Patchwork 3: what we have and what’s so bad about it
I started this story with the assumption that everyone reading it would already be a hardened veteran of UR’s brutal, disorienting assaults on everything that is good and decent and true. This is obviously a counterfactual. And even for many hardened veterans, I fear, Patchwork has proved a rough ride.
Here at UR we have a very different approach from most who would like to “change the world.” Rather than actually trying to market our designs, presumably by making them sound familiar, appealing and benevolent, we apply anti-spin. We strip off the fairing and present the cold, gritty gears of the naked machine. Our tone is at best neutral, at worst acid and nihilistic.
Why? Well, for one, it’s just more fun. Let’s be clear about this: UR is a blog. UR is not a cult, it is not a subversive underground organization, it is certainly not a political party. It is something I write for fun, and you read for fun. UR is part of the entertainment industry.
But if there is a strategy behind the anti-spin, it is to maximize the quality of UR’s audience, by minimizing the quantity. (Long posts help with this, too.) UR will not appeal to your heart. It will only appeal to your head. Which must then often overcome the stomach. To put it simply: if you don’t understand UR, you are very unlikely to believe it. And this is better for both of us.
On the other hand, there is no need to be mysterious. So, now that I’ve started to introduce this terrifying alternative, let me go back and explain why it’s needed. Call it a prequel.
Let’s start with a point of agreement: our goal, as people who live in a civilized modern society, is a system of government which is responsible. Good government is responsible government. The equivalence is a tautology. The question is: how shall we secure for ourselves the blessings of responsible government? Or as Pope put it:
For forms of government let fools contest; Whate’er is best administer’d is best:
Unless you had quite an unusual education, you grew up believing that the problem is solved: constitutional democracy is the best mechanism for producing responsible government. It certainly produces something. Let’s call this something, whatever it is, moral responsibility.
Here at UR, we see constitutional democracy as a sort of large hydatid cyst,1 cuddled gently in the skull alongside one’s actual neural tissue. The intrepid reader, with the instruments this blog provides, can extract the creature in the comfort and privacy of her own shower stall. As the neurosurgeon, Dr. Ahmad, notes: “The space was filled with saline at the end of operation.”
Which is certainly one option. But it leaves the patient a bit of a nihilist. The obvious drop-in replacement is royalism, of course—royalism is really just reverting the changes, as we say in my line of work. So here at UR we give it up for all royalists. (Fill the cavity with gold. This will be young Jasmeen’s college fund, as well as her skull ballast.)
For example, I have no hesitation in calling for the King of Thailand to throw off the reins of the transnationalists, obey the wishes of the people, and return the country to full independence and royal government. I have also previously noted that any corporate descendant of the old Union of England, Scotland and Ireland, including but not limited to West Virginia, is entitled to restore the Stuarts through the Princes of Liechtenstein. If you wonder what this would mean for you, personally, try the simple exercise of reading your quality local fishrag for a month, noting the top headline, and asking: “How would Hereditary Prince Alois handle this?”
But royalism, even if you stick a “neo-” on the front, is just too old-fashioned to appeal to some. So we also offer an extra decorative touch, available for a mere $19.95, in which the customer can fill her cyst’s void with our own synthetic organ of government. We call it neocameralism, and it is very fresh.
Neocameralism informs the surrounding neural tissue that the best mechanism for producing responsibility in government is for governments to be administered as sovereign joint-stock corporations, controlled absolutely by their shareholders, who hold the master encryption keys for the government’s invincible robot armies. At some risk of oxymoronism, this could be even be described as private government. It creates quite a different form of responsibility—financial responsibility.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that our so-called “cyst” could be a healthy, normal lobe of your brain. That our sinister, unapproved product could in fact insert a strange translucent, globelike parasite, which will control your destiny and lead you to an awful end. Ha ha! Yes, young Jedi, we are asking you to choose. Wield the red saber for the first time! Then visit our Sith Library, and learn the truth about this so-called “Council.” You already know what they say about us.
In other words, the financial responsibility created by joint-stock sovereignty would be much more desirable, in terms of quality of life for most residents, than the moral responsibility which we presently enjoy thanks to constitutional democracy. Or so I assert.
But this is a dangerous assertion, because history teaches us very quickly that there are many worse things than constitutional democracy. I claim to be encouraging you to exchange the path of evil for the road of enlightenment, but I could be doing just the opposite. And even if I’m not, the surgery I recommend is traumatic by definition. The procedure has never been attempted, let alone tested, and the implant is something I whipped up in my garage out of spare helicopter parts. On the other hand, do you really want to go through life with a worm in your head?
So let’s get down to details, and compare the moral responsibility of constitutional democracy with the financial responsibility of the sovereign joint-stock company. I think we can all agree that these are both legitimate forms of responsibility, and that they are very different. After 2008, no one can possibly accuse constitutional democracy of being a financially responsible form of government. Likewise, the neocameralist state is amoral by definition.
I don’t think there is much contest on the financial side of the ledger. Let’s consider morality.
The constitutional democratic state is an apparently immortal, monotonically expanding, and nontrivially morbid mass of personnel which proclaims itself the instrument of a single purpose: to inflict good upon the world. For traditional countries this affliction was at least limited to specified borders, but in the case of USG since 1945 it knows no bound. Washington operates on the principle of universal benevolence. Its ultimate aim is to benefit all people, anywhere and for all time. Doubtless if aliens were found on Jupiter, concern for their welfare would soon be felt on the Potomac.
A joint-stock sovereign is a clean, lean and mean revenue-extracting machine. Its goal: loot. Any well-run Patchwork realm is congenitally dedicated to the good old Marxist ideal of exploitation. It has no intrinsic sympathy for the aged, the crippled, the deformed, the useless. Into the biodiesel vats with them! Gold coins literally wrung from the hides of the unfortunate will cascade into the piggybanks of our obese, cigar-chomping shareholders.
Obviously, whatever you think of democracy, this is unacceptable. To mollify the conscience of the increasingly appalled reader, let me explain the logic of philanthropy in the financially responsible city-state. We will return to the broader contest of morals in a moment.
Government is like a nuclear reactor or a stem cell: perfect when it works properly, and lethal when it doesn’t. Like both, any design for a sovereign institution must depend on multiple independent safety mechanisms. If all safeguards fail, something unacceptable will happen—by definition. If all but one fail, the result may not be desirable, but it will not be unacceptable.
So let’s look at the safety mechanisms that prevent the healthy Patchwork city-state from turning into its evil twin, with the biodiesel vats. By my count, there are three.
The outermost mechanism is mere PR. “Don’t be evil” is the automatic slogan of every private government. At the sovereign level, Google’s motto would not even be a winner, because to even mention evil is suspicious—like a sign outside a restaurant, promising an absence of rats.
At least in normal conditions of inter-patch peace and harmony, every Patchwork realm should positively exude rectitude and benevolence. This will of course infect its corporate culture. Perhaps it is possible to imagine Disneyland committing genocide. But it would have to be a very different Disneyland than the one we have right now. They would certainly have to replace at least half the employees.
At the financial level the realm must remember, however, that its concern is not with actual benevolence, but simply with the appearance of benevolence. Fortunately, image is cheap. Not screwing up image is cheaper—it costs you nothing, as long you don’t screw up. And, best of all, evil, while it really screws up image, just isn’t that profitable.
Once you factor in even a tiny image effect, it is surprisingly difficult to devise any scenario that generates ROI out of pure, balls-to-the-wall, straight-out evil. For example, we’ll be lucky if we can squeeze $25 worth of industrial fats out of Granny’s cadaver. They say no publicity is bad publicity—but they lie. So why not just run our buses on dinosaurs, the old-fashioned way, and keep Granny in her pen with the automatic monkey-chow dispenser?
Perhaps you see mere PR as a weak line of defense, and it would be hard to disagree. Fortunately, it is only one of three. But the factor is real: a sovereign is a sovereign, and no government can be entirely without paternal graces. No one in a sane society will be rendered into diesel, or even be allowed to starve to death for lack of productive earning power. Perhaps there are enough Randians on the planet for one city-state, but probably not two. Otherwise, it just won’t happen, and keeping it from happening is just one of the realm’s many business expenses. Granny’s monkey-chow skims off the merest tablespoon of the rich butter which the realm churns metaphorically, rather than literally, from its residents’ hard-working flesh.
We arrive at the next safety barrier: mere private philanthropy.
It is interesting to note the way in which one sniffs at mere private philanthropy. This is the thinking of the twentieth century, the century of welfare. This was a word with only positive connotations—until the twentieth century got its hands on it.
Another word for private philanthropy, with different negative connotations, is charity. Charity was of course one of the principal obligations of the medieval ecclesiastical establishment, the other two being education and adult instruction. In consonance with the general 20th-century pattern in which State has captured the role of Church, thus effecting the merger of the two by different means, most of us today perceive charity as a sovereign function.
And thus we trivialize any charitable establishment which is fully outside the State, as only the most hard-line of unreconstructed ecclesiasts are today. (Nonprofits in the US today tend to fund themselves via a mix of donations with government grants, contracts, etc.)
However, we can measure the demand for charity (meaning, of course, the demand for the production of philanthropy, not for its services) by the benchmark of government itself. Americans today by and large consider their taxes neither too high nor too low, and certainly the left half of the electorate is inclined to feel that Washington should raise even more revenue to do even more. Since Americans also see their government as a general-purpose agency for the doing of good—a sovereign charity—we can measure their demand for philanthropy by noting the absence of significant political resistance to their present tax rate. (Moreover, if you are critical of this methodology, note than any assertion that present tax rates are obtained by chicanery, rather than genuine consent, hardly constitutes a defense of modern democracy.)
The traditional contribution for charity was of course the tithe, or ten percent of income. It was over a century into Washington’s existence before it figured out how to exact anything like a tithe, but eventually as it morphed into the Church of Everything it mitigated this deficiency. Unfortunately, there is no word which is as cool as “tithe,” but means “40%.” In any case, even in the brutal, inefficient, and decidedly untechnological Middle Ages, 10% has been considered an ample level of productivity for a civilized society to donate to the needs of the unfortunate.
Furthermore, private charity has enormous advantages over welfare. The voluntary nature of the contact between provider and recipient frees the former to assume authority, informal or formal, over the latter. If you don’t want to be ordered around, you are free to starve, or at least go to prison. In prison you will certainly be ordered around. If you are not competent to provide for your own existence, you become by definition a dependent of whomever is willing to provide for you.
And with dependency comes authority, the patria potestas. Since you are not responsible for yourself, whatever charitable agency or other party has taken charge of you is now your legal guardian, putting you essentially in the position of a child. Moreover, your guardian is also responsible for any offenses you may commit. There are no irresponsible or feral humans in a Patchwork realm, unless this is some perverse lifestyle feature it sees fit to provide.
As we can see, the second safety barrier is considerably stronger than the third. Moreover, we are about to arrive at the first safety barrier, which cements the second and can be regarded as a complete refutation of social democracy.
Consider the thinking of the social democrat. To him, as previously mentioned, government is a sovereign and universal charity. Its purpose is to use its resources to do good works. These resources are derived, obviously, from the same source as with all governments—taxation. The wisdom of the people, through the magic of democracy, guides said sovereign and universal charity to use its resources efficiently for good works, not inefficiently for evil works. (Or, worst, efficiently for evil works.) This is our vaunted moral responsibility.
Any neocameralist who wanders by can observe that this system is easy to improve, in two ways.
One, the people are not wise and the magic of democracy does not exist. Therefore, we should not rely on the wisdom of the people for anything, and we should eliminate the superfluous electoral component of the design.
Specifically, we should definitely not rely on the wisdom of the people to either (a) formulate public policy, or (b) allocate budgets. Fortunately, this point is hardly debatable. If you listen to NPR you already believe that budget and policy should be held virginal from the awful contamination of politics, and if you don’t listen to NPR your opinion is of negligible importance in the budget and policy process.
Once this change is applied, allocations for good works as a percentage of disposable spending are constant. So, for example, the environment gets 10% of USG’s disposable spending (i.e., spending which is not essential to the production of future revenue), AIDS gets 5%, education of children with Down’s syndrome gets 3%, the spiny echidna gets 1%, or whatever.
Note that (a) these figures are relatively constant anyway, due to the natural push and pull of the budgeting process (my mother did budget and policy at DoE, so I do know a thing or two about “zero-based budgeting,” that unicorn of the Potomac); and (b) keeping them actually constant eliminates a very, very large number of meetings. If “change” must be provided for, a leftover slice of the budget can be allocated to a miscellaneous fund.
But wait! There is another name for “disposable spending.” The name is profit. And these “shares” of the budget also seem… familiar.
In fact, we have improved our constitutional democracy so completely that we have turned it into a neocameralist joint-stock company. And we have not harmed the funding or organization of charity even slightly. To the contrary—we have freed it from bushels of red tape.
The trick is that we’ve converted an argument about what the government should do, into an argument about who should hold the government’s shares. But this decision is way above my pay grade, because the initial share allocation must be performed by whoever actually creates the government. While this is completely independent of the design, I’m pretty confident that any conversion of a constitutional democracy into a joint-stock corporation will include a high level of continuity from charitable budget allocations in the democracy, to share allocations in the corporation.
Consider an indubitably worthy recipient of philanthropic funding, NIH. NIH’s budget is $30 billion or so. If we separate NIH completely from the State and convert its budget, for which it must fight every year, into State shares producing dividends or other payments of $30 billion every year, what has changed?
NIH is happier, because it now has $30 billion with no strings attached. Certainly the guidance of Congress, or whatever, does not assist NIH in doing its job. Quite the contrary! The less political and bureaucratic interference it receives, the better. We have just reduced this to zero, so NIH is happy. Moreover, it is even happier because this payment stream is presumably produced by shares, bonds, or other negotiable instruments, which NIH can sell and diversify. Thus creating a well-structured endowment for the long-term funding of biomedical research.
As for the payers of the $30 billion, they pay whatever they pay. So this transformation—which can be applied to any charity or entitlement, at least any which does not depend on the sovereign authority of the state in order to do its good works—is a Pareto optimization. And it eliminates the phenomenon of official charity, the hallmark of social democracy. QED.
Again, it is easy to apply this fix to entitlements, such as Social Security or Medicare. For Social Security, it is Granny rather than NIH which is owed a payment stream. For Medicare, the State can go from providing medical care to purchasing an insurance policy, and from purchasing an insurance policy to providing the payment stream needed to purchase a policy. Both these changes are Pareto optimizations, and they end up back at financial responsibility.
Therefore: if you are setting up something like a Patchwork realm, and you are worried that its residents will not donate sufficient alms to fund good works, assign some percentage of the realm’s shares (or bonds, or other securities) to those same good works. Problem solved. So why do we have social democracy? Ah. If only it would tell us.
So. Having refuted the hypothesis that democracy is what it says it is, let’s have a look at what it actually is.
Being a completely uneducated person, I do not know Latin or Greek. But I do have a favorite Latin word: imperium. As in “imperialist,” of course, and other such Maoist terms of abuse. As I am already on record as a reactionary, I will cheerfully confess to being an imperialist as well.
Imperium is a cognate of the English word empire. But the two are not synonyms: empire in English has shifted to imply the international relationship also known as suzerainty, i.e., the relationship between Washington and its puppet states. Which is pretty cool, but which is at best a special case of imperium, which is better translated as command or authority. Similarly, the Roman title of Imperator, which became our Emperor, is best translated as Commander, and originally just meant “general.”
To hold imperium is to command, to hold sovereignty. Sovereignty, as we saw in Chapter 2, is not sovereignty unless it is above the law. In any organization we can identify the summum imperium, or power of final decision. At least at a civilian level, this is generally held by either an individual or a small committee. For example, in the United States, this committee is called the “Supreme Court.” In the Soviet Union it was called the “Politburo.” Of course these two institutions had very little else in common, but they both held the summum imperium.
If you doubt this analysis, note that only the justices’ own consciences, which have oft proved fickle, force them to obey any code of conduct whatsoever. They could order Barack Obama to stand on his head and snap a Polaroid of his own rectum in order to be inaugurated. He would have to comply, and I am quite confident that he is capable of doing so.
Despite all protests to the contrary, constitutional democracy has neither squared the circle nor solved the old Roman problem of ipsos custodes. Whatever the names and rituals, real power in the state can always be tracked. Let’s look in more detail at the power structure of constitutional democracy, using our old friend USG as the example. (Its clones around the world differ little.)
Imperium always comes in layers of delegation, in which one power relinquishes decisions to another. At the top level—level zero, as it were—is always the military. The US military is of course a large and diverse entity, but imagine it could find some way to agree unanimously that sovereignty, the summum imperium, would revert to some specific office in the Pentagon. SOCOM is a good candidate.
What would people do? What could they do? They would say: “Duh, okay. We welcome our new green-beret overlords. Sure. Frankly, we were a little electioned-out, anyway. And Professor Bernanke no longer enjoys our complete confidence. So, yeah, whatever. Could we resume normal programming now? I was watching VH-1, here.”
Ergo, the military in all countries and at all times enjoys the summum imperium. In a state in which normal civil–military relations pertain, the military is completely passive, and delegates its authority completely. In a few less-devolved states, such as modern Turkey, it still exercises genuine reserve power, and may have some influence on civil decisions. (Sadly, the fabled deep state may be on the decline since the Ergenekon purge.)
I am sorry to report to critics of the American right, such as Naomi Wolf, that the United States does not in fact have a “deep state.” However, if the American right wanted to actually get off its butt and do something, it could find many worse manuals than her latest. Of course it will execute no such coup, at least no time soon. Ever since Defoe wrote the Shortest-Way, the conspiracy theories of leftists have been the best guide to what the right should do, but won’t.
The next layer of imperium in a democratic state—layer one—is, of course, the electorate. I.e., the people who vote. My belief that the electorate holds a high degree of imperium is not at all inconsistent with my belief that the influence of elections on public policy is generally small. The same after all can be said of the military, whose vote is final but at present unexercised.
The electorate and the military are layers one and zero, because the military can resist anyone in the contest for sovereignty, and the electorate can resist everyone but the military. For example, control of 51 senators and the Presidency is sufficient to defeat all other institutions in USG, because it is sufficient to pack the Supreme Court. Obviously, the electorate can achieve this.
It may not even need the senators. Consider the case of a Presidential candidate whose platform is plain about her plans: if elected, she will suspend all other institutions and rule as a dictator. Suppose Sarah Palin, for example, ran on this platform in 2012. Suppose she won. Does anyone doubt that Washington would obey her every personal whim—exactly as it obeyed, say, FDR’s? I suppose it would depend on whether Governor Palin has the natural knack of imperium, and we can’t know this unless we actually see her in action. But I actually suspect she might.
We move to the next stage: level two, ultimate civil authority. The summum imperium here rests, as mentioned, in the Supreme Court, and more generally the judicial system. Judges try to avoid actually formulating public policy, however, typically delegating this task to executive agencies. Domestic and (rarely) foreign policy is sometimes altered, in broad strokes, by Congress. There are also various differences depending on whether the President is a Democrat or a Republican, but we are down to minutiae at this point.
When we look at the remarkable stability of Washington, even in pursuing paths which to the outside eye are plainly, even comically, counterproductive, we have to focus our attention first on level one: the electorate. The opinion of the electorate is exactly what it is supposed to be: the hinge of power in the United States today. Level zero is passive. Level two cannot resist level one.
Therefore, to understand the forces directing the actions of Washington today, we have to understand one thing: the relationship between levels one and two, the electorate and the (mostly) permanent government.
Who are these voters, anyway? There are innumerable ways to classify the American voter, at least half of which UR has already indulged in. But I hate to repeat myself, so let’s try to come up with something new.
One way to ask how American voters will vote is to consider what they are trying to accomplish when they go to the ballot box. Obviously, they are making an altruistic attempt to affect the direction of government policy. (The attempt is altruistic because no voter seriously expects his or her vote to affect his or her life.) Obviously, few of them have anything near an understanding of what Washington actually is—most have only a dim grasp of even the official story. But still, they are thinking something when they fill in the box for the R or the D. What is it?
There are basically three ways in which American voters—or voters anywhere in the world, for that matter—conceptualize their participation in democracy. From the bottom up, we can label these modes tribal, populist, and institutionalist.
Tribal voters vote on the basis of ethnic and familial identity. In one very legitimate sense, they are the most rational voters around. A tribal voter is acting collectively to benefit his or her tribe. This group can be hereditary, adoptive, occupational, etc., as long as it feels some sort of collective cohesion or asabiyya.
In a civilized, stable democracy, only a minority of voters can be tribal. If you want to see a democracy with a tribal majority, I give you South Africa. As a minority, tribal voting blocs generally serve as vote banks for more dominant players. The tribal bloc or blocs become clients of whichever party is strong enough to buy their votes. This can be done as straight-out, lawless graft, or by steering various benefits—payments, loans, jobs, etc.—to members and/or leaders of the tribe.
Our second group of voters is the populist group. When populists vote, they are trying to compel the government to act in accordance with their own beliefs, generally derived from a mixture of common sense, tradition and personal experience, of what is right for a government to do.
Populists voters are people who genuinely believe in democracy. They believe that the way Washington works is that the people elect a President, who “runs the country.” I once had an email exchange with a very successful, and quite erudite, populist political blogger who did not understand that President Bush cannot fire a State Department employee just because that employee is openly trying to sabotage White House initiatives.
This is an excellent example of the level of complete structural misconception that a populist voter can entertain when attempting to vote. If populists had any idea at all of how Washington actually works, they would not continue to participate in the increasingly farcical elections by which they repeatedly endorse it.
The fact of the matter is that Washington as it exists today, 21st-century Washington, is designed to resist populist politics in roughly the same way that a lighthouse is designed to resist waves. The entire thrust of 20th-century American government has been to separate public policy from politics, i.e., to eliminate the menace of democracy. If you read about what American politics was a century ago, this program—originally the program of the Mugwumps, and then of various flavors of liberal and progressive, including of course the New Deal—is perfectly understandable.
The problem is basically solved. Populist resistance, à la Poujadisme, no longer exists in Washington’s test facilities in Western Europe, now governed largely by a central administration which has no discernible ties to any democratic election. At present, the primary distinction between the EU and the late Soviet Union is that the latter was much more Russian, thus exhibiting a mixture of incompetence and brutality that is hard to duplicate west of the Elbe. But give it a few years.
Populism still has a solid position in the American political system, but it is fading rapidly, as is the importance of politics. The Obama administration seems set to be an almost entirely ceremonial one—at least, the President-elect has displayed no strong evidence of any fixed opinions on any subject. Even the populism of the Bush administration is greatly overstated; a significant minority of the American foreign-policy establishment supported the invasion of Iraq, which was neither an explosion of jingoist fervor, nor the President’s personal whim, nor the conspiracy of some Texan “deep state.”
The basic advantage of populism is that, if the claimed virtues of democracy are anywhere, they are here. Common sense and plain thinking, in a reasonably intelligent brain, are remarkably immune to the ethereal delusions that so easily infect the brilliant and educated. However, common sense cannot exist without tradition. The best traditions of the American populist voter are steadily being eroded by an educational system that populists do not control, and his worst traditions are steadily being exacerbated by churches and talk-radio networks that populists do control.
The entire political structure of the American populist tradition is set up to select for ignorance and stupidity, and select against organization and cohesion. Thus it is simultaneously undesirable and ineffective, and even those of us who like myself sympathize with it to a considerable degree are often slightly relieved to see it lose, as it always does.
Even when populists win Presidential elections, they simply have no way to control Washington. Even with Congress and the Presidency, the White House has no real authority over the civil service, who outside the military are institutionalist by definition. The “Reagan Revolution” started out as a populist tsunami designed to smash the New Deal, and turned into nothing at all. Nixon’s “silent majority” met an even more inglorious fate. At most a few token populist policies can be advanced. Populists can of course disrupt the institutional bowels of the state, leading to a sort of policy constipation, but like the old House of Lords, their only real power is to delay.
Since populists have no idea of any of this, they participate enthusiastically in the sham. Sometimes they win a little, but in the end they always lose. And they are such gentlemen about it, too. Somehow no one has ever explained to Middle America that if you don’t know who the sucker at the table is, the sucker is you.
And finally we come to our ruling class, the institutionalists. Institutionalism, as previously mentioned, is an essentially aristocratic belief system. The institutionalist voter votes not because she believes government policies should be decided at the ballot box, but because she believes they shouldn’t.
Rather, she believes that government policies should be determined by a set of official and quasiofficial agencies which have earned her trust permanently and completely, the way a good Catholic trusts the Vatican. Following the analogy, here at UR we refer to this meta-institution as the Cathedral.2 The Cathedral consists of the educational organs: public schools, the universities and the press.3 Its spires are the Ivy League and the New York Times, whose faculty and news desk respectively are endowed with an almost pure connection to the Inner Light—lesser institutions, of course, following their lead.
It is not that the institutionalist voter does not believe in democracy. She does believe in democracy. She believes passionately in democracy. But her democracy is very different from the democracy of her mortal enemy, the populist.
To the institutionalist, the way democracy works is that democracy depends on the educated voter. The voter is to be educated by institutionalists, of course, because institutionalists are right. Some level of ignorance and recalcitrance can be expected, and there will always be dissent, but through this cycle of education and election we are always advancing into the future. The reason we have elected officials is not so that they can manage the government, a task which must of course be left to the experts (who are institutionalists, of course). Rather, officials such as the President are essentially educational figures, participating in a public discourse in which the “bully pulpit”—an oddly revealing term—delivers further education. In turn, by electing a good President, the voters demonstrate the depth of their educated wisdom. Und so weiter.
Note the function of populist and tribal voters in the institutionalist’s mind. The populist electorate supplies the bogeyman. The fear of a populist takeover, which is theoretically always a possibility and has even happened once or twice in history (e.g., Nazi Germany), can keep even the most jaded of institutionalist voters coming back to the polls. Even though it never seems to actually happen. Moreover, the populists are barraged by a flood of institutionalist messages more or less from birth to death. They are naturally resistant, but the programming wears them down over time.
Meanwhile, the tribals, who are votes for rent, will always support the institutionalist bloc (and may even make up a majority of their support, though at a certain level this becomes dangerous). Their votes are guaranteed in exchange for permanent government programs, administered by institutionalists, that render them dependent on the Cathedral’s rule for their lives and livelihoods.
As for the institution itself—the Cathedral—it is, except in its majestic extent and intricacy, not unusual by any historical standard. The Cathedral is a selective aristocracy, which is more or less the way China was run for about 2500 years. It is also the way the Soviet Union was run, the way the Catholic Church was run, the way China today is run, and the way Nazi Germany probably would have been run if we still had a Nazi Germany to kick around. As in all these institutions, rank and place in it is in high demand, and those who rise to the top are men and women of no mean capacity.
However, there is just one little problem: the Cathedral is not responsible. At least, if it is responsible, we cannot detect any mechanism by which it is responsible.
What compels the Cathedral to devise and promulgate good and effective policies, rather than evil or counterproductive ones? If there is an answer to this question, I cannot discern it. If there is an external or internal mechanism which can correct any errors which may occur in the Cathedral—for example, a completely corrupt and meretricious field of learning, a discipline of institutionalized crackpottery, as Lysenko created in Russia—I cannot find it.
I cannot even identify some reserved power which can remove the Cathedral if it goes completely off the rails. Certainly nothing short of a titanic populist explosion or a military coup can dislodge institutionalism for good. The first cure may be worse than the disease, and the second is a complete unknown and shows no signs of being a real possibility. And while the Cathedral’s energumens, levels one and two in concert, hold their lock on power, it is free to go as far off the rails as it wants.
Thus, there is no responsibility. The chain of guardians stretches up to Harvard, where it is tied to nothing and is guarded by itself. Consider the possibility, for example, that the people we call “economists” in fact know nothing at all about economics. Is this farfetched? After October 2008, can we call this farfetched? And if it isn’t, what other worms are in your brain?