A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations (part 5)
I feel we are ready for our portrait of USG in the large—what she is, and how she came to be.
Obviously, I can’t conceal my opinion of the beast before us. Perhaps Goya put it best:
Goya left no captions for his Black Paintings, so we have no way of knowing whether or not he meant to call this one Democracy. Events of the last week,1 however, have shown that Goya got one thing wrong. The black-robed figure is no goat at all—but a great, horn-crowned hog.
But in speaking so ill of any great thing, we must speak with great precision and care. What, exactly, is our hog-devil? In what coarse sty was it spawned? And what foul work betrays it?
For example: if USG has any material existence, it must in some sense consist of the people who work for it. Both my parents and my stepfather were career employees of USG. If they ever donned robes and animal masks for any dark, nocturnal rite of evil, they’ve hid it well.
While it’s true that the average USG employee is probably not best described as a sensible, decent and capable person, exceptions are everywhere. And USG has no shortage of tentacles in which the exception becomes the rule—notably, the military.
For example: if we despise USG, what shall we make of its flag? As we know, the storied banner of the Republic is no more than the corporate logo of a malstructured sovereign. Liquidate the corporation, and what becomes of its brand? Shall the Stars and Stripes wave nevermore o’er the windy air? Yet where are the E. F. Huttons of yesteryear?
The answer is simple. Sovereign corporations are not to be liquidated. Sovereign liquidation means anarchy, and there is no political form more dangerous. In small doses or in large, anarchy is destruction of capital. Those who worship it, pray to a goat.
Peter Oliver and Thomas Hutchinson, America’s reactionary founding fathers, often called their party the “friends of government,” and perhaps a systematic opposition to anarchy (with its inevitable concomitant, anarcho-tyranny) could describe itself as archism. For example, when you start spouting Moldbuggian nonsense and people accuse you of being a fascist, you can say, no, actually, I’m an archist. Will it keep your neck from the rope? Doubtful, but try it anyway.
USG is by no means an inherently unprofitable operation. It is anything but a candidate for liquidation. All it needs is new management. All assets and operations are preserved—at least, until the new management figures out what to do with them. This certainly includes the flag, and all other heraldic attributes of sovereignty. These are part of USG’s capital, and no small part.
No—the program of the archist is not destruction, but restoration. A more palatable synonym, perhaps, for our grand design of thorough and uncompromising reaction, which will reforge the sword of the State and spread peace, order and security across the democracy-scarred earth. Indeed you will learn to welcome your new, reactionary overlords… but I digress.
Our quarrel with USG, obviously, is not with the American continent or its population, nor with USG’s employees; and nor with its symbols. So what remains? Why the Goya?
Answer: the hog-devil in USG is its constitution. Note the small c. Sadly, it is impossible to salvage the word constitution, small c, from its Orwellian fate. But we will pretend to try for a moment—if just to parse the scene of the crime.
Like most American political doxology, the word constitution comes from British politics. (In general, if any American wants to understand any phenomenon in American history pre-1940 or so, a good exercise for clearing the mind is to see it again through the eyes of London.)
Britain, of course, is famous for its unwritten constitution—a phrase that strikes the worm-gnawed American brain as oxymoronic. In fact, unwritten constitution is a tautology. It is our written constitution—or large-C Constitution—which is a concept comical, impossible, and fundamentally fraudulent. Please allow me to explain.
England had a constitution well before America had a Constitution, and De Quincey (whose political journalism is remarkably underrated) defines the concept succinctly:
…the equilibrium of forces in a political system, as recognised and fixed by distinct political acts…
In other words, a government’s constitution (small c) is its actual structure of power. The constitution is the process by which the government formulates its decisions. When we ask why government G made decision D1 to take action A1, or decision D2 not to take action A2, we inquire as to its constitution.
Thus the trouble with these written constitutions. If the Constitution is identical to the constitution, it is superfluous. If the Constitution is not identical to the constitution, it is deceptive. There are no other choices.
It’s easy to show that the latter is the case for USG. For example, the two-party system is clearly part of USG’s constitution. But not only does the Constitution not mention political parties, the design notes indicate an intention to preclude them. Obviously this was not successful.
For another example, American law schools teach something called constitutional law, a body of judicial precedent which purports to be a mere elucidation of the text of the Constitution. Yet no one seriously believes that an alien, reading the Constitution, would produce anything like the same results. Moreover, the meta-rules on which constitutional law rests, such as stare decisis, are entirely unwritten, and have been violated in patterns not best explained by theories of textual interpretation. Thus the small ‘c’ in constitutional law is indeed correct.
In retrospect, the written-constitution design is another case of the pattern of wishful thinking that appears over and over again in the democratic mind. From the perspective of a subject, political stability is a highly desirable quality in a sovereign. We should all be ruled by governments whose constitution does not change. The error is to assume that this outcome can be achieved by simply inscribing a desirable constitution. This is a quick dive off the pons asinorum of political engineering, the quis custodiet problem.
If the constitution is in fact stable, inscribing it (while a prudent clerical task) makes it no more stable. If the constitution is not in fact stable, the equilibrium of forces can shift away from the original intent of the designers, and the inscription becomes a fraud.
An obstacle, in fact, to any real understanding of the actual constitution. Which, as we’ll see, is so heinous that it needs every bit of camouflage it can get. And thus the bug becomes a feature.
But this distinction is too important to hang on a single capital. So let us discard the old word, and pick a new one to mean what De Quincey meant, the equilibrium of forces: structure. USG, though damned, is great, and merits the majuscule. And because it changes—though not much, these days—we must specify the period.
Thus we have a new name for our robed boar-god: the Modern Structure. In this chapter, we’re going to examine the nature and origins of the Modern Structure. Both will be found equally foul.
First, let’s describe the fundamental engineering flaw in the Modern Structure. This bug is so easy to see that even the New York Times can see it. Of course, our columnist is addressing the governance of fish, not hominids, but note that nothing in his logic depends on scales, gills, or fins:
Since the mid-’50s, economists who study fisheries have basically understood the fate that has befallen these waters. They call it the tragedy of the commons.
If a fish population is controlled by a single, perfectly rational agent—an idealized entity economists refer to as “the sole owner”—he or she will manage it to maximize its total value over time. For almost every population, that means leaving a lot of fish in the water, where they can continue to make young fish. The sole owner, then, will cautiously withdraw the biological equivalent of interest, without reducing the capital—the healthy population that remains in the sea.
But if the fish population is available to many independent parties, competition becomes a driving concern. If I don’t extract as much as I can today, there’s no guarantee you won’t take everything tomorrow. Sure, in a perfect world, you and I would trust each other, exercise restraint, and in the long run, grow wealthier for it, but I’d better just play it safe and get those fish before you do. The race for fish ensues, and soon, the tragedy of the commons has struck.
I.e.: if you are a fish, you want all fish to be owned by a King of Fishermen. So long as our Fisher King is rational, this “single owner” will govern his fisheries with a strong and kindly hand, maximizing returns over an infinite time horizon, bringing peace, freedom and prosperity to cod, pollock, and sea-bass alike.
But if we fracture this coherent authority into two competing authorities, each can gain by stealing fish from the other. The more authority is fractured, the more predatory it becomes. Thus, the infallible recipe for a sadistic and predatory state: internal competition for power. (Hominids, unlike fish, respond well to fences, so geographical fragmentation is not inconsistent with coherent authority—the ocean partitioned, as it were, into artificial lakes.)
Congratulations. You’ve just rediscovered the logic of Sir Robert Filmer—just 321 years too late. (Lord Wharton’s puppies, indeed!)2 And where, dear Times reader, does this place you on the political spectrum?
Well—let’s say that Barack Obama is yellow light, and John McCain is green light. George W. Bush is blue light. Trent Lott is violet. Pat Buchanan is ultraviolet. Hitler is an X-ray. Filmer is a freakin’ gamma ray shot out of some vast, galaxy-munching black hole on the other side of the friggin’ universe. He’s so right-wing, you need special equipment just to observe him.
And yet: the logic works the same for fish as for people. And we can see it work for fish. We have the pictures. In the New York Times. Pretty little sea cucumbers, flourishing, under the care of wise Indian chiefs.
And note, strangest of all, that your democratic mind, or parasite, or whatever it is, believes in exactly the opposite principle. Not coherent authority—but fragmented authority.
For example: Montesquieu’s little device, “checks and balances.” More generally, you are instinctively distrustful of any concentration of sovereign authority into one hand or a few, and instinctively trustful of political architectures that involve as many actors as possible in the choice and formulation of government policy.
Which is exactly the right way to ensure that you, as subjects of said government, are trawled into undersea deserts by mile-long bottom-scraping Taiwanese gill-nets. As indeed we see. What explains this remarkable, centuries-old divergence between logic and opinion?
There’s an easy answer. Consider the incentives of the fishermen in an ocean under fractured authority. They are not friends. Each strives to strip the sea before his neighbor arrives. But there is one principle they can agree on: that fragmentation of authority is good.
Why? Because any consolidation of authority must involve stripping at least one player of the power to fish. Any consensus that this is undesirable is a basis for cooperation among all, and is likely to achieve social popularity, regardless of truth. Hominids have been living in tribal societies for the better part of ten million years. They are very good at cooperation games.
For example: if political power is split between Commons, Lords, and Crown, it is easy to construct a settlement in which each of Commons, Lords, and Crown acknowledges the division of authority and promises not to infringe it. While each party will of course struggle to evade this settlement and gain absolute power—note that we don’t hear much from the Lords or the Crown these days—the doctrine of benign fragmentation is one all can endorse, even though it is the converse of truth.
Acton was exactly wrong: it is not absolute, but partial power that corrupts. More precisely, it is partial authority not formally matched with partial responsibility. Formal shareholders experience no such conflict of interest—that is, their interests do not conflict with each others’, nor with the interests of the firm as a whole. And corruption depends on conflict of interest.
For example: if the “sole owner,” our Fisher King, decides to sell out to a giant Japanese conglomerate, said conglomerate will run the fishery in just the same way. Its shareholders are not likely to descend on the reef with their own spearguns—and if some try, the rest will stop them. Few corporations afford any special treatment to shareholders who are also customers.
Of course, we are assuming that actors in this structure respond rationally to incentives. But these relationships exist in the real world today, albeit without the sovereign twist, and they appear to be conducted for the most part sensibly. We are certainly not making the mistake of appealing to anyone’s philanthropic motives, although one can expect that in an environment of peace, order and security, genuine philanthropy will flourish.
Thus we see a feedback loop between the idea of fragmented power, and the structure itself. Those who hold some fragment of power are natural believers in the fragmentation of power, because in any return to coherent authority all but one fragment-holder must be dispossessed. Believing in their cause, they will work to further it, and destroy any concentrations of authority.
Fragmentation of authority already exhibits a ratchet effect. Power fractures easily. Those with it are human; they grow old, retire, die. Power must be passed on, and it is as easy to pass to many as one. It is a sweet thing, however, and not often relinquished. And for the fragments to come back together, one with power must transfer that power to another with it. This happens easily as a consequence of violence, and not easily otherwise.
Thus we see two unidirectional effects—ratchets, arrows, etc.—that should lead, as time advances, to fragmentation of sovereign authority. Boltzmann’s law, anyone?
Indeed it is quite reasonable to describe coherent (or, in democratic parlance, “absolute”) authority as orderly, and divergent (or, in democratic parlance, “plural,” “open,” “inclusive,” etc.) authority as disorderly. The trend from coherent to divergent is thus a case of entropy.
Cancer, corrosion, infection, and putrefaction are all entropic processes. If the gradual decline, across the last two centuries, of coherent authority (in democratic parlance, “progress”) belongs on this list, I feel the Goya analogy is at least half sold.
Note, for example, the predicted endpoint of fragmentation: universal suffrage. At the start of the entropic process, the State has one owner, guardian, and trustee: the Crown. At the end of the process, an equally microscopic sliver of authority is entrusted to every resident who, without too much comedy, can be portrayed as capable of using it responsibly.
In a universal-suffrage democracy, the voter is quite literally a part-time government employee. Unpaid, untrained and unmanaged, he nonetheless has his place on the org chart. (From the archist perspective, this is the fundamental error of confusing the guests with the staff.)
Thanks to our fish logic, we would expect universal-suffrage democracy to manage its capital very badly. We would expect to see a high level of autopredation in this system, with coalitions of voters cooperating to strip-mine the sea in which they themselves swim, Peter robbing Paul and Paul robbing Peter, etc., etc.
And, despite this result, we would still expect to see the doctrine of fragmentation widely espoused and propounded. And in both cases, experience matches deduction.
So the ritual self-congratulation of democracy, the entire theory of progress, is a fraudulent edifice constructed to rationalize what is in fact a decline. Thus we should see a decrease in the quality of government, and especially in the cohesion of authority, across what the official story describes as periods of great progress.
And we indeed see this effect. For example, across the 20th century, we see crime rates in Great Britain rise by roughly a factor of 50 (offenses per capita known to the police). If this isn’t a breakdown in both quality of government and cohesion of authority, I don’t know what is. Similarly, the period has experienced unprecedented progress. South Africa has also experienced great progress in the recent past, and we see how that worked out.
But is all this sufficient to explain USG? Obviously, USG is a universal-suffrage democracy—despite hanging chads, archaic Constitutional doohickeys, minor campaign-finance irregularities, etc. And obviously, it is quite disorderly and becoming more so. So is this a sufficient description of the Modern Structure? Have we solved the problem?
Sadly, we’re not even close. We have hardly lifted the hem of Goya’s beast. Even if you are an experienced reader of UR, the facts of the matter are far more horrible than you imagine. I mean: what else was the 20th century? A horror story. Why should we expect any regime which owes its existence to, say, um—the 1930s—to be any good at all?
But I am skipping ahead. First the theory—then the experience.
To describe a sovereign structure as a universal-suffrage democracy (USD) is to describe it incompletely. The set is somewhat bounded, but not so much as the democrat imagines. If X times 0 is 0, what is X?
The problem is that what we might call a pure democracy, a system in which actual power is distributed in exactly the same proportions that the democracy distributes nominal power, is so unstable and unlikely a proposition as to be ridiculous. If you doubt this, I recommend a tussle with Limits of Pure Democracy, by W. H. Mallock (hat tip: Deogolwulf). Mallock will beat you—kick your ass, break a chair over your head, and throw you out of the ring. Just so you know.
Therefore, when we describe a structure as a USD, we know it is not actually a USD. Rather, there exists some actual structure (of power, i.e., influence over government policy) into which the USD, which being pure can only exist for a femtosecond, has degenerated. The nominal structure of the USD remains, as camouflage.
Remember, what we seek is not our quarry’s official org chart, but its real one. We do not want to know that everyone has one vote—we knew that. What we want to know is why USG does, or does not, do the things it does or does not do. (We are as interested in inaction as in action.)
Lenin, like Hitler an evil man but a nonnegligible philosopher of government, put it neatly:
This loses a bit of its bite in 21st-century English. In a language with actual pronoun declensions, Lenin was asking: who rules whom? I.e.: who is stroking himself hard; who is bending over and greasing up? Sadly, this is indeed the great question of our time.
But before we answer it, we should leave democracy with a parting compliment or two.
The first thing we should note is that, in a world in which they have destroyed all competitors, democracies appear to succeed because the form is inherently stable. Unfortunately, this is not because the people are inherently wise, but simply because it is inherently very difficult to retrieve them from their present Svengalis.
This gives the government a heavy base, as it were, rendering it quite hard to dislodge. Of course, as the thing rots, we will come to regret this feature more and more.
But democracy has genuine virtues. Perhaps Froude wrote the best epitaph for the system:
Democracies are the blossoming of the aloe, the sudden squandering of the vital force which has accumulated in the long years when it was contented to be healthy and did not aspire after a vain display. The aloe is glorious for a single season. It progresses as it never progressed before. It admires its own excellence, looks back with pity on its earlier and humbler condition, which it attributes only to the unjust restraints in which it was held. It conceives that it has discovered the true secret of being ‘beautiful for ever,’ and in the midst of the discovery it dies.
In the arts of decadence—sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll—democracies excel. If only for these, the second half of the twentieth century will never be forgotten. We need not imagine the level of punitive austerity and reeducation that would need to be inflicted on Western society to make it forget the Rolling Stones and everything after. Possible, surely, but hard to recommend.
Another way to state Froude’s thesis is to describe democracies as obtaining their energy by breaking the strong molecular bonds of their authoritarian predecessors. Similarly, fire obtains its energy by breaking the strong molecular bonds of wood. You’ll note that the democracies do not seem to have much energy left, and indeed there is not much left of the wood.
Had the Anglo-American democratic movement somehow been defeated, had the fire been put out, in time these bonds might have loosened on their own, as sovereigns became more secure and ceased to fear the mob. Or they might not have. It is difficult to know. In any case, this does not constitute an argument for a continuation of democracy, because by the ’90s all possible avenues of decadence had been quite thoroughly explored. Our society has nothing to learn and nothing to prove in the arts of vice. Therefore, we can move on.
Also, while there are many advantages to taking the authoritarian, autocratic and aristocratic European governments of the 18th and 19th centuries as a general template for the 21st, the reactionary must remember that all of these regimes were, in a word, Continental. Generally, the farther east you went the worse they got—and wogs, as we all know, begin at Calais. Read, but don’t necessarily imitate. Reflections of a Russian Statesman is great winter beach reading, for example, but it is difficult to forget that one of Pobedonostsev’s patent medicines for democracy was the Black Hundreds.
To find anything like a pure autocrat of good English stock you have to go back to the Tudors and Stuarts. While there is nothing wrong with that (I’d take either Henry, Elizabeth, James, or either Charles back in a millisecond—heck, I’d take Oliver Cromwell. Or Thomas Cromwell. Or Richard Cromwell…), the time gap becomes considerable. It is difficult to extrapolate from a country with hogs in the streets to one with iPhones.
Democracy also has a special talent for making its enemies stupid and evil. If we observe the success of democracy in the last two centuries, we need not understand its causes to understand that anyone who was not with the program had to be a serious hard-ass to even try to survive.
For example, democratic movements tended, for reasons we will see shortly, to be very good at capturing the elites of any society. It is never easy to fight the best with the worst, and necessity alone has corrupted many if not most anti-democratic movements in the past. Moreover, opposition to evil does not constitute an automatic hall pass to Heaven. Hitler opposed democracy and democracy is evil, but Hitler is not in Heaven.
Therefore, for obvious reasons, just as democracy is an insufficient description of a political structure, so is opposition to democracy. Be careful in unconditionally endorsing opposites. In general, my feeling is that no opposition to democracy can succeed until it casts out all the motes in its own eye, regardless of the beams in USG’s—and by ‘motes’ I mean offenses against the truth, not offenses against the State. However, this may be influenced by my bias in favor of a movement that recaptures the State by democratic, rather than military, means. No set of misconceptions is a practical obstacle to military action.
Lastly, we need to remember that democracy is not dead, but only dormant. The minds of the hundred million part-time officials who constitute USG’s voter base are not, at present, particularly relevant to USG’s actions. However, just as the military continually delegates its sovereignty by failing to pull a coup, democracy can awaken and return to power at any time.
For example, if Americans elect a President who promises, in his platform and campaign, to assume full executive authority and rule by command, suspending or even terminating constitution and Constitution alike, this exact program will almost certainly occur. If courts demur, the security forces are very likely to obey the President rather than the courts. He would owe them one for this, of course, but this is normal. They would probably be allies already. Unless it is not a military but a comedy troupe, any military works on the principle of command, and will endorse what it recognizes.
Of course, this requires the intellectual capture of a large number of hominids, whose opinions on the subject are extremely fixed and whose intelligence and education are not, on average, impressive. While this is obviously not easy, new tools are changing the battlefield. Consider, for example, the power of Facebook groups as a technique for democratic organization. The game is young.
So, while no good can be expected of normal political participation in the Modern Structure (with the important exception of petitioning the authorities, and organizing such petitions), it is worthwhile to understand the otherwise vestigial system of democracy, which may be in some way reactivated as a temporary stage in whatever process is required to terminate it.
But let us get back to peeking under the great goat-hog’s robes. Fortunately, the answer, though terrifying, is not complicated at all.
A democracy is a government in which public policy is controlled by public opinion. Fine. Wonderful. We knew that. Who controls public opinion?
Duh. Popular opinion is in general a reflection of public education. It is certainly true that there are certain statements that the public cannot be educated to believe. It may be impossible to convince a healthy human population, for example, that red and blue are the same color. But almost everything short of this has been tried, and it tends to work. And while there are always deviants, outliers in an election are irrelevant by definition.
So: who educates the public?
Our answer is simple: the Jews. (Sorry, Jew-haters. Just kidding.) But seriously, we should note who else took exactly the same line of thinking:
Just as a man’s denominational orientation is the result of his upbringing, and only the religious needs as such slumbers in his soul, the political opinion of the masses represents nothing but the final result of an incredibly tenacious and thorough manipulation of their mind and soul.
By far the greatest share in their political ‘education,’ which in this case is mostly designated by the word ‘propaganda,’ falls to the account of the press. It is foremost in performing this ‘work of enlightenment’ and thus represents a sort of school for grownups.
That would be—yes—Adolf Hitler. So, as you can see, we are on dangerous ground here. We must be careful where we put our feet; there is no other answer. For what it’s worth, my feeling is that Herr Hitler is personally responsible for all the world’s problems today.
One does not have to be a Nazi, however, to believe that popular opinion tends to match public education. In other words, people believe what they are told to believe—sometimes minus a little stubborn deviation, electorally negligible.
So, to combine Lenin’s question with Hitler’s answer, we ask: if the People control the State, who controls the People? The teachers. And who controls the teachers? Hm. What an interesting question. We’ll have to think about that one.
But I do hope I haven’t activated anyone’s crimestop with these terrible, terrible thoughts. Note: we are no longer asking a philosophical question. We are asking an administrative question. The answer is not a matter of logic, but of fact.
You see, there is another way to classify governments. We can define them in terms of the means that those in power use to prevent those not in power from taking said power away. Since pure democracy is impossible, there are always those on the inside and those on the outside. For example, USG has a permanent civil service which no power in Washington can purge, restructure, or otherwise attack. If that isn’t the inside, what is the inside?
The chief distinction in this category is between sovereigns that hold their positions by the tactics of physical warfare—that is, conventional military and law-enforcement methods, which allow the State to manage the physical actions of its subjects—and those which hold their positions by the tactic of psychological warfare—that is, information management, which allows the State to manage the thoughts of its subjects.
Of course, all sovereigns require physical security. Therefore, the only question is whether they use psychological security as well. As we’ll see, permanent psychological warfare is an essential aspect of the Modern Structure, which is a big part of why I have so much trouble with it.
If we exclude the possibility of pure democracy, we see instantly that every democracy must be a psychological-warfare state. Most people get their opinions from others. If public opinion commands the power of the State, the power to inform is the power to command the State. Just as you will seldom find a stack of twenties on the sidewalk, this power will not just be waving around in the breeze. Someone will capture it, and hold it until it is torn from their hands.
Even if you have not been reading UR long and remain a good democrat, it disturbs you to see the resemblance between political communication and commercial advertising. This is because you know the latter consists largely of psychological-warfare tropes (as per Bernays, Lippmann, and the like). Their goal is not to inform you, but to control your behavior. You know this. And yet…
What is psychological warfare, exactly? What do we know about psychological warfare in modern American history?
As it so happens, I have an expert on the line. His name is James P. Warburg, and he is (or, thankfully, was) crazy as a loon on 2CB, more evil than a Komodo dragon, and almost as rich as the Pope. But yea, he knew whereof he spoke, because before he wrote Unwritten Treaty (1946) Warburg had been a big wheel at OCI and OWI. Bearing in mind that he is a pathological liar, let’s hear his definition of “psychological warfare:”
In addition to the destruction of enemy morale, the functions of a psychological warfare agency in time of declared or actual war include: the maintenance of home morale; the maintenance of the confidence of the peoples of friendly or allied nations; and winning the sympathy of the peoples of neutral countries.
All these assignments are carried out by the implantation of carefully selected ideas and concepts. These ideas and concepts are neither necessarily true nor necessarily false. In fact, whether they are true or false makes no difference whatsoever, so long as they successfully serve to create the desired state of mind. It follows that there is no validity whatsoever to the widely held belief that propaganda consists by definition of the spreading of lies. There is equally little justification for the belief that the propaganda of “decent,” democratic nations should be “the truth and nothing but the truth.”
There is a dangerous popular confusion, particularly in this country, between propaganda and information. This confusion arises from the fact that we are novices at psychological warfare even though we are experts in the techniques of propaganda. No other nation is as skilled in sales propaganda, or advertising, as we. No other nation indulges in orgies of political propaganda to the extent that we do once in every four years, when we elect a President. And yet, in spite of our familiarity with some of the techniques of psychological warfare, we are unfamiliar—even after this war—with the use of these techniques as an adjunct of modern warfare. Perhaps just because we are so familiar with the use of propaganda for peaceful domestic purposes, we seem unable to avoid applying to its use in wartime the moral standards of peace.
It cannot be stated with sufficient emphasis that information is one thing—propaganda quite another.
The purpose of spreading information is to promote the functioning of man’s reason.
The purpose of propaganda is to mobilize certain of man’s emotions in such a way that they will dominate his reason—not necessarily with evil design.
The function of an information agency is to disseminate truth—to make available fact and opinion, each carefully labeled and separated from the other. The aim of an information agency is to enable as many people as possible to form their own individual judgments on the basis of relevant fact and authoritative opinion.
The function of a propaganda agency is almost the exact opposite: it is not to inform, but to persuade. In order to persuade it must disseminate only such fact, such opinion, and such fiction masquerading as fact as will serve to make people act, or fail to act, in the desired way.
Etc. I think you get the idea. Bear in mind, however: this man is not to be trusted. (I have several works of James P. Warburg. Almost every sentence he writes is mendacious and creepy, usually in some awful, strange and surprising way.)
Do click that Wik link for the Office of the Coordinator of Information. Isn’t that just about the creepiest name for a government agency you’ve ever heard? Isn’t it even creepier that the page tells you nothing at all about who was coordinating what information, or why? The CIA link is even better:
The office of the Coordinator of Information constituted the nation’s first peacetime, nondepartmental intelligence organization. President Roosevelt authorized it to
collect and analyze all information and data, which may bear upon national security: to correlate such information and data, and to make such information and data available to the President and to such departments and officials of the Government as the President may determine; and to carry out, when requested by the President, such supplementary activities as may facilitate the securing of information important for national security not now available to the Government.
Is that creepy, or what? It’s like the intro to some kind of bad period thriller, with Kevin Bacon and Matt Damon. “Supplementary activities.” In other words, what we are looking at here is basically FDR’s private secret service. If you assume its attentions were primarily directed at America’s soon-to-be enemies overseas, I’m afraid you assume too much.
But the most interesting descendant of OCI is not OSS/CIA, but another pair of acronyms—OWI/MSM. Yes, that’s right. Our lovely “mainstream media” is not, of course, a hierarchical organization reporting to the hidden Elders of Journalism. However, modern journalism is descended from such a hierarchical organization. That organization was the Office of War Information, OWI.
OWI, in the grand scheme of history, is not that important. National Socialism also managed its population with psychological-warfare techniques, and indeed for Nazi Germany Lenin’s question is easily answered. “Who” is Hitler; “whom” is everyone else. Goebbels answered to Hitler, and every line in every German newspaper, radio broadcast and movie was in principle (and often in person) edited by Goebbels. Neither Elmer Davis nor even George Creel ever had anything like Goebbels’ personal authority over content.
Indeed, the problem with Lenin’s question in recent American history is that the answer seems to trail off into nowhere. Who informs the public? Journalists, schoolteachers, professors. Who tells schoolteachers what to say? Professors. Who tells journalists and professors what to say?
No one. Au contraire—they are specifically immune from even the hint of any such authority. The trail of power disappears. The river goes underground. And we see that we live in the “open society,” exactly as advertised. Ah, bliss was it in those days to be alive. And bliss is it still, I guess.
The comfort of this realization disappears instantly, leaving only an icy, sinister chill (the same fascination, perhaps, felt by the well-dressed woman at the right of the painting) when we observe three facts.
Fact #1: No one tells journalists and professors what to say. Also: no one tells them what to do. Also: if they come into conflict with any other institution of government, they appear to win—always in the long run, if not always in the short.
Does this indicate that they are bystanders in the game of sovereignty? Or players? If, when journalists and politicians conflict, the politicians always go down in flames and the journalists always walk away without a scratch, who exactly is wearing the pants in this place?
The sovereign power is the power that is above all other powers. We have just located it. You probably knew this anyway, of course. But in case you didn’t—hey, it’s never too late.
The status of journalism as sovereign was confirmed when the Post and the Times defeated the Nixon administration, and established that the press could and the President could not break the law with impunity. That is, the right to leak (for legitimate journalists) became part of the Modern Structure, and the right to corrupt the political system with minor skulduggery (for Presidents) disappeared. As late as the Johnson Administration, it was the other way around.
Do note the elegance of this outcome. You would expect any supreme power, for example, to be strongly hardened against any kind of attack, and strongly camouflaged against even the recognition that here lies the Ring of sovereignty. Sauron has his Orcs as well, of course, but he spares no precaution in offense or defense.
Thus, in the American version of the Modern Structure, the press and the universities are actually outside the government proper. If they were actual government agencies—in a Department of Truth, perhaps—they could be no more potent, permanent and unaccountable.
And they would also be instantly recognizable as the most powerful agencies on the block. They would become targets, as the BBC is. The BBC has many defences against any counterattack from the feeble, dying, but still nonnegligible political system—but the New York Times has even more. (And if it needs mere money, Carlos Slim’s pockets remain quite deep.)
Fact #2: Journalists and professors have not one, but two, connections to power.
The information organs secure their authority by their control of public opinion. It is this power that makes the journalists and professors’ own opinions important. It is why they matter. However, the cycle of power from professor to election is, though certain, not fast. One would expect a more direct connection, and indeed one finds it.
Journalists and professors are part of the larger matrix of permanent power in the Modern Structure, which we can call the extended civil service. It is extended because it includes not only the civil service proper—formal government employees—but also all those who consider themselves public servants, including journalists, professors, NGOistas, etc. Note that regardless of the formal details, the same superiority to politics is enjoyed by all.
And, importantly, it is one social network. Thus, for a faithful follower of the Party, there is never any doubt about what policies or ideas are legitimate or illegitimate. In the form of “public policy,” power flows directly from Cathedral to Congress, often leaving public opinion a decade or two behind. There is no reason to worry. The people, as always, will catch up with their leaders.
Fact #3: Journalists and professors never go to war with each other. This is by far the strangest and most important of our facts.
Surely, since a journalist is one thing and a professor is another, you would expect a natural factional conflict between them. At least. You would also expect various internal factions of journalists and professors to form. They don’t.
While you will find occasional weirdness out at the contemptible fringe, the core of the legitimate press and the legitimate university system is remarkably homogeneous. For example, it is impossible to pick any one of the Ivy League universities and declare objectively that this school is either more progressive, or more conservative, than the others. Subject to individual, disorganized variation among professors, all are the same. And the same is true of news desks at the major centers of journalism.
Moreover, when compared to their historical predecessors, we do see change. Any Ivy League school of 1969, or at least its professoriate, would appear quite conservative if teleported to 2009. No doubt there are quite a few students in 2009 who would prefer to attend such an institution, but it does not, of course, exist.
In other words, what we don’t see is any hierarchical coordinating authority. But what we do see is actual coordination. Even though the Modern Structure has no central authority to guide it—no Goebbels, no Beria, no sinister, imaginary cabal of Jews, Communists, or even bankers—it nonetheless seems to be able to maintain a remarkably tight party line. And thus, it can “change,” in the familiar pattern of “progress.”
In fact, ideological consistency within the information authorities in the Modern Structure—the Cathedral we met in Chapter 1—seems if anything tighter than its equivalent in the Warsaw Pact. Factions often emerged within Communist parties in the Leninist tradition. If there are any in the Cathedral, they are not visible to the general public.
Of course, professors may form factions that disagree on areas within their fields—string theory, for instance, versus loop quantum gravity. But this tiny rift is of no structural significance to the Cathedral as a whole. It does not jeopardize its control over the political system.
So what is the source of this anomalous coordination? Actually, we have seen the effect already in the fragmentation of power. When power fragments informally, those who hold the fragments cooperate best with their peers by regarding the fragmentation as progress, not decay. The suggestion that the fragmentation should be reversed is dangerous to everyone.
In the Modern Structure, this spontaneous, decentralized coordination is seen across the information organs. These, being aware of the fundamentally informal and in a sense even illegitimate nature of their power, are very sensitive to the prospect of losing it. This prospect is in reality remote, but the fear is easy to generate. And that fear (of a “populist” or anti-Cathedral political revival, from Joe McCarthy to Sarah Palin) is one more organizing principle.
Thus, thoughts, perspectives and facts which favor, justify or defend this system of government which conducts psychological warfare against its own subjects, the Modern Structure, are adaptive, and those which oppose it are maladaptive. And thus, an information machine without any central administration self-coordinates and achieves effective censorship.
As a good democrat, of course, you have been taught to fear systems of this class only in the case that they have an evil genius, or at least a cabal, behind them. Thus “conspiracy theories.” But in fact, you should find a decentralized, self-coordinating system, one in which ideas are filtered and organized by memetic evolution rather than intelligent design, far more creepy and dangerous.
For one thing, it is a heck of a lot harder to shut down. And, as we’ve seen, the result of the filtering process is not always a good one.
This is the truth at the bottom of the Modern Structure: it is out of control. It is best seen as a mindless and automatic beast. Its capacity for destruction is obvious. The only way to stop it is to kill it, and there is no obvious way to kill it. And its tendency is to get worse, not better.
But this is getting long. In the next chapter, we’ll do a little more history and see exactly how America, and then the world, ended up in the hands of Goya’s black goat-hog.
2. A common metaphor in eighteenth-century British political writing, “Lord Wharton’s puppies” refers to remaining blind to the reality of a situation until a crisis occurs—somewhat akin to our contemporary “boiling frog” fable. For example, a brief reference to Lord Wharton’s puppies appears in Peter Oliver’s Origin & Progress of the American Rebellion (discussed in Chapter 2):
The Man, who cannot conform to this System, must either revert to his former State of Nature, where he will soon meet with Destruction from those who are united in Society, or he must, like Lord Wharton’s Puppies, open his Eyes before he is quite drowned, & repair to Society for Protection from that Destruction, as well as from lesser Evils which may be the natural Preludes to it.
A footnote then explains:
Oliver may have taken his story of Lord Wharton’s puppies from an article in the Gentleman’s Magazine, III (1733), 529: “The Author, after having animadverted on the Folly of those Boroughs, which re-elect the same Representatives by which they have loudly declared themselves betray’d, tells the following Story, which, he believes, is known but to few[:]
“Some few Months before the Death of the late Queen. A[rch]. B[isho]p Sharp meeting the Marq[uess]. of Wharton, in the Court of Requests, thus address’d him,—‘My Lord, I am sorry to say, that the Measures which the Ministry are pursuing at present are by no Means such as I approve,—they seem to be going [to] very unwarrantable Lengths,—I have hitherto join’d with them, while I thought they had their Country’s Interest, and the Welfare of the Church at Heart; but whatever they, or your Lordship may imagine, I am no Pretender’s Man, no Jacobite nor ever shall be one. . . . To be plain, I suspect there is some Design to bring in the Pretender—they shall never have my Concurrence therein . . . if your Lordship will join Forces with me, . . . We will form a Party strong enough to break all their Measures.’
“Is your Grace in earnest? said the Marquis, I am, reply’d the Arch-Bishop gravely—Let me beg Leave then to tell your Grace a short Story, rejoin’d the Marquis with equal Gravity—I had a Present made me of a fine Bitch, which in due Time produc’d a Litter of Whelps, and pleasing my self with the Fancy that they would prove excellent in their kind, I went every Day to see them; but when the ninth Day came, the Time that all Puppies used to see, these Whelps continued still blind; I tried them the 10th, 11th, and 12th Day, and still they continued the same. Wherefore having no Hopes of them I order’d ’em to be thrown into the Horsepond—Would your Grace believe it? Just as they were sinking their Eyes opened—Which said, he walk’d away, and left the A. Bp to apply the Story.”
In other words, Lord Wharton—a prominent member of the “Whig Junto” and a staunch opponent of Queen Anne—dismisses Archbishop Sharp for being so late in waking up to the possibility of a Jacobite conspiracy in the Queen’s ministry.