The following is a response to Reactionary Future over his arguments about monarchy and oligarchy.
I have chatted before with RF over the nature of the Modern Structure. His claim is that the Modern Structure is neither a democracy or an oligarchy but a monarchy. This sounds very silly, but a good rule is that if someone who is smart and insightful says something very silly – counter-intuitive – then perhaps it should be given a second, closer look.
RF’s claim contradicts Moldbug’s, a point he would readily admit; apparently, he seems to base his claim on the arguments of Sir Robert Filmer – a reactionary critic of John Locke, someone who I have yet to read.
I discern two arguments given for RF’s claim. Firstly, the lack of analytical clarity over what an oligarchy is; secondly, the “pass the parcel argument.”
Let’s take the second first.
When I first saw RF make the claim that the Modern Structure is a monarchy and why, my first thought was “pass the parcel.” However, I think an absolutist reactionary (who I forgot the name of!) used this term first somewhere. We could also call this idea the liquid theory of sovereignty.
The idea appears to be that the sovereign power moves from person to person and institution to institution. Depending on the situation and the time, different people are exercising sovereign power, thus making them the monarch if only for a moment.
For example, at time T1, the President is the monarch but at time T2 the mayor is and at time T3 the federal judge is and at time T4 the Supreme Court is.
The first problem I see with this is that RF’s new claim seems to contradict his older argument against protocol government. What is the sovereign? Is it a person? An idea? A group of people, or a protocol?
Secondly, and in a related way, the analysis seems too atomic or myopic. How does “pass the parcel” provide an analysis of the structural and continuous role that institutions play in power? Institutions and ideas exist longer than any one person, and the narrow focus on who is making X decision now misses a more systematic understanding of how power works.
No doubt, you could just fold institutions and ideas into the analysis but already it is getting flabby and falling prey to the same complaints over the lack of clarity concerning oligarchy.
Finally, I think the think the key refutation of this idea is collective decision making. The U.S Supreme Court, to take just one example, are comprised of nine judges and they use majority voting to decide questions. A body of men (or women) can be sovereign (as Hobbes argued), but they cannot constitute a monarchy. I think to say so does violence to our language.
So, let’s define terms then, which is the first argument about conceptual confusion.
Firstly, let’s define power.
Political power is power concerning rules. If you can change the rules, abolish the rules, clarify the rules and introduce new rules, you have power. That is, nominal power. You have real power, if you have the means to have your rules and rulings obeyed.
Next, let’s define the different types of political power structures. Let’s stick with Aristotle’s three categories, but I will define them in my own terms.
A pure democracy is a direct democracy where the majority decide the rules by voting. Suppose, in the future, instead of the Supreme Court deciding cases, they were punted to the people and the majority of the people using a phone and a WiFi connection voted for their choice. That’s direct democracy. Indirect democracy is electing representatives who rule via majority voting.
A monarchy – a real monarchy – is where one person decides the rules by ruling. Even if the monarch delegates the task of judging questions of justice (though he could reverse any decision if he chose), he is still the monarch.
A Moldbuggian monarch is one who rules via the exercise of judgement or prudence.
An oligarchy is where the few rule over the many for the good of the few.
In formalist philosophy, an oligarchy is where the few rule over the many informally; that is where the formal political structure (elected representatives) and the political formula (democracy say) is contradicted by political reality.
The argument as to why the Modern Structure is an oligarchy is via a process of elimination.
Since the Modern Structure is not a monarchy, as defined above, and is not a direct, majoritarian democracy, and since both Presidents and Prime Ministers, Senators and Parliamentarians are a minority ruling over a majority, then the only possibility is that the regime is an oligarchy.
However, the Moldbuggian insight, which I lay out at great length here, is that since the Modern Structure defines itself as a democracy in formal terms, but is contradicted by an accurate understanding of political reality, then the regime is, by definition, corrupt, thus it is, necessarily, an oligarchy.
The claim that the Modern Structure is an oligarchy is supported by Moldbug’s vital analysis of the role that the university plays in the power structure.
Indeed, here again, I lay out this analysis at length.
I believe that the university (Harvard in particular) is the most important institution in the Modern Structure, it is the regime’s foundation, its Church. This is where the oligarchs receive their training, their credentials; this is where they form their social networks; this is where policy is formulated.
Oligarchy is where the few rule over the rest for the good of the few. Who are the few?
In functional terms, at one end of the Modern Structure, stand the professors who teach all the other members of the oligarchy; at the opposite end of the Modern Structure stand the Judges. The professors are the proximate source of the rules and the reasons for those rules; the judges, meanwhile, are the ones who provide legal rationales for the rules that the rest of the oligarchy have settled on – the “consensus of the Cathedral”.
Thus, the Modern Structure is a vertically integrated system which locks out all intellectual competition.
Between, professor and judge, we have journalist, teacher and bureaucrat.
The journalist is both propagandist and witch-hunter.
The teachers are those who indoctrinate the young. Teachers serve two evolutionary or unintentional purposes; firstly, to channel prospective young Brahmins onto university and to corrupt and dull the rest into mediocrity and compliance.
The bureaucrat, meanwhile, are the people who manage the state; it is the bureaucrats who implement the rules first formulated by the professors as theories, arguments, proposals and ideas and propagandised by journalists; it is the bureaucrats who stymie any attempt to implement, change or abolish rules contrary to the will of the oligarchy.
Finally, the oligarchy constitute a social caste – the Brahmins. You can identity Brahmins usually by the fact they have attended university and studied a humanities subject and or by profession (teacher say) or by their beliefs (universalism).
Finally, I should say, in terms of explanation and critical and persuasive power, calling the Modern Structure an oligarchy is both important and powerful in a way monarchy or “pass the parcel is not.”