How the World Works, Part I

Like Luther with his famous theses, I present these propositions as items for reasonable discussion among learned men.

Things that are Backwards:

Modern life is built on certain propositions.  Most of them are wrong.  Some of them are so wrong, they’re actually backwards.  Such as:

Modern political theory assumes all men are rational, or at least capable of sustained rationality.  Which is true as far as it goes… but it doesn’t really go anywhere.  When it comes to concrete objectives, for instance, people can be quite rational about means, even when — especially when — the ends are batshit crazy.  See e.g. the drug addict who is fiendishly ingenious about getting his fix, even as fixing kills him.

Political theory stands even that on its head.  As David Stove says, the minute the generality of mankind attempt abstract thought, they invariably go mad.  We give the junkie a vote, assuming that somehow the guy who thinks killing himself with heroin is a good idea will square himself away enough to competently pass judgment on questions of war and peace.  The more we know about the human sciences, the clearer it is that “rationality” is intermittent at best, a cruel fiction at worst.

Similarly, social contract theory — at least, the degraded version of it that emerged in response to Marxism in the later 19th century — assumes that men want freedom, that we are free agents in search of maximal space for self-expression.  This too is backward.  Men are never free agents.  We carry a centuries-old burden of language and culture, custom and belief.  Even in America, the immigrant’s paradise, virtually no one came here alone.  Humans are apes; apes have the most elaborate society in nature.  We migrate as families.

In other words, we confuse liberty with freedom.  Freedom means “no external restraints.”  It’s synonymous with license.  It’s what barbarians have.  Liberty, by contrast, means “self-actualization within rules — specifically, that eons-old matrix of belief and custom.”

Put them together, and it’s clear that representative government isn’t just wrong, but inverted.  It assumes that the worst part of our game — rationality; enlightened self-interest; a preference for liberty, not license — is actually our best.  It has to fail, because it’s backwards.

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One thought on “How the World Works, Part I

  1. Reluctant Reactionary

    It seems to be those on the right side of the political spectrum that have rose colored glasses. (libertarians and ancaps) Those on the left don’t care how the world works, they just want stuff. Considering the history of state tyranny in the twentieth century, it is understandable for some to see the state as the enemy. The reality is that liberty is the fruit of a high trust society under rule of law. Law produces liberty rather than the other way around. Some governing body will always be present to enforce rules because a tragedy of the commons is the inevitable result otherwise. The trick to making governance work is ensuring that the sovereign benefits when the people benefit. A monarch who owns all the land and people has such a healthy incentive, but unfortunately he can make excessive profit since he has a monopoly.

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