigh the world and its institutions in the scales of that still dormant conscience of his, will weigh it and will find it wanting and in need of rebuilding from the foundations up.
Now in view of the matters which I have had to discuss in my answer to Question 19, I am clearly nowise entitled to express my opinions on matters of conscience. Nor is it I who wish to do so. Yet how am I to account for the tone and arrangement of this questionnaire if its general intention is not a new incitement to me to examine this conscience of mine?
The institution which, in all the world, seems to me most worthy of admiration, the Catholic Church, has its system of confession and absolution. The Church recognizes that men may be sinners but does not brand them as criminals; furthermore, there is only one unforgivable sin, that against the Holy Ghost. The Catholic Church seeks to convert and save the heathen, who is striving to be happy according to his lights; but for the heretic, who has once heard the call and has yet refused to follow it, there can be no forgiveness. This attitude is straightforward and consistent and entails certain sublime consequences. It leads directly to the secrecy of the confessional. It also means that each man, in his search for grace, is very largely dependent on his own, innermost determination. A fine attitude, and one that I might myself embrace did not I fear that the very quintessence of the Church’s teaching—yes, the Ten Commandments themselves—were in painful contradiction to a whole series of laws that I have recently been compelled to observe.
For it is not the Catholic Church that has approached me and requested that I examine my conscience, but another and far less admirable institution, Allied Military Government in Germany. Sublimity here is at a discount. Unlike the priest with the poor sinner remote from the world in the secrecy of the quiet confessional, A.M.G. sends its questionnaire into my home and, like an examining judge with a criminal, barks its one hundred and thirty-one questions at me: it demands, coldly and flatly, nothing less than the truth; it even threatens twice—once at the beginning and once at the end—to punish me; and the nature and scope of the punishment envisaged I can only too vividly imagine. (See Remarks, at the end of this questionnaire.) [Salomon was badly beaten, and his wife was raped, by American soldiers in a postwar detention camp. —MM]
It was representatives of A.M.G., men in well-creased uniforms with many brightly coloured decorations, who made it unambiguously clear to me that every man worthy to be called a man should study his conscience before deciding whether or not to act in any specific way. They sat in front of me, one after the other, those agreeable and well-groomed young people, and spoke with glibness and self-assurance about so great a matter as a man’s conscience. I admired them for their apodictic certainty; I envied them their closed and narrow view of the world.
Salomon’s book was a bestseller in postwar Germany. It is now anathema, of course, in that thoroughly occupied country—in which only the faintest trace of any pre-American culture can still be detected.
Here (to get back to Hitler) are some of Salomon’s observations on the Nazis:
At that time—it was high summer of 1922 and the Oberammergau Passion Play was being acted—Munich was filled with foreigners. Even the natives had not the time to attend big political rallies. Thus I did not even have a chance to hear Hitler—and now I shall go to my grave without ever having once attended a meeting where I could hear this most remarkable figure of the first half of the twentieth century speak in person.
“What does he actually say?” I asked the Kapitän’s adjutant.
“He says more or less this,” the adjutant began, and it was significant that he could not help mimicking the throaty voice with the vengeful undertones, “he says, quite calmly: ‘My enemies have sneered at me, saying that you can’t attack a tank with a walking stick…’ Then his voice gets louder and he says: ‘But I tell you…’ And then he shouts with the utmost intensity: ‘… that a man who hasn’t the guts to attack a tank with a walking stick will achieve nothing!’ And then there’s tremendous, senseless applause.”
The Kapitän said: “Tanks I know nothing about. But I do know that a man who tries to ram an iron-clad with a fishing smack isn’t a hero. He’s an idiot.”
I know not whether the Kapitän, lacking in powers of oratory as he was, found Hitler’s methods of influencing the masses as repugnant as I did, but I assumed this to be the case. I also obscurely felt that for the Kapitän, deeply involved in his political concept, to be carried forward on the tide of a mass movement must seem unclean. Policy could only be laid down from ‘above,’ not from ‘below.’ The state must always think for the people, never through the people. Again I obscurely felt that there could be no compromise here, that all compromise would mean falsification.
But it was precisely his effect on the masses that led to Hitler’s success in Munich. He employed new methods of propaganda, hitherto unthought of. The banners of his party were everywhere to be seen, as was the gesture of recognition, the raised right arm, used by his supporters; the deliberate effort involved in this gesture was in itself indicative of faith. And everywhere was to be heard the greeting, the slogan Heil Hitler! Never before had a man dared to include his essentially private name in an essentially public phrase. It implied among his followers a degree of self-alienation that was perhaps significant; no longer could the individual establish direct contact with his neighbour—this third party was needed as intermediary.
And, ten pages later:
The word ‘democracy’ is one that I have only very rarely, and with great reluctance, employed. I do not know what it is and I have never yet met anyone who could explain its meaning to me in terms that I am capable of understanding. But I fear that Hitler’s assertion—that his ideological concept was the democratic concept—will prove a hard one to refute. The enlightenment of the world from a single, central position, the winning of mass support through convincing arguments, the legitimate road to power by way of the ballot-box, the legitimisation by the people itself of power achieved—I fear it is hard to deny that these are democratic stigmata, revelatory perhaps of democracy in a decadent and feverish form, but democratic none the less. I further fear that the contrary assertion—that the totalitarian system as set up by Hitler was not democratic—will prove a hard one to justify. The totalitarian state is the exact opposite of the authoritarian state, which latter, of course, bears no democratic stigmata but hierarchical ones instead. Some people seem to believe that forms of government are estimable in accordance with their progressive development; since totalitarianism is certainly more modern than the authoritarian state system, they must logically give Hitler the advantage in the political field.
And I fear, dear open-minded progressive, that this is the first time in your life you’ve seen the word authoritarian in a positive context. The weird crawlies that crawl in when we leave our minds ajar! Perhaps yours is too open, after all. Better stop reading now.
In case Salomon isn’t quite clear, let me paraphrase his theory of Hitler and the State. Salomon, and his hero Kapitän Ehrhardt, were essentially militarists and monarchists, believers in the old Prussian system of government. In 1849 when Friedrich Wilhelm IV refused to “accept a crown from the gutter” (in other words, to become constitutional monarch of Germany under an English-style liberal system created by the Revolutions of 1848), he was expressing much the same philosophy.
While there is more mysticism to it, and anyone raised in a democratic society must cringe instinctively at the militaristic tone, Salomon’s philosophy is more or less the same as neocameralism. (Understandably, since after all it was Frederick the Great who gave us cameralism.) Salomon’s view of public opinion is mine: that it simply has nothing to do with the difficult craft of state administration, any more than the passengers’ views on aerodynamics are relevant to the pilot of a 747. In particular, most Americans today know next to nothing about the reality of Washington, and frankly I don’t see why they should have to learn.
In the totalitarian system as practiced by Hitler and the Bolsheviks, public opinion is not irrelevant at all. Oh, no. It is the cement that holds the regime together. Most people do not know, for example, of the frequent plebiscites by which the Nazis validated their power. But they do have a sense that Nazism was broadly popular, at least until the war, and they are right. Moreover, even a totalitarian regime that does not elicit genuine popularity can, like the Bolsheviks, elicit the pretense of popularity, and this has much the same power.
When describing any political design, a good principle to follow is that the weak are never the masters of the strong. If the design presents itself as one in which the weak control the strong, try erasing the arrowhead on the strong end and redrawing it on the weak end. Odds are you will end up with a more realistic picture. Popular sovereignty was a basic precept of both the Nazi and Bolshevik designs, and in both the official story was that the Party expressed the views of the masses. In reality, of course, the Party controlled those views. Thus the link which Salomon draws between democracy and the Orwellian mind-control state, two tropes which we children of progress were raised to imagine as the ultimate opposites.
Salomon is obviously not a libertarian, or at least not as much of a libertarian as me, and I suspect that what disturbs him is less the corruption of public opinion by the German state, than the corruption of the German state by public opinion. Regardless of the direction, the phenomenon was a feedback loop that, in the case of Nazism, led straight to perdition.
Here is another description of democracy. Try to guess where it was written, and when:
The New Democracy
What is this freedom by which so many minds are agitated, which inspires so many insensate actions, so many wild speeches, which leads the people so often to misfortune? In the democratic sense of the word, freedom is the right of political power, or, to express it otherwise, the right to participate in the government of the State. This universal aspiration for a share in government has no constant limitations, and seeks no definite issue, but incessantly extends, so that we might apply to it the words of the ancient poet about dropsy: crescit indulgens sibi. For ever extending its base, the new Democracy aspires to universal suffrage—a fatal error, and one of the most remarkable in the history of mankind. By this means, the political power so passionately demanded by Democracy would be shattered into a number of infinitesimal bits, of which each citizen acquires a single one. What will he do with it, then? how will he employ it? In the result it has undoubtedly been shown that in the attainment of this aim Democracy violates its sacred formula of “Freedom indissolubly joined with Equality.” It is shown that this apparently equal distribution of “freedom” among all involves the total destruction of equality. Each vote, representing an inconsiderable fragment of power, by itself signifies nothing; an aggregation of votes alone has a relative value. The result may be likened to the general meetings of shareholders in public companies. By themselves individuals are ineffective, but he who controls a number of these fragmentary forces is master of all power, and directs all decisions and dispositions. We may well ask in what consists the superiority of Democracy. Everywhere the strongest man becomes master of the State; sometimes a fortunate and resolute general, sometimes a monarch or administrator with knowledge, dexterity, a clear plan of action, and a determined will. In a Democracy, the real rulers are the dexterous manipulators of votes, with their placemen, the mechanics who so skilfully operate the hidden springs which move the puppets in the arena of democratic elections. Men of this kind are ever ready with loud speeches lauding equality; in reality, they rule the people as any despot or military dictator might rule it. The extension of the right to participate in elections is regarded as progress and as the conquest of freedom by democratic theorists, who hold that the more numerous the participants in political rights, the greater is the probability that all will employ this right in the interests of the public welfare, and for the increase of the freedom of the people. Experience proves a very different thing. The history of mankind bears witness that the most necessary and fruitful reforms—the most durable measures—emanated from the supreme will of statesmen, or from a minority enlightened by lofty ideas and deep knowledge, and that, on the contrary, the extension of the representative principle is accompanied by an abasement of political ideas and the vulgarisation of opinions in the mass of the electors. It shows also that this extension—in great States—was inspired by secret aims to the centralisation of power, or led directly to dictatorship. In France, universal suffrage was suppressed with the end of the Terror, and was re-established twice merely to affirm the autocracy of the two Napoleons. In Germany, the establishment of universal suffrage served merely to strengthen the high authority of a famous statesman who had acquired popularity by the success of his policy. What its ultimate consequences will be, Heaven only knows!
The manipulation of votes in the game of Democracy is of the commonest occurrence in most European states, and its falsehood, it would seem, has been exposed to all; yet few dare openly to rebel against it. The unhappy people must bear the burden, while the Press, herald of a supposititious public opinion, stifles the cry of the people with its shibboleth, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” But to an impartial mind, all this is nothing better than a struggle of parties, and a shuffling with numbers and names. The voters, by themselves inconsiderable unities, acquire a value in the hands of dexterous agents. This value is realised by many means—mainly, by bribery in innumerable forms, from gifts of money and trifling articles, to the distribution of places in the services, the financial departments, and the administration. Little by little a class of electors has been formed which lives by the sale of votes to one or another of the political organisations. So far has this gone in France, for instance, that serious, intelligent, and industrious citizens in immense numbers abstain from voting, through the difficulty of contending with the cliques of political agents. With bribery go violence and threats, and reigns of terror are organised at elections, by the help of which the respective cliques advance their candidates; hence the stormy scenes at electoral demonstrations, in which arms have been used, and the field of battle strewn with the bodies of the killed and wounded.
Organisation and bribery—these are the two mighty instruments which are employed with such success for the manipulation of the mass of electors. Such methods are in no way new. Thucydides depicts in vivid colours their employment in the ancient republics of Greece. The history of the Roman Republic presents monstrous examples of corruption as the chief instrument of factions at elections. But in our times a new means has been found of working the masses for political aims, and joining them in adventitious alliances by provoking a fictitious community of views. This is the art of rapid and dexterous generalisation of ideas, the composition of phrase and formulas, disseminated with the confidence of burning conviction as the last word of science, as dogmas of politicology, as infallible appreciations of events, of men, and of institutions. At one time it was believed that the faculty of analysing facts, and deducing general principles was the privilege of a few enlightened minds and deep thinkers; now it is considered an universal attainment, and, under the name of convictions, the generalities of political science have become a sort of current money, coined by newspapers and rhetoricians.
The faculty of seizing and assimilating on faith these abstract ideas has spread among the mass, and become infectious, more especially to men insufficiently or superficially educated, who constitute the great majority everywhere. This tendency of the people is exploited with success by politicians who seek power; the art of creating generalities serves for them as a most convenient instrument. All deduction proceeds by the path of abstraction; from a number of facts the immaterial are eliminated, the essential elements collated, classified, and general formulas deduced. It is plain that the justice and value of these formulas depend upon how many of the premises are essential, and how many of those eliminated are irrelevant. The speed and ease with which abstract conclusions are arrived at are explained by the unceremonious methods observed in this process of selection of relevant facts and in their treatment. Hence the great success of orators, and the extraordinary effect of the abstractions which they cast to the people. The crowd is easily attracted by commonplaces and generalities invested in sonorous phrases; it cares nothing for proof which is inaccessible to it; thus is formed unanimity of thought, an unanimity fictitious and visionary, but in its consequences actual enough. This is called the “voice of the people,” with the pendant, the “voice of God.” The ease with which men are drawn by commonplaces leads everywhere to extreme demoralisation of public thought, and to the weakening of the political sense of the people. Of this, France to-day presents a striking example, and England also has not escaped the infection.
The author is the great Russian statesman and reactionary Konstantin Pobedonostsev. The book is Reflections of a Russian Statesman. (A fascinating mix of cogent observations of the West, and impenetrable Orthodox mysticism—I recommend it highly.) The date is 1869. Is there anything in Pobedonostsev’s description of democracy that does not apply to the contest of Obama and McCain? Not that I can see. So much for the inevitable triumph of truth.
There is not a single significant American writer—even if you count Confederates as American, which is a big if—as right-wing as Pobedonostsev. He is to the right of everyone. He may even be to the right of Carlyle, even the old Carlyle who (two years earlier) produced the terrifying vision of Shooting Niagara. Well, we shot Niagara, all right, and Russia got her Parliament. For a few months. And as for Germany, the consequences are no longer Heaven’s secret.
We have moved no closer to answering Lenin’s question. But we have a better idea of what is not to be done.
A restoration can’t be produced by fascist violence and intimidation, because fascism today has no sympathizers in high places. It can’t be produced by democratic demagoguery, both because the concept itself would be corrupted by filtration through the mass mind, and because said mind is simply not smart enough to evaluate the proposition logically—and logic is its only strength. (It’s certainly not emotionally appealing.) Moreover, when democratic techniques are used to seize absolute power, the result is Hitler.
Yet at the same time, we can’t expect the truth to triumph on its own, because said truth has been floating around since the 1860s—at least—and it has gotten nowhere at all. And worst of all, the design is reliable only in the steady state. Even if the political energy to make it happen, without either thug intimidation or democratic hypnotism, can somehow be produced, there is no magical reason to expect the initial shareholders, who know nothing more about managing a country than you or I, to be free from politics, to choose a Receiver who knows his ass from his elbow, or even to let one who does know his ass from his elbow do his job.
So perhaps nothing can be done. We should just bend over and enjoy it. Do you, dear open-minded progressive (or other UR reader), have any suggestions?
An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives
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